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Old 02/24/11, 07:38 AM
45n5's Avatar  
Join Date: Jun 2008
Location: Kentucky
Posts: 149
Crazy? Hand Dig a 530' water line trench to 3 foot deep

I'm in kentucky.

I've got 530 feet I need to run a water line from the meter to my almost livable homestead (I'm moving there in a couple weeks, water or not).

The water line needs to be 30inches deep here by code. The plumbing inspector needs to inspect the entire thing before it's covered up.

Has anyone hand dug a trench like this before? Is it crazy to even think I could do it myself?

The quotes I've gotten just for the excavation work are

$1 per foot ($530) local guy

$2 per foot ($1060) local guy

and to rent a backhoe nearby

- $190 per day (2 days) plus $50 delivery each way

Free - using my already paid for shovels and my back

I've got the cash but I really, really don't want it to give it to someone to dig a long hole for me.

Is it crazy to think I could dig a trench that deep and that long myself? How long would it take you? Thanks.

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Old 02/24/11, 07:40 AM
Join Date: Sep 2009
Posts: 242

I think it's crazy to do it but hey, I like my back intact.

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Old 02/24/11, 07:50 AM
switchman62's Avatar  
Join Date: Oct 2007
Location: Illinois (West Central)
Posts: 425

I dug one about 120ft long/ 3ft deep last spring. The first 2 ft down is not bad. The final foot down is a pain. You cant get down in the trench to work the shovel. It took me a full weekend to do it.

I'd vote for the $1 per foot guy.


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Old 02/24/11, 07:53 AM
sammyd's Avatar  
Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: WI
Posts: 4,815

hire the dollar a foot guy and start yourself at the other end.....


Deja Moo; The feeling I've heard this bull before.

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Old 02/24/11, 07:58 AM
rzrubek's Avatar
Flying Z
Join Date: May 2004
Location: Chapel Hill, NC
Posts: 589

I'm with the "Hire the dollar a foot guy" crowd. Save your back and do something else around the place to get it ready.

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Old 02/24/11, 08:01 AM
Join Date: Feb 2011
Location: northern maine..
Posts: 103

we thought we could do a trench half that long and we were wrong....i agree with dave...the first two feet aren't bad and you're thinking...i can do this....but the last foot and little bit are something else...we also found that as we worked around the edges it would fill in a little and we had to redig some sections and the occasional unforseen obstacle would present itself...rocks, roots, impossibly hard dirt..... we eventually hired a guy at about a dollar foot and it was by far the best money we spent.....

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Old 02/24/11, 08:04 AM
Join Date: Jul 2007
Location: S.E. Iowa
Posts: 2,521

Aren't there a lot of rocks in Kentucky?

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Old 02/24/11, 08:15 AM
Join Date: Apr 2006
Location: wisconsin
Posts: 3,536

higher it out. We often Barter things like this.


There is no such thing as waste,Its all just misplace resources.
It only hurts till the pain goes away.

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Old 02/24/11, 08:32 AM
Join Date: Sep 2010
Location: Ky
Posts: 407

When I was 21 and out of work I dug 100' or so of water line north of Bowling Green Ky. I was acustomed to hard work, but it was one of hardest jobs I've done. Rent a Ditch Witch. If you have large limestone let someone with a backhoe dig it.

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Old 02/24/11, 08:34 AM
motdaugrnds's Avatar
Join Date: Jul 2002
Location: Virginia
Posts: 6,856

I am 69 yrs old. David is 48 yrs old. We dug a trench that is slightly over 100 ft long for our freeze-proof water hydrant. It had to be 4 ft at one end and it sloped down hill; so it got more and more shallow. The majority of it was 3 ft deep.

The ground we had to dig in was sandstone,sand rocks & hard clay with a few granite stones in it. It was a terrible thing to dig; yet we got it done!

My suggestion to you would be dependant on the type of soil you are digging in. A trench that shallow would be difficult; but much depends on how hard your ground is. However, a trench that "long" would keep me depressed! If you have the money, I would definately hire it done!

I am what I am! Acknowledging this is the beginning; and my growth is yet to end. http://motdaugrnds.com/farmsales ~~~~~ http://motdaugrnds.com
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Old 02/24/11, 08:42 AM
Murphy was an optimist ;)
Join Date: Oct 2005
Location: Kentucky
Posts: 18,080

Crazy? naw, just masochistic. It will take weeks to dig a trench that long, that deep, and it will be brutal on your body. I had to run 800 feet of water line for my place and rented a small backhoe. It took me about 5 hours and cost around 150 bucks. But then I am lazy and generally try to find the easy way out of most things.


