How Much Does It Cost to Rent or Buy Utility Locating Equipment?

And the Hidden Cost of Both


Regardless of make or model, most ground penetrating radar equipment performs underground utility locating at a similar level of accuracy.

Accurately locating public and private underground utilities is critical to ensuring safe excavation practices.

Failure to do so can result in costly downtime and budget overruns caused by a utility strike. To avoid these setbacks, it's wise to consider the requirements necessary for a successful, strike-free locate. This includes the right equipment, such as ground-penetrating radar and electromagnetic pipe locators.

It's up to you to decide if you should invest in this equipment or hire a professional to perform the locates.

Average Cost of a Utility Strike = $56,000 + 8-12 Weeks of Down Time*

* 2021 Finch Report

I Called 811. Isn’t That Enough?

811 One Call services are required by law state-by-state throughout the U.S. and are responsible for locating all public utilities on any excavation site regardless of its scope.

However, it's important to note that 60% of all utility lines are private, which 811 cannot locate. Furthermore, One Call only identifies the location of utilities, not their depths. Therefore, it's crucial to know the depth of your electric and telecom lines, or your water, sewer, and gas pipes before drilling. Failure to do so could result in a major emergency which may cause serious injuries or even deaths and could also knock out power or water supplies for entire neighborhoods or municipalities.

Can I Locate Underground Utilities Myself & What Equipment Do I need?

To map subsurface utility infrastructure easily, you might consider renting or buying ground penetrating radar units or electromagnetic locators. However, proximity to the equipment does not guarantee successful results.

It is crucial to understand the difference between the major locating technologies, ground penetrating radar (GPR) and electromagnetic locators (EM), both come with their benefits and drawbacks, and their pricing differs greatly.

When choosing the appropriate type of locating unit for your job, it is necessary to know what you seek. For example, a handheld GPR device will not identify a sewer pipe three feet in the soil accurately, only detecting metallic and non-metallic pipes, while an EM locator may require a rodder dropped into a PVC storm sewer line to track the signal.

How Much Does Ground Penetrating Radar Cost to Rent or Buy?

The cost of ground penetrating radar (GPR) ranges from $14,000 to $100,000, depending on the number of frequencies available, the user interface, and GPS mapping applications.

Single-frequency and multi-frequency systems include a wheeled base unit, radar transmitter, receiver, battery, and user interface controlled by a digital device. Even low-cost GPR options integrate GPS, while the higher-priced alternatives offer users a larger array of antennae, multiple device access, and cloud uploads for expert utility detection with precision.

“The type of Ground penetrating Radar Equipment Used is not a differentiator," says field support Director Jamie Althauser. "Unlike laser scanners, where the equipment can make a great deal of difference, most GPR works the same way."

Since GPR technology burst on the scene in the early 2000s, the equipment has evolved to provide a simpler, cloud-based user interface (UI), and gone are the days of 10-pound batteries that died in an hour. Past that, however, the major breakthroughs have been in functionality and convenience.

"The Hardware - ergonomics - the ability to move over terrain is the most important factor," continues Althauser

It is possible to rent GPR equipment for the cost of approximately $400 per month. That might be a viable option if you are searching for a single line in a small, defined area. However, the difference, according to Althauser and most underground utility locating professionals, is the methodology used to execute the locate.

“(You might be able to) use it within five minutes, but you wouldn’t know how to interpret the data,” Althauser said.

How Much Does It Cost to Learn How to Locate Utilities?

Utility strikes are serious risks with high potential costs in time, money, and lives. Since the Common Ground Alliance reports over 1,100 utility strikes per day, top-tier locator training is crucial.

Basic online GPR classes, which only offer eight hours of classroom training, cost about $600. However, they do not cover the required field training where students must learn to read signals in various conditions. Moreover, this training does not provide industry standard certification.

Level 1 NDT certification, the minimum most companies use, requires 40 hours of practice and field training along with eight hours of classroom time. Meeting these minimum standards costs $1,000 with a similar cost for certification at higher levels.

In contrast, GPRS Project Managers exceed minimum requirements, receiving SIM Certification, which stands for Subsurface Investigation Methodology. This in-depth process is how GPRS has maintained over a 99.8% accuracy rate on over 350,000 jobs.

SIM Certification requires 80 hours of classroom instruction and 320 hours of field training, making GPRS Project Managers experts in all types of equipment, including GPR and EM. They can handle even the most complicated locates with ease and efficiency.


The SIM Certification requires three times the industry standard for underground utility locating education.

How Much Does It Cost to Rent or Buy an Electromagnetic Locator?

Like GPR systems, EM locators are designed for ease of use.

You can rent the equipment for around $300 per week, however, as with GPR, it requires proper training to use correctly.

The biggest drawback of EM locating is that it cannot locate non-metallic pipes without the use of a rodder.

The most accurate locators employ both GPR and EM in their subsurface utility locates because their training and experience have taught them that this is the best way to get the job done right the first time. Highly trained locators understand that terrain, soil composition, age of the lines, and the location of surrounding structures are just some of the mitigating factors they need to take into consideration while scanning.

EM is simpler to use than GPR, but it brings its own unique challenges for the operator. Beyond its limitation of only reading metallic pipes, its nature as a conductive technology means you must understand how to overcome:

  • False signals from surrounding terrain/utilities
  • False signals from incorrect/oversensitive settings
  • False signals from concrete reinforcements
  • Weak, jumpy signals/readings or signal spikes
  • Frequencies (what the unit is set on and what it is reading)
  • Bleed off (the current jumps to a different pipe than the one you think you’re reading)

When reading EM, the user is looking for the field – not the current itself. It can be difficult to differentiate for the untrained eye, especially if that current has leapt from one pipe to another. This is what makes it vital to employ a properly trained operator.


A VIVEX V-loc Pro 3 EM Locator

GPR Equipment Cost

  • $400 Monthly Rental
  • $14,000-$100,000 Purchase

EM Equipment Cost

  • $300 Weekly Rental
  • $5,000 Purchase

Minimum Utility Locating Training

  • $1,000 - $3,000*
  • *NDT Level 1-3

Hiring a highly trained team of elite specialists with more than three times the expert training and experience required by most companies is the easiest way to ensure accurate location, verification, and mapping of your underground utility infrastructure.

When you hire GPRS, you know you’re hiring the most accurate locators in the business who will get the job done right – and fast – the first time.

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