Never Just Dig Holes Again! Let the Pros Pothole Your Utilities 

utility potholing

When you are planning to carry out excavation work for a construction project, utility potholing is an absolute necessity.

If you aren’t already familiar with utility potholing, it’s a construction method that allows a crew to investigate underground and find any potential water or sewer lines. Professional utility potholing companies have specialized equipment that isn’t affordable to rent for a short term job. Typically, companies use a hydro or air jet, which gently vacuum excavates the site so that underground pipes are easily located.

You might think that using RADAR technology or ordinary hand tools would be as effective, but these techniques are in fact far less accurate. Making a mistake and damaging underground utilities on a construction site can lead to expensive, extensive, and time-consuming repairs. Utility potholing prevents these steep costs and will give you peace of mind throughout the process.

The Problem with Traditional Tools

Even if it is a small scale construction project, excavating by hand with a shovel or trowel is labor-intensive and exhausting. Hand tools are arguably useful for getting into small spaces and are certainly affordable. However, costs can pile up depending on how long the excavation drags on. Added to this, the individual and company you contracted the work might be on a tight schedule and not want to wait for the work to be done by hand.

Hand tools can also make the work more difficult depending on the terrain. Clay, rough terrain, or especially rocky land can cause all sorts of issues and delays.

Another option many people consider using are backhoes, but it’s important to remember that they should only be relied on when you aren’t worried about what’s under the construction site. So if you’re okay with tearing up an existing site, backhoes might work out fine because the job can be completed quickly.

Just bear in mind that utilities will be at risk when a backhoe is used. A spotter on the ground can only do so much and mistakes can happen in even the most careful construction zones.

Read More: Vacuum Excavation vs. Traditional Excavation Techniques


Why Choose Utilities Potholing?

As mentioned before, when done by a professional, utility potholing is an accurate and effective tool to locate underground utility lines. Here are a few of its benefits:

Minimizes damage

The tools used are gentle enough to clear away earth without damaging the lines you are trying to locate. When compared with other tools, it’s the most accurate way to find the location of water or sewage lines.

There are two types of potholing: air and hydro excavation. Both are very effective techniques and surprisingly cost-effective despite the investment in machinery.

Air or pneumatic excavation uses compressed air to displace soil and unearth the utilities that lie beneath. One benefit of using air excavation is that the soil can be reused at a later point to fill in any holes that were left behind by the excavation.

On the other hand, hydro excavation uses pressurized water to remove the soil by turning it into wet slurry and vacuuming it away. Unlike in air excavation, the wet soil can no longer be reused to refill the hole later on. Nevertheless, hydro excavation is still the most used method of utility potholing today.

Read More: Why Utility Potholing is Essential for a Successful Construction Project

utility potholing

Reduces surface damage

Another type of damage you might not have considered is surface damage. With air or hydro excavation, the actual construction site will remain relatively untouched until the real work begins. 

With traditional tools, large amounts of earth and removed from the site and relocated, which is neither time nor space-efficient.

Increases safety

A final benefit is how safe utility potholing is. When a water line is severely damaged, workers can get injured and anyone living or operating a business in the surrounding area can be seriously affected.

Causing that sort of damage cannot be taken lightly because you could be held liable for the costs and inconveniences experienced by anyone affected. So not only will you have to pay to repair the damaged lines, which is expensive in itself, but you could have to manage lawsuits and fines as well.

Tips for Professional Utility Potholing

While utility potholing is generally a far safer and quicker process than other excavation methods, there are still some precautions and techniques that should be used by professionals to ensure the process runs safely and smoothly.

Extensive planning: Before any excavation takes place, you should plan ahead. That means contacting third-parties about any cabling that might be underground. You should aim to be as precise as possible to avoid expensive damage to cables. Damaging infrastructure below the ground is one of the easiest ways to incur delays and extra expenses.

Safety is a priority: It might seem unnecessary to hire a private excavation company, but professionals are trained and highly skilled individuals. Hydro and air excavation require this level of skill and leaving it up to a professional will avoid mistakes and mishaps. Professionals are also accustomed to working on complex sites and will keep the machinery away from any overhead wires, which someone less experienced might forget about.

The Bottom Line

Vacuum excavation for utilities is one of the most sophisticated methods for exposing underground utilities. It’s safer and more effective than most alternatives, and it can be far more affordable in the long run. While it is a large upfront investment in a professional team and equipment, this investment ensures that you avoid serious damage to the construction site and hefty expenses down the line.

If you want a safer and more efficient experience on your construction project, choose a professional team to pothole your utilities.

Vacuum Excavation VS. Traditional Excavation Techniques

If you are planning a home improvement project that involves digging into the ground, you’ll need to start by having all underground utility lines found. Even small projects like adding landscaping or installing a new mailbox require the use of a potholing company. These companies use a variety of techniques to locate and protect utilities. From backhoes to hand tools, and vacuum excavation, here is what you need to know about the type of methods.


