It’s often said, “You can’t hit what you can’t see.” However, if you’ve ever worked in construction, you know that statement is not always true.
Tracer wire, also called locating wire, is critical to underground utility projects because it helps crews find everything from PVC pipes to buried phone and internet cables. It is a low-cost solution to prevent expensive problems caused by digging into pipes, cables, or other buried assets.
To prevent mistakes, the American Public Works Association (APWA) assigns colors for different utilities, known as the APWA uniform color code. For example, blue tracer wire is used to identify and locate potable water lines and yellow is meant for gas lines. No matter wherever you are in the United States, the colors are the same, making it easy to immediately know which colors to follow to see what is buried where.
It might not seem like a big deal but knowing what color tracer wire is used for which utility means a lot. Color distinctions make it easier to identify what utilities are under your feet and help you prevent costly and dangerous mistakes.
The APWA’s color code states that orange telecommunication tracer wire is meant for “communication, alarm or signal lines, cables, or conduit,” but what does that mean?
Communication covers a lot of different mediums, including:
If these wires get buried underground, it’s usually done using an open-cut burial, making telecom and tracer wire installation easier. Open cuts burials are also less costly than other approaches and safer for the cables.
According to the APWA, “Deregulation of the telecommunications industry and the increasing uses for fiber-optic cable have all increased the demand for underground space.” With more cables, pipes, and lines getting buried, workers need a keen eye to avoid hitting rogue power lines, water mains, and fiber optic cables.
It also makes sense to use high-quality tracer wire when possible.
Tracer wire is more than a convenience for companies – it’s an important safety component that prevents people from being inconvenienced or getting hurt.
Like water mains and gas lines, damaging a telecom wire could have nasty consequences. For businesses, losing internet access means work comes to a screeching halt. For homeowners, it could mean no TV, no internet, and possibly no phones. Worse yet, if there is an emergency and the person only has access to a landline telephone, being unable to contact others may result in injuries or worse.
Are potential dangers lurking beneath your feet? Knowing where every power line, water main, and telephone cable are could be the difference between a safe digging project and an expensive, inconvenient repair job.
Finally, when in doubt, call 811 and have any buried lines clearly marked before starting any work.