Leica Utilifinder – Not Quite Magic, But Nearly

Aimed at: Independent trade professionals who need to locate buried services quickly in order to avoid them or dig them safely.

Pros: Easy to use, quick, accurate and versatile. Will repay its cost in safety and peace of mind.

Building and construction is a key issue today. As a nation we are trying hard to build enough houses in a time when skill shortages are acute. So anything that will help construction workers do their jobs more efficiently and safely in an increasingly crowded island is to be welcomed. So, step up the UTILI-FINDER+ from Leica Geosystems.

The UTILI-FINDER+ is aimed at small organizations involved in building and maintenance on domestic properties with a price tag to match and is essentially a utility avoidance system that is used to reassure workers of the location and track of cables, pipes, drains and other utilities.

There is a code for safe digging, but accidents still happen, and they can often have dangerous consequences in terms of injuries, delays and financial losses. In a world where brown field sites are increasingly going to be used for new building and where extensions to existing properties are more popular, then safe digging is the responsibility of the contractor. The UTILI-FINDER+ would be utilized on small building sites and around residential applications. Let’s face it, even putting up a new fence probably needs a check to see that the fence posts won’t foul any utilities.

So for me, the case is made, and all that needs to be done is to use the right piece of kit to achieve it.

The UTILI-FINDER+ comes as a comprehensive kit. Packed in the tough, padded water resistant wallet/carrier you not only get the UTILI-FINDER+, but the UTILI-GEN, UTILI-DRAIN, and also, a nice touch this, a couple of jumbo sticks of chalk for marking the ground. 

The instruction booklet is slim and to the point. Using mainly diagrams and short notes it aims to familiarize the user with the capabilities of the device without becoming too complicated.

Once out of the case, the UTILI-FINDER+ is pretty easy to get going. It is held by the big black handle (not too heavy for sustained use) and the yellow trigger under the handle is pulled to start it. An electronic signal tells you that you are ready to go in Auto mode and the LCD display confirms with a rising bar display and depth indicator icon. In this mode a scan over the area where you are digging will tell you that there are metallic pipes and cables underneath the surface. By adopting a method of slowly swinging the UTILI-FINDER+ in a zigzag pattern over the target area, it is possible to track and mark the course of these cables or whatever.

The message to the user is not complicated – the device tells you that something is buried, so dig carefully or avoid the area completely if you can.

However, most plumbing and gas pipes are now earthed to the electrical supply and by plugging the UTILI-GEN into a nearby socket an extra dimension of information can be gained. Once plugged in the UTILI-GEN shows two lights on top of it. A green light indicates that power cables can be traced, and a blue light shows that other utilities can be traced. Fortunately for my testing purposes both lights showed, so I was able to use both functions.

I knew I had a cable going to an outhouse since there was electric power to it, but I am in the process of drawing up plans for a more ambitious shed, as I need more space for my tools and related activities. I was able to trace the cable from the meter box, down the side of the house, diagonally across the patio, down some concrete steps and of course, the entrance of the cable to the outhouse wall was already apparent. To be honest, I was surprised at the course of the cable as it was not, to me, the most logical route. However, it just underlines the point that sometimes logic doesn’t come into play when routing cables and utilities, and also things at ground level don’t stay the same because people add and change things all the time. In this case the steps appear to have been added after the cable was laid, I just hope nothing ever goes wrong with the cable!!

It really does prove the point that the only safe way to dig is to check first, rather than relying on what you think might be a “logical” route. Again the thing to do is to use a zigzag pattern to follow the cable and mark it every time you get a beep and an indication on the bar display. It is actually not rocket science – and you soon get used to focusing your effort and using the device for most accurate results. The more you use it, the better you will get at interpreting the data it gives you. Training in using the UTILIFINDER isn’t essential but in my view, if you could have a simple demo from the retailer or hire company, then it would give you more confidence that you are working accurately.

To add to the info you get, by pressing the “F” button on the left of the display you can select 33kHz mode. In this mode pressing and releasing the “i” button allows the device to give you an indication of how deep the utility is buried. I was surprised to find a reading of over one metre on my cable – again I hope I never have to dig it out.

The UTILI-DRAIN is another clever idea that extends the use of the UTILI-FINDER+. This is a battery-powered sonde shaped like a little bomb that is introduced into the drain system by attaching it to plumbers’ drain rods. It is used mainly to trace drains and find blockages so that they can be dug out and cleared. By selecting 8 kHz on the device the depth of the drain can be read too. The instructions recommend that the sonde is introduced to the drain, its position marked, then moved another metre, then marked again and so on. It works well, but my experience of it was limited by the fact that I had access to only about four metres of drain rods. Again, careful use and a comprehensive covering of the ground give the best results.

There is no doubt in my mind that this is a valuable tool for plumbers, builders, electricians and fencing contractors, to name but a few. With a retail price of £599 I can already hear the sharp intakes of breath in some quarters. But add up the cost of delays, accidents and injuries that could be avoided by the skilled use of a UTILI-FINDER+ and suddenly it doesn’t seem that silly.  

For more information, please visit www.cabledetection.co.uk

Cable Detection Leica Geosystems Utilitiy Avoidance Peter Brett Review
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