Trenching is an important part of construction that may come into play as you’re landscaping for drainage, placing pipeline or data cabling, or installing sprinkler systems. While it’s important to trench carefully and accurately, this is a job that shouldn’t take too much time. Try these tips and tricks to trench quickly so you can move on with your project fast.
Plan Your Depth, Length, and Placement
You can map out the path of your trench with as little as a few stakes and some string. Though you may be in a hurry to complete your project, it’s critical that you don’t skip this step. Plan the length and width based on the specifications for your installation.
You should use standardized depths for most projects, particularly utilities that you may need to access again in the future. If you’re placing pipelines or electrical utilities, you should place them at least 2.5 feet deep to prevent freezing, but no more than 4 feet deep for accessibility. Sprinkler systems are typically placed no more than a foot underground.
Look for potential hazards like drop-offs and soft spots. Locate all existing pipes and power lines in the area. New pipes should always be at least 1.5 feet from existing pipelines. Consider nearby trees that may have large root systems, which can interfere with your trench. Consider the future growth of smaller trees and allow plenty of room for the roots to grow.
Select the Right Equipment
A compact excavator is one of the most efficient options for digging a trench quickly. These have a narrower footprint than any alternative option, so you need less space on the work site to accommodate your equipment. These are also ideal for the space constraints you may find in a backyard or other residential environment. The knuckle boom and pivoting cab offer easy maneuverability, while the arm can support up to 18,500 pounds on the strongest models.
Choose a Well-Trained Operator
Make sure anyone working on your project has OSHA’s competent-person certification for trenching. This training will help workers identify potentially hazardous conditions. Even a slight variation in soil condition could require a sudden adjustment to the sloping or shoring planned for the trench. Any trench that’s 3 feet or deeper requires special safety considerations. Timber posts and panels will help shore up the sides, and proper sloping will prevent the trench from collapsing.
Practice Safety Precautions
Take critical safety measures into consideration when trenching. With the right construction equipment at hand, you shouldn’t have to climb into the trench often. If you are in the trench, make sure the sides are properly supported for anything deeper than 3 feet. Choose bright clothing that’s easily seen throughout the work site. Always wear a hard hat for appropriate protection when trenching.
Keep your excavator away from the edge of the trench, so it doesn’t collapse the soil and fall into the very depression that you’re creating. Remember that your excavator has an extensive reach. Stay aware of your surroundings at all times and be very careful not to swing the arm or move the excavator without making sure that the area is clear.
One of the keys to digging a trench quickly is to know when you’re simply baling dirt and when you’re making a finishing pass. You don’t need the precision and accuracy of a finishing pass with every movement. You’ll find that your trenching goes much more quickly when you focus on speed rather than perfection in your first passes.
Work in long layers that fill the excavator bucket just as the stick goes vertical. Begin with the bucket at a 45-degree grade and curl it as you’re moving the bucket toward you. Boom up just before you begin the curl, so you finish the cut with the bucket sitting flat. This provides a flatter trench bottom.
Pile spoil at least 2 feet away from the trench for safety. You can save time and streamline each cycle by extending the stick no more than 40 degrees to dump the bucket. If possible, dump the spoil directly into the truck that will haul it away. This narrow target is ideal for an excavator, which can dump while swinging over the trunk for a smooth range of movements with each pass.
With the right planning and processes in place, you can dig a trench in no time. Investing in rental equipment such as a trencher will help you take the most efficient approach possible to this task.