Advantages of magnetic markers and locators


Visit any project site today and chances are you’ll find utility engineers using electromagnetic locators to find buried utilities before breaking ground. For years, these tools have been the mainstay of the utility industry––a trend that will continue for years to come.


In short, these locators work by tracing electric currents that pass through lines beneath the surface. But aside from electric utilities, which constantly carry current, just about every other asset requires the help of a transmitter to introduce a current that operators can detect. Lines made of conductive metal can be connected to these transmitters directly, but non-conductive materials like HDPE and PVC need functioning tracer wire to be located at all.


An effective, yet slow and risky process


Even when everything works as it should, electromagnetic utility location takes time––a resource that’s become increasingly important to budget as wisely as possible on-site.


In an effort to save time and achieve more consistent results regardless of what’s underground, magnetic locators have recently seen a resurgence among utility companies, municipalities and location subcontractors––especially when combined with the advanced magnetic markers of today.


Why are magnetic markers and locators gaining traction in the utility industry? 

In short, magnetic utility locating has become fast. So fast in fact, that many operators can simply turn on a handheld locator and go to work.

No setting up transmitters and no risk of broken lines that can delay project schedules and eat through tight budgets when operators are forced to estimate approximate locations and hope for the best.


While magnetic locators certainly won’t replace electromagnetic tools anytime soon, this alternative presents a reliable, cost-effective alternative especially when non-metallic lines and old, corroded tracer wire systems threaten your ability to accurately locate a hazard underground.


Let’s explore the four biggest reasons combining magnetic locators and magnetic markers has proved itself effective in a variety of underground utility applications.


1. Easy location


When searching for ferrous materials buried beneath the surface, magnetic locators are far and away the better choice. When used in conjunction with buried magnetic markers, they become even more effective.


While steel and other metals generate a signal locators can detect, magnetic signals are extremely precise and have a far longer range of effectiveness, making it possible to protect markers from disturbances that can occur at shallower depths.


In particular, the Schonstedt GA-72Cd magnetic locator was able to clearly read one of Berntsen’s DEEP-1 magnetic markers even when buried six feet deep.


Want to read the full results of the depth study? Click here to grab our whitepaper.


2. Better insight


Compared to electromagnetic locators, magnets typically generate a stronger, more focused signal at the surface. At the hands of a skilled operator, this makes it possible to estimate not only depth, but horizontal location as well. 

This stronger signal also makes it easier for locators to find markers even when they’re obscured by other metallic objects underground. Even when excavated, magnetic markers can easily be identified and verified for accuracy when more ambiguous markers like pipe or rebar markers could be confused for something else entirely.


3. A reliable way to locate non-ferrous utility lines


Since non-ferrous lines like PVC can’t be detected on their own, magnetic markers give operators a more reliable way to find these utilities using magnetic markers.


Unlike relatively fragile tracer wire which requires tedious installation and can break at line joints, magnetic markers resist corrosion, and have a virtually unlimited lifespan.


4. Easy deployment


Unlike installing an entire track of tracer wire, magnetic marker installation can be done while completing scheduled maintenance work. As Dan Beerman, a Utility Locator in Marquette, Michigan explained:


“Our crews carry the markers and a roll of duct tape and whenever a new cleanout is installed, or we dig up an old one, we tape a marker to it.” Beerman says he doesn’t have to worry about signal strength and typically buried markers as deep as 18 inches.


What makes a great magnetic marker?


Like most products, not all markers are created equal. If you’re in search of better utility locating equipment, it’s worth it to make sure you’re investing in products that will last over time. Here are a few things to look for:


1.     Clearly-marked magnetic orientation

2.     Color coding

3.     Corrosion resistance

4.     High strength

5.     Easy to set


Here at Berntsen, our DEEP-1 Magnetic Markers are designed and built based on our knowledge of what works best for utility operators in the field. To learn more about the results our magnetic markers achieved following rigorous testing with the Schonstedt GA-72 CD Magnetic Locator, click here to read our whitepaper: Faster, Stronger, More Precise: An Overview of Magnetic Markers and Magnetic Location in Utility Marking.


Click here to learn more about our DEEP-1 Magnetic Markers or request a catalog today.