Before the cold weather arrives, make sure your hydroexcavation equipment is prepared for the deep chill of winter.

In extremely cold temperatures and high winds, your hydroexcavation equipment can take a beating. When the mercury dips below zero, waterlines can freeze and break, water heaters can fail to ignite, digging lances can freeze up, and water pumps can break if water isn’t blown out. To prevent these problems and more, you just need to take some extra precautions. Take a look at this insider’s guide to preparing your hydroexcavation equipment.

Preseason checklist (before the snow flies)

  • Check the water heater and make sure it ignites readily. Also, inspect the igniter and change any fuel filters.
  • Check the water pump, blower, transfer case and hydraulic tank. If anything needs to be serviced, now is the time to do it.
  • Check all components that contain lubricating oil or filters.
  • Grease all Zerks on the truck, and extend and retract the boom (tube-in-tube style) to spread the grease.
  • Look for and repair oil leaks.
  • Check the recirculation pump to ensure it’s operational.
  • Inspect insulation on waterlines and tanks to be sure it covers pipes and hoses.

Cold weather tricks of the trade (for those blistery cold days)

Related: “The Power to Succeed” - Southern Hydro Vac - Pumper Magazine Video - September 2012

Todd Volkman, a GapVax operator at Goliath Hydrovac in Lakeville, Minnesota, recommends you take these steps during the deep, dark days of winter.

  • Use a heated collar on decant valves to prevent freezing. This way, liquids can be drained and solids retained.
  • By using a glycol injection system, you’ll keep pockets of water from freezing and breaking things. The system airs out water and then circulates antifreeze into the water pump, pressure regulator and hose reel. This antifreeze collects in the reservoir tank for reuse.
  • If you’re hauling water to a job site in the morning, fill your truck the night before and park it in a heated garage.
  • Use the truck’s water heater to preheat water. Then circulate it through the water system when driving to the job. Be aware that some trucks cannot be driven with the water heater operating because airflow down the chimney will snuff out the flame.
  • If the truck is parked outside overnight, drain all water and leave all water valves open. If a water valve freezes, it will thaw as soon as water starts flowing through it. If the valves are closed overnight, water can’t flow through the valve and thaw it.
  • Remember that 12-volt recirculation pumps tend to slow down when the motor heats up, so the water circulation slows down. Try to limit use of the pump to an hour or less.
  • If steam is an issue during hydrexcavation, dial down the temperature.
  • Plan the job. When it’s time to move from the digging site, how long will it be before equipment is used again?  Do you need to recirculate immediately because of extreme weather? Is your next site far away? Factor in time, distance and temperature.
  • The diesel-fired heated box contains the water pump, pressure regulator and hose reel. Remember that it can heat the box when the truck is parked, driving down the road and shut down overnight. The heater taps into the main fuel tank for its fuel supply.
  • Carry a heat gun or propane torch on the truck to thaw frozen pipes and hard lines. However, you must keep the heat source moving continually so the heat isn’t concentrated on one specific area and causes damage.
  • If a tube-in-tube style boom is frozen, insert the digging lance into the end of the boom and run the rater heater. The warm water being sucked through the boom will thaw it so it can be retracted and cradled.

And one final reminder: Make sure you review your hydroexcavator manual before cold weather hits. It’s also a good idea to make copies of the appropriate pages and laminate them. Keep those pages in a separate binder in the truck so you can quickly access them throughout the cold-weather season.

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