9 Misconceptions About Underground Utility Locating

Trusted Utility Locating Services

Underground utilities, also known as subsurface utilities, are infrastructures found underground to provide services to people. They are most commonly built by public utility companies but are also installed as private utilities by property owners. Such public utilities come in the form of pipes and cables that transport lots of things, from water to your internet connection.

Depending on the location, utility locating could also be done on a private utility. Things such as self-installed home filtration systems, sewer lines, garden sprinkler systems, are all examples of such infrastructure.

What Are Utility Location Services For?

Because these infrastructures are below the ground, anyone who plans to excavate either for public or private purposes will need to plot where these utilities are before they do any digging. Utility location refers to the entire process of plotting such infrastructure, from identifying where utility lines are to labeling each line properly.

Explaining What 10 Myths on Underground Locating Really Mean

1. All utility mark outs are accurate.

Utility mark outs are often inaccurate. Whenever you’re doing some excavation work, always proceed with caution.

You never know whether mark outs are inaccurate or incomplete. Don’t trust mark outs, since they may be based solely on records. Even ones done using the most advanced locating technologies are not very reliable because all locating technologies have limitations and instrument readings can change depending on the operators’ interpretations.

The best way to approach mark outs is to stir as far away from them as possible. Ideally, set your drilling location five to 10 feet away from marked lines. After all, a marked line could be one pipe or cable or it can be a group of pipes and cables together.

2. I can dig in a spot without the need to hire utility locators.

A lack of utility marks could mean the area has never been located before, not that there are no utilities present. Never dig on lots without going through proper procedures. Rarely are there no utilities where there are no marks; more often than not, you’d find unlocated utilities in such areas. You should ask around about utilities and facilities in the area.

You can also inspect the area yourself for signs of underground activities such as repaired pavement, disturbed soil, utility boxes, or wires, cables, and pipes coming from the ground. Better yet, hire Trusted Utility Locating Services to do the work for you. 

3. Depths of utilities can be assumed or estimated.

You cannot assume or estimate the location or depth of utilities without exposing them first. Lines can shift or settle, changing their depths over time; and any mark usually only indicates horizontal locations. So never make assumptions.

4. Utility strikes will not happen to me.

The biggest myth is the idea that you’re exempt from utility strikes. Just because something has never happened to you before does not mean it cannot happen. In fact, in 2019 there was an estimated 532,000 excavation-related damages to underground facilities across the country.

5. I only have to do utility mapping once.

Underground utility locating should be conducted every time before you dig up a piece of land. The depth of pipelines, cables, and so on changes over time and new utilities are always being added to the mix. So never skip utility locating prior to any project.

6. I can use an old map.

Mapping underground utilities is a long and continuous process, so you can’t always rely on old maps to guide you. If it’s been more than 5 years, the map is no longer up to date. Always get a location survey before you start any and all utility services projects. 

7. A ground-penetrating radar (GPR) can see all underground utilities.

A GPR can detect some utilities via geophysical radar pulses, but they only work as extensions of human senses.

Simply put, any GPR is limited by penetration depth and data interpretation when detecting such infrastructure. So though they are helpful, do not rely on them too heavily and always remain on the safe side when excavating.

8. I don’t need to worry about abandoned lines. 

Never make assumptions in these situations. Seemingly abandoned lines are possible conduits for new utilities, and they can be plugged at one end but be connected on the other. Abandoned lines can still pose a danger to you and everyone else so exercise utmost caution. 

9. 811 is liable for accidents.

Just because you called 811 does not mean you have done all you should when it comes to underground utility locating. The team on the other line can help coordinate with locating service providers to have a utility map of the area, but that’s as much as they can do.

It is important to remember that you are still responsible as an excavator to verify the marks provided to you. After all, when there’s a utility strike, it will be your cost to bear. There’s no harm in double-checking just to be extra sure.

Best Practices to Avoid Accidents

It pays to be extra cautious when it comes to excavations. Do everything you can to minimize the risks that come with digging.

Call 811

811 is the federally assigned hotline to call before you do any digging.

Call the hotline at least a few days before you do any digging to help make sure you’re educating yourself on the underground utilities present in your excavation area before you begin any project. This can go a long way in preventing any breaches or accidents when it comes to disturbing an existing underground utility line.

Hire Professional Utility Locating Services

When in doubt, it always pays to hire a professional. They have the necessary equipment and the best technology to carry out the safest excavations with the least surface disruption via hydro excavation.

Contact a reliable utility locating service to make sure you know where underground utilities are and how deep they are in the ground.

We at Util-Locate pride ourselves on being South California’s leading private utility locating company. Our team is one call away, so contact us today to make sure your utility location project goes smoothly!