Is Utility Locating Free?

There are really 2 answers to this question because there are 2 kinds of locating. There are public utility lines and there are private utility lines.

Did you know that in every state there is a variation of a law that says you cannot dig into the ground, even in your own yard, without first having underground utilities located and marked? Every piece of developed land will normally have some type of utility, whether public or private, that is buried. Upon finding out that there is a requirement to have your underground utilities located, most people wonder, “Is utility locating free?” But first, let’s figure out if this applies to you and your digging project.

Is Utility Locating Free?
Is Utility Locating Free?

Does This Really Apply to ANY Digging Project?

The short answer is yes. It doesn’t matter if you are excavating a site for a shopping center with heavy equipment or planting a tree in the back yard with a shovel. There are billions of feet of underground utilities in the United States and the odds of you hitting one are actually pretty high.

According to a news brief from the Common Ground Alliance (CGA), an underground utility line is damaged every few minutes in North America. Each strike to an underground utility line can cause injury, repair costs, inconvenient outages and fines.

The repercussions from hitting an underground line can be serious.

  • Damaged utility lines are costly to repair and dangerous too.
  • Cutting gas lines can lead to a dangerous explosion.
  • Electrical lines, if interfered with, can lead to fires or electrocutions.
  • Cutting water pipes can cause the collapse of trenches, loss of water, and floods.
  • Damage to underground utility lines can cause outages in the community and beyond.

Before starting any digging project, you need to notify utility locators in your area so that all the underground utility lines can be marked. So then what is a utility locator and how do you contact them?

What is a Utility Locator Service?

A utility locating service uses specialized equipment to identify where certain utilities are located under the ground. They will mark both the location and the depth of underground utility lines. Most people are not aware that there is no depth that is safe to dig. Utility lines can be buried very deep or they can be just below the surface. They can also shift positions due to other factors such as time, weather, and changes in the surrounding landscape. Utility locator services are trained on the many different types of utilities and how to find them. They will mark the location(s) of their service with paint, flags, stakes, or whiskers according to the uniform color code. Whether it’s a huge construction site or just a small project in your back yard, they are committed to making the dig site as safe as possible for everyone involved.

Is Utility Locating Free?
Is Utility Locating Free?

How Do You Contact a Utility Locator?

Imagine having to figure out how to contact all of the utility companies in your area and request they send someone out to mark the location of your underground utilities? Luckily you don’t have to contact each one individually, you only have to make one call, to 811. Every state has an 811 center that handles all of the hard work for you. You make one phone call or an online request and then they take it from there. The number is the same in every state. Just call 811. You can also do an online request through your state’s 811 website.

Is Utility Marking Free?

So, back to our main question – How much does it cost to have utilities marked? There are really 2 answers to this question because there are 2 kinds of locating. There are public utility lines and there are private utility lines. Your call to 811 will take care of all the public lines at the same time and this service is free. The cost of the service is actually paid by the utility companies and each has their own trained locators that they will send out to your site to mark their service location. The public utility companies however will normally only mark their lines up to the meter on your property. Everything past the meter is your responsibility. That’s where a private utility locator comes in. They will also mark any other private lines on your property which could include irrigation lines, barbecue gas lines, water lines to a pool, etc. A single private locator service should be able to take care of all the lines that are not covered by your call to 811. As Jason at USI Locate Inc describes it, “We locate what 811 doesn’t.”

Who Marks Private Utility Lines?
Who Marks Private Utility Lines?

According to a 2020 report by the CGA excavation related damages to utilities cost the U.S. approximately $30 billion in 2019. In that report it states that over 29% of that damage was because there was no request made to locate and mark the utilities before digging began. Now that you know, you can part of the solution instead of part of the problem.