Tracer wires are essential for locating underground water lines. But with so many options available, it can be difficult to determine what size tracer wire for water line.
In this post, we’ll explore the different sizes of tracer wires and their corresponding uses, as well as factors to consider when choosing the right size for your water line.
What Size Tracer Wire for Water Line?
The wire size typically ranges from 8 AWG to 14 AWG. Factors like the length of the water line, soil conditions, and regulatory standards influence the best choice. For long distances and harsh conditions, 8 AWG Copper Clad Steel is often recommended. For short distances, 12 AWG Solid Copper may suffice.
Here’s a table chart showcasing various wire sizes and their corresponding uses:
|8 AWG||Copper clad steel (CCS)||Long-distance water lines, horizontal directional drilling, harsh soil conditions||Strong, durable, low-cost, low-resistance, high-signal|
|10 AWG||Tinned copper||Medium-distance water lines, plowing, acidic or alkaline soil conditions||Corrosion-resistant, conductive, high-cost, high-signal|
|12 AWG||Solid copper||Short-distance water lines, open trench, moist or salty soil conditions||Conductive, expensive, less durable, high-signal|
|14 AWG||Stainless steel||Pipe bursting, corrosive soil conditions, low-signal frequency locator devices||Flexible, corrosion-resistant, low-conductive, low-cost, low-signal|
Different Types of Tracer Wires Suitable for Water Lines
Here are some common types of tracer wires that are suitable for water lines:
Copper Clad Steel
Copper clad steel (CCS) is a type of tracer wire that has a steel core and a thin layer of copper coating. CCS is stronger and more durable than solid copper, and it has a lower electrical resistance.
CCS is ideal for long-distance water lines and horizontal directional drilling applications. CCS is also less attractive to thieves because it has less copper content.
Solid copper is a type of tracer wire that is made entirely of copper. Solid copper has a high electrical conductivity and can carry a strong signal. Solid copper is suitable for short-distance water lines and open trench installation methods.
However, solid copper is more expensive and less resistant to corrosion than CCS. Solid copper is also more prone to theft because of its high copper value.
Stainless steel is a type of tracer wire that is made of steel alloy with chromium and nickel. Stainless steel has a high tensile strength and corrosion resistance, making it suitable for harsh soil conditions and pipe-bursting applications.
Stainless steel also has a low electrical conductivity, which means it requires a higher signal frequency to be detected.
Tinned copper is a type of tracer wire that has a layer of tin coating over solid copper. Tinned copper has the advantages of both solid copper and stainless steel, as it has a high electrical conductivity and corrosion resistance.
Tinned copper is suitable for medium-distance water lines and plowing installation methods.
High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)
High-density polyethylene (HDPE) is not a type of tracer wire, but a type of insulation material that covers the tracer wire. HDPE provides excellent protection against moisture, chemicals, abrasion, and UV rays.
HDPE also comes in different colors to indicate the type of utility that the tracer wire locates. For example, blue HDPE indicates potable water lines, while green HDPE indicates sanitary sewer lines.
How to Determine the Perfect Tracer Wire Size for Your Water Line
The size of the tracer wire refers to the American Wire Gauge (AWG) number that indicates the diameter of the wire. The higher the AWG number, the smaller the diameter of the wire.
The size of the tracer wire affects its electrical resistance, signal strength, and durability. To determine the perfect tracer wire size for your water line, you need to consider the following factors:
Measure the Diameter of the Water Line
The diameter of the water line determines how much space you have to install the tracer wire along with it. Generally, you want to use a tracer wire size that is proportional to the water line diameter.
For example, if your water line has a diameter of 2 inches, you can use a 14 AWG tracer wire. If your water line has a diameter of 6 inches, you can use a 10 AWG tracer wire.
Consider the Length of the Water Line
The length of the water line determines how far the signal needs to travel along the tracer wire. Generally, you want to use a larger tracer wire size for longer water lines, as larger wires have lower electrical resistance and can carry stronger signals.
For example, if your water line is 500 feet long, you can use a 14 AWG tracer wire. If your water line is 2,500 feet long, you can use an 8 AWG tracer wire.
Evaluate Soil Conditions
The soil conditions determine how corrosive and conductive the environment is for the tracer wire. Generally, you want to use a more durable and less conductive tracer wire material for harsher soil conditions, as they can withstand corrosion and interference better.
For example, if your soil is acidic or alkaline, you can use stainless steel or tinned copper tracer wires. If your soil is moist or salty, you can use CCS or HDPE-insulated tracer wires.
Calculate Electrical Resistance Needs
The electrical resistance determines how much voltage drop occurs along the tracer wire as the signal travels through it. Generally, you want to use a lower electrical resistance tracer wire material for higher signal frequencies, as they can maintain the signal strength better.
For example, if your locator device uses a 33 kHz signal frequency, you can use solid copper or CCS tracer wires. If your locator device uses a 512 Hz signal frequency, you can use stainless steel tracer wires.
Factors Influencing Tracer Wire Size Selection for Water Lines
Besides the factors mentioned above, there are other factors that may influence your tracer wire size selection for water lines. These factors include:
Different tracer wire materials have different properties that affect their performance and cost. For example, CCS is stronger and cheaper than solid copper, but it has a higher electrical resistance and lower signal strength.
Stainless steel is more corrosion-resistant and flexible than solid copper, but it has a lower electrical conductivity and higher signal frequency requirement.
Tinned copper is more corrosion-resistant and conductive than solid copper, but it is more expensive and less available.
