A Quick Guide to Maintaining Underground Valve Access

When you're trying to access an underground valve via a valve or service box, having to deal with a mess of dirt and debris that has washed into the box can really slow you down. Cleaning can be just as much of a hassle and often takes even longer than the job you're actually there to do. How do you maintain valve and service boxes in a fashion that keeps them cleaner on the inside and what service box cleaners provide the fastest, most reliable results? Here's a quick field guide to help you through these issues.

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In general, there are a small handful of valve box cleaning tools. Some water utilities will use a wet & dry vac type machine. A box clean-out auger is essentially like a large drill bit, using the turning action and wide threads to move the debris up and out of the box. A spoon has a very similar action to a post hole digger, essentially digging into the debris, then closing together to remove the debris from the hole. Here is more specific information about each tool type, including its advantages, disadvantages and different varieties available:

Suction Pump

A suction pump has the advantage of being easy to find, but has other issues that can be problematic. Though a wet and dry vac will eventually clean out a service box, it takes a great deal of time to do so. Because it's not intended to move large quantities of water and debris, the suction it provides only removes a small amount of material at a time and requires frequent emptying to work well. If the service box is well below grade, this type of system won't have enough power to lift the water and debris out of the underground valve box. More powerful options are available, but they're also significantly more expensive.

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Clean-out Auger

A clean-out auger looks much like a large drill bit, using the action of the screw threads to draw the debris up out of the box as the end of the tool digs into more debris from the rotation. It works fairly well in soils that tend to hold together well and are not overly sandy. It's available in a range of different sizes, depending on the area you have to work in and the clearance around the valve and other components in the box.

Clean-out Spoon

Another option to consider is a clean-out spoon, which bears a resemblance in functionality to a post hole digger, if significantly smaller. However, a clean-out spoon is available in a range of shapes, allowing you to better access different types of underground valve boxes and configurations.

From a narrow needle-nose variety to a broad clam spoon that can move significant amounts of soil, this type of tool works well in loose debris that would fall off the edge of a clean-out auger.

Vacuum Truck

Though some towns use a vacuum truck to clean out valve access boxes, it's a large apparatus that requires you to go to the yard to pick it up, and then must be driven to the box location and set up to work. Keeping a clean-out tool in a truck is often much more convenient, far less expensive and often has lower deployment and operation time than a vacuum truck.

By following the steps in this guide and using the cleaning tools we have recommended, you'll be able to access the underground valves more quickly, allowing you to move on to the next step of the job. If you have questions or need help finding the right tool for your service valve box issues, please feel free to contact our experienced professionals today for more information. At New Concept Tools, our job is keeping your water utility work flowing with the right tools for the job.

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