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What is Hydro Excavation?

By S. Crawford
Updated May 17, 2024
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Hydro excavation is a process where a high-pressure water stream and vacuum system is used to dig in soil. It is useful for its ease in removing excess soil from an area. It is less likely than other methods to rupture existing utility lines and pipes. Hydro excavation is considered by construction and demolition specialists to be a surgical method of digging into soil. It is faster and more precise than the current industry standard mechanical way of removing soil to uncover utility pipes and to dig holes.

Contractors regularly need to perform underground construction work. Often, they need to dig underground to install and repair utility pipelines or to maintain municipal sewer and water channels. When digging underground in tight spaces, hydro excavation offers contractors the ability to dig precisely where they need to without disturbing the surrounding soil or pipes. Hydro excavators have a critical advantage over industry standard diggers and backhoes, since it is easy for diggers and backhoes to burst existing utility pipes and water channels.

The current industry standard excavating equipment consists of excavators and backhoes that dig up the dirt and transport it to a dirt pile or a holding truck. Once the underground construction is finished, the dirt is then either removed or replaced. The downside to using this massive equipment occurs when the metal portion of the backhoe accidentally contacts and damages an existing pipeline. Such accidents can cause injury to construction workers, and they cause major utility outages. Since hydro excavation uses water pressure to break up the soil and a vacuum to remove the soil, it is all done simultaneously, and water pressure does not damage existing pipelines.

Another benefit to using hydro excavation include lower insurance costs to contractors. This benefit comes as a result of the safety in using hydro excavation over other methods of excavation. The equipment is more likely to be able to access areas that traditional heavy-duty machinery cannot reach, such as steep inclines or small backyards. Hydro excavation uses a smaller labor force, since only one piece of equipment is required to do the job.

Although construction contractors currently continue to use large mechanical equipment to drill underground, hydro excavation is gaining popularity. Increasing governmental response to utility outages due to construction mishaps is putting pressure on contractors to be more accurate when carrying out underground construction work. More contractors are looking for technological advances such as hydro excavation to complete underground construction jobs. With contractors beginning to specialize in hydro excavation, it is likely that the method will gain a reputation as a fast and safe way to excavate.

AboutMechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon117879 — On Oct 12, 2010

as a hydro excavator operator i was looking for some where to gain certification as a hydro excavator operator. As they are not in any award wage categories, who really is a qualified hydro excavator?

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