Hiring Utility Locating Companies - Timeline, Cost, Technicians & Services

Find out everything you need to know if you're looking for private utility locators, from when to contact them to what they can find and more.

“Utility locating” is a broad term covering a wide range of capabilities and applications. In the construction industry, utility locating starts with the use of electromagnetic field detection equipment or “wands” that are used within the 811 system. Private utility locating companies go several steps beyond the 811 process to identify unknown utilities, pipes, cables, obstacles or voids prior to construction. Costs, locator capabilities and timeline vary by locating company and construction project - but here’s what you need to know if you’re looking for private utility locators in Texas.

What Can Private Utility Locating Companies Find?

Over the history of a property, many utilities are buried, repaired, replaced, adjusted, and even abandoned in place. Maintaining accurate maps throughout this process requires constant attention and revision on part of the facility owner over many years, which very rarely happens.

Approximately 65% of all utilities in the United States are private. Private utility locating companies allow you to locate utilities on private property using a wide variety of underground utility locating methods. As a general rule, any utility found between the meter and the building of a private property is considered a private utility. Skilled private utility locating companies are able to locate any type of utility, gas, water, electric, telecommunication lines, etc. on private property.

Texas soil typically contains clay, a difficult substance to locate through. This can have negative impacts on certain technologies, making professional skill and experience extremely important. Technicians with Vosburg Welsh are experts in locating utility lines in the unique soil conditions seen in Texas.

In addition to utilities, companies like Vosburg Welsh can locate objects (or voids) in concrete via concrete scanning equipment. This is particularly effective in the search for materials like rebar and post-tension cable. Finally, they can find unmarked graves, buried objects such as contraband, and artifacts at archeology sites, and can even identify soil density changes.

The following are scannable materials and surfaces:

  • Rebar
  • Post-tension cables
  • Conduits
  • Rock
  • Soil
  • Asphalt
  • Ice
  • Wood
  • Water
  • Concrete

Is it Possible to DIY Locating?

Simply put, no. While it’s technically possible to purchase or rent your own utility locating equipment, interpreting the data and drawing accurate conclusions can very difficult, even by a trained professional. There are numerous obstacles and problem sets within each project that demand professional attention. Utility locators are highly trained on a variety of utility location technologies and techniques and have the experience necessary to apply them correctly. Underground utility locating is both a science and an art. You can read more about this in the section of our GPR vs X-ray blog, titled “Why You Shouldn’t Simply Rent Your Own Concrete Scanning Equipment”. While this section is focused on concrete scanning, it applies to all professional locating equipment.

How Long Does Utility Locating Take?

The time required to locate utilities usually depends on the actual volume of utilities at your site. If there are more utilities, they will take more time to find. Over time, the subsurface(s) of your construction site may have been adjusted, altered or abandoned and any historical maps of utilities or obstacles were not updated. More often than not, these maps don’t exist at all. Therefore, the time required to locate utilities varies greatly from project to project. Some factors that influence the process include: the square footage of the area being scanned, soil conditions, surface integrity, location priorities and the actual volume of utilities, pipes or cables beneath the surface.

What is the ideal timeline for contacting private utility locators?

It is best to contact a private utility locating company 2 weeks prior to digging; you can do so by looking up “private utility locating companies near me” or just send us your project information for a quote.

How Much Does Private Utility Locating Cost?

Typically, private utility locating services are offered on an hourly basis with larger, multi-day projects having day rates. Companies that are not local to your area may also charge for travel and accommodations.

How Does Utility Locating Save Me Money?

A landmark study performed by Purdue University determined that for every $1 spent on subsurface utility locating, construction projects saved an average of $4.62. The projects studied saved an additional 1.7% by physically excavating surfaces and visibly locating the utilities.

This has led to SUE (utility locating) becoming a critical first step for general contractors and owners who are getting ready to dig and are focused on a comprehensive understanding of their construction sites and associated risks.

Why Do I Need to Call 811 First?

Calling 811 is required by law in all states and Canada, failing to do so can result in fines and leave you liable for the cost of damages. Be sure to contact 811 at least 2 days before but no more than 14 days before beginning your project.

You can learn more about the differences between 811 and private utility locating companies and find answers to common 811 questions in our “When to Call Texas 811 & When to Call a Private Utility Locator” post.

What Kind of Technology Do Utility Locators Use?

