Potholing Utilities for Damage Prevention & Effective Subsurface Investigation

Util Locate at Work

The practical considerations involved in starting or continuing a construction project without first ascertaining what obstacles might be hidden under the ground can be substantial. While there are technologies available to perform searches for utility lines, water or sewer pipes and other underground structures, there exists a quick, accurate and relatively inexpensive method for visually confirming the presence of underground construction obstacles. It is called utility potholing.

Preventing Damage

All non-trivial construction and the majority of building repair, expansion, or inspection activities involve some level of excavation. The foundation of any building must be inspected before any new construction can take place. Any land set aside for new work could be crisscrossed with all kinds of public facilities. 

Without some method of avoiding those obstacles, a construction crew could not only do tremendous damage to the lines themselves but could put the surrounding neighborhoods and populations in danger by cutting off electricity or water. They could even put themselves in danger if they hit a gas line or an underground fuel storage tank.

Surgery for Construction Contractors

Vacuum excavation is similar to a medical technique called arthroscopy. In medicine, doctors often need to repair ligament or tendon damage in a joint. Instead of conventional surgery, however, they make a tiny incision and insert a camera and light so they can see inside the joint. 

Vacuum excavation has the same objective. A construction crew needs to see beneath the ground so that they make a tiny incision using a non-destructive process. This method is called vacuum excavation and allows them to perform a visual inspection and avoid any possibility of damage. See more vacuum excavation contractors.

utility potholing

The Alternative

What happens if a backhoe hits a gas line? Most construction crews don’t want to imagine it, and for a good reason. Electrical lines, diesel engines, sparks, and natural gas leaks combine to produce unfortunate results. 

The same goes for a water line or a sewage line. Interruption of a water utility can be catastrophic for public services like hospitals. Electricity outages can cost supermarkets incredible amounts of money in lost product. Sewage breaks can tie up traffic and create health hazards for days.  The minuscule time and money savings of bypassing the potholing process and moving forward with a risky and potentially life-threatening construction project is never worth it. 

While it is possible to approximate the location of utility lines using various technologies other than potholing, the truth is nothing beats first-hand visual inspection, and nothing beats the time savings of using a proven process with no drawbacks. Why guess when it is possible to know for certain? Why take a chance when a first-hand look answers all the questions? 

Modern construction is impressive. The ability to see beneath the earth and avoid costly and dangerous obstacles is one of its greatest accomplishments. It is in every contractor and construction team’s best interests to take advantage of those technologies whenever possible.

Why Utility Potholing Is Essential for A Successful Construction Project

Pot Holing Truck MacArthur

It’s long been said that if humans could see all that is under the ocean, they’d never leave the shore. The same is true of nearly any developed property, whether you are starting a new structure, repairing a building or adding to an existing site. You’re going to want to look into a process called “utility potholing.”

Potholing is a construction method where a small hole is placed in the ground through a process called vacuum excavation. Once the hole is deep enough, it is possible for a construction or inspection crew to confirm the presence of utility lines visually, and water or sewer pipes. Once located, the crew will be in a position to make certain the existing lines won’t conflict with either above or below-ground construction plans.

The equipment used to create the excavations through the potholing process are self-contained units designed to avoid damaging underground infrastructure. Here’s why utility potholing is essential for a successful construction project

utility potholing

Safe Zones

To avoid the possibility of damage to lines and subsequent site damage, flooding or service outages in the surrounding community, construction crews are not permitted to dig in safe zones, which are the areas within a few feet of either side of any previously located utility line.

Though it is possible to approximate the location of utilities and underground facilities using digital equipment and ground-penetrating RADAR, it is far more precise and far less risky if the construction crew can visually ascertain the location and alignment of any lines that might pose a hazard to the construction project.

Scheduling and Costs

Leaving aside the potential of damage and service interruptions in the event a dig might sever an underground line, the resulting delays and potential sanctions experienced by a contractor or construction crew can be both costly and harmful to the construction crew itself. Time is money, and many construction projects are operating on thin margins in the best of circumstances. The minimal time savings of bypassing prudent potholing isn’t comparable to the practically unlimited liability issues involved in damaging a public utility.  It’s always better to be on the safe side if only to protect the other residents in the neighborhood.  


What if it were possible to simply vacuum soil out of the ground at a precise location? If no tools are penetrating the ground, they can’t damage anything built underground either. If a vacuum can store the removed soil, it can also replace that soil, meaning there is no lasting effect on the site. The vacuum excavation process, therefore, delivers a non-destructive way to inspect the subterranean environment without any of the above-noted risks.  

If a process is safer, less expensive, leaves no permanent evidence it was ever performed, and can obtain better and more accurate information about ways to avoid damaging a site or public property, it stands to reason it is something that should be considered any time there is a potential for the presence of utility lines at a construction site.