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SUE Money Saving Tip

SUE is an abbreviation short for subsurface utility engineering. Generally speaking, SUE can briefly be described as vacuum utility potholing and private utility locating. SUE is significant because of the potential money-saving characteristics unique to the engineering design process. Ben Franklin's idiom, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" seems to sum up what SUE is all about: Saving project owners money while also reducing risk.

The entire idea of SUE is to spend the extra time and money at the front of a project, in the design phase, to eliminate, or at least significantly reduce, project costs associated with utility damages, unexpected utility relocations and design changes. Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) stated in a 2007 Subsurface Utility Engineering Manual Final Report to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation that "the damage to underground utilities has been identified as one of the most dangerous problems for the construction industry."

For this reason, and many others, there have been several studies conducted on the value or return on investment (ROI), of SUE. The following studies have shown significant savings on projects employing the SUE standard. For example, a study by the Purdue University in December 1999 indicated an ROI of $4.62 or 462%. Another study in October 2005 by the University of Toronto indicated an ROI of $3.41 or 341%. In August 2007, Penn State indicated in their SUE study an ROI of $22.00 or an astounding 2200%.

Using these figures and a simple example of what a project owner could expect to save by using SUE in the design of a storm drainage systems project, let's suppose a project costs $1,000,000.00. SUE costs as a percentage of the project budget are 1% or $10,000.00. The owner would save the following amounts, based on the ROI stated in each study above. The Purdue study would save $46,200.00, Toronto $34,100 and Penn State $220,000.00 respectively.

As one can see, by spending the extra $10,000.00 up front with SUE, the owner would be able to generate savings of somewhere between $34,100.00 and $220,000.00. This is only monetary savings. The implications for reduced construction delays, fatalities, power and other facility service outages should be other reasons to strongly consider implementing SUE, especially on projects necessitating the need for new sewer and other pipeline infrastructures.

With deterioration of underground pipelines such as water pipeline and other utilities that are designed for limited lifetimes, as well as increasing demand for utilities in United States, it seems pretty clear that the savings achieved by being a little more thorough in the design phase and utilizing SUE practices justifies this expense in the end. It doesn't take a mathematician to figure out that using SUE during design will save a project owner valuable time and money in the long run. An ounce of prevention of this magnitude is indeed worth a pound of cures.