4 Excavating PROBLEMS you should know

Offering reliable landscaping services to homeowners in British Columbia since 2013

Picture of Sam Maerz

Sam Maerz

Owner/Site Foreman

If we haven’t met before allow us to introduce ourselves. We are Back 40 Landscaping and our expertise is in retaining walls and hardscaping. We also like to bring education to those looking for retaining wall and excavating solutions.

The process of excavation is the  of moving rock, soil and other materials with equipment.

That equipment can be anything from an excavator to a shovel.

In short, if you are digging, you are excavating.

Anyone who is excavating, even if it is just while gardening, is legally required to call BC1CALL to request a locate ticket.

Within three days BC1CALL will inform you of all underground services and utilities entering the property.

This ticket will expire between 14-30 days.

Problem # 1 Will construction equipment damage anything?

In our experience there seems to be two types of clients.

The first type tends to ask this question very early on in the process,

while the second type overlooks how much work goes into protecting surfaces, or cleaning up a site after work is completed.

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.

It is usually better to  protect surfaces with a temporary plywood road, however in some cases it would be a smarter decision to repair the site afterwards instead of protecting.

Protection vs repair:


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


  • 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.

Let’s say you hire an excavator to dig you a large hole. You probably will expect the area to be dug up, but what you may not expect is a large pile of dirt that will sit next to the hole, and kill the lawn underneath it.

Likewise, it’s more than likely if this is happening in your backyard, another machine will be hauling this soil to the front yard where it will 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.

(It can be costly to keep a large truck onsite while you’re excavating.)

Smaller projects can be completed a little cleaner as we can haul our own material and load the truck throughout the day.

Damage to existing fences, vinyl or Hardie board siding is a valid concern when considering machines being used in tight spaces.

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

Hiring the wrong contractor can be huge headache, and worse yet a legal, and financial nightmare.

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

No one likes surprises, and that’s certainly the case here, however it’s a very real possibility.

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

Underground surprises although rare, do happen.

Take the stress out of your next project with a competent excavation company.

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