The Complete Guide to Digging in Your Backyard

Anytime you put a shovel or spade in hand, it’s a risk of varying degrees.


There are several reasons you’ll want to dig in your backyard. Whether for a fence post or a new deck, backyard digging happens in just about every yard.  

Before we go into too much detail about digging in your yard, call 811 before you dig if you are unsure about what is under the surface.

Call 811 Before You Dig

811 is the number for the National Call Before You Dig hotline. It is a service that alerts utility companies and anyone digging to underground utilities in your neighborhood so they can identify and mark utilities underground before digging begins.

The National Call Before You Dig hotline is an essential resource for anyone who needs to dig or excavate in their backyard. If you plan to do any digging that could involve hitting an underground pipeline, cable, wire, or other utility lines, call 811 first.

Reasons to Call 811 marking services include creating a pond, planting a tree, installing a sewer trench, stabilizing post holes, pouring foundations for a deck, shed, or garage, trenching an irrigation system, getting your home ready to sell, and more. suggests you reach out before you do any digging, even for smaller projects:

“You should call 811 or use your state 811 center’s website a few business days before you begin any digging, including projects like planting trees and shrubs or installing fences and mailboxes. The specific amount of advance notice that you are required to provide varies by state.”

What Info Do You Need Before Calling 811?

Before calling 811, you will need to know the complete address of where you plan to dig, including the county and nearest cross street and the type of project you’re completing. 

You’ll also need to share the exact area on the property where you’re planning to dig.

Whether you call 811 or make your request online, you’ll need this same information.

What Happens After You Call 811?

Within a couple of days of calling 811, they will respond to confirm your request. They’ll then send professionals to your project site to mark any underground utilities, typically with flags and spray paint markers.

Once all utilities have marked their buried lines, you should dig carefully around any utility marks and consider relocating projects close to buried utilities.

how deep to dig with excavator

Why Dig in Your Backyard?

As with maintaining or improving items within your house, there are many outdoor projects where digging may be necessary. 

Some potential projects that require digging in your backyard include installing a playset or a sandbox for kids. 

Other projects may include installing a deck, a firepit, or removing that old underground storage tank.

How Deep Can You Dig in Your Backyard?

In most cases, you can dig as deep as you want as long as the team at 811 confirms there are no utilities beneath. 

However, depending on the depth of the hole, you may need to get a permit from your city or county. 

What Is the Best Tool or Method To Use When You Are Digging in Your Backyard?

The best tool for digging in a backyard is not just the one that gives you the most accurate results, and it is also the one that will be suitable for your needs, budget, and level of experience.

A shovel or post-hole digger is a common choice for digging in a backyard. Both tools are inexpensive, durable, and versatile. You can use them to dig small holes or large trenches, and they can also be used to remove snow from the ground.

A trowel is another popular choice for backyard digging tools. This tool will work well if you need to dig in tight spaces or want to dig out small objects like rocks or roots from the soil.

You may need to call a professional for larger holes or rent a backhoe.

Risks of Going Too Deep Underground

The biggest problem you face is what you’ll inadvertently hit when striking a shovel to the ground. If you call 811 first, you will not run into utilities, but you may run into a rock, clay, or other construction debris from the building process.  Be careful and take your time if you’re digging yourself.  

In many cases, such as digging for a foundation or trenching for a drainage flow, you’ll want to hire a professional contractor with the appropriate construction certifications and construction skills to do the work for you. 

Any professional contractor will require you to call 811 first.

Complications of Digging a Hole in Your Backyard

In addition to utilities, landscaping changes, old septic systems, underground irrigation systems, construction debris, and old oil tanks are among the most common complications you can run into when digging in your backyard.  

When you decide to dig, you’re facing a lot of unknowns that may require professional assistance before you proceed. Anytime you put a shovel or spade in hand, it’s a risk of varying degrees.

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