Is Utility Mapping Worth the Cost?

How the Right Technology Can Make Your Projects and Facilities Safer & More Budget Friendly

Is Utility Mapping Worth the Cost?

How the Right Technology Can Make Your Projects and Facilities Safer & More Budget Friendly

What is Utility Mapping?

In theory, utility mapping is the process of accurately locating and digitally mapping the precise location of underground utilities. The purpose of a utility map is to provide a comprehensive record of the subsurface infrastructure of a facility or any property so that any necessary excavation can be completed safely, and so that maintenance and repairs can be planned and targeted to reduce unnecessary excavation, utility strikes, and accidents.

In reality, most applications that claim to automatically map underground utilities, or can house utility as-builts for you, are unable to accurately locate buried electrical, gas, water, sewer, steam, irrigation, and telecommunication lines, or house inaccurate, outdated utility plans that vary greatly from what is actually underground. That means that facility and project managers who need to maintain and repair private utility lines, and avoid strikes to both private and public utilities when renovating or constructing new buildings and infrastructure are, at best, making an educated guess and hoping that they don’t hit something when they dig.

Which is why there is a rising trend of underground utility strikes nationwide. The Common Ground Alliance’s latest DIRT Report shows a continuing three-year upward trend in underground utility strikes.

94% of those strikes were attributed to inaccurate or missing utility location data. Those mistakes, and the damages they cause, are continuing to rise, putting undue stress on facility managers, project managers, general contractors, and their teams, not to mention their budgets.

Accurate, Layered, and Interactive Utility Maps Aid in Planning, Design, Construction, Repairs, and Maintenance

The best-case scenario for utility mapping – one that incorporates best practices with accurate, boots-on-the-ground, 99.8% accurate utility location services and state-of-the-art, layered digital utility maps, models, and as-builts – is SiteMap® (patent pending), powered by GPRS. Learn how you can incorporate a complimentary SiteMap® subscription into your facility and project management needs, here.

How to Avoid Underground Utility Strikes When Excavating

There are four steps you can take to be sure you’ve done your due diligence before digging. One of them is required by federal & state laws. The rest comprise best practices for excavation, microtrenching, or the application of directional drilling to reduce the risk of hitting underground utilities when digging.

1- Call 811/One Call First

Why should you always call 811 first? It is federally mandated that anyone – from multinational general construction contractors to Grandpa Joe in his back yard – must have a completed 811 public utility locate ticket completed before breaking ground.

Your state’s free 811 service will provide you with a utility locating company whose job is to provide the approximate location of all public utilities on your property. They will usually mark those utilities with flags or spray-painted markings and may provide you with a photo of your locate. You can access your state’s 811 webpage here.

Every State Has Its Own 811/One Call Service That is Free To Use & Federally Mandated

811 contractors do not, however, provide comprehensive utility maps, do not provide depth measurements on public utilities, nor do they locate private utilities.

2- Hire a Private Utility Locator

Private utilities make up more than 60% of all utility lines in the United States, yet 811 does not provide location data for private lines. To be certain 100% of your on-site utilities are accurately located, you need to hire a private utility locating firm near you to mark out all the utilities where you plan to dig. It’s best to hire a company that locates both public & private utilities, and one who will provide you with complimentary digital mapping, PDF, and KMZ files of your locate, so that you have documentation of your current as-built conditions.

The average cost of a utility strike to a facility is $56,000 and 6-8 weeks of downtime. The 2021 Finch Report that surveyed 150 facility managers nationwide found that the majority (66%) had experienced a utility strike in the previous five years. Finch also found that those managers built utility replacement line items into their annual budgets because they expect to hit utilities, which balloons costs and takes needed cash away from capital improvements and new construction. Private utility locating costs, by comparison are a drop in the bucket and can save a single facility tens of thousands of dollars annually.

The cost of a private utility locate can vary widely depending on the scope of your job. GPRS customizes every job quote to meet your needs and provides complete GPS-enabled documentation of your utility map via SiteMap®.

