What You Need to Know About Potholing for Utilities

When working in the utility industry, it is highly likely that you will be tasked with potholing. This method of gathering visual information is an economical, time-saving initiative that involves the digging of a small hole in the ground. Utility potholing is done to ensure that existing infrastructure underground will not interfere with new infrastructure that is being laid in the same area. This work can be done in a variety of different ways and offers some notable benefits too, of which we will discuss further.

Types of Excavators used for Potholing

There are two commonly used types of excavator used when potholing for utilities. The first one is an ‘air vacuum excavator’, with the second being a ‘hydro vacuum excavator’. These two methods, as their names suggest, use either air or water to displace the ground below with them creating dry or wet spoil. Air will create dry and water will create wet spoil. This is then removed by vacuum suction and stored within a holding tank. These vacuum machines are usually mounted on a utility vehicle and are made in various sizes, dependant on the workload it is intended for.

utility potholing

Why is Potholing important?

When laying infrastructure underground, there is always the possibility of damaging other underground utilities. It is highly likely that the company that the contractors are working for will be fined for this damage. It can also result in significant project downtime, which will also incur costs for the company.

It may seem like these may be unnecessary additional steps for contractors to worry about, but the implications in terms of cost can be huge. If you happen to hit a gas or utility line through horizontal directional drilling, the use of a trencher or a backhoe, this could result in fatal damage to infrastructure that surrounding businesses and residential areas rely on.

The Law

It is still incredibly important to determine the exact location of existing piping and other lines, despite the improving accuracy of digital locators. In a safe zone, contractors are not permitted to dig with machinery in the area, with the area size ranging from 18 inches up to 3 feet. Instead, these safe areas must be dug in using hand tools such as shovels, or the vacuum evacuation or hydro excavators.


Overall, contractors and their employers must remain acutely aware of their need to sufficiently inspect their working area when laying new infrastructure underground.

Rather than simply digging into the ground, contractors must instead perform either vacuum evacuation or hydro evacuation to create a pothole. This will create a line of sight into the ground that can help workers to avoid drilling into existing infrastructure, something of which could be incredibly costly through being fined or having to delay project work.

Safe areas, which are 18 inches to 3 feet in size, cannot be dug in using heavy machinery and instead need to be dug by hand or using vacuum excavators.

Why Potholing is Highly Recommended for Construction Projects


Construction contractors can use potholing to safely control potential problems while searching for underground utility main lines, such as for natural gas or cable television, without causing a severe inconvenience in the local area. The loose soil from the test hole can be quickly and easily removed with vacuum excavation to then provide an open space for construction workers to use to inspect for underground utility main lines. With practical techniques for reducing the number of potential problems, a construction contractor can control the costs and can focus on the construction schedule.

Potential Problems for Construction Contractors

The location of some underground utility main lines may not be documented because those lines for fiber optics or for wastewater may not have been used by the current owner of a building that had been demolished for a new project such as for new art and entertainment center. The contractor can use potholing in construction projects to prevent problems and to protect the workers who could possibly be injured by an underground hazard.

utility potholing

Evaluation of Potential Costs

The process for being offered a construction project does usually include bids from several contractors who must submit a construction plan and a budget for the project. Some of those contractors could encounter budget problems, such as for additional labor, equipment and supplies expenses, while being forced to replace an underground utility line that had been accidentally damaged while trying to build an underground garage for a new apartment building. Managers can use potholing in construction projects to protect investments and to become more prepared for accurately planning a new project.

Easy Access to Construction Sites in Isolated Locations

Some heavy construction equipment could potentially be unsafe in an isolated area where a hidden water well or a concealed sinkhole had not been filled with soil to control the problem. With vacuum excavation, a contractor can use equipment that will cause fewer safety problems and that can be used to easily remove soil without blocking a path with a pile of soil while digging to search for underground utility lines.

Protection for Workers and the Environment

The aesthetic advantage of underground utility lines is a problem for contractors who want to quickly locate those underground utility lines. The techniques for utility potholing can be used to minimize the degree of damage to the top soil at a construction site. With more detailed information about underground utility lines, a contractor can move forward with a project while also protecting the environment and not endangering a worker.

Plans for Controlling a Potential Problem

The various factors for improving the quality of a construction project can be controlled with different methods such as with more safety equipment and with innovative techniques. A contractor can use utility potholing to reduce the worker turnover rate with safer working conditions and to ensure that the project will be a success. Project managers can conveniently contact Util-Locate for professional advice about the potholing services for a construction site.

Knowing What’s Buried Underneath Before Excavation

Before beginning an excavation project, it is essential to know the underground utilities found within that region. This will help you avoid circumstances that will slow or stall your projects such as court orders due to interference with underground utilities. This is why you need to hire qualified private locator services to help you identify locations underground infrastructure.

We have compiled this article, to help you understand what underground utilities locating services entail, its benefits and the best company to hire for this service. Let us get started.

Services offered by private locators

If you are beginning an excavation project in an area, here are some services you will get when you hire our private utility locating services:

  • Detection of water pipes and sewer channels in the region. Util-Locate Company will guide you on the specific locations of water lines and sewer channels to avoid bursting these important underground utilities which can add on to your operational costs.
  • Location of underground telecommunication gadgets. Using our cable locating services, we will identify telecommunication cables, and other lines found underground in the area you want to develop.
  • Identification of underground tanks, gas, and electric lines, Util-Locate Company will mark all the electric lines in the region. It will also detect the gas supply channels to prevent gas leaks which can cause disasters such as fires and blasts.

Along with these services, Util-Locate also applies the latest technology such as the high-resolution GPR in finding untraceable storm lines, sewers, and conduits.

Benefits of hiring a private locator

  • Public locators will locate only public utilities.

Simply said, if you privately own a utility, then State Locators are not viable to help you with locating services. This is why you need to hire a private locator company which will respond to your needs as quickly as possible.

  • Utility locating helps save lives and avoid damage to property. 

The cost of repairing damages is always high, and you know how painful it is to pay for something you never budgeted for because of a mistake. Damages can occur when you temper with infrastructures such as water and sewer lines.

Electrocution and possibly death can occur when you hit underground power lines. Gas explosions can occur when gas pipes are accidentally hit. All these can result in injuries and destruction of property which would cost a lot of money.

Save yourself these unnecessary troubles by hiring underground utilities locating services.

  • Utility Locating services helps save on operational costs

When handling a big project, chances are that saving money is one of your top priorities. Operational costs will surge if you end up damaging underground utilities such as sewer lines and water pipes. These unnecessary costs can be avoided by hiring a private locator to check the specific locations of these underground utilities.

Looking to find a private locator company that will help you identify the underground utilities at your excavation site? Call Util-Locate for the best locating services!