Underground Service Locating | Everything you need to know before you start digging


If you want to learn everything there is to know about service locating, then this article is for you.

What is Underground Service Locating?

Underground Service Utility Locating Services provided by Geoscope in Sydney Australia
Underground Service Locating in Sydney Australia

Underground Service Locating also known as Underground Utility Locating is the process of locating and marking underground pipes, cables, or assets. 

In other words, it is a subsurface utility investigation process that utilises high-tech equipment to mark the exact location of the identified underground services with spray paint, crayons, and or flags

The Importance of Underground Service Locating

What most people do not know is that underground service and utility locating is very vital before any digging should commence on-site since it aids in the protection of underground assets from unintentional strikes and damage during excavation, thereby ensuring public safety.

Underground Service Utility Locating Services provided by Geoscope
Underground Service Locating before excavation process commences

Having underground services located before any start of the digging helps save you, your project, and the public from potential delays, critical service interruptions, costly repairs, damage, and other setbacks such as compensation claims or unwanted fines if you accidentally cause damage to the underground assets.

Why do you need Service Locating?

Well, the answer to that can simply be seriously considered once you have already started your project and accidentally caused damage to buried services during excavation. 

The consequences of not performing your duty of care when you work on-site can lead to service interruptions, construction delays, disasters, and potentially a lot worse.

Repairing or replacing underground services such as cables at construction sites and projects is not a simple task to put off for another day, week or month. 

If underground cables are damaged during excavation or construction, safety requirements for their repair and replacement are very stringent, especially if the underground services are within a congested area.

So, if you are planning an excavation or any digging for your project, I cannot emphasise more that you definitely need underground service locating. 

You may be curious to know what types of services exist underground.

Well, don’t worry, I got you covered.

Different Types of Underground Services and Assets

The types of services underground vary from place to place.

Underground Service Utility Locating provided by Geoscope in NSW Australia, sample located underground utilities
Sample Utility Markings for located Underground Utilities in NSW, Australia

To give you a headstart, there’s telecommunication, electricity distribution, natural gas, cable television, fibre optics, non-fibre optic or non-Telstra assets, fire service, traffic lights, street lights, storm drains, water mains, sewer and wastewater pipes, and other unknown/unidentified services are all examples of underground assets.

Since we are already touched on the various types of underground services, why not tell you as well the benefits of Underground Service Locating? Right?

Benefits of Underground Service Locating

People may ask the valid question, “Do I really need to locate underground services?” “Does it really help?” or “Is it just another tick-the-box exercise?”

Underground Service Utility Locating provided by Geoscope in NSW Australia, located communications cables and unknown utilities
Mapped and marked underground utilities showcasing benefits as to where and where not to dig on-site

If you are working on-site where underground services are present and you have no knowledge of the exact location of the underground infrastructures, then you definitely have to consider the advantages of underground service locating or underground utility locating.

This is because neglecting the presence of underground services can lead to many unwanted consequences such as project delays, service interruptions, utility strikes or damage to underground services, and worse, endangering people’s lives and safety.. 

If you accidentally cause such problems, how will you be able to fix them?

Damage to Underground services cause by a utility strike
Damage burst cut strike to underground pipes and cable services

Safety is also obviously a major concern for underground gas lines, and electrical and telephone cables. Water, gas, sewer, and electric utility lines are not to be excavated when work is being done in the public right of way or on streets or highways.

If you cause service interruptions, just imagine how many lives have you interrupted just because you refuse to do your part.

And not only that, but you also have to worry about yourself and the people you are working with since you might even be paying fines or costly compensations for all the damages you caused and/or even face the penalty for the laws you might have violated, can you just imagine all that for a second?

There are countless drawbacks and setbacks to not being able to perform your duty of care. This is why it is very important to always adhere to the work, health, and safety of every project you are working on. And here is when having an underground utility locating service done for you before beginning any digging or excavation can potentially prevent or counter all the consequences you might face when all else doesn’t go to plan.

Now that you finally understand what it really means for you and for your project to have undergone underground service locating prior to beginning your excavation, let us now walk you through the process of Booking an Underground Utility Locating Service.

The Underground Service Locating Booking Process

The process is simple. 

First, you can call up a service locating provider and provide them with information about the project location, the purpose of digging, when you are planning to dig, and other important details related to the project that they may need in order to provide an accurate assessment of the underground utilities present at the project site. 

Next, you can work with your utility locating service professional to book an appointment to have them dispatch a technician and inspect, mark, or map out the area for underground services. 

The process of booking underground service locating by Geoscope, technicians working-on-site
Underground Service Locating Booking Process, dispatched technicians working on-site

After finishing the job, they will provide you with a detailed report of all the underground services they found or located and their recommended safety measures that need to be taken into consideration when starting your project. 

Finally, once you have all the information you need about your work site, you can now begin the project with confidence, knowing that all necessary safety measures have been taken into consideration.

