What is a Public Utility Locator?

A public utility locator is a professional who specializes in identifying the location of underground utilities owned by public utilities. These utilities may include gas, water, sewer, electrical, and telecommunications lines that are owned and maintained by local government entities or public service companies.

Public utility locators use a variety of tools and techniques to identify the location of these utilities, including electromagnetic utility locating equipment and Ground Penetrating Radar. They also consult utility maps and public records to get a better understanding of the location of the utilities in a given area.

The services of a public utility locator are often sought by construction companies, property developers, or homeowners who are planning to excavate or dig on a property. By identifying the location of public utilities in advance, they can avoid accidental damage, which could be costly and even dangerous.

It's worth noting that public utility locators are typically employed by the utility companies themselves or by local government entities, and their services are often provided free of charge to those who need them. The service they provide is not exactly free though, as it's paid for by the utility owner. Utility owners do this because it is in the best interest of public safety and in the financial interest of the utility owner to ensure that the utilities are located and protected from damage.

What is a Private Utility Locator?

A private utility locator is a professional who specializes in identifying the location of underground utilities that are not owned by a public utility. These may include privately-owned service lines that run between a property and a municipal utility or lines that belong to private persons or companies, such as irrigation, CCTV, chilled water, site lighting, and many others. In fact, the majority of buried utilities in existence are privately owned and are not marked by a public utility locator. Employing a private utility locator is the only way to have these private facilities marked and does cost the end user directly. However, it is a necessary step to protect yourself from costly and dangerous utility damages that calling a one-call service alone simply won't.

Private utility locators also use a variety of tools and techniques to identify the location of private utilities, including ground-penetrating radar, electromagnetic detection, and acoustic detection. Unlike their public utility counterparts, private locators rarely have reliable utility maps to assist them. Private utility locators must rely on their knowledge of underground infrastructure, utility locating equipment, utility locating theory, and have adequate field experience to be effective professionals.

The services of a private utility locator may be sought by government entities, construction companies, property developers, surveyors, engineers, or homeowners who are planning either excavation or design work of a property. By identifying the location of the private utilities in addition to the public utilities, a private utility locator can help to create a full picture or ALL infrastructure in the area greatly reducing the risk of a utility damage, service outage, or in the worst case the loss of life.

Are private utility locators "licensed contractors" like one might expect of an electrician, plumber, or other skilled trade?

The short answer is NO! Certification requirements for private utility locators vary depending on the country or region. However, in the United States, private utility locators can claim to be professional service providers simply by owning equipment and charging for service.

With that said, there are optional certifications that can be obtained by private locating firms. Some examples of organizations that offer certification programs to private utility locators are the CBSA, CGA, NUCA, and NULCA. In order to be certified by organizations such as these, a private locator must undergo training, pass exams, and demonstrate proficiency in the use of utility locating equipment and methods required to find and designate underground infrastructure.

Purchasing a hammer, saw, and a box of nails does not make you a master carpenter any more than purchasing locating equipment and paint does to make you an expert locator. Always remember this when choosing a Private Locating firm to partner with on your projects.