If You See Red Paint on the Ground, This Is What It Means

Updated: May 25, 2023

It's an important spot for the entire neighborhood and anyone passing by!

When you’re on a worksite, there are a lot of different color codes to understand. These codes are put in place so anyone working on the site will understand different utilities and what is where. This color system—established as the American National Standard for Safety Colors by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)—was originally mandated by the American Public Works Association (APWA) as a way to temporarily mark their facilities.

From different colors of the rainbow to even the use of pink and white, each color communicates the location of important utilities underground. So what exactly does it mean when you see the color red?

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What does red paint on the road mean?

According to the APWA, if you see red paint on the road, that signifies a spot where electric power lines, cables, conduit and lighting cables could be located.

This would mean that if any work is going to be done within that area, a specialist may need to be called. Those power and cable lines may be important for the electricity throughout your neighborhood and should be approached with caution.

Red paint may not be the only way to signify an electrical power line, cables and more. Some areas may be marked with other signs like small red flags. These temporary red flags may be useful if an area is experiencing any kind of construction or engineering project.

Either way, if an area is marked with red, that means the utility nearby is likely connected to the electrical power in some sense and should be treated carefully. This type of marking is typically facilitated by a contract laborer or a facility owner, so before starting any type of project, be sure these areas are properly marked around your home so you don’t dig and damage an important facility that will cost you a lot in repairs.

What are other paint colors for marking utilities?

Located and marked Utility lines below ground surface

While red is an important color to look out for when it comes to any kind of construction or engineering project, the other colors in the APWA system should also be considered, so you are aware of the different utilities underground.

The APWA color system is as follows:

  • Red: electric power lines, cables, conduit and lighting cables
  • Orange: telecommunication, alarm or signal lines, cables or conduit
  • Yellow: natural gas, oil, steam, petroleum or other flammable materials
  • Green: sewers and drain lines
  • Blue: potable water
  • Purple: reclaimed water, irrigation and slurry lines
  • Pink: temporary survey markings, unknown/unidentified facilities
  • White: proposed excavation limits or routes

Again, these colors may be painted to warn of particular important utility areas, or small flags may be perched to signify the facilities below.

However, markers on trees are a bit different. Trees marked with paint actually signify property lines or even alert others of environmental concerns.

Now that you know about these color codes, keep an eye out for colors and symbols on different work sites, farms or homes. Boots on a fence, on the other hand, can symbolize multiple things, like honoring a rancher or horse that recently passed, while a green porch light shows appreciation and support for U.S. veterans.


The Family Handyman
Originally Published on The Family Handyman