Before you start digging in your backyard, make sure you don’t become a statistic. According to a recent survey, millions of Americans plan to tackle DIY projects that involve digging. However, 42% acknowledge that they don’t plan on calling 811 before they dig. Every six minutes, an underground utility line is damaged by someone who starts digging without taking the necessary steps.
Why homeowners are digging underground
“DIY projects like landscaping, installing a fence or building a deck are all examples of ground disturbing activities that require a call to 811 a few days prior to the project start,” explains Khrysanne Kerr, VP of Communications at Common Ground Alliance, a national association that works to protect underground utility lines, and the people and communities who dig near these lines.
According to the survey, these are the most popular projects among homeowners who plan on digging underground:
- Planting a tree or shrub (47%)
- Building a patio or deck (24%)
- Building a fence (21%)
- Installing a mailbox (8%)
Dangers of digging
While many homeowners don’t think it is a big deal to dig without calling 811 first, Kerr warns that it can lead to severe consequences.
“Digging without knowing the approximate location of underground utilities can result in serious injuries, service disruptions, and costly repairs when gas, electric, communications, water and sewer lines are damaged,” Kerr warns.
How homeowners can stay safe
“Calling 811 a few days before any planned home improvement projects that require digging – including common landscaping projects like planting trees and shrubs – is critical to preventing incidents like service outages and serious injuries,” Kerr says.
Here’s how the process works: “Everyone who calls 811 a few days before digging is connected to a local one-call notification center that will take the caller’s information and communicate it to local utility companies,” Kerr says.
“Professional locators will visit the dig site within a few days of the request to mark the approximate location of underground utility lines with spray paint, flags or both.”
Once the site has been accurately marked, she says it’s safe for you to start digging around the marked areas. “Specific state laws vary, including the time utility companies have to respond to a request for location marks,” Kerr says.
Some additional tips:
- Always call 811 a few days before digging, regardless of the depth of the dig or your familiarity with the property.
- Plan ahead. Call on Monday or Tuesday for work planned for an upcoming weekend; this will provide ample time for the local utility to come and mark line locations.
- Confirm that all lines have been marked.
- Consider moving the location of your project if it is near utility line markings.
- If a contractor has been hired, confirm that the contractor has called 811. Don’t allow work to begin if lines aren’t marked.
- Visit www.call811.com for complete info.
The Common Ground Alliance also has an interactive map that provides detailed information on your state, including call center contact information and web portals so you can submit your notification online. The site also states the advance notice requirement for your state (for example, 2 working day). Additionally, the site provides legislative information for your state.
Terri Williams is a freelance journalist with bylines at The Economist, USA Today, Yahoo, the Houston Chronicle, and U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.