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Which do I need? 811/DigAlert or a Private Locating Company?

Are you aware of the significant differences between using 811/DigAlert and hiring a Private Locator? There are some things you won’t get with 811 but you will certainly get with private utility locating companies. Here you will learn more about which of these services you need and why.

The construction industry keeps growing with an increasing number of buildings and utilities. As a result, people do a lot of underground exploration. Before underground exploration is done, there is always a need to have the proposed work area checked for buried utilities.

There are two ways to check for underground utilities. You could either use a public or a private locating company. The 811/DigAlert service represents a good example of a public locating company.

Most people do not understand why they need the public or private locator. That's because they might not be well-informed about the services they provide and how they differ. The standards can vary from place to place. There are a lot more invested in private utilities than in public utilities.

The following details the differences between 811/Digalert and a private locating company. Based on what you read, you should be able to make an informed decision.


How Does 811/DigAlert Work?

The Public location service, that is the 811/DigAlert service is the core of utility damage prevention. The service is the first step required from anyone before they excavate on any property. Since the service is free, most states have laws in place that require everyone wanting to dig to call 811, as well as all facility owners with buried lines to use the system as members.

When a call is placed to 811, a notification is sent to all facility owner members of the planned excavation and sets the clock in motion for all members to mark their facilities in the proposed work area or respond to the excavator as to the existence or non-existence of lines in the area. These include electric, gas, telephone, water, sewer, traffic lights, oil and other utility lines owned and managed by member utility owners and operators. They are ONLY responsible for marking lines they own or operate.

As a result, an 811 member locator will not locate or mark your private lines that run from the utility meter to your property, nor the lines that run between buildings or structures in your property. For instance, lines between buildings on commercial properties, or if you have a detached garage, barn or a private septic tank with buried electric, phone, cable, gas, water or pipes leading to them, the public utility locator will omit them. In such a scenario, think of the damage that could happen if you mistakenly hit one of those lines while digging. This is where private utility locating comes in.


How Does Private Utility Location Work?

No doubt, calling 811 DigAlert is a very useful step to start digging and groundwork. However, private utility location services will go the extra mile to give you the best services that you need. 

There are instances whereby private utilities lie unbeknownst beneath the ground in different locations in commercial and residential areas. Often, places like parking lots, hospitals, apartment complexes, schools, and even private backyards usually have these utilities. As a property owner, these utilities are within your care. However, this might differ from place to place.

Sadly, in many cases, most owners are not aware of the presence of these lines. While some know, they do not know the exact location of the utilities. To worsen issues, the utilities bear so much resemblance, and it might be hard to tell which is which except with the help of professionals.

While there may be maps or as-builts to show private utilities, most times they are not reliable. The maps are usually out of date or incomplete. Since these utilities are not within the scope of public locators, you must use a private locator. That way, you can be sure that your digging is safe.

The general misconception for most people is that most buried lines belong to public utilities and are much more common than private lines. They are almost similar when you consider how many of them you use. The following are some examples of private utilities that might be buried:


· Gas mains

· Septic systems

· Internet cable

· Sprinkler and other irrigation lines

· Fiber optics

· Exterior electrical lines

Lastly, unlike public locating services, hiring a private locating company will cost you some money.


Which Should You use?

The simple answer is to use both. Most states have laws in place requiring you to call 811 before you start digging. So, you might be bound by necessity to use the 811 services.

However, to get a clearer picture of what's underground and not to injure yourself in the process you need a private locator. More so, since the 811 DigAlert service is free, you can take advantage of the two services.

You need to understand that locating private utilities is a different ballgame entirely. It requires different skill sets and technologies that are beyond those used by public utilities locators. One of the biggest challenges that comes up in dealing with private utility systems has to do with the utility records.

  • Available: Lots of records might be missing

  • Accurate: Many records follow the original design instead of the actual utilities' installation.

  • Complete: They might not put all existing utilities or important information on record.

  • Aging: Some records might not state current systems, additions or modifications.


Furthermore, on the construction part, there are additional challenges such as undocumented construction and installation, multiple repairs, non-metallic lines without tracer wire, old and outdated systems.

What Effects do these challenges have on the Damage Prevention Process? For the private utility locator, there are various models in skillset and technologies. The 811 locator holds utility records, uses electromagnetic (EM) equipment primarily and locates the specific utilities that are identified. There are no extra utilities or abandoned utilities located.

Meanwhile, the private locator has a few or limited utility records, employs many pieces of locating equipment (Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), Acoustic, EM, etc.), and all locatable utilities, regardless of the utility type, are located. When you consider their lack of records, prints, and huge array of technology required, you will understand that private locators need advanced training to safely and effectively detect and locate these utilities. They ensure that every utility present gets located before you dig.



It is imperative for you to go beyond 811/DigAlert. You need the best locating services in detecting all utilities present by hiring a private utility company.

811/DigAlert does an amazing job and since it is free, make it your first step before digging. But don’t stop there, go beyond 811 and make that second call if you plan to keep your job costs down. Also, to ensure the safety of all your crew members and the public. There may be other unknown dangers in your work area, so hire a private locator.

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