What Is Vacuum Excavation? Everything You Need to Know

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of vacuum excavation, you’ve come to the right place.

Vacuum excavation, otherwise known as non-destructive digging or hydro excavation, is a great alternative to conventional excavation methods.

By combining high-pressure water with an air vacuum, these excavators can remove enormous amounts of unwanted material from an area with minimal damage.

Keep on reading for our full breakdown of what vacuum excavation entails, how it works, its benefits, and what the machinery looks like.

Vacuum Excavation 101: The Definition

Before we delve into the details of how vacuum excavation works, let’s take a thorough look at the background of vacuum excavation and what it entails.

Generally, vacuum excavation (or hydro excavation) is a process of using a strong water jet lance, instead of the traditional compressed air lance, to break up the ground.

The whole purpose of the exercise is to get to the subsurface utilities that lay underground.

Simply put, imagine a high-pressure water spray coming with an industrial-sized vacuum for earthworks.

After aiming the water at the ground, you’ll get this mixed material of mud and other sludge. That liquid waste will be sucked up into the truck via the vacuum. Then, it’ll be processed at wither a soil transfer or a disposal plant.

The reason why vacuum excavation is already a popular option is due to its non-destructive capabilities. The process doesn’t place undue strain on the existing utilities during the excavation process.

Also, it’s considered a rather effective technique for exposing utilities as quickly and as safely as possible.

The Purposes and Uses of Vacuum Excavation

As we’ve already covered, the process of vacuum excavation alleviates all the common risks associated with conventional digging methods, like using excavators and shovels.

This makes vacuum excavation a great option for any excavation. In essence, any operation that involves excavating with high risks of line strikes and utility damage, vacuum excavating is the go-to option.

Adding in the ease of use, as well as the decreased project time and you have a full-fledged excavation method.

The main uses for vacuum excavating include (but are not limited to) safely exposing underground utility cable networks, fragile pipelines, as well as dated railway tracks for essential repair, removal, or an emergency inspection.

What Is a Vacuum Excavator Truck?

At this point, you’ve got a thorough understanding of the overarching vacuum excavating process. Now, it’s time to take a look at the actual machines.

A vacuum excavation truck, also known as sucker trucks, suction excavators, and vac trucks, are specialized trucks with a compressed air lance, a waste storage chamber, a twin (or triple) air vehicle fans. And last, but certainly not least, a vacuum suction.

These trucks can come in a variety of shapes and sizes. However, you’ll find that most of the vacuum excavator rental ones will come between 3000L and 6000L.

Furthermore, it’s key to keep in mind that vacuum excavators can truly outpace a conventional excavator in terms of efficiency.

As it were, vacuum excavators have the ability to achieve up to 16 times the output of a conventional excavator. Of course, this will also depend on the type of materials that the trucks are working with.

How Does a Vacuum Excavator Work?

A vacuum excavator ‘excavates’ by using its water lance (or better) to break through hard soil. By dividing the ground all into small pieces, the air vacuum can come in and remove the slurry that’s the result of all the water and dirt.

Afterward, this sludge is directed towards a debris tank to be moved away from the location.

The Vacuum Breakdown

When it comes to the vacuum, the source comes from either one of the following. The vacuum will either use a positive displacement blower, or it’ll use a fan system.

To be perfectly honest, the fan system is a bit simpler to use than the positive displacement blower.

It seamlessly moves huge amounts of air, which allows for faster excavations. In addition, it’s lighter in weight and less costly to use, compared to the displacement blower system.

Moreover, vacuum excavators utilize either twin or triple air vehicles in order to create a solid airflow. This way the vacuum can pull the material (the sludge) into the intake hose, which is —in turn— transported into the catchment chamber.

A catchment chamber is an empty space that’s installed in an underground drainage system. The chamber’s main purpose is catching any sediment or other debris that’s passing through the system.

In short, these chambers save the whole drainage system from potential blockages due to material buildup.

Going back to the vacuum process, the intake tube might be ‘toothed.’ This helps immensely with the process of cutting into the earth and the first steps of preparing the area for excavating.

From this point, all the material pulled up into the tube will be sent to the holding tank. At the same time, a micromesh filter system will capture rogue dust particles to keep the air as breathable as possible for the workers.

Preparing the Location for Excavation

When it comes to the location itself, you’ll find the vacuum truck to be parked rather close to the project at hand to be effective.

That’s why a location needs to be prepared in advance, and for the ground to be dug up in order for the excavator to smoothly reach the damaged (or redundant) utility cables.

At this stage, the truck’s operator can use the powerful water jet to start the excavation process.

Ready to Get a Vacuum Excavation Truck?

The superiority of vacuum excavation as a process, and the vacuum excavation trucks by association, has been rather obvious for a long time now.

We hope that our little guide into all things vacuum excavation has been helpful in your search for the right tools and processes for removing unwanted materials or excavation projects.

However, the learning never stops. For all the latest news on construction and renovation, make sure to check out our news section.

And if you’re more interested in listening to your news, you can take a look at our podcast for the complete roundup.


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