What Is Utility Location?
Whether you are about to begin a small construction project that involves digging (like building a pool) or a commercial or civil project, you need utility mapping or location services. One of the benefits of utility mapping is that it prevents accidental damages to utilities buried within your site. Imagine if your engineering team hits a major pipeline carrying water or gas- This may expose workers and homeowners to several health or safety hazards.
Utility location is a form of pre-construction or precon survey used to determine the location of utilities like water pipes, gas lines, electrical lines, etc. It is essential to the construction process as it gives valuable information on other aspects of the project such as virtual design construction or VDC, planning, layout, etc.
How does utility location work?
Companies that provide utility location services employ various technologies to accurately locate different objects and elements in the soil. We will discuss three main methods for utility mapping.
• Electromagnetic location.
• Ground-penetrating radar.
• Vacuum excavation.
Electromagnetic location finds objects in the soil based on their electrical properties like conductivity. This technology is primarily used to detect metal components (utilities) like electrical cables, phone lines, metal pipes, fire systems, lighting systems, etc. It is a non-invasive procedure that works by detecting the magnetic field generated in the metal through a passive or active current. A passive signal is generated naturally by utilities with electricity flowing through them. To get an active signal, the electromagnetic location device sends an electromagnetic wave ( radio waves) to the underground utility, and the magnetic field generated is detected by the receiver. Utility location professionals detect signals directly (through an access point), by induction, or through a sonde.
Ground penetrating radar.
Ground penetrating radar (GPR) takes things up a notch in the sense that it is more robust and can detect other types of materials such as concrete, PVC, plastic, and other inorganic materials. Engineers use GPR to find buried pipes, tanks, underground water tables, bedrock, cables, etc. Like other devices mentioned in this blog, the GPR transmits radio waves into the ground and receives the echo (reflected waves) that bounce off various materials in the soil. The extent of the reflection, refraction, and absorption depends on the material’s physical and electrical properties. It can accurately determine the size or shape and depth of a sub-surface object beyond 10-15 feet.
One of the limitations of electromagnetic locating and GPR is that certain compounds or soil structures like salt, clay, or shale can interfere with the signals generated by buried utilities. In this case, experts resort to vacuum excavation.
Vacuum, hydro excavation, or potholing is a mildly invasive method used to locate or clear the path towards a utility line. The process uses high-pressure water or air to break down the soil surrounding a utility and vacuum the dirt into a tank.
Benefits of utility location.
Prevents accidental damages.
By mapping out the utilities on the site, you know the areas that are safe for construction work. This prevents workers from accidentally damaging major pipelines, electric lines, or other utilities.
Saves you from legal troubles.
Damaged utility lines can get you into legal trouble. Many states require that you keep a considerable distance from marked utilities- And not adhering to regulations can cause you to incur heavy fines.
Bolsters safety on the construction site.
Utility mapping is crucial to construction or site safety. Damages to utilities can wreak serious havoc on the construction site. Broken gas pipes can expel toxic or flammable fluids into the air, burst pipes can cause structural collapse, and broken electrical lines can cause shocks or electrocution.
Quick decision making.
Utility mapping allows your team to make quick decisions during pre-construction stages. Engineers often combine utility mapping with road maps, aerial views, and VDC in NYC to make sound engineering decisions.
Prevents delays or setbacks.
Not having utility mapping can cause setbacks during the project. Without the information, your team will be going in blind, and spend more time and money making our plans and mapping layouts.
Reduces additional costs.
Ensuring that your construction project adheres to code can prevent additional costs such as the money spent on medical bills, repairs, and overhead costs.