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What is Vacuum Excavation ? 


Vacuum excavation, or suction excavation, is the process of removing soil from from the ground or removing debris from various ground locations via a vacuum hose which varies between six and 8 inches in diameter. The vacuum air inlet has a speed of up to 220 mph.


Vacuum Excavation Worker

The vacuum boom is guided by an operator that raises and lowers the vacuum hose to reach and suction material into the vacuum tank. Simultaneously a high pressure air or water jetter loosens the soil so that the vacuum nozzle can pick up the debris. If a rock is too large for the vacuum hose there is enough vacuum pressure to lift the rock and place it aside.


Vacuum excavation operations may either be via compressed air or high-pressure water. Either excavation method is considered best practice in locating underground utilities and reducing downtime from striking underground utilities.

Vacuum excavators will pick up virtually any kind of material such as mud, stones and pebbles, railway ballast, sand, and water.

How Does it Work

Using high pressure water or compressed air through a hand-held wand, the operator can be surgically precise in digging trenches, tunnels, and holes - and it results in less soil disturbance and quicker project completion.

Utilities Exposed by Vacuum ExcavationUtilities Exposed by Vacuum Excavation

Vacuum excavation helps public agencies to locate sensitive underground utilities and expose them for daylighting, helping to fully map and locate these utilities. Operators usually report finding many more underground utilities than initially reported, avoiding underground strikes and ultimately saving time and money for taxpayers and contractors.

Suction excavation can be used for bulk excavation in confined areas. The vacuum hose and high pressure line can reach over or through barriers into a residential backyard to dig a pool.

Railways can vacuum old track ballast off and around rail tracks and then re-ballast the track.

Under ideal conditions a vacuum excavator can dig a 5 foot hole 10 inches in diameter in 15 min. or less.

Soft excavation technology is changing the excavation industry by offering more precise cutting of holes, safer access to utilities, reduced hand digging, reduced backhoe work, or other mechanical means.

Traditional exploratory excavation techniques still expose ground workers to risk of injury, even when used with Ground Penetrating Radar or Cable Avoidance Tools. Services that are missed or simply untraceable can be damaged and will cause project delays and cost overruns.

As a result of these advantages, this method of excavation has become popular in the past 15 years. It is a relatively environmentally friendly excavation process.

Where Is It Used

Vacuum excavation offers a non-destructive digging method in many areas:

  • Utility line location (potholing)
  • Installation and repair for utility companies and pipelines
  • Sewer and pipe repair and installation
  • Sewer jetting
  • Manhole rehabilitation
  • Sump and catch basin cleaning
  • Slot trenching and excavation
  • Waterline maintenance and repair
  • Railway maintenance and repair
  • Horizontal directional drilling
  • Excavation in congested areas
  • Sign and pole installation
  • Excavation for landscaping
  • Precision digging
  • Construction site cleanup
  • Environmental cleanup


Contractors, companies and public agencies are discovering the huge benefits and advantages of vacuum excavation.


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