Good preparation is key to any home improvement project going off without a hitch. If your to-do list requires digging more than a few inches, make sure you call 811, the “Call Before You Dig” line at least two business days before getting to work.
You may be surprised at how many utility lines are running beneath your feet — even if you have overhead lines along your property. Our properties are crisscrossed with underground cables, gas and electrical lines, water pipes and telecom wires that can lie just below the surface.
Calling 811 may prevent you from accidentally digging into and damaging buried utilities—and potentially saving you money and preventing serious injury.
When you call 811 it prompts a no-contact visit to your property where professional locators use water-soluble, color-coded paint to mark utility, municipal and company-owned lines on the lawn, sidewalk and driveway.
To be clear, workers will only locate lines owned by companies, cities and utilities. They will not mark the location of privately owned buried facilities, such as water and sewer pipes or electricity runs from the main property to an outbuilding. If you’re not sure where those are located on your property, there are many companies that offer private locate services.
“No matter how big or small your project is, being aware of all utility locations is crucial to protecting your own safety and preventing any damage to crucial infrastructure in your neighborhood,” said Justin Zucconi, safety manager for Clark Public Utilities. “It’s a very easy process. The call takes mere moments to complete and costs absolutely nothing.”
When you call, be prepared to provide information about where you’re planning to dig and what type of work you plan to do. It can be helpful if you outline your dig area with white paint before you call. Doing so will help utilities identify your work area quickly and accurately.
Home improvements can carry other risks in addition to buried utilities and it’s important to remember general safety guidance as you tackle projects.
Should your project require digging within 2 feet of a marked utility, dig with care using a rounded or blunt-edged shovel, cautiously approach from the side and never pry against a utility line to remove soil. Many utilities don’t have protective casings and can be easily damaged by something as small as a shovel.
“While working outdoors don’t forget to be mindful of overhead lines — they can be very dangerous,” Zucconi said. “Always look up before setting up a ladder or carrying and using long-handled tools.”
Whether setting up your ladder or working overhead, be aware of your own and your tool’s proximity to the overhead lines and give them ample space. Contacting one could deliver a fatal shock.
If you plan on planting a tree, don’t plant them under or near power lines. If that’s unavoidable, choose a variety that grows less than 25 feet tall. ClarkPublicUtilities.com offers helpful information about tree varieties that are safe to grow near power lines. To view the list, visit the site and search “planting trees near power lines.”
If your property is home to trees that are growing into or very near power lines or utility-owned equipment, call Customer Service at 360-992-3000 24 hours a day, or visit the utility’s website to make a tree trimming request.
Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to email@example.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.