Being a service technician for an underground utility system is challenging. But if you love your work, having the appropriate devices and equipment in your arsenal should be your priority. The human eye cannot see anything below the earth’s surface. That is not a problem if you have the right tools.
Underground has a system of telephone cables, electrical power distribution cables, water lines, and sewage systems. These systems often require maintenance and repair or even new installations. So, how do you know the right spot to dig without damaging these underground utility systems?
The devices, tools, and equipment to include in your toolbox will depend on your department. But generally speaking, you should have all of them. For instance, you don’t want to dig straight into a live electrical power cable when installing water pipes.
Read on for a comprehensive list of utility underground equipment and devices you should consider adding to your toolbox if you don’t have them. We will also briefly discuss their uses.
1. Marking Flags
Marking flags are just what their name suggests. They are used by utility operators planning repair and maintenance in an area to indicate underground lines of utility lines. But you don’t have to be a utility operator to use them. Even your neighbor or swimming pool contractors and landscapers can use marking flags before any excavation exercise.
Marking flags are color-coded, and each color has a different meaning. The following is a list of flag colors and what they are used for marking:
- Red flags – electrical power lines and cables
- Pink flags – temporary survey marking
- Yellow flags – gaseous material, steam, petroleum, and other flammable materials
- Orange flags – landlines and other communications systems such as alarm lines or TV cables
- Purple flags – recycled water lines
- Green flags – drain and sewer lines
2. Flushable Sonde
A flushable sonde is a device for locating underground cast iron and non-metallic pipes. Utility operators also use them to pinpoint the location of septic tanks. As the name suggests, flushable sonde can be flashed down the drain.
The floating transmitter uses a 512 Hz frequency to communicate with the receiver. Buy it as a pack of three or more, depending on your needs. It flashes an LED when transmitting signals and lights red when the battery power is running low. You can choose from many brands and models in the market, but the most common ones include the following:
- Ridgid 19793 Floating Transmitter
- Prototek FTP-8
3. Sonde Transmitter (Attachable Remote Sonde)
This sonde transmitter type works the same as the flushable one, but how they are used makes the difference. Instead of flushing it down the drain, attach it to the water jets, cable equipment, or push rods. These transmitters are usually small and narrow-shaped to be used in tight spaces.
Consider the following attachable remote sonde transmitters:
- RIDGID 16728 Remote Transmitter (512 Hertz Sonde)
4. 512 Hz Sonde Locator
You need a sonde transmitter and locator to identify underground metallic pipes and septic tanks. That means you will buy them as a set. After flushing the sonde transmitter down the drain or using the attachable version, you can detect its position above the ground. The Sonde locator detects where the 512 Hz signal it transmits comes from.
Consider the following sonde locators:
- Schonstedt XT-512
5. Laser Measure (to Measure length)
Laser technology is one of the most accurate and convenient measurement methods used by utility operators. Any device using it sends a laser beam and waits for the reflected one. It then uses the time it took to receive the reflected beam to calculate the distance between two points. You can use it to calculate the length of underground tunnels, but some can also calculate area and volume.
Some of the laser measurement tools you can buy include the following:
- Leica Disto models
- Bosch Blaze Pro GLM165-40
- DTAPE DT50 Laser Distance Meter
6. Radon Gas Detector
Radon gas detectors are not for utility operators only but also for everyone. You can use these devices to detect and display the level of radon gas in a room. This gas is usually in high concentration in the basement and crawl spaces. Breathing in radon gas over a long-time damage calls in your lungs and may cause lung cancer.
Utility operators may need to test the amount of radon gas in underground structures before certification for occupation. Fortunately, many brands and models of these devices exist, and what you buy depends on your budget. Consider the following:
- Airthings Corentium Home Radon Detector 223
- Elifecity Long- and Short-Term Home Radon Monitor
- SafetySiren Pro4 Series
7. Magnetic Locator
Magnetic locators are most commonly used by surveyors, construction workers, and excavators to pinpoint the location of static objects buried underground. You can use them to locate metal pipes, water tanks, drums, septic tanks, etc. These devices can identify buried objects up to 17 feet deep, but that depends on the object size.
Choose any of the following magnetic locators:
- CST/berger 19-202SC MagnaTrak 202
- Schonstedt GA-92XTd Magnetic Locator
8. Utility Spray Paint Markings
Like marking flags, Utility Spray Paint Markings are also used to indicate places with utility lines. You must have come from your vacation to find strange markings in the neighborhood. There is no need to panic. There may be a planned excavation in the area, and underground utilities should be marked.
