What do excavating contractors do?

Excavation contractors are fond of telling their friends that they couldn’t bear to give up their childhood dump trucks, so they exchanged them for bigger versions. In the world of construction, excavation contractors do much more than haul dirt around; their responsibilities include site preparation, grading, trenching, and many other soil-related tasks. And, yes, they do operate some enormous pieces of heavy equipment.

Site Preparation

In a typical residential construction project, the excavation contractor shows up after the surveying crew determines the house and lot boundaries. The contractor removes the soil to the depth required for the new foundation and ensures that the soil is firm through compaction tests and compaction with equipment, if necessary. The dig requirements are precise, so the excavation contractor must use a level and transit to match the grade posted by the surveying crew; after the foundation, the contractor pours the footers and stem wall, the excavation contractor backfills around the new foundation.


Excavation contractors are business owners and are considered subcontractors because their job is often just one part of a larger project. A homeowner can contact an excavation contractor for a personal job, such as digging for a swimming pool, but the excavation contractor won’t oversee the entire project. Excavation contractors often work under the direction of general contractors, who solicit bids, coordinate subcontractor timelines, and pay the excavation contractor when he completes his part of the project.

Moving Dirt Around

If it has to do with moving dirt, an excavation contractor is probably the guy to do it. Depending on the equipment the contractor owns or leases, he can build roads, grade roads, dig ponds and sewers, excavate ditches for water lines or gas lines and operate trenchers that install flexible pipes beneath the ground without creating ditches. Excavation contractors create terraced drainage on agricultural land and build earthen dams.

Heavy Equipment and Operators

Excavation equipment is expensive to purchase and costly to insure. On average, a small to mid-size excavation contractor will often own or lease a couple of large front-end loaders, bulldozers, backhoes, compactors, trenches, and skid steers. Most excavation contractors also own large dump trucks to haul away excess dirt. College or trade school degrees in heavy equipment operation are few, so most contractors will hire skilled operators or new operators and train them on the job. Many excavation contractors are prior heavy equipment operators.

The Business End of Excavation Contracting

The excavation contractor must submit competitive bids and estimates and must know the going rate for excavation work in his community. In most states, the contractor must be licensed and bonded, which might require taking skills and knowledge tests and providing evidence of financial stability. The contractor establishes a bookkeeping and payroll system and usually pays income taxes quarterly. Taking a small business course can help the contractor understand financing and insurance responsibilities. He must follow safe job site practices as required by the Occupational Safety and Hazard Association (OSHA).
Go Back