How to Hire the Right Excavation Contractor

July 13, 2018

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Hiring the right excavating contractor is the first step needed for planting, paving, installation, or construction projects outside your home, and for ensuring the safety and durability of that work over time.

To hire the right excavating contractor, you'll need a company that specializes in the excavating you need to have done, that offers any finishing services you'll require along with the excavating itself, and that has the experience necessary to get the job done quickly and safely.

​To ensure you hire the right excavating contractor, it may be good to discuss what you should know before hiring a contractor in general and how to vet a contractor, as well as the best time to hire a contractor, and the differences in excavating services you might need. It's also good to know a bit more about the additional services you might need from an excavator, including grading and removal of the displaced soil, so you can ensure the entire excavating job is done correctly from start to finish.

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What to know before hiring a contractor

Hiring an excavator is like hiring any contractor; you need to ensure you're getting a qualified company for the job at hand, that they have a strong track record of customer service and reliability, and that you know you won't face any surprise charges or fees for the work to be done. Note a few tips on how to accomplish all that!

  • Know what you need before the project begins. For excavating, you may need more than just digging; your job might need to include hauling away the dirt, bracing up an excavation, grading your property, or adding lime or clay to your property's soil to keep it firm and stable before something is installed or poured in that excavated area.
  • Check on a contractor's license and insurance policy. What are the coverage limits of their insurance? If it's too low, you may not be fully reimbursed if an excavator should cause damage to your property during their work. Considering that an excavator can run into a home or garage or pull up plumbing pipes or buried cables if they're not careful, this coverage amount is vitally important!
  • Check your local Better Business Bureau or other small business administration, as well as online review sites, to see if a contractor has a history of excellent customer service, or if he or she has a lot of negative reviews and criticisms. However, be judicious when you read these reviews; for example, if someone complains that a contractor's quote was too high, remember that this isn't a reflection on their work.
  • When hiring any contractor, you want to look for a specialist. For excavating, note that there is a difference between digging a pit for an in-ground pool, versus digging out an old septic tank or clearing vegetation and rocks for a new driveway. Each type of excavating work will require specialized equipment, as well as training in how to safely dig a particular pit or clear your property. Whatever the case, be sure to note if the contractor specializes in the work you need to have done.
  • Check if an excavation contract includes cleanup and restoration work. An excavator may tear up your property's lawn with their equipment, so putting down sod or seed or at least replacing divots can be needed so that your property is restored as much as possible after the work completed.
  • A contract or quote should also include start and completion dates. While a contractor might run into unforeseen complications during a job, he or she should allow some "leeway" for these complications, while still being able to finish the job within that particular timeframe.

​One other essential step in hiring a contractor is to get multiple quotes from various companies. While comparing these quotes, note that the cheapest contractor isn't necessarily going to be the best; as said, you'll want to check on all the services offered in their contract, if they specialize in the work to be done, and so on. It can be good to pay more for a company that seems better qualified and which has a proven track record of customer service, so compare prices between contractors, but look beyond those prices as well.

The best time to hire a contractor

There are three factors to consider when it comes to the best time to hire a contractor:

  • Is there a specific time of the year that's better for the project you're having done? For example, if you're planting a new garden, you might need the excavation work done in early spring. If you're installing a new in-ground pool, of course you want this work done before summertime!
  • Will you get a discount if you hire a contractor at a particular time of the year? As an example, since many homeowners want their in-ground pool installed before summertime, you might get a discount if you have your property excavated for a new pool later in the year. The same might be true for construction projects, so if you have an excavation dug for a new garage foundation or other such outbuildings in fall, you might be able to save money on that work.
  • The third factor to consider when it comes to hiring an excavator is if certain times of the year would make the excavation work especially difficult, if not downright impossible. For example, once frost has settled onto the ground, the soil becomes hardened and difficult to dig. Your local area might also be stormy in the summertime so that soil is muddy and a pit is likely to collapse. If you're not sure the best time to schedule the excavation work you need to be done, talk to an excavating contractor about your requirements and options.

​One additional consideration about the best time to hire a contractor is that you need to ensure they have enough time to dig the pit required on your property for your pool installer, landscaper, or other such professional to perform their work. Remember that it might take an excavator several days, if not even more than a week or two, to dig the excavation needed for your property, no matter its size or purpose. Don't assume that you can schedule an excavator to visit your home on a Monday so that you can have your new pool installed on Tuesday!

