Colored Flags and Underground Utility Markings Keep Everyone Safe

Utility Location Flags

By Nicholas Schramer

When people see a crop of colorful flags and paint marks on their property, the reaction usually ranges from annoyance to alarm. What’s going on?

Those flags and paint marks are more important than they may first appear. Please resist the temptation to remove them!

About the Expert:

Nicholas Schramer has more than 13 years of experience in surveying. He primarily serves as a survey crew chief, including processing field data, preparing base maps and plan sets, and assisting on complex construction staking projects. He also provides design support on underground and aerial fiber optic routes and has located underground utilities using GPS.

Why Are Those Flags and Markings on My Property?

Someone in your area is planning a construction project, and those flags and markings show the location of underground utilities. The markings are there to protect those utilities – and the people working on the project. It’s how everyone knows where to find electrical lines, gas lines, water lines, and so on.

Utility Location Paint and Flags

Those Who Put the Flags There Trespassed, Didn’t They?

Probably not. Properties often are subject to “easements,” areas where utilities have installed lines, cables, or pipes underground, and they have the right to maintain those installations. Sometimes the area in question is in the “right of way,” meaning that it is actually public, not private, land.

The bottom line is that it is in everyone’s best interests to make sure that workers do not accidentally damage underground utilities. The annoyance of having a stranger install flags or markings is small compared to the impact of a broken gas or water line, for example.

Does This Mean Someone’s Doing a Big Project in My Area?

It could be a big project – or it could be as minor as a neighbor planning to install a small fence. Flags in your yard do not always mean that your lawn will be affected. An electric company replacing a pole may mark everything in a 150-foot radius of the site, for example.

Does This Mean a Project Is Going to Start Soon?

Not necessarily. Sometimes technicians locate underground utilities to help with the planning phase of a project. The actual work could be months in the future.

May I Remove the Flags?

Do not move or remove them. Construction marking flags are an important part of any job site and contribute to the overall safety of the project. If you move them or take them out completely, someone will have to make a return trip to your property and replace the markings.

Utility Location Paint and Flags

I Removed the Flags. Now What?

Do not put them back! Technicians use locating equipment to find the exact location of underground utilities. If you try to replant the flags by memory, you stand a good chance of getting the spots wrong. Call the 811 Diggers Hotline, report what happened, and request that the utilities be marked again.

How Do I Get Rid of the Markings?

The paint will fade over time; the people responsible for the planned project should remove the flags when they are no longer needed. That could be as long as 14 weeks.

The flags and paint marks may be an annoyance, but they are crucial for the safety of construction workers and others near a work site. They show what’s buried beneath them before the first shovel hits the ground. Flags protect you and your community.

What Do the Colors Signify?

Underground utilities

The colors represent what is known as the American Public Works Association Uniform Color Code, and each of the eight colors has its own significance. For example, you’ll likely see lots of white, which documents the proposed excavation limits for new construction. Another popular color is orange, which shows the location of the busy array of underground communications wires.

For more information about survey or utility locating, reach out to one of our Geospatial or Telecommunications + SUE experts.

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