Excavation 101: What is Hydro Excavation?

October 1, 2020

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According to a research report published by IBISWorld, in 2020, there were over 40,000 excavation companies located in the United States. Many don't think about the excavation, demolition, and drainage industry until it's time to move some ground. Whether you've had a home built, worked in construction yourself, or simply performed renovations to your land, there's a likelihood that at some point, you needed to locate the underground utilities and possibly expose them for building or safety purposes. Property owners that require an excavation service like this don't want to deal with unnecessary damages to their site, so what's the ideal way to perform excavation with minimal disturbance?

hydro excavation project

WHAT IS Hydro Excavation?

Hydro excavation is an advanced method that excavation contractors use to break up the soil. The primary goal is reaching the lines and other features found below the surface. A hydro excavation truck sprays water onto the area, and a vacuum removes the debris without causing any subsequent problems.

That's the general answer to 'what is hydro excavation,' but there's more to this dynamic excavation service. Are you curious about how the hydro excavation process works? Why would you choose hydro excavation over other excavation options available? How much does hydro excavation cost? Maybe you even want to become a hydrovac excavation truck operator yourself! Now's the time to "dig" in deep and discover all there is to know about hydro excavation.

How Do You Hydro Excavate?

Now, before you jump on your computer or smartphone and start looking for hydro excavation equipment, you should know that the service of hydro excavation is one that's always performed by a highly-trained professional. There are likely excavation companies in your area that offer it, but before you pay someone, it's always helpful to know what to expect. When you're calling around to get an excavation contractor to work for you, knowing what you're ordering up is one of the only ways to tell if the person you're talking to is an expert. Ask questions during the initial consultation, and the information you get from this explanation will tell you if you're dealing with a specialist in hydro excavation or not.

We already told you briefly that hydro excavation is performed with a hydro excavation truck. To detail that a bit further, you need to understand what the vehicle does. A hydro excavation truck has several different capabilities, including a pressurized water mechanism, a vacuum or air conveyance system, and a debris tank.

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  • First, the water in the truck runs through the mechanism that pressurizes it, and a handheld wand blasts in a precise area where the excavation contractor wants to reveal the underground utilities. Next, the vacuum follows the broken-up soil and lifts it away from the construction area before finally releasing it into the debris tank.
  • Depending on the hydro truck, there is either a fan system or a displacement blower used for the vacuum. The fan system allows for more soil to move at a faster rate. A displacement blower is utilized when there isn't quite as much dirt, but the initial excavation is deeper, and the debris has to be relocated at a further distance.

When looking at your own hydro excavation service need, think about which of these methods will be most efficient. When you're talking with your preferred excavation company, confirm that they have the equipment capable of doing the job the right way.

What Are the Benefits of Hydro Excavation? 

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It's no secret that the excavation industry is a risky one. A report issued by the CDC states that, on average, there are 54 excavation contractor fatalities each year. As part of shaping the business into a safer one, hydro excavation is becoming more and more prevalent. Not only because the application works, but because it's less destructive and non-mechanical. That means that injuries and fatalities for those that are on the jobsite aren't as likely.

  1. Besides making the job more safeguarded, why else do contractors often prefer hydro excavation? It was an idea that first became recognized in Canada by oil and gas companies. The ground was frozen most of the year, and the warm, powerful water spray was a much easier way to get through the rock-solid earth. Rather than wasting human resources, running heavy equipment, and spending hours digging, the hydro excavation truck could blast away the soil in a fraction of the time.
  2. Not only was it quicker and less daunting, but it was also discovered to be a more accurate way to locate what can't be seen. Traditionally, backhoes were used in excavation services. However, the process was never near as efficient, and without the precision of a hydro excavation water sprayer line, underground lines were blindly hit, and landscapes suffered extensive losses. 
  3. Finally, the cost of hydro excavation is lower, mainly because of the two benefits already brought up. There isn't as much of a risk to the employees. The chances of the surrounding soil and landscape being destroyed aren't as high. When these factors are eliminated, the price of hydro excavation goes down automatically, which is great for homeowners looking at hiring a professional excavation company!

What is a Hydrovac Used For?

A hydrovac, or hydro excavation truck, is required for any hydro excavation service. 

Here are few principal ones that most experienced excavation contractors will automatically use a hydrovac for instead of any other excavation equipment. 

