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Last edited 27 Feb 2023
Types of excavation
 What is excavation?
On small sites or in confined spaces, excavation may still be carried out by manual means using tools such as picks, shovels and wheelbarrows. Larger scale excavation works will require heavy plant such as bulldozers and backactors. For more information, see Excavating plant.
This involves the removal of the exposed layer of the earth’s surface, including any vegetation or decaying matter which could make the soil compressible and therefore unsuitable for bearing structural loads. The depth will vary from site to site, but is usually in a range of 150-300 mm.
 Muck excavation
 Unclassified excavation
 Why is excavation carried out?
This is the process of excavation whereby the material that is cut or stripped is then re-used elsewhere on the site. The removed topsoil and earth can be used as fill for embankments, elevated sections, and so on. It can also be used to form a level surface on which to build, as elevated sections of the site are ‘cut’ and moved to ‘fill’ lower sections of the site.
Trench, or footing, excavation is typically used to form strip foundations, to bury services such as pipes, and so on. The choice of technique and plant for excavating, supporting and backfilling the trench depends on factors such as; the purpose of the trench, the ground conditions, the trench location, the number of obstructions, and so on.
The common techniques that are used include:
- Full depth, full length: Suitable for long narrow trenches of shallow depth, such as pipelines and sewers.
- Full depth, successive stages: Suitable for deep trenches where works can progress in sequence, reducing the risk of collapse.
- Stage depth, successive stages: Suitable for very deep trenches in confined areas, deep foundations and underpinning.
This typically involves the removal of material for the footings and abutments of bridges. The work may be subdivided into wet, dry and rock excavation. Underwater excavations may require special methods of drill and blast. For more information, see Bridge construction.
Over excavation is excavation that goes beyond the depth which is required for the formation of a below ground structure due to the presence of unsuitable material that must be removed. The excavation may then need to be back filled to create the required levels.
 How are excavations supported?
Materials have different stability characteristics during excavation works. The ‘angle of repose’ of the material describes the steepest angle at which it will remain stable without support. The exact angle of repose will depend on the presence of groundwater, but some typical angles are:
- Drained clay: 45-degrees.
- Wet clay: 16-degrees.
- Gravel and dry sand: 40-degrees.
- Wet sand: 22-degrees.
- The stability and angle of repose of the subsoil.
- The proximity of the excavation to vehicles, services and buildings.
- The level of the water table.
- The subsoil types.
- The depth of the excavation.
- The length of time the excavation will be left open.
- The time of year and weather conditions.
The types of support that can be used include:
- Timber supports: Commonly used for low risk, narrow trenches, shafts or headings.
- Trench boxes: Can be placed in pre-excavated trenches in low-risk situations.
- Trench sheets: Can be overlapping or interlocking, and are used to provide continuous support for deeper trenches.
- Ground anchors and rock bolting.
- Basement excavation.
- Building foundations.
- Excavating plant.
- Ground improvement techniques.
- Mass haul movement.
- Over excavation.
- Road construction.
- Surplus excavated material.
- Temporary works.
- Trench support.
- Trial pit.
- Types of soil.
 External references
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