Public vs. Private Utilities & What you Need to Know

The topic of utilities can be confusing for many homeowners. We are often asked questions such as, “Do I need to call Miss Utility myself? Who will mark my pool lines? What happens if the crew damages a utility line?” We hope you will find this resource to be very helpful concerning public vs. private utilities, the difference between them, and how to handle various situations involving them.



What are “Utilities”?

A utility is any wire, water line, or other piece of equipment that provides service to a facility. The utilities we worry about when digging are such that are buried in your yard. These include electric lines, gas lines, telephone lines, cable service lines, water pipes, and invisible dog fences. There is a common goal between the utility companies, the homeowner, and the digging party to prevent damage to underground utilities. The liability, time, and cost involved in repairing a damaged line is worth the effort it takes to prevent it.


What is the difference between Public and Private Utilities?

Public Utilities are service lines that are placed by companies that are contracted to provide services to you in your home. Examples of these are. . .

    • Gas lines that provide service to your home
    • Electric lines that are placed by any public service company such as PEPCO or Potomac Edison
    • Water lines that are placed and serviced by your City
    • Cable phone lines


Private Utilities are service lines that are specific to you and your home. If you have a septic system, a pool, or an invisible dog fence, you have private utilities in your yard. Other examples of these are. . .

    • Pool water lines
    • Invisible dog fencing
    • Electric lines that are placed by the homeowner (or any previous homeowners) and run to structures like barns, sheds, pools, or detached garages
    • Propane lines for pools
    • Sprinkler systems
    • Septic lines


What is Miss Utility?

Miss Utility is an approved, one-stop-shop public utility marking service. Instead of contacting each public utility company separately to have them mark their own lines (up to three or four companies), Miss Utility does the communication work for you. Their purpose is to “prevent damage to underground infrastructure by providing one-call services in those areas.” The ticket will be marked “clear” when all lines have been marked, and the homeowner/company can proceed with any digging, provided they do not dig near marked lines.


Who Calls Miss Utility?

Frederick Fence provides the service of calling Miss Utility for its customers because, as the digging party, we are legally liable for any damage to public utilities. If we fail to have utilities marked and then damage something, we are responsible. Frederick Fence submits each ticket to Miss Utility, answers any questions that technicians might have about the project, and are notified when the ticket is cleared.  If you live outside of our service area or are using a different fence company, it is important to find out if they also provide this service or if you need to contact Miss Utility yourself.


What happens if a public utility line is damaged by the crew?

There are two possible scenarios here. The first is when the crew hits a line that is NOT marked on a CLEAR Miss Utility ticket. In this case, it is the fault of Miss Utility and they will be responsible for paying for the damaged line. The second scenario is when a marked line is damaged. In this case, the party doing the digging is responsible for the damage. Either way, the utility company whose line was damaged will need to contacted immediately to schedule necessary repairs. In the unfortunate case that a Frederick Fence crew damages a public line in either scenario, we usually coordinate with the appropriate company as a courtesy to our customers.


Who is responsible for marking private utilities?

The homeowner is responsible for marking any private lines before our crews start digging. There is no database available that records where your private lines are located in your yard. We do not have any way of knowing where they are. They are invisible to us unless the homeowner makes us aware of them. The most we can do is use extra care where there is believed to be a private utility, such as around a pool. Even so, it takes force to remove dirt and rocks from the ground to make way for fence posts. It is almost impossible to see lines in the ground before they are damaged.

All Frederick Fence Company contracts state that we are not responsible for any damaged unmarked private utilities.


How do I locate my private utilities if I do not know where they are?

As previously stated, there is no database of records that record where your private lines are located. The only other option would be to hire a private utility locator, such as Soft Digs, to come and find them. It is unclear, however, if this is a cost-effective option. These utility locator companies are most commonly called in to mark large commercial properties.  In these cases, it is worth the investment to prevent what could potentially be thousands of dollars in damage. But for the sake of one or two lines, it may be less expensive in the end to repair one damaged utility.