How Deep Can You Dig in Your Backyard? (My Best Guide)

Are you planning to dig a hole in your backyard?

If so, you probably wonder how deep can you dig in your backyard while remaining safe and within the law. Deep holes are generally dug for swimming pools, basement levels to your house, or even garages where plot space is scarce.

Knowing the local regulations and guidelines for your digging is important for ensuring safety, protecting your property, and avoiding legal issues.

In this article, we’ll go over the legal implications, safety measures, and practical considerations you should consider before digging up that first clump of dirt in your backyard.

How deep can you dig in your backyard

How deep can you dig in your backyard? (Some Real Talks)

When digging in your backyard, the depth you can go largely depends on your local zoning regulations. Generally speaking, you should never dig deeper than 3 feet into the ground without the permission of your local council and the planning office.

Even 3 feet can contain cables and services that could be troublesome.

Depending on the type of soil and the depth of plumbing or other utilities in the area, you may need to take extra precautions when digging.

For example, if you’re digging where sewer lines, water mains, or other utilities are present, you should always contact the utility provider to avoid damaging any infrastructure.

Furthermore, you also risk causing harm to yourself and anyone in the vicinity. There may even be the risk of a neighbor’s setback line being quite close to the proposed dig.

In this case, the permit may need to be signed off by them instead of just being a private issue.

Can you dig deep enough to install a swimming pool in your backyard?

Installing a swimming pool requires far deeper excavation than other backyard projects. In most cases, you’ll need to excavate at least 8 feet into the ground.

This is to ensure the pool is deep enough to prevent water from overflowing and to provide adequate support for the pool walls.

Can you dig deep enough to install a swimming pool in your backyard

Depending on your local zoning regulations, you may need a special permit before digging this deep. If you plan to install a pool in your backyard, you will need a permit regardless.

These permits help to notify planners and surveyors of the works so they can note them down for future reference. 

What are the safety risks of digging too deep in your backyard?

The first thing to consider when planning a backyard dig is the many safety issues that can present themselves. For example, if the hole is too deep, it could be a safety hazard for children, pets, or even other stray animals that may not be aware of the danger in the area.

In this case, you should install safety barriers, such as fencing, to prevent anyone from falling in or coming near the hole. Another issue to consider is the stability of the ground that you’re digging.

What are the safety risks of digging too deep in your backyard

If the material is loose or contains materials such as sand, then the risk of erosion and caving becomes even more heightened. You could have a perfectly carved hole, but one crack could cause the whole thing to crumble. 

You may even run into an unforeseen high water table while digging. This means the water level may be higher than the depth you want.

No matter how much you try to scoop out, it will just keep filing to that level, as that is the height of that specific water table. In this case, you might need to add some pumps for the duration of the dig and reinforcements to keep the water at bay.

When this water is present, there is also the risk that the ground can erode and cave in. Before digging, you should consult a structural engineer or surveyor to ensure the area is safe.

Locating and marking underground services before digging

Another important safety precaution to take before you dig is to locate and mark the location of any underground services. If you are unsure what may be buried in your yard, contact your local council or utility provider to investigate.

This is an important step to take as it ensures that you don’t damage any cables, pipes, sewers, or other infrastructure that may be located underground. Once the services have been located and marked, you know their exact location.

The best way to find out in the US is to call 811 before you dig; this is the universal number that coordinates the location services for any underground public utilities. Other countries will have a different number, so keep that in mind when planning your dig.

How can you safely dig deep in your backyard?

Digging deep into your backyard can be a risky endeavor, especially if you don’t take proper safety precautions. As mentioned, the best plan of attack is to first check with your local council and the planning office to ensure you have all the necessary permits and clearances.

In addition to obtaining the right permits, it’s best to take the following steps to ensure a safe and successful dig:

How can you safely dig deep in your backyard
  • Wear proper protective gear, including a hard hat, safety goggles, gloves, and even a face mask if the material could be hazardous. 
  • Make sure the area is well-lit by using raised lamps. The higher they are, the better the coverage.
  • Use the right tools for the job, including leveling equipment and the correct digging attachments. 
  • Take frequent breaks. You don’t want to get burnt out, especially with a job that takes longer than a day. 
  • Always have a first-aid kit nearby.

Keep bystanders away from the digging area. Create a barricade of at least 2 meters around the outside of the hole boundary. This saves the risk of falling into a hole where an edge may cave.

This can include cables, pipes, animals, leaks, etc. Following these safety precautions, you should be able to dig safely and confidently in your backyard.

What soil type is in your backyard, and how deep can you dig it?

Soils considered loamy, a combination of sand, silt, and clay particles are often more dangerous when it comes to digging at greater depths.

The looseness of these soil types is more prone to erosion and caving in as there is no real support for them to fall back on. Once the edges drop, they cannot be pressed up again.

What soil type is in your backyard, and how deep can you dig it

You may have success with clay, but even then, it should be compacted in layers to ensure its stability. Depending on the geographic location of your yard, you can only really safely dig into a loamy material down to around a few inches up to 5 feet deep.

At this depth, you will likely need some reinforcements to keep the walls from caving in. 

Clay or sandstone, on the other hand, is much more stable to dig into. You can carve into them without much risk at all. As a general rule, the width of your hole should be the same as its height. So, for example, a 10 ft wide hole should have a 10 ft slant from the foot (bottom inside corner) of the hole to the top edge.

