Hydrovac vs. Air Excavation: Comparing Two Non-Destructive Methods

By Hydrovac Calgary   |   Hydrovac Excavation   |   0 Comments   |   31 October, 2023   |   0

When undertaking an excavation project, it’s important to use a method that gets the job done without causing damage to surrounding infrastructure. Two popular non-destructive excavation methods are hydrovac and air excavation. Both offer safe and effective ways to dig without harming buried pipes, cables, and other utilities. In this article, we’ll look at the key differences between hydrovac and air excavation to help you determine the best choice for your next excavation job.

Hydrovac, also known as hydro excavation or vacuum excavation, utilizes high-pressure water and an industrial strength vacuum to simultaneously dig and remove soil. Highly pressurized water, typically around 2500 psi, is sprayed from a vacuum truck wand to fracture and loosen the soil while the vacuum sucks up the slurry. The water and soil are then transferred to a truck-mounted tank for safe disposal.

Hydrovac is highly targeted, allowing crews to safely expose buried utilities, dig foundation holes, trench for pipelines, and complete other excavation tasks with precision. The hydrovac process causes minimal surface disturbance or collateral damage. It also keeps workers safe by reducing the risk of striking underground infrastructure during digging.

Air excavation is an alternative non-destructive method that uses compressed air rather than water to fracture soil. Powerful air jets emitted from an excavator or truck-mounted unit efficiently break up dirt and rocks while a vacuum system collects the spoils. This technology provides similar benefits to hydrovac in terms of precision and safety.

When deciding between hydrovac and air excavation, there are a few key factors to consider:


Hydrovac requires less equipment and is generally more affordable than air excavation. However, air excavation can dig deeper on average.

Working conditions

Hydrovac performs better in wet conditions since water is used. Air excavation works better in dry or frozen ground.

Excavation depth

Hydrovac can normally reach up to 16 feet deep; air excavation can go deeper to around 25 feet.

Utility identification

Both methods allow safe, non-destructive exposure of buried pipes and cables. Hydrovac provides superior visibility in most soils.

Environmental impact

Hydrovac produces a slurry requiring disposal. Air excavation leaves some dust and debris that must be managed.

Operator skill

Hydrovac is simpler to operate. Air excavation requires specialized training.

When it comes to non-destructive digging, hydrovac and air excavation both get the job done safely. Hydrovac may be preferable for cost and simplicity, but air excavation can reach greater depths. Talk to the experts at Hydrovac Calgary to determine which solution is right for your specific excavation challenges. Their experienced team can evaluate site conditions and requirements to recommend the ideal excavation method.



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