How to Find a Good Underground Utilities Contractor Near Me

Working in underground tunnels, chambers, shafts, or passageways can prove dangerous. Operations in these spaces involve working under reduced ventilation and light conditions, difficult or limited access and egress, exposure to air contaminants and high possibility of fire, flooding or explosion. As such, underground utility workers face many dangers to health and life. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), exposure to harmful substances or environments led to the death of 642 workers in the United States in 2019, the highest figure since 2011.

Underground utility operations also involve carrying out major construction activities such as tunneling, trenching, excavation, and demolition which exposes workers to the inhalation of respirable crystalline silica dust, strongly linked to silicosis. Silicosis is an occupational lung disease with no effective treatment currently and can progress to respiratory failure and death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, silicosis was the cause of over 2,000 deaths in America between 1999 and 2013.

As such, underground utility repairs and maintenance are best left to well-trained and equipped professionals nearby conversant with the local building codes, the local underground utility network, industry standards, and the OSHA underground construction safety regulations. You stand a better chance of hiring a good underground utility contractor near you with these prerequisites by asking the following questions:

  1. Are You A Licensed Underground Utilities Contractor?

    The licensing requirements for underground utility contractors vary per state. Some states such as Florida, Wisconsin, and Rhode Island require mandatory state-level licensing. In Florida, an underground utility contractor must take and pass the state certification examinations before obtaining a contractor's license. The contractor must be at least 18 years old and have some years' experience as a worker or foreman on the field. Some counties and cities also specify licensing requirements for underground utilities contractors practicing in their area. St. Lucie County, Florida and the City of Evansville, Indiana are typical examples of these local governments.

    Due to these varying requirements, it is advisable that you contact your state professional licensing agency, local consumer protection agency or your local building authority to find out the licensing requirements for underground utility contractors near you. It is also a good idea to ask for a copy of your contractor's license and contact the licensing agency to verify the status of the license.

  2. Are You a Bonded and Insured Underground Utilities Contractor?

    Annually, over 70,000 occupational injuries are recorded among construction and extraction workers including underground utilities personnel. In 2017, 2018, and 2019 respectively, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 74, 560, 73,360, and 77,560 such occupational injuries suffered by these workers.

    Hence, hiring an underground utility contractor near you who is insured protects you from liabilities that may arise if a workplace injury or illness occurs as a direct result of your underground utilities project. Hence, you should only hire contractors that are properly insured. Ensure that your underground utility contractor has general liability and workers' compensation insurance plans. Also, make sure that you verify the validity of these plans by requesting a copy of the contractor's certificates of insurance.

    Additionally, you should ask your underground utility contractor for a surety bond certificate. A bond protects your interests if the contractor defaults on the contract. Verify the validity of the bonding certificate by contacting your local consumer protection agency.

  3. What Kind of Work Are You Specialized In?

    A contractor can specialize in one or more of many operations covered under the underground utility umbrella. An underground utility contractor services involve the construction, installation, and repair, on public or private property, accomplished through open excavation or other means including, but not limited to:

    • Directional drilling
    • Auger boring
    • Jacking and boring
    • Trenchless technologies
    • Wet and dry taps
    • Grouting
    • Slip lining
    • Landfill Leachate Systems
    • Reinforced Concrete Pipes
    • Sanitary Sewer and Drainage Lines
    • Storm Drain Systems and Structures
    • Box Culvert Systems
    • Domestic Water and Fire Systems, Plastic, Welded Steel, etc.
    • Fusion Welded Plastic for Gas and Water Mains
    • Gas Lines and Mains
    • Piping

    Always find out whether the underground utility contractor near you you intend to hire is skilled in the area of the work required.

  4. Who Will Do the Work?

    Finding out the number of workers who will be required to complete your underground utility project in time and within budget is an important question to ask your contraction. Typically, you hire the contractor, while the contractor may come along with co-workers or subcontract a part of the task to colleagues depending on how extensive the project is. Do not take it for granted that the contractor you are talking to will be the only personnel to complete the job. Verify that each worker who will be working on the job is insured and bonded. Knowing the number of persons working on the job will also help ascertain how much impact it would have on the total cost of the project.

