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Even landscaping may require a call to 811

With our typically beautiful Septembers, we likely still have two more months of nice warm weather to accomplish outside chores, including landscaping and building things like fences, decks, patios, sheds and more. As you update your project list for this summer, make sure to consider if any of your tasks include digging.

Whether you are considering something big like adding a garage or carport, or even smaller projects such as digging a hole to plant a mature tree or transplant a shrub, it’s possible you may be required to call 811, which is the Call Before You Dig service.

It may seem like a hassle, but calling 811 before you dig, can save you from having to call 911 after you dig! Besides, it’s the law. Gas, electrical, water, oil, cable and telephone utilities are underground on many properties. And you don’t want to be surprised by any of them. Accidentally running into one of those utilities could turn your little project into a major headache!

Call two business days before you dig!

State law says that before you dig you must call 811 between two and 10 business days before you dig. Then the folks at the call center will ensure that all public utilities are notified about the upcoming dig on your property. In preparation, you may be asked to mark the area you plan to dig with white paint or white flags, which can be found at many hardware stores.

Then, each organization – either by themselves or via a hired “locator” – will mark the area of each utility. Each type of utility has a different color so that you will know what is where. The designated color for drinking water is blue; sewer is green, and gas, oil and steam are all marked yellow. Red is the color for electrical utilities and orange signifies communications – like internet, telephone and cable TV. Purple is the color for “reclaimed water” – that is not sewage, but water not treated for use as drinking water.

When dealing with the Dig law, “public” utilities are the ones that use the public right of way to your house. So, the folks at 811 will also let you know there could be a couple of other lines you may need to keep your eye out for.

For instance, if you have a sprinkler system or septic tank, you’ll want to be aware of them before you dig. Also, while propane gas lines will be marked, if instead of a pipe into your house from the street, you have a propane gas tank on your house that has a line into your house, it’s up to you to keep track of that line. Another example would be if you have an electrical line from your house meter to your unattached garage, that line may not be located for you. (You will also want to be aware of invisible fences, satellite dishes and fiber optic lines.)

Is a contractor in charge?

If your job is bigger and you’ve hired a landscaper, builder or fence installer, often those folks know about the importance of calling 811 before beginning the project. However, it is smartest and safest to check with them to ensure they have made that important call.

Calling 811

When you call 811, the call center, which services Washington, Oregon, Hawaii and Montana, will answer questions and set your request in motion. The information you will be asked includes your address and nearby cross streets, city, county, the type and scope of digging project, a contact phone number and an e-mail address or secondary contact number.


The law does have several exemptions that make it possible to plant posies or farm your land without having to worry every year about making a phone call.

The exemptions include some emergency excavations, as well as an excavation of less than 12 inches in depth on private, noncommercial property, if the excavation is performed by the person or an employee of the person who owns or occupies the property. It also includes the tilling of soil for agricultural purposes less than 12 inches deep within a utility easement and 20 inches deep outside of a utility easement.

In addition, it includes the replacement of official traffic signs no deeper than the depth at which it was installed. Some road maintenance activities if they are less than 6 inches in depth below the original road grade and a few other listed activities are also included.

We’re not legal experts, so please look into the law yourself or call 811 or go to for more information. However, it seems to us that with an exception of planting marigolds or your annual vegetable garden, it is definitely worth a call to 811 if you’re digging a deep hole for any large tree or putting in a new fence, or of course, any larger job.

Landscaping gives great curb appeal

We hope all this safety talk won’t in any way discourage you from maintaining and improving the landscape of your home. While we aren’t landscaping experts, we do know about curb appeal. Having a mowed lawn accompanied by attractive trees. shrubs and flowers make all the difference in how your home is viewed. Having a few shade trees can also make your home and yard cooler on these hot summer days. A little sweat equity in your yard can make your home look much more appealing.

As you choose which trees to plant near your home, be aware that trees here grow faster and bigger than normal because of our abundance of rain. Also, give some thought to where you place trees in relation to your home’s foundation, septic lines and tanks, and where power lines are located. Avoid planting trees too near these areas as the roots can do damage underground while the branches could interfere with power lines.

Around here it’s the alders, maples and willow trees that give the Grays Harbor PUD the most trouble. So, if you plant those, make sure they are very far from any power lines.

Another good thing to know is that the PUD will trim the trees 10 feet around their poles and the first 10 feet from the pole along the service line. However, the rest of the service line toward the home is the responsibility of the homeowner.

All this to say, make those improvements to your house and yard but be aware of what’s above and below your house!

Eric Bjella is the executive director of NeighborWorks of Grays Harbor, where Pat Beaty is the construction manager. This is a nonprofit organization committed to creating safe and affordable housing opportunities for all residents of Grays Harbor County. For questions about home repair, homebuyer education and financing, call 360-533-7828. Our office, 710 E. Market Street, is open to the public from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday – Thursday.


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