Utility Locating and Fence Installation – How to Locate Underground Wires and Utility Lines when Building a Fence

Q. I’m thinking of building a fence in my backyard to keep my two dogs, a greyhound and collie, safe. My sons have graciously volunteered to help. We know where we want to install the fence but how do we find out where all of the underground power lines are buried? The last thing we want to do is accidentally hit some buried wires or pipes with the hole driller!

Underground Utility Locating

line locator

Installing a fence in your backyard is a great DIY project.  Not only do you save money on labor costs, you will learn new skills as well as have great pride of ownership in your completed project.

When planning out your new fence, whether it be wooden, chain link, vinyl, cedar privacy, or even an in ground hidden fence, there are many factors to consider such as they layout, cost of materials,  and length of time to complete the project.  When you’re getting all of this information together do not forget one of the most important elements of installing a fence – locating underground utilities.

There are many reasons to want to know where the underground cable and wire lines are located before you begin digging, not the least of which is your own personal safety!  As neighborhoods and technology grow, so does the infrastructure that is buried underground.  There are wires, pipes and cables buried everywhere, even in places you would least expect them.  And underground electrical wire and pipes are easily damaged by digging equipment.

To ensure your safety and prevent accidental damage you need to contact your local utilities who will come out and locate before you dig by making their lines for free.  Depending upon where you live you may need to call each one individually, but in most areas there is just one number you call and they will contact all of the utility companies for you.  “1-800-DIG-RITE,” “Call Before You Dig,” “Digger’s Hotline,” are just a few examples of one stop notification.

There may also be websites such as www.missutility.net which will allow you to submit a ticket online.   A third option is to call 811.  This option is now assigned by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and will soon be available nationwide.

811 Call Before you Dig

Please allow 48 – 72 hours, or two business days after you call for the lines to me marked.  Please note, the utilities and cable locators will only mark the lines they own.  They will not mark any private lines, such as those that run propane to a fire pit or grill, water lines to a fountain, spa, or sprinkler system, or electrical lines to yard lights or out buildings.   There are private utility locating services and cable contractors who specialize in finding underground wires that you can call and have them check for and mark those lines.  Search the internet for “utility locating” or visit the National Utility Locating Contractors Association website at www.nulca.org for more information.

Utility Locators

The utility companies uses color coded spray paint, flags, or chalk as a line locator.   Here is the American Public Works Association (APWA) Uniform Color Codes for temporary marking of underground utilities:

the  American Public Works Association Uniform Color Codes for temporary marking of underground utilities



When flags are used instead of paint the company logo is usually present to identify which municipality the utility lines belong to.

underground utility locating

Failure to call and have the lines marked can result in a fine or even criminal charges if the property owner is negligent and causes damages to an underground line.   No one wants to be responsible for knocking out power to their neighborhood or breaking a water main and causing a boil order.  So remember to call before you dig.


One Response to “Utility Locating and Fence Installation – How to Locate Underground Wires and Utility Lines when Building a Fence”

  1. […] out the line of the fence. 3. Check with local utilities to make sure there aren’t any utility lines under the perimeter area that could be damaged by digging post holes. 4. Use a post hole digger to […]

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