How Can We Locate Underground Utilities?

How Can We Locate Underground Utilities?
UTILITIES, on the tablet pc screen held by businessman hands - online, top view

Last Updated on September 9, 2023 by

Every construction project begins in the same place; the ground. Laying the foundation for a construction project is the first step, whether you are building a shed or fence in your yard, or you’re building a high-rise apartment building.

In order to construct a foundation, however, you first need to dig. But you can’t dig just anywhere. There is a chance that there are utility lines running under the ground you are preparing.

You’ll first need to find these utility locations before you can start to dig. Otherwise, you risk causing a lot of problems that could be dangerous, and will definitely be costly. 

Keep reading to learn how to use underground locating techniques to ensure your next project is done properly.  

When to Locate Underground Utilities

If you’re digging into the ground, to any depth, regardless of how wide your hole is going to be, you’ll want to take steps to locate underground pipes first.

Homeowners need to do this frequently. When installing a fence, you usually dig holes that are two feet deep to set your posts. And you need to do this every four to six feet. But household utility lines could be just a few inches below the surface.

Using a shovel, pick, or motorized auger could easily cause damage to the utility lines, which you’ll be responsible to pay for.

Likewise, anytime you are digging in your yard, whether to create a pond, plant trees, run underground extension cords, or build structures like a shed or garage, you’ll need to identify utility locations beforehand.

The same is true for commercial construction, just on a much bigger scale. When laying the foundation and new utility lines for commercial buildings, the digging is much more expansive.

You go a lot deeper, a lot wider, and use much more powerful equipment. Before you even work with an architect to design your commercial structure, you should use utility locate services to map out what it looks like underground. 

If there are major utility or sewer lines running below the land you plan to build on, you may need to adjust your designs or orientation unless you want to deal with a costly project of altering the utility lines. 

How to Locate Underground Pipes?

The process of utility mapping, or locating utility lines, will differ depending on the location and project. Here’s what to expect for both residential and commercial projects. 


For residential projects, the process is very simple. You don’t have to do it yourself, nor do you need to pay any money to have it done for you.

Simple call 811, the national call-before-you-dig hotline. Alternatively, you can submit a request online. 

All you need to know is the address of the property and the type of project you are going to complete. Describing where on the property the project will be located is important, too.

Local experts will visit your property and mark out the location of any underground lines using lawn paint or flags. So before you get too far into the planning process, it’s important to have your property surveyed and marked, so you can plan accordingly. 

Most homeowners assume that utility lines are too deep to hit with a shovel. But in many instances, particularly in older neighborhoods, utilities may be shallower than you expect. 


Commercial utility mapping is a bigger job, but a much more important job. You’ll want to work with a professional underground services locator in your area.

They will survey and map the property using high-end scanning technology. With the use of electromagnetic induction and radar capable of penetrating the ground, only a professional team is capable of the results you need.

They’ll find the big stuff, such as oil and gas pipes, sewage pipes, and water lines. And they’ll find the smaller stuff, such as fiber optic cables and phone lines.

With the right tools, they can trace these utility lines throughout the property. Depending on the level of service you need, they may be able to create professional drafts and 3D modeling to help your architects and contractors know exactly what it looks like underground.

So whether you are looking to lay a concrete foundation or run horizontal drilling machines for a new mining operation, your first step is mapping out the underground landscape. 

Benefits of Location Underground Utility Locations

There are many reasons you need to locate underground utilities before starting a project. In a residential, locating these lines ahead of time means safety.

Puncturing an electrical line, phone line, water line, or gas line can be dangerous. On top of risking your safety, you risk the safety of your home and yard.

If you were to puncture a water line, your yard could flood, which could spill over into your home before help is able to arrive. This may or may not be covered by your homeowner’s insurance, but either way, should be avoided.

With residential digging, you can still dig about two feet away from any marked utilities. So chances are, you won’t need to cancel your project. You’ll just need to move it over slightly in order to respect the current utilities.

When digging near a utility line, dig slowly and carefully. 

When it comes to commercial construction, not knowing where underground utilities lie could cause delays. Delays in construction cost money.

If a utility line is damaged and needs to be repaired before you can continue with the project, you could lose a lot of money very quickly. If you were to begin a project only to discover that it’s not feasible, due to what lies beneath, then you could face even higher risks. 

Check Before You Dig

Utility locations are easy to overlook. But it’s a big mistake if you start digging only to run into a pipe or electrical line.

In the best-case scenario, you realize you have to adjust your project plans and start over. Worst case scenario, you end up in the hospital or have to pay thousands of dollars to repair any damage you caused. Don’t risk it, get your property mapped out before you dig.

Looking for more construction tips and tricks? Visit our blog today to keep reading.

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