About Hydro & Air Excavation


Not every problem can be solved with a bulldozer and backhoe. Sometimes you need a bit more finesse. For the times when you need to dig with precision, slice through frozen ground, or expose buried utilities, a hydro excavator is the tool for the job. Hydro excavator vehicles work by using a pressurized jet of water to penetrate and break up the ground exactly where the operator wishes. Then, as the ground is broken up and loosened, it is removed by a powerful vacuum hose and stored in the debris tank for transport and dumping. This water and vacuum-based excavation method means you’ve got an efficient, environmentally friendly, and safe process that likely won’t require any back-filling and won’t endanger buried gas lines, fiber optics, or other delicate items. Similarly, air excavation can be used for even more fragile utilities, or when the ground consists of looser, lighter soil. Some hydro excavators, such as the X-Vac X-8, are capable of performing both hydro excavation and air excavation, so you can be equipped for any environment.
X-Vac X-8 Hydro Excavator City Electric Lines

Hydro & Air Excavation Applications

Once you’ve tried excavating with water, we know you’re going to dig it. But what exactly is “it” that you’re going to dig? There are many applications for hydro excavation:

Expose Buried Utilities and Installations – Potholing, Daylighting, Keyholing

Since hydro and air excavators are able to dig up small areas without damaging buried pipes, gas lines, and the like, one of their most common uses is digging around or near such subterranean installations. Perhaps you need to install something new near an existing buried utility, or excavate a pipe to check for damage or perform repairs. Air and hydro excavation can quickly and safely expose these pipes and wires so maintenance can be performed.

Slot Trenching

If you can dig a hole, you can dig a trench! Once again, the precision of pressurized water or air allows for the digging of narrow trenches which would be a big hassle with traditional, bulky mechanical excavation equipment. Hydro excavators are the ideal machine for efficiently installing underground pipes and cables, or digging holes for posts and signs.

Remote Digging

When your mechanical excavator can’t even reach the dig site, your hydro excavator can work from a distance. For example, the X-Vac X-15 Hydro Excavator features a 100 foot high-pressure hose on a spring-loaded reel for water excavation. On top of that, its ridiculously powerful vacuum blower (5,250 CFM, 27″ Hg) hose is highly maneuverable thanks to a 360-degree rotating boom which can be moved in all directions and extended up to 23 feet. Not to mention that the vacuum hose has multiple aluminum attachments to allow it to reach deep. The operator can even control the boom, water pump, and more with a wireless remote control. Hydro excavators are perfect for tricky, difficult to access locations.

Frozen Ground Digging

Digging in cold weather can be time consuming and difficult with traditional methods. With a hydro excavator, there’s no need to heat the ground before digging, because you’ll be heating it while digging! Hydro excavators use heated water, so you get the power of pressurized water in a small area, plus ground-thawing heat energy. It’s a combination that makes this perhaps the most hassle-free method of precision digging in cold weather.

Sewer Maintenance and Installation

We’ve already hit on the ability to expose or install buried pipes, but the Aquatech Combination Sewer Jet/Vac Series in particular offers something real special. While Aquatech’s jet/vac vehicles are primarily advertised as sewer cleaning jet/vacs, they wield high-pressure hoses and powerful vacuums that do the same thing as a hydro excavator. It makes sense, since both Aquatech and X-Vac are Hi-Vac products. With one of these, the operator is able to clean dirt, debris, and roots from sanitary and storm sewer pipes, and also perform all the previously mentioned hydro excavation functions of exposing and installing utilities, trenching, and potholing. It’s pretty much the Swiss Army Knife of public works equipment – except it’s manufactured in the USA.
X-Vac X-8 Hydro Air Excavation

Hydro Excavation vs. Air Excavation

Hydro excavation and air excavation use essentially the same method to dig, and both are used for precise, utility-safe excavation. So what’s the difference? Basically, the usage of one over the other will depend on the type of ground being excavated. Hydro excavation is capable of applying higher pressure than air excavation, and so it is ideal for frozen, rocky, or other hard, compressed soil. If, however, the ground is loose and light, or there are buried utilities that are particularly fragile, air excavation might be just fine. Digging with pressurized air means that there’s no need to refill the water supply, and there’s less wet soil to clean up. But the decision between hydro and air excavation need not be a question of “either or”, when there are options available that can do both.

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