How Deep Can I Dig In My Backyard

How Deep Can I Dig In My Backyard? Are you a USA or a UK resident? Have you ever considered making some developments in your backyard but did not know where to start?

Once in a while, something comes up where you need to excavate your Garden or backyard.

Digging in the backyard is often an exciting venture, whether you’re starting a new gardening project or embarking on a treasure hunt.

However, many people wonder just how deep they can dig in their own backyard.

Are there limitations to how far we can dig? In this blog post, we will explore various factors that affect the depth of digging in your backyard and provide insights into what lies beneath the surface.

Making developments or excavating your backyard is not prohibited in the UK and USA. However, there are rules to be followed.

For instance, you can only dig to a certain stipulated level if you have not sought permission.

If you need to go beyond the stated depths, you will require a permit from the concerned Authorities.

So, how deep can you dig in my backyard without planning permission in the UK or the USA? The answer to this question and more have been provided before. Read on to find out more!

How Deep Can I Dig In My Backyard

  • Local Regulations and Permits

Before grabbing your shovel and breaking ground, it’s essential to understand any local regulations or permit requirements. Some municipalities may have restrictions on the depth of excavation to protect underground utilities, such as gas lines, water pipes, or electrical cables.

Contact your local authorities to ensure compliance with regulations and to obtain any necessary permits.

  • Soil Composition

Soil composition plays a crucial role in determining how deep you can dig.

The type of soil in your backyard will influence its stability and your ability to excavate.

Generally, sandy or loamy soils are easier to dig than clay or rocky soils.

Sandy soils are loose and drain well, while clay soils tend to be compacted and retain more moisture.

It’s important to assess your soil type to gauge the ease of digging and determine potential limitations.

  • Groundwater Levels

The depth at which you can dig may also be influenced by groundwater levels.

High water tables, commonly found in areas with abundant rainfall or near bodies of water, can hinder deep excavation.

Water seeping into your dig site can lead to instability, collapses, or flooding.

Digging in areas with high groundwater levels might require additional precautions, such as drainage systems or dewatering methods.

  • Depth of Frost Line

In regions with cold climates, the depth of the frost line becomes an important consideration. The frost line refers to the depth at which the ground freezes during the winter.

Digging below the frost line is essential for stability because freezing and thawing cycles can cause ground movement.

It’s crucial to consult local building codes or a professional to determine the frost line depth in your area.

  • Structural Integrity and Safety

When digging deep in your backyard, it’s important to prioritize safety and consider the structural integrity of the ground.

Excavating too deeply without proper reinforcement or support can lead to collapses, soil erosion, or slope failures.

If you plan to dig beyond a certain depth, it’s advisable to consult with a geotechnical engineer or a professional contractor who can assess the site’s stability and provide guidance.

  • Utility Lines and Pipes

Before digging, it’s crucial to locate and identify any underground utility lines or pipes to avoid potential hazards.

Gas lines, water mains, electrical cables, and communication lines may be present beneath the surface.

Professional utility locators can use specialized equipment to detect and mark the location of these lines, ensuring that you can dig safely without causing damage or service interruptions.

How deep can I dig without a permit in the USA?

In the United States, the law requires that you first seek permission from the Common Ground Alliance (CGA) before making any hole in your backyard.

Once you have received their approval, you can dig a hole up to 5 feet deep. If you intend to dig a hole that is deeper than this, you will require to receive a special permit before proceeding.

This requirement applies regardless of where you intend to dig the hole.

Even if you want to excavate your front yard, the first step that you must undertake is obtaining permission from the Common Ground Alliance. The ‘5 feet deep’ rule still applies.

There are two ways to reach CGA. First, you can call them directly using the number 811.

Once you call, CGA will then contact the local utility operators in your area of residence.

Alternatively, you may opt to visit their website and then directly make an online application from there.

After you have selected your state, you will receive an online ticket that will come in handy whenever you want to track the progress of your application.

The application may take a couple of days before it is officially completed.

