Before Digging, Call 811 to Keep Your Utilities Working

May 25, 2010 - Whether you're a do-it-yourselfer planning a weekend project or a professional excavator contracted for a home improvement job, one phone call to 811 will get your underground utility lines marked and your project off to a safe start.

The cost? Free.

This federally-mandated national number aims to make the process easier. Instead of looking up one of the 62 local call-before-you-dig telephone numbers, you just need to call 811.

What’s the Process?

Dial 811 several days before you plan to start your digging project. A local representative will collect your information and notify local utility companies of your intent to dig.

Most utility services, such as cable TV, telephone, electric, gas, water and sewer, are buried underground in many communities. Unintentionally striking one of these lines could result in inconvenient outages for entire neighborhoods, harm to yourself or someone else, and repair costs, according to Common Ground Alliance (CGA). A member-driven association, CGA coordinates the 811 service and promotes damage prevention practices.

Once you make the call, a professional locator will visit the dig site to mark the approximate location of all underground utility lines with spray paint or flags.

The utility paint or flags colors are:

  • Red – Electric
  • Orange – Communications, telephone/CATV
  • Blue – Potable water
  • Green – Sewer/Drainage
  • Yellow – Gas/Petroleum pipe line
  • Purple – Reclaimed water
  • White – Premark site of intended excavation

How Long Will It Take?

Most crews will arrive to mark your property within a few days. Be sure to check your state’s one-call center for specific information. Each state also has different rules and regulations governing digging, some are stricter than others.

The crew will make sure you know exactly where to dig — even though the depths of utility lines may vary and there may be multiple utility lines in the same area. Once your site is marked, it is safe to begin digging around the identified areas.

Does every digging project require a call? Yes. No matter the type of project — putting in a mailbox, installing a fence, planting trees or shrubbery, building a patio or deck or excavating a new garden area — CGA officials say that you should make the 811 call.

For more safe digging tips and state-specific information, visit

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