How Does a Vacuum Excavator Work

March 30, 2021

We are all familiar with the stories of accidents happening while digging. Some improper techniques have led to property damage and even severe explosions.

These techniques jeopardize not only the companies and homeowners but the employee's safety. Safety is the top priority when using Vacuum excavators. This guide will tell you how these tools can help safely break through hard soil.

What Is a Vacuum Excavator?

Vacuum excavators enhance technologies that offer an alternative to hazardous hand digging. It's a non-mechanical, non-destructive of safely exposing buried utilities.

There is a reason why these techniques, known as a soft dig or suction excavation, get the job done. These tools shoot pressurized water into the soil to help break it down.

But, it's done in a way to cut the damage in half. Once the dig is complete an air vacuum begins to collect the debris much like a dentist's tools.

The specially designed tanks collect this debris for waste management. Once it's in the tank, it can recycle new waste or move to a new location. They can also backfill a hole, if necessary.

The model units range in size and the price varies depending on the job. One popular unit, known as the Skid Mount, began to rise in popularity during the mid-'90s.

These vehicles are helpful when dealing with operations requiring horizontal-directed drilling. The size of the smallest unit can break down into a mid-sized pickup truck.

A Santa, Ana California company creates Pacific Tek brand vacuum excavators. Pacific Tek creates a broad range of vacuum excavators. These units can range anywhere from sixty-six gallons to twelve thousand gallons.

The debris pulled from the ground is measured in cubic feet. The company can accurately measure the amount of debris pulled from the ground.

How Does Vacuum Excavation Work

Two methods use either: high-pressure water or air. These machines include a product known as a Positive Displacement unit. The excavation units break through the ground either by a positive displacement blower or by air powered by a fan.

For now, we'll focus specifically on the water-based method. This method is known as hydro vacuum excavation.

High-pressure water loosens the soil and digs a hole. It is used to help decrease the holding strength of the soil. This makes it easier to break the soil and suction.

The vacuum technology used with hydro excavation removes wet and muddy excavated material. This debris removed is then stored in a nearby storage tank.

This method can also excavate any kind of frozen ground. The heated water is shot through the surface breaking the waterline.

These tools can locate and measure various underground utilities. It can safely work around equipment buried in the ground.

Among other things, these tools can cover:

  • safely digging beneath buildings
  • cleaning catch basins and valve boxes
  • surveying and geotechnical drilling
  • covering or preparing potholes
  • dig trenches with accuracy
  • sewage line repairs

Trucks have a dual excavation system that connects to the tank. This system includes a compressor and a high-powered vacuum. They can puncture and dig through gravel, types of clay, and expose cables inside of frozen territory.

The hydro-vacuum is known to be more effective with clay material. Especially in frozen areas with rocky clay-type soil.

Hydro-Vacuum Excavation Benefits

One benefit of hydro excavation is its small destruction radius. These tools can be less invasive to the natural settings around them.

These tools can avoid the mass damage radius of a traditional hydraulic digging tool. This type of abrasive digging can also create health hazards for workers.

The forceful digging can scatter toxic material into the air. Workers not able to collect the debris can breathe in this material which can cause associated health conditions.

Instead of heavy tools, these precision machines can dig with minimal damage. This accuracy can guarantee less disposal of materials. It also includes less restoration time after completing the project.

Besides, cleaning up after a heavy project is easy. Since tanks are collecting the debris the cleaning is kept to a minimum. It's also easier to direct traffic as the materials are small enough to provide a clear detour. This can reduce the cost of disposal.

Another great benefit of hydro excavation is the reduced manpower. Unlike conventional digging processes, hydro-excavation takes fewer crew members to fulfill.

One of the biggest advantages is its ability to keep pipelines intact. Utility equipment can be avoided while powering through the soil. Mechanical methods of digging can cause a puncture in a pipeline.

This, as said before, can prevent dangerous explosions or ruptures through the city systems. No mechanical moving parts will ever touch the utility equipment.

This method can be used on most utility systems. But, overall, it's a great way to keep all employees safe. Workers can stay on the surface while the digging tools do the heavy-duty work underground.

It is known as the safest most cost-effective method of digging. Through hydro-excavation, workers avoid trench or tunnel cave-ins. It can also prevent electrocution or further damage to city power lines.

Contact Information

Be sure to check with local laws to see the requirements for using this type of equipment. Certain states require visual confirmation of equipment found or on-site. These rules apply to any area that focuses on potholing or trench digging.

When reshaping new utilities or potholing, all affiliates must follow OSHA requirements. These are a must for any worker entering and making the junction.

The laws require each individual to contact 811 before planning any excavations. Private utility locators are also useful in marking outlines that run beyond the service meter.

If individuals fail to notify authorities or professional consultants, it could result in dire consequences. This could lead to a digging accident that can cost major damage to properties and injure innocent workers.

Vacuum Excavators

There are several benefits of water vacuum excavators. These tools lead to damage prevention and low cost. This is the main reason why many companies are adopting this method of digging.

Follow our construction blog for more information on how to safely and accurately excavate.


Carlos Diaz
I believe in making the impossible possible because there’s no fun in giving up. Travel, design, fashion and current trends in the field of industrial construction are topics that I enjoy writing about.

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