"Nothing so needs reforming as other peoples habits." Mark Twain

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Old 02/24/11, 08:58 AM
Join Date: Dec 2007
Location: Western North Carolina
Posts: 3,089

I dug such a trench when I was pregnant! Yes, indeed! This is one of those "I walked barefoot to school in the snow, uphill both ways" types of stories:

The Power company told me they would dig the trench with a "ditch witch" but charge me $380.00 to dig it. This was in 1997. At the time I thought $380.00 was robbing me and I told them I would dig the trench my own self. I did not realize I was pregnant yet or I would not have done it........

The Contractor who was renovating the house said he would not help and he said he did not think I would dig the trench. He left for the weekend. The Inspector said he did not think I could dig it and the Electric Company said they did not think I could dig it by hand either. I told them to "hide and watch".

I had the help of my 2 young boys, then ages 5 and 8. I also had the help of 2 young men, ages 20 and 24. It took us all day long both Saturday and Sunday. We had to chip through an old gravel driveway bed and then dig into the dirt. We just chipped and shoveled and we took turns and we got it finished late Sunday.

Monday morning when the Electric Company was supposed to arrive at 8 AM, they did not show up. When I called them, they said there was "no way" I had dug that trench in only 2 days. They made me put the Contractor on the phone to confirm the ditch was dug. Later that day, two Supervisors from the Electric Company showed up to see my ditch and they told me that never had any "woman" dug such a ditch. I was pretty proud but still mad that they would charge such a high fee when they had the ditch-witch to begin with.

I am still glad we dug the ditch ourselves. It was a "moral" issue for me since I did not think the power company should be charging that much money. My older boys still remember digging the ditch and the "morality tale" behind it and they are still proud. The 2 men who helped still laugh about the time they helped me dig the ditch and keep the $380. from the power company.

I would say if you have someone to help you and you can just make a weekend out of it, then do it. If your time, however, can be better spent doing some other task that would be more valuable to you, then pay the money and get help.

Did you try to rent a ditch witch? Would that be cheaper than the backhoe? We rented a ditch-witch another time but it clogged up with roots and we had to get a backhoe to finish.

Good luck!

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Old 02/24/11, 09:01 AM
Native87's Avatar
Dad,Proud Veteran,Farmer
Join Date: Jan 2010
Location: Virginia
Posts: 194

I will never forget my water line. It is about 325 ft long and we used an old 5hp tiller that was narrower in the back than the tines were on the front. It was used to loosen the dirt and then we shoveled it out. When we came to a rock we just had to hand dig it. It was a crazy job mostly straight uphill but we did get it. I wouldnt want to do it again. That old tiller by the way still gets used in the garden at times. Its got to be 30 years old.

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Old 02/24/11, 09:03 AM
Join Date: Nov 2008
Posts: 4,407

Find two macho football players who want to stay in shape for the winter season. Put them on each end and start them to a flag at the middle. First one to get to the flag wins........and gets a cash bonus. Instead of tug of war, it's "dug" of war. Invite the cheerleaders, take pledges for a local charity--make a high school contest out of it.


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Old 02/24/11, 09:14 AM
Join Date: Oct 2010
Location: Adirondack mountains
Posts: 2,054

Sounds like a nightmare. I don't know what your kentucky ground is like, but I'd be hitting rocks every few of feet here.

I suppose you CAN do it...the more hands you can get to help you the better.

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Old 02/24/11, 09:20 AM
Join Date: May 2002
Location: Kitsap Co, WA
Posts: 2,838

Use your brains not your brawn. Save your brawn for stuff there is no other way to get done. If you don't like the $1 a foot deal, get some other bids. On the other hand, $1/ft is very easy to figure...

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Old 02/24/11, 09:29 AM
Join Date: Jan 2011
Location: Maine
Posts: 57

Find out how much it would cost to rent a mini-excavator in your area. I've never rented one, but I've heard of prices around a couple hundred dollars per day. Maybe you could rent one for a day for half the cost of the $/foot guy and get it done in a day? Maybe that's too much to get done in a single day? Certainly worth looking into as an option...

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Old 02/24/11, 09:30 AM
Join Date: Jan 2011
Location: Maine
Posts: 57

And actually, you might also look into a heavy duty trencher. Maybe it would be wide enough / deep enough for what you need, at a little less $$ than an excavator?

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Old 02/24/11, 09:37 AM
Join Date: Dec 2002
Posts: 104

Why use a more expensive back hoe when a trencher will do? Rocks?

Assemble the water line beside the trench and move it into the trench and test before backfilling.


Two cents worth given, don't expect change.

