How Deep Can You Dig In Your Backyard? (Avoid Legal Violation)

Finally, you have decided to have a fountain, stone sculpture, or tropical or palm plantations in your backyard. Obviously, the project will start only after digging a portion in your backyard, correct? This article covers all the points to understand how to get it done legally and formally.

How deep can you dig in your backyard

How deep can you dig in your backyard?

Ideally, you can dig up to 12 inches/5 ft into the backyard. Before digging, it’s essential to procure permission from 811. If your project requires deeper digging than 5 ft, getting approval from building authorization is necessary. Ideally, check with your local authorities to avoid any legal violation.

How deep can you dig in your backyard

Call 811

The Common Ground Alliance (CGA) recommends calling 811 before you start digging your backyard. It is illegal to excavate at any depth before calling 811. Because factors such as soil erosion, deposition, rainfall, floods, surface runoff, and ground settlement can alter the depth of topsoil, lowering or increasing the cover for underground services.

Call 811

Call 811 by visiting the CGA site. Submit your application online by selecting your appropriate state. The system generates a ticket with which you can track your application request. 

Another way to call 811 is by directly contacting the call center agents via phone. Upon forwarding your request, the call center officials will inform you of a list of utility officers responsible for services regarding drainage pipes, electricity and phone cables, gas pipelines, and water pipes.

They won’t interact with you directly but will communicate with you through the local 811 call center. The utility service companies inspectors will visit your place and mark the spots wherever any cable or pipe passes underneath the soil.

You cannot dig in those marked areas. In case the markings are lost for any reason, due to rain, for example, it is mandatory to submit a new application again to mark those areas.

Rules and Regulations regarding digging in your backyard

You are advised to follow a set of rules and regulations while carrying out the digging work in your backyard. These include guidelines framed by  OSHA and CGA related to health and safety for digging.

Tolerance Zone

The distance from the utility service is Tolerance Zone. As per state building codes, you must dig at a space of 18 to 24 inches from the utility service markings. It helps prevent any damage to the utility pipeline or cable. The authority restricts the usage of any mechanical equipment inside this area, known as the tolerance zone.

Tolerance Zone

You can use hand tools and vacuum excavators that allow much precision and control. Using hand tools on hard surfaces such as concrete and slabs is ideal, provided no service pipes or ducts are fixed inside them. A vacuum excavator works well as it helps loosen out the soil by blowing high-pressure air or water.

Using hand tools to dig on or over a buried service line is prohibited. It’s recommended to excavate alongside the line and follow the tolerance zone.

Scan Underground Services Every 300mm

Use a Cable Detector or Cable Locator to identify the depth of the utility line. You will need to scan for every 300mm as you go on digging your backyard. The Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) device is the best cable detector as it detects all cables and pipes, irrespective of material, whether metallic or non-metallic.

What states Cannot have basements?

Alabama, California, Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, and eastern Texas cannot have basements. These states have a lot of swamp areas. Excess clay composition in the ground doesn’t allow houses in these areas to have a basement.

In some areas, the close proximity of the water table near the ground surface may lead to flooding. While in other areas, the bedrock being near the ground surface, digging it is a nightmare.

Do I need a permit to dig in my yard?

Yes, a permit is mandatory before you start digging in your yard. The kind of permit depends on your location and the reason for the excavation. You must discuss with the utility service providers and get clearance from them about your area before you dig.

Do I need a permit to dig in my yard

If any utility passes through your backyard, you may be denied permission. Alternatively, the authority will mark the areas of the service pipes or cables passing through your yard and allow you to excavate around those marked areas.

Techniques for measuring depth when digging 

It’s essential to understand at what level you have dug your backyard. Herewith are a few methods to measure the depth.

Techniques for measuring depth when digging 

Using measuring tape or ruler

  1. Attach a plumb bob at one end of the measuring tape.
  2. Suspend it into the hole you have dug.
  3. Let the plumb bob reach the bottom of the hole.
  4. Mark the measurement and pull it out.

If you don’t have a plumb bob, use the following steps:

  1. Place a stick or rod across the surface of the hole, so it hangs onto the dug area.
  2.  Then suspend the measuring tap with the rod or stick supporting the tape.
  3. Mark the measurement when the bottom of the measuring tape touches the bottom.

In case you don’t have a measuring tape, do as follows:

  1. Attach the plumb bob to a long string or rope. 
  2. Ensure the string/rope is strong enough to pull the plumb bob back. 
  3. Mark the point when the plumb bob reaches the bottom. 
  4. Pull out the string/rope and measure it across the ruler. You will get the approximate depth measurement.

Using a post-hole digger and auger

  1. Place a measuring tape with a post-hole digger from its end to the bottom.
  2. Using a marker, mark the unit measurements at every foot on the digger.
  3. Now you can measure the depth without using a measuring tape.
  4. You can in fact now measure as you dig.

The same methodology can be applied to auger as well.

Using a Shovel and Leveler

You can use a shovel marked with measurement units to determine the depth of the hole.

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frequently asked questions (fAQs)

Is it illegal to dig a hole in California?

As per the CA State Law, anyone wishing to dig should contact DigAlert. Anyone ignoring this rule may attract a fine of up to $50,000. In addition, the concerned person must bear the cost of the damages that happened to the underground utility services.

What is a permit to dig?

A permit to dig prevents penetrating, lowering, or disturbing the current ground level to a depth of more than 100mm.

At what depth excavation permit is required?

A permit is required irrespective of any depth excavation. Digging without a permit is strictly prohibited.

Why don’t they dig basements in Texas?

Some parts of Texas has water table excessively near the ground surface. While in a few areas, the bedrock is too near, so digging is difficult.


You might be looking to build a pond or erect a beautiful structure in your backyard. For that excavating the ground is essential. But you cannot dig without informing 811 and the local authorities.

It is because a few utility services in the form of electric or phone cables, water supply pipes, etc. might be passing through your area. To prevent damage to them, you need to inform the concerned authorities. 

It helps to get your construction done without hampering utility services. In addition, it prevents troubling the neighborhood. So whenever you wish to dig your backyard for any reason, inform the concerned authorities. I hope now you have a complete idea regarding how deep can you dig in your backyard.

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