You’re a homeowner about to start a project that involves digging. You at least know enough to know that you need to contact 811 to request a dig test. But your knowledge stops there about the process and how to do it online, let alone what happens next.
At Anchor Foundation Repair, we request dig tests all the time, because we have to dig a lot. Well, really it’s All. The. Time. Every Week. For the last 35+ years. So requesting dig tests is no big deal for us. But for someone who has never done it before, it is helpful to know what to expect.
This article will detail the entire process of requesting a dig test online using 811 *in Texas* through the eyes of the everyday homeowner. We will review the basics of why dig tests are needed and reveal the process that unfolds as you are filling out the online form. Plus, we detail what happens afterward that you might find helpful to know upfront, rather than after the fact.
*Bad Pun Alert* (sorry) Let’s dig into the details now . . .
What Is a Dig Test and Why Do I Have to Contact 811?
You might already know this stuff but I feel like it needs to be stated in this article anyway for anyone who needs this info. This is some 411 on 811 if you will. If you feel like you don’t need this section, feel free to skip to the next section . . . there’s no law against that part.
What Is a Dig Test?
A dig test is *NOT* a test to see how well you can dig in the dirt – although that sounds like a great contest for sport. In simple terms, a dig test is a safety precaution to make sure that people don’t damage underground utilities when they are digging for projects like fencing, landscaping, or putting in a mailbox or sprinkler system.
Accidentally damaging underground utilities could be really bad, like *causing explosions* bad or *rupturing a sewer line* bad or *knocking out the electricity for your whole street* bad. So this is something put in place for your and everyone else’s protection.
You make a request through the 811 system to have your utility lines marked. You can do the request by phone too, by *literally dialing 811* during business hours. You can also contact 811 using an online portal which is what this article is mainly about.
Flags and markings will then be placed in your yard that show where all the utility lines run underground so that they can be avoided while digging. They use different colors of flags to signify the various types of utilities. Pretty, huh?
Why Do I Have to Contact 811 Anyway?
According to the Texas Statutes for Utilities Code, Title 5, Chapter 251 (very boring, 0 stars, do not recommend) aka the “Underground Facility Damage Prevention and Safety Act” there are requirements of an excavator (that’s the person doing the digging).
“SUBCHAPTER D. Sec. 251.151. DUTY OF AN EXCAVATOR. (a) Except as provided by Sections 251.155 and 251.156, a person who intends to excavate shall notify a notification center not earlier than the 14th day before the date the excavation is to begin or later than the 48th hour before the time the excavation is to begin, excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays.
(b) Notwithstanding Subsection (a), if an excavator makes a Saturday notification, the excavator may begin the excavation the following Tuesday at 11:59 a.m. unless the intervening Monday is a holiday. If the intervening Monday is a holiday, the excavator may begin the excavation the following Wednesday at 11:59 a.m.”
In short, you are supposed to contact 811 to request a dig test because it is the law. This law cites the specific timeframes that you need to make the contact (no more than 14 days and no less than 48 hours before digging).
It even stipulates what happens if you call them on a Saturday or holiday weekend. Sheesh . . . those are some details.
What Information Do You Need for the Online 811 Request?
So you make it to the Texas 811 Homeowner Portal online request form, but all it has is a button that says, “Let’s Get Started.” I have to give some kudos to them because this is a clear way to tee up the process online. But it does lack some basic information that *some people* (like me) might want to know *before* they actually click that button.
Here’s what they ask you through the 811 Texas online request portal:
- Name and Contact Info + Alternate Contact
- Address + Map Location Identification
- Type of Project
- How Long Will the Work Take
- Description of Work Locations Around the Home
It also asks for details on if you will have the work locations marked (they suggest white paint on the ground to indicate the dig locations) and how deep you are digging. The depth is important because the law stipulates that digging below 16 inches is what they are concerned with. There are options offered if you don’t know how deep the digging will be and the white markings seem to not be required but are suggested.
So if you don’t know the answers to these questions, you might want to find them out before you click that “Let’s Get Started” button.
What Happens After You Submit the 811 Dig Test Request Online?
So as a regular ol’ homeowner, I was able to request an 811 Dig Test for a new fencing project around my home. I did this at 8 o’clock at night from my phone – pretty easy and convenient and a great reason to do it online instead of by phone.
It took about 10 minutes, but the first 5 minutes were me making sure I was even in the right place. The homeowner portal is a little cheesy and not as slick and fancy as what many consumers are used to these days. But ultimately, it gets the job done.
Not long after completing the form, I got an email entitled “Locate Message” from texas811.org. It listed out the info that I submitted and also some new information that I thought was *very important*, some of it was stuff I wished I had known in advance.
Legal Start Time for Digging
At the very top of the email in big red letters it said, “TEXAS LAW REQUIRES YOU TO WAIT UNTIL THE LEGAL START DATE AND TIME LISTED AT THE TOP OF YOUR TEXAS811 RECEIPT BEFORE YOU BEGIN YOUR PROJECT.”
This makes perfect sense if you are aware of the details of this Texas statute because the date that I was given was precisely 48 hours from the time I submitted the form. I would expect that if I had submitted my form on a Saturday, the legal start time given would have been for the following Tuesday as the statute reads.
But if you didn’t already know the details of the statute, then you might wonder why those times were given. ***Also, if you were planning on starting to dig sooner than the legal time – you need to change those plans to stay within the law.
