I want to find buried water pipes and/or power lines

And all I have is 2 copper wires 12 to 24 inches long.

Can it be done?

Or it snake oil like dowsing/witching/divining etc?


Your call.

As a geophysicist, this directly falls within my area of expertise…

Depending on how deep the items that you want to find are, you can construct a fairly rudimentary metal detector using the two wires and some other components to find the pipes. This should work fairly well… However, if they are pretty deep (more than a few feet) you may need to get something a little more professional, such as a Ground Penetrating Radar, or an instrument such as the Geonics EM-31. You may be able to detect the presence of the power lines, if they are active, by using a magnetometer or a (sensitive) compass.

Or, you can try dowsing.

Dowsing is snake oil as far as I’m concerned. I only have 2 copper wires, no other instruments or tools. I have a hard time believing someone could find water or power lines with just the copper wires, but maybe I’m ignorant :smiley:

Dowsing works by the dowser reading clues in the landscape, some of which may too subtle for the conscious mind to identify.

You will have to resort to dowsing if you only have two copper wires…

There have been no real studies on the effectiveness of dowsing (compared to geophysical methods), but anecdotes abound amongst geophysicists about how dowsers are right more often than we are.

In fact, a lot of people prefer dowsing to a hydrological or geophysical study, simply because many dowsers have a better track record than the geologist/geophysicist…

Again though, these are just anecdotes.

to find electrical wires underground plug an electric drill in, turn it on. Then go outside with an AM radio and tune it off station. The electrical “static” from the motor brushes in the drill will be picked up on the radio. an easier method is to use the copper phone line method. Call your local utility company(s) and they will come out and mark off the lines.

How does one look for clues regarding buried pipe lines and water pipes, besides signs warning people not to dig

eta: and I don’t mean a hump in the ground where the pipe is…we wouldn’t be using our nifty copper wire to find that, right?:cool:

Earlier thread that may be relevant (I have a voltmeter. Can I make a simple metal detector). Edited to add, that in the earlier thread, the OP was looking for a buried piece of rebar.)

Dowsing is complete bullshit. Its just people fooling themselves via ideomotor action. James Randi addresses this in his book Flim-Flam!. Turns out experienced dousers do no better than chance in a double-blind study. Randi now offres 1mil for those who can prove it.


If you also have a telephone (in addition to your two copper wires) you can get the power company/water company to locate the lines for you. California has a locator number you can call.

No dowser has been able to prove their abilities in an objective, blinded attempt and it’s been tried many times.

The JREF has conducted tests where they put 10 pipes underground and have a mechanism for switching which one the water is going through. No one has ever done better than chance.

Come on, really, a better record? Do you have any sort of evidence or cite?

Dowsing is entirely bullshit. A dowser may be able to legitimately find what they’re looking for, but it’s only because they know where it is through some observational method and then either lie or fool themselves with the ideomotor effect.

Or you can just have open ended criteria. For instance, I read about a contractor who would on his job dowse for various man made objects. He claimed that the majority of time, when his dowsing tool indicated an area, it was within 10 feet (IIRC) of an electrical line, or water line, or sewage line, or something. Basically anything. But if you just walk around a random construction zone and stop in random places, you’re likely to be within 10 feet of something man made.

Different color grass over it, a slight hump or indentation, where it goes in and where it comes out, what’s growing and not growing along the line, etc.

This is why dowsers work pretty well in “real” tests (actually trying to find water, pipes etc) but in true double-blind tests like the ones SenorBeef mentioned, they fail.

Many “water dowsers” are dudes who know the area well, and can spot signs such as vegetation, rocks, dips, seeps and whatever else has proved in the past to be a good spot for a well. In this case, the “dowsing rod” just acts as a way for them to remove outside distractions and concentrate on the clues.

Or if you are going to build something it falls in construction which is something I have some experience with.
Rick’s fool proof method of finding underground wires, pipes etc:

  1. Rent a large, heavy, expensive piece of machinery to dig a trench.
  2. Dig said trench.
    You will find every damn wire, pipe, hose conduit, sewer line and OG knows what else that is buried there.
  3. Pay to repair damages.

Or you might just call a locating service.

I look for fire hydrants, water valve boxes, sewer manholes, gas meters, pad mounted transformers, telephone boxes, pavement cuts, etc… If you can figure out where the utilities run and where the easements are, you can get a pretty good idea of where things are at.

Call your local county building codes office and find the locate service. You may also have to talk to the water company and the power company. There should be no charge.

***Anything else and you are likely to get yourself killed, or badly injured, or a whopping damage bill for utilities. You could be next year’s Darwin Award winner.

Locate services are usually free for this very reason. It is not a do-it-yourself option.

Folks, I’m sorry if my original question was unclear. I don’t want to know about dowsing for water (my OP was pretty clear on my opinions of dowsing). I also don’t want to know that I can call the local utility office. This is not useful to determining whether or not one can locate buried power lines or water pipes with two copper wires.

I have no tools or materials except two copper wires, 12 to 24 inches long. I have no voltmeter, I have no relays, I have no magnets, I have no coils, I have nothing else.

To rephrase what I am asking, is if the EM field of a buried power line will affect the copper wires in any way observable to the human touch or eye. Or perhaps a grounded water pipe.

My conversation partner in this originally suggested a water pipe will have an EM field because of static electricity, but from what I remember in college, flowing water is too conductive to form any sort of static charge **in a pipeline ** (bolding mine because you can create a 15kV spark with water and some other materials)

The answer is: No, it won’t.

Edited to add: Buried objects are quite unlikely to have a static charge, because ‘buried’ == ‘grounded’.

Furthermore, it is quite absurd to imagine that any effect on the human body that might result in twitchy wires - if such effect existed - would only manifest directly over the buried object.

Well, here’s the point. There is no scientific way that just “two copper wires, 12 to 24 inches long” could be useful. But they just happen to be the tools of dowsers.

Thank you, I’m glad it’s a science question and not a ‘how to’ question. But I thought I’d state the obvious just in case.

Google searches sometimes lead right to the SDMB, so you can’t be too careful, ya never know who might be taking this seriously.