How to Decide Between Hydro and Air Excavation

Hiring Vacuum Excavation Experts Prevents Accidents

When it comes to locating underground utility lines, there is no doubt that vacuum excavation is the best method available. Not only is it efficient, it is also safer and cost-effective – making it an all-around great choice for any construction project. 

There are two forms of vacuum excavation: hydro and air excavation. These forms rely on water and air pressure respectively to clear earth and reveal subsurface utilities.

At first glance, these forms of utility potholing may seem like they produce the same results. Upon closer examination though, it is clear that hydro vacuum excavation will provide you with the best experience. This is because hydro excavation is faster, can be used on more difficult terrains, and can handle larger construction sites.

Still unsure of which type of vacuum excavation to choose? Keep reading to learn the pros and cons of both forms and why hydro excavation is likely the right choice for you.

The Difference Between Hydro and Air Excavation

The most obvious difference between these methods is that one relies on high-water pressure to push through the earth and the other uses air pressure. With this distinction comes a few other differences that are important to keep in mind while you decide which option to use. For example, air excavation allows you to reuse the ‘spoil material’ that was taken to refill the hole. 

There is one small caveat: air excavation also takes longer and may be ineffective against harder or denser soils. 

Both forms of utility potholing use large trailer-mounted storage units to hold the displaced soil. This makes moving the soil away from the hole or even away from the entire construction site a simple and easy process.

Regardless of whether you choose air or hydro excavation, it’s important to know how many holes you will be digging so that you know how big these storage units should be because their capacities can range anywhere between 150-2,000 gallons.

This can make a HUGE difference when you consider that the spoils will need to be dumped every time the container fills up. A larger container will make the process more efficient and easier for everyone.

Another massive quality of both hydro and air excavation is how relatively safe they are when carried out by an experienced team. Compared to backhoes or even manual excavation, vacuum excavation is proven to be very safe for your crew and avoids the risk of striking utility lines. 

utility potholing

Most Efficient Utility Potholing Choice

Without a doubt, hydro excavation is the fastest vacuum excavation option available. That’s because water erodes the ground faster and can target the dig site more accurately to form a smaller, more precise hole. Water in itself is also a flexible and adaptable form to use because it can soften the earth and make the overall excavation easier.

It’s easy to understand then, exactly why hydro excavation is the first choice when dealing with more difficult terrain consisting of particularly hard or rocky earth.

You should also consider the climate when making a decision. In the winter, the earth does tend to get colder and some soils like clay can harden. The water used for excavation can be heated with a boiler, making it much more effective than air could ever be.

The Size of Your Construction Site

The larger the construction site is, the more utility lines you will have to dig for.  This can massively prolong the process. When time is of the essence, hydro excavation should be used.

It should also be noted that the debris tanks used with hydro excavation are typically much larger than those with air. This means that you won’t be required to dump the tank’s spoils every so often (involving a trip to an off-site dumping facility). Choosing hydro excavation allows you to dig more holes in less time.          

On the other hand, vacuum excavation using air pressure will allow you to fill in the holes with the soil that was originally removed. This might work well for small construction sites because you won’t have to dump the soil away from the site – but take note: the process will still be a slower one overall, which can cause costs to rise.

Water Source

Another thing to bear in mind is where the nearest water source is located. The larger hydro excavation tanks can hold up to 1300 gallons of water which roughly translates into about 3-5 hours of dig time. When you run out of water, it will need to be refilled somewhere. This isn’t a problem at all if you have an on-site or nearby water supply, but it could be more of an inconvenience if the water supply is farther afield. 

While you won’t face this problem with an air tank, air often isn’t enough alone to excavate all utility lines. When you reach a particular difficult dig site, most vacuum excavation teams will switch to water  anyway to get the job done. Using hydro excavation in the first place will prevent the hassle of switching to a different form and technique in the middle of a project.

The Bottom Line

While there are certainly benefits to both hydro and air excavation, most evidence points to hydro excavation being the most efficient and hassle-free method. 

Hydro excavation is known to be much faster and more effective when digging through difficult or frozen terrain. However, if you are located far away from a reliable water source, air excavation could be a better option.

It is always important to consider a specific construction site before making a decision. Taking into account the size, terrain, and location of the construction site will help you understand your excavation needs and which form of excavation is best. 

Public vs Private Utility Locating: What’s The Difference?

