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Burying lines underground


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We're building a new construction home in your stereotypical suburban subdivision.  I'm excited for the new home, though one thing that's really going to suck is that this house will be on .5 acres.  My previous home was on 3.5 acres, therefore my entire display concept has to be redesigned.  In the old house, I had endless room and so I had lots of large elements...including a real car.  Now I have to think much more compact. 

 

Anyhow, I digress.  I want to maximize the space I have to make the best display I can.  Our house location is interesting.  Picture a cul de sac.  About 3/4 way down the straight part, imagine a small one lane offshoot, going perpendicular to the road.  The offshoot is a dead end with only 4 houses.  We're at the end, which is cool.  My kids get the benefit of being in a mega development with tons of kids, my wife and I get the privacy we're looking for.  The house is going to back up to woods, and I may even light up some of the woods. 

 

We have a meeting with the builder today.  We've got a laundry list of options and upgrades we're asking about.  One thing that crossed my mind was having electrical wiring placed underground with several outlets placed throughout the yard.  This would reduce the number of extension cords I need to run, especially running all the way back to the house.  They use sod, so my hope is they could lay the wires and drop the sod on top.  Has anyone ever done this?  What wiring did you use?  Protecting/covering the outlets, as they'll be facing upwards and unused most of the year?  We now live in Atlanta, so there is much less concern about snow and ice compared to my previous home in Pennsylvania.

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Don't think I would worry about what wiring to use as the builder will have to use whatever is required by code, you probably wouldn't have too much say in that.  Don't know about the actual outlets, I assume you want them flush with the ground rather than on risers throughout the yard.  Again, the local building code will pretty much dictate what and how they can be installed.

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"We now live in Atlanta, so there is much less concern about snow and ice compared to my previous home in Pennsylvania."

Don't put too much stock in this statement. That's just 4 hours south of me and some years we get quite a bit of snow. It is usually after the lighting season, but it can happen. Not as much as in PA, but it can get downright nasty sometimes.

 

As far as the outlets in the yard, there are supposed waterproof outlets out there to make that happen. But I would be thinking exactly what Jim said. Atlanta may not get much snow, but it rains a lot down there.

 

Hey, If you're in the ATL by the 20th of next month, why don't you come up for our Mini. I just posted about it in the Coffee Shop. It's in Cleveland, TN, just a couple of hours up I-75. If you can't make this one, we usually have one in March also.

Edited by Ron Boyd
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Another suggestion - When I built my house, I put a pipe under the sidewalk.  Now every Christmas I feed my wires under the sidewalk.  I would however suggest a 3" pipe.  If you don't need that much, no big deal, but if you put a smaller pipe in (I did), you may come to regret it (I do).

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Ron,

No doubt Atlanta can get some winter weather.  I heard all about the ice storm here last winter.  But relatively speaking, Atlanta's winter is much more mild than PA.  At least it better be.... B)   Last winter, my display was buried under 6+ inches of snow and ice for weeks straight...with some below zero nights.  So hopefully down here, winter won't be quite as harsh.  Still want to make sure I'm planning for weather, be it rain, ice or snow. 

 

Yep, I'll be in Atlanta.  We moved down here, so it's home for many years to come.  I need to change my profile.  Sadly, on Sept. 20th, I'll be in Kershaw SC for my last auto race of the year (my other hobby besides Xmas lighting).  But if you do one in the spring, I should be able to come.  I've still got all the stuff you helped me with some time ago.  Everything got put on hold once the decision to move was made.  We had to prep our house in PA for sale, pack, find a home here, find jobs, etc...  Now that we're here and settled, I'm ready to start picking back up.  I've still been programming in SS when I could find a few spare minutes, but have done zero with my actual display.  Now with a much smaller yard, I'll be focusing more on high impact things since I have less room to put stuff.  I need to get back to my shopping list of the things I need to buy for my RGB arch and wheels (fans), as I haven't bought anything. 

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Sounds like you got the three most important works in real estate:  Location, Location, & Location.

Now, I have 3 words for you on your wiring project:  Conduit, Conduit, & Conduit.

 

I am not an electrician, and I don't play one on TV, but I do some electrical work at work and I have some experience with my quarter mile or so of conduit in my much smaller front yard.  There are power cables that can be direct buried, but they need to be buried several feet down.  You will for all practical purposes need to put it into conduit and even conduit will need to be 18 inches or more down.  As scubado mentioned, flower beds and other landscaping are great ways to hide an electrical box.  You definitely want work boxes above ground level.  Make sure your builder follows your electrical codes.

 

In addition to power outlets throughout the yard, I would suggest some conduit for your Cat-5 cables.  Plan ahead and put conduit almost ANYWHERE that you even think that you might want it.  Also, put in larger conduit than you think you need.  For example if you think you need half inch, put in 3/4 inch or better yet 1 inch, etc.  That includes empty conduit that just seem like it would be a good idea.  Burying a few hundred extra feet of conduit BEFORE the landscaping goes in will bring great rewards down the road - and in the grand scheme of things will cost you very little.

