Using Vacuum Excavation to Verify Underground Utility Location

March 31, 2015

In Part One of the continuing series, author Carol Brzozowski explains the vital role that utility locators play prior to deploying vacuum excavation equipment on the job site. Throughout this series, Brzozowski will showcase current technologies that ensure safe and accurate job-site excavation as well as site-specific applications where specific utility locators hold an advantage above others.

Hitting the Hidden Mark By Carol Brzozowski

“The combination of the vacuum and utility locator help get that precise target”

Jeff Wage, vice president of McLaughlin Group Inc., notes a trend in which contractors are using utility locators to verify information.

“What we’re finding is, when the contractors get on job sites, they’re wanting to expose the utility and make sure they verify depth physically, put their eyes on it and verify for the owner, the engineering firm, or the inspector that’s out there,” he says.

As the vacuum excavation [system] is being deployed on the job site, “one-call contractors do a great job of getting paint on the ground and giving you a good idea of where that utility is,” he adds.

“I can cite a number of times I’ve been on a job site where the contractor has had a utility locator they decided not to take out of a truck and go out and literally dig and hydro-excavate for 45 minutes and find that they’re off of it by a foot, foot-and-a-half, and they had dug under it,” he says.

“At that point, 45 minutes later, they get the locator, clip onto it in about five minutes, and realize they could have saved themselves a lot of time and money if they had just taken that step. Once people see that, we find they go more to that versus digging and wasting time.”

To locate utilities, one of the company’s most used pieces of equipment by contractors is the McLaughlin Verifier G2, a standard utility locator. Designed for rugged job-site conditions, PC boards and antennas are mounted in rubber isolators. Smart technology simplifies the operation of the transmitter and location of the utility with the receiver and is coupled with improved noise reduction. A multiple-frequency transmitter helps the operator locate all types of utilities, and a strong midrange frequency inductive locating ability is designed to aid in quick verification of utilities for excavation.

“The utility locator uses both direct connect and inductive, and also we do a uni-clamp for getting into high power, so there are three methods for locating,” says Wage.

The use of vacuum excavation technology eliminates the risk of damage using manual labor with a shovel, a pick, or a mechanical excavation technique, he points out.

“Vacuum excavation is more surgical, it is less intrusive and generates less risk of hitting or damaging a utility because you’re using water and air pressure versus a mechanical device to hit it,” he says. “The key is knowing exactly where the utility is and getting a good depth on it so as you are digging into it, you’ve verified that depth with the utility locator.”

As contractors get into the depth range using a vacuum excavator, they begin to take more precaution and safety measures, even if they’re using a hydro-excavator or air excavation technique, he adds.

Author Bio: Carol Brzozowski