Orange Country Sewer Pipe Locator

Are you planning to excavate or dig on your property? First and foremost, you need to locate where utility lines are. This is crucial to avoid consequential damage to mains lines or even injuring yourself in the process. You will need to hire professionals to do the locating job for you to guarantee accuracy. With many lines that could be buried just outside of your property, a proper assessment is absolutely necessary before you go on with your project. If you want to determine the exact location and path of public utility lines, the professional knowledge of a public utility locator will come in handy.

On private property, a private utility locator will be the best fit to do the job. In general, the difference between public and private utility locating services is that public locating has to do with locating utilities in the public right of way while private locating has to do with locating utilities on private property.

Upon locating, you can dig with confidence knowing that you are not at risk of running into a utility line. Know more about sewer line locators.

Why it is important to call a private utility locate

Since not all utility lines are covered by an 811 Call Before You Dig service, a private utility locator company can help you with locating, marking, and mapping the utility lines.  Especially those owned by a private owner. By using the latest state-of-the-art technology, our technicians will guarantee you a 97% accuracy rate. At Util-Locate, we use the most advanced tools to tackle any condition on-site including unfavorable soil conditions, broken or cut lines, corroded pipes, hard-to-detect material such as plastic lines, clay, insulated cast iron, and concrete pipes. Our experience and expertise in locating these types of pipes become a great asset for you and serve a great role in damage prevention.

Whether you are planning to build a fence, carry out renovation or undertake a construction project, it is extremely important that you are aware of underground gas lines, sewer lines, fiber optics, and water lines that may be passing beneath your construction site. For private utilities, it is a completely different approach compared to a public utility. This is because private systems records are not comprehensive and may be missing in some cases. Alternatively, the available records may show a different mapping from the actual installation on the ground. This poses a special challenge that can only be addressed by a professional private utility locator. By using electromagnetic equipment utilities can be accurately located regardless of the material used for the lines.

What you need to do

To be on the safe side of things, you need both private and a public utility locate services. A public utility service is free and can be accessed by calling 811. A public locator will mark any lines that pass near your property such as telephone lines, street lights, traffic lights, cable television lines and any other. However, they are not in a position to mark private lines such as septic systems or buried tanks.

Professional Excavation Advice in Exposing Buried Utilities

Utility Potholing Services

Great care should always be taken when attempting to expose buried utilities. There are a number of dangers that can be hazardous to workers underground, with electrical cabling having the potential to kill. They can often look very similar to other piping, meaning workers can unknowingly make contact with the live cabling and sustain serious damage.

Instead, when potholing utilities, you should always plan ahead to ensure your own and other people’s safety.

Safety Tips

There are a variety of things that can happen when underground cabling gets damaged. People can receive an electric shock, which is deadly in most cases when they make contact with the cable. There can also be an arc discharge, caused by the electrical breakdown of gases which results in a prolonged electrical discharge. This discharge can result in severe burns even though people may be wearing protective clothing.

In order to avoid this damage, you should first plan ahead before starting any work. You should make an effort to check for any equipment owned by third-party organizations, as this will give you clues as to who may own the cabling beneath the ground you are working on. It would then be a good idea to contact the owner to get detailed plans showing the location of the cabling beneath the ground. This will uncover vital information that can help to avoid damaging existing infrastructures, which can incur a significant cost in monetary terms, as well as time delays.

Even after obtaining detailed plans, it is also good practice to employ cable-locating devices. Plans will give you an approximate location for cabling, but locators will help to pinpoint cables. Once this is done, you can then begin digging into the ground to expose your buried utilities.

utility potholing

Excavating Safely

When excavating, you should be mindful of the cabling beneath you.

It is vital that you use insulated hand tools when digging near electrical cabling, in order to mitigate the chance of electric shock. If you are using a vacuum excavator, you won’t have to worry about this risk.

Any vacuum excavation contractors performing Hydrovac excavation should be mindful of their machinery’s location. There have been times where people have accidentally moved the boom into overhead powerlines, causing electric shocks. This highlights the importance of spatial awareness when operating this machinery. It is incredibly important that workers do not become complacent and always remain aware of the imminent danger surrounding them.

It is recommended that when operating machinery in close proximity to overhead powerlines, you keep a minimum of 3 meters away from the live cable, with an optimal distance of 7 meters to ensure safety.

One of the biggest benefits of utility potholing and vacuum excavation over hand digging is the reduced chance of damaging the line. Excavators have the ability to significantly reduce the pressure at which they dig, meaning you can uncover existing cabling without causing any damage. There is one safe method of digging where you dig down next to the location of the cabling and then horizontally move closer to expose the cable. This can be much safer than digging straight down, where you could potentially hit the cable with the dig wand. See more underground location services.


