Making sense of Vacuum Excavator Specs

When it’s time for you to add a new vacuum excavator to your fleet, you’ll likely spend time reviewing equipment specifications to determine the right machine for your needs. With all of the different specs outlined in product brochures, you may have a few questions about what it all means. More importantly, how do you know which key specs to pay attention to?

According to Brian Showley, director of sales for Vermeer MV Solutions, you can learn a lot about a vacuum excavator’s performance capabilities by its hose size. “Vacuum excavator hoses can tell a contractor a lot about the volume of air being moved by the vacuum pump — typically referred to as vacuum CFM (cubic feet per minute),” he said. “Hose diameter sizes can also help a contractor determine a unit’s mercury level and onboard horsepower.”

Performance specs

When comparing one vacuum excavator with another, start by choosing units with the same hose size. From here, you can dive deeper into the specs by comparing vacuum CFM numbers. Showley said that many manufacturers offer different vacuum pumps in each hose size, especially on smaller models. “Not every contractor is using vacuum excavators to do the same thing or in similar soil conditions. It would be overkill for a contractor who only needs to suction drill slurry to invest in a high CFM model if they don’t intend to pothole. On the other hand, many contractors who are potholing utilities want the most compact machine available to maneuver in confined areas, which is why they would seek out a small-hosed, high CFM model.” he explained.

To achieve higher CFM capacities, larger, more powerful engines must be used. Higher horsepower engines will deliver more torque to the vacuum and water pumps to give you higher mercury levels (suction) and pounds per square inch.

Showley said that contractors should also note a vacuum excavator’s mercury level to ensure its high enough to accommodate their needs. “Mercury levels should be thought of like drinking water from a glass. The length and diameter of a straw makes a big difference. A normal straw doesn’t require a lot of effort, but if someone were to swap it out with a garden hose, it would be almost impossible to suck the water up. The same holds true with vacuum excavators: much less effort (horsepower) is required to suction material at short distances and depths. While longer depths, distances or diameters require more effort.”

All of the specs outlined to this point should be viewed as performance-related specs. Hose size, vacuum CFM, mercury levels, water pump capacities and engine horsepower are all connected and will ultimately tell you to what a vacuum excavator is capable of. Now, you need to move on to capacities.

Tank capacities

Spoil and water tank capacities do not have any impact on how a machine will perform, but they will have an impact on how long you can stay on a job and the costs to transport it.

Most manufacturers will offer spoil tank capacities starting at around 300 gallons up to 2,000 gallons. Showley explained that tank sizes should be matched with the application. “Crews mainly doing pothole work don’t need large tank capacities because they will likely use up their water tank reserves around the same time the spoil tank is filled,” he said. Higher capacity tanks are usually found supporting horizontal directional drill (HDD) crews so they can go longer between dump cycles. However, contractors need to make sure they don’t go too high and exceed Department of Transportation (DOT) weight restrictions.”

Water tank capacity needs are also tied to how a vacuum excavator is being used. Crews need more water when potholing and very little, if any at all, when supporting a drilling crew. “While there are many vacuum excavator models on the market that do not have a high-pressure hose, I always encourage contractors to consider purchasing one with water capabilities,” explained Showley. “A high-pressure washer is handy for cleaning equipment and the spoil tank. It also helps maintain a high residual value for anyone looking to upgrade their system in the future.”

Other specs

A few other specs you may want to browse through include a unit’s weight and measurements, as well as the optional accessories a manufacturer offers for a particular machine. All of these fine details can help you when it’s time to add or upgrade.

When it is time for a new vacuum excavator, you don’t have to go at it alone. Your local Vermeer MV Solutions dealer can help make sense of all the specs and help you determine which model best matches your needs. You can also visit and to see all of the current Vermeer MV Solutions Vacuum excavator models available.

Vacuum Excavation Applications – Going Beyond Utility Work

Since the introduction of hydro and air vacuum excavation equipment, utility applications like potholing and cleaning up horizontal directional drilling (HDD) slurry have been a natural fit for these machines. However, there are many industries using vacuum excavators to replace more labor-intensive and inefficient methods of working. Vacuum excavators aren’t just for utility work anymore.

Vermeer MV Solution vacuum excavators have a wide range of applications, many of which don’t even involve excavating, such as cleaning to reshaping sand traps at golf courses. Here’s a look at a few of the industries using hydro and air vacuum excavator equipment.

Municipal work

Many cities employ large vac trucks to maintain networks of sewer systems, but public works departments sometimes need smaller and more nimble vacuum excavators to help out and allow crews to work in more places at one time. Municipalities are adding hydro and air vac systems to excavate for poles and signs, aid with water line repairs, exercise water valves and jet sewer pipes.

“Cities, counties and state entities are always discovering new ways to use vac systems,” said Brian Showley, director of sales for Vermeer MV Solutions. “Beyond some of the traditional applications, workers employ vacuum excavators to remove roots and debris around water meters and valves, and remove waste from storm drains, catch basins and culverts. High-pressure water wands help them with digging and cleaning. Air vacuum excavators are also excellent for pressure testing sewer lines.”


