Out-of-sight, out-of-mind is the best way to describe the way most people view the world’s congested underground infrastructure — unless of course, you happen to be a utility contractor. For them, what’s buried underground is what keeps them up at night. They have the challenging job of installing new and rehabbing existing underground infrastructure without interrupting services or causing damage to the underground network of conduit, pipelines and wires.

If you’re reading this, you’re likely one of those people losing sleep about what’s buried below. Calling 811/One Call before you dig provides some assurance, but you should still make sure your crew verifies those locates, and that can be a time-consuming process.

Get yourself a locator

Equipping your crews with an accurate utility locator and making sure they know how to use it goes a long way in helping your company avoid striking any buried utilities.

Using just a utility locator, they will be able to verify that all of the metallic and conductive underground lines are correctly marked, but what about non-metallic/non-conductive utilities like water, sewer and drain lines? To identify the specific location of these buried utilities, you should be using utility probes or sondes in conjunction with your utility locator.

What’s a utility probe and how does it work

Probes or sondes are an accurate way to track the path of non-conductive utility lines made out of concrete, plastic or clay. Crews simply have to push the probe through an existing utility duct via manhole or hand-hole entry point. The utility locator can then follow the path of the radio-transmitting probe from above ground. It’s a quick and accurate way to pinpoint the location and depth of these utilities, which can help reduce the risk of striking or intersecting with another underground line while boring. In addition, many contractors, who are already using probes, report they’ve been able to significantly reduce the time it takes to prep for a project because they do not have to expose as many buried utilities as they would when using just a locator alone.

Seeing the benefits

Mike Carway with Nextier Infrastructure Solutions and his crews have been using utility probes for several years and said he couldn’t imagine what life would be like without them. “Too many contractors take unnecessary risks by not doing an efficient job of verifying locates,” he explained. “That lack of professionalism gives the whole industry a black eye. I think the reason some companies choose to cut corners is because verifying the location of utilities can be labor intensive and time-consuming. Using probes in conjunction with our Vermeer® Verifier G2 locator made by McLaughlin, we’ve been able to cut the amount of time we spend potholing in half on a lot of projects in urban areas. Probes save time and are easy to use.”

Nextier performs almost 90 percent of its work around downtown Atlanta, Georgia and with all of the concrete around, verifying underground utilities by potholing can be a significant challenge. Using multiple sizes of McLaughlin probes that vary in diameter and length, the Nextier team uses underground access points in manholes and hand-holes to gain access to utility ducts.

“It’s not uncommon to open a manhole and see 12 different duct openings,” Carway said. “We identify any vacant ones and run the probe through it, so we know exactly where those lines go, which helps reduce the number of utilities we need to expose before completing a bore.”

Carway has had several contractors ask him about probes recently and when he explains the process and efficiency of it, they usually go out and buy one. “A lot of the guys I’ve talked to about probes will call me back after using them and tell me they paid for themselves on the first job,” he said. “Any utility contractor not using probes either doesn’t know they exist or just wants to make their crew’s job harder than it has to be as far as I’m concerned.”

Getting started with utility probes

To learn more about using probes to help your team do a more efficient job of locating and verifying the location of underground infrastructure, contact your local Vermeer dealer, give the McLaughlin team a call at 866-277-5870 or drop them an email at info@mightymole.com.

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