How To Locate Utility Lines Before Digging

A do-it-yourself home improvement project is always a money saver. But it might lead to spending more if the project requires digging. Unintentional hitting might lead to injuries, penalties, fines, and repair costs. Worse, this might not only affect you but can affect an entire community because of service outage. You don’t want to be a subject of hatred just because you forgot to locate utility lines before digging. It will not be hard, anyway. It only takes a call to 811.

Only about 1/3 of all the do-it-yourself homeowners call the new Call Before You Dig number—811—and so, this led to at least one unintentional hit of underground utility lines every minute. Even experienced diggers can make mistakes in their assumptions of where utility locations are. Better be safe than sorry by following the tips below:

  • Step 1. Plan the excavation. The plan includes location, duration of excavation, your name, and permit number. All these information will be needed when you call Underground Service Alert (USA).
  • Step 2. Mark the site for excavation with white paint. Preferably, use chalk-based paint. It can be cleaned up easily so the site will be readily available to start the excavation. If you won’t do this before calling, they will only tell you to do it. So better do this now before you call so the USA can start the process. 
  • Step 3. Call 811 not more than 14 days before the planned start of the project. The number is available 24/7. An operator will answer your call. There are so far 62 One-Call Centers for 811 in the country. Once your call is received, the operator will ask for the location of your planned digging. She will transfer your call to the assigned center. For example, if you plan to excavate in Kansas, then 811 will transfer you to the One-Call Center in Kansas.
    The operator will ask you questions like the permit number, the reason for digging, how deep will be the excavation, and when you are planning to start the project. During the call, you are free to ask any questions. After the call, you will be advised to wait for at least two days. Be patient and wait.
  • Step 4. Call USA after two working days. By this time, the agency must have already identified the public utility lines that might be affected with your project. They will send out personnel to the site. He will identify the affected utilities on the site by spraying on paint color.

Each color plays for a code. Red is for lighting cables, conduit cables, and electric power lines. Orange is for signal lines, alarm lines, and telecommunication lines. Yellow is for petroleum, steam, oil, natural gas, and other flammable material. Green is for drain lines and sewers. Blue is for drinking water. Violet is for slurry lines, irrigation lines, and reclaimed water. Pink is for temporary markings.

Utility lines are finally located. You can start digging now, but be very careful when digging on marked lines. These lines should always be visible for the whole duration of the project. If some lines were erased, call 811 and ask to mark the site again.

If hitting utility lines still happened even with your careful digging, call 1-800-743-5000 immediately. They need to resolve the problem immediately or worse damages might occur.


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