Company grows along with hydro-excavating technology

by Peter Hildebrandt

If you have ever tried to fill a bucket with water when your garden hose nozzle was on the narrowest setting you may have a bit of an idea of how hydo-excavating works. Though the spray is quite concentrated and good at dislodging material from the sides of the pail, the time it takes to fill the container is longer than when the sprayer is not in place. This idea may get us started in understanding the many benefits of excavating with water under high pressure.

Beneath the soil lies a complex network of systems carrying telecommunications, natural gas, wastewater, water, fiberoptic, and electricity. Each day, incidents occur nationwide that damage utility lines. Property, workers and even pedestrians can be injured or even killed.

Traditional excavation involves heavy equipment – and when the possibility of unmarked or unmapped utilities exist – even the use of a hand shovel or pick axe could cause damage. In hydro-excavation, high-pressure low-volume water breaks up soil. In winter, high-pressure hot water cuts through frosted soil. The process of hydro excavation is the only non-destructive method of digging. It utilizes pressurized water and a vacuum system as a method to quickly and safely expose underground infrastructure.

During the hydrovac process, pressurized water is injected into the ground through a handheld wand. As the soil cover is liquefied, the resulting slurry is simultaneously extracted by a powerful vacuum and stored in a 14-yard debris tank onboard the hydrovac.

“The added cost of using a hydrovac excavation on a project can be negated by increased productivity on the job,” explains Ira Conklin, Hydrovac Excavating, Inc. owner. “Also by clearing a path through utility conflicts, a hydrovac can help out tremendously with production rates along with using a conventional excavator.”

Working this way uses relatively small amounts of water, some seven to nine gallons per minute at pressures of up to 6,000 psi. Normally Hydrovac Excavating, Inc. runs their equipment at about 3,500 to 4,500 psi per day. They use a spinning, rotating nozzle tip so that the protective coating around the jacket is not torn.

Hydrovacs can dig effectively in all soil types, including clay, and with the aid of onboard heaters, hydrovacs provide a safe means of digging in frozen ground. Conklin’s powerful hydrovac systems can excavate up to 100 feet deep and at distances of 600 feet from the truck, enabling work to be done in areas of limited access.

“We recently completed a job for the City of Kingston, NY,” adds Conklin, “This involved vacuuming out debris from a tunnel collapse 90 feet deep and 220 feet laterally.”

The company’s original hydrovac unit was constructed by Presvac Systems of Burlington, Ontario, completed in October 2003. Mounted on a 2004 Freightliner truck, the hydrovac has a water storage capacity of 1,200 gallons and a debris storage capacity of 14 cubic yards. The Hibon 5300 SCFM vacuum blower is critical to the setup, as is their 6000 PSI, 9 GPM water pump, and their 440,000 BTU hot water heater. All this is, in turn, completely insulated for minimal noise on job sites.

“We were probably the fifth hydro-trencher that was brought into the US from Canada. In 2003, my first truck was equipped with this capability,” says Conklin. “I heard about hydrovacs from the Presvac salesman that used to sell me vacuum trucks that were used in a previous business, and the salesman told me, ‘you just got to see these hydro trenchers – how they work.’ He was really going on and on about how the hydrovac trucks work.”

Conklin needed to learn more about the hydro trencher, so he traveled to Canada and met with owner operators of hydrovacs. At that time, Ontario already had regulations on the books stating that within a certain amount of meters of a marked utility line the only excavating equipment able to be used was vacuum excavation. This factor, as Conklin points out, was really driving the market up in Canada.

In 2003, he purchased his first truck and proceeded to show prospective clients both how the hydrovac worked along with the technology and the benefits involved. “And all of this has built up from there. The demand has really taken off in the last few years; it’s amazing right now. We own and operate hydrovacs manufactured by Transway Sytems, Supervac 2000, and Transwest. By using this equipment, you can safely work within the tolerance zone exposing any utility without damaging it.”

“We used to have to expose an unmarked utility by hand as you cannot use mechanical excavation within three feet of a marked utility. The bottom line is that our production rate is much greater than digging by hand.”

The vacuum breaker is in their hand the whole time that they are working the equipment. Safety features abound all around the trucks they operate, too. “This type of excavating is the only type that they do now. When I started up with this technology 14 years ago, I had just one truck — with me operating it — and one other person working with me. We now have some 14 employees currently. In time, that built up to several trucks, more customers, and our range of operations expanded as well, serving the entire northeast.”

“On a daily basis, we travel down to Staten Island and little bit north of the state capital of Albany. Weather does not typically hinder us as we are a year-round operation. We have 500,000 BTU water heaters onboard the trucks to heat up the water and melt the frost so we are always able to dig no matter what the frost conditions are. At certain times during the coldest winter months, the utility companies have more need for our services.”

Conklin points out that more and more people are starting to learn about hydro excavating. The method has steadily taken off as it becomes more prevalent around utility work sites.

“I try to keep my face out there. Dig Safe has a training school and I do see the advantage of that. But to be honest, in general, people are starting to learn more and more about it [hydro excavating] and understand everything about it much quicker.

We serve urban, suburban, and rural areas up and down the Hudson River Valley. These are very well established, old communities. The city of Newburgh actually has wooden underground water pipes in some areas. Because the infrastructure is so old, there are no maps of what is under the streets and roads of the cities.”

“Hydro-excavating is a good way to explore the infrastructure in a relatively non-invasive manner and in any locations where there are high-pressure gas transporting pipelines where you cannot use standard excavating equipment. As with other jobs, hydro-excavating is the much safer, faster, and more efficient way to go.”

“Six months is the standard amount of time it takes to get a hydrovac truck built,” adds Conklin. “This is because equipment is in demand. Used equipment costs a lot, some $500,000 for a new, equipped truck. Competition continues to build in this industry. Now, there are five people doing this work within a 50-mile radius of ours. In spite of all that, I consider myself very fortunate and happy to be in this rewarding and essential line of work.”

To learn more about Hydrovac, Inc. visit their website: http://hydrovacinc.com or contact Ira Conklin. Email info@hydrovacinc.com or call 845-742-1710.

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