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Best utility line locators

Best utility line locators

Before any excavation or outdoor construction project can start, a surveyor has to be called in so he or she can identify and mark boundaries. He or she also has to locate any underground utility lines. Having access to the right utility locating equipment is important for the safety of your crew, as well as for your bottom line. A good utility line locator is an important investment, which is why you need to make the right choice. But it will do more than save you time and money. It will also keep you from digging in the wrong place, which could damage a power or gas line and put your workers at risk.

When it comes to underground utility line detection, you can never be too careful. Whether they’re water and sewer lines or gas and electric cables, hitting utility lines can be an expensive and time-consuming mistake. Before you start working on anything, you need to call your state’s one-call office so you can schedule a contractor to come out and mark any lines in the area. But even if they have been marked, they may not be as accurate as you think. Interference can affect the readings, and the contractor may not mark any lines that are privately owned. That’s why it’s a good idea to have your own utility locator. It will allow you to double-check the markings before you start digging, which can keep you from making costly and potentially dangerous errors.

How a Utility Line Locator Works


An underground utility locator will use one of two methods for finding utility lines:
  • Active Locating — Searches for a specific utility line by using an inductive method or a direct connection. The locator is attached directly to the line, or it induces a frequency into the ground that’s reradiated by the utility.
  • Passive Locating — This method is typically used to find unknown lines. The operator will use the receiver to sweep the area, while looking for pipes that radiate frequencies.
The problem with passive locating is that it can’t tell the difference between different types of lines. You may not be able to tell the difference between a pipe, a cable, or a gas pipeline. But you will be able to determine their location. That’s why it’s important to choose the right type of utility line locator for your specific needs.

What to Consider While Choosing a Utility Line Locator

Here are some things you should take into consideration while you’re looking for an underground utility locator:
  • Technology — Utility locators will use different technologies for penetrating the ground, so you should think about whether you want a single- or multiple-frequency utility line locator. On the other hand, a magnetic locator may be all you need.
  • Durability — Any kind of equipment you use must be able to withstand worksite conditions, and it needs to handle any rough treatment as it comes in and out of the truck throughout the day.
  • Simple Operation — A utility locator must be easy enough to operate without too much instruction, and it should have a display that’s easy to read.
  • Warranty — If you’re going to invest in an underground utility locator, you want to make sure it’s protected by a warranty. And you should know what it covers before you make your purchase.
  • Price — A good utility line locator won’t be cheap, but you don’t want to base your decision on price alone. Instead, you should think of it as a long-term investment.
  • Accessories — Aside from purchasing the right locator, you also want to think about any add-ons and accessories (such as an extra connector cable, rechargeable batteries, and clamps) that may make its operation easier and your work more efficient.
Having the right equipment is the key to doing any job well. Utility locators put the power of ground-penetrating radar in your hands. When you know exactly where water, power, and other utility lines are located, you can avoid them and keep from making an expensive and potentially hazardous mistake. If you want to find an underground utility locator for your next construction project, be sure to look at what we have at Engineer Supply.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How do underground utility locators work?


A utility locator is used to find underground and buried utilities (such as water lines and cables). Some of them use the Earth’s magnetic field to locate pipes and underground lines made out of ferrous metals (such as iron), while others use a transmitter and receiver to induce and detect a signal that runs through the pipe or cable (which can be done in different ways).

How do I use a utility line locator?

Finding underground utility lines is like tuning into a radio station. Each line will transmit a different signal, and locators are like radios that are designed to pick them up. Many utility lines give off a charge or transmit a signal. And in many cases, each signal will be unique to that line. However, some lines don’t give off any charge or signal. In these situations, you can use a transmitter to induce a signal onto the line (which will allow the locator to pick up the signal).

What do 811 markings mean?

Each color will represent a different type of utility and are indicated as follows:
  • White — A proposed excavation.
  • Red — An electric line.
  • Pink — A temporary survey marking.
  • Orange — A communication line.
  • Yellow — A natural gas or petroleum line.
  • Purple — An irrigation line.
  • Blue — A potable water line.
  • Green — A sewer and drain line.
Be sure to dial 811 for more information about what these marking mean.

How deep can I dig before calling 811?

The law requires you to call 811 if you plan to dig deeper than 16 inches, but it’s a good idea to call every time you dig. A lot of the time, things aren’t buried below 16 inches. Many new housing developments will often run phone and cable lines just below the sod. If you’re planning to dig a hole for a new mailbox or fence post, you may accidentally hit them.

What are the different utility codes?

Here are the different utility color codes and what they mean:
  • Red — Electrical power lines, cables, conduits, and lighting cables.
  • Yellow — Natural gas, oil, steam, petroleum, or gaseous materials.
  • Orange — Communications, alarm and signal lines, cables, or conduits.
  • Blue — Potable water lines.
  • Purple — Reclaimed water, irrigation, and slurry lines.
  • Green — Sewer lines.
  • White — Areas of proposed excavation.
Make sure you exercise caution while you dig because utility lines can’t always be pinpointed exactly, and their depths can’t always be precisely determined. If you’re looking for an underground utility locator you can use on your next project, be sure to browse through the broad selection we have at Engineer Supply.
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