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4 Excavating PROBLEMS you should know

December 11, 2020

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You may think of excavation as something that big construction sites get done with huge machines, but Excavation is just the process of moving rock, soil and other materials with equipment. That equipment can be anything from a shovel to an excavator. If you are digging, you are excavating.

These projects are very exciting and can change your yard into one you have always dreamed of having. Just like any project, there are going to be problems that arise when excavating. But not to worry, these problems can be solved, and knowing the problems before your project starts will allow you to have less stress while you are in the process of transforming your yard.

Problem # 1 Will construction equipment damage anything?

You put a lot of effort into taking care of your lawn and garden, and the last thing you want to worry about when having an excavation project done is how much damage you are going to have to repair when your excavation project is over.

Damage from travel:

The truth is an unprotected surface in most cases will show signs of travel across it.

Tire ruts form quickly over a lawn with a tracked machine, while wheeled machines often get a dozen crossings before wearing a path in them.

Concrete is almost always impervious to rubber tracks or tires, but will quickly be chewed up by steel tracks.

Luckily, surfaces can be protected with a temporary plywood road. If this is done most, if not all, of your yard surfaces will look like nothing was ever on them.  In some cases, it may be a smarter decision to repair the site afterwards instead of protecting it if the area is quite large and plywood roads do not seem feasible.

plywood temp road

Protection vs repair:

Protect:

  • Finished decorative concrete and landscape
  • Existing beautiful lawns and flower beds
  • Patios and pool decks
  • Any other surface you don’t want damaged

Repair:

  • Unfinished landscape
  • Unusually long routes in excess of 150’
  • Gravel driveway or parking lots
  • When it’s the smarter option and mutually agreed upon

Damage from excavating:

Excavating itself is not usually considered damage, as this is why the project is happening.

However, what is often overlooked is where the spoils (excavated material) from excavation end up.

Surprisingly, when soil is excavated, it grows 1.3x its size! That is a lot of soil that needs to be dealt with. If you do not have a huge property, you will probably want the excavated soil dealt with sooner than later. If you have grass that you want to preserve, having standing soil will no doubt kill the lawn that is underneath it.

To prevent this damage from happening, the ideal situation for you would be to have another machine  haul this soil to the front yard , where it can be piled in wait for a dump truck to haul it away.

On a large project this may be unavoidable, as you want to have a stockpile of material ready for when the dump truck arrives. Keep in mind that having a dump truck stay on site to dispose of your soil can add up!

Big excavation and spoils pile

Smaller projects can be completed a little cleaner, as material can be hauled away with smaller machines.

Damage to existing fences, vinyl or Hardie board siding is a valid concern when considering machines being used in tight spaces, luckily this is easily avoided by lining the area with plywood to protect it from getting damaged.

Site cleanup

Regardless of whether you choose to protect or repair, there is always cleanup at the end of every project.

It may be as quick as using a blower to revive the matted down grass under the plywood, or as beneficial as grading the site with a HARLEY RAKE to remove all the rocks, and debris unearthed from an excavation.

Problem #2 Excavation in tight areas

Excavating in limited spaces presents a few challenges. The first and obvious one is, can the machine even fit, while the second challenge is, is the machine going to hit anything by accident.

Machines are smaller and more powerful than ever. Mini excavators are as narrow as 27”, and offer zero tail swing (can swing around without going outside of its footprint).

If there is no room for a machine you can always dig by hand!

The soil that is getting excavated needs somewhere to go. In the case of a small space that has nowhere to stockpile material, there are several options of where to put the soil.

  • Two machines can be used to move the pile. One to dig and one to haul the spoils (excavated material).
  • Wheelbarrows, buckets, etc.

Extreme case:

In the event the excavation site cannot be accessed by machines, cranes can be used to bring the excavator and materials in and out.

It's actually more common than you might think to crane a small excavator over a house and into the backyard on properties with no gate access.

Likewise, bagged soil and gravel can also be brought in and out this way.

Problem #3 Liability

Hitting an underground utility, whether that’s Natural gas, Electrical, Sewer, or a Water line can be a big deal.

In order to help make sure this is not your problem here are 4 things to be aware of.

  1. BC1Call: Is a free underground utility locate service for: Gas, Electrical, Sewer, and water
    1. Must be contacted 3 days prior to ANY excavation, including the top few inches.
    2. Work cannot start prior to your BC1CALL ticket being created.
    3. Work must start within 14 days of your ticket being created, and must either be completed by day 30, or the ticket extended.
    4. All utilities located on ticket must be marked on site prior to excavation.
    5. In the event of an accident the appropriate authorities need to be contacted.
  1. Insurance: Contractor should have Commercial liability insurance:
    1. Valid and not expired.
    2. Insured to correct depth of excavation required. (It does no good to be insured to 6' if the excavation is at 9')
    3. Appropriate limits of coverage I.E $2,000,000.00.
  1. Worksafe BC: Contractor should be able to provide you with a clearance letter showing coverage, as well as be familiar with excavation work standards.
  1. Experience: Nothing prevents damage and lowers liability as much an experienced and safe operator. Being in a rush, or poor planning leads to accidents or worse.

Problem #4 Underground surprises

Anytime an excavation project is underway, there are chances of finding other things other than underground utilities.

What you should expect on almost every dig:

  1. Rocks: From small pebbles to fist sized and bigger
  2. Sticks and or tree roots
  3. Debris: Garbage, glass, etc.
  4. Excess material left over (soil expands 1.3 X when excavated)

What you may encounter:

  1. Large boulders that cannot be dug up, require large machinery, or blasting
  2. Contaminated soil from underground storage tank
  3. Private utilities not located by BC1Call: Sewer, Electrical, Water, Gas
  4. Sprinkler irrigation lines

Repaired sewer line

Underground surprises although rare, do happen.

When problems do arise during excavation, you can have peace of mind that everything can be fixed and solved, and at the end of the day you will end up with a space that you can be proud of.

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Commerical & residential hardscape landscaping, excavation, drainage and lawn renovation services. Service areas include Abbotsford, BC and throughout the Fraser Valley.

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Abbotsford, BC
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