Dig Safely, starting today!
Safe Digging Guidelines
- Survey and Mark: Survey your proposed dig area and mark the site. On paved surfaces use white spray chalk, water base, UV paint or equivalent less permanent type marking. For unpaved surfaces use flags or stakes (in a pinch you may use flour, sugar or other white substances)
- Contact DigAlert: You must contact DigAlert prior to starting your excavation. You can initiate a ticket by either utilizing DigAlert Direct or by calling 811 or 800-422-4133 to start a DigAlert® Ticket.
- Wait the Required Time: Legally, you must wait two (2) working days NOT including the date of notification (4216.2(b)) for members to mark their underground facilities. They will mark the lines they own or maintain with stakes, flags or paint in the appropriate colors codes and/or advise you of no conflict.
- Respect the Marks: Please work to preserve facility marks for the duration of the job. If any of the markings become difficult to see, you must contact DigAlert and reference your ticket number to request re-marking by the affected member utilities. It is critical that your excavation site is still outlined in white so that your request can be properly addressed. Your ticket is valid for twenty-eight (28) calendar days from the date of its issuance-not when you first break ground. You must have an active ticket for the duration of your excavation.
- Dig With Care: If you are digging within 24 inches of the outside diameter of the utility (or
tolerance zone), you are required to utilize hand tools only. Any underground facilities that are in conflict with your excavation must be located with hand tools and protected before power equipment is used. If there is any damage, even a simple nick or cut to the facility, you must notify the affected utility of the damage and you may contact DigAlert to report it as well as get contact numbers for the utility.
Buried utilities can exist just about anywhere on your property - hence the importance of checking with DigAlert before digging. You can prevent damage to underground utilities and avoid service interruptions simply by utilizing DigAlert Direct or calling 811 two (2) working days NOT including the date of notification (4216.2(b)) prior to starting your excavation. This is a 100% free service, and more importantly-it's the law.
Legally, the person who is doing the work must have a DigAlert in their name. If you hire a contractor, the responsibility is legally theirs for the notification - but it could actually be yours if stated in the fine print of the contract. However, it would be prudent as a homeowner to also follow up with DigAlert just in case. If the contractor is negligent in this task and causes damage to buried utilities, you as the homeowner could be found liable. This is a strong case of "better safe than sorry."
If you're unsure as to whether or not you should contact DigAlert, please see our descriptions of various common projects undertaken by homeowners every day that fall squarely under our purview. Please note that this is provided merely for illustration purposes only and should not be considered a definitive list. The law is crystal clear - start a ticket and get the utility lines marked before digging.
The most common question is "when should I contact DigAlert?" The short answer is "any time you are digging." The more obvious times would be when you're putting in a new swimming pool or perhaps a room addition that requires a new foundation to be excavated. However there are several other jobs, both large and small, that might not register as significant enough to warrant contacting DigAlert and starting a ticket. The following represents a partial list of the types of projects that are both well within the capabilities of many homeowners, and absolutely require contacting DigAlert to have buried utilities marked.
Sprinklers and other Irrigation systems are at the center of many home improvement projects. Due to their very nature (i.e. long, straight, buried runs of pipe and conduit) the likelihood is high that there will be some interference with underground services. One suggestion for simplifying the delineation/pre-marking is to dry-fit the irrigation pipes above ground and simply mark the ground beneath them. This has additional benefits as the trenching is more efficient (no guessing exactly where the lines will run) and the pipes are pre-cut when it comes time for installation.
Trees and shrubs are often planted with little consideration for what lies beneath the surface. Locations are selected based solely on aesthetics or where they might provide the best shade. The risk is double as not only can the underground utilities be damaged while planting, but growth habits of mature plants are usually overlooked as well. As one example, willow trees have particularly aggressive root systems and should be planted far from buried utilities to prevent damage as they grow. Shrubs and hedges are often planted along house walls and fences, which oftentimes intersect with utility lines.
