Preventing damages to underground utility lines is everyone’s responsibility. Did you know a utility line is damaged every six minutes nationwide (source Common Ground Alliance). Preventing damages to our underground utility infrastructure system can be minimized by contractors, developers and homeowners understanding how to have their projects located, by identifying both public and private underground utilities for a more complete subsurface utility investigation.

What are Public Utility lines?

Public utility lines are the underground lines that are owned and managed by local governments, municipalities, and corporations.  These lines typically are considered public lines as they are located within utility and right-of-way easements.  These lines may run through an easement on private property however it is the general public that is typically using and paying for this particular utility. Public utility lines can include:  underground gas lines, buried electrical lines, sewer pipes, communication lines, fiber optic cables, reclaimed water lines, water main lines and many others.  Often times these utilities are the trunk lines or main lines that carry the service or commodity and it is the laterals that branch off of these lines that actually provide service to individual homes and businesses throughout an area.  Most public locators will locate these utilities up to a meter box or other measuring valve that can accurately measure the amount of usage a particular residence is using.  Typically you can know a utility line is a public utility line if that particular line serves multiple customers downstream of that point.  Once only one customer is left downstream, the line may very well now be considered a private line, especially if a meter box has already been encountered.

What are Private Utility lines?

These are the lines that are technically owned by the consumer.  They are owned by home and business owners and often times, these folks do not even know they own the utility line and are responsible for the upkeep and care in keeping the line safe and functioning properly.  Some examples of private lines for homes would be: irrigation lines, power or communications to a backyard building, the sewer lateral running out to the street, the water service line, low voltage lighting, storm or rainwater drainage system, power and water lines for a pool, satellite or CATV lines, electrical lines for solar applications etc.  For businesses (commercial, retail, hospitals, airports…etc) these lines may be: fiber optic or secondary power lines serving multiple buildings on property, fire hydrants and the loop of the fire protection system, condensate or steam lines, sewer and potable water lines, generator lines…etc.  If you look at a school with 5 buildings for example, there may be 5 to 10 public lines coming into the property from the right-of-way to a main mechanical/electrical area but then beyond that point, 100 or more other lines that are all private and absolutely will NOT be located by 811, the public locating service.

Public Utility Locating – The first call to make

underground utility line color marks

It’s the law! Every state requires that public utility lines must be marked by calling 811 a few days prior to performing any trenching, excavation, or digging projects. Calling 811 should always be the first call you make a few days prior to starting any construction project. It is very important that each excavator is listed on the ticket as an unlisted excavator that damages a line will be directly responsible for that damage and will have little to no recourse to avoid paying for the repair.  After calling 811 for your upcoming project, depending on the state law requirement for locate response times, public lines will be located within your project scope of work area in the uniform marking color codes to the right. Also remember that every state has a certain time limitations to their markings (usually 10-15 days). After that, you will have to request a refresh on your markings or call in another ticket to keep yourself covered from the liability of a damage.

Am I covered once I call 811?

After the initial call is placed to 811 and all of the utility companies have responded to mark out their respective lines or have reported that they have “no conflict” in your work area, don’t stop there!  Public utility locators will only mark up to your meter or to the point of the private connection, leaving 65% of all of the underground utility lines unidentified!  To avoid potential fines and damages you must have a public locate performed on every project, but to ensure a more complete utility locate, a private utility locate should also be performed on every site.

Should I hire a Private Utility Locator?

Yes! Did you know that Private Underground Utility lines make up 65% of the underground utility lines in the United States? With 20 million miles of underground utilities in the United States, you can’t afford to take the risk! What are Private Utility lines? Private Underground Utility lines are the utility lines on the private side of any meters, transformers, junction boxes or private connection points on each site that are the responsibility of the customer to have located.  In order to have these utility lines located a private utility locator like Encompass Inspections must be called out.  Unlike public utility locates which are performed by the service providers free of charge, private utility locating companies are performed on fee basis, usually based on a per hour fee structure.  Private Utility Locators can mark out and identify: Gas lines, underground electrical lines, landscape lighting, telephone communication lines, phone lines, data lines, cable TV, fiber optic, underground storage tanks-UST’s, water lines, irrigation pipes, septic systems, sewer lines, septic tanks, and leach fields.  Having a private utility locate performed does not replace having a public utility locate performed, private utility locators work to supplement the required public locates to ensure the most data is available about the sites underground utility infrastructure prior any excavation activity taking place.

Locate underground utility lines with ground penetrating radar

Encompass Inspections provides private utility locating services, and when utilized along with the  required public utility locate, can help to ensure your active construction projects are able to be completed in a safer environment.  Damages caused by utility strikes costing several hundred to several thousand dollar to repair, not to mention the severe potential injury risk or potential death that can be the result of striking an unmarked underground utility line.  Help avoid hitting an unknown utility by utilizing Encompass Inspections high quality standards of precise underground utility detection, while taking advantage of our industry leading locating equipment, techniques, and vast experience.  Encompass Inspections provides accurate underground locating services, and quality customer service to thousands of projects nation-wide each year. Please visit our equipment page to learn more about what the Encompass difference means.   If you have an upcoming project that will require a private utility locate, Encompass Inspections offers free quotes on underground utility locating services.

Having the knowledge of the underground utilities in your work area is a valuable part of every safety damage prevention plan. Remember, even if you have had a public utility locate and private utility locating services have been completed on your project, please proceed with all digging and excavation activities with caution.  Always have public and private markings refreshed if markings become obscured.

Keep all of your projects and personnel safe by calling for both a public utility locate and a private utility locate for every project involving digging activities.  Doing so will be your best defense in utility line damage prevention.