  5. Do You Offer a Warranty?

    Do not be so much in a hurry to hire a contract you forget to ask for a warranty. A warranty is a guarantee of the integrity of the work done by the contractor. It can be written, orally given, or implied. The best option is the written one. Any professional contractor near you who is experienced and honest will not stall on giving you a written warranty on services provided, attesting to the quality and durability of the work done.

    Warranties are issued after the completion of the job, however, you should ask before hiring, if the contractor will be willing to issue the warranty at the job's end. Note that a warranty has terms and can be voided if the terms and conditions are not met. Ensure that the terms are clearly stated and understood.

  6. Will This Job Require a Permit?

    Underground utility jobs involve extensive construction and alteration works. This requires a permit from the relevant local authorities before the job can begin, otherwise, you run the risk of being burdened with a huge fine for a code violation. As a general rule, permits are required for any construction, renovation, or remodeling project that will result in a significant alteration of a building's structure or footprint. A professional contractor near you already knows what permit is required and the necessary documentation to obtain it. However, you should ask to confirm that the required permit has been procured.

  7. Will You Provide References?

    Checking a contractor's references is an important step before making a hiring decision. Per the Federal Trades Commission recommendation, you should always ask a contractor for at least three clients with projects like yours. If possible, find out from the former clients if they were satisfied with the services provided by the contractor and whether projects were completed in time. Never hire a contractor who hesitates to provide references on past jobs. In addition, you can also use third-party online services such as Yelp, Better Business Bureau, and Google Review to find reviews of your contractor's previous jobs by clients near you.

  8. Do You Have a Business License?

    There are tons of small businesses located across the United States. More than 99% of business entities in the country belong to this category. For any of these businesses to legally operate in an area, they must obtain a license to allow them to conduct business in that area. Note that this is different from a contractor license. Contractor licenses are issued to individuals while business licenses are issued to business entities. The former is proof that an individual is certified and licensed to perform trade as required by the state while the latter is a pre-condition for eligibility to operate as a business in a particular locality.

    You should always find out whether an underground utility contractor has a valid business license before employing the contractor to work on your project. You may verify the authenticity of your contractor's business license through the Office of the Secretary of State in your area of residence.

What Are Common Underground Utilities Problems?

Common problems associated with underground utilities include:

  • Leaking: Due to several factors including poor workmanship and planning, corrosion, mechanical wear and tear, weather-related damage, or old age, underground installations can begin to leak which can increase fluid levels and pressure. Leaks can start small but if it goes unnoticed for long periods, can cause serious discomfort or damage.
  • Positional Deviation: As a result of hydrogeological changes in the earth's crust and minor earthquakes, underground utilities may experience a positional shift from the previous optimal position. A positional deviation can also occur due to poor workmanship and planning, especially in the early stages. Shifts in the position of underground utilities can lead to breakages, often causing underground utilities to collapse abruptly.
  • Erosion and Wear and Tear: Typically, underground utilities are designed to work throughout the day with little to no respite especially where redundancies cannot be built or afforded. With moving fluids, objects, corrosive substances, and other impactful factors, it is only natural for the utilities to break down over time.
  • Obstacles: Depending on the type of underground utility, dirt or large objects may begin to accumulate or clog up the various intersections where different pipes meet. This can disrupt and impede flow which can cause serious structural issues as the fluid struggles to pass through.

What are the Factors That Affect the Cost of Underground Utilities Project?

Several factors affect the cost estimation of an underground utility project. Preparation of a project cost estimate for any such project is a complex process that consists of various variable factors. Every variable has to be correctly estimated based on a proper study, previous experience, and research in order to calculate the total project cost of construction. The major factors affecting the cost of underground utility projects include:

