Expose Underground Utilities with Vacuum Excavation


Underground utilities are particularly susceptible to damage, especially when worked upon in more traditional ways such as manual digging and using a backhoe.

Manual Digging is the most labor-intensive method of exposing underground utilities, requiring significant worker numbers to accomplish the job. This kind of work can also take days to complete, requiring both the removal and replacement of soil, meaning that projects can fall behind schedule. Another significant risk encountered when manually digging is that hand tools can come into contact with electrical wiring beneath the surface, which can pose a significant threat to human life, causing either severe injury or even death. Due to these reasons, other modern methods have become more commonly used.

A backhoe requires the use of machinery in order to dig up the ground and expose buried underground utilities. This piece of machinery has a large bucket which digs into the ground, in much the same way as a hand shovel. Additionally, due to the larger size of these machines, this means that the job can be completed more quickly. The problem with this method, much like with hand digging, is the lack of vision that the machine operator has underground. This lack of visual information means that underground cabling can be damaged during the excavation process, incurring significant costs and project delays while repairs are made to the existing infrastructure.

These older methods of potholing utilities have been replaced by a quicker, more cost-effective method called Vacuum Excavation.

utility potholing

What is Vacuum Excavation?

As the name suggests, vacuum excavation involves the removal of ground materials through suction. This method of excavation can be done in two different ways.

The first type of vacuum excavator uses water; highly-pressurized water is used to dislodge and remove soil. A vacuum is then applied over the area to suck up and store debris. Water excavation can be useful in situations where the ground would otherwise be too hard to simply vacuum. The high-pressure water helps to increase the moisture of the soil and make it easier to break up. Water vacuum excavation is suitable as it is non-destructive and allows for more accurate excavation of underground utilities.

The second method is simply air vacuum excavation. This method is suited to areas with loose soil and ground materials, which are quickly drawn up through an intake nozzle into a dry debris container. From here, you can unearth the underground utilities that you need to work on without causing any damage, similarly to the water excavation process. Once the work has been completed, a driver will dump the dry soil back into the hole you’ve created.

Overall, both of these methods are hugely useful at increasing safety on the worksite. Hand Digging is labor and time intensive, but it is also dangerous as workers can come into contact with live electrical wiring. The same can occur when using a backhoe. This danger is why you will now commonly find a Vacuum Excavator being used to expose underground utilities.

Professional Excavation Advice in Exposing Buried Utilities


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 peoples 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 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.


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 Util-locate.com.

Potholing Utilities for a Cost Efficient and Safer Excavation


Potholing for utilities is a method that construction site workers can use to obtain a wealth of visual information regarding piping and other subsurface construction. Utility potholing has increasing importance in the construction industry, as a method that can help to make excavation safer and more cost effective to do.

In the past, it was commonplace for contractors to use a backhoe. This piece of equipment is highly recognizable to the general population as a typical piece of machinery you would find on a construction site. However, it does not have the precision or maneuverability of more modern excavation machinery, meaning it has the potential to cause immense damage to existing subsurface infrastructure.

Increased Safety using Vacuum Excavation

Nowadays, you are much more likely to find a vacuum excavator being used. These highly portable pieces of machinery use either air or water in order to displace soil. Since the air and water are only vacuuming at low pressures, this means that other utilities in the ground will not be damaged, which makes vacuum excavation the preferred method compared to using a backhoe.

Vacuum excavation also has a wealth of other benefits compared to using a backhoe. When excavating, a backhoe will displace a considerably larger amount of soil compared to a vacuum excavator. This soil will need to be stored somewhere whilst the construction work is being completed, creating obstacles in the form of dumping grounds. A vacuum excavator simply stores the displaced soil inside the machinery, meaning there is no need for a dumping ground. There is also increased tidying up required with a backhoe, as you have to replace all of the soil you have dug up.

utility potholing

Increased cost efficiency using Vacuum Excavation

The next important benefit of using vacuum excavation, compared to a backhoeing and manual labor, is the reduction in costs.

Manual digging is an outdated method of excavating that requires a significant number of man-hours to accomplish the same thing as backhoeing and vacuum excavation. Individual workmen would spend time digging with shovels, for what could be days at a time using this method. In comparison, vacuum excavation would be much quicker while also causing much less disruption to the ground. Once work is complete, workmen would also have to refill the holes they had made, doubling the time taken. It would cost significantly more overall, alongside taking longer, to hire workmen versus using a vacuum excavator.

The cost implications for backhoeing are slightly different from the previous. This piece of machinery can be a great tool when displacing ground is clear of subsurface infrastructure. It can accomplish what multiple workmen would do in hours, in mere minutes. When used in an area containing subsurface infrastructure, the damage that can be caused by the metal bucket on a backhoe hitting existing piping and cabling could be disastrous. This would most likely result in the project being put on hold, whilst repairs to the infrastructure are completed by those who caused the damage. As you can see, the risks of using a backhoe are very real, meaning it is a good idea to consider using a vacuum excavator instead when potholing utilities.


In summary, vacuum excavation is a new and improved method of potholing utilities.

The use of low-pressure water and air by this system means that existing subsurface infrastructure is less likely to get damaged, versus other methods such as backhoeing and manual digging. The cost savings and improvement to site safety can also be immense through this mitigation of risk. You can find out more information regarding vacuum excavation and potholing utilities by visiting Util-locate.com.

