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Utility Locating | How long does it take?

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

Utility locating service provided by Geoscope in Sydney NSW
Sample of located underground utilities in Sydney, NSW

Locating utilities isn’t always a difficult task, but the overall process can be complicated and require several steps to complete depending on the project you’re working on.

It all starts with a phone call.

Contacting a Utility Locating Company

You contact a professional utility locating company, schedule an appointment, then book a form, request a quote, and someone comes out to your site to begin the process. 

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In other words, once the initial call is made, a service locating company will dispatch a technician to the worksite. The technician will then arrive within the agreed schedule to begin the process of locating underground utility lines with the use of a machine or tool that helps them in seeing underground utility lines, and then mark the location of the lines with paint, flags, or both.

That is how a typical utility locating service is carried out, but it is also important to know that the time required for a utility locating service can vary depending on the circumstances. Depending on the size, scope, and complexity of your project, the entire utility locating process could take a few hours, a few days, or a few weeks.

Before any digging can begin, we recommend using the Before You Dig Australia service as your first point of contact. This is a free, not-for-profit service that will tell you if there are any underground services from registered asset owners near your proposed dig. It is very important that you know where underground services are before you start digging as you could cause serious damage to them and you may even be fined if you dig without making the relevant enquiries first. 

That is why, it is vital to also work with utility locating companies who are DBYD Certified so they can guide you if you are unsure of the process, at Geoscope, we are DBYD Certified, and we know the procedures from start to finish so we can definitely help and assist you so you no longer have to worry about anything else.

Contact Geoscope

Whether you have a question about our services, pricing or anything else, our Geoscope team is ready to answer all your questions.
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As we all know, not all projects necessitate a lengthy search. But, to answer your question about how long it takes to locate underground utilities, the answer is that it depends on a lot of factors.

What do I mean by a lot of factors? Well, when it comes to utility locating services, there are several factors to consider.

In this article, we will discuss the four factors that will determine how long it will take to complete the utility locating service.

The Four major factors that influence the duration of the utility locating services

1. The project's nature

  • If the work is being done on the road, on a footpath, or on private property,
  • If the job is in the city centre, a residential neighbourhood, or a rural area
  • If the job is in a congested area with DBYD utility plans
  • If there are a large number of fibre optic cables from non-Telstra asset owners
  • If sewer and stormwater are required to be located

2. The project's scope or size

  • If it is necessary to locate everything, or if the client simply wants a quick scan of individual utilities

3. The type of equipment that will be used to locate the underground utilities

  • Traditional vs Modern equipment/technology

4. The type of utility locators who will do the job

  • Whether you intend to hire certified professional utility locators or just any locators available

Now, let’s dive deeper into these factors that affect how long utility locating service takes to complete

1. The project's nature

Utility Locating Service showcasing the Project's nature
Utility Locating Service showcasing the Project's nature

The first and foremost factor which will influence how quickly or slowly the utility locator service provider can complete the job is the type of the project.

What’s the work activity? And how likely are they to impact the underground services?

The more complicated the project is, the longer the time it will take to complete. 

Some complicated jobs take longer to complete because the greater the responsibility is of the people who are working on it. There are a lot of things to consider when working on a complicated project, but if you are only working on simple projects, then you can say that the job will only take less time to be located. 

If the work is being done on the road, a footpath, or on private property

Utility Locating Service on Footpath, Road, and Private Property by Geoscope
Utility Locating Service on Footpath, Road, and Private Property

If the work is being done on the road, there aren’t many services to locate on it since utility companies usually want to put larger services on the road because, for one thing, they’re large in diameter, which means they take up a lot of space on the ground and don’t actually fit in the footpath, hence why they put them in the road along busy connecting roads like towns. These are the various services available on the road, but it is still dependent on the location. However, because the footpath is generally where all utilities are, there is an easement in the nature strip. So the water mains are usually closest to the kerb, followed by the telephone lines, gas lines, and electrical lines which are the closest to the boundary. Whether the work is being done on the road or a footpath, special permits, road occupancy licences (ROLs), traffic requirements, the shift of the work, whether it’s night shift or dayshift — all of these things can come into play in the duration of the utility locating service, so if they haven’t been planned accordingly prior to the start date, these can cause project delays.

