I'm located in France.

For a house (built over 30 years ago) I have to pull new cables through the garden (about 20 m - 30 m). The cable has to avoid certain trees, bushes, obstacles and arrive at a certain point.

Earth is rather hard (clay) and I considered renting a tiny soil trencher.

There are existing electricity cables in conduits, telephone cables in a conduit and water pipes (non metal).

Electricity counter is at the border of the garden. Water counter a few hundred meters away near the public street. The house is accessible via a private street with right of use).

The conduits are over 30 years old and broken and destroyed. The service trying to add a fiber connection to the house tried to use the existing phone line conduit, just to find out, that the probe wire (don't know the correct term) went in 5 meters and came then out in the the garden. So it seems the conduit is no more in a decent state.

I don't have any confidence that the previous owner respected the 'officially' required depths and that he used marker tapes, which should normally be placed a few centimeters above the actual cables / pipes to avoid digging in to them by accident.

I know where each one arrives at the house (so I know the starting point), but I do not know where exactly they are going.

Is there any equipment (to buy / to rent), or are there any specialists who can help locating the existing wires / pipes?

Are metal detectors good enough for thin electricity cables / phone wires? How can I detect water pipes without metal?

Are there other tricks and recommendations of how to avoid breaking the existing 'connections'?

  • 6
    The Dig Safe service that @manassehkatz-Moving2Codidact is referring to is great for identifying underground utilities that the utilities know about. They don't track the ones that below to the residence owner. But, they will help you figure out where the ones that terminate in your house.
    – Flydog57
    Commented Jul 7, 2021 at 3:57

5 Answers 5


France founded a centralized bureau to manage nation-wide location of public utilities in 2011, so you're in luck. You can find them here : Téléservice "réseaux-et-canalisations"

Vous êtes une collectivité territoriale, un maître d’ouvrage, un maître d'œuvre, un exploitant de réseaux, une entreprise du bâtiment ou de travaux publics, un agriculteur, un particulier… et vous avez des projets de travaux de terrassement, de sondage, de génie agricole…, le téléservice reseaux-et-canalisations.gouv.fr vous permet alors d’identifier gratuitement les exploitants de réseaux concernés par vos travaux et auprès desquels vous devez déclarer vos travaux.

You probably want the section for private individuals : Particulier.

The site above services all types of clients, including contractors, commercial, etc. It would seem that for private individuals you ultimately end up directed here : https://www.declarermonchantier.fr/

Note that this is not an optional step - if you dig and you cause damage you will be liable. The location service is free, so don't try to DIY this.

Attention : L’absence de déclaration fait courir des risques à vous-même, à votre entourage et à l’environnement. En cas de manquement, des sanctions sont prévues.

This service will not locate any private cables, pipes, conduit, etc, that were installed by previous owners, however. These would be connections from your main residence to things like pools, sheds, outdoor lights, or other things that are entirely your property - those would be your responsibility to locate.

The service will locate public utilities, however; electricity, gas, and water lines upstream of their respective meters, telephone and fiber before the demarc, sewer lines, etc, that are the property of the public utility.

  • 1
    Thanks a lot this is very good to know. What I'm worried most about are however the pipes and conduits installed by the previous owner. I will still contact this service to be sure, there are no other connections, that I should be aware of.
    – gelonida
    Commented Jul 7, 2021 at 21:46
  • contacting the service might also help me to locate the 'entry points' of phone, electricity and water
    – gelonida
    Commented Jul 7, 2021 at 22:16
  • 3
    @gelonida They will do more than help - they will come to your property and they will mark the locations of the phone, electricity, water, etc, in your yard. These will definitely not have been installed by the previous owner because they belong to the public utility. Anything the previous owner installed would be things leaving your house and going out to endpoints in the yard. Do you know what is in the conduits the previous owner installed? How do you know he installed them? Do you know where they go? It should be obvious if you have things in your back yard that require power...
    – J...
    Commented Jul 7, 2021 at 22:21
  • Yep. I will definitely contact them. Considering the internal lines. I know of electricity and water going from the house to a shed and to the garage and electricity only to the pump of a well. I also know that there are various water pipes going from the well to some spots for irrigation.
    – gelonida
    Commented Jul 7, 2021 at 22:24
  • 1
    The link, that you posted leads ultimately to declarermonchantier.fr This is where I declared the works. Let's see how it goes. Thanks again.
    – gelonida
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 9:29

In most parts of the world, official utility connections will be marked if you contact a "call before you dig" number that coordinates contacting all the utilities that might have buried service lines under your lawn/garden.