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Common types of excavation

When you are ready to hire the right excavating contractor, you might be surprised to learn that there are various types of excavation! If you familiarize yourself with a few terms and phrases that describe the excavating work you need to have done, you might be better able to discuss your options with a contractor, and ensure you find the right professional for the job.

  • Channel excavation removes dirt and sediment from channels and drainage ditches. This work is often done to change the direction of water, but it may also be needed to widen or otherwise modify the overall size and structure of a channel.
  • Drainage excavation, as the name implies, is done for draining water from one area to another. Drainage excavation may be done to install ditches, storm drains, irrigation pipes, and other such types of trenches.
  • Footing excavation refers to the excavation needed for foundations, and this applies to structures as well as to bridges, roadways, and the like. Footing excavation is sometimes very precise, as this digging needs to stay within the forms that are used for the concrete that is poured to create that foundation.
  • Muck excavation is done to remove very muddy or watery soil. This removal is also a specialized type of work, as specific machinery may be needed so that the runny soil doesn't drain out of a bucket or other container while it's being moved.
  • Roadway excavation is often needed to remove materials that are unsuitable for supporting a road, and this includes a residential driveway. Roadway excavation may also be required to slope and grade the area to be adequately paved.
  • Underground excavation may be needed by a homeowner who needs new sewage pipes or other such underground pieces installed. This type of digging is also very specialized, as an underground excavator will work to ensure the topsoil is not disturbed and doesn't collapse during the excavation process.

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Is excavation ever a DIY job? 

While it may be evident that digging a considerable excavation for a built-in pool or a new garage foundation is not a job for amateurs, a homeowner might wonder if a smaller hole is a DIY job. Since you can often rent a bobcat or other such digging equipment from a home improvement store, you might be tempted to handle excavation for new landscaping or a new driveway on your own, but note some precautions about trying to tackle this work yourself.

  • Even a small pit runs the risk of collapsing if it's not properly secured during excavation. Not only does this create more work, but a cave-in can also be dangerous, for workers and equipment in the pit and anyone or anything on its edge.
  • Soil may be moister than you realize so that your pit begins to fill with water or silt once you've dug through just a few feet! This water can be challenging to contain and to remove safely.
  • Rocky soil is tricky to dig through, even with a bobcat or other heavy-duty equipment. Rocks may require a jackhammer attachment to an excavator, as well as some skill in breaking them up without collapsing the soil.
  • Professional excavators often haul away the soil they've displaced, as it can be cleaned and then resold for filler dirt and other such uses. If you manage your own excavating, you would still need to make arrangements for disposing of that soil.
  • Even if underground cables, wires, pipes, and other such pieces are appropriately marked, it's still easy for an amateur to pull up or otherwise damage such equipment during excavation work. Coming into contact with any electrical wires or cables is very dangerous, and cutting through a plumbing pipe can easily cause a flood. This damage is also costly to repair!
  • Someone not skilled in using heavy-duty equipment can overlook obstructions on the property and overhead. In turn, a homeowner operating a bobcat can mistakenly run into something on their property and cause severe damage to fences or overhead wires, or to a building's foundation and its exterior walls.
  • A professional excavator will know when a project needs to be stopped because of unexpected water, rocky soil, obstructions or buried objects, and because of sudden inclement weather. This stoppage will ensure the work is done safely.
  • A property needs to be graded so that water runs off toward the street and doesn't collect near a home's foundation. On the other hand, too much water runoff can mean soil erosion, which might lead to a home shifting and settling on that dry soil. An excavating professional will ensure the property they're excavating is graded to the right level, to protect the soil and any structures on that property.
  • If you perform your excavating work and then cause damage to your property or public utilities, this damage may not be covered by your homeowner's insurance. In turn, you may be liable for the cost of repairs to your own home as well as for repairs to public sewage pipes or cables. You may also be responsible for the cost of medical treatment for any injuries suffered during this work.

​To avoid damaging your property, and avoid the risk of injury to yourself or other workers, it's good to hire the right excavating contractor when you need any digging, leveling, or other such work done on your property. Not only will a professional excavator be more skilled in getting the job done quickly and correctly, but they will also have needed insurance that would cover the cost of damages or injuries.

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