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What Utility Lines You May Hit When Digging and How to Avoid Disaster

Common Questions

There are many reasons you might want to dig into your property. Various landscaping projects, such as building a deck, require digging. Housing projects can also require you to do some digging, such as if you’re adding an additional room or changing from electric to gas.

When digging on your property, it’s critical to understand where your utility lines are. If you do any digging without this knowledge, it can rupture vital lines, such as water or electricity. This can not only be costly to fix but can cause serious property damage or personal injury.

Safe Excavation

Practicing responsible digging around underground utilities can help you mitigate costs, avoid injury, and decrease the overall timeline of the project. If you don’t know where your utility lines are on your property, you can use location crew or hotlines to help you find them. Best practices for safe excavation include:
 

  • Turning off utilities before you start digging: This is a crucial first step before you start any digging. Turning off the utilities will minimize your risk of damage or injury should you accidentally strike a pipe. If you don’t know how to do this, ask your utility provider where to find your turn-off valves.

  • Digging manually: Digging manually, rather than with machinery, is more labour-intensive, but safer. Digging manually allows you to scale your speed, and reduces the margin of error. It always reduces the amount of force or pressure you’re putting on utility pipes if you do hit them. This can mean the difference between fissuring a pipe and bouncing off it harmlessly.

  • Avoiding pointed-edge tools: Avoiding heavily pointed tools can also reduce the impact you have on a pipe or wire. Using rounded or blunt-edged tools can reduce your likelihood of puncturing a wire, breaking a pipe, or even injuring yourself or others.

  • Learning the “tolerance zone”: The tolerance zone is the outside edge of an underground pipe. This zone helps diggers locate underground pipes and utility lines and can signal when you’re excavating near them. This zone is important to pay attention to, particularly if you are using digging machinery. The tolerance zone lets you know how near you are to a pipe, which can prevent accidental damage.

What Utility Lines Can Be Damaged?

Any utility lines that run under your house can be damaged by poor digging practices. What line you rupture, and whether you’re inside or outside the tolerance zone, will be the biggest determiner of the extent of the damage or danger. It’s important to know which lines are which before you start digging, so you can gauge the risk.

 

Canada uses a coluor-coding system to differentiate between utility lines. This makes it easy for professionals and property owners to know which line they’re near while digging.

Below are the most common underground utility lines you can rupture when digging, and what can happen if these lines are compromised.

Electrical

Electrical utility lines are possibly one of the most important lines to shut off before digging starts. Rupturing an electrical line can not only cause a power outage in your home but possibly on your whole street. Additionally, it can send intense amounts of electricity through your body if you’re not careful, which would cause great harm.

If you notice a live wire has broken on your property, get in touch with your power supplier for safe disposal. When digging around your electrical utility line, even if it’s turned off, you may want to wear rubber gloves and rubber-soled shoes to minimize any shocks.

Cable and Internet

Even if you don’t use your cable line, it’s still important to dig with caution if you have an underground line on your property. Internet lines are also laid underground, however, they’re most commonly found in the ocean, so it isn’t very likely you’ll find one on your property.

Rupturing a cable line can cause minimal physical damage to your property. It can impact your ability to receive cable transmissions, and depending on the extent of the damage, you may have to call your cable company for a replacement. Additionally, cutting or damaging the wires in your cable line could cause electrical shocks if it’s live. This is why it’s important to always turn off your utilities before starting your dig.

Gas

Gas leaks can be incredibly dangerous, both in and out of the home. Many gases are highly flammable and can cause health problems like nausea, nosebleeds, and fainting if inhaled for too long.

 

If you rupture a utility line with any yellow markings, you need to call 911 and evacuate the area, as this is typically the gas line. Because gas leaks are so serious, you should get your gas line serviced every six months if you have a gas stove or heating unit.

Sewer and Water

Your sewer and water lines are probably the utility lines you’re most likely to run into during an excavation project. It’s important to know the difference between a sewer and a water line so if one bursts, you can react accordingly.

A burst in your potable water pipe — such as the water that is pumped into your kitchen or bathroom — can cause flooding, but poses little risk to your health. If you burst a blue-marked pipe while digging, call an emergency plumbing service and turn off your home’s water supply if it’s not already off to prevent flood damage.

Rupturing your sewage line poses more health threats, as waste carries disease-causing bacteria. If you see a green or purple marking on a pipe, treat it with extra caution, as these pipes contain contaminated water. And you should get your sewer line serviced every 18 to 22 months. This can vastly reduce the likelihood of unexpected ruptures, both before, during, and after excavation projects.

 

Whether you’re doing a project yourself or collaborating with professionals, the first step for any renovation should be to do a safety check for utility lines. Digging safely protects you, your family, and your equipment from harm. Talk to your utility provider or look up local hotlines to get your property’s underground utility lines identified.