What is the maximum depth you can dig in your backyard?

There isn’t a limit to the depth of your excavations. However, they need to get the tick of approval before going ahead with any work.

You would need to apply for and obtain a permit from the city or county before beginning a project that involves digging in your backyard.

What is the maximum depth you can dig in your backyard

You could be digging for a pond, swimming pool, safety shelter, underground tank system, garage, or basement level for your home. Some of these require bulk volumes of earth to be moved; others just need the surface scratched. The maximum depth would usually depend on where you live and the local building codes in your area.

Aspects such as the type of soil can determine and even limit how deep you can dig. For example, a loosely packed sandy soil will give way much easier than a compact clay foundation. It’s best to call 811 and then consult with your local building department to determine the maximum depth you can safely dig in your backyard.

What states of the USA Cannot have basements according to law?

When making adjustments to your home via excavations, some projects aren’t even legally possible. Let’s look at the US states that don’t allow basements to be built and the reasons why. Firstly, Navajo Nation in Arizona does not allow the building of basements due to its dry climate.

In Alaska, you’ll need a permit to build a basement. However, its climate conditions make it difficult to keep basements from freezing and flooding. In California, basements are not allowed in areas prone to earthquakes and flooding, mainly because of the dangers that these threats cause below the surface.

Basements in Nevada and Montana are also “banned” because of flood risk. Finally, in Oklahoma, it’s tornados that cause the issues for basements. Therefore, no basement permits can be granted. 

Do I need a permit to dig in my yard?

Yes, most states require a permit to dig in your yard. Depending on the scope of your project and the local building codes, you may need to obtain permission from the local municipality. This should also be applied for and obtained before beginning a project that involves digging in your backyard.

Do I Need A Permit To Dig In My Yard

It’s important to consult with your local building department to review the requirements for obtaining a permit and to ensure you comply with all regulations before starting your project. 

The risks involved include disturbing utility services, pipes, cables, and even a random sewer cover which can end in disaster. Then you have environmental issues such as disturbing animal homes. 

Techniques for measuring depth when digging

Measuring the depth of your excavation is an important safety measure to ensure that you stay within the legally allowed depth. It also assists with not accidentally digging too deep and needing to be compact and replace the soil again. Here are some techniques for measuring depth when digging:

The most common method for measuring depth is with a measuring tape. This can is usually done manually, or some automated tools can be used nowadays. When using a measuring tape to measure, you need to keep it level with the point on the ground surface from which you’re taking the measurement.

You also need to ensure that it isn’t stretched, compressed, or warped while doing so. This will give a more accurate reading.

Another option is to use a plumb bob, a device attached to a string. Plumb bobs are a bit old-school but also extremely accurate. These tools are pretty simple to use. You drop the bob (weighted end) into the excavation, and the attached string is used to measure the depth of the excavation.

Techniques for measuring depth when digging

With the bob at the bottom, you can place your finger on the string at the top of the hole. Then, pull the bob up and measure from your finger to the bob end. This method can be time-consuming, but it is accurate and can be used to measure depths up to twenty feet or more.

An auger or post-hole digger can also be used to help calculate the depth of a hole. These machine attachments can be used to drill the hole and then marked on the attachment.

As the attachment is brought up above the ground, it can be measured from the mark to the tip to give an accurate depth measurement. Some attachments are marked already, so you can watch for the depth as you work.

You can also use a level to manually measure the depth of your excavation. This method involves placing a level across the excavation and ensuring it is level with the ground surface. You can then mark a line on the level at a depth of the excavation and measure it using a ruler. This method is more for shallow holes. 

Finally, you can use a laser level to measure the depth of your excavation. This tool is accurate and easy to use. They work by projecting a laser beam across the excavation and displaying the depth of the excavation on a digital display.

This can be a great tool for accurately measuring depths of up to thirty feet or more.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is it illegal to dig a hole in California?

Yes, it is sometimes illegal to dig a hole in California without obtaining a permit from the local government, especially for basements. It’s important to always check with your local municipality before starting any excavation project, as some areas may have regulations or ordinances that restrict or prohibit certain types of digging. In any case, call 811 to be sure from the beginning.

What is a permit to dig?

A permit to dig is a document issued by the local government that grants permission to the applicant to complete a specified excavation project. These permits typically specify the scope of the project. They include the type of excavation equipment to be used, the location of the excavation, the estimated depth and duration of the project, and any other relevant details.

At what depth excavation permit is required?

The answer to this question can vary depending on local laws and regulations. Generally, permits are required for excavation deeper than three feet in most areas. However, it is always best to check with your local municipality before excavation to ensure that you follow all applicable laws.

Why don’t they dig basements in Texas?

In the state of Texas, there is a law that prevents individuals from digging deeper than twenty-five feet without a permit. As a result, digging a basement in Texas is not feasible. Additionally, due to the high water table in many parts of Texas, it is not advisable to dig a basement as it could lead to flooding and other problems.


Digging in your backyard is a common action to create several larger build-type projects. Before starting any digging project, however, it is important to ensure that you follow local laws and regulations and obtain a permit if necessary.

It is also important to use the right tools and safety measures to ensure the project is completed safely and to the correct depth. We hope that this guide has been helpful. You can read about similar topics here on our website. Check back again soon for more.

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