Navigating the Underground: The Challenges of Locating Private Utilities

Navigating the Underground: The Challenges of Locating Private Utilities

In today's densely populated urban environments, the subsurface world is a complex web of utility lines, including water, gas, electricity, telecommunications, and more.

While public utilities are often well-documented and mapped, private utilities present a unique set of challenges. Locating these hidden networks is a critical task to ensure safety, prevent service disruptions, and avoid costly damages during excavation projects.

A yellow flag indicating a buried gas line stands in grass.
While public utilities are often well-documented and mapped, private utilities present a unique set of challenges.

Understanding Private Utilities

Private utilities are those that are not owned or maintained by public utility companies. These can include underground lines for water, gas, sanitary and storm sewer, electric, and telecom. Unlike public utilities, private utilities may not have comprehensive records or documentation, making their detection a challenging endeavor.

Private utilities make up about 60% of all buried infrastructure. This means that any time you’re excavating, there are likely private utilities running through your job site. And while you’re required by law to contact your state’s 811 one-call service to provide you with the approximate location of all public utilities on your site, it’s important to remember that 811 contractors do not provide the approximate location of any private utilities.

The Challenges of Locating Private Utilities

Lack of Documentation

One of the primary challenges in locating private utilities is the absence of accurate records. Over time, property owners may have added or modified utility lines without proper documentation. This lack of information increases the risk of accidental strikes during excavation, leading to potential hazards and service interruptions.

Diverse Materials and Depths

Private utilities can be made of various materials, including plastic (PVC), metal, and clay, and can be buried at different depths. This diversity poses a challenge for detection, as different materials and depths require different locating techniques.

Interference from Surrounding Infrastructure

In urban areas, the presence of multiple utility lines, metal structures, and other subsurface elements can create interference, making it difficult to isolate and identify specific private utilities.

Access Restrictions

Gaining access to private property for utility locating can sometimes be a hurdle, as it requires coordination with property owners and adherence to privacy and legal considerations.

A GPRS Project Manager opens a wastewater system access point in grass.
It’s essential to hire a private utility locating company like GPRS to ensure subsurface damage doesn’t derail your next project.

The Role of Professional Private Utility Locating Companies

To overcome these challenges, it is essential to engage a professional private utility locating company. These companies specialize in accurately identifying and mapping private utilities using a combination of expertise, experience, and advanced technology. They play a crucial role in ensuring safety and preventing damage during construction, excavation, and other projects that involve digging.

Advanced Technologies for Utility Locating

Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR)

Ground penetrating radar is a non-invasive technology that uses radar pulses to image the subsurface. GPR is particularly useful for detecting non-metallic utilities, such as PVC pipes, and can provide valuable information about the depth and location of buried objects. However, its effectiveness can vary depending on soil conditions and the presence of other subsurface materials.

Electromagnetic Locating (EM)

Electromagnetic (EM) locating is a widely used technique that involves transmitting an electromagnetic signal into the ground and detecting the signal's reflection from buried utilities. This method is effective for locating metallic utilities, such as water and gas pipes, and can provide real-time information about the location and depth of underground lines.

Best Practices for Locating Private Utilities

Coordination with Property Owners

Effective communication and coordination with property owners are crucial for gaining access and obtaining any available information about private utilities on their property.

Continuous Monitoring

During excavation projects, continuous monitoring and utility locating should be carried out to ensure that any previously undetected utilities are identified before they are damaged.

Documentation and Mapping

Accurate documentation and mapping of private utilities are essential for future reference and for providing valuable information to property owners, utility companies, and contractors.

Three GPRS Project Managers conduct utility locating services.
GPRS has over 500 SIM-certified Project Managers strategically stationed across every major market in the U.S., so there’s always professional utility locating services near you.

GPRS Offers 99.8%+ Accurate Utility Locating and Mapping

Locating private utilities is a complex and challenging task that requires a combination of expertise, technology, and coordination.

Engaging a professional private utility locating company like GPRS, which utilizes advanced technologies like ground penetrating radar and electromagnetic locating to accurately locate and map these utilities, is crucial for ensuring the safety and success of any project involving subsurface excavation.

We have over 500 SIM-certified Project Managers strategically stationed across every major market in the U.S., so there’s always professional utility locating services near you.

SIM stands for Subsurface Investigation Methodology, and it’s the industry-leading specification and training program for not only utility locating, but also precision concrete scanning & imaging and video (CCTV) pipe inspections. The mission of SIM is to raise the quality of subsurface investigation results in the industry by combining the requirements of experienced-based training, tested technologies, and proven application methods.

To ensure you can access the field-verified data collected by our PMs 24/7, GPRS created SiteMap® (patent pending), a cloud-based infrastructure mapping software solution that provides accurate existing condition documentation to protect your assets & people.

SiteMap® eliminates the communication silos that can derail your projects by acting as a single source of truth for the data you need to plan, design, manage, dig, and build better. With SiteMap®, you can securely view, use, and share this data with your team members from your computer, tablet, or smartphone. This means you have the right data, exactly when you need it, whether you’re on your job site or halfway across the world.

GPRS’ SiteMap® team members are currently scheduling live, personal SiteMap® demonstrations. Click below to sign up for your demo today!

From skyscrapers to sewer lines, GPRS Intelligently Visualizes The Built World® to keep you on time, on budget, and safe.

What can we help you visualize? Click below to schedule a service or request a quote today!

Frequently Asked Questions

What type of informational output is provided when GPRS locates utilities?

Our Project Managers (PMs) flag and paint our findings directly on the surface. This method of communication is the most accurate form of marking when excavation is expected to commence within a few days of service.

GPRS also uses a global positioning system (GPS) to collect data points of findings. We use this data to generate a plan, KMZ file, satellite overlay, or CAD file to permanently preserve results for future use. GPRS does not provide land surveying services. If you need land surveying services, please contact a professional land surveyor.

Does GPRS offer same day private utility locating?

Yes, our professional Project Managers can respond rapidly to emergency same-day private utility locating service calls on your job site.

Will I need to mark out the utilities that GPRS locates?

No, GPRS will locate and mark all utilities for you. We have a variety of tools and markers we can use to highlight the locations of utilities, underground storage tanks and whatever else may be hiding.