That is how the overall process of locating underground services usually works.

If you are interested to know detailed information about how to book a utility locating company, and how long the service takes, you can read them through this article

What is Utility Locating| How long it takes

If you’ve ever wondered how long it takes for utility locating service to be done or completed, then this article is for you!

Keep in mind that it is essential to choose a services-locating company that has been doing this for a long time. Years of experience, qualifications, and expertise with a proven track record is a great place to start.

If a professional and certified team of service locators are employed, the job can be completed more quickly, more accurately, and more efficiently, however, if an inexperienced and uncertified team is hired to do it, the job may take longer, it may be prone to errors due to lack of knowledge and expertise which in consequence could lead to unwanted complications for you and for the project.

That is why at Geoscope, we highly recommend that you only work with a service locating company that is DBYD Certified, a team that is qualified to locate services and is equipped with the most advanced technology

Geoscope DBYD Certified Utility Locator working on-site
DBYD Certified Utility Locator working on-site

Another thing that will help you find the right service locators to hire is if you check out the industry itself, find the one that has a good reputation and legitimate reviews, and most importantly, find the team that is committed to fulfilling the duty of care and help you win by providing you quality service and high standard results.

At Geoscope, we only deliver the highest quality and standard when it comes to underground service locating for our clients. If the client is not committed to working to such a level, we may not be the right fit to work for you and we may have to recommend you find someone else to complete the work at your standard.

But if you are down to get the quality underground service locating you and your project deserve, do not hesitate to contact us or leave us a message by clicking the button below.

Contact Geoscope

Whether you have a question about our services, pricing or anything else, our Geoscope team is ready to answer all your questions.

Now that we’re through with the underground service booking process in locating underground utilities, let us move forward to discussing the different methods of Locating Services

Different Methods of Locating Services

Digging around underground services presents many inevitable challenges, which is why there are different ways to locate underground utilities. 

The most common methods of locating underground services are:

The Electromagnetic (EM) Induction

Metal and conductive utilities such as gas lines, phone lines, and electrical cables can be found using the electromagnetic utility locating method. Using Electromagnetic (EM) Induction, we’ll be able to find these services as long as we can pulse our signal down the line of the metallic service.

Magic Wand or Utility Locator detector being used for passive and active locating on-site
Electromagnetic (EM) being used on-site to locate metallic underground utilities

However, there are some limitations to electromagnetic locating, such as the inability to locate plastic pipes, pipes or cables that have been damaged or repaired with a non-metallic joint in highly congested areas of underground utilities such as a CBD, footpath, substations with interfering electrical fields, or utilities buried very deep underground, which in consequence, returns a weak signal back to the surface where we are standing.

The Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR)

Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) is an advanced service locating technique that employs electromagnetic radio waves pulsed into the ground. These energy waves then reflect off subsurface objects such as underground services.

Ground Penetrating Radar equipment used by Geoscope Locating Services
Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) being used on-site to locate underground utilities

GPR is used in a variety of underground utility investigations, it is quick to set up for it does not need an active connection to the service for it to be detectable. 

Ground Penetrating Radar overcomes the limitations of Electromagnetic locating methods since it works well and is commonly used to locate or detect underground metallic and non-metallic pipes and cables. 

If you are wondering how GPR works, well, it emits electromagnetic waves into the ground at a signal, dual, or wideband frequency. Such energy waves can pass through ground soil, walls, and even concrete slabs. This returned energy antenna records the waves as they reflect back to the receiver as they bounce and reflect off buried objects in the subsurface.

But if you are interested to know deeper details as to how GPR really works, here’s the link to a detailed article about it.

Ground Penetrating Radar – A GPR Expert’s Guide

Ground penetrating radar (GPR) is a non-invasive survey method that uses the pulsing and reflection of electromagnetic radio waves to create images of objects buried underground.

Hence, if you want to dig deeper into the advantages of using GPR in service locating, you’re lucky because we have also written an article about it.

Detailed Advantages of Ground Penetrating Radar in Utility Locating

Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) is a technology that has definitely advanced and developed for the better in recent years.

Now, let’s move to the next method

Direct Connection Method

There are several methods for locating metallic service lines, but the most common method for service locators when locating these types of subsurface utilities is a direct connection. 

A direct connection occurs when a service locator connects the transmitter directly to the utility line which is then traced using a connection lead.

Direct Connection method of locating underground services by Geoscope
Direct Connection method of locating underground services

The direct connection method gives the technician the most options for locating a buried utility line, and for most services locators, it is the most accurate method for locating underground metallic services.

Induction Ring Clamp

When a direct connection is not possible, ring clamp induction is used to induce a signal onto a metallic cable or conduit. 

The clamp lead is plugged in and connected to the transmitter before being clamped around the target metallic pipe or cable. This method sends signals to the target line without making any metal-to-metal contact.

