Tips for Effective Utility Locating

Spending extra time with your locating efforts on the front end of a job can ultimately help save time on the back end of the project

Tips for Effective Utility Locating

Jeff Albertini

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Locators are an essential part of plumbing repair work because they enhance safety and save time by minimizing delays. Locators quickly and accurately identify where the problem areas are in plumbing infrastructure.

Locating’s importance in preventing broken utility lines is well known, but there are also benefits for plumbing work beyond the dig. For example, locating can provide better knowledge of depth and direction. Each is helpful in mapping out the direction and depth of a drainline. When paired with an inspection camera you can visually map out the drainline, with a locator tracking the camera head or cable to understand what exactly is going on inside of pipes that would be inaccessible otherwise. 

To ensure effective locating, here are a few helpful things to remember:

  • Select the right locator. Whenever possible, use a locator accurate enough to enhance efficiency while also providing enough detailed information to be confident that you have located your target utility. Tools with easily readable screens and a high-quality transmitter with multiple frequencies for accurate readings are essential. Locators vary from basic units to more advanced models and factoring in the type of job sites you experience most frequently is important in selecting the right tools. 
  •  Take your time. It sounds obvious, but many people are busy trying to squeeze as much work out of a day as possible, making it easy to rush through a project. However, when it comes to locating it is essential to take your time, ensuring your equipment is working properly and you have located the entire project area. You would be surprised how many lines are mislocated due to an operator not paying attention, thus putting others at risk for injury. Think about the philosophy of “measure twice, cut once” to avoid improperly locating on a job site, which ultimately will save time in the end.
  •  Check for accuracy. Locating is only as effective as the tool is accurate. At the start of each locate it is important to double-check the tool’s accuracy, even if it was working properly at the last locate. To do this, raise the locator a known distance and confirm it is reading the appropriate distance. For example, putting the antenna on your boot or shoe is a simple way to confirm accuracy. 
  •  Mark your poles. Always mark your poles before you mark the equator. This helps with knowing the direction of the line as well as the pitch and slope. Knowledge of these is important because it ensures accuracy and ultimately helps to confirm the underground map of the plumbing infrastructure. 
  •  Know your environment. Job site environment is a big factor in successful locating. You must remember that locating a utility requires locating moving electrons on a conductor. How efficiently those electrons move determines the strength of field you must locate and its accuracy. Soil conditions, the existence and/or quality of far end ground, and the conductor itself all play a role. For example, in areas with dry, sandy soil where it can be difficult to create a proper circuit, pouring water around the ground stake can improve the circuit. Sometimes, using a larger grounding stake than the one provided with most transmitters improves the circuit.  

Take the time to ensure a safe, successful repair by implementing these tips as you locate your next plumbing repair project. The time spent up front will go a long way in enhancing you and your team’s safety, along with that of the surrounding communities. Spending that extra time up front will ultimately save time on the back end of the project.

About the Author

Jeff Albertini is director of marketing, Underground Technologies, for RIDGID, a part of Emerson’s professional tools portfolio that also includes the Greenlee brand. RIDGID is a global manufacturer of more than 300 dependable and innovative tools, trusted by professional trades in over 100 countries. Learn more at


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