Excavators in Paving Projects

Paving projects come in all shapes and sizes. Small jobs, like driveways, probably don’t need any kind of heavy equipment except for rolling the pavement flat after it’s laid. Larger jobs will often need heavy equipment. This is where excavators and backhoes come in.

Why does laying asphalt paving need this kind of heavy machinery? There are two main reasons. The first is when the foundation for the pavement needs to be dug deep. An excavator gets the job done more efficiently than a large team of manual diggers. The other reason is for doing repairs and maintenance on concrete. An excavator can break through damaged  asphalt concrete layers in order to get at the lower layers below. This lets pavers pour a new, flat layer of asphalt where the damaged asphalt was before.


What is an Excavator?

An excavator, commonly known as an earth mover, is a large, heavy vehicle with a boom, stick and bucket attached to the front end of the machine. The boom and stick make up a mechanical arm that can be used to manipulate the bucket (or claw). Usually the excavator moves by double treads along the bottom, like a tank.

There are several variations of excavators, each with a  specific function. A wheeled excavator exchanges treads for a set of wheels, making it ideal for moving around construction sites. Wheeled excavators are great for moving on terrain that is already paved. Other various kinds of excavators include suction excavators, which use high water pressure to blast materials loose. Another is the long-armed excavator, which can reach high-up and difficult spots. Check out this in-depth article about different excavator types.

An excavator is one of the largest pieces of heavy equipment available, weighing up to 200,000 pounds.                                                                                                                     


Alternatives to Excavators

Manual Digging

Paving contractors can use jackhammers, drills, and other single-person pieces of machinery to dig. These devices have the benefit of being light, easy to transport, and less costly on fuel. However, for large projects, numerous pieces of equipment are needed. Often, one excavator can do the work of a whole team. 



The backhoe is the workhorse of a lot of paving operations. This machine is a tractor with a mounted 2-part arm attached to a bucket. It is similar to an excavator, but smaller, and with less power. The main difference between the two is size. An excavator is simply larger and more powerful, and thus suited to bigger tasks. 

The backhoe’s use lies in its versatility. Both machines offer a wide selection of attachments, but the backhoe has more. Additionally, the range of the arm of each device is different. The excavator has a full 360 degree rotation. A backhoe only has about 200 degrees of rotation.

Over all, a backhoe is more suited to medium-sized workplaces with a wide variety of jobs. An excavator is best suited to larges scale construction projects where its size and power shine. Backhoes weigh about 20,000  pounds or less.


How to Choose What is Best for Your Project

The best way to choose between which piece of heavy machinery best suits you is to learn about them. Knowing more about backhoes and excavators means you can most easily make the right choice for your project.


Size of the Project

As mentioned before, massive projects need massive machinery, so an excavator would be ideal. This is especially true of paving projects as an excavator can break through the damaged layers of asphalt or concrete with its bucket. A backhoe will require special attachments, called hoe rams (think big hammers) for this. Get an excavator to a large project, and it can accomplish a lot, quickly and efficiently. The longer arm of the excavator also helps it move things larger distances over less time.                                                                                          

Other uses for excavators include demolition, landscaping, mining, digging holes, and moving big objects.

For small scale projects, like driveways and small parking lots it may be best to dig without heavy equipment. A team of skilled workers with drills and jackhammers could make shorter, more precise work of a smaller construction site.


Project Locations

If a project has multiple work locations, then a backhoe might be best. A long stretch of highway for example, might have stretches where no work is required. For this type of work, a piece of machinery that can more easily move from point-to-point is best. A backhoe can move much faster, about 25 miles per hour on pavement.                                                                            

So, if your project has disparate locations requiring frequent travel, a backhoe is probably more suitable. However, when it comes to certain tasks, like pavement and repairs, a backhoe requires a larger team than an excavator.



Despite the difficulty and cost of getting a massive excavator to a site, it’s often worth it. Repairing a frequently-used stretch of road is more important to do quickly than cheaply. Also, working in high-value locations like airports, it’s important to get work done so traffic can resume. When time is of the essence, nothing beats an excavator.                                          


What’s the Verdict?

Use an excavator when:

  • The project is massive
  • Deep digging is essential
  • The timeline is short
  • There are fewer people available to work

Use a backhoe when:

  • The project is small or moderately-sized
  • A wider variety of heavy tools are needed
  • There are numerous locations that must be traveled to

Use neither when:

  • The project is small                                                              
  • It is impossible to get heavy machinery to the work location


What Does Your Paving Project Need

Do you have a paving project? Whether your project is large, tiny, or in-between, our team of over 200 at Reliable Paving can get the job done. With 35 years of experience, we are experts in asphalt-pavement. We can install new paving, perform maintenance, and consult to help with projects as well. If you have a project, leave it to the experts. Contact us today for a quote.