Whenever winter decides to finally be over and the ground thaws, we’ll be starting a pretty exciting (to us, at least) project.  We’ll be switching from overhead to underground service for electricity, phone, and cable.  Totally exciting, right?

In all seriousness, we’re really happy to finally be making this change.  It’s something we’ve wanted to do since we moved in and we figured now was the perfect time since the work can be completed just prior to the house being painted so we won’t have to do so many touch-ups for all of the places where wiring/conduit/meters/etc. are removed or relocated.

Electrical service currently runs through that chunky conduit on the front of the house, through the meter, and into the basement.  Phone attaches to the upstairs corner of the house on the right and cable attaches on the lower level on the right.  Both enter the house not far from the power meter.

Now – There are 3 separate wires coming in overhead and a huge conduit running down the front of the house.  Yuck.

Electrical service currently runs through that chunky conduit on the front of the house, through the meter, and into the basement. Phone attaches to the upstairs corner of the house on the right and cable attaches on the lower level on the right. Both snake around and enter the house not far from the power meter.  It’s clearly a functional setup, but we’re really looking forward to making the shift to underground utilities so that a lot of the current “messiness” on the front of the house will go away.  The new meter will still be right in front, but it will be mounted lower and won’t have the huge conduit running all the way up to the roof line, which we’re hoping will draw less attention to it.  Plus, we’ll be able to get rid of all of the overhead wires along with a bunch of other phone and cable wires that are running all over the outside of the house.  Overall, it should be a lot cleaner and less distracting than the current arrangement.

A close-up of the area around the meter.  That's the access panel for the phone tucked around the corner on the right.  See all the cables going everywhere?  Nuts, right?

A close-up of the area around the meter. That’s the access panel for the phone tucked around the corner on the right.  This area should hopefully get cleaned up a lot.

Since all of the utilities are overhead through our neighborhood, service for our house will be switched from overhead to underground at the nearest telephone pole, which sits to the right of the house just before the ravine.  The pole is actually pretty close to the house (probably less than 50′ away), so the distance that the utilities will need to be buried really isn’t that great.

The telephone pole.  Wires to the left are heading to our house and will be buried.  Wires to the right are coming up from the bottom of the ravine and will stay.

The telephone pole. Wires to the left are heading to our house and will be buried. Wires to the right are coming up from the bottom of the ravine and will stay.

We’ve briefly talked about eliminating this pole (since we found out as part of our conversations with the power company that we actually own it) and burying the cables all the way to the nearest power company pole at the bottom of the ravine instead, but ultimately decided against it.  Running the cables underground all the way down the wooded hillside would involve a pretty hefty bill for directional boring and still wouldn’t completely remove the risk of a tree falling on the lines.  (They would still remain overhead through the bottom of the wooded ravine all the way to the street, which is the largest part of the distance to our house anyway.)

The power company pole at the bottom of the ravine.

The power company pole at the bottom of the ravine.

So, considering that we’ll still need the pole at the top of the ravine, the other thing we’ve been discussing is whether it would make sense to replace the pole with a new (straight) one at the same time.  The cost to do so actually isn’t too bad, but we feel like it would be a pretty disruptive change since the new one would come with a guide wire and would likely be placed further into the yard than the existing one.  General consensus from the power company and electrician we’ve talked to is that the current pole isn’t an immediate concern for falling down, etc., but that it will likely fail and need to be replaced at some point in the future.  Having said that, though, besides just getting the work out of the way so we don’t have to worry about it later, there doesn’t seem to be any benefit to installing a new telephone pole at the same time as burying the service to the house.  So, for now, we’re leaning toward working with the existing pole and replacing it in the future if/when there are ever problems.

The distance from the house to the telephone pole, which is surprisingly difficult to get a good picture of.

The space from the house to the telephone pole (which is almost all the way to the right of the photo with a loop of white wire about 5′ up … it blends surprisingly well with the trees this time of year!)

As far as how to actually go about switching to underground service for all 3 utilities, we started by calling the power company last fall.  They came out and did a site survey, agreed that it was possible to go underground, and then advised that we wait until spring since it was already pretty late in the season and the ground would be freezing soon.  Even though it still feels pretty wintery in our neck of the woods, the ground has to thaw sometime soon (right?), so I started making some phone calls this week to see if we could get everything lined up for work to start sooner rather than later.  Overall, my impression of the process is that it isn’t all that complex, but that it will be quite an exercise in coordination between all of the utility companies since none of them seem to be able to work with each other on our behalf and getting them all on site at the same time so that everything can be switched over at once will be next to impossible.

So, the basic steps we’ll take are:

  1. Hire an electrician to remove the existing overhead meter base and replace it with a new underground meter base.
  2. Call the phone (AT&T) and cable (Mediacom) companies to have them drop off a length of wire that can be buried in the same trench as the electrical service.
  3. Work with the power company to have them open a trench from the telephone pole to the house and lay a new wire for electrical service.  The electrician will connect this wire through the new underground meter base to the electrical panel in the basement.  The power company will remove the overhead line and connect the underground line instead.
  4. While the trench is open for the new electrical line, the phone and coax cables that were dropped off earlier will be thrown in the same trench, but left unconnected at either end.
  5. Contact AT&T and Mediacom to have them each come out to remove their overhead wires and put the new buried cables into service.

So far, the electrician and power company are lined up and I’ve made the calls to AT&T and Mediacom.  I’m waiting for a call back from AT&T about dropping off some phone line to add to the trench and Mediacom says they want to bury their own cable in their own trench, which isn’t the response we were expecting.  Guess I’ll have to give the electrician a call back to see if we can/should do anything to try to get their cable in the same trench as everything else or just have them lay it separately once the electrical service is already buried.  Something tells me this is just the start of the unexpected stuff – I’m thinking there will be lots of time spent on the phone calls and follow-ups with this project.  Ug.

But we’re hoping it should all be worth it in the end.  I, for one, am really looking forward to seeing the house without all of the cables front-and-center … and, of course, with a fresh coat of paint.  Fingers crossed we’ll have some good updates on both fronts within the next couple of months!

Our official "before" picture.

Our official “before” picture.

Anyone have any experience switching to underground service for utilities?  Any tips on how to get to a real person faster when calling the utility companies?  Something tells me I’m going to get super familiar with the automated “troubleshooting” service … yes, I would love to briefly describe my problem to you one more time.  Ug.

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