Best Underground Wire, Cable, Pipe & Utility locator in 2019

Best Underground Wire, Cable, Pipe & Utility locator in 2019

Underground utility locating devices are high-end devices that are owned and operated only by a professional operator.

But this list of best underground wire, cable, pipe & utility locators comprises devices that can be operated by homeowners — and also suited for operators getting started at their trade.

If you have some sort of excavation work to commence or have faulty wires and sprinkler valves that need to be fixed, hiring a professional would cost you a hefty sum.

So, it’s best to get yourself one. But finding the right locator at the right price is a difficult task.

Don’t worry! We put in all those hours of work!

And here is a complete guide to make your locator purchase a breeze!

 

Best underground Wire, Cable, Pipe & Utility locator


1. Kolsol Underground Wire Locator Tester F02 – best budget locator

The Kolsol is the best budget underground wire locator we have on this list. The design and functionality of the device make it easy to use for home users. The instruction manual is detailed and very helpful to get started.

The device is not versatile enough to help you detect everything underneath the ground. But it’s versatile enough to find different types of wires like metal wires, pet fence wires and also electric fences.

Keep in mind that the locator is not suitable to use on live wires. However, it can still support live wires up to 24 V. It’s best suited for dead wires with single-strand and double-strand.

It’s perfect for small cable locating projects. It has a depth range of 3 feet and a wide range of 1000 feet. Anything more than that will need you to buy something more powerful and expensive.

The overall package contains an emitter, receiver, earphone, manual and the kit bag for storing them all.

The receiver works in just audio mode. You can’t expect a visual function at such a low price. But that’s more than enough to find your utility in 30-40 minutes or less, provided you know what you are doing.

Pros

  • Super cheap considering how expensive cable locators are.
  • Lightweight and compact design
  • Can detect various types of cables
  • Easy to use and learn

Cons

  • Live wires over 24 V can damage the unit
  • Not suitable for multistrand wires
  • Low depth coverage

Final verdict

You cannot beat the price. It’s so appealing. But before you buy it, you need to know the limitations of this device. For professional operators, you need a better unit than this. If you are just a homeowner and need to find a faulty cable, this is just perfect. It will save you thousands of dollars which you could have spent on a professional service.


2. Greenlee 501 Tracker II best underground locator with depth estimation

The Greenlee 501 Tracker II is the best underground wire and metal locator in this list. It can give you an edge over other low budget options, but it has its own limitations that you need to know before purchase.

The device can locate both high voltage live and dead wires. So, that’s a relief. It can also detect invisible fences and all sorts of metal pipes if you know how to use it properly. Here’s the link to the instruction manual if you want to read before purchase.

The transmitter frequency is 447.5 kHz, which is powerful enough. But this is a single frequency transmission. So, it won’t work if your cable or pipe is very deep underneath the ground.

The depth range is 7 feet maximum, and a wide range is 4000 feet. But it really becomes ineffective when you are targeting something at 3ft and above. The best part is this device allows you get an estimation of the depth of your target utility. If you need more accurate estimation in inches and feet, look for a device above $1000.

An important of the design of this device is that the receiver will provide both audio and visual output. You can only receive the audio through the speaker, and no headphone jacks are available.

If all this is not enough for you, Greenlee offers the best signal output because it has adjustable transmitter output and receiver sensitivity. On top of that, you also get 3 types of connections- direct connection, inductive antenna, and inductive coupler. 

Pros

  • Audio and visual receiver
  • Depth estimation feature
  • Suitable for locating both live and dead wires
  • Connect through 3 methods of connection
  • Good wide range coverage
  • Adjustable receiver sensitivity and transmitter output

Cons

  • Not weather resistant and low-quality build
  • Ineffective at depths close to 7 ft
  • No headphone jacks available

Final verdict

Considering the price which goes above $500 and the features, the unit is still pretty much affordable for home users. And if you are looking to get into the underground locator profession, this device can be a starting point. The accuracy of the device in detecting cables and metal pipes is unbeatable at this price.


3. Noyafa NF-816-C Underground Cable Locator

The Noyafa Nf 816 C is the cheapest underground pipe and cable locator. At less than $40, it works pretty well.

It’s easy to ignore devices at such a low price. Though it has its own limitations; it’s the best purchase for typical home users.

The device lets you detect utilities up to 2 ft deep and 1000 ft wide. However, don’t blindly trust these specifications. You can expect an effective detection below 1 ft deep and around 100ft wide. This is typical in locators at this price range.

