Whether you’re building a new pool or laying the groundwork for the perfect barbecue patio, backyard projects require digging. However, digging beneath your property can be dangerous. Your house may have gas, electric, and cable lines that can cause structural property damage, or even injury or death, if struck during digging. To avoid causing lasting damage to your property and yourself, you should contact a call before you dig hotline.
In this article, we’ll cover what call before you dig hotlines are, which one you should call and when, and what to do with the information they give you. Read on to learn more!
What Are Call Before You Dig Hotlines?
Call before you dig hotlines are national numbers you can call that tell you if it’s safe to dig in your area. In most areas of North America, you can simply dial 811, which will contact you with your respective utility provider. When you call, local utility workers will be able to mark your property with the locations of utility lines. Knowing where these critical lines are running through your property is an easy way to avoid unnecessary costs, service disruptions, repairs, and possible bodily injury. Once the marks are placed, you’re able to dig safely and plan the layout of your project keeping in mind the location of utility lines.
Is It Mandatory to Call Before You Dig Hotlines?
Even if you feel like playing with fire by not calling 811, chances are you are legally obliged to do it. Every state in the U.S. has a law about locating utility lines before digging. The specifics vary between states, with punishments for not calling—typically discovered due to striking a line—can range from warnings to fines of $50,000 plus repair costs.
Though these laws are sometimes loosely enforced, there is no reason not to call 811 or your local Before You Dig hotline. The service is free, takes just two or three days to be completed, and prevents damage and injury.
Hotlines like these exist for every region of the United States and Canada. Some areas have unique numbers to call, but you can reach a network of utility services by dialing 811. This number will connect you with a local call center to send out utility workers to your property.
How Does 811 Dig Work?
Calling a Before You Dig hotline is simple. Dial 811 or visit call811.com to find a local service two to three days before you plan to dig. Three days is generally enough time, but be sure to check the 811 state map to find out if your local service needs more time. Some states have online inquiries, but many do require a phone call.
Once in contact with 811 or your local call center, give them information about how to get in contact with you, where you’re planning to dig, and what type of work you’ll be doing. Local utility companies will be notified, and a locator will be dispatched to place markers on the site of any lines on your property.
When to Call Before You Dig
The 811 service recommends that all digging projects—yes, even as simple as planting a new bush!—are preceded by a call to 811. Many utility lines are buried only a few inches underground, which means that small projects like planting flowers or installing a mailbox can hit them. This also goes for lawn aerating; while an aerator may only puncture a few inches, that’s enough to hit shallowly buried lines.
Location markers aren’t good forever. Even if you’ve had your property marked in the past, you should still call 811 before you dig to ensure that erosion and soil shifting has not moved the lines.
Even if you’re hiring somebody to do the digging for you, you should still be sure that 811 has been called. Some contractors assume that the homeowner will make them aware of any buried utility lines. Don’t take the risk that a contractor will do it for you—make the call yourself to minimize any potential damage.
What Do Call Before You Dig Markers Mean?
Once you’ve made the call and the utility markers have been placed, you can begin your digging project. You should leave at least an 18-inch space around the marker, though some states require you to leave more room. Planning for this extra space ensures you have enough room for your project and that you won’t strike a line that has shifted.
The markers placed on your lawn signify different types of utility lines. All of them should be avoided with equal concern. However, if you’re interested in learning what marker means what:
Marks where you plan to dig
Temporary survey markings
Marks property boundaries or similar lines; does not mark utilities
Electric power lines, cables, or conduit, lighting cables
Marks electrical lines underground. Dangerous if struck.
Gas, oil, steam, petroleum, gaseous materials
Marks gas and similar lines. Potentially dangerous if struck.
Communication, alarm or signal lines, cables, or conduits
Marks cable TV, phone lines, alarms, fiber optics, and similar lines. Can knock out communication abilities if struck.
Marks drinkable water lines. Can cause significant damage if struck, as well as disrupting water service.
Reclaimed water, irrigation, and slurry lines
Marks reclaimed water, such as non-drinkable water for gardening or industrial use. Can cause significant damage if struck.
Sewer and storm drain lines
Marks sewer lines and storm drains. Can cause significant damage if struck, as well as disrupting sewer service.