Knowing where electrical wires buried in the ground is crucial for your safety if you plan on doing any digging or excavating. According to the CDC, approximately 400 deaths are contributed to electrocution every year. So if you are planning on digging in an area you suspect there are electrical wires then you will want to read on. You will also learn what metal detectors are best for locating buried powerlines and other electrical wires in the ground.
Will a metal detector find buried electrical wire? Yes, metal detectors can find electrical wire buried in the ground. Electrical wires are made up of a combination of aluminum and copper with a steel core. Each one of these metals is easily detected with a metal detector.
How to Find Electrical Wire Using a Metal Detector
Buried electrical wire is everywhere these days. So it’s increasingly important to know how to use a metal detector to locate it before doing any digging or excavating. Before getting the metal detector out there are a few things you should do that will dramatically increase your chances of locating buried electrical wire.
Observation and Utility Maps
Before getting your metal detector out you should do a little homework. It’s good practice to look for areas where the electrical wire comes out of the ground. Good places to look are around buildings that you know have electricity running to them. This will give you an idea of where the wires are buried.
The other thing you can do is find a utility map of the area that you are planning on digging. Utility maps will tell you where the electrical wires are buried. They will also tell you where other utilities are buried such as telecommunication cables, water, sewer, and gas pipes. Digging into a utility can cause major damage and disrupt communication for many people.
A good place to start your search for one of these utility maps would be your local city administration or the county administration that you live in.
How to Use a Metal Detector to Find Buried Electrical Wire
There are a few settings on your metal detector that you should adjust to get it ready to find the electrical wire. They are:
- The discrimination setting should be adjusted to its lowest setting.
- The sensitivity should be set to its highest setting.
The sensitivity will need to be adjusted depending on how much current is flowing through those electrical wires. With the sensitivity high adjust downward until your metal detector starts to act in a stabilized manner.
Now that your metal detector is stabilized you want to start sweeping the detector back and forth as you would normally. Keep doing this until you start to get a strong steady signal which will last the length of the electrical wire. While you go along mark the areas along the way so you know the path at which the wire is buried. Once you have painted a few dots along the length of the wire location you will want to connect the dots with spray paint the whole length of the buried wire.
If you lose the signal while detector you will want to start over to be sure you get a continuous signal that’s alerting to the wire in the ground. By using utility maps, observation, and a metal detector you should feel confident that you have successfully located the buried electrical wire.
How Deep Are Electrical Wires Buried?
Most metal detectors can locate buried electrical wire but it all depends on how deep the wire is buried and how deep the metal detector can detect. So that begs the question how deep are electrical wires typically buried? Electrical wires in your yard are usually buried about 6 inches underground. In a driveway, they need to be buried at least 18 inches. If they are buried under a concrete slab they need to be 4 inches underground.
Your typical metal detector can detect a depth of 4 to 8 inches which is deep enough to locate buried wire in your yard. If you plan on digging any deeper then that you will want to get a more expensive metal detector that can detect up to 18 inches. If you’re digging any deeper than 18 inches I would recommend that you have a utility company come out and locate the electrical wires for you.
Best Metal Detectors For Locating Buried Electrical Wire
There are a few good metal detectors that I recommend for locating buried treasure. The following are a few examples:
Garrett Ace 300
The Garrett Ace 300 can detect depths of 8 to 10 inches which is perfect for locating buried electrical wire in your yard. This detector is priced at under $400 and is a good metal detector to help you find buried wire and is a great all-purpose metal detector for the money. Garrett makes quality metal detectors at the right price. I highly recommend Garrett!
Garrett ATX Deepseeker
If you plan on locating electrical wire that’s deeper than 10 inches underground you will want to opt for the Garrett ATX Deepseeker. This metal detector has great depth capabilities. With detection depths from 18 inches plus. The ATX will set you back about $2,500. If you want the best of the best then the ATX is what you want especially if you plan on using it for metal detecting for treasure. This model is also waterproof up to 10 feet.
What Metals Are Electrical Wire Made Of?
Most electrical wire is made up of aluminum and copper with a steel core. The wires are then coated in PVC (polyvinyl chloride) to prevent the wires from coming into contact with other conductive materials. A metal detector can detect the wires inside the PVC coating.
Both copper and aluminum are used to make the wire because copper wire alone is too heavy and very expensive so they introduce aluminum into the mix because it’s lighter and cheaper than copper. The steel core helps strengthen the wire so that it will stand up to the pressures of being underground.
Avoid Long-Range Metal Detectors
There are metal detectors on the market that are called long-range metal detectors. Manufacturers of these detectors claim that they can detect deep within the earth. These claims are false and should be avoided at all costs. A long-range metal detector will typically cost you thousands of dollars and will not function the way the manufacturers claim they do.
To learn more about long-range metal detectors and why they don’t work check out my article Do Long Range Metal Detectors Really Work? Don’t Be Fooled!. That article explains everything you need to know about the false claims of long-range metal detectors.
So there you have it. Metal detectors can locate buried electrical wire if you properly adjust the discrimination and sensitivity settings. If you don’t feel comfortable using a metal detector to locate buried electrical wires then I suggest that you contact your local utility or electric company and they should be able to map out the areas you need to avoid digging.
If you want to know more about how metal detectors work please check out my article How Metal Detectors Work – A Comprehensive Guide. That guide explains everything you need to know about how metal detectors work. I highly recommend that article for anyone getting started in metal detecting or about to use a metal detector for finding buried electrical wire. The more you are informed the better you will be at using your metal detector.
If you have any questions or comments please leave them in the comments section below.
Cory Haasnoot is an author, entrepreneur, metal detecting enthusiast, antique, coin collector, and founder of Treasure Seekr.