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Underground Utilities Detection 

underground utilities detection
March 13, 2023

The term “underground utility” most typically refers to subterranean pipes and cables that transport water, but this can also include utilities such as telephone, gas, and electricity lines. The benefits of underground lines are that they are out of sight, they interfere less with surrounding infrastructure, and they can be more durable in the event of natural disasters. There are millions of miles of these subsurface utility lines in the United States, and knowing where they are located is important for any operation that involves breaking ground.

The importance of underground utility detection

So, why is the detection of these lines so important? Identifying the location of buried utility lines should be a priority when planning any construction, excavation, or ground/line maintenance work, whether it be for residential, commercial, or industrial purposes. 

Accurately and efficiently locating utilities can save your operation time, money, and safety, and reduce the chance of negative environmental impacts associated with damaged lines. This is especially true for underground water, gas, power, and sewer lines. 

The Detection of Underground Utility Lines

Technologies Used to Locate Utilities Underground 

There is specialized equipment used to locate underground utilities, and these can be used as underground water line detectors, power cable locators, and beyond. Electromagnetic pipe and cable locators and ground penetrating radars are two of the most effective and widely used detection systems. Both of these options operate solely above ground, eliminating the need for “trenching” to locate subsurface utilities. 

Electromagnetic Pipe and Cable Locators

Electromagnetic locators are one of the more popular technologies currently in use. This method uses electromagnetic radio frequency transmitters to trace metal underground utility pipes or cables. It has two basic parts: the transmitter, and the receiver. The transmitter induces a signal to the cable or pipe, while the receiver tracks the signal down the line.

This method is limited to pipes and cables with metallic properties, so it is ineffective in locating lines such as underground pvc pipes. However, there are methods to get around this limitation. For example, during installation, metallic tracer wires can be installed along such pipes to use this detection method.

Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) Technology 

Unlike electromagnetic locators, ground penetrating radar technologies can detect both conductive and nonconductive utilities. This means underground pipes of any material, such as steel, metallic, pvc, copper can be accurately detected from above ground in a minimally invasive manner.

GPR pipe locators produce images of what is underground by transmitting signals, or energy waves, into the ground. These signals reflect off underground structures such as water pipes. Above ground, receiver antennas track variation in these signals in order to produce these images and inform operators of utility line locations and their composition and electrical properties.

GPR systems can be found as both multi-frequency and single-frequency systems. Choosing which one will be most effective for your operation depends on the required depth of detection, soil type, and the particular type of pipe or cable material being detected. 

The Importance of Expertise in Underground Utility Detection 

The data returned by subsurface utility detection systems can be challenging to interpret. Additionally, the correct operation of systems such as GPR are critical for the proper identification and mapping of underground lines. Trained experts have the ability to analyze and understand the signals being received, and distinguish the difference between subsurface utility lines and other obstructions that may be found underground. 

Utilizing the expertise of trained professionals increases the efficiency and accuracy of subsurface utility detection, and ensures the safety of everyone involved when excavating or other operations start to break ground. Professional underground utility detection services can provide what you need for this process.  


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