Presented by ENSTAR Natural Gas
As anyone who lives here knows, summer is construction season in Alaska. For many, that includes home improvement projects, big or small, inside or out. Whether it’s replacing a fence damaged by a winter storm or building a deck to complete their backyard oasis, Alaskans take advantage of the extended daylight hours to tackle their to-do lists.
Before starting any project, homeowners know that setting a budget, sketching a timeline and having the necessary equipment and materials on hand will help ensure the project runs smoothly. But there’s one more task you’ll need to complete before work begins: Calling 811.
The Alaska Digline
Established in 1988, the Alaska Digline is a centralized system that lets homeowners and contractors request a “locate” of their underground utilities prior to excavation, says Lindsay Hobson, corporate resources and communications director for ENSTAR Natural Gas Company, Southcentral Alaska’s largest utility.
“That is the law, and you absolutely have to follow the law when you’re taking these projects on,” she says.
Once notified, utility companies have two business days to come to the property and mark the location of their underground utility lines. Each utility mark is color-coded: red for electrical, orange for telecommunications, yellow for oil and gas, green for sewer and blue for water.
Excavation is considered any work that disrupts or moves earth, rock or other below-ground material by any means. But Hobson says it encompasses a much broader range of activities than most people are aware of.
“When people think about digging, they might be thinking about digging a foundation,” she explains. “But it doesn’t have to be real construction. It can be very simple projects, like installing a mailbox, installing a garden, planting a tree or removing a tree, that a lot of people don’t think about.”
Ready to start your DIY projects? Here are five common summer home improvement projects that all require a call to 811 before breaking ground.
Resurfacing or installing a new driveway
Ice melt, snowblower blades, earthquakes, the freeze/thaw of winter, normal wear and tear – over time, the accumulated effect is cracked, uneven and sunken driveways. Applying a sealant regularly can help minimize the damage, but eventually, the driveway will need to be resurfaced or replaced entirely. Hobson says ENSTAR sees lots of issues with DIY driveway projects – homeowners either think there’s no danger of hitting a line or simply guess its location – highlighting why calling 811 is essential.
“If you’ve done your driveway multiple times, you’re getting closer and closer to those utilities with each layer,” she explains.
Even the friendliest neighbors need to set boundaries and some privacy now and again. Whether installing a brand new fence or repairing a section that’s ready to topple in the next windstorm, make sure to call 811 before digging out the new fence line, especially if the project requires installing new fence posts.
“You just cannot install a fence post over a locate,” Hobson says.
Building a deck
There’s nothing more quintessentially summer than lounging on the back deck, fresh-caught salmon on the grill and an ice cold drink in hand. But before you create your outdoor paradise, make sure to call 811. Not only will you best avoid a utility, but getting your locates before building ensures you’ll get years of enjoyment from the deck – if you build it over a utility line that later needs to be repaired, the deck will need to be torn out to gain access to the line.
Removing or planting a tree
Whether using a machine or hand tools to plant or uproot trees or shrubs, call 811 before you proceed. Roots can become entangled with underground lines over time, so a locate will help you avoid hitting those lines during planting and removal.
Planting a garden
Spending time in the garden this summer? You may not think you need to call 811 before sinking spade into earth, but even something as seemingly simple as digging with a trowel or hand shovel can damage an underground line.
“It’s not as likely, but that’s not to say you can’t damage a gas line using a shovel, because you can,” Hobson says. “If you know that something is there, you’re going to exercise extreme caution when working in that area.”
If the project involves driving stakes or rebar into the ground – say, to keep a sapling upright or reinforce a concrete raised garden bed – make sure to call 811 to request a locate. Both can pierce a gas line, leading to a significant, and dangerous, underground leak.
Requesting a locate
Alaska has the highest hit rate in the country when it comes to underground utility damage, with 5.3 damages per 1,000 locates, more than double the national average of 2.51 per 1,000 locates, Hobson says.
Luckily, requesting a locate is fast, easy and free. Simply call 811 or submit a locate ticket online at 811ak.com. Locates should be submitted between two and 15 business days before excavation begins and are good for 15 days. Once marked, digging within 24 horizontal inches of the locate, known as the Tolerance Zone, is restricted to hand shoveling or vacuum extraction – no mechanized equipment, such as a backhoe or excavator, is allowed.
Calling 811 before beginning your summer DIY project isn’t just the law, it can have serious consequences. Not doing so will cost you at least $1,000 if ENSTAR has to repair a damaged line, Hobson says. More importantly, hitting a line can create a number of risks to yourself and others.
“But the risks of not calling are just huge,” she says. “Unmitigated gas release is dangerous. If there’s any sort of ignition source nearby, it can catch on fire. There’s a risk to your property, to your safety and loss of service to your neighbors. The risk is absolutely there.”
ENSTAR Natural Gas Company is the largest utility in Southcentral Alaska. Since 1961, ENSTAR has provided safe and reliable gas service to Alaska homes and businesses. ENSTAR is a regulated public utility headquartered in Anchorage, Alaska. For more information on utility locates visit: https://www.enstarnaturalgas.com/call-811/ - or call 811.
This article was produced by the sponsored content department of Anchorage Daily News in collaboration with ENSTAR Natural Gas Company. The ADN newsroom was not involved in its production.