Thanks to modern excavating tools and methods, i.e., air and hydro vacuuming excavation, utility potholing became the new and safer strategy prior to the start of home and other construction projects.
Digging used to be the standard when checking underground utility lines and performing directional drilling work, but it had many disadvantages. It is prone to damages—of the actual lines, other pipes, bedding, and anything else that a shovel or backhoe will hit.
Keep reading below to find out more about what utility potholing is and why it’s a safer option for small projects.
The Importance of Utility Potholing in Home and Building Projects
What Does Potholing Mean?
Potholing uses vacuum excavators, which are portable pressurized units that use water or air to help locate subsurface lines and obstructions in and around a bore path. It was originally used to clean septic tanks and car wash pits and remove slurry from drilling projects.
Throughout the years, contraction services have used it as a non-destructive and visual confirmation technique in checking and exposing underground utility lines prior to proceeding with building projects.
What Is Utility Potholing?
Utility potholing is a method used to gather ocular information on an infrastructure project’s underground using vacuum excavators with pressurized air or water. It involves digging a 6-12 inches deep hole to determine:
- The presence and position of buried utility lines (underground utility locating)
- The type/s of underground utilities
- Correct drilling and sewer depth
- Signs of damage to existing utilities (electrical or water)
What Are the Benefits of Utility Potholing?
Excavation potholing, as the practice is sometimes called, is a time-saving and economical practice that aids in locating significant underground beds or sewer in directional drilling, horizontal directional drilling, and utility engineering. It also prevents blind digging and, later on:
- Damage to underground utility lines
- Life-threatening accidents
- Electrical service interruptions and outages
- Building project delays
- Equipment damages
- Spending on unnecessary repair services
- Contractor fines and liability issues
Utility potholing ensures overall construction site safety. Rather than relying solely on utility locating maps and charts, which can be outdated, contractors are able to get to see first hand the situation underneath with the use of this self contained practice.
How Does Utility Potholing Work?
Both air and water can be used in utility potholing. They are pressurized to move ground contents quickly for a better view of buried utilities.
So, do you use air or water?
The answer depends on the nature of the construction project you’re dealing with. But, hydro vacuum excavation is more frequently recommended because air excavation doesn’t get rid of spoil, which ends up demanding more time and money to clean up at the end of the day.
How Does Hydro Excavation Work?
To give you an overview of the utility locating process, here is a general step-by-step process of hydrovac excavation:
- A piece of hydro excavation equipment or truck is used to put high pressure on its water content to break through the soil, cement, clay, grass, or compound surface and expose existing utilities underneath. Note: Safety practices encourage a test hydro excavation run first using a low pressure on a shallow depth. This is an add-on safety measure to prevent damage to underground utilities.
- Then, the slurry or hydrovac waste containing the broken-down soil is lifted up using a vacuum and transferred to and stored in a holding tank. Now, there are two types of vacuum that can be used for hydro excavation. One is a fan blower and the other is a positive displacement blower. The former is more commonly used in construction and line installation services because it is cheaper and can vacuum up soil in large amounts.
- The entire process is a utility locator that, once done, gives a good view of the buried pipes and tubes. What follows depends on the nature of the project, e.g., new line installation, pipe repair, pole setting, etc. Whether the removed slurry is returned and spread back on the dig site, incorporated as fill material, or disposed of at a liquid waste facility depends on local government guidelines and the contractor you’re working with.
What Are the Benefits of Hydro Excavation?
The hydro vacuum excavation process ultimately minimizes damages and potential disruptions to existing infrastructure and utilities.
Its other benefits include:
- Providing a safer and less manual method for utility workers during excavations and construction
- Minimizing the need for additional equipment, e.g., more shovels, backhoes, or water to remove soil or cement
- Preventing damage to existing establishments and electrical lines through a controlled way of excavating
- Limiting congestion in the construction work area as the truck can be situated at a distance and perform its function via a hose line
Are There Other Applications of Hydro Vacuum Excavation in Construction?
Apart from potholing, the hydrovac process can also be used when:
- Removing debris from drainages and manholes
- Excavating narrow streets, narrow trenches, planting strips, and limited-space yards
- The weather is freezing
- Pole drilling and setting
- Locating community or household sewer
- Installing a new line (electricity, water, telecommunication, etc) to a residential or business area
Contact Us for Utility Locating Services in Southern California
Utility potholing comes with advantages that go beyond giving a look into a project’s underground utilities situation. It’s a method that helps ensure workplace safety, a smooth flow of repair services, prevents ground damage, and allows for proper installation of line poles.
Opting to do it prior to the start of a construction or line project, big or small, won’t ever go wrong and will leave you with no regrets later on.
If you have a building or line project on hand and are looking for reliable services, Util-Locate specializes in mapping, CCTV, ground-penetrating radar, and underground utility locating services. Our company has been around since 2001 providing cost-effective solutions on residential and commercial utilities to both professional clients and homeowners.