For the type of wires, you can find just about any type of wires and metal pipes with this device. But it won’t work for multi-core and bundles wires. Some users were successful in detecting sprinkler valves with this, but it will take some level of expertise to do that. So, if you are new at this and want to buy for detecting sprinkler valves, find something more powerful. 

Before using this locator, make sure the electrical connection is dead because it’s not manufactured to work on live wires. If you do so, the device might get damaged.

The device gives you audio output only, and you can use the headphone that comes with the package.

Pros

  • Highly cost-effective
  • Suitable for wires and metal pipes
  • Easy to use and learn

Cons

  • Not suitable to use on live wires
  • Ineffective at a depth close to the limit

Final verdict

If you think the cable or pipes are just under 2ft beneath the ground, this device will work great, and you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on high-end devices. But for medium to large locating projects, you should look for a better one. 


4. Mastech Wire a Tracker Ms6818 Underground locator with best digital display

The Mastech Msc6818 is a durable and effective underground cable and pipe locator in the lower mid-range.

One of the best things about this device is it offers adjustable sensitivity at three different levels. This helps to detect the signal accurately. You can either do it manually or automatically.

The device can work both on AC and DC voltages. But make sure to turn off the cable connections before use because it’s not intended for live cables.

It has an LCD display that provides data on transmission codes, the status of main voltage, present transmitting power and other data for accurate detection.

You can detect all sorts of single-stranded wires up to 2.5 meters and 2000 meters wide. But keep in mind that near the limit, the device might not be very effective.

Some users were able to detect gas pipes and sprinkler valves with it. But for that, you will have to be efficient in using the gadget.

Pros

  • Mute mode available for both transmitter and receiver
  • Works on AC and DC voltages
  • Clear and data-oriented LCD screen
  • 3 levels of adjustable receiver sensitivity

Cons

  • Not enough power to detect very deep utilities

Final verdict

The Mastech locator is perfect for home use, and it’s much more sturdy and reliable than those below $50. It’s almost a semi-professional unit that is suitable for operators who are getting started. If finding cables and metal pipes is your main focus, this unit will not disappoint you. 


5. Armada Pro300 Residential Wire Locator Best for sprinkler valve finding

If you wanted to locate underground utilities, this device will give you performance as close to a professional device would.

It’s the best underground sprinkler valve locator by all means. It won’t take more than 30 minutes for you to find sprinkler valves even if you are a newbie. The detachable antenna makes it even easier with a loud noise coming from the in-built speaker.

You can use it to detect TV cables and phone lines. The depth coverage is up to 4 ft, and a wide range is 1000 ft. It’s more than enough to work on sprinkler valves.

The unit is lightweight and very compact. But the best part is you will get a durable carrying case with the unit. The case is very hard and will protect your device in unfavorable conditions and locations.

The Pro300 has a pro700 successor that works even better. But that’s too expensive for homeowners to afford and totally unnecessary for simple valve and cable finding projects.

Pros

  • Perfect for finding valves quickly
  • Easy to use and get started
  • Detachable antenna for better results
  • Highly durable carrying case

Cons

  • Not much effective near the depth limit

Final verdict

This is the best underground wire, cable, pipe & utility locator most suited for finding faulty sprinkler valves. If you are a sprinkler owner, it’s a must to have it at home. If you outsource the job, you will be spending more than a couple of hundred dollars every time. But this is a one time purchase that will serve you for years.


What is an underground utility locator?

Underground utility locators are devices that use a magnetic field to determine the position of any pipe, cable or metal underneath the ground.

These devices become crucial when there is an excavation work scheduled to happen on a location.

Utility locator devices are not for amateur use and require trained and educated professionals to operate them.


How utility and cable locators work?

Cable locators work on the simple principle of tracing electromagnetic field from a source. The electromagnetic field is generated when AC current moves through a cable.

There are two ways an underground locator work, and these are explained in details here:

  1. Passive location

In the case of passive location, an electromagnetic field might be already present in the location you are targeting. This might happen because the area has live cables or there are radio signals available.

But if there are no lie cables or surrounding radio signals, it will become hard to detect your target utility.

  1. Active location

In the case of active location, an external signal is transmitted to the target area, so that it gets induced to the target pipe or cable. The locator can receive those signals and provide your real-time data on the position or depth of those utilities.

This process makes the utility location job far more accurate. 


Utility locating technologies

When buying an underground locator, it’s best to know which type of technology your device offer. But if you see your device is capable of finding a particular utility, it will always have the required technology to find it out.

Here are few of the technologies most commonly found in underground locators:

  • Ground-penetrating radar (GPR): The GPR is a wave-based technology. It sends an electromagnetic impulse through the ground, and the reflected waves will provide an image of the surface in the form of peaks and hyperbolas. An experienced operator will be able to analyze those images and find what’s underneath.