In summary, there are many ways that you can ensure safety when attempting to expose buried utilities.

It is always best to find out who owns the cabling in the area you plan to dig. They will have existing documentation detailing the approximate locations of cables in the area. You can then pinpoint the locations with locator devices and dig safely. Everyone should remain mindful of the dangers electricity poses to human life, checking that machinery is sufficiently far away from live power lines too.

If you want to find out more about exposing buried utilities and excavation, you can visit

Why Use GPR for Utility Locating

util locate man at work

In the business of underground utility locating services, it is critical that you know what exactly lies beneath the surface at a site such as pipes and conduits. The replacement and rerouting of underground infrastructure can be time-consuming, often very costly and is a disturbance to the environment. It is thus important to utilize tools that would provide accurate assessments and efficiently save on time, resources, and space.

The tools used for locating utilities are quite diverse, but most are met with multiple limitations. One method commonly used is the energizing of cables and metals with electric current and then with the help of a magnetic-field sensor, detecting the current. However, there are instances where the metallic object is broken, or there is a presence of non-metallic elements, which makes detection of current impossible or difficult. Read more about a private locate company near me.

Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) is an underground utility locator that uses radio waves to locate sub-surface structures and objects without causing any damage. The radio waves/signals/frequencies will bounce off the object it comes to contact with and is received back at the antenna. From the antenna, they are transmitted by wire to a computer for processing, analysis, and display on the computer screen.

GPR is used in materials like concrete, asphalt, soil and rock, water, plastic, metal, and wood. It can also detect non-objects such as voids (hollow cavities). As such, under favorable conditions, GPR can virtually see anything.

If you are seeking for underground utility locating services, there are multiple reasons why GPR is a good fit. The end goal is to save as much time, resources, and space while getting accurate assessments.

Benefits of GPR

Provides accurate location and detection.

GPR is one underground utility locator that can trace both metallic and non-metallic utilities. These elements may include water, gas pipes, polythene, and even fiber-optic cables, which other methods find difficult or impossible to detect. It can also provide detection of pipe leakages and voids although, this will require further processing of the data.

The underground utility locator will also give you the exact locations of these objects inclusive of their depths. More so, it will perform this function without having prior knowledge of the utility’s respective location. It becomes a significant advantage when dealing with an area with complete unknowns.

Provides non-destructive examination.

The GPR underground utility locator uses either magnetic or electromagnetic principles to identify and map out the location of underground utilities. Its approach enables it to reinforce steel within concrete and voids without damaging surrounding surfaces and structures. It also enables non-intrusive inspection of a site, therefore preserving the structure and preventing project downtime.

It is cost-effective.

Utilizing GPR underground utility locating services before performing directional drilling will save you from causing damage to existing utilities, which promotes cost-effective installations. It will minimize or eliminate; setbacks from structure damages, expensive job downtime, worker injury, or shutdown of a facility for a severed utility line.

It is user-friendly.

Originally, GPR was considered a major capital investment, dedicated only to experts and skilled operators. The underground utility locator required expertise to operate owing to its complexity and its need for hands-on data processing. However, with technological advancements and innovation, the new GPR equipment is of uncomplicated electronic designs with user-friendly interfaces that do not require complex filter settings.

Other benefits of using GPR for underground utility locating services include:

  • Early tracing of warning signs and,
  • Fast, reliable diagnosis of problems.

Util-Locate has been a trusted provider of Ground Penetrating Radar services in California. We are qualified to do even the most challenging job. Let us know how we can help.

Why Potholing is Highly Recommended for Construction Projects

Potholing Job Completion

Construction contractors can use potholing to safely control potential problems while searching for underground utility main lines, such as for natural gas or cable television, without causing a severe inconvenience in the local area. The loose soil from the test hole can be quickly and easily removed with vacuum excavation to then provide an open space for construction workers to use to inspect for underground utility main lines. With practical techniques for reducing the number of potential problems, a construction contractor can control the costs and can focus on the construction schedule.

Utility potholing locates utility lines by using forceful water pressure to push through the earth, creating a small home in the process. When the hole is deep enough, your construction crew will be able to visually confirm the location of any underground utility lines. This will allow your other construction work to resume without risk of interfering with any existing lines.