A team of inspectors will come to your property so they can map out areas with utilities.

How deep can I dig without a permit in the UK?

In the United Kingdom, the laws are more stringent, unlike in the USA.

You must stick to the ‘100 mm or less’ rule to dig without a permit.

That is way stricter compared to USA’s ‘5 feet deep’ rule. However, the permit is a necessary evil.

Obtaining a permit is not a punishment! It serves the greater good in society as it ensures that you don’t disturb the ground level, affecting the utilities in the area.

However, it’s noteworthy that there are various instances when you will not need to obtain a permit before you can dig in the UK. These include:

  •   Routine maintenance of a shrub bed

If you are doing routine maintenance of a shrub bed that is in existence, you may dig up to 300 mm or less without needing a permit.

  •   maintenance of a static site.

If you are doing routine maintenance of places like schools or parks, you will not need to obtain a permit.

  •  Holes that are 100 mm or less

As a rule of thumb, you do not need to obtain permission if the hole you are digging is less than 100 mm.

However, there is an exception to every rule. For instance, you will need permission if the hole you are making is in a footway.

Likewise, it is important to stress the various instances when you must obtain a permit before you think of doing any excavation in the UK.

Besides holes that are deeper than 100mm, other instances include:

  •  Refurbishing a playground.
  •  Installing a sign
  •  Waste bin installation
  •  Putting in place fencing posts
  •  Planting a new shrub bed

If you master these basic rules, you will be on the safe side of the law.

Do I need planning permission to excavate my Garden?

In most cases on How Deep Can I Dig In My Backyard, gardening and landscaping works do not need planning permission.

However, you may need planning permission to excavate your Garden in certain instances.

The reason is simple. You do not want to interfere with underground utilities or affect your neighborhood with your excavation activities.

In the US, several rules are applicable. For instance, you must refrain from digging too close to the utilities or their markings.

Generally, you should maintain at least 18 to 24 inches between them.

Likewise, you are prohibited from using heavy machinery such as excavators near these utilities.

Instead, you can opt to use smaller equipment like a shovel.

In various instances, you might need a scanner to locate the depth of service lines, water pipes, or other utilities.

Like in the US, you may need planning permission if you intend to excavate your Garden and reside in the United Kingdom.

An example is where a homeowner wishes to pave their front garden without using a permeable material, and the paving is more than 5 square meters.

The requirement to seek planning permission in such a situation came about following the 2007 big floods in the UK.

The reason was that converting gardens into driveways significantly contributed to the floods since the runoff water went into storm drains whenever it rained.

The planning policy requires that permission be sought regardless of the paving, the back garden, or the drive.

There are instances when you will not need planning permission.

These include when you want to install timber garden structures such as sheds and outbuildings. Such activities are permitted under the ‘permitted development rights.’

Frequently Asked Questions

How Far Down Can You Safely Dig?

The health and safety guidelines relating to digging trenches, holes, and excavations have been detailed in the Common Ground Alliance (CGA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) of 1970 in the US.

According to state building codes, you must dig between 18 and 24 inches (457 mm to 610 mm) from the utility or its marking. That will ensure that the utility line is preserved.

How Deep Can I dig in my backyard in the UK?

If you do not want to seek a permit in the UK, you are only required to dig 100 mm or less.

The permit is essential since it serves as security insurance to ensure that you will not tamper with the existing ground level.

How Close To my House Can I Dig a Hole?

If your house has a strong foundation, you can dig beside it, yet it will remain intact.

If it’s not strong, the trenches may collapse. Also, you are likely to interfere with utility lines and pipes.


Digging in your backyard can be an exciting and fulfilling endeavor, but it’s essential to understand the various factors that can affect the depth you can dig.

Local regulations, soil composition, groundwater levels, frost lines, structural integrity, and utility lines all play significant roles.

By considering these factors and consulting with professionals when necessary, you can ensure a safe and successful digging experience.

So grab your shovel, do your research, and discover the hidden depths beneath your feet.

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