3a) Safety and Permissions

By knoxred (knoxred) on March 21, 2010

Pick up a phone before picking up your shovel!
With the first signs of spring upon us, we're all anxious to get out and start digging. But first, make some calls.


Check up, check down, check all around.   Simply put, know what's around you before you start working.  It's required by law, and may even save your life.

Underground utilities, irrigation lines, low-voltage lighting systems, maybe even wires from an outdoor sound system...they're out there, and you need to avoid them.   The best place to start is by calling 811.  It's a phone number that is good nationwide, and both the call and the service are free. When you call 811, they will send out representatives from all of the public utilities servicing your property.  This may include water, gas, and electric lines, as well as cable and phone.  The underground lines will be marked with spray paint within three (3) working days of your call.   The operator will want to know 1) your name and address,  2) when you are starting your project, and 3) who the contractor is if the work is hired out.  They will give you a confirmation number and an expiration date.  If you need to extend your project end date, you can make another call later on to get an extension. 

There are guidelines as to how close you can dig to the spray painted markings, just as there are rules for the transformer boxes that are in so many yards.  You must maintain a certain clearance when you dig, but there are also restrictions as to the type and location of plantings around the utility boxes.  Check with your local utilities for those requirements.  If you cut a line, you WILL face consequences.  These may range from an irate neighbor suddenly without cable for the big game, to financial liability for line repairs, to injury or even death.  Rupturing a gas line or hitting a high-voltage electrical line is not an experience you'd like to have.

Steering clear of overhead wires and obstructions is important too. Overhead lines can be a problem when you're trimming trees or operating equipment.  While you're looking up, note any low-hanging branches that may block your path.

That takes care of the public utilities, but you also need to be aware of anything that is owner-installed.  This can include wires or plumbing for greenhouses, sheds, pools or spa equipment,  alarm systems, lighting and sound systems.  Don't forget the direct natural gas or propane line to your gas grill. 

Wear appropriate protective gear for your project and the equipment you are operating.  This may include gloves, protective clothing, eye and ear protection and proper shoes.  Be sure to keep pets and children clear of the area when you are operating equipment.  If you have to leave an area unattended after you have begun excavating, be sure to block off and mark the area to prevent falls.


Check with your city or town to see if you need a permit for your project.  Generally, permits are required for permanent structures and for walls over a certain height.  There are legal buffers around lakes and streams as well.  Codes and ordinances vary - you need to check with your local officials. 

If you live in a neighborhood with a homeowners' association, you may need additional approvals for your project.  Read your neighborhood covenants and check with your Board of Directors or Architectural Control Committee if you have one.  If you begin a project without the proper approvals, many boards have the right to come change your property back to it's original condition and bill you for the work. 

Finally, it is a good idea to speak to your neighbors about the work at hand, and how long it is likely to last.  The work may inconvenience your neighbors from loud noise, construction traffic or disrupted utilities.  The end result of your project may permanently change your neighbors views or the amount of sunlight coming into their properties.   While you may have every legal right to complete this work, it helps to maintain good relations if you give your neighbors a heads-up.  Note that if you are changing drainage in a way that affects neighboring properties, you must get their consent first.  Answering any questions up front will also prevent constant work interruptions later to answer the same questions.

Plan ahead to make your project go smoothly.  Attend to any safety issues and obtain the necessary permissions before beginnning work.

Related articles:
association, before, cable, call, dig, electric, equipment, gas, HOA, homeowner, irrigation, lighting, line, lines, permission, safety, shovel, sound, sprinkler, utilities, utility, water

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Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
Good idea sallyg Mar 22, 2010 1:52 PM 6

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