Selecting the Right Excavator Size for Your Project: A Comprehensive Guide

Excavators are essential in many construction and demolition operations, allowing you to complete landscaping, demolition and related tasks. Choosing the right excavator size and weight improves productivity and reduces your project timeline. If you’re in the market for a new excavator, use our guide to help you choose the right size for your needs.

Excavator Types and Sizes

Excavators are versatile machines. The term “size” refers to several aspects of the overall machine, including: 

  • Depth: Excavator depth refers to how deep the machine can dig into the ground. Large construction projects may require deep foundations, and smaller ones may only need to dig a few feet.
  • Weight: Weight refers to excavator capacity in tons or pounds, and operating weight refers to the total weight of the machine with a driver and a full fuel tank. Weight impacts your transportation requirements and the impact of the machine on the terrain.
  • Dimensions: Excavator dimensions refer to how much physical space an excavator takes up in height, width and length.
  • Tail swing: Some excavators have a tail swing design, allowing the house to extend beyond the track as it rotates. Others remain on the tracks or extend slightly. Your choice depends on the space available, but tail-swing models are better suited to large spaces.

Common Excavator Sizes and Weights

The first step to choosing the right excavator for your project is understanding the choices available. Common sizes of excavators include:

  • Large excavators: These powerful machines are ideal for heavy-duty projects. They are purpose-built for demanding tasks in large-scale applications such as mining and construction. Large excavators can have operating weights of more than 70,000 pounds and can reach depths of over 20 feet.
  • Medium excavators: A midsize excavator is perfect for projects with limited space and additional versatility requirements. With an operating weight of between 28,000 and 38,000 pounds, they’re suitable for numerous construction projects, including pipeline installations and general excavation work.
  • Mini excavators: A mini excavator is the ideal solution if you’re looking for a compact machine for tight spaces. They’re ideal for small-scale projects and are easy to manage. Mini excavators are the primary choice for residential projects. They have an operating weight of around 14,000 pounds and dig depths of about 15 feet. Despite their relatively diminutive size, they can handle various excavation requirements.

Within these three classifications, you have many choices depending on the size and scope of your project.

What Size Excavator Do You Need?

Different size excavators are suited to various project types. When you choose an excavator, your project scope is one of the principal factors to consider.

For example, an excavator with a bucket that’s too small for your project requires additional passes to complete a task, wasting time and consuming unnecessary fuel. One that’s too large could be challenging for the operator in a confined space.

You can narrow down your options with the following information: 

Landscaping and Land Clearing

Medium units are often best for digging, moving and carrying objects in landscaping. A medium excavator can complete these basic tasks without impacting the land or proving too small to maintain efficiency. These models are also best for relatively confined areas, and many have limited tail swings to operate in close proximity to existing structures.


The demolition excavator you choose depends entirely on your project size. Large-scale projects will be more efficient with large excavators, and smaller projects may be limited to mini excavators. Ensure you consider the working environment on site, as spatial limitations may dictate the size you can use safely. 

Digging Footings

Again, your choice depends on several factors, including the working environment and the intended depth below ground level. Ideally, a 10,000-pound excavator or larger has the right balance of digging efficiency and maneuverability. 

Tips for Choosing the Right Excavator for Your Next Project

Investing in an excavator can bring many benefits to your team. Make sure you choose the right one by considering these crucial aspects:

  • Depth: Note your project’s depth requirements and match them with the excavator’s maximum digging depth. Ensure you factor in elements like the presence of underground utilities and the type of digging soil to make the best possible match.
  • Bucket capacity: The right bucket capacity is critical to your project efficiency — it determines how much material you can dig and transport in one trip. Try having several bucket sizes available on your job site to manage various project elements.
  • Reach length: Ensure your chosen excavator has the necessary reach for your project. If your job requires a longer-than-average reach, consider the length of your excavator and look for reach beyond a standard excavator model. 
  • Transport: Consider the logistics of transporting your excavator to the job site and how it will navigate the available space. The right rental partner can help you with excavator collection and delivery at an additional charge, so discuss these options with them so you can factor the solution into your budget.
  • Lifting capacity: List the heaviest materials on your job site and consider how frequently you need to move them. Ensure your chosen excavator can lift and transport the required loads. 
  • Working environment: Everything on your job site can influence excavator choice. Examine the terrain, potential obstacles and available space. Accessibility is another concern — assess access points around your work environment to ensure your excavator can pass through properly.
  • Budget: Profitability is a critical consideration for any business. If you’re completing a specialized project or growing your business, renting your equipment is often the most cost-effective course of action. See whether sizing down to a smaller and more affordable excavator is suitable for your needs.

Find the Perfect Excavator for Your Next Project With Herc Rentals

Excavators are the backbone of many construction and engineering projects. Herc Rentals is here to help you boost project efficiency and profitability with trusted brand equipment rentals. Our award-winning team can assist with all your earthmoving needs, from providing recommendations to sourcing premier rental equipment for your next project. 

Keep your projects simple, reliable and efficient. Find a Herc Rentals branch near you or contact us for all the machinery you need today.

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