Building a Patio Over Buried Utility Lines

By: Julie Day

Marking utility lines

We want to enlarge our patio, but there are buried utility lines running under our backyard. What should we do? Are we out of luck? -Laura

Utility lines run underneath pavement, streets, and sidewalks all the time; but when installing a new patio or deck, it’s very important to make sure you do it safely to avoid damaging any existing lines.

If you have utility lines running through your yard, follow these tips:

  • Plan Carefully: If you’re pouring footings or digging holes for posts, design your patio or deck around the location of the lines. If you’re building a simple shallow paver patio, with the right precautions you should be able to build it on top of existing lines.
  • Call Before You Dig: Before you begin, dial 811 to schedule an appointment with your local utility locator service. They’ll come out and mark the location of buried utility lines through your yard.
  • Call Utility Companies: Next, contact the companies responsible for each of the lines in your path, to verify how deeply the lines are buried. Electric lines are typically buried 18” or so, but cable TV lines may be much shallower.
  • Dig By Hand: The “Call Before You Dig” service recommends that the area within 18” of either side of the flags be dug by hand, not by machine. Hand-dig VERY carefully using a fiberglass handled shovel to protect you from electric shock. Do not nick, break, or pull any underground lines! If you encounter lines or pipes within the dig zone of your patio base, contact the relevant utility company for help moving them.
  • Consider Future Repairs: The chances of those lines ever needing repair may seem pretty slim; but if they do need replacing, you’re going to be faced with the choice of either ripping up your patio or boring a hole underneath it. Boring underneath a patio or driveway isn’t all that complicated; you can rent a boring unit, tunnel underneath it by hand, or hire a contractor to handle the job. Still, if you think you might want to upgrade your electrical service, go ahead and do it now if you can.
  • Consider Conduit: If you’re installing new lines now, it would be a good idea to encase them in conduit, so that future repairs are never a problem.

Julie

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