Ever wondered how people preserve and maintain structures at the foundation level? For those not familiar with engineering, it’s one of life’s many mysteries, but the answer will surprise you.

There’s a technique called Potholing that enables the construction and easy maintaining of buildings and civil engineering. Like its namesake we’re more familiar with when driving over bumps in tarmac, it’s named after the shape of the holes created in the ground.

But what exactly is Potholing? Let’s dig deeper and find out.

What Is Potholing?

Potholing excavation and potholing construction is a common practice. Potholing determines the nature, location, extent, and depth of soil conditions. These conditions may affect foundation design or other aspects of building construction.

Further, it can also be an aid for locating buried utilities. These include water pipes, gas lines, electrical cables, and fiber optic cables. These are often difficult to locate during site preparation.

The term “pothole” comes from the French word pot-au-feu meaning soup kettle. This refers to the shape of the hole dug into the ground by hand tools like shovels and picks. A typical pothole has a diameter between 2 inches and 4 feet.

Why Do We Need To Know About Underground Infrastructure?

As mentioned earlier, finding hidden underground infrastructure is important. That’s because it could have serious consequences if left undetected.

A broken sewer line could cause sewage backup, for example. Backup could result in damage to property and health issues. Further, a leaking natural gas pipeline could result in explosions and fires.

Suppose you suspect building foundations are at risk due to poor drainage or cracks. It’s worth hiring a professional service to inspect your site. These services can determine what’s causing the issues. Things that need inspection include:

  • Water mains
  • Gas pipelines
  • Electrical power distribution systems
  • Telephone networks
  • Cable TV services
  • Fiber optics
  • Other utility companies

Suppose these items get damaged during construction. That could cause serious damage to your home or business. So why do we have to go through all this trouble to make sure everything goes to plan?

Because if anything does happen, it wants fixing fix it at speed. That’s where professional services are useful.

How Does Potholing Work?

A pothole is usually created using a backhoe equipped with a bucket attachment. The techniques used vary a lot depending on the ground material.

In soft soils, the excavator uses a scooping motion while digging down through the top layer of earth. They use a hammer action to break up hard materials such as rock before removal.

Once the hole is complete, the operator fills it with water. That way, they know where underground objects lie beneath the surface.

After this step, the operator then digs around the perimeter of the hole. They look for any signs of underground infrastructure. If there are no obvious indications, the operator keeps drilling.

Once found, the object’s removed and examined under a microscope to identify what type of pipe it might be. The operator either leaves the item alone or removes it, depending on what’s best.

What is Hydrovac Potholing?

Hydrovac potholing uses a vacuum system attached to a tractor. The equipment consists of a large tank containing high-pressure air, which creates suction inside the hose connected to the tool.

As vacuum machines like the Ring O Matic move forward, the suction pulls dirt away from the area of investigation. Once the process finishes, the operator stops the vehicle and empties the contents of the tank onto a conveyor belt.

This method allows operators to remove larger items without having to drill them out first. Yet, it does not allow for detailed examination of smaller objects.

What Potholing Equipment Is There?

There are many different types of potholing machines available today. Some are special designs used for one task. Others are multipurpose units capable of performing several functions. Here are some examples:


Used for creating deep holes, backhoes are also useful for breaking apart rocks and loosening clay soils. They come in both hydraulic and electric models. Electric versions tend to be less expensive than their hydraulic-driven counterparts.


Like backhoes, except that they can dig deeper and move more soil at once. Their main advantage over backhoes is that they do not need electricity to operate.


Also known as skid steers, these vehicles are often pulled behind other pieces of heavy machinery. They are most often used for moving debris after excavation.

Vacuum Systems

Most common when working with loose soils. These devices create powerful suctions that pull everything off the ground, including small stones and roots.

These tools usually consist of an engine-driven pump that sucks the surrounding soil into a collection container.

Potholing Tips & Tricks

Although the chances are you’ll hire a professional potholing service, it’s good to know what’s involved, in particular health and safety practices.

For small home projects such as a shed, you can even try yourself, though it’s advised if it could cause more damage than good. Here are some tips:

Wear Protective Gear

Always wear protective gear such as gloves, boots, goggles, etc. While you may think your hands will get dirty during the operation, they actually become very slippery due to all the fine particles floating about. Gloves help keep your skin dry by preventing sweat buildup.

Boots protect against sharp objects like broken glass and nails. Goggles prevent dust and grit from getting into your eyes.

Conduct Safety Checks

Be sure to use proper safety procedures before starting work. Make sure the site has adequate lighting, so you don’t trip over anything.

Clear the path ahead of time if necessary. And always check the weather forecast before heading out!

Leave Some Room

When removing pipes, make sure to leave enough room around the hole’s edges to avoid damaging nearby structures. If possible, try to find another way to dispose of the pipe rather than digging up the entire thing.

Check Your Surroundings

Keep track of what’s going on around you. You never know who might need access to the same spot later or how much damage could occur if something falls.

Take Pictures

Don’t forget to take pictures along the way of any work you’ve undertaken. These images can prove invaluable should any problems arise later. 

Hire Potholing Professionals for Larger Jobs

Whatever your need for potholing, you should know what’s involved in the process throughout. It’s often recommended to hire a professional potholing service.

Yet, having a level of understanding goes a long way. It’ll help you find the best quality service out there for your needs.

Keep reading for more wholesome advice and see what you can find!