Are you planting a garden, tree or shrubs or installing a mailbox post? A recent survey found that nearly half of U.S. homeowners planning these projects will overlook a crucial step, creating a real safety hazard and a risk of damage and disruption.

A UniSource customer made this mistake a few years ago while planting a garden. He thought he knew where the underground utilities were located. He was wrong.

“The homeowner didn’t call 811 first before digging, because he didn’t believe there were any utility lines buried there or that they were buried deeper,” recalled Jeff Brown, Supervisor of Construction & Maintenance for UniSource Gas.

The customer nicked a gas line, causing a leak that forced an evacuation. While UniSource was able to shut off the gas, the incident could have caused a much bigger problem.

Common Ground Alliance, a national group that promotes safe digging to save lives and protect infrastructure, recently surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. homeowners about their digging projects. They found that about half of the respondents planning projects that involved digging did not plan to call 811 before their shovel hit the dirt.

Brown said he isn’t surprised by the findings. “They think, ‘I’m a homeowner, 811 is only for big companies.’ But even contractors trying to expedite a job sometimes don’t take the time to call 811 before digging and then there are problems.”

Even shallow digging for gardens, trees, fences or decking can damage underground utility lines, creating a gas leak creating a safety hazard and causing service disruptions to homes and businesses. Brown said lines are buried at a certain depth, but the grade may change over time.

Kristy Rees, Unisource Public Awareness Compliance Specialist, said UniSource and other utilities are trying to raise awareness about the importance of calling 811 before digging.

“Our public outreach program includes radio and newspaper advertising, mailers, newsletter articles like this to our customers and educational materials for excavators,” Rees said. “Not calling 811 before digging really puts us and the community at risk. We are working diligently to raise awareness.”

While there can be fines for those who damage utility lines, UniSource seeks to educate customers so they understand the importance of using the 811 line locating service.

“If customers think they may have hit a line, we ask them to contact us immediately so that our crews can verify this and make repairs right away if needed,” said Rees. “We don’t want them to try and bury that line, which creates a potentially dangerous situation.”

Here are some important tips for customers planning any digging projects:

  • Always contact 811 a few days before digging, regardless of depth or familiarity of the property.
  • Be sure your contractor, if you’re using one, has contacted 811 and don’t allow work until lines are marked.
  • Consider moving the location of your project if it is near marked utility lines.
  • If your project is near a utility line, carefully hand dig within two feet of the marked lines and visually determine the exact location of the utility line before proceeding.
  • Don’t build sheds, shops, decks or other structures over utility lines, as they can restrict access to the lines, resulting in a dangerous situation.
  • Remember that damaging a utility line is dangerous and can result in expensive repairs and possibly fines.
  • Visit or for more information.

Calls to 811 prompt a visit to your home or business from line locators who mark the location of underground lines with spray paint, flags or both. Digging can then proceed a safe distance away from the marked lines.

“Most homeowners don’t understand the importance of calling 811 to have the lines marked before they dig,” Brown said. “Calling 811 ahead of time is free and easy, and it’s the law. It helps keep everyone safe and ensures reliable service.”

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