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The Top Causes of Underground Utility Damage

The Top Causes of Underground Utility Damage

It’s no secret that underground utilities play a vital role in our everyday lives. From powering our homes and businesses to keeping us connected, these utilities are essential. Unfortunately, they can also be quite vulnerable to damage, especially during construction and drilling activities.

In fact, underground utility damage costs the US economy about $50 to $100 billion every year. That’s right, simple mistakes during excavation or cut-and-fill exercises cost us tens of billions of dollars.

If you’re in the mining or construction industry, it’s your responsibility to ensure your mining or construction activity doesn’t interfere with subsurface utility infrastructure. The only sure-fire way to do that is by first understanding the root causes of subsurface utility damage in the country.

Read on as we take a deep dive into the top causes of underground utility damage and how you can avoid them.

Failure to Comply With Industry Regulations

There are many underground utility damage cases that could have been prevented had the excavator or construction firm followed industry regulations. Industry regulation is in place to protect underground utilities from damage during construction activity.

In most cases, these regulations require a professional subsurface utility locator to be on site before any excavation begins. The utility locator will use special equipment to mark the underground utilities so the excavator knows where they are.

Unfortunately, not all excavators or construction firms follow these regulations. In some cases, they may try to save money by not hiring a professional subsurface utility locator. Other times, they simply don’t understand the regulations.

Regardless of the reason, failure to comply almost always leads to disaster.

Mechanical Wear and Tear

Underground utilities are subject to mechanical wear and tear, like any other man-made structure. Over time, these underground utilities will start to degrade and break down.

This degradation can be caused by a number of factors, such as the following:

  • Corrosion
  • Physical damage
  • Ground movement
  • Animals
  • Tree roots
  • Adverse weather conditions

All of these factors can put stress on underground utilities, causing them to break or leak. In some cases, this damage may not be immediately apparent. It could take months or even years for the underground utility to completely fail.

Locator Issues

As mentioned earlier, underground utilities must be properly marked by a professional underground utility locator before any excavation can take place. This prevents damage to the underground utilities during construction activity.

Unfortunately, sometimes the utility locator may make a mistake or use a defective locator. This can obviously lead to subsurface utility damage during construction activity. In some cases, the locator may be oblivious to the mistake they made.

To prevent this from happening, it’s important to double-check the work of the underground utility locator before any excavation begins. That way, you can be sure that the underground utilities are properly marked and located.

Also, when in the market for locators, ensure you get top-notch locators with pinpoint accuracy. You might want to buy sonde locators for the best results.

Severe Corrosion

Corrosion occurs when the underground utility material reacts with another material it comes into contact with. This leads to a considerable change in the utility material that compromises its structural integrity.

The extent of the corrosion largely depends on the reactivity of the corroding medium. It also depends on the quality of the material used to construct the underground utility. In some cases, catalysts like specific environmental conditions may accelerate the corrosion process.

Some of the most common subsurface utility materials that are susceptible to corrosion are:

  • Iron
  • Steel
  • Copper
  • Lead

If an underground utility is made of one of these materials, it’s important to regularly inspect it for signs of corrosion. If left unchecked, severe corrosion can lead to a complete failure of the underground utility.

Flow Obstacles (Blockages)

Underground utilities are designed to allow a certain amount of flow. This could be water flow in a sewer pipe or gas flow in a natural gas line. However, over time, these underground utilities can become blocked or obstructed.

Some common causes of blockages in utilities include the following:

  • Foreign objects
  • Sediment buildup
  • Calcification
  • Freezing

Blockages can render underground utilities non-functional unless local authorities take prompt action. In some cases, this can lead to a complete failure of the underground utility.

Unexpected Positional Deviation (UPD)

Unexpected positional deviation, or UPD, occurs when an underground infrastructure deviates from its original position. This deviation can occur in all planes, including the:

  • Vertical plane
  • Horizontal plane
  • Longitudinal plane

Regardless of the direction, no deviation from the nominal position is okay. Severe deviation leads to large-scale subterranean utility damage.

There are many reasons for UPD, but the major ones are as follows:

  • Poor foundation
  • Soil erosion
  • Collapse of underground voids
  • Increased traffic loads

All of these reasons can lead to a deviation from the underground utility’s original position. If left unchecked, this deviation can cause severe subsurface utility damage. To prevent UPD, it’s important to regularly inspect underground utilities for signs of deviation.

Cracks and Breaks

Because contractors build underground utilities far below the ground, it’s hard for them to check for cracks. These small cracks can develop into large cracks and eventually breakage.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of cracks because they vary from material to material. However, there are a few critical factors to keep in mind when determining the cause of a crack. Some of these factors include:

  • The age of the subsurface utility
  • The environment in which it is placed
  • The quality of the materials used to construct it

If an underground utility cracks, it’s important to take prompt action. Cracks can quickly lead to breaks, which can cause severe damage to underground utilities.

Causes of Underground Utility Damage Simplified

Knowing the causes of subsurface utility damage is a huge step toward averting an imminent disaster. Underground utilities are the lifeblood of our cities and economies. If your mandate is to build our underground infrastructure, you’d better bring your best to the table.

A great first step is getting the right underground locators for your drilling or excavation projects. The country has no more room for underground utility damage or disasters.

We hope you found this article helpful. For more informative content, keep following our blog.

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