One of the first things that needs to be addressed when you decide to build a new home is how you plan on getting electricity, especially in this technology driven day and age. One option is to live off the grid where you produce your own power via wind or solar, but if your area isn’t conducive for either option or your power demand too high, you’ll have to pull your power from the local power grid.
When preparing for connection to the grid, the first thing to do is to call your local power company as they are the only ones that will be able to provide accurate information on requirements and costs. Each power company operates differently and the costs to hook up vary greatly depending on their requirements. Before you call them, you’ll need some basic info for them to determine the type and cost of service you’ll need.
Know before calling:
- Service address
- Square footage of the home
- Heat source/type (electric, gas, propane, wood)
- Tonnage of A/C or heat pump (how big an A/C or heat pump system you have)
- Water heater type and size
- Amperage of service as setup in your breaker panel
- Any future plans for things like a swimming pool, detached workshop/garage, etc.
- Is temporary service required while your home is being built
- Distance from the road to where the meter will be located
Questions to ask:
- What exactly does the power company provide versus what I need to provide?
- What do I need to have in place on my home before hook up can begin (meter box, weather head, underground conduit, power panel, power pole by the road, site grading)?
- Will the line be connected to the house via overhead line or underground? If underground, do I need to dig the trench or is that included in the cost to hookup?
- What is the cost of the hookup?
Now that you got the information needed from the power company I can explain some of the items that may have been brought up. You may be asking why they needed to know all that stuff listed in the “Know before calling” section. All this info is put into a calculator to tell them how much power will be used on average and at any given time. By calculating this they can figure out what size wire to use in connecting your home. Too small a wire and there is a huge safety hazard, too large a wire and the cost goes through the roof. They’re just trying to find that happy medium for your needs. Most new homes are setup for at least 200 amps if not more and that number seems to get bigger and bigger as more things in the home are becoming electricity powered.
A Quick Lesson On Volts and Amps
With all this talk about amps, let’s take a moment to fill you in on some of the most basic terminology with regard to electricity. When discussing electricity, two words will almost always come up in conversation, volts and amps. I’ll use water hoses as examples to explain. Voltage is like the pressure within the hose, higher voltage is like higher pressure. The power coming to your home is typically 220 volts and then the wiring in the breaker panel delivers 110 volts to your outlets and various electrical fixtures and the full 220 volts to high demand devices like your water heater and electric range.
Amps on the other hand are like the volume or flow of water allowed due to the size or diameter of the hose. The more amps delivered in the wire is akin to more water flowing. Imagine a run of the mill household extension cord you might plug a floor lamp into. This small wire is rated at 15 amps, kind of like your typical garden hose only flowing 10 gallons per minute. Likewise, the main wires feeding your home carry 200 amps or more to feed all your electrical gadgets and gizmos. This would be like a fire hose delivering 250+ gallons per minute allowing firefighters to quickly put out fires. In most homes, lighting and small appliance circuits are 15 or 20 amps, and major appliances are on 20, 50 or even 60 amp circuits.
Overhead vs. Underground
I mentioned earlier to ask if the power company would be doing an overhead or underground installation. Most new hookups are made underground, especially if the distance from the power pole to the home is substantial. When going underground a few things need to be considered. The wire itself that runs from the pole to your home or the local electrical/building code will dictate if you will need to run a conduit or if you can lay the wire directly into the ground. A conduit is simply a pipe that protects the wire from getting damaged by the surrounding earth. There is also wire known as direct burial cable that has extra heavy duty insulation allowing it to be buried in the ground by itself with no other protection.
One of the requirements if the power company is going to be digging the ditch and installing the power line will be that the final grade of the property be established. They need this because they are required to bury the wire a certain depth and if you change the grade after they do the install, this depth could change.
The other requirement is to have all other underground utilities marked out so as to avoid any unintended damage during the excavation. It is required that either the power company or yourself call a locating service and request someone come out and mark underground utilities before any digging can take place. No matter your location, dialing 811 on your phone should connect you to them. This call should be made at least two days before expected excavation.
The big advantage to underground installation is that you never have to worry about storms or weather damaging the wire that feeds your home; however unfortunately outages on the grid are beyond your control. The downside to buried cable is the cost. You will have to pay to dig the trench, run the conduit and/or cable, and backfill the trench, not to mention that direct burial cable can be very pricey as compared to overhead cable. If you already have grass down, hopefully not yet, you would have to reseed as well.
Overhead lines are more prevalent where the power line along the street or road runs within close proximity to the electrical weather head on the house. This is the easiest method as the power company simply strings the wire from the pole on the road to your home and makes the necessary connections. The biggest advantage here, it’s a lot cheaper than buried cable. Unfortunately this wire is exposed to the elements and can be damaged by the elements necessitating calls to the power company to come fix the line.
But What Does It All Cost?
Unfortunately there is no clean cut answer to this one. Every power company operates differently and therefore charges as they seem fit. A lot of times they will include hooking up to a certain distance (100’ or so) for a flat fee and then anything over that distance is billed by the foot. This per foot pricing could range from $5 to $15 depending on how much the power company has to do to get the power to your home. As you can imagine this can quickly add up if your home is over 1000’ from the service pole. I’ve heard of installations costing as much as $25,000 where the power line on the road needed to be extended a few miles to get to the point where it could then turn into the property.
One option to save money is to have the power meter installed on a small service pole just within your property line and then you lay the wire from that meter pole to your home yourself. Of course it is recommended that a licensed electrician make all the necessary connections but maybe with a little home baked goods persuasion you might be able to convince the electrician to coach you on doing the grunt work of digging the trench and laying the cable while they facilitate the necessary inspections. As long as all building codes are followed, which are available in the local codes enforcement office, the actual laying of cable isn’t rocket science and poses no danger until the wires are connected at both ends after installation is complete.
Are You In an Area With an Energy Co-Op?
Depending on where you live, especially if you live in a remote area, you may be serviced by an energy co-op or cooperative. These are basically small non-profit power companies that are member owned. When you connect to their grid, you become a member and therefore partial owner of the company. Any profits are either reinvested into the infrastructure or given back to the members in a variety of forms but essentially are just dividend payments. An example of an energy cooperative is the Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Cooperative in Cochise County, AZ.
So you make that call to the power company and they want $25,000 to get power to your home. Once you get over that sticker shock it may be worth looking into living off the grid. Fully equipping your home with solar and wind power generation might cost the same amount of money (after state and federal incentives) but then you will be free from future power bills and no longer be at the mercy of the power company. Check out my article on power generation for Off the Grid Living for more information.