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Subsurface Utility: The #1 Complete Guide

If you are planning a building project, either residential or commercial, you want your teams to be safe and in control of the site. It’s crucial that during the planning stages, you uncover what is going on with the underground utilities on your prospective property. Hitting a utility during the building process can have devastating consequences, that’s why many construction companies use a Subsurface Utility Engineer and their tools to keep their projects safe.

Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) is a discipline of civil engineering. Sophisticated technology is used to penetrate the ground in search of existing buried utility lines. When a new construction project is started, it’s vital to plan out the utilities before breaking ground. The investigation into where utilities are located on the property helps to identify any potential problems or conflicts. This information is then used to mitigate design options and procedural outlines. 

SUE uses technology to help find buried utilities including owner records, vacuum excavation, and topographical surveying. Without the proper procedures, owners run the risk of accidentally hitting and potentially puncturing existing lines and putting projects behind schedule. 

Levels of Subsurface Utility Engineering

SUE uses a series of quality level (QL) tests to determine the level of confidence in the correct mapping and positioning of subsurface utilities. Once these tests have been completed, a CAD draft will be created that depicts the last-known location of any buried utilities. This CAD depiction will help the design team to determine if a utility relocation is necessary to the project. The Quality Levels of SUE are as follows:


  • The collection of existing records on the placement of utilities including site inspection and internet property records.


  • Surveying above-ground utility features like manhole drains, utility marker poles, and valve boxes. This data is then compared to the existing records of utility location.


  • The use of surface locating techniques helps to map the location of underground utilities. Two-dimensional mapping is also done at this QL.


  • Non-destructive digging is completed to determine evidence of utility placement. Precise measurements of horizontal and vertical placement are collected and recorded.

SUE Technologies

Over the years, there have been many advancements in Subsurface Utility Engineering. While ground surveying is still used as a valuable tool, most teams use innovative technologies including vacuum excavation, electro magnetic locators, ground-penetrating radar, metal detection, and acoustic sensors. 

Benefits of SUE

Contractors that make the investment of SUE for their projects enjoy many benefits. This proactive testing can help to eliminate long delays in your project. Locating the proper positioning of underground utilities before the start of your project can help you to eliminate building delays, change orders, and negative PR should there be a utility accident. 

In today’s world of construction, teams rely heavily on technology to aid the design process and keep projects moving without delay or risk to their team members. If you are starting a new building project, C-Below will be your local SUE experts to get the advice you need on your next build.