It’s also worth noting that utility companies may have additional requirements before digging can begin, which could also add time to the overall time it takes to finish the job. Depending on the soil and terrain, additional precautions may be necessary to ensure safety.

Inside the private property, if the work is being done on it, there aren’t many permits required because it’s private property. Usually, the homeowner owns the land up to the fence line, so if they hit the pipe on their own property, it’s their own responsibility to fix it. This is beneficial for the project because there are lesser requirements in terms of working here. 

There are numerous variables that influence the time it takes to complete utility locating services on the road, footpath, or private property. 

This is due to the increased need for safety precautions in order to protect you, the general public, the workers, and the properties. It is also possible that additional digging will be required to locate the utilities, which may necessitate the utility locator obtaining the necessary permits. Furthermore, additional equipment and personnel may be required to complete the work. Depending on the complexity of the job and the availability of permits, this could take several days or even weeks. Furthermore, in order to be safe and avoid delays, it is best to plan for such utility locating services to take longer.

But if you would like to directly know which among the three would take the longest and the ideally hardest time to locate then that would be the footpath intersection, just because you have services crossing from each side of the road, you may not be able to access the utility from one side so you got to cross the road and then come back and check it. There are a lot of checks which will go on.

If the job is in the city centre, a residential neighbourhood, or a rural area

Utility Locating Service being provided in city or residential area by Geoscope
Utiltity Locating Service being provided in city residential area

In general, if the service is being performed in an urban area, such as a city’s Central Business District (CBD), a high-traffic area, or a densely populated area, the job may take longer due to the complexity of the underground utility network, increased safety considerations, and the requirement for additional permits.

Utility Locating Service being provided in Rural Areas by Geoscope
Utility Locating Service being provided in Rural Area

In rural areas, on the other hand, there are a lot of overhead power poles. They run telephone lines inside private properties rather than along roads, as digging underground services isn’t really feasible because instead of running utilities underground, there are large stretches of just open fields. This simply means that there are fewer utilities to locate in rural areas, but this does not imply that there are none or that they will be easy to find.

Rural properties often are not connected to town potable water or waste sewer mains. Because of this, these properties will have private pipework to septic tanks, water tanks, and dams.

This isn’t always the case, so it’s best to investigate the BYDA plans, engage a certified locator, and dig with care.

In residential areas, not only are there a lot of utilities running along nature strips to provide services to all the houses, but they are also crossing the road from house services to mains or access pits. 

Utility Locating Service being provided in residential area by Geoscope
Utility Locating Service being provided in Residential Area

There are typically telephone or Telstra lines intersecting, and water service from the house water meter across the street to the water main on the other side of the road. Likewise, with the gas services in the gas main. 

So there are a lot of services in residential areas, and they can be anywhere and everywhere.

When we get to the main road in some Sydney suburbs, such as a main arterial road, or we could simply say that when we get to a busy road, there are usually larger trunk water mains, larger transmission gas mains, and high voltage transmission electrical lines running through the road, which means that locating in residential areas has its own set of requirements, safety concerns, and permits or licenses required.

However, in some residential and rural areas, the situation is reversed. Some residential areas may take less time because there is less complexity involved, but in other rural areas, the utility locating service may take longer due to a potential lack of access and resources, and if the terrain of the area should be considered, it can also play a role in how long the project takes to complete due to the need for additional digging and safety measures.

Regardless of the location, it is critical to allow for extra time because unforeseen complications may arise, potentially prolonging the utility locating process.

If the job is in a congested area with DBYD utility plans

Utility Locating Service in Congested Area service provided by Geoscope
Utility Locating Service in Congested Area

The utility locating service may take longer than usual in congested areas with utilities listed on the Dial Before You Dig (DBYD) plans because additional safety measures and strict protocols must be followed.