What You Need to Know About Potholing for Utilities

When working in the utility industry, it is highly likely that you will be tasked with potholing. This method of gathering visual information is an economical, time-saving initiative that involves the digging of a small hole in the ground. Utility potholing is done to ensure that existing infrastructure underground will not interfere with new infrastructure that is being laid in the same area. This work can be done in a variety of different ways and offers some notable benefits too, of which we will discuss further.

Types of Excavators used for Potholing

There are two commonly used types of excavator used when potholing for utilities. The first one is an ‘air vacuum excavator’, with the second being a ‘hydro vacuum excavator’. These two methods, as their names suggest, use either air or water to displace the ground below with them creating dry or wet spoil. Air will create dry and water will create wet spoil. This is then removed by vacuum suction and stored within a holding tank. These vacuum machines are usually mounted on a utility vehicle and are made in various sizes, dependant on the workload it is intended for.

utility potholing

Why is Potholing important?

When laying infrastructure underground, there is always the possibility of damaging other underground utilities. It is highly likely that the company that the contractors are working for will be fined for this damage. It can also result in significant project downtime, which will also incur costs for the company.

It may seem like these may be unnecessary additional steps for contractors to worry about, but the implications in terms of cost can be huge. If you happen to hit a gas or utility line through horizontal directional drilling, the use of a trencher or a backhoe, this could result in fatal damage to infrastructure that surrounding businesses and residential areas rely on.

The Law

It is still incredibly important to determine the exact location of existing piping and other lines, despite the improving accuracy of digital locators. In a safe zone, contractors are not permitted to dig with machinery in the area, with the area size ranging from 18 inches up to 3 feet. Instead, these safe areas must be dug in using hand tools such as shovels, or the vacuum evacuation or hydro excavators.


Overall, contractors and their employers must remain acutely aware of their need to sufficiently inspect their working area when laying new infrastructure underground.

Rather than simply digging into the ground, contractors must instead perform either vacuum evacuation or hydro evacuation to create a pothole. This will create a line of sight into the ground that can help workers to avoid drilling into existing infrastructure, something of which could be incredibly costly through being fined or having to delay project work.

Safe areas, which are 18 inches to 3 feet in size, cannot be dug in using heavy machinery and instead need to be dug by hand or using vacuum excavators.

Why Potholing is Highly Recommended for Construction Projects


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.

Potential Problems for Construction Contractors

The location of some underground utility main lines may not be documented because those lines for fiber optics or for 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 possibly be injured by an underground hazard.

utility potholing

Evaluation of Potential Costs

The process for being offered a construction project does usually include 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.

Easy Access to Construction Sites in Isolated Locations

Some heavy construction equipment could potentially 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 top soil 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

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.

Safe Digging Practices: How to Determine Buried Utility Assets

Working on or around underground utilities can be fatal, and even if you take precautions, damages are sometimes inevitable. Understanding and use of safe digging practices are essential to prevent or minimize damaging these underground utilities.

This article emphasizes the precautions and safe digging practices you should employ while determining buried utility assets to avoid damages, ensure the safety of the workers as well as people around the working site.

Use a utility locator

Whether you are dealing big or small projects, it is crucial to use a reliable underground utility locator anytime you are preparing to dig underground assets. Never assume the presence of utility lines or think their depth remains the same. Sometimes the utility lines are not where they seem to be through a range of sight, and their depth can change over time due to factors like erosion, uneven surfaces or previous projects.

The services of professionals in underground utilities help in identifying the utility lines, white line them and determine how deep the utility assets are. The use of professional services ensures the accuracy and gives confidence of excavation with less exposure to dangers.

Use caution after the digging sites are flagged

After the identification of the correct location of the utility, taking precautions is necessary to avoid damages of assets. Don’t assume that the marked utility line is the only one there. You need to dig about four feet away from either side of the marked utility lines, and in case you need to dig closer or cross the flags or markings, then you need to use hand tools to expose the buried assets. Use of hand tools determines the exact location, exposes the facilities and it is safer to avoid damaging the underground facility.

Call if your lines become unclear on your digging site

Circumstances like bad weather and work disturbance can cause your markings to become incorrect, obscured, miss or become obliterated. In such cases, don’t go off your memory on where the lines were. Instead, you should contact underground utility locating services which will help in identifying the buried lines and give you the exact location and depth of your utility.

Do not remove paint marks or flags until you complete your work

Presence of paint markings and banners on your site means that the excavation or digging work is still ongoing. Removal of the flags before the work completion can lead to confusion on the different type of utilities which can eventually cause fatal accidents and damages to assets.

Support and protect utility assets when exposed

Once you reach the facility during your digging process, ensure safe backfilling to prevent damages on the facility and maintain their coating. Provision of support beneath further prevents sagging and collapse of the facilities.

The Takeaway

Anytime you plan to dig into the ground, the chances of hitting the utility pipes and wires are high. Cutting or damaging utility wires and pipes is not only costly but also extremely dangerous as they can result in explosions, electrocutions and sometimes fires. To prevent such occurrences, safe digging practices and use of underground utility locator services is very important they will ensure your safety during digging.

For more information about safe digging practices and for utility location, contact Util-Locate. Our company has been in the service of providing underground utility locating since 2001.