Finding Undocumented Utility Lines Before Breaking Ground

7 July 2015
 Categories: Construction & Contractors, Blog


Buried utility lines are all over the place. It's very easy to run into one if you're not careful. If you're breaking new ground, then you need to know the precise location of all lines. That's why it's important to call the national 811 number before any project. However, for many projects, that's not enough.

Not All Public Lines Have Documentation

Despite what you may think, not all public lines show up on maps, diagrams, or charts. Not all methods of detecting mains work for all types of mains. There are several reasons for this.

Different materials – Mains aren't all alike. Some consist of metal tubing while others can have plastic. There are many other materials that a line can consist of besides these.

The methods used to detect these lines vary, but many of them have singular purposes. That means that it's hard, and sometimes impossible to detect every line using only one type of detection method.

Age makes a difference – Some utility lines have sat underground for more years than some people will ever know.

  • Some predate the technology used to map them
  • Some were placed by utility companies that went defunct years ago
  • Some have no record of their existence whatsoever

That means that even if a line location service gives you a detailed map, there's a possibility that some lines are missing.

Location isn't always precise – Some lines were placed in areas that started out as public but then became private. Some lines have shifted over time. Some lines were marked using older, less precise technology. Sometimes, the location of the line on a map represents someone's best guess from years and years ago.

One more thing to remember is that not all lines are public. There are many lines placed by utility companies and private services the municipality may not know about it. It's always better to err on the side of safety. The absence of documentation doesn't mean a line doesn't exist.

Contact Professional Utility Locating Services

You should definitely make a call out to the local utility location group. It will give you a good starting point for main locations. It's also what you're supposed to do by law in many jurisdictions. However, you should also contact a professional utility locating service as well.

The local group can help you find the documented lines. They can also provide mappings and markings to help you out. The professional group can bring in the tools that can help you find anything the local utility location company missed. This can help you break ground while avoiding the risks associated with digging blindly. For more information, contact a company like Delta Geophysics Inc.


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