How Deep Can I Dig Without Calling 811?

Chloe Meltzer
by Chloe Meltzer
Homeowners and contractors often all 811 before striking ground to make sure that they don’t cause serious damage. The number exists so that you don’t hit wires, cables, and gas lines, but there is no specific depth at which you have to call the number. Granted, it is wise to always call 811 before digging, so let’s take a look at the factors that determine it and why that service is so important.

When the summer comes and the weather is good most people look to go outside and start on all of the projects they’ve looked forward to completing. Whether this is a shed, starting a remodel, adding an extension onto your home, planting a tree, or having some fun in the garden, all of these might require digging.

You should call 811 if you plan to dig deeper than 12”, but there is no rule for a specific depth. It is smart to call 811 if you ever have concerns about wires or lines in the area. Digging below 1 foot deep increases the risk that you hit gas, sewer, or electrical lines.

If you are digging more than 12 inches, then calling 811 is important. This is because all of the water, sewer, TV, phone, gas, oil, cable, and electricity lines run underground. These are not something you want to dig into! Not only will hitting one of these affect the utilities in your home, but it could also disturb the service of the entire street.

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When You Can Dig Without Calling 811

Although it is usually recommended to call 811 before digging, there are a few exceptions. These exceptions might be able to allow you to plant flowers, or farm crops without needing to call the government, but this is not always the case. These exceptions that do not require the calling of 811 includes:

  • Emergency digging.
  • Digging less than 12 inches on a private, or noncommercial property, that is performed by the owner of the property, or by an employee of the property owner.
  • Tilling of soil for agricultural purposes less than 12 inches deep within a utility easement.
  • Tilling of soil for agricultural purposes less than 20 inches deep outside of a utility easement.
  • Replacement of official traffic signs no deeper than the depth at which it was installed previously.
  • Road maintenance activities if less than 6 inches in depth below the original road.

The Purpose Of 811

Although it might seem a bit ridiculous to need to call the government even to plant a tree on your own property, it is for the safety of you and others. 811 allows you to keep everyone safe and avoid gas pipes, electrical lines, or sewage systems.

811 was specifically created to avoid emergencies. Whether that is to you, your property, or your contractor. You will be happy you called 811 when you see how many lines go right underneath your property.

What Happens When You Call 811

If your situation does not allow you to dig without calling 811, then it is good to know what to expect after calling. Be sure to call at least two business days before you plan to dig, so that all public utilities can be notified about it.

You may be asked to mark the areas when you have plans to dig. You can use white paint or some type of flags found at a home-improvement store. Next, an organizer will come to mark where all of the underground utilities are located. This will help you to know where to avoid when digging.

Each different utility is assigned a different color:

  • Blue=water
  • Green=sewage
  • Yellow=gas, oil, steam
  • Red=electricity
  • Orange=internet,telephone,cable
  • Purple=reclaimed water (non-potable water)

When To Begin A Digging Project

Once your property has been marked you can begin your digging project. This allows you to know where the lines are so you can avoid them.

Small Projects That Require A Call To 811

Although a project might seem small you still may need to call 811. The main rule to always remember is to always call if you plan to dig 12 inches or more, or provide road maintenance 6 inches in depth below the original road. Even if the following small projects seem small, they still require you to call 811.

Planting A Flower Garden Or Bush

Many utilities are only buried a few inches below the ground. This means that even if you are plenty of a small garden, you can easily hit a utility line. This includes planting small shrubs, or little plants as well. This can help to keep your community safe.

Installing A New Mailbox

Although mailboxes are usually installed on the edge of your property line, you never know where utilities might be hiding. Contact 811 if you are planning to place your mailbox more than 12 inches below the ground. Sometimes you may even want to call if even you do not plan to put it that deep. This is because often utility lines can be a bit higher than 12 inches. This can help to avoid serious injury.

Digging In A Spot That Was Previously Dug

Regardless of if you have previously dug in a location before, erosion and root system growth can occur. Erosion and roots can actually change the depth of where these lines are buried. Additionally, depending on how long ago you have dug in that location, utility companies may have come out to work on lines and move them around.

Even If You Have Hired A Contractor

Even though you might depend on your contractor or landscaper to know what to do, they do not always do the right thing. Confirm that your contractor or landscaper has contacted 811 and, if not, then do so yourself. It is never worth the risk to dig and cause issues.

When Digging More Than 12 Inches

Sometimes when you are planning to dig in a small portion of your yard, you might not think that there is any chance of hitting a utility line. This is simply not the case. If you plan to dig 12 inches or something that seems close to it, then call 811. Legally you are not required to, but you are going to have to deal with a lot more trouble if you end up hitting a utility line.

Why Use 811?

Calling the government before planting flowers or a tree on your own property can be a drag. Despite this, at least it is free. Instead of worrying about digging and hitting a potential utility line, you can call 811.

Call 811 At Least Three Days Before Digging

As with any professional service, it’s important that you’re courteous and call before you start your digging project. You’ll want to call at least three days before you begin. This is the amount of time it usually takes the utility operators to get back to you about your inquiry.

Keep in mind that response times typically differ from state to state. Check with your local area to find out when the best time to call 811 is. That way, you won’t have to postpone your project any further out if the response time is longer than 3 days.

It Is Free To Call 811 Dig

Regardless if you’re a homeowner or a professional who works in the excavation field, you should call 811 so that the facility operators are able to locate their underground facilities before you begin digging. This will help avoid any potential lines getting hit.
Since this is a necessary service, it is absolutely no cost to you. The call and the professionals coming out are completely free, so don’t hesitate to call. It’s better to be safe than sorry. If you accidentally hit a line you may be expected to pay for it.

Is It The Law For You To Call 811 Before Digging?

Before you being to excavate a site, or start digging, it is the law that you call 811 beforehand. This is because if you hit a line accidentally, it might affect more than just you. The company will then need to pay for the man-hours that it takes to get everything back into working order. So, 811 is a means to prevent this hassle.

Related Questions

When should I call 811?

You should call 811 if you are digging a hole that is deeper than 12 inches deep. Essentially, if you are in a residential area then digging a deep hole for a large tree or putting in a new fence should warrant a call to 811.

If I need to call 811, what will they ask me?

811 will ask for your address, nearby cross streets, as well as the city, and county. You will also need to provide the type of digging project, the reason for the digging project, and contact information.

If I hit a pipeline and nothing happens then is there anything to worry about?

If you hit a pipeline and it appears that it is not damaged, you still need to report it. Sometimes a small dent or damage to the protective coating can fester and cause major damage in the future.

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Our Takeaway

You should never, ever dig or excavate without first calling 811 so that they can talk to the facilitators and get them out to locate their underground facilities. This helps prevent problems with damaged pipes and wiring. In the vent that you don’t call 811 before digging and you hit a pipe, you can be fined over $1,000 plus be ordered to pay for the damage. Although, even if you don’t make any mistakes, you still may get fined if you’re caught. Therefore call 811!

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Chloe Meltzer
Chloe Meltzer

Real estate agent and copywriter, originally from California. Chloe brings her real estate expertise into her writing to create effective and helpful home guides for you! When not writing or selling homes, she spends her time as a digital nomad traveling the world.

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