Industry plants are investing in vacuum excavators to help clean around the facility. “Vacuums aren’t new for cleaning at industrial plants,” explained Showley. “Facility managers used to have to employ service companies with big trucks to work during scheduled shutdowns. With smaller vacuum excavators, they can now make cleaning an ongoing effort, which has helped extend the intervals between scheduled shutdowns.”

Vac systems are also widely used to remove debris from drains in wash bays and car washes. “These drains tend to get plugged up with mud, grease and waste oil while cleaning dirty equipment, and doing the work with a shovel is a job no one wants,” said Showley. “Vacuum excavators do a better job in a fraction of the time.”


Vacuum excavators are finding a home in agriculture doing projects like installing fencing to cleaning up grain bins and animal stalls. Using a high-powered digging wand and suction hose can reduce the time it takes to set fence posts. Also, when fencing is being done in areas that share the right of way with buried utilities, vacuum excavation is a safe way to avoid damaging the utilities.

Vac systems can also help maintain a safe working environment while cleaning grain bins. Traditional cleaning methods produce high levels of airborne dust. Vacuum excavator filtration systems do an excellent job of containing that dust and limiting a worker’s exposure.

Of course, suctioning dry material isn’t the only cleaning that vacs excel at. From equestrians to zookeepers, vacuum excavators are being used to sanitarily clean animal stalls. According to Showley, having an all-in-one cleaning system saves a lot of time. “Bedding and waste used to have to be manually removed from a stall or with a small loader and then hauled away before pressure washing the area — there can be a lot of trips involved,” he explained. “With hydro-vacs, workers suction up everything with the debris hose and have a high-pressure washer right there to spray everything down and then collect all of the loose material and water in one step.”


There are also a few niche landscaping applications that vacuum excavators are being used for. Contractors are renting them to remove old mulch or rock around flowerbeds, parks and around buildings, as well as to dig holes for fence posts and footings for signs. Vacs are also being used at large cemeteries for setting headstones.


It’s also worth noting that vacuum excavators aren’t just being used to do utility work in the construction industry. Utility strikes are a common concern for every contractor working near buried lines. And anytime new subdivisions are being constructed, vacuum excavators are an excellent addition to help with sewer and drainage work.

There are a ton of applications where using a vacuum excavator can improve efficiencies while maintaining a safe working environment.

To learn more about vacuum excavation or to demo a vacuum excavator for yourself, contact your local Vermeer MV Solutions dealer.

Remember to Winterize your Vac-Tron Unit

Please see the below winterizing directionsWinterizing Water Pump 1. Make sure Antifreeze tank is full. (DO NOT DILUTE)snowflake2. Turn Fluid Selector Valve to ANTIFREEZE position.3. Start engine, then turn Water pump switch on. Allow antifreeze to flow from end of the high pressure water wand. If water tanks are empty use the by-pass switch located behind the control panel (LP units only).4. Turn off water pump, shut down engine and return Fluid Selector to WATER position. (Recapture antifreeze by placing end of high pressure hose in top of Antifreeze tank before putting unit back in service)0.5. Drain water tanks.Winterizing/storage of Baghouse Filtration and Vacuum Pump1. Remove top/lid of Baghouse, run one ounce of light weight oil through vacuum pump at 4″ opening at engine idle. Then shut engine down, return top/lid and make sure rubber washer/gasket is under wing nut.DO NOT allow anything else to enter 4″ opening. If your unit has one baghouse filter, please remove filter and add 1 ounce of oil to the suction hole while engine is at idle, then shut engine down and replace filter for storage.For storage of unit for periods of non-useFollow the instructions of winterizing water pump, baghouse filtration and vacuum pump; plus drain water tank dry and chlorinate for algae. Crack open rear door.The above section is printed in the owner’s manual and also on the control panel door. Download the PDF.

Vac-Tron LP / PMD Hydraulic Rear Door Adjustment

The Vac-Tron LP (Low Profile) Series (former PMD Series) comes equipped with a hydraulic rear door, which opens fully so the operator can completely empty the contents. To make adjustments to this door, operators should follow these steps:1st: Inside Center Cam Adjustment: Before any adjustments are made, open door and prop door open using door safety prop.To adjust the cam, loosen bolts on cam (1) then move up or down as needed by moving door latches (3) up or down (move both latches at the same time). After adjustment is made, snug bolts (do not tighten).DIAGRAM 1PMD-Diagram 1Close door until door is 2″ from the seal and with a light look inside, the latch needs to be approximately 1/4” (Diagram 1) above the door pin as it passes across. Once this is achieved tighten bolts on cam.2nd: Inside Door Latch Adjustment: Clean the door latches before making adjustments.Use a silver pencil to mark inside of the door latches in 1/8″ increments (see diagram 2). Loosen the (3) ½” bolts securing the door latches with an impact wrench.DIAGRAM 2PMD-Diagram 2Move the door latches towards the door 1/8″. Tighten all three bolts with ½” impact wrench – they must be very tight. Close the door and lock it. Test for leaks by filling with water. Repeat steps if necessary.3rd: Adjust 4 U – bolt manual latches on outside of the tank while under vacuum.DIAGRAM 3PMD-Diagram 3