 

Think about other stuff you might want in conduit too.  For example, music speakers, a detector for mail in the mailbox (yes, I have conduit into my mailbox), etc.

 

Last thing is to make sure you document where the conduit goes - both the physical locations so you don't dig into it later and also what conduits go to what boxes (and what is in those conduits and boxes).  I use AutoCAD at work so I have one AutoCAD drawing that shows physically where there is conduit underground, and then a more "logical" drawing that shows what conduit connects which boxes and what is in that conduit.  This second one is more important than the physical drawing when you are trying to figure out how to get from one place to some other place in the yard.  It is also helpful to have one or two locations that almost everything connects to.  For example, I have 2 brick columns with lights on top of them that are on each side of the entry walkway.  One of them is a junction point for low voltage and has 14 conduits into it (along with 2 DC controllers, a ServoDog, and a SanDevices E6804 E1.31 board).  The other is a junction point for AC power and has 8 conduits into it.

 

If you would like to discuss this further, the best bet would be to PM me your phone number and a good time to call, rather than trying to back and forth type messages for days...

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I agree with the conduit.  Last thing you want to do is lay it right underneath the sod.  One Frosty the Snowman stake through the wire and you're toast.

 

I have several outlets throughout my flower beds as well and you'd never know it.  I just wish they weren't all on the same circuit.  Put them in waterproof boxes.  I had one, one year that kept tripping the breaker and I discovered one of the sprinkler heads was hitting it just right to get water inside.  I switched it to a waterproof box and haven't had a problem since.

 

I also added outlets to my soffits.  Something that is easier to do before the ceiling goes on.  Luckily I have easy access to my attic and could get them wherever I needed. 

 

If at all possible put conduit underneath the sidewalks and driveway BEFORE they lay it.  I wish I had. 

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I agree with the others - stay away from any temptations of just running cables under the sod. To me, your best bang for the dollar would be to have your sub-contractor add an electrical panel dedicated for your outside power projects. Even with low power LED's, always prepare to go bigger. As with Little_b above, I installed 9 separate circuits just in my soffits. Having them all ran back to a separate panel, I then tied them into one main time-clock. Using the time-clock, in conjunction with the miniDirector, the SHOW comes on, even if I work late. Another benefit to using the soffits, even in Oklahoma where the rain blows upward more than downward, the receptacles have never filled up with water.....

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Good suggestions, thanks.  I'm going to ask about the conduit, but I'll need to wrap my idea around how that actually works more, so I can explain it to the builder.  k6cc I'll get you my info and maybe we can talk over the weekend.  Do you run the conduit from one panel...say inside the garage?  Then run 110V lines through the conduit ending at waterproof outlets?  I also like the outlets on soffits ideas.  I'm not a roof climber (I'm not actually afraid of heights, but hate ladders). 

 

Ron,

I was actually at a race track in New Jersey a few weeks ago when Tony Stewart had his accident.  It was the topic of conversation all day Sunday.  I don't do dirt racing, I do road course racing, but we're told over and over again to NEVER get out of the car unless it's on fire. 

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I know you most likely have all your answers but to pile on.....

 

Put both power and data conduits under any concrete slabs such as driveways and sidewalks.  Put larger than needed especially for data so you don't have t cut off connectors.   I ran power to all my flower beds and tree wells.  I didn't even consider data conduits and now I wish I had.  I am using wireless without issue but adding more this year makes that wireless a bit more tricky..

 

So put power conduits, (if you controllers are out by your props you only need 3/4" max).   put data conduit, 1" min is recommended, and put a spare conduit.  again, 1" minimum.. 3" is better for that spare... but you may have termination issues if you use over 1"... keep that in mind

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You need to follow codes, which would prohibit having power just a couple inches from surface. It would need to be at least 18" below the surface. Any builder should be able to use a trenching tool to make quick work of that. While there is direct burial cable, I have run into gophers and such eating through it. I would personally lay conduit, then use appropriate wire for conduit that could also get wet. Code speaks to all of those things along with the size of pipe necessary for the number of wires running through it. I don't think you can have exposed outlets that are not raised off the ground. To ensure code is followed, you may want to make sure builder digs trenches, but contracts a licensed electrician for the actual wiring.

Any data lines should be run separate. For code and for interference with signals. If you plan to have long data runs, I would utilize something like the e1.31 bridge from diyledexpress.com along with wifi. That would negate the need for long data cable runs.