List of Utilities Being Notified of Your Request
The “Locate Message” email also listed the actual utility companies that were going to be told about my dig test request. My list looked like this, although yours would be different depending on your location.
Utilities Texas811 is notifying:
- Atmos Midtx
- City of Bryan Electric Department
- Bryan ISD
- Metro Fiber Net LLC
- Suddenlink Communications East Texas
- Frontier Communications Inc
I mostly just thought it was cool that they knew what utilities were specific to my location. But what this list is telling you is that some or all of these utility companies *may* send someone to your location to mark their lines.
What Happens After You Submit Your Info Through 811
This was the most useful *need to know* stuff contained in my “Locate Message” email. I am copying and pasting this verbatim so I am not the author of this next part.
*Disclaimer Alert* I accessed this info in October of 2022 so at any time after the publication of this article Texas 811 could edit their email template.
“What happens after you submit your information through Texas811?
- If the project area is behind a gate or fence, it needs to be unlocked so that the line locator has access to work. If you have pets in the area it is a good idea to relocate them during the next 48 hours for the safety of both the locators and your pets.
- It is always a good idea to mark your project area with white spray paint or flags. These markings show the locators exactly where you intend to dig.
- Within 48 hours (not including weekends and holidays), your project area should be marked with colored spray paint and/or colored flags.
- Once the area is marked/flagged, you may CAREFULLY proceed with your project. HAND DIG ONLY if working near any of the marked utility lines.
- Utility companies will normally only mark up to the point of demarcation, which is usually the meter and/or pedestal. Privately owned lines on the customer side of these points, may not be marked.
- Texas811 does not mark underground lines. We give the information you provide to the utilities in your area.
- Utility companies are responsible for marking their lines that are within your project area.
- In some instances, utility companies can determine their lines are not within your project area without sending a locator to your property.
- Some utilities use contract locators instead of their own employees to mark their underground lines. The truck that comes to your property may have a different logo on it, this is not cause for alarm.”
*end of copied material*
When various utility companies came out to my home, some sent follow-up emails afterward I guess to document that they had come. It does say in the list above that not everyone will show up because they can sometimes determine that it is not needed without coming on-site.
Don’t stress if you don’t see all the utility companies come out as they might not need to. They also might not send a follow-up email either but that’s okay. All you really need to worry about is waiting to dig until you are allowed, which leads us nicely to the next section . . .
When Can I Start Digging After Requesting the 811 Dig Test?
This has already been mentioned above but it bears repeating. There is a specific *legal start time* listed in the email you get from Texas 811. You should not start digging until after the clearly stated date and time at the top of the email or else you will technically be breaking the law.
What Happens If You Don’t Request a Dig Test with 811?
I don’t know why I feel compelled to include this section but it’s probably for the *what’s the worst that could happen* or the *laws are made to be broken* crowd. Although my advice is just to follow the law and not worry about what would happen if you didn’t . . . it’s super easy.
Natural Consequences of Not Following the 811 Law
Sometimes the natural consequences offer more compelling reasons to not do something so I’m gonna start with those. If you don’t request a dig test, don’t wait for the process to be completed, or don’t wait until the legal start time, something bad could happen.
You might hit a line while digging and damage your plumbing, electrical, gas line, or worst of all *your cable or internet connection* Gasp! You might just mess up your own stuff going to your house or it might affect your neighbor’s utility services as well. It could also cause dangerous conditions like gas leaks. Yikes!
Damage to underground utility lines can cost you money for repairs, inconvenience, and might even result in some angry neighbors. Just remember that this law is for your protection and it’s not just something there to make your life hard.
Legal Consequences of Not Following the 811 Law
After further perusing the Texas statutes (still a total snooze fest), I found information about the penalties for not following this law. Aside from the natural consequences, you could also have to take a safety course, be sued, or be fined.
Now, I am just paraphrasing and overgeneralizing in this whole section. The safety training course appears to be the first and least serious consequence. It’s kind of like having to take Defensive Driving after you get a speeding ticket.
Fines can range from $500 to $10,000 based on who is actually doing the digging, whether the damage was wilfully done, or whether the person doing the digging has done this before. There are a lot of *ifs and thens* in this section of the statute.
The *legalese* starts to get fuzzy for me on whether these fines apply to a property owner digging on their property or not. The best way to avoid misunderstanding any confusing legal language is to follow the law as it is stated. It’s not that hard with the online Texas 811 homeowner portal anyway. Just wait until after the legal start time and you are home free.
Now Are You Ready to Contact 811?
Now that you know all about what to expect from the 811 process, I hope you don’t have any more questions, because I am all out of answers. You should check out the 811 website for more homeowner info. But at least you know a little more about the system and what it’s like to use the homeowner portal to request your dig test.
At Anchor Foundation Repair, we believe in sharing information about foundation repair and closely related topics as a service to our community. We want homeowners to have access to all the facts they need to make informed decisions about their homes.
Armed with all this information, If you are now ready to contact 811 in Texas for your dig test, here’s the link to that Texas 811 Homeowner Portal again. *Let’s Get Started*
***I know I sound like some sort of paid spokesperson for Texas 811 but I assure you that I am not. Just trying to be helpful to people looking for information on this topic. But if Texas 811 wants to send some royalties to my bank account, I sent them a message with my info just in case.