Alaskans love a good DIY project—our can-do spirit and the opportunity to save on costly home upgrades makes summer an ideal time to beautify the backyard. However,  Alaska has the highest hit rate in the nation. Utility hits that is. This means Alaskans strike underground natural gas, electric, communications, sewer and water lines three times more than our counterparts Outside. This results in added project costs, disrupted service to neighbors and increased risk for families. But we have access to the same, free, national service as our neighbors to the south that can help prevent all this. So what is going on?

811 is a national number, known as the "dig line," for homeowners and contractors to call for utility locates before starting any excavation work at home or on their job site. Alaska has its own command center,  the Alaska Digline. Even digging with hand tools and trowels can result in a hit if you are in the wrong place. And since underground utilities are just that—under the ground—you can't be sure if you're digging in the right place unless you call for locates first.

No matter how small, every job requires a call. Here are 5 DIY summer projects with one thing in common: A required call to 811 before you break ground.

Looking forward to some gardening over the weekend? Give 811 a call early in the week before yielding your spade.  Whether you want to plant colorful annual flowers in your yard to make up for the darkness of winter, or you're ready to grow your own food and become a locavore, a garden is a great way to connect to your land and enjoy the long summer days.

Anytime you break the surface of the ground, you run the risk of hitting a utility line. This includes not just putting things into the ground, but removing them as well. Do you have a pesky stump that is in the way of your perfect lawn? Or maybe it's in the middle of your future backyard ice rink. If you're digging, make the call.

This popular backyard addition is a bit more of an investment in time and money, so scheduling an 811 call early in the week for a locate will ensure your weekend project is a success. In Anchorage, homeowners may have up to five hens on lots 6,000 square feet or less, with an additional one animal per 1,000 square feet of lot area. This means each homeowner has the potential to house a crew that produces hormone-free, high-quality, organic eggs. There are some great pre-fab hen-houses at local stores, or continue in the DIY spirit and build from scratch.

There is nothing better during the summer than enjoying time on the deck. Grilling with friends, playing cribbage with a loved one, or soaking up the sun in your favorite chair, a deck is a must for Alaska homeowners. Few of us decide to undertake an outdoor project and start work the same day. You'll need to buy lumber, deck screws and cement. Calling the Alaska Digline (811) for locates can also help save you time and money in the long run. Ignorance is not bliss in this case—if you build your deck over the utility lines blocking the way for crews to access them for repairs, you risk losing your project. Find out where it's safe to build first, so you can enjoy your deck for years to come.

Do you have a new puppy who needs a safe space to roam? Or do you want to keep moose from eating your new garden? Time to fence in the backyard. According to ENSTAR, one of the most common utility line hits comes from post-hole diggers during fence installation.

A critical addition to your project list

Homeowners and contractors can dial 811 to request a locate or submit a web ticket to the 811 system. As soon as 811 receives your information, they will notify all the utilities in your area. This starts the clock—the utilities are required to respond within two days (10 in remote areas). Soon you will see a rainbow of paint marks in your yard, designating the areas where underground utilities are present. Some utilities choose not to make any marks while others may indicate with the locate paint that there is no conflict.

"If the power is overhead, you won't see anything and they won't come out," said ENSTAR's Compliance Integrity Engineer, Rusty Allen. "We will still go out there and paint: 'No conflict, ENSTAR.'"

Once the locates are marked, you may start your project. It is strongly recommended that you hand-dig within two feet of the utility. And hand-dig means just that—with your hands or with a shovel and not with a piece of machinery like an excavator or backhoe.  

"If you don't use the service and you hit your line, you can automatically add $1,800 to your project," said Lindsay Hobson, ENSTAR's Communication Manager. "Because that's going to be the cost for us to respond and repair, at a minimum."

Remember, anyone can call 811. If you decide to hire a contractor, you can check to make sure they are following the correct process. If you know they are about to begin a project on your property, and you don't see the locate marks, check in with them—it could mean the difference between spending your summer outside on your new deck with your neighbors or inside hiding after your project cost them their water for a week.

 
 

ENSTAR Natural Gas has been keeping Alaskans warm since 1961. Providing clean-burning, economical, and efficient natural gas to over 140,000 homes and businesses in Southcentral. ENSTAR is a regulated public utility headquartered in Anchorage, AK.

This article was produced by the creative services department of Alaska Dispatch News in collaboration with ENSTAR Natural Gas. Contact the creative services editor, Jamie Gonzales, at jgonzales@alaskadispatch.com. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.