Valve Exercising Creates New Opportunity For Contractors

Vacuum Excavator
April 2011 Vol. 66 No. 4

Tools of the trade
Hand-held valve exercise equipment has been around for years. These units are operated by one or two people, depending on the size of the unit, and powered by an auxiliary hydraulic pump or gas engine. Depending on the size of the valve, it can take from 10 minutes to an hour to fully open and close. While these units are easy to transport, they do not provide the means necessary to clean out the valve box. In many cases another crew needs to accomplish that task. This is where vacuum excavators come in.

Until now, vacuum excavators are self-contained units that use pressurized air or water to displace spoil with a pump to remove the displaced spoil. The displaced dry or wet spoil is stored in a holding tank on the vacuum. They can be mounted to a trailer or the back of a truck and range in size from 100 to 1,200 gallons of capacity and have traditionally been used for potholing or identifying existing utilities during underground construction projects.

Manufacturers, such as McLaughlin, saw a need and developed a way to efficiently clean the valve boxes and not only exercise the valve, but log data on each valve as well for future reference and maintenance.

“We combined the valve exerciser with the vacuum excavator allowing a municipality to take one piece of equipment out into the field, saving time and labor, while providing a smaller footprint,” says Dave Gasmovic, president of McLaughlin, based in Greenville, SC.

The system uses high-pressure water delivered through a spray wand to dislodge the sediment from the valve box. Then, the vacuum excavator removes the sediment from the water valve box. Once the sediment is removed from the valve box, a valve exerciser can be inserted to open and close the water valve.

Opportunities abound
Municipalities are faced with a daunting challenge -- to identify, clean and ensure the operating order of water valves throughout a community. Depending on the size of the community, the number could be in the hundreds for a small town to thousands for a large metropolitan city.

But this directive is also creating an opportunity for independent contractors to conduct the work on behalf of the municipalities.

“Most municipalities are completing the work themselves,” says Gasmovic. “However, there is a real opportunity for contractors to fill this role as smaller municipalities may prefer to contract the work versus purchasing another machine to complete the valve box clean-out and valve exercising. It’s a little too large of an investment for some communities.”