Ring Clamp Induction Method of Locating Underground Services in Sydney Australia by Geoscope
Induction Ring Clamp Method of locating underground services

While ring clamp inductive locating is an excellent tool for locating underground services, we always prefer a direct connection whenever possible and safe to do so.

Induction Method

When accessing a service via direct connection or ring clamp is not possible, there goes the induction method as your option. It is also known as the drop box or induction sweep method.

Induction works by pulsing a signal from the bottom of the transmitter, which spills into the ground and induces the pipe or cable when dropped on top of it. While this induction spillage method is a good way to get out of a jam when you can’t access the utility, it may not be effective in congested areas with multiple underground services.

Sonde and Flexi Trace Rodder

Sondes and Flexi Trace Rodders are highly effective methods when tracing non-metallic underground pipes, conduits, stormwater drains, and sewer lines. 

Sonde and Flexi Rodder Method of Locating Underground Utilities in Sydney Australia Service provided by GEoscope
Sonde and Flexi Trace Rodder Method of locating Underground Services

The sonde is a battery-powered transmitter that, when activated, emits a traceable electromagnetic field.

The flexitrace rodder contains a metal wire inside the fibreglass rodder that can detect non-metallic pipes or conduits when fed directly inside these underground services.

In the process of using these tools, a sonde and flexible rod are inserted and pushed inside the pipe, conduit, or utility line we are looking for to locate nonmetallic drainage pipes. Signals will be transmitted down the rodder using a transmitter and connection leads. The service locator will then trace the signal above ground, sweeping back and forth and side to side until the strongest readings are detected.

These signals can be used to precisely determine the depth and location of the pipe, providing technicians with invaluable information that can be used to assist them with repairs or installations. They can also detect breaks, obstructions, and other faults in the line that would be difficult to locate otherwise. These sondes and rodders, which use cutting-edge technology, can complete difficult tasks.

The Vacuum or Hydro Excavation

Vacuum or Hydro Excavation is a non-destructive excavating method of removing or moving soil with pressurised water. Instead of mechanical tools, pressurised water is used to create a dirt concoction. The soil or debris is then transferred to a debris tank using an air conveyance or vacuum. Because of its precision, cost efficiency, and safety when compared to other manual or mechanical excavation methods, non-destructive excavation is becoming increasingly popular.

Vacuum or Non-destructive method of Locating Underground utilities service provided by Geoscope
Vacuum or Hydro-excavation Process of Locating Underground Utilities

It is also more accurate and less disruptive, giving you more control when excavating difficult or difficult-to-reach areas. It is even safer than other excavation methods and can be used in tight spaces with ease. 

Non-destructive excavation is also considered more environmentally friendly because it eliminates the need for potentially hazardous chemical agents. Furthermore, it reduces the risk of existing underground services such as water pipes and electrical cables being damaged since there is no physical contact with services.

Other methods for locating underground services are as follows:

The Slit Trenching Method

The slit trenching process is a technique that involves digging narrow trenches to reveal or confirm existing underground services on-site. It involves sucking out the ground soil with a vacuum hose and then inspecting the pipes and cables below.

Slit Trenching Utility Investigation Process service provided by Geoscope
Slit Trenching Process conducted on-site

If you want to get the right information the first time and see with your own eyes what’s exactly below your project site, then slit trenching is the method to use.

Underground Service Locators will typically use this method in cities or congested areas, such as the CBD, or in areas with critical assets. Slit trenching is also used to install underground utilities such as pipes and cables.

Slit Trenching Process – The Advantages of Slit Trench Utility Investigations

Slit trench utility investigations are becoming more and more necessary for the modern construction industry. They are now used for ...

Potholing or Utility Potholing Method

Another non-destructive method of locating underground services is potholing.

Potholing Process of Utility Locating Underground Services by Geoscope
Potholing Process of Utility Locating Underground Services

Potholing can be used to quickly and accurately locate services without the need for costly, time-consuming traditional excavation methods by utilising high-pressure water jets or an industrial vacuum. It is frequently preferred over traditional excavation because of its non-invasive and minimally disruptive nature. 

Potholing is a safe and cost-effective method of accurately locating existing underground services because it does not require mechanical excavation or soil displacement. 

Non-destructive potholing services are also an environmentally friendly method of services locating and it can even be done in almost any weather or soil condition, making it an efficient and dependable method to locate services.

If you want to know further details about these different types of equipment used for service locating, feel free to read through our other articles.

Locating Underground Services: The Expert Guide to Utility Locating Equipment and Procedures

In this article, we are going to uncover what methods professional utility locators go through on-site and the equipment they use.

Those are pretty much everything you need to know about underground service locating. 

If you have any questions or if you want some clarifications on any of what we have tackled, please feel free to reach out either via email at info@geoscopelocating.com.au or by putting your comment down below. 

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