What You Need to Know About Utility Location

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Call before you dig!”, or perhaps have seen it plastered on the side of a utility truck cruising around your neighborhood. But have you stopped to think about why you should call before you dig … and who are you supposed to call? Well, it depends.

Public Utility Locating 

811 is the national call-before-you-dig phone number. Before digging, public utility companies ask homeowners to call 811 or go to their state 811 center’s website to request that the approximate location of buried utilities be marked with paint or flags. Doing so helps to ensure that you don’t unintentionally dig into an underground utility line when working on your next home improvement or landscape project.

Calling 811 before digging on any piece of commercial or residential land, including your own private property, is a free service available to property owners and utility locators alike. A call to 811 will prompt a technician to be sent to the site to locate public utilities using electromagnetic equipment. Then, they mark any that run from the street to the service meter. This will help homeowners and professionals prevent damage to public water, sewage, power and natural gas lines. But ….

Calling 811 does not ensure that the area is clear and you’re free to proceed with the digging. One-call location crews only locate public utility lines.

Private Utility Locating 

You likely will need to make a second call to a private utility locator before starting your excavating project. These professionals will find and mark underground electrical lines, gas pipes, and more, on private, residential, commercial, and municipal land. Digging blind is risky because it can cause utilities to be cut off, severe injury or expensive repairs. 

So what is the difference between public and private utilities? Private utilities are the lines that run beyond the service meter. For example, electrical cables that go from the meter to a house or building would be considered private. Private utilities can also include electricity for exterior lighting, propane lines, septic pipes, sprinkler systems, power for a detached garage, and storm drains. For safety and liability reasons, it’s important to have these lines accurately and properly marked before starting to dig, even on your own property.

The Role of a Private Utility Locator 

A private utility locator does not rely on utility maps because they are often missing, outdated, inaccurate or incomplete. Instead, they perform a thorough investigation of the area using a range of specialized tools. These include electromagnetic equipment, ground penetrating radar (GPR) and electronic or radio frequency (RF) pipe and cable locating tools. In the end, a private locator is able to produce complete, high-quality utility maps of where current and abandoned lines run.

McSteen Now Offers Utility Locating Services 

Our utility locating services can locate electric, gas, communications, water, sewer, and storm lines using a variety of electromagnetic sensors and ground penetrating radar equipment that are able to safely penetrate the surface of the earth. The signals produced by the equipment locate the pipes and wires, allowing our team to create a map or diagram of the location of each utility present.

Depending on the scope of your project, it is often essential to know precise locations of utilities during the early planning stages. This will allow for proper placement of structures, foundations, post support, trees and other project items.


With 50+ years of experience in all 88 counties of Ohio, you probably know that McSteen can help with your land surveying needs. But we now offer Utility Locating Services, Construction Draw Inspections, and so much more. We are here to help! 

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