“It’s my yard and I can dig if I want to.” It’s natural to feel this way. After all, you probably paid a lot for that property and you don’t want to answer to anyone, or wait around for somebody to come over and tell you where you can or can’t put your new begonias.
But just underneath the dirt and grass and concrete of our modern cities lies a perplexing network of utility lines. If you’re too ornery or impatient to call before you dig, you might knock out power to your house—if you’re lucky. If this is your unlucky day, you could seriously injure yourself and others. Even if you manage to avoid an accident, but cut a line, you can be liable for all damage.
When Should I Call Before Digging?
Some activities seem too small to bother with a pre-dig call. But they’re not. Hidden lines may lurk only a few inches beneath your lawn. Electricity, telecom, oil, gas, water, sewer—it’s a jungle down there. Even if you’re just planting a small shrub, you should call first.
Activities that warrant calling before digging include:
- Installing a mailbox
- Building a deck, patio or porch
- Digging a giant hole for a swimming pool (Duh!)
- Installing a sprinkler system
- Adding a septic tank to your yard
- Planting a tree
- Installing a flag pole or a pole for a basketball hoop
- Building a fence
Okay. You convinced me. What do I do?
Call 811 Before You Dig
Every state has its own call center to handle digging inquiries. But the Federal Communications Commission gave them all one easy-to-remember number: 811. Just pick up the phone, dial 811, and you’ll connect with your local call center. This center will take care of communicating with your local utilities, who will send their people out to mark line locations. Once you see little flags in your yard, you can start digging. Avoiding the flagged areas, of course.
The 811 call centers also serve an educational purpose. If you have a kids who love to dig, the centers offer child-focused resources for safe digging. The Common Ground Alliance is an organization that promotes safe digging practices. CGA bestows community service awards upon members of FFA, Girl Scouts and similar organizations to recognize their digging-related community service projects.
Things to Know After Calling the Dig Hotline
- If you’re going to dig 16 inches or deeper using mechanical equipment, you must call the 811 center at least two working days before you start. There are a few exceptions. Are you running a cemetery? Didn’t think so. Better call.
- Once the flags are in place, they’re only valid for 14 days. If you dig a month or two after the flags were installed, you could hit a new line and be liable for any damage.
- Are you hiring a contractor? Either you or the contractor can call 811. The important thing to realize is it needs to happen before the project can begin and could affect your timeline.
- Utility companies will send professionals out to mark the approximate location of utility lines. Since the Texas One-Call law doesn’t require sewer and water operators to participate, you may need to contact these folks directly.
- Once your property is marked, you still need to proceed with care. Respect marked lines, obstacles and warning signs. Since this is an inexact science, it’s wisest to hand-dig within 18 inches of the marking.
- Have you waited for two days…and you’re still waiting? Sometimes the system gets backed up. The Texas Notification System gets more than two million incoming calls annually. Try to be patient. Yelling at phone operators will probably get your request shoved to the bottom of the pile. But if a utility company is chronically tardy, you could file a complaint with the One-Call Board of Texas.
Colors and Markings
Did you call and get a lot of colored flags installed in your yard? Here is what each color means according to the American Public Works Association which has assigned a system of color coding for excavation.
Fences and Dig Safety
At Buzz, we’ve been working with the 811 folks for many years. Safety is priceless—that of our customers and our employees. Whether you’re hiring us to build your new fence or doing a DIY project remember: Call before you dig.