When there are nearby utilities or congested services side by side, such as in a CBD area, it is not as simple as working in a rural area. There are now ample opportunities in a congested area to obtain a “bleed signal” — this is when we are tracing a signal and it bleeds onto another utility. As a result, our measurements are skewed. They can be distorted. As a consequence, we must conduct our due diligence. There will be multiple checks to ensure that the job is done correctly and to the highest quality. 

Furthermore, the time it takes to complete utility location in congested areas may be affected by the complexity of the network of utilities and whether any additional permits are required. Even with all of these considerations, any delays or complications that arise during a job can further extend the time it takes to complete a utility locating service.

If there are a large number of fibre optic cables from non-Telstra asset owners

Locating Non-Telstra Underground Utility Services at NSW by Geoscope
Locating Non-Telstra Underground Utility Services

In cases where there is a large number of fibre optic cables from non-Telstra asset owners, the utility locating service can take significantly longer to complete.

This is due to the technician’s need to gain access to all non-Telstra asset owners in order to complete the job properly. Moreover, each asset owner may have different safety protocols and procedures that must be followed, adding to the job’s complexity. 

Also, the safety precautions need to be more stringent as the cables are smaller and more difficult to locate since non-Telstra asset owners use fibre optic lines, rather than copper because fibre optic is a faster and more efficient way of relaying communications. 

Because they’re laying more and more underground fibre optic cables rather than copper, this has its challenges to locate since it’s non-metallic and we usually have to use Flexi trace rodders to find these types of conduits.

You can read here for more information on locating underground Telstra and fibre optic lines:

 

How to Locate Underground Telstra and Fibre Optic Lines

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In addition, there are non-Telstra asset owners, such as Optus, which requires an Optus Accredited Inspector to inspect an Optus manhole. If it is not a fibre optic pit, you cannot simply lift them even if you are an accredited locator; you must first become accredited in order to inspect the pit and then locate the line.

Locating Optus Fibre Optic Lines service provided by Geoscope
Locating Optus Underground Utility Assets

This will no longer be a problem for Geoscope because we are already an Optus Accredited company and can help you locate these non-Telstra underground utilities with ease.

The need to map out these various fibre optic cables, as well as other non-fibre optic cables, may also complicate the job of locating non-Telstra assets. This will mean that it will take more time to complete locating non-Telstra asset owners rather than Telstra asset owners.

If the sewer and stormwater are required to be located

Locating Sewer Pipes services provided by Geoscope
Locating Sewer Lines

When the utility locating service also includes the tracing of sewer and stormwater lines, the process can take even longer.

This is because tracing these lines are difficult and can be affected by soil conditions. Sewer and stormwater lines are typically buried deeper than other lines, necessitating the use of specialised equipment to accurately locate them. They are similar to fibre optic cables whereas the utilities are non-metallic. They are usually made of concrete, plastic, PVC etc. Because they’re non-metallic, we need to use transmitters sondes and rodders too. Then we’re going to introduce metallic instruments into the pipe then we can trace it up in the field. 

The process of locating these can take up four to eight hours depending on how many pipes you need to locate as well as depending on many variables.

If you want to know more about utility locating and the different utility locating equipment used for locating services, kindly check this article below:

Different Utility Locating Equipment

Digging up the ground is never a straightforward task and can be made even more difficult due to the extensive network of subsurface utility services below. That’s where utility locating is recommended.
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Additionally, safety is also a key concern when dealing with sewer and stormwater lines, due to the hazardous nature of the work. This is why it is very important to plan for an increased time frame for this type of job in order to ensure that everything is done correctly and safely.

The first factor is a lot to take in, but now that you have a firm grasp on it, let us move on to the second factor.

2. The scope or size of the project

Utility Locating showcasing Scope of the Project by Geoscope
Utility Locating service showcasing Scope of the Project

One of the major factors influencing the duration of the utility locating service is the scope or size of the project.

The larger the site that needs to be mapped out, the more time we need to take to finish locating the site. 

