5 Steps to Installing a Tracer Wire System

Detecting the precise location of underground utilities is critical in protecting valuable infrastructure assets and in saving lives. But did you know that installing tracer wire alone is not enough? In order to be able to pinpoint the exact location of your utility, it is crucial to understand the principles of locating and what components help carry the locate signal down the tracer wire so it can be accurately traced. Following these 5 simple steps of installing a tracer wire system will help you pinpoint the exact location of your underground utilities, and hopefully prevent costly damages.

STEP 1 – Conduct

The first step of installing a tracer wire system is selecting your tracer wire. There are several things to keep in mind here including:

  1. Understanding the difference between copper-clad steel and solid copper tracer wire
  2. The kind of jacketing covering the tracer wire
  3. What application it will be used for (open-cut, horizontal directional drilling, or pipe bursting)


Choosing copper-clad steel tracer wire has significant benefits over solid copper. To name a few:

  • More durable, longer lasting
  • Up to six times the breaking strength
  • Reduce material cost
  • Lighter weight, resulting in lower shipping and handling costs
  • More stable, longer-term pricing
  • Reduced threat of theft due to lack of after-market value


Not all CCS is created equal, and that’s why it’s so important to use only 100% American-made 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 to ensure that both the CCS and the jacketing are American-made. Using inferior CCS can leave you with a 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.

Make sure your tracer wire jacket is designed 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.

Then choose the right type of CCS tracer wire for your installation method whether it’s open-cut, horizontal directional drilling, or pipe bursting. Different applications call for different wire strengths.

STEP 2 – Connect

A tracer wire system is only as good as its weakest connection. Waterproof, corrosion-proof connectors such as the SnakeBite™ Locking Connector,  protect vulnerable wire splices and keep the locate signal flowing across connections. When other alternatives are used, like electrical tape, corrosion will result causing your locate signal to stop at the connection point.

STEP 3 – Ground

Grounding all tracer wire dead ends is essential for drawing the AC current along the tracer wire and completing the electrical circuit needed for line detection. If the tracer wire is not properly grounded using a Ground Rod,  the AC current will not be pulled down the wire, so the proper circuit will not exist, and your line will be undetectable.

STEP 4 – Access

Access points are used to protect and provide direct connection to tracer wire systems. The multi-terminal SnakePit® and Cobra™ Access Points also allow external connection and disconnection to the ground rod wire for more efficient and accurate locating.

STEP 5 – Locate

A properly installed tracer wire system will be locatable with multi-function locating equipment. Best practice is to make sure your tracer wire system can be effectively located at the time of rough grade, and before final acceptance of the project.


Following the 5 steps to installing a tracer wire system will help ensure line detection and increase the accuracy and efficiency of locating your underground utilities. The Complete Utility Locating System™ Specification for water/sewer, gas, and telecom markets follows these steps in an easy-to-understand way so that your systems will be installed accurately, and your underground investment will be safeguarded.