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Have you ever tried to locate an underground wire or cable without knowing exactly where to dig?
If so, you probably ended up digging up half your lawn trying to find the buried wire.
Well, I once found myself in that very situation…
I needed to find the location of an underground power line that runs between my house and a distant outbuilding so I could dig it up and splice it to provide power to a second outbuilding that was scheduled to be delivered and set up on my property in a few days.
Since I had no idea where the wire exited the house I had no clue about where to start digging to search for it.
A thorough scan of the area with a metal detector came up empty so I decided to try something else. I just didn’t know what that something else would be yet.
I did some research online and discovered that I could call 811 and someone would come out and mark the location of the wire for me, but since the wire is privately owned (i.e. not owned by a public utility) I would have to pay a rather hefty fee for the service.
I also found out that another option would be to buy an underground cable locator and use it to track down my buried power line.
The thing is, I’ve never been one to pay for a service that I can do myself, and I hate buying an expensive tool that I’ll likely never use again.
Therefore, I decided to do some more research to see if I could find a way to easily track down that buried cable myself. And find it I did…
I actually found three different threads on my favorite “home improvement” forum where this very question was asked, and the ultimate answer in all three of them was to track the wire down using a lawnmower and an AM radio.
Sounds pretty weird, right? Well, it did to me too.
Truth be told, I was quite skeptical because I knew the cable was supposed to be buried pretty deep and it was hard to imagine a weak radio signal being able to travel through several inches of soil.
But since I had nothing to lose by trying I decided to give it a go. This is the procedure I used…
Caution: If you don’t feel you have the skills required to safely work around household electrical wiring, I strongly recommend that you skip this method and hire someone who is, for obvious reasons (for example, you don’t want to get electrocuted).
Now that we have that little warning out of the way, here we go:
First, I turned off the circuit breaker to cut the power going to the existing outbuilding. After all, I didn’t want to be messing around with a live 240 volt power line. This is a step you don’t want to skip!
Next, I removed the cover to the electrical panel box inside the building and wrapped one end of a long wired around the cable coming into the panel box.
I then wrapped the other end of the wire around the plug wire on my push mower, then started the mower and allowed it to sit there idling.
Important: I didn’t strip the wire and make an electrical connection to either the cable in the panel box or the spark plug wire on the mower. I simply wrapped the ends of the wire around those other wires without stripping away any insulation.
While the mower was running I took a small AM radio that’s been sitting on a shelf in my house for years and tuned it to a frequency that didn’t have a station on it. In other words I tuned it to place where all I heard was static.
Now I was ready to try to locate the wire.
I turned the volume all the way up on the radio and began dragging it along the ground in a straight line that I knew had to cross the underground power cable at some point.
And it didn’t take long to find it!
After moving just a few yards the radio started making a loud popping noise that sounded a lot like the interference you hear when you drive under a power line while listening to an AM radio.
I then used the popping sound of the radio to trace the wire to the approximate location where I had planned to install the new outbuilding.
Now, all that was left was to do was dig straight down until I reached the buried cable.
I found the cable at a depth of just a little over two feet, which makes sense because underground power lines in my neck of the woods must be buried at least 24 inches below the surface in order to be up to code.
Bottom line: Using just my push mower and an old AM radio I was able to quickly locate a cable that was buried two feet underground.
Needless to say, that saved me a lot of money!
Of course if you don’t own a lawnmower and an AM radio you won’t be able to use this method to track down your own underground cable.
Instead, your best bet is to use an underground cable locator device.
Here’s a short video that shows how to use a Pro900 Digital Underground Cable Locator from Armada Technologies to quickly find a buried cable. Check it out!
Note: As always, you can watch the video at full screen by clicking the “square” icon in the lower-right corner of the video after it begins playing.