3- Update your Ground Disturbance Policy to Require Public & Private Utility Locating Before Excavation

For general contractors, facility managers, and owners, your best practices include updating your Ground Disturbance Policy (dig policy) to require the accurate, documented location of all public and private utilities before excavation. The most accurate utility locators in the U.S. are SIM-certified, meaning they have completed more than 80 hours of classroom training and 320 hours of mentored field work in Subsurface Investigation Methodology to become experts in a multi-technology approach to subsurface utility mapping with 99.8% accuracy.

All GPRS Project Managers nationwide are SIM-certified and have maintained a 99.8% accuracy rate on over 500,000 jobs. We also offer a complimentary Ground Disturbance Policy Review that shows you how you can achieve accurate utility locates and underground mapping for your projects. Learn more here.

4- Utilize a Secure, Shareable Underground Utility Mapping Platform

All underground utility maps are not created equal. The firms that promise you accurate data through automated utility mapping, without visiting your site to investigate with ground penetrating radar and electromagnetic (EM) locators, are relying on the same public records and outdated as-builts that have led to the increasing epidemic in utility strikes. Also, most GIS systems, which are a step in the right direction, only house the records you upload to them. So, if your data is fragmented or outdated, all you’ve done is record inaccurate utility locations for your team to reference, which leads to more strikes, more accidents, and higher costs.

GPRS provides a complimentary SiteMap® Personal subscription to every utility locating customer, as well as a PDF and KMZ file of every locate. Within SiteMap®, you can access your utility data in layered, tagged, and interactive maps, so that you can deconstruct even a complete facility site scan down to the specific utility and location you need – to put the right information into the right hands at exactly the right time. Because SiteMap® utilizes GPRS 99.8% accurate locates, and is cloud-based and available from any computer or mobile device 24/7, it allows you to control your data quality and accessibility to keep your project on time and on budget, and your team, safe.

It is even possible to utilize 3D photogrammetry and 3D laser scanning to create an accurate 3D utility map/model of your site for planning and design purposes.

When you add it all up, the equation is a simple one. Hire a company that can both accurately detect and map your underground utilities, and provide you with the secure, shareable data you need to control workflow, costs, and keep your people safe.

That’s why at GPRS, we say Data Control = Damage Control™

Learn more about how we Intelligently Visualize The Built World® below:

Frequently Asked Questions

What equipment is used for utility mapping?

The first step of accurate utility mapping is accurate underground utility detection and locating. To provide accurate data, the most common technologies employed are ground penetrating radar (GPR) and electromagnetic (EM) locators. Each has the ability to locate particular types of underground pipes, conduit, and other lines, and each has different specifications for various soil types, materials, etc. Once the utilities have been located, their locations can be uploaded to be overlaid on a GPS satellite map for a quick map record, and can be uploaded on-site via SiteMap® for GPRS customers to have immediate, interactive, layered subsurface utility maps at their fingertips.

What is a utility mapping program?

There are some companies claiming to automatically map your underground utilities without visiting your site to detect or locate them. These companies rely on public records, utility company records, satellite data, and sometimes, even social media posts to compile their data via AI. However, as any facility manager, site supervisor, or general contractor can tell you: there’s as-built data and there is “as intended” data.

Public and utility records are generally outdated and fragmented and the companies that provide this “automated” data, and the customers who may then provide it to others, usually carry a disclaimer on their site regarding accuracy. In contrast, GPRS’ SiteMap® utilizes only GPRS’ 99.8% accurate utility locating data, provided by our boots-on-the-ground: 500 Project Managers stationed throughout the U.S. who provide a comprehensive, multi-technology approach to utility mapping to ensure your data is accurate and up to date.

What are the benefits of utility mapping?

In the worlds of construction and facility management, controlling your data via utility mapping controls damages.

The average cost of a utility strike to a facility is $56,000 and as much as eight weeks of downtime. Mapping the underground utilities of a facility, site, campus, or municipality, provides up-to-date subsurface infrastructure data so that your team and any contractors you hire can avoid utility strikes, and the service interruptions, budget overruns, and safety risks that come with them.