Backhoes are most often used when precision isn’t as important. For example, when a new development is digging up the foundation for new homes. It involves much less intensive work than other methods and can be completed rather quickly. When used for potholing, backhoe operators rely on a spotter who helps keep an eye on the ground. 

The downside to using a backhoe is that there is an additional risk when utilities are present. Even a skilled operator runs the risk of hitting and damaging the very line they were trying to locate. Due to their size, backhoes might not fit into many spaces, especially once houses are in place.

Hand Tools

Using a shovel or other hand tool to pothole is the most labor-intensive for the individual. Because the equipment needs are small, operators can get into almost any space. Outside of the necessary working hours required to dig, hand tools are also the lowest priced option. 

The major downside to using a shovel is the labor involved. Digging, especially on rough terrain, can be tough work and take a long time. While hand tools are relatively safe for locating utilities, caution is still required. A shovel probably won’t do any damage to an underground pipe, but it can sever fiber optics or other wires.

utility potholing

Vacuum Excavation

Utility locating is the first part of the investigation process. You need to know where utilities are before continuing. Then, using vacuum excavation, you can verify the utilities by potholing, or exposing them for visual identification. 

Vacuum excavation is a process where water or air is used to break up soil before sucking it up into a storage tank. This process eliminates nearly all risk of damaging underground utilities. It offers a lower cost, outside of the initial equipment investment, and a higher level of precision.

  1. Air Excavation: By using compressed air, this method loosens the soil to be stored in the tank. Since it’s only using air, the ground can easily be reused to fill in the holes later on.
  2. Hydro Excavation: Instead of air, this method uses pressurized water to loosen dirt. This technique is extremely precise and much faster than air-based methods. It does not, however, allow the same soil to be reused.

Which Method is Right for You?

Ultimately, the method used is going to be determined by the nature of the job. It may not be easy to decide on your own; using a reputable utility locating company is vital. You might be tempted to try a digital meter or to call your utility company. 

Unfortunately, utility companies often won’t come on to private property. When they do mark underground obstructions, it’s typically with spray paint. A digital meter is also useful to simply mark the surface. Many jobs require seeing the actual obstacle and not just relying on a rough estimate of where it is. Using a private utility locating service will ensure your job is done safely and without the delay and cost associated with damaging utilities. 

Vacuum Excavation: Achieve Less Surface Damage

Surveying a construction site is not only a necessity; it is an accepted and recommended practice for several reasons. Among the most urgent is the safety of the construction workers, along with the integrity of the structure and works built at the location. Also high on the priority list is keeping the grounds intact and free from unnecessary damage or navigational hazards.

Excavation is one of the most expensive things a construction company can do. Moving tons of earth from one place to the next is a non-trivial undertaking. What’s more, leaving deep holes, trenches, and other impassable obstacles behind can be a major safety hazard to say nothing of their effect on future building. The good news is there has been a better way to do things available to contractors for some time. It’s called vacuum excavation. If you haven’t taken advantage of it yet, you will be quite surprised at what it can help you accomplish.

What is Potholing?

Suppose you need to dig at a construction site to determine if there are any hidden underground hazards, pipes, electrical lines or other obstacles. What is the better option?

  1. Breaking out the shovels and pickaxes and hoping you don’t break something as you descend into the darkness


  1. Using a high-tech method that allows you to simply remove dirt and rocks and then replace them later

Potholing for Utilities is the second and best method.  It is being used more and more by construction companies and contractors to help locate facilities that might otherwise be damaged if not located beforehand.

utility potholing

Time Savings

Key to any construction project is the ability to save time and expense, both for the contractor and the client. When it comes to safety and the regulatory requirements of checking before digging, anything that increases the efficiency of the process is going to be an obvious priority. This is one of the reasons vacuum excavation services has become so popular so quickly.

The equipment itself is self-contained and operates on the simple principle it is possible to remove mud with a sufficiently strong vacuum and then replace it by reversing the pressure. Since no blades or bits are hitting the ground or anything underneath it, the potential for damage is practically non-existent. Further, once the earth is replaced, the process of drying causes it to set very much like cement, leaving almost no evidence any digging.

Practical Efficiency

Since in some states digging near a marked safe zone is prohibited by regulation, air and hydro excavators have become the go-to tools. These processes are considered “non-destructive” and are therefore recommended to avoid expensive accidents, not to mention the possibility of interrupting local utilities like electricity or water service.

When the possibility of hitting a gas line is taken into consideration, what might once have been a good recommendation becomes a necessity. Vacuum excavation is the correct choice in most construction contracting, and it is a safe choice when it comes to preserving utilities and underground lines.

How the Murrieta Explosion Could Have Been Avoided


Southern California was recently devastated when a ruptured gas line led to an explosion. The explosion killed a Southern California Gas Company worker, and fifteen people were injured.

