Specifying Backhoes For Maximum Versatility

Back To The Basics
By Don Talend, Contributing Editor | November 2009 Vol. 64 No. 11
Manufacturers now provide an increasing selection of backhoe attachments that give handling capabilities like grappling.

The backhoe loader is really two machines in one, and the specifying process is twice as important.

Backhoe loaders are among the most versatile construction machines around, so contractors must consider many factors, whether they are purchasing or renting a machine. Choosing the right model is much like selecting a separate compact front end loader and mini excavator.

The first decision is whether or not the backhoe suits the job to begin with. Scott Cowan, president of Knox Tenn Rental in Knoxville, TN, points out that the most likely substitute for excavation is the mini excavator, which has seen increased adoption in recent years. Cowan, whose company rents Allmand Bros. and John Deere backhoes, points out that stability is an advantage to the backhoe. He adds that the backhoe provides tremendous mobility and often can be driven from one site to another nearby without the need for a trailer. The backhoe also can haul material in the front bucket, he adds.

Marcello Bargellini, product specialist for Volvo Construction Equipment, adds that backhoes can travel upwards of 20 mph. For jobs that do not involve operation in tight spaces or extremely hilly terrain, the backhoe is the right choice and can dig, backfill, grade, crane, load and unload, and perform other functions. Tom Reith, product manager for Terex Construction Americas, adds site preparation, trenching, installing, concrete breakup, posthole digging and site cleanup.

The next step is choosing the right model. The primary rating criterion in North America is digging depth, notes Bargellini. This is the maximum distance achievable from the ground line to below grade at the tips of the bucket teeth and typically is expressed as “digging depth 2 foot flat bottom” and “8 foot flat bottom.” These expressions refer to a flat bottom trench that is excavated two-feet deep and eight-feet long. Standard rated digging depths are 14, 15, 16 and 17 feet. Bargellini reports that the most popular dig depth segment is 14 feet, the rating of about 80 percent of all backhoes sold in North America. In the past few years, he adds, the 15 foot dig depth backhoe has been gaining in popularity. Making up most of the remainder of the market, he adds, are “compact backhoes” with dig depths of 8 to 13 feet.