So you’ve decided to plant a couple of trees in your landscape this weekend. What’s the worst thing that could happen? An aching back? Blistered hands? Or maybe pulling back the lever on your rented Bobcat and realizing you’ve just ruptured a gas line or torn up a buried electrical cable?
It’s safe to say that any of those could pretty much ruin your weekend. You would also earn the wrath of your neighbors whose utilities were cut off until crews could repair your damage, and it’s likely you’d be responsible for the cost of repairs and possibly even open to legal consequences.
You might think that the hole you are digging for that new tree isn’t deep enough to cause a problem, but that can be a dangerous assumption. For one thing, some underground utilities might be closer to the surface than you imagine.
Additionally, you have to remember that tree roots can go deep and wide as the tree matures, and planting over or close to underground utilities is like burying a green time bomb that can dislodge and break lines many years in the future.
Fortunately, this is a problem that has a very simple (and free) solution.
All you have to do – BEFORE you dig – is call a this 3-digit phone number: 811. When you call 811 from anywhere in the country, your call will be routed to your local One Call Center. Local One Call Center operators will ask you for the location of your digging job and route your call to affected utility companies. Your utility companies will then send a professional locator to your location to mark your lines within a few days.
Utility companies have offered this service for many years, but with so many companies with so many phone numbers spread across the country, there was a lot of confusion and misunderstanding. Hence the start of a national one-call service and a unique phone number, 811.
Some homeowners believe the 811 service is solely for contractors but that is incorrect. Utility companies are just as happy to mark their lines for your DIY projects as for professional excavation jobs.
I should add that, even if you hire professional contractors to build that new deck or fence on your property, don’t assume they will call 811 before they begin work. I recommend that you ask the contractor if they have already done so, or you can simply call 811 yourself and tell your contractor that you’ve made the call.
Within a few days, you’ll see some little colored flags or lines of colored paint criss-crossing your land, indicating what lies beneath. Here’s what the colors indicate:
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
As you can see, white paint or flags are used to indicate where you or your contractors are planning to dig. It’s a very good idea to mark the dig location before the utility locator teams come out. But be sure you use only WHITE markers to avoid any confusion!
While the marker teams are looking down, you should take a few moments to look up. Overhead power and telephone lines are so much part of our lives that they almost become invisible to us.
But a tree planted under or close to an overhead power line can be a major problem. Before you plant a tree anywhere near overhead lines, double-check the possible mature height and canopy spread, and if necessary err on the side of caution and plant it a little further away.
More than 256,000 underground utility lines are struck each year in the U.S. If you’d rather not be part of that statistic, simply call 811 so you’ll know what’s below before you dig.