When Should You Call a Private Utility Locator

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When Should You Call a Private Utility Locator

If you are a contractor or a homeowner who needs to dig into the ground, you would need to locate underground utilities before you can start excavation. The primary inclination is to have a public utility locator to do the job. But most of the time, you will need additional help from a private utility locator.

Public utility providers — also called 811 services, offer free service to help identify and point the locations of public underground utilities on the site you have in mind.

While public utility locators are considered to be very valuable in locating public utilities so you wouldn’t hit them during your digging, the service does not cover locating private utilities. In this sense, they would not be able to give you the full picture of your location.

This is when you need to let a private utility locator take over in order to get an accurate and complete picture of utilities under the ground of the site you have in mind.

Public vs. Private Utilities

Public utilities are installed to provide service to an area. The public utility companies own and maintain these lines, even if they are located on private property. These utilities include power, electricity, and gas. However, 811 does not typically locate water and sewage.

Private utilities go beyond public utilities and service meters. These are often located on private properties. Private utilities are usually unmarked and located in both residential and commercial sites — these include gas line locator and electric feeders that run through parking lots, hospitals, fire stations, industrial areas, apartment complexes, and even private backyards.

These also apply to lines running to and from substations, refineries, and heavy industrial facilities. They are placed outside the jurisdiction of public utility locating companies since these are owned and maintained by property owners.

Some examples of private utilities that are buried are:

  • Gas lines
  • Water lines
  • Sewer line
  • Exterior drain lines
  • Fiber optics
  • Telephone
  • Internet cable
  • Exterior electrical lines

Why is a Public Utility Locator Not Enough?

About 65% of the utilities are privately owned and won’t be documented by public services. Although private utility locating can’t replace the services offered by 811, they should be contacted to follow after 811 puts a mark on public utilities within the specific area. Simply put, a private utility locating service can give a more reliable picture of your project location.

Also, maps and drawings for private utilities may be outdated or missing, or the owner may not even have an idea that the utility exists. This is where private utilities go beyond the scope of the public ones — this means that an additional service must be called on to make sure that it is safe to dig in an area.

What Happens When a Private Utility Line is Hit?

It’s dangerous to perform excavation work without locating private utilities first. When buried utilities are hit, workers can be injured or killed. This makes the location of buried utilities a safety priority. Also, the utility and the equipment used for digging can get damaged.

Repairing buried utilities can be time-consuming and very costly. When doing repairs, there is a need to dig up the entire length of the cable, conduit, or pipe. This comes with heavy fines that go along with the downtime.

Additionally, the damage can halt neighboring systems and result in issues such as area flooding and internet outages. It’s the contractor’s job to fix the damage of the buried utility and it has to be done quickly.

According to Robson Forensic, “The consequences of damaging underground utilities during excavation work range from inconvenience (service outages and costly repair work) to catastrophe (large-scale property damage and loss of life). Hitting a telephone conduit can disrupt service to a neighborhood while damaging a major fiber optic duct bank can affect an entire region of the country.”

So imagine the damage when an oil pipeline gets damaged. Robson Forensic added, “[It] can result in a spill that contaminates a large environmental area including sources of drinking water, and damaging a pressurized gas main can fuel an explosion and fire large enough to destroy an entire neighborhood.

Read more: Utility Potholing & Vacuum Excavation for Your Underground Work

How Does Private Utility Locating Work?

A private underground utility locator uses more than just hand detectors — utilizing electromagnetic and cable locator equipment that enables technicians to make adjustments to different kinds of line and cable conditions.

The equipment can also adjust according to soil conditions. It can provide depth readings up to more than 13 feet with up to 97% accuracy. Nothing less than state-of-the-art equipment is used in order to provide the best underground utility location.

The contractor or homeowner should contact a private utility locating service before the project is designed or the digging begins. It’s important to know the exact locations and depths of the utility lines while still in the early planning stages.

Can a Private Utility Locator Find “Everything” at All Times?

Just like every other service, nobody can guarantee anything 100%. In this case, the locator does not promise to find every single unknown line buried in the area of question. The site may have undergone several construction projects.

There may be old and abandoned cables, lines, underground pipes that nobody knows exist. These may be only discovered during excavation. There are many variables involved in locating, applicable to all kinds of sites.  

Read more: Professional Excavation Advice in Exposing Buried Utilities

How Do I Ask a Private Utility Locator For a Quote?

After getting your contact details, the private utility locator will need the following information in order to give you a good pricing estimate:

  • Location address
  • Type of service needed
  • Number of proposed area/s
  • The estimated size of the area (in square feet)
  • Your intended type of work for the site
  • Type of facility: residential, commercial, industrial, etc.
  • As builts, plot & site plans
  • Aerial pics, Google maps, old maps
  • Photos and details of any unusual features
  • Drawing marking the area/s of the intended location

Choose the Right Private Utility Locator Service

Do you need a prospective location checked out by a private utility locator? Util-Locate is the #1 utility locating service and underground utility locator of choice for all industry professionals and residents in Southern California.

We have been providing solutions to all professionals on some of the most challenging jobs throughout the area. Call us now for a quote and consultation.