Trench digging and excavation are both important forms of digging, and while they might sound similar, they are actually quite different. For those who are engaging in this type of work, both trench digging and excavation have risks. Trench digging and excavation can be hazardous as the ground can give way and cave-ins can occur. In order to ensure the safety of workers on-site and ensure that the job is done properly and that the right type of digging is done, it’s important to understand the difference between an excavation and a trench.

What is the Difference Between an Excavation and a Trench?

Size, Shape, and Depth

The primary difference between an excavation and a trench is the size, shape, and depth of the cut that is made into the earth’s surface.

What is Excavation?

Excavation can be defined as a man-made cut, depression, or cavity that is created in the ground by removing soil. The size, shape, and depth of an excavation can vary, and this type of digging can be done for a variety of purposes.

Excavation is carried out under the following circumstances:

  • Laying a foundation
  • Installing a swimming pool
  • Leveling a driveway

What is Trenching?

Trench digging is similar to excavation in that it involves removing the earth’s soil via a man-made cut below the surface of the ground. A trench, however, is narrower than a hole in the ground from excavation. The width of a trench cannot exceed 15 feet, whereas an excavation can. Typically, the length of a trench is a lot shorter than the length of an excavation. In most cases, the depth of a trench is larger than its width.

Trenches are commonly used for:

  • Installing drainage lines
  • Lying electrical wires and cables
  • Installing plumbing and sewage lines
  • Repairing and installing pipes

How to Choose Whether You Should Use a Trencher or an Excavator

It’s important to note that excavation cannot be dug without a trench. However, a trench can be dug with an excavator. That said, the tools you choose comes down to the rate of speed that you want to complete the project, as well as the efficiency of the project.

Excavators are more versatile

Excavators are more versatile than trenchers. These tools can be used for excavation projects, as well as for demolition projects, material handling, landscaping, and even trenching.

Many contractors utilize excavators for trenching because that’s the way they are taught, or simply because they already own an excavator and they are comfortable with using it. However, if you use an excavator, you won’t get crisp edges and the graded flooring that you would be able to achieve with a trencher.

Additionally, you’ll often spend more time and money digging a trench and hauling in the backfill to meet the required specifications if you were to use an excavator.

Trenchers are specialized

Trenchers are precision machines that are specifically designed for digging trenches. Using a trencher is faster, and a lot more efficient. Trenchers are also more cost-effective than excavators when digging a trench. Trenchers are available in both ride-on and walk-behind versions and can be used to dig trenches that have a more consistent width, a graded floor, and straight walls.

If you are digging a trench on a property that is landscaped, using a trencher is a better choice; especially one that features a special attachment, such as a rock saw wheel. This special attachment can cut through dense rocks with ease.

Trenchers are more efficient for digging trenches because once the digging depth and cutting width are set, the tool will dig straight down through the ground. A trencher will place the soil along the sides of the trench in a continuous, forward movement. When using an excavator, on the other hand, the bucket teeth will need to be set into the ground, which takes a lot more time.

Additional Information: Trenching and Excavation – Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

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