How It’s Done: Ideas for Locating Different Underground Pipes

With more and more utility lines being buried in the ground locating them has become more difficult. This is where underground utility locators come into play. These devices are used to avoid damaging a utility line when digging and to uncover the cause of an issue. Underground utility locators work much like a radio, as they pick up different signals transmitted from each utility line. While some utility lines give off radio signals, others give off an electrical charge. There are some lines that do not give off a charge nor a radio signal. In this case, a transmitter is used to send signals through the lines which are then picked up by the underground utility locator.

Types of Locating Methods


The active locating method is usually used for gas and electrical lines. This is because the method itself makes use of a direct connection in order to find a specific utility line with the underground pipe locator equipment. There’s a specific frequency being sent from an above-ground facility that belongs to the underground utility. This frequency is then picked up by the underground pipe locator.


This method is used to locate unknown lines. The area in which the utility line is buried gets pinged by the receiver so the line can be located. This tells you where the utility line is but not what type it is. This is often found to be the most simple and reliable method despite not being the most accurate one.

Locate Plastic Pipe

Source: Youtube

How to Locate Plastic Pipe Underground?

  1.  In order for plastic pipes to be located, faucets, potential lines and other outlets need to be marked. A straight line should be marked between the outlets and the street of your residence. Make a map of your yard and mark potential lines for reference and when you locate the pipes you will mark them differently from the potential lines.
  2.  To start searching for plastic pipes, start by placing the probe rod into the ground where you’ve marked the potential lines. Make sure to start near a faucet or other water outlet as you definitely have a plastic pipe there. If you have water bubbling from a leak make sure to start near the leak with the line-of-sight being towards the house. If you have trouble finding the pipe, you should insert the probe rod a little bit to the left and then to the right until you find it. It will take some trial and error before you find a plastic pipe with a probe rod but it’s a simple and affordable way.
  3. You can use a shovel to dig along the potential line but make sure you do so by digging small holes. This is also quicker if you have a leak as you will find both the leak and pipe at the same time. Dig multiple holes along the potential line.
  4.  If all of the aforementioned tools fail, using underground pipe locator equipment will be your best bet. They aren’t as affordable but they are a sure fire way of locating pipes whilst being easy to use. Just turn it on and roll it across the ground where the potential line is.
Pipe locator

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How to Locate Gas Pipes Underground?

  1.  Locating gas pipes underground starts with the above-ground facility which in this case is the meter. A simple household will have the meter attached to the house and it will have the pipe running from the meter to the area above ground.
  2. These pipes usually feature materials such as cast iron, copper and galvanised steel but you will find some made of polyethylene. These materials come as a trace wire wrapped around the pipe in the same trench. If digging around the base of the incoming gas pipe doesn’t help you find it, use an underground pipe detector.
  3.  The detector needs to be clamped onto the incoming gas pipe in order for the transmitter to send the signal. This will help the device locate the trace wires, and in case the signal disappear before it gets to the man gas line, try different frequencies and induction points. This often happens when the wires are corroded or broken.
pipe underground locators

Source: Pinterest

How to Locate Water Pipes Underground?

  1. When you want to locate underground water pipes, it’s best that you use an underground pipe locator capable of detecting both metal and plastic pipes. This device will provide the most accurate readings as you don’t always know the type of material water pipes are going to be made of.
  2. Set up the device as specified by the manufacturer and depending on the locator, you will either need to use headphones or pay attention to the display on the device. Make sure to walk around your yard with the sensor of the locator parallel to the ground. The device will indicate either via sound or visually when you’ve come across a water pipe. Mark the position of the pipe according to your own preferences.
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