Potential Problems for Construction Contractors

The location of some underground utility main lines may not be documented because those lines for fiber optics or wastewater may not have been used by the current owner of a building that had been demolished for a new project such as for new art and entertainment center. The contractor can use potholing in construction projects to prevent problems and to protect the workers who could be injured by an underground hazard.

utility potholing

Evaluation of Potential Costs

The process for being offered a construction project usually includes bids from several contractors who must submit a construction plan and a budget for the project. Some of those contractors could encounter budget problems, such as for additional labor, equipment and supplies expenses while being forced to replace an underground utility line that had been accidentally damaged while trying to build an underground garage for a new apartment building. Managers can use potholing in construction projects to protect investments and to become more prepared for accurately planning a new project.

With the risk of utility line damage and service interruptions, comes expensive and time-consuming delays that might have to be approved by a local planning permission authority. Time is an expensive commodity on any construction site, which makes these delays and extra expenses something you don’t want to risk. Bypass these dangers by hiring an experienced potholing team. Not only will this keep your construction project running on time, but you will also be keeping the crew and nearby residents protected from utility outages.

Easy Access to Construction Sites in Isolated Locations

Some heavy construction equipment could be unsafe in an isolated area where a hidden water well or a concealed sinkhole had not been filled with soil to control the problem. With vacuum excavation, a contractor can use equipment that will cause fewer safety problems and that can be used to easily remove soil without blocking a path with a pile of soil while digging to search for underground utility lines.

Protection for Workers and the Environment

The aesthetic advantage of underground utility lines is a problem for contractors who want to quickly locate those underground utility lines. The techniques for utility potholing can be used to minimize the degree of damage to the topsoil at a construction site. With more detailed information about underground utility lines, a contractor can move forward with a project while also protecting the environment and not endangering a worker.

Plans for Controlling a Potential Problem

Vacuum excavation will prevent damage to utility lines, flooding, and service outages. Additionally, construction crews cannot dig in ‘safe zones’, which is the land that runs parallel alongside the utility lines.

In conjunction with utility potholing, you can first find the approximate location of unground utility lines and other facilities by using digital equipment and ground-penetrating RADAR. However, nothing can replace the certainty that comes with vacuum excavation and visual confirmation of the utility lines.

The various factors for improving the quality of a construction project can be controlled with different methods such as with more safety equipment and with innovative techniques. A contractor can use utility potholing to reduce the worker turnover rate with safer working conditions and to ensure that the project will be a success. Project managers can conveniently contact Util-Locate for professional advice about the potholing services for a construction site.

Why Utility Potholing Is Essential for A Successful Construction Project

Pot Holing Truck MacArthur

It’s long been said that if humans could see all that is under the ocean, they’d never leave the shore. The same is true of nearly any developed property, whether you are starting a new structure, repairing a building or adding to an existing site. You’re going to want to look into a process called “utility potholing.”

Potholing is a construction method where a small hole is placed in the ground through a process called vacuum excavation. Once the hole is deep enough, it is possible for a construction or inspection crew to confirm the presence of utility lines visually, and water or sewer pipes. Once located, the crew will be in a position to make certain the existing lines won’t conflict with either above or below-ground construction plans.

The equipment used to create the excavations through the potholing process are self-contained units designed to avoid damaging underground infrastructure. Here’s why utility potholing is essential for a successful construction project

utility potholing

Safe Zones

To avoid the possibility of damage to lines and subsequent site damage, flooding or service outages in the surrounding community, construction crews are not permitted to dig in safe zones, which are the areas within a few feet of either side of any previously located utility line.

Though it is possible to approximate the location of utilities and underground facilities using digital equipment and ground-penetrating RADAR, it is far more precise and far less risky if the construction crew can visually ascertain the location and alignment of any lines that might pose a hazard to the construction project.

Scheduling and Costs

Leaving aside the potential of damage and service interruptions in the event a dig might sever an underground line, the resulting delays and potential sanctions experienced by a contractor or construction crew can be both costly and harmful to the construction crew itself. Time is money, and many construction projects are operating on thin margins in the best of circumstances. The minimal time savings of bypassing prudent potholing isn’t comparable to the practically unlimited liability issues involved in damaging a public utility.  It’s always better to be on the safe side if only to protect the other residents in the neighborhood.  


What if it were possible to simply vacuum soil out of the ground at a precise location? If no tools are penetrating the ground, they can’t damage anything built underground either. If a vacuum can store the removed soil, it can also replace that soil, meaning there is no lasting effect on the site. The vacuum excavation process, therefore, delivers a non-destructive way to inspect the subterranean environment without any of the above-noted risks.  

If a process is safer, less expensive, leaves no permanent evidence it was ever performed, and can obtain better and more accurate information about ways to avoid damaging a site or public property, it stands to reason it is something that should be considered any time there is a potential for the presence of utility lines at a construction site.