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  1. Daylighting or potholing is required when there is a reason to expose underground utilities. It's usually either to repair what's underneath or a requirement when building a new infrastructure for safety and building code purposes.
  2. The process of slot trenching or digging trenches for the installation of pipes, posts, and cables that are narrow is another reason why the hydrovac gets called into the construction site. It's the most precise way to get the smaller excavation completed without any additional backfilling.
  3. Signs, fence posts, utility poles, and other exterior features are being installed more frequently with hydro vacs as well. The unit can take a diameter and depth measurement and complete the excavation in that specific area only. It's quicker, less destructive, and more affordable.

Although these are the most common uses for hydro vacs, you can expect to see more applications for the equipment soon with the always evolving excavation industry.

How Much Does Hydro Excavation Cost?

Typically, when a more advanced method is introduced to any contractor industry, you can expect to pay more. The hydro vac is an expensive piece of equipment, the excavation contractors need training on how to operate it, and there is more to the project than driving in a backhoe. So, the number one question many property owners have is, how much does hydro excavation cost?

You can't expect to get an exact dollar amount for any excavation service because professionals that work in the field know that there aren't any two jobs that are the same. To begin with, your best option is to call at least one to three excavation companies that offer hydro excavation. 

hiring the right excavation contractor in CT

Generally, they will provide you with a detailed estimate, and you can decide based on the conversation and the price if it's going to work with your need and budget. For a basic understanding of what hydro excavation should cost, here are a few things to consider:

  • Does the excavation company charge by the hour or the project?
  • How much soil needs to be excavated?
  • How much water will they have to use?
  • Are there additional costs associated with the hydrovac equipment operating?
  • Is the area benign hydro excavated challenging to reach?
  • Will you be charged for travel time to and from the jobsite?
  • Does the excavation company debit you for the disposal of the debris?

During your consultation, be sure to get the answers to these questions along with the exact amounts the company charges. A reputable excavation contractor will be able to give you an individualized estimate that's customized for your demands without hesitation. If at any time you're not sure about what they are incorporating in the cost, you may want to consider a different contractor.

How Do I Become a Hydrovac Operator?

After learning all there is to know about the fascinating world of hydro excavation, does it leave you wondering how to become a hydrovac operator? Even if you don't want to change career fields, you should know what these contractors have to do to be trusted working with the heavy equipment around your property. 

Not just anyone walking onto the jobsite can run hydro excavation equipment. It requires at least two years of vocational training in vacuum excavation services. After completing the course, you can generally apply to an excavation company and get an entry-level position without experience. Like with most jobs, though, the more experience you have, the greater your skill level. With the leverage of skills available, you can then negotiate a higher pay rate. On average, hydro operators make around $57,000 a year.

excavation contractors in CT

Some other requirements to think about if you want to become a hydro operator are:

  • Possession of a valid driver's license
  • Top-notch hand-eye coordination
  • Ability to pay attention to detail
  • Knowing the importance of maintaining a safe working environment
  • Physical stamina and strength are vital

The excavation industry is a big one. Remember the 40,000 businesses in the United States we mentioned in the beginning? It's an honest career, and if you're serious about joining the group, there are opportunities available.

Hydro Excavation 101 - Conclusion

That's it! That's your Hydro Excavation 101 crash course. Now you understand that hydro excavation is a process that uses a piece of heavy equipment called a hydrovac for various excavation services like locating lines, digging trenches, or installing fence posts. High pressurized water is applied with precision to exposing underground utilities, and a vacuum removes the disturbed soil and disposes it away from the work area. It's cleaner, safer, and more efficient, which also makes it more affordable. 

excavation company in CT

As a bonus, included with your answer to 'what is hydro excavation,' you even have a few clues on becoming a hydro operator yourself. Before you start digging around on your property, call your preferred local excavation company and learn more about your options for the quickest, most reliable, and highest safeguarded plan to do excavation at your home or business location.

Who We Are

Excavation Contractors CT by Hat City Construction has been doing general excavation services in Connecticut for over 40 years. The fully trained, experienced, and respectful excavation contractors have the knowledge required to perform all services including grading, foundation digging, septic installation, and drainage. Hydro excavation services by these top-notch professionals are also available at competitive rates. Learn more about who they are and what they can do for you by calling for a complimentary estimate or visit their new user-friendly website today!

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