3 Bulletproof Utility Locating Tricks

Don’t waste time searching for those tricky buried utilities. Here’s how you can kick your locating into high gear.
3 Bulletproof Utility Locating Tricks
When locating lateral lines, it's a good idea to map the line from the sewer main all the way to the house.

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Precise locating — whether it’s buried utilities, cable, pipe, cameras or sondes — will safeguard against costly mistakes. Today’s equipment simplifies locating while ensuring high accuracy, which can increase productivity and improve your profitability. 

Charlie Hall, owner of Mr. Rooter of Southern Colorado, added locating to his menu of services a few years ago and has never looked back. 

“We are getting 100 calls a week, and in many instances we need to find the sewer lines,” Hall says. “Line locating is an essential part of what we do.” 

“We had an old locator and didn’t know how to use it,” he continues. “I bought a brand-new piece of equipment and of course no one could run it properly. We were learning as we went along. It would have been comical, if it wasn’t so important.” 

After receiving training from a manufacturer representative on the new locator, Hall and his technicians were able to start successfully locating.    

“It took ‘hands-on’ to get us started,” Hall says. “That equipment is bulletproof. It doesn’t need calibration. You can locate your lines.” 

The following tips will help streamline your locating jobs, no matter what the material or how deep it’s buried. 

1. Ask the locals

You need to know where a lateral connects to the mainline to estimate a residential job, so you ask yourself: 

How long and how deep is the property line connection?
Where should a repair begin and end?
Are there any obstacles to trenching, such as driveways and sidewalks? 

Without this information, you’re just guessing where a line is located. For locating underground utility or sewer lines, call the local municipality to get some general measurements, such as distances from manholes, to better pinpoint the line. 

If you have information to locate the main sewer, for instance, you’ll be able to efficiently locate where the lateral meets the mainline. And you’ll take out all the guesswork, which the homeowner will appreciate. 

2. Adjust the frequency

You have a general idea of where to begin. Now it’s time to use your equipment correctly. Be sure you’re using the proper frequency to achieve the most accurate locating. Many locators include preset frequencies to better guide your search efforts. 

You also can follow some basic principles if your locator does not include frequency guides. Use the lowest frequencies to detect smaller pipes, and the higher frequencies for larger lines. Selecting the proper frequency before you start working will guarantee a more efficient locating job. 

Remember, the quicker you complete a locate, the sooner you can move on to excavation or inspection. 

3. Know before you dig

Doing any trenching or excavation without locating necessary underground infrastructure could cost you — and the homeowner — a pretty penny. 

“Digging without knowing where you are going is like running a business without a plan,” Hall says. “You can overcome this with good, solid equipment. We always map the entire line from the house to the main.” 

When locating a sewer line, several things come into play for Hall’s company. “When we start an excavation, we need all utility lines located,” he says. “If we miss a line, we could conceivably dig up a driveway, a curb, a gutter, that does not need to be dug up. You need to have confidence in your equipment. A mistake could cost $10,000.” 

When you have the best equipment, you get the best results. That equipment, along with proper training and experience, will help you minimize guesswork and wasted effort. 


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