Striking Utilities! Why Avoiding Utilities Is Important

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Evan Mowbray

Striking Utilities! Why Avoiding Utilities Is Important

When you’re working underground, you’re likely to be working around existing utilities. That’s what makes the possibility of utility strikes almost an inevitability — if you ignore or brush off the vast utility infrastructure underneath your feet and carelessly dig, you’ll eventually encounter a utility or structure underground. A utility strike is defined as breaking through utility infrastructure through conventional digging, machinery, or other physical activity. In other words, you’ve hit a utility. Thousands of utility strikes occur in the United States every year. How do these strikes happen? What happens when you hit a utility? How do you avoid these accidental strikes?

Many times utility strikes revolve around the unknown. Thankfully, there are multiple services to locate utilities, including both public and private utility locators. Let’s go over the differences. It’s often a requirement to call an 811 service before you dig and they will mark public utility lines out for free. These lines are often owned by a separate service, such as your cable provider or electric lines going into the meter from the street. However, there’s a catch to only relying on 811 for utility locations.

811 services often don’t help locate privately owned utilities. Privately owned utilities are utilities not owned by a public service. Some may assume that public lines are the only lines going through a property after calling 811, but it’s important to acknowledge all underground utilities or structures before any digging activity. In this case, a private utility locator can help locate and confirm the existence of both public and private utilities through additional investigations. A private locator can also help you understand what kinds of lines you’re dealing with, whether it’s water or gas.  Another way these strikes occur is with directional boring. Using a trenchless method to dig through the earth can cause accidental strikes that can damage utilities. Sometimes, utilities are installed through trenchless methods, creating unintentional cross bores in pipes that can be located through a video pipe inspection. It’s not just pipes either. You might think that it’s near impossible to intersect new utilities with existing wires or cables while doing this, but it does happen. Some strikes involve failing to maintain proper clearance after marking utilities, or even locator errors.

Utility strikes can cause all sorts of issues for both you and your property. Hitting a water line can lead to serious flooding or soil issues. Sometimes these can be small underground leaks that may lead to bigger issues over time if they go unnoticed. There’s also water main strikes, which are their own beast entirely. Hitting a sewer line can lead to contamination of the environment and potential health concerns if proper flow is disrupted. Hitting an electric or communications utility can lead to not only outages, but also electrocution in certain situations. Hitting a gas line can lead to gas leaks and potential explosions. These kinds of utility damages are gradually increasing, with 163,726 unique damages in 2022 compared to 153,886 unique damages in 2021. Utility strikes have the potential to create dangerous situations for both people and the environment. They can also raise costs and cause delays in construction activities. Factoring in this cost, getting a private survey done is estimated to save 91.2% in costs when factoring in any damages and delays.

Avoiding these kinds of strikes often involves utilizing all of your resources to avoid any potential utility conflicts. Notifying 811 to gather information about public utilities is an important first step and sometimes a legal requirement. Hiring a private locator to perform a ground penetrating radar scan helps you locate additional utility lines not covered by 811’s service. Utilizing vacuum excavation and proper potholing can help you find the exact vertical and horizontal location of utilities through softer digging techniques. Luckily, our team at Trinity Subsurface has a highly trained team of experienced locating and excavation technicians to help locate your utilities, providing deliverables so you can fully understand what’s underneath and avoid utility strikes. Visit our website to find out more about all of the services we offer to help you avoid any issues with your next project.

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