A tracer wire is a metal wire that is wrapped around a pipe before it is buried. This wire needs to be accessible in order to work.
Typically a tracer wire will come out of the ground where the pipe is accessed and may be wrapped around the end of the pipe or looped back into the ground.
The purpose is a tracer wire, AKA ‘locate wire’, is to help locate the path of the buried utility so that it is not damaged during later excavation or construction.
An electronic signal must be able to pass through a pipe or wire to locate it before digging. For power lines or metal pipes the utility itself is conductive and can be used. For all plastic pipes such as water lines, storm drain lines, and sewer pipes this won’t work. Some pipes can have a camera or traceable rodder inserted into the pipe which can be used to locate the path of the pipe.
Plastic water lines need a tracer wire because it is not sanitary to insert a traceable probe into the line. The system would have to be flushed with chlorine afterward and scratches in the inner lining of the plastic can harbor germs.
To locate an all plastic water pipe with no tracer wire is a lot of work and has a few conditions. It is usually much more costly and time consuming to locate a plastic water pipe with no tracer wire. There are more errors and it costs more money and has many limitations. Installing a metal wire even a 12 or 20 gauge wire that runs along with the pipe and can be grabbed and touched on both ends saves time and money in the future.
If you are connected a plastic pipe to a metal pipe then the tracer wire should be electronically bonded to the metal pipe. This is so that a locate signal that is applied on one end of the pipe or wire can continue past the junction.
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