If you have ever installed an underground pipe or other utility, you likely had to work with tracer wire.

Tracer wire goes by several names, including locating or locator wire, and serves a specific purpose in the utility industry. The single conductor wire is used to locate other assets after they have been buried in the ground. Available products include copper, copper clad steel, and stainless steel, and can be insulated with several options.

Once a pipe, conduit, or other utility is installed, tracer wire is placed along the length of it and buried. This wire is searched for when the utility needs to be located (hence the name). Though most of the wire is buried underground, each dead end is connected to a grounded point. This connection creates a properly grounded tracer wire system that can be easily found by above-ground locating equipment.

To find underground wires, crews use a wire tracer – an above-ground device that emits a low-frequency signal to find the non-energized wire. Using a wire tracer eliminates the need to send electricity through a tracer wire for it to find underground assets. For many applications, tracer wire is often a low-cost insurance policy that prevents costly mistakes from occurring while performing necessary repairs or new installations.

Why does using tracer wire matter?

If crews don’t know where underground utilities are, they risk digging into an active line. While cutting through some utilities, like telecom, could cause an inconvenience for homeowners, buried gas or electric lines could cause severe harm to people in the area. Utilizing a tracer wire system saves time while trying to locate assets and could help with future technologies like utility mapping.

By using tracer wire to effectively find lines, crews can perform more accurate digs to reach pipelines for maintenance, repairs, or replacement while reducing the risk of accidents.

Commonly used in the utility industries, including for water, gas, and sewer pipes, and fiber optic cables, tracer wire can also be found in directional drilling applications, as well as irrigation systems and golf course sprinkler systems. Did you know Kris-Tech Wire started by selling tracer wire to golf course developers!

Tracer wire comes in several colors dictated by the American Public Works Association (APWA) to help workers know what utilities are under their feet. Different color jackets apply to unique APWA applications; blue tracer wire, for example, is specifically meant for potable water lines, while yellow is assigned to gas lines.

Check out our infographic and color code guide for more information about assigned APWA tracer wire installation colors.

Want more content? Read more about what types of tracer wire are the best to use in certain situations.