I don't know if France has that, or not.

Those services do NOT mark/locate private utility lines (i.e. if you have a line running from your house to an outbuilding/shed/garage.) They only mark service lines and underground distribution lines if they pass through your property.

There are locator services that can be contracted with (possibly the very same ones hired by the utilities in the above scenario) and there are also tools that can typically be rented through a tool rental store/service.

Standard "metal detectors" do not normally work well, you want a specialist tool for locating wires/cables/pipes.

  • 2
    Standard "metal detectors" do not normally work well They used to work better, but now water is often PVC and electric, while still always metal wires, can be in PVC as well. Commented Jul 6, 2021 at 19:36
  • 7
    Most "metal detectors" also lack the depth ability that proper locaters have. Great for finding metal trash at the beach an inch or two down in the belief that you'll find lots of lost jewelry, not so great for finding anything 12"/30 cm or more deep.
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Jul 6, 2021 at 19:39
  • 4
    Just a Suggestion: When you put in the new cable put it in PVC condulet. Be sure it is large enough with a bit of room to spare. It is not that expensive. Also route it around the edge of the garden where there is less chance of digging. When the utility sends a tec out, ask if he can do the other cables and that you are willing to pay cash.
    – Gil
    Commented Jul 6, 2021 at 19:51
  • 1
    You can detect any underground lines that you can run a current through using the right equipment. HDPE piping is supposed to have a tracer wire installed with it since its not metallic so that it can be traced. Even knowing where things are, you can still damage lines with a shovel, especially if they are not in PVC.
    – rtaft
    Commented Jul 7, 2021 at 17:44
  • 3
    @CGCampbell In most parts of the world and (as clearly stated) I did not know if France did, or not. According to J...'s answer, they do, in fact have that service. I try not to assume that what I know locally applies to any random location I'm not familiar with the details for.
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Jul 7, 2021 at 18:19

There do exist instruments for locating buried utilities. Vivax, Radiodetection, Leica, and Greenlee/Textron are names of manufacturers I'm aware of. This equipment operates on the principle of connecting a transmitter to a conductor (a metallic wire or pipe, or a wire buried alongside plastic pipe) and using a receiver to detect the electric fields radiating from that conductor.

I recently noticed one such kit offered for rent at an irrigation supply specialty store -- if ordinary tool rental stores near you don't offer a locator, you might inquire at supply houses for irrigation, plumbing, or electrical contractors.

If you're unable to get a utility operator to mark the lines (perhaps because they're private lines) and unable to perform locating on your own, the next best thing is to make an educated guess about where the buried lines are likely to be. You can then arrange the trenching project to avoid those zones, work shallow in those zones, or hand-dig the trench for a meter or two where you anticipate a crossing. When hand digging, orient the blade of the shovel so that it is parallel to the suspected utility. This minimizes the probability that you'll strike and slice through it, especially for small cables like telephone, TV, or fiber optic.

You know where the buried utilities connect at the house. Do a little more work to figure out where they connect out in the garden, street/alley, or neighboring properties. There will be tell-tale signs: an access vault for a water meter or shutoff valve, a splicing point for electrical or other cables, and so on. One can't be certain that the services to the house run in a straight line across the garden, but such is common.