In other words, the job can be completed quickly if only a quick scan of only individual utilities is required. Finding a power line or cable, for example, can usually be done in a few hours. However, if all utilities must be traced or a comprehensive survey of the entire area is required, then the process can take much longer. This is because it is challenging to locate each utility, as well as any additional safety precautions needed to ensure that no damage is done to the pipes or other underground infrastructure.

Now that we’ve completed the second factor, let’s move on to the third.

3. The type of equipment that will be used to locate underground utilities

Geoscope Utility Locating Equipment
Different types of equipments used for Locating Underground Utilities

The time it takes to complete a utility locating service can also vary depending on the equipment used.

Traditional versus Modern Equipment

There are quick ways to do things and slow ways to do things, and it all depends on the work activity and how critical getting the exact amount of information is.

It is no longer undeniable that traditional methods of locating utilities can be labour-intensive and time-consuming, whereas modern methods are faster and often more reliable to use when locating underground utilities. 

For instance, Electromagnetic locating kits, Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), and Flexi trace rodders these traditional equipment are able to detect and trace most underground utilities in a fraction of the time but using modern equipment such as Laser Scanning, GIS, and Augmented Reality — these modern equipment are game-changers when it comes to locating utilities because you can just easily visualise underground utilities using advanced software such as GIS. 

If you want to know further details about the advantages of using GPR, kindly refer to this link:

Advantages of using Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR)

Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) is a technology that has definitely advanced and developed for the better in recent years. When we started using Ground Penetrating Radar over a decade ago, the refinement and filtering capabilities of GPR data and signals blessed us with clearer hyperbolic images we have the luxury of today...
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Using modern equipment can significantly reduce the time required to complete a utility locating service, allowing contractors to finish the job in a much shorter timeframe, but it all depends on the quality of the data acquired at the time of the original subsurface utility investigation or service locating survey. In addition to this, modern equipment has the potential to be more accurate and faster than traditional locating methods and this can also help ensure that all underground utilities are located safely and efficiently throughout the lifetime of major construction projects.

At Geoscope, we only use cutting-edge technology and equipment that is a hybrid of traditional and modern equipment to ensure that we are only providing our clients with the best utility locating services possible.

Now that we’ve covered the first three factors, let’s move on to the final factor affecting the duration of the utility locating service.

4. The type of utility locators who will do the job

Utility Locating showcasing the type of utility locator who will do the job by Geoscope
Utility Locating showcasing the type of utility locator who will do the job

It is no wonder that the length of time it takes to complete a utility locating service is heavily dependent on the type of utility locators used.

If a professional and certified team of utility locators are employed, the job can be completed more quickly, more accurately, and more efficiently, since they have the experience, knowledge and training, as well as the equipment to accurately pinpoint and trace underground utilities. 

However, if an inexperienced and uncertified team is hired, the task may take longer and worst case scenario, the job may be prone to errors due to lack of knowledge and expertise. 

This could lead up to many complications for the project, not to mention the unwanted interruption or damage to existing underground assets. Damage to underground utilities can cost you a fortune. Therefore, it is really vital to also consider hiring certified locators when scheduling a utility locating service in order to guarantee that the job is completed quickly, safely, and effectively.

If you want to know what happens when you cause damage to underground services, kindly refer to the link below:

Accidental Damage to Underground Services

Accidents have shown that digging near the underground services without proper planning can lead to damage that causes leaks to water lines, strikes and cuts in electric cables and even explosions in gas pipes.
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At Geoscope, we only employ certified utility locators on-site who are highly trained, experienced and dedicated to providing our clients with exceptional blue-ribbon service. So you can be confident that the job will be done correctly the first time. So, if you need a dependable utility locator, Geoscope is the place to go. Please get in touch with us as soon as possible!

Get in touch with us

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

Now that you know how long it takes to complete a utility locating service, I’d like to remind you that utility locating services are not one-size-fits-all. Different projects necessitate different approaches and, as a result, can take longer or shorter to complete. While some jobs can be completed quickly and efficiently, others may necessitate greater caution and additional safety precautions. Regardless, it is always best to plan for the job to take longer than expected in order to avoid any delays or unexpected surprises.

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