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(Almost) everything you need to know about using a vacuum excavator on a HDD site

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Article provided by McLaughlin

On a horizontal directional drill (HDD) site, selecting the right vacuum excavator for your needs can make or break your crew’s level of productivity. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for every excavation job, but a variety of options exist for the utility excavation market. Consider this checklist to help select the best model for your project. We also included some vacuum excavator best practices to help you get the most out of your new machine.

When selecting a vacuum excavator model:

  • Understand your ground conditions and job site requirements. This will help you select the right excavation method, spoil tank size, horsepower and trailering option.
  • Decide on water or air excavation:
    • Hydro, or water excavation, is fast and efficient, but it creates spoil that will need to be hauled off or disposed of according to regulatory requirements.
    • Air excavation, while not as quick as water, allows for backfilling a hole with the dry dirt that was removed.
  • Or don’t decide at all — more models on the market are offering both hydro and air excavation in one machine.
  • Consider capacity — large, ongoing projects need a versatile vacuum with additional spoil tank and freshwater capacity. Spoil tank sizes range from 250 to 1,200 gallons (946.4 to 4,542.5 L) for trailer vacuums and 1,600 to 3,000 gallons (6,056.6 to 11,356.2 L) in the truck market.
  • Think about versatility:
    • Small job sites demand less power and also less equipment and labor.
    • Large projects require heavy-duty equipment. Certain excavators feature extra horsepower in order to accommodate accessories like sewer jetters and hydraulic kits.
    • For harder-to-reach job sites in uneven terrain, consider heavy-duty trailer options.

After you picked your vac and before starting a job:

  • Call 811, or a similar locating service, a few days before starting a project. It’s best-practice in the industry, but it’s also required by law in many states and global regions.
    • Call the national 811 hotline and give the operator details of your intent and job location. The operator will route your request to a local call center.
    • The operator will alert utility companies of your plans. Usually, an employee from the utility company will go to the proposed site and mark utility lines.
  • Carefully inspect the site for evidence of local or unmarked utilities.
  • Also look for evidence of previous excavations like:
    • Utility risers
    • Disturbed soil
    • Repaired pavement
  • Use a utility locator to:
    • Confirm 811 locates
    • Identify unmarked utilities
    • Determine approximate depth of lines
  • Before digging begins, everyone should understand the project plan, equipment involved and expected roles on the job site to help increase safety.
  • Make an action plan, including local emergency service phone numbers, to improve response times if an incident occurs.
  • Use the vacuum excavator to soft-dig or pothole and visually verify the location of underground lines. Many jurisdictions and safety regulations have specific requirements for exposing utilities in the area of excavation.

For more information on the vacuum excavator models available, talk to your local Vermeer dealer or visit   

  • hdd
  • jobsite
  • mclaughlin vacuum excavator
  • soil type
  • dci locator

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