  • 3
    Vacuum/compressed-air excavation and water/slurry are good excavation techniques for not damaging unknown utilities. Dislodge dirt with an air-jet or stream of water, remove it with a vacuum at the working point, or a "mud pump" at the low point of the trench, respectively. Don't get too high-pressure on the water (i.e. pressure washers) or you may damage the cables after all. Large truck-vacuum services can be hired for the job, normally. DIY tends to be a rather smaller undertaking with a wet-dry shop-vac.
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Jul 6, 2021 at 21:38
  • I don't know what france is like, but I'm pretty sure here in the UK electric service cables are usually just jointed underground onto the main cable down the street without anything visible on the surface. Commented Jul 7, 2021 at 1:21
  • Yeah will try to find tell tale signs for the end points. Will be tricky though. The water counter is several hundred meters away from the actual property. Electricity is probably coming from an overland line near the border of the property and phone line might be near as well. But there will be also power lines and water lines from the house to a shed and a garage which were added years after the initial construction
    – gelonida
    Commented Jul 7, 2021 at 21:58
  • So if I understand well, such equipment will not work for water pipes, that are not made of metal. Will check, now that I know that the concept of tracing wires exist, whether these plastic pipes have a tracing wire added. Contrary to electircity and phone line the water pipes don't seem to be in a conduit
    – gelonida
    Commented Jul 7, 2021 at 22:15
  • 1
    @Criggie There's an answer I wrote about DIY hydro/air/vacuum excavation there.
    – Greg Hill
    Commented Jul 8, 2021 at 20:13

If the natural ground is very hard, you can try an archaeological approach.

Remove the top soil in a wider strip than you actually need to be able to detect different colours of the ground. If the top soil is deep, then remove it in 5cm layers until you hit the natural clay. Change in colour from the top soil or natural clay indicates that something was dug here before.

To make it easier for the next cable, put yours in a pipe (conduit) with some wire running through it so that you don't have to dig up the garden next time. The next cable than then just be pulled through the pipe by the wires.

  • This sounds like too much effort, unless you have a class full of archeology students with a lot of spare time. :-(
    – einpoklum
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 20:18

I will enhance this answer over time to indicate what helped me and how I solved the issue.

There's multiple good answers each addressing another aspect of my question, so I had difficulties marking one answer as 'the correct' answer.

So far:

How to obtain information about existing cables and tubes for France:

Thanks to J...'s answer I went to www.reseaux-et-canalisations.ineris.fr which ultimately led to following link https://www.declarermonchantier.fr/

I created an account and declared that I want to do works, which resulted in four documents that were sent to four different potentially concerned authorities.

Will now see when and how I receive the information about the official pipes and cables, that are in my garden.

Within the hour I already got a first answer of one authority stating, that none of their cables is 50m near my garden.

Having reread J...'s answer

The service will locate public utilities, however; electricity, gas, and water lines upstream of their respective meters, telephone and fiber before the demarc, sewer lines, etc, that are the property of the public utility.

I'm not sure that the feedback will help in my particular case as the electric counter is at the border of the garden and the water counter even a few hundred meters down the street away from the garden.

For others who have the counters in their house, this will however be very useful.

2021-07-13: Enedis seems to provide information of their wires up to the electricity counter Just got feedback from Enedis concerning electricity. Information goes up to the counter. In my case I'm out of luck as the counter is at the border of the garden.

  • The proper thing to do here at Home Improvement, would be to click the check mark next to J...'s answer - that's all it takes to let people know you found it to be the most useful answer and have followed the advice there. It's also appropriate to click the up-arrow next to any and all answers that you found helpful.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 12:08
  • 1
    @freeman This is what I would normally do. However, J... s answer covers only one part of my question. (How to locate 'official' power / water phone lines). The answer does not address the aspect of how to locate lines that were placed by the previous owner. For this Greg Hill's answer is more relevant. As I don't know how to mark multiple answers as right anwsers I upvoted and commented all answers that were helpful to me and I thought, that I will add my own answer, that I will enhance over time with all the contributions of the others.
    – gelonida
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 12:34
  • @FreeMan I intend to enhance my own answer over time (with feedback of how things went, which equipment I finally used or how I finally solved the issue, but only after having validated the various suggestions for my special case. I'm open to suggestions how to better handle such a situation.
    – gelonida
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 12:36
  • That sounds reasonable. You may want to mention that in your answer so others will know, as well. Also, you cannot accept 2 answers, so up votes are the best you can do.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 12:53
  • 1
    @J... at least in the U.K. (where it’s still pretty common to not have a meter) the demarcation tends to either be the property boundary, or the output of the first external stopcock inside your property (if you have one). So definitely there is variation.
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 9, 2021 at 16:33

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