When do you need excavation services?

Whether it's time for a landscaping overhaul or just time to haul away a pile of rubble, there are a number of reasons homeowners may need to hire an excavation service.

Contractors who work in landscaping and hardscaping, sewer and septic service and foundation repair often perform excavation services, in which they use heavy machinery to dig up or transport large or heavy items like dirt, rocks, construction materials and even trees.

Excavation for projects could range from underground water and sewer line repair or replacement; service and installation of wells or septic tanks; or backhoe service for demolition, maintenance or landscape projects.

Hiring an excavator

Licensing requirements for excavation services vary by state and municipality, as well as the type of work being done. However, count on whoever is doing the work to be in need of some type of license, as excavation equipment can be dangerous and requires specialized training.

Check with your local licensing authority on the requirements for your area. You can use this Angie's List licensing tool to help get you started.

Once you determine your state's requirements, ask the person you are considering hiring to provide proof of licensure.

Also, require the company show proof of their liability and worker's compensation insurance for any employees on the job. The company should also hold a bond for at least the amount of the job cost.

Excavation projects near your home, like this basement improvement, should be done by a professional. (Photo courtesy of Trotter Co.)

Excavation projects near your home, like this basement improvement, should be done by a professional. (Photo courtesy of Trotter Co.)

What to do before excavating

If you haven't gotten the 411 on 811 yet, you need to get the scoop before you dig.

Homeowners can be responsible for damages to buried utility lines if they don't call 811 before they dig for anything ranging from putting in a tree to regrading the foundation to a major excavation project like installing a septic system.

Call 811 several days before beginning any excavation project to have your local utility companies mark any buried lines. Not only can it save you a significant amount of money, it can prevent injury and even save your life.

Hitting a buried power line might just give you a memorable jolt, or it could cut off the power to your entire neighborhood. Imagine accidentally killing the juice to your block moments before the big game.

Alternatives to excavation

Excavation can be messy work. It can involve digging up large chunks of your yard, including plants, trees and flowers.

So, should you say sayonara to your luscious landscape when your sewer line leaks?

Not so fast, say experts on Angie's List.

Trenchless sewer line replacement is a minimally invasive option. There are two types available: one involves inserting a flexible tube into the existing pipe and then expanding it (pipe lining), while the other involves pulling a new pipe through the damaged one, breaking the old one apart in the process (pipe bursting). 

It's important to note that trenchless options don't work for every situation, so it's vital to find a contractor well-versed in trenchless options.

If you have a project in which the initial recommendation is to excavate and you're not ready to make the investment to rebuild your lawn, ask your contractor about what other choices you have. Be sure to seek out other opinions, if necessary, as excavating contractors often have varying skillsets.

How much does excavation cost?

Reviews on Angie's List for excavation projects range anywhere from a couple hundred to several thousand dollars. Costs vary depending on a range of factors including the size and scope of the project, and the time and equipment needed. Most excavation companies charge on a per-job basis.

Because costs can range so significantly for excavating jobs, homeowners should always seek out at least three bids, especially for major projects.

Get a written quote and ask for a breakdown of the charges. Compare estimates and look for outliers. If two estimates are similar but one is extremely high or very low, scrutinize that company's bid before making a hiring decision.

Be sure the final price is included in a written contract signed by both you and the excavation project manager. Never pay in full up front.

Most legitimate companies will allow for payments tied to progress, for example; one-third of the cost of the job at the start of work, another third midway through and the final payment made when the job is completed to the homeowner's satisfaction.

Avoid excavating scams

With most types of underground work, especially emergency repairs related to underground piping, sewage or septic systems, the homeowner can't visibly see the issue. Often, the situation calls for a professional to use a video to inspect the area.

This can put homeowner's in a vulnerable situation, as less-scrupulous companies may use a staged video as a scare tactic to sell unnecessary repair or replacement services.

Anytime a company recommends a video inspection, ask them to film a recognizable feature associated with your house first, or go with the contractor during the inspection to view the video in real time.

If a contractor says you need expensive repairwork done, get at least two more opinions to confirm the recommendation. Search Angie's List for highly rated excavators in your area. Never succumb to pressure to have work done immediately.

Anyone who offers to make a deal for your business today, should be willing to make that same deal tomorrow.

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