Murrieta Explosion The reason behind the Murietta explosion was a contractor who was working without having the area inspected first. The contractor not only caused irreversible damage but violated state law by not utilizing a  private utility locating service. Tragedies like this can be avoided when proper utility potholing and inspections are used.


What is Utility Potholing?

Potholing is a construction method that confirms underground utilities and obstructions. Utility locating is the first part of the investigation process. A small, exploratory hole is dug along the planned route of new construction. Air and hydro vacuums are used to remove soil via high-velocity suction.

Some contractors like to use digital locators to find pipes and other utility lines. There are many occasions, however, where it is essential to actually see where the wire or pipe is located.

Why Pothole?

Murrieta Explosion

Digging without first locating underground utilities creates a risk to gas, electric, communications, water, and sewer lines. Accidents with these lines can result in service disruption, costly repairs, serious injuries, or death. While it may mean delaying a project, knowing where lines are before you dig ultimately makes sure projects are entirely safe.


Why vacuum excavation?

In the past, potholes were dug with large machines, like backhoes. Unfortunately, even a skilled backhoe user runs the risk of damaging the very utility they wanted to protect. Some companies resort to digging by hand. While this method required less machinery and skill, it is somewhat labor-intensive. A shovel is unlikely to cause damage to a water pipe, but could completely sever fiber optics or other communication lines.

The current preferred method of potholing is vacuum excavation. Vacuum excavation happens after utility locating and verifies the utilities by exposing them for visual identification. This method allows for small holes to be created with a much lower risk of additional damage. Vacuums also can create holes of different sizes and depths without extra manual labor.

utility potholing

Plan before you dig!

Whether you are doing the work yourself or hiring a contractor to take over, you must plan appropriately. Even smaller projects, such as planting trees or shrubs, require knowing what’s beneath the ground. Many utilities are only buried a few inches below ground, which makes them easier to hit when performing simple gardening projects.

Make sure to call several days before you plan on putting a shovel to the ground. Be careful as some programs only mark the area where utility lines are placed. You may also have to wait for multiple companies to take care of marking the area. Also, be aware that utility companies may not go onto private property. For a better response and completion time, consider going with a private utility locator company.

While some accidents are avoidable, many accidents don’t need to happen. Murrieta Explosion The explosion in Murrieta destroyed more than a house; it took a person’s life. Contractors might think they know better, that they are skilled enough to work around utilities, or they want to save time on a project. However, taking the extra time to identify underground obstructions is the best way to ensure your project is completed without tragedy.

Potholing Utilities for Damage Prevention & Effective Subsurface Investigation


The practical considerations involved in starting or continuing a construction project without first ascertaining what obstacles might be hidden under the ground can be substantial. While there are technologies available to perform searches for utility lines, water or sewer pipes and other underground structures, there exists a quick, accurate and relatively inexpensive method for visually confirming the presence of underground construction obstacles. It is called utility potholing.

Preventing Damage

All non-trivial construction and the majority of building repair, expansion, or inspection activities involve some level of excavation. The foundation of any building must be inspected before any new construction can take place. Any land set aside for new work could be crisscrossed with all kinds of public facilities. 

Without some method of avoiding those obstacles, a construction crew could not only do tremendous damage to the lines themselves but could put the surrounding neighborhoods and populations in danger by cutting off electricity or water. They could even put themselves in danger if they hit a gas line or an underground fuel storage tank.

Surgery for Construction Contractors

Vacuum excavation is similar to a medical technique called arthroscopy. In medicine, doctors often need to repair ligament or tendon damage in a joint. Instead of conventional surgery, however, they make a tiny incision and insert a camera and light so they can see inside the joint. 

Vacuum excavation has the same objective. A construction crew needs to see beneath the ground so that they make a tiny incision using a non-destructive process. This method is called vacuum excavation and allows them to perform a visual inspection and avoid any possibility of damage.

utility potholing

The Alternative

What happens if a backhoe hits a gas line? Most construction crews don’t want to imagine it, and for a good reason. Electrical lines, diesel engines, sparks, and natural gas leaks combine to produce unfortunate results. 

The same goes for a water line or a sewage line. Interruption of a water utility can be catastrophic for public services like hospitals. Electricity outages can cost supermarkets incredible amounts of money in lost product. Sewage breaks can tie up traffic and create health hazards for days.  The minuscule time and money savings of bypassing the potholing process and moving forward with a risky and potentially life-threatening construction project is never worth it. 

While it is possible to approximate the location of utility lines using various technologies other than potholing, the truth is nothing beats first-hand visual inspection, and nothing beats the time savings of using a proven process with no drawbacks. Why guess when it is possible to know for certain? Why take a chance when a first-hand look answers all the questions? 

Modern construction is impressive. The ability to see beneath the earth and avoid costly and dangerous obstacles is one of its greatest accomplishments. It is in every contractor and construction team’s best interests to take advantage of those technologies whenever possible.

Why Utility Potholing Is Essential for A Successful Construction Project


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.