Air Vacuum and Suction Excavation for Construction Projects

Matt at Centex Excavation
Author: MattPublished: December 12, 2022 Updated: December 26, 2023 • Filed Under: Excavating and Grading

You might be familiar with typical excavation methods for construction projects. But there are also non-traditional methods gaining in popularity, such as suction excavation or air vacuum excavation. This type of excavating is growing increasingly more popular because of its precision, speed and cost effectiveness.

Air vacuum excavation uses pressurized air to loosen material that can then be removed with a powerful suction system. It is ideal for projects that require precise or delicate excavation, such as around existing foundations and utilities.

Air vacuum excavation can be used to create trenches, dig footings, and complete other construction tasks quickly and accurately with minimal disruption to the environment. It is also a safe method of construction because there is no need for large machinery that can damage surrounding structures or create a hazardous environment.

Air vacuum excavation is also an efficient way to excavate around underground utilities and other sensitive structures without damaging them. Vacuum excavation helps to reduce the risk of accidental damage to these lines, which can be extremely costly to repair or replace.

Overall, air vacuum excavation is becoming a popular choice for construction projects due to its speed and accuracy, as well as its cost effectiveness.

How does a suction excavator work?

Often called suction excavators or vacuum excavators, these systems use a high-pressure air compressor to create a powerful vacuum that is able to suck up materials from the ground.

A high pressure blast of air is forced into the soil and then this blast of air lifts up the dirt and material that can then be pulled up from above.

As the soil and debris is loosened, the vacuum then sucks up the material and it is deposited in a rear-mounted hopper. This allows for precise excavation without causing any damage to existing utilities that may be located nearby.

The suction excavator system includes a nozzle, hose, turbine fan, and intake filter to ensure effective operation. The nozzle is used to direct the air jet in order to loosen the soil or material while the hose carries the material to the rear-mounted hopper. The turbine fan then creates a powerful vacuum that is able to suck up materials from the ground.

Finally, an intake filter keeps debris and other small particles out of the system, which helps improve performance and ensure safety during operation.

Is air vacuum excavation different from hydrovac excavation?

Although they’re relatively similar, air vacuum excavation and hydrovac excavation are two distinct excavation techniques. Hydrovac excavation is similar to air vacuum excavation but instead uses pressurized water to loosen soil and debris before it is collected using a suction system.

Hydrovac systems typically use high-pressure water jets that can remove hard packed material or penetrate deeper into the ground than an air vacuum excavator. This makes it ideal for excavation around underground utilities or other delicate structures. However, hydrovac excavation is more expensive than air vacuum excavation and can also be less precise.

So they operate in a very similar way, but air vacuum excavation is typically more suitable for construction projects that require precision and accuracy.

Types of jobs suction excavators perform.

We touched on this earlier, but we’ll go into a bit more detail. Suction excavators are ideal for a variety of construction projects, from trenching to digging footings and foundations.


Suction excavators can be used to quickly and accurately create trenches for various purposes such as laying pipes or cables. It can also be used to create a trench around an existing structure, such as a building foundation. While you can’t necessarily grade with these, there’s plenty of other jobs it’s perfect for.

Digging Footings & Foundations.

These systems are great for digging footings and foundations in tight spaces without disturbing nearby structures or utilities. Air vacuum excavation is precise and efficient, allowing for an accurate excavation that can result in a stronger foundation.

Drilling & Auguring.

Suction excavators can also be used to drill holes and augur into the ground without damaging nearby structures or utilities. This is ideal for creating precise holes for posts, poles, or other structures.

With a bit of creativity, there are undoubtedly more applications for air vacuum excavation. You can tackle many different projects with precision and accuracy while saving money and time.

Whether you’re digging trenches, creating footings and foundations or drilling holes, suction excavators are the way to go for safe, accurate and efficient results. From utilities to construction projects, air vacuum excavation is the perfect tool for getting the job done.

Suction excavation FAQs.

As with all of our posts, we get tons of questions from our readers. With that, we’re providing you a comprehensive FAQ.

What type of materials can a suction excavator handle?

A suction excavator is designed to handle soft materials such as sand, soil and mud. While they can usually handle gravel and some small rocks, they usually aren’t designed to handle large rocks or hard packed materials.

Are suction excavators safe?

Yes! Suction excavators are very safe due to their enclosed design and the fact that they don’t use any type of chemical or combustible fuel. Manufacturers also equip them with an intake filter which helps keep debris and other small particles out of the system.

How long does suction excavation take?

The time it takes to complete a suction excavation job depends on the size and complexity of the project. However, they are generally much faster than traditional excavation methods which makes them ideal for large-scale projects.

How deep can a suction excavator go?

The depth of a suction excavator depends on the size and power of the machine, but they can usually reach depths of up to 20 feet (6 meters).

What is the cost of a suction excavator?

The cost of a suction excavator depends on the size, model and manufacturer. Generally speaking, they tend to be more expensive than traditional excavation methods due to their precision and efficiency. Some newer models run upwards of $100,000 whereas you can find decent used models for around $50,000. Keep in mind that these are for truck-mounted vacuum excavators. Smaller, trailer-mounted air vacuum excavators will be much cheaper, but usually for smaller jobs.

What is the cost of operating a suction excavator?

The cost to operate a suction excavator varies depending on the size and type of machine. Typically, you can expect to pay between $15 and $50 an hour in fuel costs. Additionally, you may need to factor in the cost of repairs or maintenance which can vary depending on the model.

Can you rent a vacuum excavator?

Of course! Many companies and rental centers offer vacuum excavators for rent, so it’s worth looking into if you only need the machine occasionally.

Are there any other benefits to using a suction excavator?

Yes! Suction excavators are much safer than traditional excavation methods, due to their enclosed design and lack of combustible fuel. Additionally, they are much more precise and efficient, allowing for the completion of projects in a fraction of the time it would take

What manufacturers make suction excavators?

There are several manufacturers that make suction excavators, including Vacuworx, Vermeer, Ditch Witch and Power Vac. Additionally, there are a number of smaller companies that have developed their own unique vacuum excavator models. It’s important to research each manufacturer before purchasing a machine. This will ensure you get the best quality product for your money.

Still have questions about suction excavation? Feel free to reach out to us at anytime and we’ll be happy to help! We are always here to provide useful information, advice and resources so that you can make the most informed decision when it comes time to purchase a suction excavator.

About the Author

Matt Avatar


Excavation Expert

Matt is a highly experienced heavy equipment operator with over two decades of experience in the construction industry. His expertise covers a wide range of machinery and project types, and he is known for his focus on safety, efficiency, and problem-solving. Matt's commitment to delivering high-quality work within deadlines and budgets has made him highly respected at Centex Excavation and the excavation industry.

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