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Thread: Digging around buried electrical - how deep; how safe?

  1. #1

    Digging around buried electrical - how deep; how safe?

    I know where the buried electrical runs behind my house from when it was marked a few years ago. I *think* it's supposed to be at least 18 inches down and running through a conduit.

    I'm starting to build a raised garden right over where the line runs, and I need to dig a few inches for the first course of the retaining wall. Of course I'll be digging carefully, and I'm just using stacking concrete wall blocks -- just in case we want/need to move the garden later.

    So just how careful do I need to be? I'm not using any heavy machinery (just shovels) and I'm digging only a few inches. Is there any reason to believe I may hit or break the conduit?
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  2. #2
    Join Date
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    your electrical utility company hates emergency restoration of power and hates even more when people get killed or hurt. Expensive emergency crews, bad publicity, lawsuits, irate customers, all those things.

    They will be more than glad to come out in advance to your doing any POSSIBLE work and mark where the lines lie and probably can give you advise on how deep they are.
    Call them and see.
    Last edited by LCHIEN; 03-22-2008 at 10:37 AM.
    Loring in Katy, TX USA
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  3. #3
    Thanks for the input -- I'll give them a call to be sure.

    Just to be clear, I know exactly where the lines are from when they were marked a few years ago (photos and in-ground landmarks) -- I just don't know how deep or how they're protected, so I don't know how carefully I need to dig (even if the lines are re-marked -- e.g. full force straight down versus archaeologist-style with a dental pick and a toothbrush)

    I'm guessing they're in the same PVC conduit that I see coming out of the ground at the house, but I've never seen the actual underground lines before...
    online at http://www.theFrankes.com
    while ( !( succeed = try() ) ) ;
    "Life is short, Art long, Occasion sudden and dangerous, Experience deceitful, and Judgment difficult." -Hippocrates

  4. #4
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    I wouldn't tell them you know where it is. well, its always interesting to see if they mark the same place... :-)
    and you can ask them exactly what to expect if you do hit it with a shovel or whether they're oK with that and all your other questions. I'm sure they know exactly what it looks like (underground lines).

    And the service is free.
    Loring in Katy, TX USA
    If your only tool is a hammer, you tend to treat all problems as if they were nails.
    PM me (with your e-mail address) for a copy of the BT3 FAQ current vers 4.13

  5. #5
    Join Date
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    How close to the house is it? A rule of thumb I use, is closer to the house/building, the more careful you need to be as it is coming UP towards it.

    Otherwise, not too sure, I would at first treat it like your trying to save the sod, prod around with something non conductive (sharp stick), then dig.
    She couldn't tell the difference between the escape pod, and the bathroom. We had to go back for her.........................Twice.

  6. #6
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    We do a lot of digging for my realm of construction.

    There are 1 Call utility numbers to call. Call them. They will mark it and may dig it up.

    Use a fiber glass shovel and be careful, don't go at it hard. Even a shovel can cut pvc, I've seen it and done it.

    NEC is 18" of cover, but that's not always adhered to.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by gjat View Post
    We do a lot of digging for my realm of construction.

    There are 1 Call utility numbers to call. Call them. They will mark it and may dig it up.

    Use a fiber glass shovel and be careful, don't go at it hard. Even a shovel can cut pvc, I've seen it and done it.

    NEC is 18" of cover, but that's not always adhered to.
    I'll second what he said. If you happen to cut the line with a shovel, most utility companies will likely charge you for fixing it. I think most underground wiring will be found to be in PVC in this day and age.

    Ed
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  8. #8
    Join Date
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    Around here, electrical services to house and even the mainline are neither in conduit. They do attach a small piece of sweep when it comes up out of the ground. I have dug up a ton of electrical feeds and they are covered with a VERY heavy jacket and it is unlikely you would break it with a shovel. But most of those are newer services, I don't know how old yours is. Go slowly and carefully and if you only have to dig a few inches you should be fine. Always err on the side of caution though and don't go chopping at any "tree roots".

    The locates that others have advised would be a good idea also. Don't trust your memory of old locates or even if you remember them perfectly don't trust the guy who done them. Around here they can be off up to 18" in either direction and still be considered to have been done properly. I have personally hit utilities with backhoes and excavators that were off by 5'. The flash of an arc welder has nothing on a 330 Cat digging into a 7KV line.

    If you ask for hyper-accurate locates (that is the name they go by around here) they can usually tell you the depth +/- tolerance, but they also charge more for that here.

  9. #9
    I used a garden hoe once. I pretty much knew the route and I just used the hoe to scrape along until I got to the wire. The insulation was pretty thick and tough, the hoe was dull.
    Last edited by Daryl; 03-22-2008 at 04:47 PM.

  10. #10
    Even though you know whre the wires were marked the last time there is probably a requirement to call and have them remarked again. This also limits your potential liability if you would accidently cut or nick the wire.

    I don't think you're going to find it in a pvc conduit. It's much cheaper to use wire rated for direct burial.
    Rick

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