Utility locators use a variety of utility locating equipment to perform their jobs. The equipment that is needed varies depending on the composition of the pipe, size of the pipe, depth of the pipe, soil properties and many other variables that are specific to each construction project location.

Ground penetrating radar (GPR) is one of the most commonly used technologies for utility locating. GPR uses non-invasive electromagnetic energy to detect objects beneath the surface. This technology has the advantage of being able to detect both metal and non-metal objects.

Vosburg Welsh Technician Using GPR

Concrete scanners are used to detect objects within concrete structures. This equipment is particularly effective at identifying things like rebar and post-tension cable. There are two different technologies used for concrete scanning: ground penetrating radar scanners and X-ray scanners. The primary difference between the two is the quicker speed of the GPR and its ability to scan concrete that is not exposed on both sides.  

Vosburg Welsh Technician Performing a Concrete Scan

In addition to ground penetrating radar technology, locators like Vosburg Welsh employ electromagnetic field detection equipment to discover locations of known and unknown underground obstacles. EM detection technology is primarily used to locate utilities that are made of a conductive material (i.e. cast iron, copper, etc).

Vosburg Welsh Technician Using an EM Locator

Finally, many different software can be used for mapping out utilities that have been located using these types of equipment. At Vosburg Welsh, our technicians are trained in both the latest GPR equipment and the latest mapping software that allows our clients to effectively visualize their underground infrastructure. We can even deploy maps of what we find directly to construction site workers.

The following are some common software and file types that we work with to provide the most usable deliverables for each client’s needs:

  • AutoCAD
  • MicroStation
  • 3D Modeling (multiple platforms)
  • GIS (multiple platforms)
  • Shapefiles
  • .kml
  • .csv
  • .geojson

What Risks Can Utility Locating Companies Help You Avoid?

Construction Crew Strikes Gas Line

Using a private utility locating company helps you avoid the risk of hitting a utility line while digging. Many individuals are unaware that utilities can be just a few inches below the ground, meaning even small home projects carry the risk of damage to a utility line.

According to the 2019 DIRT report, Texas continues to be the state with the most reported damages caused by striking utilities. Damaging a utility carries a greater burden than the cost of replacing the line. Most importantly, striking a utility carries the risk of serious injury and even death for your construction workers. Additionally, your construction company may be held responsible for covering property damage, medical bills, and even loss of commerce due to the interruption or evacuation of businesses.

What Does a Day of Work Look Like for a Technician?

Utility locating jobs offer a lot of variety. No day looks the same for utility locating technicians. One day they could be locating a PVC utility line for a resident, the next they could be conducting a void-detection study followed by working from home working within our software to analyze and map the utilities they found.

Why Do Utility Location Technicians Love Their Jobs?

This answer will vary from person to person; for many it is the fact that the job is multi-faceted, they are continuously refining their craft, they are technologists with software savvy and get to spend lots of time outdoors. Others may mention the pride they take from being able to assist construction teams in building something important to their local community, like fiber internet installations, a new VA hospital, or an elementary school renovation.

At Vosburg Welsh specifically, many enjoy working for a veteran-owned, Texas-proud business where everyone is a part of the family and their voices are heard.

The answer to this question is personal so we asked one of our employees to comment, here’s what they had to say:

“I enjoy having the knowledge and ability to be able to walk on to any project and create solutions for our clients through our detailed investigation process. Our clients come to us facing one of the most important problems in any design or new construction, and I enjoy being able to aid a project which can ultimately save thousands of dollars. Being part of a construction project before they even break ground is pretty cool. You get exposed to every aspect of the construction project and process and we get to build a strong rapport with our clients on a more personal level. I couldn’t be happier to be a part of a team that’s focus is shown in the quality of work we stand by.”

How Are We Different from Other Private Utility Locating Companies?

Two primary reasons.

1) Vosburg Welsh takes pride in being able to locate just about anything. Our choice to train technicians on both traditional and non-traditional equipment allows us the ability to locate and avoid obstacles other companies simply would not be able to.

2) Work quality. You will not find better trained professionals or a higher quality product on the market.

Size matters; it is different dealing with a local business compared to a national company. At Vosburg Welsh we view accountability as an important characteristic. When you call to discuss questions you have about your project, you are speaking directly with your project manager, not a call center or regional manager.

We’d love to work with you on your next project – submit your project information here and we’ll get you a quote within 48 hours.

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