Electrical conductivity refers to how well a material can carry an electric current. Electrical conductivity affects the signal strength and frequency of the tracer wire.
Higher electrical conductivity means stronger signal strength and lower signal frequency. Lower electrical conductivity means weaker signal strength and higher signal frequency.
For example, solid copper has a higher electrical conductivity than stainless steel, which means it can carry a stronger signal at a lower frequency.
Soil Acidity and Alkalinity
Soil acidity and alkalinity refer to how acidic or basic the soil is. Soil acidity and alkalinity affect the corrosion rate and interference level of the tracer wire.
Higher soil acidity or alkalinity means a faster corrosion rate and higher interference level. Lower soil acidity or alkalinity means a slower corrosion rate and lower interference level.
For example, acidic soil can corrode solid copper faster than stainless steel, which means it can reduce the signal strength and lifespan of the tracer wire.
Regulatory standards refer to the rules and guidelines that govern the installation and testing of tracer wire systems for water lines. Regulatory standards affect the quality and reliability of the tracer wire system.
Higher regulatory standards mean stricter quality and reliability requirements. Lower regulatory standards mean looser quality and reliability requirements.
For example, some states may require a minimum tracer wire size of 12 AWG for water lines, while others may allow a minimum tracer wire size of 14 AWG.
Installation techniques refer to the methods and tools used to install the tracer wire system along with the water line. Installation techniques affect the ease and efficiency of the installation process.
Different installation techniques may require different tracer wire sizes and materials. For example, open trench installation is a technique that involves digging a trench along the water line route and laying the tracer wire in it.
Open trench installation can use any tracer wire size and material, as long as it is properly secured to the water line. Horizontal directional drilling is a technique that involves drilling a hole along the water line route and pulling the tracer wire through it.
Horizontal directional drilling requires a larger tracer wire size and a stronger tracer wire material, such as CCS or HDPE-insulated wires.
Safety considerations refer to the potential hazards and risks associated with the tracer wire system for water lines. Safety considerations affect the protection and prevention of injuries and damages caused by the tracer wire system.
Higher safety considerations mean more protection and prevention measures. Lower safety considerations mean less protection and prevention measures.
For example, some safety considerations may include using waterproof connectors to prevent short circuits, using color-coded insulation to prevent confusion, using grounding rods to prevent electric shocks,and using theft-resistant materials to prevent vandalism.
Environmental impact refers to the effects of the tracer wire system on the natural environment and resources. Environmental impact affects the sustainability and responsibility of the tracer wire system.
Higher environmental impact means more negative effects on the environment and resources. Lower environmental impact means less negative effects on the environment and resources.
For example, some environmental impacts may include using recyclable or biodegradable materials to reduce waste, using renewable or low-carbon materials to reduce emissions, and using locally sourced or manufactured materials to reduce transportation.
Budget constraints refer to the limitations and trade-offs of the available funds for the tracer wire system for water lines. Budget constraints affect the affordability and feasibility of the tracer wire system.
Higher budget constraints mean less available funds and more trade-offs. Lower budget constraints mean more available funds and less trade-offs.
For example, some budget constraints may include using cheaper or lower-quality materials to save costs, using smaller or thinner wires to save materials, and using older or outdated equipment to save maintenance.
Local Codes and Regulations
Make sure to follow any local codes or regulations regarding tracer wire size and installation. This will help to ensure that your water line is installed safely and in compliance with local requirements.
Common Mistakes to Avoid When Choosing Tracer Wire Size
When choosing the size of a tracer wire for a water line, there are several common mistakes that you should avoid.
Types of Tracer Wire for Different Installations
Different installation methods require different types of tracer wire.
For open-cut installations, choose a high-strength tracer wire that combines the strength of fully annealed high-carbon steel with the conductivity and corrosion resistance of solid copper.
For horizontal directional drilling installations, select a wire that is extra-high strength and engineered specifically to handle the rigors of directional drilling.
Importance of American-Made Tracer Wire
Not all tracer wire is created equal, and it’s important to use only 100% American-made copper-clad steel (CCS) tracer wire. Using inferior CCS can leave you with low-quality steel and gaps in the copper cladding, making it susceptible to corrosion.
Make sure your tracer wire insulation is designed and rated for direct bury. High-density polyethylene (HDPE) is the most common for direct bury.
Do not use THHN, as it quickly deteriorates in soil and sunlight.
Utility Color Coding
Be sure to follow the APWA color code to identify the appropriate utility. This will help ensure that you are able to accurately locate underground utilities.
FAQs About Tracer Wire Sizing for Water Lines
Is There a Standard Size for Tracer Wires?
No, there is no standard size for tracer wires used in water lines. The size you need will depend on several factors.
Why is Corrosion Resistance Important?
Corrosion resistance is important because corrosive soils can damage tracer wires over time, reducing their effectiveness.
How deep should the tracer wire be placed?
The depth at which the tracer wire should be placed will depend on local codes and regulations.
Can multiple tracer wires be used for a single water line?
Yes, multiple tracer wires can be used for a single water line if necessary.
How long should the tracer wire last?
The lifespan of a tracer wire will depend on several factors including soil conditions and usage.
Choosing the right size tracer wire for your water line is important for ensuring accurate location and long-term performance.
Consider factors such as the length and depth of the water line, soil conditions, and electrical properties needed when making your selection.
And remember to follow local codes and regulations to ensure a safe and effective installation. With the right size tracer wire, you can easily locate your water line and avoid costly mistakes.