Mistakes to Avoid When Choosing Tracer Wire

Wire selection is the first step when choosing a tracer wire system and is a critical decision for long-term reliability. With utility damages increasing year-over-year, it’s more important than ever to install a high-quality tracer wire system to protect underground utility assets. Listed below are 5 mistakes to avoid when selecting tracer wire.


Mistake 1:  Choosing the Wrong Kind of Tracer Wire for the Job

What installation method is required for the job? For open-cut installations, be sure to choose tracer wire that’s High Strength and combines the strength of fully annealed high-carbon steel with the conductivity and corrosion resistance of solid copper. For horizontal directional drilling installations, it’s important to select wire that is Extra-High Strength and engineered specifically to handle the rigors of directional drilling. For pipe burst jobs, use a 7×7 stranded copper-clad steel tracer wire engineered to withstand the volatile environment of pipe bursting and critical bores. Choosing the right tracer wire for the specific application will ensure that the wire is strong enough to withstand the demands of the installation process the first time.

Open-Cut          Horizontal Directional Drilling          Pipe Bursting


Mistake 2:  Not Choosing 100% Made in the USA

Not all tracer wire is created equal, and that’s why it’s so important to use only 100% American-made copper-clad steel (CCS) tracer wire. Some CCS tracer wire claiming to be American-made is only partially made in the USA. Be sure to buy 100% made in the USA including both the CCS wire AND the insulating jacket. Using inferior CCS can leave you with low quality steel and gaps in the copper cladding leaving it susceptible to corrosion that can result in breaks, poor signal strength, and worst case, an unlocatable tracer wire system.


Mistake 3:  Insulation/Jacket Not Approved for Direct Bury

Make sure your tracer wire insulation is designed and rated for direct bury. High density polyethylene (HDPE) is the most common for direct bury. In any case, DO NOT use THHN. THHN is a nylon coating and quickly deteriorates in the soil and sunlight, and will leave you with an unlocatable system in less than 5 years.

THHN (Thermoplastic High Heat-resistant Nylon) insulated wire coating reaction after 24 months in the ground.


Mistake 4:  Wrong Color for the Utility

Be sure to follow the APWA color code to identify the appropriate utility.

APWA Color Code


In order to accurately locate underground utilities, it’s important to start with the right tracer wire. Avoiding these mistakes will help protect utility infrastructure and prevent damage for the lifetime of the utility.

Access your free tracer wire chart here to help identify what tracer wire you need for the job