  • Construction Material Costs: Construction material costs comprise material cost, shipping charges and taxes where applicable. The contractor will consider all these before submitting an estimate to you
  • Labor Wages Rates: Labor wages vary from one location to the other. Hence, depending on the location where an underground utility project will be carried out, the local wage rate may be high or low when compared to average wage rates. A contractor's estimation of local wage rates may also change if the project has to start after several months of estimating the project cost.
  • Construction Site Conditions: Underground site conditions can increase project costs. Site conditions such as poor soil conditions, wetlands, conflicting utilities (overhead lines, cables, buried pipes, etc.), groundwater, contaminated materials, heavy traffic, buried storage tanks, endangered species habitat, archaeological sites, stream or river crossings, and other similar conditions can increase the project cost.
  • Inflation: Many underground utility projects run for years before completion. During that period, the cost of materials, tools, and equipment may vary due to inflation. This variation can affect the cost of a project.
  • Regulatory and Insurance Requirements: Insurance for tools, equipment, and workers as well as approvals from regulatory agencies for underground utility projects can be costly. These costs are typically built into the project submitted to the client
  • Size and Type of Construction Project: For a large underground construction project, there can be high demand for manpower. For such requirements, local workmen may not suffice and workmen from different regions or specialized workforce may be required. These may incur additional costs and increase the total project estimate.
  • Location of the project: When the location of an underground utility project is far away from required resources, it increases the project costs. Cost of transportation for workmen, equipment, materials, and tools will likely increase with distance and increase the project cost
  • Engineering Review: Many times, it is necessary to carry out a technical review of the constriction project to confirm that the project will serve the required purpose with optimum operational and maintenance cost. The cost of this review may also be added to the project cost.

What Qualifications Should Underground Utility Contractors Have?

Underground utility contractors are typically required to obtain a baccalaureate degree in an appropriate field of engineering, architecture, or building construction. Underground utility contractors are however required to be licensed and certified according to the specific licensing requirements of the locality where they wish to operate. In many cases, this involves passing a written examination prepared by a relevant regulatory agency. Contractors may also obtain other certifications from reputable agencies which provide niche-based training.

An underground utility contractor is expected to be physically fit and have experience in installing and repairing sewer and water lines. Some employers accept and train entry-level employees, pairing them with more experienced contractors until they gain enough experience. However, many prefer applicants to have several years of industry experience. As an entry-level employee, activities include operating excavation machines or using various tools in cramped environments, so stamina and excellent communication skills are essential.

Do You Need a Handyman or an Underground Utility Contractor?

Underground utility jobs include a myriad of activities that are high-risk and can have a serious impact on the health and life of the individual carrying out the work if not properly done. Some of these activities require specialized personal protective equipment which are more affordable to professionals than handymen. Underground utility jobs require experts who are well trained and are equipped with the necessary tools to detect faults, repair, and install underground constructions. Professional underground utility contractors near you are also more likely to be licensed, insured, and bonded, thereby protecting you from any unforeseen financial liabilities that may arise due to the job.

What Are the Common Post Underground Utilities Expenses?

Underground utilities operations are wide-ranging. As such, specific post-job expenses vary per operation. However, the most common form of post-job expense is the clearing of debris that may have accumulated from digging, excavation, installation, and construction. In many cases, the clearing of debris is done by the contractor. Also, there may be expenses relating to restoring the ground dug to its initial status. You need to ask if any post-job expenses apply to your project and whether you will be charged separately or not. Many times, contractors will include the cost for any post-job expense in the initial estimate submitted to you.

Does Homeowner Insurance Cover Underground Utilities Expenses?

A standard homeowner's insurance covers accidents of sudden and unexpected nature including losses caused by fire and lightning, explosion, theft, aircraft and vehicles, windstorm or hail, riot, and vandalism. However, the homeowner owns the underground utility service lines that lie on the property. If damages occur, a standard homeowner insurance policy will not cover repairs. You may purchase an extension to the basic homeowner's insurance policy from an insurance company to cover expensive excavation and repair work in relation to underground piping, wiring, and other attached devices.

Note that the exact damages covered in a homeowner insurance policy vary from one insurance company to the other. Therefore, it is advisable that you always find out the perils covered in your insurance policy before purchasing it.

Can I Use Digital Payment to Pay My Underground Utilities Contractor?

Yes, you can. Digital payment options are becoming widely acceptable among small businesses in the US, including underground utilities contractors near you. Digital payments are typically faster, more secure, and easier to use than virtually all other conventional payment methods. However, some contractors still insist on receiving payments by traditional methods. You should verify with your contractor before initiating payment via digital means. Whatever channel you choose or agree with your contractor to carry out transactions, you should always keep a receipt for record purposes.