There are over 2.2 million miles of underground pipes delivering drinking water in the United States, as well as more than 800,000 miles of public sewers and 500,000 miles of private lateral sewers connecting private property to public sewer lines, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2021 Infrastructure Report Card. Finding the lines you want and avoiding the ones you don’t make accurate locating so important.
Locating not only prevents cross bores and saves time by minimizing delays, it also quickly and accurately identifies problem areas in plumbing infrastructure. This is helpful in mapping out the direction and depth of a drain line. Tracking an inspection camera with a locator lets you visually map the drain line to understand exactly what is going on inside of a pipe that would be inaccessible otherwise.
The key to successfully locating both plumbing and utility lines is accuracy, reliability, visibility and trust in your locating equipment. And there’s good news in regard to these features: the latest technology and software advancements mean locating options continue to improve. For example, some locators can be paired with apps on smart devices to overlay water and other utility lines on a Google map. This mapping can be saved for future reference. Advancements like these will continue to improve jobsite safety, productivity and accuracy to keep jobs on time and budget.
Whatever kind of locating equipment you’re using — locators, transmitters or inductive clamps are some of the more popular — understanding their functionality and the procedure for locating different types of lines is important. The types of tools may not change from jobsite to jobsite, but the process will. For example, some buried lines cannot be tracked if you cannot directly connect a transmitter to charge the line.
Regardless of jobsite, keep these things in mind to enhance safety:
Select the right locator.
Whenever possible, use a locator accurate enough to help you do your job better, while also providing enough detailed information to be confident that you have located your target plumbing or utility line. Tools with easily readable screens and a high-quality transmitter with multiple frequencies for accurate readings are essential. Locators vary from basic units to more advanced models. Factor in the type of jobsites you work at most frequently to select the right tools for your long-term needs.
Don’t overlook these tools.
Regardless of locator, a high-quality transmitter is your most important piece of equipment. Having ample power to illuminate poor conductors is necessary, but it is not all about power. You also want the ability to select a wide range of frequencies and power levels to tailor the signal to the environment. You will also want to invest in an induction signal clamp to safely energize conduits you might not want to directly connect to and a hot stick to safely add the induction clamp.
Take your time.
It is essential to take your time locating. Ensure your equipment is working properly and that you have located the entire project area. Lines that are mislocated due to an operator not paying attention puts others at risk for injury. Carpenters say, “Measure twice, cut once,” for you, it’s “Locate twice, dig once” to avoid mistakes.
Understand your environment.
Jobsite environment is a big factor in successful locating. You must remember that locating a plumbing or utility line requires locating moving electrons on a conductor. How efficiently those electrons move determines the strength of field you must locate and its accuracy. Soil conditions, the existence and/or quality of far end ground, and the conductor itself all play roles. For example, dry sandy soil often does not create a proper circuit. Pouring water around the ground stake can improve the circuit. Sometimes, using a larger grounding stake than the one provided with most transmitters improves the circuit.
Check for accuracy.
Locating is only as effective as the tool is accurate. At the start of each locate it is important to double-check the tool’s accuracy, even if it was working properly at the last job. To do this, raise the locator a known distance and confirm it is reading the appropriate distance. For example, putting the antenna on your boot or shoe is a simple way to confirm accuracy.
Mark your poles.
Always mark your poles before you mark the equator. This helps determine the direction of the line as well as the pitch and slope. Knowledge of these is important because it ensures accuracy and helps confirm the underground map of the plumbing and utility infrastructure.
Trust your instincts.
Personal knowledge of the plumbing and utility infrastructure of the jobsite cannot be discounted. The skills acquired in the field are just as important as the tools being used. The equipment is only as good as the operator. Trust the instrument to do its job and confirm or negate personal assumptions. Combining personal experience and instincts with the locator’s readings will determine where a utility is located.
Taking the time to learn best practices for locating on a jobsite will go a long way in enhancing safety and ensuring you are providing the best quality service to your clients.
Jeff Albertini is the director of marketing, Underground Technologies for RIDGID, a part of Emerson’s professional tools portfolio that also includes the Greenlee brand.