“Call before you dig” is a refrain you may have already heard from Public Service Announcements on the radio or TV. But many homeowners still ignore this basic advice, sometimes with deadly results. If you’re planning to dig anywhere on your property, here’s what you need to know–and do–to get the job done safely.

Why is planning for your digging project important?

Maybe you’re working on a minor landscaping project, building an addition on your house, or replacing an old mailbox. Or maybe you have hired a professional to do the job, and you assume that they will do their research before breaking ground. But many utility lines are not buried all that deep, and even minor digging projects can put you and your neighbors at risk. If you dig without having your property marked, you could damage the power, gas, water or sewer lines around your home; knock out service in your neighborhood; or be seriously hurt.

What happens when you call 811?

The most important thing you should do before you dig–anywhere, for any reason–is to call 811 in advance of your project. This will ensure that you don’t hit any underground utilities and create a potentially dangerous situation. At not cost to you, professionals from your local utility companies will evaluate the area you plan to dig and mark areas to avoid. “Call before you dig” is the law, but requirements about how far in advance you must call vary–in general, it’s about 2-3 days. Go to call811.com for information about your state.

Staying up to date

In general, the markings provided by your local utility companies after an 811 call are good for up to 30 days. But utility lines can shift for a variety of reasons, so you should always get a new assessment after that time has passed — even if you’re planning to dig in the same area.

The bottom line

According to the Common Ground Alliance (CGA), there are more than 100 billion feet of underground utilities in the United States. Each year, utility line strikes cause millions of dollars in property damage; as well as multiple injuries and fatalities. If you’re working with a contractor, it’s up to you to make sure they’ve done their due diligence before digging on your property. Don’t put your family, neighbors, or property in harm’s way: call 811, every time you dig.