Underground Utilities

Published: October 4, 2018 | Last updated: July 5, 2023

What Does Underground Utilities Mean?

Underground utilities are any public service infrastructures installed beneath the ground surface. Underground utilities include electric cables, telecommunication and data cables, water and sewer pipelines, and gas and oil pipelines. These utility lines are often a lifeline of human society and help a community to function properly. They are usually installed beneath the ground for convenience, safety, and aesthetic reasons.

New utility lines are being installed underground by default, however some older utility lines are still above ground and need to be buried. This is especially true for overhead electric cables that can topple in areas prone to high winds such as during a hurricane or a tornado.

Water, gas, and oil pipelines installed on the ground surface are prone to theft and vandalism and hence are best buried underground.

Underground utility infrastructure is typically installed and maintained by relevant public utility companies. The utility companies responsible for their installation must typically seek approval from local government authorities before construction commences to ensure that the intended utility location is within the appropriate right-of-way.

The installation of underground utilities is usually done by conventional excavation methods, but now trenchless installation methods are also being used widely. Conventional excavation methods pose many risks to construction workers due to confined spaces, engulfment, electrocution, and unstable trenches. They also take up a large amount of space and cause significant surface disruption.

Trenchless methods on the other hand are less disruptive, and many governments and municipalities are turning to trenchless methods of underground utility installation. Horizontal directional drilling has quickly gained popularity due to its remote steering ability, reduced manual labor requirement, and minimal impact on the surrounding environment.

Underground utilities are also known as subsurface utilities.

Trenchlesspedia Explains Underground Utilities

Underground utilities are an important part of modern society and it is necessary to maintain them to prevent disruption to businesses and homes. As the population has increased in cities, the need for utility lines with more capacity has become a necessity.

Installing new utility lines along with existing utility is a major challenge especially in crowded cities.

Importance of Utility Detection

It is important to detect pipelines to prevent accidents that can cause permanent physical damage or even result in the death of workers involved. Hitting utility lines also means additional cost to the contractor in terms of repairing the damaged lines and incurring fines from local authorities. The accidental impact can cause the following:

· Hitting an electric line can electrocute the workers.

· Hitting a gas pipeline can result in fires and disruption of services.

· Hitting a sewer pipeline can cause environmental pollution.

· Hitting telecommunication cables can disrupt property damage businesses as internet and communication services get affected.

There are many tools available to detect utilities before beginning a new project. Some of these are ground penetrating radar (GPR), electromagnetic location, frequency locators, magnetometers, cable locators, acoustic pipe location, and vacuum or hydrovac excavation.

Installation using Trenchless Technology

Underground utility lines are still installed using conventional open-cut methods, however, the risk of hitting other utility lines and causing life-threatening accidents are high. Trenchless technology has the right solution for this problem with steerable and guided drilling methods that can safely navigate between underground infrastructures. However, before any method is utilized, it is necessary to locate the existing utility lines in the path of the new installation.

Limitation of Conventional Trenching

Conventional trenching requires the ground surface to be broken up resulting in additional costs of reinstating the surface to the original condition. The carbon footprint of conventional trenching is higher as debris needs to be removed and disposed of requiring multiple trips. Compared to trenchless methods there is greater noise and dust pollution.


Subsurface Utilities

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