From decreased safety risk and manual labor to increased time and cost efficiencies, there’s no shortage of benefits derived from applying vacuum excavation in a variety of industries.
Vacuum excavation methods enable faster, more precise digging efforts, prevent unnecessary environmental damage, severely reduce the potential for strikes on buried infrastructure and allow for cleaner work areas and more versatile implementation. For these reasons and more, it has become a staple across several industries, including:
- Water and sewer utilities
- Oil and gas
Whether hydro or air vac, applying vacuum excavation has become a popular choice for working with, around, or near some of the following elements:
- Water and sewer pipes
- Pole holes
- Soil pits
- Electrical lines and manholes
- Substation trenches, pit boxes, and pier shafts
- Gas and oil pipelines and pipeline crossings
- Buried infrastructure
- New plants and compressor stations
- Fiber optic lines
- Broadband networks
- Streetlights, road signs, and traffic lights
- Valve boxes
- New developments
Compared to many of the older, more traditional, or mechanical means of digging across the aforementioned industries, vacuum excavation is a safer and more reliable method. In these settings, specific applications for which vacuum excavation is used to unearth and manage sensitive pipes, lines, and cables in the ground comprise the following:
Daylighting or Potholing
To help protect workers, projects, and underground infrastructure, utility, and construction teams should always take care to execute daylighting, otherwise known as potholing, before digging. It is a process of exposing underground utilities without the risk of causing damage to them. The technique garners visual confirmation of underground utilities, providing insight into their location, length, and depth so workers can safely excavate around them. Vacuum excavation’s lack of mechanical means makes it a much safer option for this application.
The method involves digging a series of very small test holes, usually measuring 6 to 12 inches deep, and leverages vacuum excavation to obtain the necessary verification of underground objects all along the project’s bore path. A pressurized water or air stream can cut precisely and efficiently through the soil, allowing for minimal material removal and safeguarding workers from dangerous risks like strikes on natural gas lines.
Test pitting, also considered another form of potholing, is a minimally invasive procedure to examine subsurface conditions through a series of small excavation holes dug via vacuum excavation or manual shoveling methods. By applying highly pressurized streams of water or air to soften the ground soil and displace it from the test pits through high-suction vacuum equipment, this application of vacuum excavation can move hard or rocky ground without accidentally puncturing or harming the features below.
Because it enables crew members to identify the precise location of underground infrastructure, test pitting is the safest and most efficient way to start any excavation project. Even with flags and locators in place, there’s always some risk of running into conflicting utilities or buried lines. These types of occurrences are more prevalent than ever and have the potential to incur rather dangerous outcomes and damaging costs. You can never safely assume that you know the exact location, depth, or type of line that exists, and test pitting provides the best assurance before beginning an excavation job, rendering it a best practice in the industry.
Trenching & Slot Trenching
There are different types of trenching required for different construction projects, and the variations are determined by specific work requirements. Whether you’re dealing with slot trenching, perimeter trenching, box trenching, linear trenching, or some other form, it’s about accurately digging to a certain dimension for that particular project.
Vacuum excavation by water or air source is commonly applied to trenching activities for its precision and safety advantages. It is especially valuable for slot trenching, or the process of digging narrow trenches for the installation of cables, lines, or other systems. Vacuum excavation enhances this process by mitigating accidental hits to underground utilities, which can result in costly damage, worker injury, and/or prolonged service disruption. Vacuum excavation also necessitates less restoration effort than more conventional excavation methods.
Hole piling is work related to the drilling and excavation involved in installing piles, poles, and other cylindrical structures. These types of excavations require reliable methods for digging with a high level of precision, particularly for small-diameter piles. As with other applications, vacuum excavation fills this need with its ability to dig precisely, safely, and efficiently, clearing out the associated debris through suction hoses and leaving a cleaner worksite.
One of the most beneficial aspects of vacuum excavation is that the equipment allows for easier access to remote, restricted, or confined job sites. Essentially, the only pieces needed directly at the work location are the water or air lance and the vacuum hose, which means trucks and tanks can be positioned and connected at a distance. When working on a project that involves narrow access roads, unstable soil conditions, low overhead clearances, or similar obstructions and challenges, vacuum excavation is a major advantage. The tubes can be extended to accommodate hundreds of feet, preventing congestion and mitigating risk.
Cold Weather Digging
A major consideration for excavation work in any industry is the type or variety of soil conditions the equipment will be expected to handle, and in some cases, this could be affected by the weather. Vacuum excavation, specifically hydrovac, is ideal for lower-temperature and/or more compact soil conditions. In cold climates where frozen soil is a challenge, hydrovac equipment outfitted with a water heating mechanism makes this job immensely more accessible by breaking up hard, cold surface material for easier excavation and removal.
Debris removal is usually a significant undertaking in construction and utility settings, but with the technology of vacuum excavation, it can be managed in a faster, cleaner, and more economical way. A vacuum hose suctions debris directly into a tank for storage, which can be transported to a disposal site for removal of contents or emptied back onto the job as backfill. In some scenarios, wood pellets are employed to absorb, solidify and stabilize wet slurry from a hydrovac effort. By transforming the liquified material to a more cohesive substance, pellets can make debris removal or backfill easier, cleaner, and greener.
Across this myriad of specific industry applications, vacuum excavation continues to be fundamental. Whereas traditional processes often pose significant risks to people and profitability, vacuum excavation has provided how these types of industry projects can be conducted in a significantly safer and more effective way.
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