We're putting utility services (water, electrical, sewer, telco) in trenches to and on my land.

Before we bury everything, what records should I make? Maybe I should take some photographs or draw some maps. (Accurate mapping is difficult, though!)

EDIT: I learned today that the utility company is only responsible for the stuff in they ground that they own. If you have a sub-panel for electricity to a garage, for example, they won't mark that. Same for a water line to a spigot in your garden. So, it's particularly important to keep your own records, etc.

ALSO: Even though code doesn't require it here, I'm going to put a strip of CAUTION tape a few inches under the soil as we fill in the trench.

3 Answers 3


There are several things you can do:

  • Pictures, with clear reference points (eg, natural features of the land such as rock cuts, streams, as well as man-made structures).

  • Drawings using graph paper, and with GPS marking locations

  • For non-metallic water pipes (anything without a metal wire in it), bury a metal wire alongside (really, any kind of continuous wire will do). This will allow you to use an inductive cable locater to trace that line later. There are also some newer RFID-based tags you can get that specifically indicate types of cable/pipe (power, water, waste, gas, telephone, etc), and can be read by a special receiver.

Inductive cable locator:

enter image description here

  • 1
    I like the idea of leaving a wire in the ground; may as well make it Cat 5e.
    – Jay Bazuzi
    Mar 11, 2011 at 0:04
  • @Jay : I'd think that the smaller wire gauge and twisted pairs would make it harder to locate with inductance, but it's been almost 20 years since I've had to deal with that sort of physics.
    – Joe
    Mar 11, 2011 at 1:05
  • @Joe: An amusing brain puzzle. The twisted pair works well to avoid EM interference, but only if the two lines carry the same signal, in opposite polarity - that's how they cancel out.
    – Jay Bazuzi
    Mar 11, 2011 at 2:51

I would at least take some pictures. Make sure to get some landmarks that will likely be around for a while, so someone else can orient the pictures, if needed.

Another possibility is to get GPS readings of the locations of the tracks. If you have, or know someone who has, an Android phone, the My Tracks app will record a GPS track, upload it to Google Maps, and show it laid on top of their imagery. There is probably something similar for iPhones.

  • It probably wouldn't hurt to put something into the picture to indicate scale - a grid of ropes at 5' or 10' intervals maybe?
    – chris
    Mar 10, 2011 at 20:52
  • +1 for GPS, that was my first thought too. but I think GPS is only accurate to 1 Meter (consumer grade GPS), so it might not be accurate enough for this.
    – Tester101
    Mar 10, 2011 at 21:36
  • 1
    @Tester101 : even 1m accuracy helps ... I once had the local water utility spend 6+ hours looking for my sewer connection (which had gotten crushed, and their snake got caught and they couldn't remove it). They brought in a backhoe and tore up my side yard and a large chunk of my front yard looking for the line. (it turned out it was directly below the incoming water line, so didn't show up well on their maps, and they dismissed it as a known thing when attempting to divine for it)
    – Joe
    Mar 11, 2011 at 1:03

If you could map it out on graph paper, that would be a good start. Try to be as accurate as you can - you want to think about trying to read and use this later.

What this map will do is tell you where you need to "Hand-dig" if you are digging up the area in the future.

There also might be an organization that is setup the local utility companies that keeps track of these things. In Virginia, it's called "Miss Utility", and if you give them 48 hours notice, they will come out and mark your property of where the utility lines are for free. The utility companies save money by doing this, because it helps them prevent costly repairs. In Virginia, in fact. its the law that you have to call before you dig. The consortium like this in your locale may be interested to find out what was buried where before you cover it up.

  • It's a pretty wide-reaching law in the USA that you have to get the utilities located before you dig, but that's apparently only for utilitiy-owned lines, not private ones. See washington811.com "They will only mark the lines they own. They will not mark any private lines"
    – Jay Bazuzi
    Mar 10, 2011 at 16:23
  • @Jay Bazuzi - Thanks for the comment - did not know that.
    – trip0d199
    Mar 10, 2011 at 17:19

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