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You’ve seen the flagging tape, stakes and paint markings in various places. Different colors, painted on asphalt, grass, and other surfaces, with all sorts of writing next to them. You’ve probably wondered what the different color marking paint means, and if it matters much. Short answer? It matters quite a bit.

The Use of Marking Paint

Marking paint is mostly used for teams to know just what lies beneath the ground. It’s one thing to have ten sets of diagrams, maps, and blueprints to work with from different utilities and local governments – there’s plenty of information, but it can be hard to visualize. By marking these utilities out on the grass or asphalt of a proposed site, design teams, excavators, and construction teams can figure out just what they are working around.

Not all marking paint signals an underground utility. Some have other meanings. So how do we keep the colors straight, and how do we avoid confusing what they may mean?

Different Marking Paint Colors

The American Public Works Association (APWA) sets forth a list of Uniform Color Codes for the marking of underground utilities. By having a nationally uniform code, it eliminates confusion if the marking team or the working crews are from different areas. Whether you are working on a site in New York City, New Jersey, Pennsylvania or Seattle, or have even been contracted to do a job in Nebraska or Oregon, the colors mean the same thing across the country.

Red – Electric power lines, cables, conduit, and lighting cables. There’s no coincidence that the universal color that indicates “stop” or “danger” marks electrical current.

Orange – This signals telecommunication, alarm, or signal lines, cables, and conduit. This could also include fiber optics and more. As reliant as we are on communication these days, this can be an incredibly dangerous marking to miss.

Yellow – One of the brightest markings, and for good reason. This marking paint indicates that what is underneath is natural gas, oil, steam, petroleum, or other gaseous or flammable material. Proceed with urgency – not too many folks get a second chance if they don’t pay attention to yellow paint markings.

Blue – Potable (drinkable) water. Makes quite a bit of sense they would use blue for this, doesn’t it? Hitting these could disrupt an area’s drinking water.

Purple – Non-potable water, including reclaimed water, irrigation water, and slurry lines. Hitting these, while it wouldn’t hurt the drinking water supply of an area, would create a swampy site and still disrupt work and life around the site.

Green – Sewers and drain lines. While the consequences to the project of hitting this may not be as bad as hitting a potable water line, no one wants to be known as the person who cracked open a pipe and let sewage onto a site. Green does not mean go, in this case.

White – Proposed excavation areas or routes that show where digging is proposed.

Pink – Temporary survey markings, indicating the legal boundaries that affect the project.

While the latter two do not indicate any potential buried problems, they should still be heeded. In fact, you’ve probably used our white marking paint on some of your own sites, to indicate instructions to your team. You’ve probably also come across the pink markings on a surveyed site in your planning stages.

The Importance of Marking Paint

Marking paint is important for a number of reasons. Primarily, it’s a matter of safety – an ill-advised, unmarked excavation could lead to issues like power loss if you cut through a power line, pollution if you strike a sewer or oil line, phone outages if you sever a telecommunication line, or worst of all, injury to yourself or other team members or even fatalities. Excavators, environmental consultants, and more need to know what they could be digging in to.

Beyond that, by marking out the known utilities and underground features, the design team can consider any changes they may have to make. Engineers and architects in particular pay attention to these markings, as it can change how they shape and position building elements to fit with existing infrastructure and utility. For example, these could indicate opportunities to save money through moving elements, or could indicate the need to move an element where driving into the ground for support could disturb utilities or cause a costly rerouting. Planners and landscape architects will also use these markings to figure out how to position irrigation systems, walkways, parking areas, flora, and much more.

So if you see these markings, take heed, because there is something important underneath. Don’t cover them up, or try and wash them away. When you’re looking to put down markings of your own – whether you are an electrical team mapping out lines, or an excavation contractor preparing the site for digging – make sure you use durable, easy-to-see marking paint like those from STREETDOG Solvent Based or STREETDOG Water Based marking paint . Our team here at PowerPak will help you to find a clear, economical solution to your marking paint needs, reach out to us today!

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