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Old 02/24/11, 09:47 AM
Join Date: Jul 2006
Posts: 4,981

yes it can be done , sounds like some thing i might have tried but having dug 50 foot 3 foot deep trenches and had it take all day i would think yours will take a solid week or two , if your unemployed and have nothing but time on you hands go for it but if you have anything better to do a dollar a foot seems very reasonable

in my town at the end of the civil war there was a lot of returning men from the war so they had a great idea to put them to work and they dug a 2 mile long race to divert the river to a hydro plant in the middle of town they did it and it ran the mill , dairy and we had electric before milwakee or chicago and we were a tiny little town more people live on one block in chicago than all of our town combined , that amount of digging would now be done by 4-5 earth movers in a week or 2 weeks time but if you have the labor use it.

go did all day tomorrow , then decide if 1 dollar a foot is worth it.

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Old 02/24/11, 10:13 AM
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Join Date: Oct 2005
Location: Near Traverse City Michigan
Posts: 6,421

labor is free. do it.

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Old 02/24/11, 10:18 AM
arabian knight's Avatar
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Join Date: Dec 2005
Location: West Central WI.
Posts: 17,597
Originally Posted by myheaven View Post
higher it out. We often Barter things like this.
Ya really, ones health is worth more then that I would think, it is well worth to hire it out then spoil a persons health like that. That is what machines are made for doing to save a person from doing permanent injury. You can do it by machine, but keeping a person healthy is worth more then trying to dig something that far and that deep, by yourself, even though you may have the time, Think How much is Your health worth? That dollar a foot is well worth it in my book.

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Old 02/24/11, 10:43 AM
Join Date: Sep 2005
Location: Former State of Franklin
Posts: 3,353

IF you value your time at more than about 5-10cents/hr, get it done by machine.

A backhoe can do more work in a couple minutes than you can do in a hour. Once I figured out how REALLY cheap machine time is, I never worried about it since.

Now, if you want to really want to save money, work smart.

Rent the backhoe, ( I assume the 2 days is a minimum since it shouldn't take 16hrs to dig 530' of trench), AND have a couple other projects that need doing at the same time, get multiple use out of the machine. That lowers your cost, and cuts out the operator labor on the other two quotes ( assuming you can RUN a backhoe without a lot of learning curve )

When we started out place, I actually BOUGHT an older backhoe from a local dealer, put in water lines ( I needed 1200' of 3' deep trench.....and WAY too many rocks for a trencher...tried it ), then dug my basement, then put in my septic system, THEN traded the backhoe back to the same dealer on a new farm tractor......almost getting the use of the machine for couple months for free.


Last edited by TnAndy; 02/24/11 at 10:48 AM.
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Old 02/24/11, 10:47 AM
Join Date: Jul 2006
Location: northcentral MN
Posts: 13,681

I rented a trencher for $100/day and dug 900' of trench in about 4 hours but I was digging in sand and clay.

I think it was only about 2 1/2' deep but I've seen larger ones for rent.

I'd rent the trencher and save my back.


"Do you believe in the devil? You know, a supreme evil being dedicated to the temptation, corruption, and destruction of man?" Hobbs
"I'm not sure that man needs the help." Calvin

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Old 02/24/11, 10:51 AM
Murphy was an optimist ;)
Join Date: Oct 2005
Location: Kentucky
Posts: 18,080
Originally Posted by michiganfarmer View Post
labor is free. do it.
Maybe your labor is free, but I do place a certain amount of value on my time.

"Nothing so needs reforming as other peoples habits." Mark Twain

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Old 02/24/11, 10:54 AM
Join Date: May 2009
Location: Georgia
Posts: 386

Unless it is too rocky for a Ditch Witch (available for a reasonable price at most equipment rental stores,) then rent the backhoe and get this done. You won't enjoy living without water. After digging the first 30 feet you will by hand you would probably be willing to pay twice the price to have the backhoe or Ditch Witch on the job.

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Old 02/24/11, 11:05 AM
Join Date: Jul 2006
Location: N E Washington State
Posts: 3,728

Your labor may be free but how much is your insurance deductible? How much will a bad back cost you for the rest of your life? When we were building, we found that by paying cash, prices went down. Hiring a skilled operator if you aren't one, will cut the time it takes to dig the ditch dramatically and can save money in the long run.

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Old 02/24/11, 11:06 AM
Join Date: Oct 2004
Location: Ohio
Posts: 4,145

$1 per foot = Dirt Cheap.

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Old 02/24/11, 11:09 AM
Wasza polska matka
Join Date: Aug 2008
Location: zone 4b-5a
Posts: 6,647

can you rent a ditch witch??


I'd rather have one Chewbacca than an entire clone army.

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Old 02/24/11, 11:13 AM
solidwoods's Avatar
Ret. US Army
Join Date: Dec 2005
Location: Tennessee
Posts: 870

Maybe price a mini back hoe with bucket on front.
Plan other work for it for the same rental time period.
Work it with a neighbor who needs some hours also to reduce the cost.
Sounds like the septic/sewer is already in so that opportunity is gone.

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