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OT - Dumb question re metal detectors and buried wires.

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  • OT - Dumb question re metal detectors and buried wires.

    Are they capable of locating underground buried wires? I have quite a few outbuildings around the property and they all have power running to and from them. Some I'd like to keep, some I'd like to decommission. I'm thinking about buying a good metal detector to try and locate the wires, but I don't know what kind I'd need to buy, how good of one I'd need, or if there's a better way of doing things I don't know about.

  • #2
    It used to be called blue stakes here in AZ, I guess it is 811 now. Its free. https://call811.com/Start-Here/Homeowners

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    • #3
      Cat service detectors are basically metal detectors, sometimes you have to connect a pulser but live cables make them squeak.
      looks like a paddle about 2’ or 2’6” long
      ( it is a bit of a bang shoving a bucket into a 11kv, there’s a few good videos on utubes)

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      • #4
        Ya, we have locate service up here too, but seeing as how these are all previous owner "additions" with varying degrees of code adherence.....I'd like to keep this in house. From what I understand the locate is free from the lines to your service entrance, but you'd need to pay for any other lines. I could be wrong though. There's really only one service I'd like to not dig up and that's the feed to the barn. Pretty sure I know where it runs, but am still curious. The rest wouldn't really hurt my feelings it they got dinged. Most are unhooked now anyway.

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        • #5
          Some is teck90, some is sooj, some is romex pulled through black waterpipe (yep.....). Varying levels of depth most likely. Mostly would like to recover some for scrap, and to continue my efforts to clean up the place. I haven't done much with the backyard/outside in quite a few years.

          How deep do metal detectors go, and could they realistically be used for copper up to 16" deep?

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          • #6
            IIRC code herebouts is 18" deep. When I ran lines to my shop I was also putting in water, cat6, and gas and I used the same trench, with a required amount of separation. If something else was put in at the same time it as the electrical it could be deeper than 18". In your area frost depth may be more (thinking water lines, maybe). Never used a metal detector, but I'd make sure it would go at least as deep as you can imagine anything might be.
            "A machinist's (WHAP!) best friend (WHAP! WHAP!) is his hammer. (WHAP!)" - Fred Tanner, foreman, Lunenburg Foundry and Engineering machine shop, circa 1979

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            • #7
              In my experience, which isn't a lot, a recreational metal detector would probably have trouble detecting copper deeper than about 6". I looked it up and those that should know say 2 to 5". There may be a commercial unit that would pick to up deeper. I would check with an electrical contractor. They should know if there is something available.
              Larry - west coast of Canada

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              • #8
                I've used actual cable locators. Except for those outside my budget I used when working for the phone company I had mixed sucess at best. I may still have a couple on the shelf somewhere.
                *** I always wanted a welding stinger that looked like the north end of a south bound chicken. Often my welds look like somebody pointed the wrong end of a chicken at the joint and squeezed until something came out. Might as well look the part.

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                • #9
                  Success will depend on how closely, if at all they followed the electrical code for buried electrical cables.
                  Reading that you have rubber service cord buried makes me think your cables aren't very deep.
                  In the USA, many cable locating services are privately owned, YMMV.

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                  • #10
                    All the wire going to the chicken coups was sooj. Some buried shallow, some hung through the trees. All gone now, and I got some really nice extension cords from it . A line heading to a light in the back driveway is romex run through black waterpipe. It's still live, and I have no immediate plans of pulling it up. As far as I know that's the only janky one that's still live. The line heading to the barn is teck90, and actually done properly. BUT I know there are a few old lines heading to some other outbuildings around there that are not live anymore (disconnected at house), but I know they are there, and kinda know where they go. Its a few hundred feet of copper sitting down there, It might be worth the effort now to try and pull it up.

                    Back when we bought the place I was pretty motivated to renovate and rip out all the old stuff around the property. I remember looking into metal detectors back then and seem to recall they weren't good enough to locate wires and small stuff like that buried that deep, so I kinda left it at that and wrote that plan off. I got really busy over the last decade (kids, life, work...) and never really got around to doing much of anything with the property other than maintaining stuff.

                    This morning there was an ad on market place for a metal detector and in the ad they said they used it for locating some buried power lines and don't need it anymore. Which is kinda why I asked the question as it made me wonder if they've gotten better over the past 10 years. The ad is gone now, but It made me curious, and I figured this was a good place to ask. Quite a knowledge base here.

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                    • #11
                      I've heard you can search for electrical lines using a transistor radio. I've never done that, but it seems plausible. The idea was to run a noisy appliance like a corded drill at the end of the line. The radio is de-tuned and will pick up the static.
                      I seldom do anything within the scope of logical reason and calculated cost/benefit, etc- I'm following my passion-

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                      • #12
                        You need a cable locator. An underground wire should be buried deep enough to be beyond the range of most metal detectors. Also, stray metal throughout your yard will give the detector fits. Most "Call before you dig" people will do the job for free.

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                        • #13
                          Here in Alberta the free call before you dig service only locates lines owned by utility companies or oil companies. You’re on your own for anything you own, like wires between buildings.

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                          • #14
                            What you need is a cable locator as said above. I have located miles and miles of buried cables and located insulation faults on the same. The equipment varies in cost from expensive to outrageous. If you can find a telephone service person, they may be able to help. After hours for a donation or a case of beer.... The locators work in different ways. Some trace the AC power in the active wire. The best inject a signal into the wire either by a direct connection or by a clamp on coupling. The clamp on can be used on live wires. The tracker is a handheld unit or a unit with a probe. As you wave the unit over the wire it will either show a peek or a dip on a meter and the audio beep will either grow louder or quieter as the unit passes over the wire. You can determine depth by marking the location of the wire then angling the detector 45 degrees and moving sideways from the wire location. when the peek or null happens the distance between the two locations is the depth. Simple right triangle geometry. The units I have can locate within an inch side to side and depth within a few inches when held by hand. I have located cables buried over 5 feet deep some under concrete and over a mile long from the signal injector. A cable like Dan describes is a 10 minute job or less. It is like machining... right tools for the job and the tools are not cheep!! Some electricians have this equipment also. Ash around, you might get lucky.
                            Robin

                            Happily working on my second million Gave up on the first

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                            • #15
                              Yep a locator is what you need, a metal detector wont cut it.
                              You may be able to rent one if your near the big ****ty.
                              Cheers,
                              Jon

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