Operational Excellence
June 24, 2020

Dig safely this summer

Know what's underground before you dig

As summer home projects move into high gear, what are you doing to make sure you will not hit utility lines while digging? Digging can be dangerous if you don’t know what is underground. Xcel Energy wants you to make a habit of contacting 811 before you dig.

Many people still don’t consider it dangerous to dig in their yards without having buried lines located. But hitting a gas or electric line, even with a shovel, can be seriously bad news. Damaging or striking a single utility line can create a dangerous situation, resulting in injury, loss of services, significant repair costs, fines or even death. Customers, excavators or contractors who do not call 811 before digging and hit an underground line could be held liable for any associated damages and repair costs.

The coronavirus pandemic makes it increasingly important that we follow utility safety practices to protect our homes and the energy lines supplying our communities. Many more people than usual are working from home and dependent on stable service. Home is the safest place for everyone right now, and damaging a utility line could cause an emergency that could require evacuation. Contacting 811 before digging is the simple solution to a potentially big problem.

ALWAYS contact 811 before you dig
Contact 811 at least three business days before you plan to dig (find your state’s wait time and website link below). When you call 811, you will be routed to your state’s call center. The local energy companies will locate their buried lines for free. If you have a utility line that you’ve installed on your own, like for a gas grill or electricity in a shed or garage, you are responsible for having those located prior to digging (not included in the 811 request).

Calling 811 ahead of digging to locate buried lines should be everybody’s habit.

Safe digging tips
Here are a few more safety tips you can practice this summer to help form good safety habits:

  • Digging without locates can be dangerous and costly – Failure to call for locates could result in damages to our underground systems (electric and natural gas), fines to the property owner, and could cause bodily harm or death.
  • Depth can be deceptive – The depth of utility lines will NEVER be indicated. And, depth changes over time, with erosion, storms, floods, soil condition, heaving in winter from frost, changes to landscape – and ALL of these can change (considerably) the depth of any given utility. Cable companies are notorious for burying their lines VERY shallow.
  • What you don’t know CAN hurt you – Even if you have lived there for 30 years, things CAN and DO change in YOUR yard. For example, cross boring (the process of pulling a line underground without disturbing the surface, also known as directional drilling) happens without the home-owners permission.
  • It’s the law – Any time you plan to dig in the yard, it is the law for you to call 811 for utilities to locate their lines before you dig. It’s important to remember that this is the law.
  • Smells like rotten eggs – If you nick a gas line, you must call 911 first, then Xcel Energy to investigate and repair. Natural gas in its original state has no odor. We add an odorant to the natural gas, called mercaptan, to help you recognize a gas leak – to some it smells like rotten eggs but it may smell differently to you. If you cause damage to a natural gas line, and notice a sulfur or rotten egg-like smell, the first thing to do is quickly move away from the area, and get others away. Do not use anything that could create a spark (e.g. lighter, matches, light switch, garage door openers, ignition switch and even a cell phone). Once safely away, call 911 AND Xcel Energy. Visit our website for more information about natural gas safety.
  • Hand-digging – Before you can safely work close to or cross an underground utility line, you must first hand-dig to expose the line and verify its exact location and depth. Be knowledgeable about the hand-digging tolerance zone laws in each state.
  • Some lines will not be marked – All customers need to make arrangements with a private locate company to locate lines not owned by a utility, such as a line installed by a homeowner to heat a pool or light a garage.
  • Assume power lines are energized – Another important safety reminder – ALWAYS assume that power lines are energized. Especially be mindful after a storm. Just because there are no sparks or sound, it doesn’t mean that the power line is not energized. Summertime projects or outdoor fun, ALWAYS look up for overhead power lines and stay at least 10 feet away from them.
  • Look Up! – Consider what’s overhead or underground before planting anything that could possibly grow into electric or natural gas lines.


 Learn more by visiting www.XcelEnergy.com/Safety.