Saturday, July 30, 2011

How not to dig a 48” deep trench

My backyard, July 2007.

I'll never forget it. Not because I don't want to, but because I won't be allowed to. When it came time to have the new electrical service (cables/conductors) installed between the power pole and our house, my wife and I decided to bury the line rather than have it strung overhead. There was even a time when we were going to help our neighbors to the north and south have their lines buried as well, but that fell by the wayside when the electrical company told us that the house to the north would need to be changed from a 60 to a 200 amp service. 

Anyway, back to the trench for our electrical service. NPPD requires that any underground service be run through a conduit (if you click, just skip to page 20), and that the conduit be installed 48” below grade. So our trench was 30 feet long, 4 feet deep, and was entirely dug by hand. We can laugh about it now, though—we're alright.

It's really not that funny. This movie, on the other hand, is.

If my memory serves me...I have no idea how long it took to dig the trench. I remember it took mere minutes to glue the PVC conduit sections together and drop them into the trench. I remember coming back to the house the next day and seeing that NPPD had approved the installation. Basically everything moved pretty quickly except for the digging of the trench.

For the most part, I've learned my lesson—rent the right tool, don't just try to make do—but sometimes I still fall back into my “it's cheaper this way” mentality. Like last summer, when my wife and I spent two days mixing 55 bags of concrete rather than having a concrete truck back up to our house. Do it right, do it once, and move on—and if that means spending more or paying someone to do something even though you think you can do yourself, do it. Don't just try to make do.

Inspector's note: it's often the “cheaper” solutions that result in deficient marks during a property inspection—usually it's a case where someone installs the wrong product, picks the right product but installs it improperly, or tries to stretch something beyond its useful lifespan in order to save even just a few bucks. What's a few bucks when the house takes seven months to sell when it comes time to move?

To this day, I still hear about my decision to dig the trench by hand. It was dumb—a trenching machine could have done the same job in hours, made less of a mess, and really wouldn't have added that much to the cost of the project. If you find yourself looking at a similar decision, take this opportunity to learn from my mistakes—after all, it's too expensive if you have to learn from your own!