Safely Expose Utilities with Vacuum Excavation


Traditional vacuum excavation is a method of exposing buried utilities in instances where a conflict exists or when utility congestion requires increased precision. A small hole is created in the ground surface above the potential location of a buried utility. A vacuum excavator is then used to dig through this exposed area, suctioning all dirt and debris surrounding the utility into a truck for disposal. While air is typically used, hydro-excavation can also be performed. Hydro-excavation uses water in instances where high-strength suction may damage or displace subsurface elements. Once the utility has been exposed and any necessary work performed, the ground is restored to its original state and the hole patched.


Depending on the ground surface in question, different tools will be used to access the buried utilities. When working on soil or other natural ground surfaces, hand methods such as shovels or hoes may be used to create an opening. When working on paved or other hard surfaces, power tools are necessary to create the hole needed for vacuum excavation. GPRS uses both coring tools and jackhammers to penetrate asphaltic or concrete ground surfaces. Coring may be preferable in certain instances as it creates a cleaner access point and is easy to patch by simply replacing the core.

  • Test Holes: The action of creating test holes is often referred to as “potholing” or “daylighting.” Small holes are hand or machine-excavated in order to expose a buried utility when its location is unknown. It’s a relatively inexpensive and low-impact method of verifying the location of a buried utility, including its depth and dimensions.
  • Remote Excavation: Remote excavation is a method of air or hydro-excavation that can be used in tight or hard-to-reach spaces. The vacuum truck is parked further from the job site, and a long hose is used to access the space. This can also be used when the ground surface is unstable and the weight of a vacuum truck would cause damage.
  • Trenching: Trenching uses the power of a vacuum excavator to create a trench surrounding a utility or other subsurface element. The trench can be formed in any shape necessary to properly expose the buried utility. Air or hydro-excavation can be used with great precision to dig to the exact dimensions needed for a trench.
  • Slot Trenching: High-pressure air or water can be used to accurately “cut” trenches ranging from 0.5 – 2 feet wide, and up to 8 feet deep. Slot trenching is used to search for utility lines in unknown locations, as well as to prepare the ground for the installation of pipes, cables, wires, and various other subsurface elements.


Vacuum excavation is the only safe method of exposing a buried utility. A vacuum excavation test hole can provide Quality Level A subsurface engineering data in accordance with ASCE 38-02 Standard Guidelines for the Collection and Depiction of Existing Subsurface Utility Data.

  • Increased accuracy: Vacuum excavation allows you to collect both horizontal and vertical measurements on a buried utility
  • Risk mitigation: Both air and hydro-excavation methods expose the location of underground utilities, mitigating the risk of accidental hits
  • Project progress: Damaged utilities are expensive and time-consuming to repair, and can often spell disaster for a project’s schedule and budget. Finding the exact location enables you to clearly avoid the buried utility when performing work
  • Safety: Hitting a buried utility can be a dangerous or even life-threatening mistake

Interested in vacuum excavation service for your project? Contact GPRS today!

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What’s The Difference Between Air & Hydro Excavation?

Air vacuum excavation is recommended for utility test holes and/or single excavations involving around 1 cubic yard per excavation. Hydro vacuum excavation is used for larger excavations because it is more productive, especially in difficult, compact soil conditions. Hydro-excavation trucks typically have larger storage tanks, allowing them to dig for longer periods of time than air vacuum excavators.

What Is The Standard Production Rate? (How Many Holes Or Cubic Yards Can You Get Done In One Day?)

This depends on the soil condition, depth and the project site. If you are interested in finding out how long your specific project would take, feel free to reach out to us and we would be happy to provide you with an estimate.

Can You Suck Up Soil/Debris And Move It?

We are able to move soil/debris, but we will not be able to vacuum anything heavy enough to damage the equipment. The speed of moving the soil/debris can vary depending on if the dirt is loose, how far the truck is from the area being excavated, and how far we have to transport the soil/debris to the dump. Rocks or boulders greater than 8” in circumference can either significantly restrict or even halt production.

Are All Trucks The Same?

No, we have a variety of air and hydro vacuum excavation trucks available that we use. A detailed scope of work will help us in selecting the best truck for the job. Proper training enables the GPRS team to use the vacuum trucks in the most effective manner, getting the job done quickly and accurately.

Case Study: Gas Line Bushkill Creek

There is a focus for river restoration and dam removals. There are a lot of times where utilities are crossing or right up in the river and we must protect them. The needed us to do a very complicated job in the middle of a river. The customer needed to find a gas line, however it’s in a creek and hard to locate it in the water and buried under sediment.
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