Contractor Finds New Revenue Stream in Locating Pipelines

Pipeline locating for a wide range of customers accounts for a quarter of Dr. Rooter's annual revenue, and often leads to additional drain cleaning work

Contractor Finds New Revenue Stream in Locating Pipelines

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Offering diverse services can pay dividends for drain cleaners. At New York-based Dr. Rooter, for example, owner Dave Ferrier has built a small business within his business by specializing in something that many plumbers and drain cleaners don’t always want to contend with: locating pipelines.

“I actually love pipe locating and that’s what I’m known for,” says Ferrier, who established his business in 2000 in Nanuet, a small community about 30 miles north of downtown New York City. “I like it because it’s clean work and when you do it right, it makes you look great.

“The funny thing is that a lot of guys have locating equipment, but they don’t know how to use it. You really have to know what you’re doing.”

Ferrier says pipeline locating — which he does for a wide range of customers, including general contractors, municipalities, factories, plumbers and even excavation companies — accounts for 20 to 25% of his company’s annual revenue.

Furthermore, providing the locating service can also lead to drain cleaning work from the same customers.

“I can’t tell you how many times customers have asked me to clean a line while I’m on a job locating a pipe,” Ferrier says. “Locating also goes hand in hand with pipeline inspections.”

Ferrier has invested in three pipe locating machines: a ProtoTek LineFinder 2200 digital locator; an analog ProtoTek Ferris locator, which is used with a flushable transmitter sold separately; and a DD120 digital locator from Leica Geosystems.

“I use the Ferris locator the most because it’s the most precise locator I’ve ever used,” Ferrier says. “It accurately locates lines within inches.”

Ferrier bought three different machines because pipeline locating is a tricky procedure. As such, it’s good to have different options that each work better under certain conditions. Plus, if one breaks down, it’s good to have a backup handy, he explains.

For example, locators often must deal with interference from underground electrical or fiber optic lines. And it’s more difficult to locate pipes in some locations, such as factories filled with equipment, for instance, or others buried deep underground below thick concrete slabs.

“All that equipment or a thick concrete slab can throw off readings — I see it all the time,” he says. “I’ve gone on many jobs where someone else already has located a pipe and the customer spends thousands of dollars to dig it up, only to find the pipe is nowhere near the supposed location.”

Plastic pipes buried a foot deep in sand are far easier to locate than a ductile iron pipe that’s buried 8 feet deep, Ferrier says, citing another example.

“Cement and clay pipes are also difficult to locate,” he adds. “And there’s usually tons of rebar in concrete, which can make readings go pretty crazy and wacky. So you need different tools to get the job done.”

With experience, contractors will develop a feel for locating.

“I kind of learned as I went along and it took some time to get good at it,” Ferrier says. “But it’s a great service to add because for a relatively low investment, you can make good money with good margins.”

Read more about Dr. Rooter in the October 2023 issue of Cleaner magazine.


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