People often think of backyard ponds as being very shallow, therefore contacting DigAlert might seem like an unnecessary step when considering this popular addition. In reality experts recommend a depth of between 24 and 36 inches, making this project one of the more risky projects in terms of potential underground utility damage. Location is key when determining placement of water features-local ordinances, proximity to property lines and trees, in addition to buried utilities all play important roles. A water garden may appear on the surface to be a fairly straightforward yard addition, but careful planning as well as contacting DigAlert before beginning excavation is the key to success here.
New or replacement fences are often overlooked when it comes to having utilities marked as the post holes appear to be fairly small and innocuous. Two of the major factors working against this logic however are the depth and sheer number of holes that must be dug. Also taking into account that most fences run along property lines and streets, which are prime areas for underground service lines, and one can easily see that contacting DigAlert is a key component in any fence building project.
Mailboxes are like fences in that the task of replacing one seems like such a small project that contacting DigAlert appears almost unnecessary. Ideally, a mailbox should be located where the ease of delivery is taken into strong consideration. This means placement along streets and rights of way, which is exactly where buried utility lines are most often placed. Couple this fact with the depth required for a proper cement post and one can quickly see that the potential for accident is great.
These are just a few of the most common projects homeowners undertake daily. Rather than trying to judge yourself if the project requires utilities to be marked, be smart, be safe, and utilize DigAlert Direct before your shovel hits the ground. It's a 100% free service that also happens to be the law, and it can easily save you the headache and expense of paying for the repair of accidental damage to buried utilities.
You can use DigAlert Direct or call 811 or 800-422-4133 at least two (2) working days NOT including the date of notification (4216.2(b)) before you plan to start digging, we will notify all our members (i.e. the utilities) that own and maintain underground lines in the area. They will only mark the lines they own and maintain (usually up to the meters), they will not mark any private lines, such as: lines going to fire pits, BBQ's, pool heaters, spas, etc.
Each utility company will mark their lines using paint, chalk, flags or whiskers using a standard color code shown below:
If the marks are going adjacent to or through your work area, you are required by law to hand expose 24 inches on either side of the actual line so that you are aware of its' exact location and depth before using any power equipment.
Questions Homeowners Should Be Prepared To Answer When Calling 811
"Will you be doing the work yourself or hiring a contractor?" If you are hiring a contractor, please be prepared to provide the name of the company, if possible, their address, telephone number, foreman's name and contact number. If you are doing the work yourself, we will require your information.
"Have you pre-marked in white the area in which you plan on digging?" California State law states that if it is practical, you are required to pre-mark the area where you will be digging with white paint, stakes with white flags, chalk or any other suitable material - including flour or sugar.
"What is the county, city, address or location of where the work will be taking place?" You will also be asked for the closest connecting cross street to your location. (Not the MAJOR cross street, we need the CLOSEST cross street to the street where you will be working, it could be a very small street or even a cul-de-sac). You may also add any specific information such as: which side of the house, the rear of the house, along an existing fence line, in front in the parkway, etc).
"What type of work will you be doing?" Some examples would be installing sprinklers in the front yard, replacing the existing fence, installing a new fence, removing or planting a tree, installing landscape, etc).
"Is a permit required for the work that you are doing?" If you don't know, just answer "unknown". If a permit was required but you don't have the number, reply "not available". If a permit was required and you have the number, please give it to the operator.
"When do you plan on starting the work?" We are only able to issue a DigAlert ticket if you are starting the work within 14 calendar days of the date you call. If your start date is beyond 14 calendar days, you will need to wait to call in your location until the start date is closer.
The operator will now read you a list of the utilities required to respond which sometimes may be quite long. Please don't be concerned, it does not mean all of their lines are on your property and remember...this is a free service, there are no hidden charges. You will now receive what we call a ticket number. This is how we hold your information in our system. If for any reason you need to contact us, have that ticket number handy so that the operator is able to pull up your information. You are ready to start your work on the date you provided once all the utilities have marked.