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Call Before You Dig: What You Need to Know about Calling 811

Utility Services
August 10, 2023

If you are planning on digging on your property, whether you are making significant property modifications or doing simple yard work, you should be aware that it is the law to call 811 if you plan to dig. Individuals who go through the proper channels have >95% chance of avoiding incidents. While this may seem like an “extra hoop to jump through”, it is critical for underground utility damage prevention and ensuring your own personal safety.

Navigating Digging and 811

The Process of Calling 811

Each state has a designated 811 center and call system, and you are also able to make the request online, 24 hours a day. When you make the call or submit an online request, you should have some information in-hand. This includes your address, your county, adjacent streets, the nature of your digging project, and where on your property you plan to dig.

Although it can vary by state, an 811 notification must be made a minimum of three business days in advance. This is so utility companies and utility locating services have the opportunity to visit the site and mark along existing utility lines. Once you make your request, the 811 center will send locate requests to the utility providers. Often, these utility locating professionals will use advanced equipment like ground penetrating radar (GPR) and flag/color code systems and survey markings to identify and indicate utility locations. 

Once the utility companies have marked locations for you, all you need to do is confirm with 811 that they have responded to the request, and then you are ready to go. 

Dig Safely Around Utility Markings

With the location of utilities clearly marked, you can now determine where to avoid during your digging project. This sometimes means having to change your specific plans/location of your digging project. 

It is important to pay very close attention to the markings and color codes to understand which type of utility is nearby. This is because variation in material types such as PVC or metallic pipes can cause utility locating accuracy to vary. According to PA One Call, accuracy can vary from 18 to 24 inches. 

How Deep Can You Dig Before Calling 811?

While you may assume that barely digging into the surface of the ground doesn’t warrant an 811 call, it actually does. The location of both private and public utilities can range from several feet underground to just below the surface, so no matter the scale of the project, there may be a risk of damaging underground facilities. This includes small projects such as installing a mailbox or planting a tree. 

What Happens if You Don’t Call Before You Dig?

Because of the severe risks of utility damages associated with blindly digging, there is a fine for not calling 811. These civil penalties can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, but these costs are small in comparison to the risk of injuring yourself, causing a gas leak, breaking a water main, or rupturing a sewer pipe. Calling 811 before digging mitigates all of these risks, and secures the health and safety of everyone in your vicinity. 

UtiliSource: Accurate Utility Locating Services

If you need to locate utilities before digging, UtiliSource has you covered. Our team is equipped with years of expertise and the best locating equipment available. We also offer state-of-the-art GIS utility mapping services so you can have confidence in knowing where your utilities are located. Give us a call today!

Frequently Asked Questions

How deep do they bury electrical lines?

The depth at which electrical lines are buried depends on various factors, such as the type of soil, the type of line being buried, and local and state laws. Generally, electrical lines are buried anywhere from 18 inches to 4 feet deep.

How close to a utility line can you dig?

The exact distance depends on local laws and regulations, but in general it is recommended to keep at least two feet away from utility lines when digging. You should always call 811 to obtain permission before digging near their lines.

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