If you are a utility operator or working in the excavation industry, you should have the appropriate marking paint color. They are also color-coded, just like marking flags. Here are what different colors mean:
- Red – electric power lines, cables, conduit, and lighting cables
- Yellow – gas, oil, steam, petroleum, or gaseous materials
- Orange – communication, alarm and signal lines, cables, or conduits
- Blue – potable, water
- Green – sewers and drain lines
- Purple – reclaimed water, irrigation, and slurry lines
- Pink – temporary survey markings
- White – proposed excavation outline
9. Inductive Signal Clamp
Inductive signal clamps come in handy if you cannot directly connect a transmitter to a target connector. This tool is all you need to apply a signal to an underground cable or pipe no larger than 4 inches in diameter. As the name suggests, this device couples the transmitter signal into the conductor by induction. All you need to do is to clamp the cable or conductor to be tested using the jaws of an induction clamp.
The applied signal is traceable using a compatible receiver. Some inductive signal clamps have their receivers but may be sold separately. Here are the most recommended products:
- RIDGID 20973 SeekTech Inductive Signal Clamp
- Schonstedt 5” Inductive Signal Clamp
10. Ground Fault Locator
A ground fault locator is a must-have tool for every electrical technician. This device has only one purpose; locating faulty grounding where underground electrical cables have insulation breakage. This type of fault can cause instability and introduce noise in the system.
The ground fault locator has a transmitter and a receiver. The transmitter sends a signal through a conductor. A receiver is then used to detect the insulation breakdown along the conductor. Some can be used in energized and de-energized electrical conductors, but some are exclusive.
- GFL-1000 DC Ground Fault Detector & Locator
- Armada GFL3000 Ground Fault Locator
- Greenlee Pe2003-G Pulse-Ground Fault Locator
- GAO-GFL-101 Portable DC Ground Fault Detector
Check more options available to buy here.
11. Magnetic Sweeper for Gravel
Magnetic sweepers are equipment made of strong permanent magnets used for sweeping scrap metals and other magnetic materials. It can help you pick up nails, nuts, screws, and bolts around the house, job site, sports facilities, floors, or your driveway. Removing these potentially dangerous items from the ground makes your property safer.
Magnetic sweepers are ideal for utility operators and other professionals, but what are the best products to buy? The equipment comes in all sizes and shapes. However, their detailed review is beyond the scope of this article. We only have a few recommendations for you, which include the following:
- Rhino magnetic sweeper
- Eclipse Magnetics magnetic sweeper
12. Metal Detector
Metal detectors are devices that can locate metals buried under the ground or hidden behind walls. Utility operators use them for detecting underground metallic pipes and other metallic structures. Electricians can also use them to detect metallic piping through walls before installations. Some metal detectors are also customized for security personnel who use them for frisking people for any hidden weapons.
The depth of underground metal detection of these devices varies from brand to brand. The following are the most reliable recommendations:
13. Underground Wire Cable Locator
An underground wire locator is essential for telecommunication, network, and electrical maintenance technicians. You need to accurately know where an underground utility cable is located when you want to repair it. Also, excavators should identify these lines before they begin their activity.
Tracing an underground wire is also a daunting task. But with the right tool, you can love your work once again. Consider the following products:
14. Underground Utility Locator
Locating any utility line before you begin any excavation can help you prevent costly damages. That is where an underground utility locator comes in. This device is an all-in-one tool that transmits and receives signals from underground pipes or cables. It can use the information from the received signal to estimate the depth of the detected object. The advanced ones can help you identify the orientation and automatically detect different materials.
- DIGICAT 550i underground utility locator
- RIDGID 19238 NaviTrack Scout Locator
- Schonstedt U-LOCATE Pipe and Cable Locator
- Leica 6014157 DD130 Underground Locator
15. Wire Tracer
A wire tracer can help you to quickly and safely trace electrical wires, circuits, cables, and pipes hidden inside walls, or above the ceiling. There are different products in this category which makes it challenging to decide on what to buy. Usually, the budget is your limit. But you should read the review of the best wire tracers and a buying guide to make an informed decision.
Wire tracers are helpful if you have to trace a faulty line in an electrical circuit. Every electrical technician in the maintenance department should consider them as a basic need. Here are our best recommendations:
This list of underground utility equipment and devices may not be exhaustive. You can add what serves you in your field, but don’t miss the ones included. They are crucial for any utility work and ensure you have the best time doing what you love. These underground utility equipment and devices make your work easy and ensure safety.
Buy the best product for a better experience. Your work will never be challenging if you have the right tools. Also, remember to use every tool for the intended purpose and handle them with care.