 

  • Radio frequency: Radio frequency is the most common technology in underground pipe and cable locators. It transmits radio signals and receives them back. The operator will understand the nature of the signals and find the utilities.

 

  • Electromagnetic waves: Electromagnetic waves can be used to detect the position of a cable or pipe. These also provide images in graph formats. Some devices use all of these technologies together to provide more accurate findings. 

 

  • Acoustic emission: Acoustic emission can help to detect nonmetallic pipes that are hard to detect with other technologies. A form of elastic must have to be propagated into the ground, and that can provide the position and other essential data. 


Underground cable, pipe and utility locator buying guide

  1. Multiple frequencies and multiple power levels

The first things to take into account while buying an underground cable locator are frequency and power level. It’s best to buy a locator that supports multiple frequencies and multiple power levels. 

You don’t want to buy a locator with a single frequency and see that you fall short in range. The devices cost a lot and choose something that can serve you for years.

For an electric utility, get the locator that has a volt ohm meter. This will help you find faults faster. 

 

  1. Depth estimation capability 

Some underground locators have a depth estimation feature. This is a very handy feature that will give you an estimation of how deep your cable or pipe is underneath the ground.

Observe that we used the term ‘estimation’ here. It’s because you can’t get an absolute accurate depth calculation because signals get distorted while receiving. But still, the feature does a decent job.

 

  1. Built-in GPS receiver

A built-in GPS system with an underground locator is not luxury. In this field, anything that can save you time is worth investing in.

The GPS will track the position of the locator and automatically add the data. So, it will tell you exactly the places where prior detections were made. This will save you from tracing the places you have already worked on.

Moreover, if you are a contractor and wanted to see how well your operator performs, the GPS data will let you know.

 

  1. Overload protection

Although overload protection is not a mandatory feature, this will add more versatility to the device.

In some locations, there might be too many signals and will be hard to gain a precise reading.

But the overload protection feature solves this issue. So, if you think you will be working in such locations, make this feature a top priority. 

 

  1. Search alert

A search alert or a strike alert function informs the operator when the operator finds something underneath. So, this will provide you with more comfort using the device if you happen to miss any readings. 

In some locations, there might be too many signals and will be hard to gain a precise reading.

But the overload protection feature solves this issue. So, if you think you will be working in such locations, make this feature a top priority. 

 

  1. Larger Digital screen

Digital LCD screens are common in underground pipe and cable locators. But that’s not enough.

Look for larger and clearer screens. Larger screens will help you to get a better reading and decrease the chance of any errors.

A misreading can really push you behind and even cost you a hefty sum.

 

  1. Upgradable equipment

Underground locators also have several accessories that you can buy later. 

But before purchasing one, you should know if your preferred brand has those accessories, so you can buy them when needed.

Some of the accessories that you might need are-

  • Coupler clamps in various sizes
  • Transmitter clamps
  • Current direction receiver
  • Sondes
  • Stethoscope
  1. Null antenna

Having a null antenna can also save you time. This antenna will let you know if there is an issue with the locate like wrong locate position, or the locate you found is not what you are looking for.

In more technical terms, we can say that the null antenna shows you whether you have a clean magnetic field or a distorted field. 

 

  1. Current measurement

The current measurement feature gives you more accuracy on your operation. This will let you differentiate between a ghost signal and your target signal. More accuracy in your work means the excavation work will be safe.

 

  1. Durability

Durability is a top priority in all types of outdoor electronic devices. In the case of underground utility locators, durability is more crucial.

The device might get in and out of the vehicle on a daily basis, especially if you are a contractor or working with one. It might even fall from your hand. And one broken locator will cost you thousands of dollars.

Always check the build quality and warranty before purchase. 

 

  1. Weather resistance

Rain can be a problematic issue when locating pipes and cable on open locations. So, you might want to consider a model that is waterproof or at least water-resistant in some forms. 

 

  1. Price consideration

Let’s get real. 

Underground locators are not cheap! The single-frequency devices will cost around $1000-$2500. But, they have limited capabilities.

If you want a device that has multiple frequencies, digital screen, and depth estimation features, you will need to spend over $2500.

Buying cheap underground locators will cost you more in the long run. So, avoid that. 

References

https://trenchlesstechnology.com/understanding-locators-101/

https://utilitymagazine.com.au/are-you-purchasing-the-right-pipe-cable-locator/

https://www.locatorguys.com/top-ten-tips

https://blog.hexagongeosystems.com/how-cable-locators-work-principles-of-buried-utility-detection/

 

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