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Harnessing the power of utility pole inspection software to extend pole lifespan

July 13, 2023

Wooden utility poles are indispensable for the efficient and effective transmission and distribution of electricity. But to ensure their long-term functionality, wood poles require regular care and attention, and the importance of their continued maintenance cannot be understated. 

The cost of replacing a utility pole can be prohibitive, making it far more economical and practical to be proactive when it comes to regular maintenance – an approach that also significantly enhances safety by reducing the risk of unexpected pole failures. Utility pole inspection software optimizes maintenance strategies by boosting data accuracy, improving productivity so maintenance and inspection schedules are on track, and ensuring consistent standards from inspector to inspector. 

Join us as we explore how utility pole inspection software can help electrical utilities and contractors identify and mitigate potential issues with wooden poles to prolong their lifespans. To start, let’s lay out the scope of wooden utility pole maintenance to better understand its wider potential impact. 

The scope of wooden utility pole maintenance

Approximately 135 million wood utility poles are installed across urban and rural areas in the United States. The typical lifespan of a wooden utility pole is about 40-50 years, although this can vary depending on location, weather conditions, and prior maintenance efforts. 

The cost of replacing individual wooden poles averages $5000 per pole, depending on whether it’s in an urban or rural setting. With roughly 1.5 million wooden poles are replaced per year, this amounts to a nearly $8 billion annual price tag that still does not include the indirect cost of the logistical challenges or service disruptions associated with the replacement process. 

Regular upkeep of a wooden pole is needed around once every ten years and typically ranges from $30 to $40 per service. Over a typical pole lifespan, this amounts to an overall maintenance cost of less than $200, a remarkable 2500% ROI compared to pole replacement.

Clearly, failure to properly maintain utility poles can very quickly lead to significant financial losses. However, a failed utility pole is much more than just an economic concern – it can be a serious safety hazard. 

Prolonging pole lifespan through inspections

However critical, the importance of wooden pole inspections goes well beyond identifying and mitigating existing issues. 

If done regularly and accurately, pole inspections offer valuable insights to help prevent future problems. Emerging issues like structural weaknesses or environmental damage can be identified early and prevent more costly and hazardous issues from developing, prolonging pole life.

The inspection process is also key to uncovering trends in pole deterioration; for example, revealing patterns that link accelerated wood deterioration to certain types of environmental exposure or construction materials. With better visibility into factors affecting pole lifespan, data-driven insights can improve the decision-making process regarding pole construction and maintenance. The choice of material, the construction technique, or even the timing of maintenance – these are all variables that electrical utilities and contractors can optimize through diligent and thorough inspections.

Harnessing the power of utility pole inspection software to extend pole lifespan

Accuracy and action, pole to pole

The accuracy of the inspection process is critical to prolonging wooden pole lifespan. Industry-leading utility pole inspection software platforms have an array of features and advantages that strengthen this accuracy to streamline and improve the pole maintenance process in a variety of ways, including:

  • Cost savings: Digital inspections facilitate highly accurate and consistent data collection. Utilities and contractors can analyze and compare this data over time, potentially saving millions of dollars, especially with the increased resilience to extreme weather events that well-maintained poles offer.
  • Photographic evidence: Utility pole inspection software lets field inspectors take photographs during regular maintenance or inspections, providing a visual timeline of pole conditions. Photographic evidence is often more reliable and useful than written notes, which can be subjective and inconsistent.
  • In-app reference photos: Leading data collection tools offer in-app reference photos to help categorize pole conditions, ensuring data is collected consistently and reducing subjective interpretation of conditions. 
  • Integrated GIS: With built-in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), digital inspections guarantee no pole is overlooked and that the correct pole is examined each time, a consistency that ensures the data being compared is always apples-to-apples.
  • Real-time Remediation: With the ability to include any manner of SOPs, utility pole inspection software can guide field teams to execute on-the-spot treatments or remediation. This eliminates the need for follow-up visits by other crews. In addition, tasks can be immediately assigned and tracked within the platform to help keep track of more extensive repairs.

Harnessing digital inspection for future-proof maintenance

Adopting utility pole inspection software is the smart choice for sustainable, cost-effective maintenance of wooden utility poles. When the data collected on each pole is guaranteed to be accurate and consistent, electrical utilities and their contractors can optimize decisions regarding pole maintenance and replacement schedules.

Pioneering platforms like Fulcrum streamline the pole maintenance processes, reduce the risk of failures, and save utility companies and contractors time and money. As a result, these platforms can help to improve safety and mitigate potentially hazardous incidents, making them a valuable investment for any organization that maintains utility poles.

To learn more about utility pole inspection software for data collection and maintenance, check out how electrical utility contractor GeoForce used Fulcrum to tackle power outages with lightning speed.