Remember the “Beverly Hillbillies?” With apologies to Jed, Grannie and the clan, consider the following variation:
“Come and listen to a story about a lady named McGee
A simple suburban homester just wanting a new tree
But when our green thumber plunged that shovel in the ground
Up from the depths come a-bubblin’ brown….
…Sewage, that is. Smelly sludge, septic tank tea.”
And if you’ll forgive the mixed metaphors, a smelly yard may be just the tip of the iceberg when you dig before being sure exactly where your local underground utilities are located. Negligent homeowners may face a myriad of exposures to loss beyond the possible damages to their own property or house plumbing:
- Severe injury if that shovel hits an electrified line. (Hit a natural gas line and they may never find you again.)
- Fines from local regulators.
- Liability for repair expenses to utility companies.
- Liability to neighbors for cutting power, water, phone, cable or sewage lines.
- Even if there is no immediate visible damage, your shovel may damage the protective coating of a gas line, for example, starting a gradual leakage or deterioration that is a ticking time bomb.
Yet according to a recent national survey conducted by the Common Ground Alliance (CGA), only 33% of homeowner do-it-yourselfers called to have their lines marked before starting digging projects. (CGA is a coalition of 1,400 excavators, locators, and road builders; telecommunications, electric, oil and gas providers; railroads; one-call centers, public works, equipment manufacturers and suppliers, state regulators, insurance firms, engineering/design firms, and emergency services.)
Too Shallow? Careful!
And speaking of time bombs, even if you’re thinking like many of those non-callers that your planting is too shallow or located sufficiently to the side to impact deeply buried utilities, consider future growth: Could those spreading tree roots eventually make their way into nearby sewer lines, causing anything from nuisance blockages to major and expensive damage and backups?
The answer, thanks to the FCC and the CGA, is as simple as three numbers: 811. There have long been numerous local “Call Before You Dig” numbers furnished by municipalities and utility companies. The FCC mandated a single, national phone number be created in addition to the existing local options to increase convenience, compliance and eliminate confusion, while continuing free and local service.
The 811 calls are directed to a local center, which then notifies all the affected utilities. They then mark all underground lines—at no cost to you—with easily recognized colored lines or flags:
- Red, electric.
- Orange, communications, telephone/CATV.
- Blue, potable water.
- Green, sewer/drainage.
- Yellow, gas or oil.
- Purple, reclaimed water or irrigation.
- Maroon, temporary survey.
- White, pre-marked site of intended excavation.
Be sure to call at least 48-72 hours in advance of digging, and be prepared with specific information on your plans. When it comes to digging in your yard, 811 represents the best of risk management—minimizing or eliminating the claim entirely!
Even your best-laid plans might not prevent a basement or ground floor bathroom to be suddenly awash in sewage backup. That’s why you should ask your agent about special endorsements to your home insurance to respond to such backups. Be sure to tell your agent the amount of valuable property you have in the basement. While old-time basements often held only old stuff in storage, today's are often the center of family life—“man-caves” to recreation rooms!
If your best precautions should fail, add your Trusted Choice® agent to your Call Before You Dig list! Just like those utilities, he or she will gladly mark out the limits of your current coverage as it applies to your plans. (Now, if we insurance experts could just figure out a way to do it—red for property, blue for liability?—with those clever colored lines or flags!)