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This is part of my challenge...a good part of what is mentioned here goes over my head.   I'm not much of an electrician, learning as I go (and know better than to try to do anything more than simple stuff).  Conduit is just the tubing that wiring is placed into, correct?  So I'm assuming you're running your 110V power to outlets in the yard.  But what other type of lines are you running through them?  I know I have the Cat-5 cable that I used to run from my controller to my computer.  So I guess I'd run that too, correct?  But I don't know what an e1.31 bridge is.  Plasmadrive, I'm not sure what you mean by termination issues?  Sorry, dumb questions I'm sure, but I don't know this stuff as well as I need to.  :huh:  :unsure:

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It's a lot to learn, for sure! If it's a temporary thing, running data and power may work fine (although the power could potentially cause interference). If you are talking about a permanent installation, I'm not sure that running data cables and power in the same pipe is allowed.

I mentioned the bridge as an idea, but certainly would involve learning some other steps as well (LOR controllers as DMX, wiring cat5 ends from bridge to controllers, setting up wifi, etc). It's one idea, but other approaches are also possible.

My main concern would be making sure anything power related is done up to code to address safety concerns and to ensure you don't have issues if you go to sell your home in the future.

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Running data cables thru conduit with power is never acceptable, not even temporarily, unless you meet certain criteria with the cable's insulation and what happens at both ends.... Unless you understand all of what that entails separate conduits are the way to go.  You are never allowed to mix class II wiring in with power wiring that I know of.  Class II wiring is low energy stuff... again.. data in a separate conduit is best. 

 

FYI  Hobbyist do all kinds of things that are not OK by code because of the temp nature of what we do.... and quite frankly, many just don't know any different, but that doesn't make it right.  More like it makes it ....."expedient".

 

You can run multiple Cat5 and Low Voltage DC wiring thru the same conduit without issue.(for the most part).  Running E1.31 and LOR Data and DMX all in the same conduit is perfectly OK.  (all of those are actually RS485).  You can also stuff Ethernet cables and linear voltage cables in that same data conduit. 

 

By termination issues I mean mechanical terminations of the conduit.  Getting from a 3" conduit to a box of some type where you can terminate or pull thru your cables can be challenging unless you have either a large above ground J-Box or something like a Christy Box (plastic is OK) for underground.  Putting a 3" conduit into a standard Bell box is a bit difficult.  Standard waterproof boxes do come in 1" KOs, but that is the largest I know of.

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I'm waiting to get prices on doing this, so I'll see how cost effective it is.  But if I'm going to do it, I want it done right.  Just have to know what it is I'm doing.

 

So I'd run group of conduit to carry just the 110V lines and those would all end at waterproof outlets.  Then another group of conduit to carry the Cat5 and anything else?  Would I run the wiring now?  Wouldn't it be hard to fish it through later?  A "j box" is a junction box, right?  So I'd just terminate the wires inside there and hook them up as needed?

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So I'd run group of conduit to carry just the 110V lines and those would all end at waterproof outlets.  Then another group of conduit to carry the Cat5 and anything else?  Would I run the wiring now?  Wouldn't it be hard to fish it through later?  A "j box" is a junction box, right?  So I'd just terminate the wires inside there and hook them up as needed?

 

Yes, one group of conduits for the AC power, and another set for your low voltage and data.  They can almost never be in the same conduit.

 

No, the conduit is installed empty.  There are two general ways to pull the wire.  One is to use a thing called a "fishtape" which you can push through the conduit and then pull your cables or a string into the conduits, or you have the contractor that installs the conduit leave a pull string from junction box to junction box so there is a string in each conduit.  Then you use the string to either pull a larger string or light rope which in turn is used to pull your wires in (along with a pull string for future use).

 

Correct, a "j box" is slang for a junction box.

 

Generally you won't have idle wires in your conduit (unless is is wire that you know what it will be used for, but have not hooked it up yet).

 

BTW, I sent you my phone number in a PM.

 

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+1 on the conduit train, I'm thinking of digging a couple trenches for some conduit to tidy up all the extension cords, and it is actually pretty cheap to run a 12 gauge set of wires in 3/4" conduit with outside boxes vs 2 long extension cords.

 

You have to assume they will flood if they are in the ground, someday it will happen somehow.  Getting them up on risers you can disguise is best.  Even if it under fake rocks or up the "inside" of some sort of light pole.

 

I would also add while you have your yard open to increase the number of irrigation pipes for drip lines and such, run a few extras under the sidewalk as I have some plants I need to water daily, some every few days and wish I had put those in too.

 

Cat 5 cable or cat 6 is king vs wireless, getting some of that out to odd places (i would love it in my flower beds for 1 wire temperature sensors, moisture sensors, motion sensors etc)

 

When you have your house walls open, run a mile or 2 or cat 6 to the walls to each room, wireless is just flaky,

 

Run some cat 5 to the can lights you have in the soffits, maybe you can replace them with RGB floods and be able to control the colors of them for different holidays etc..

 

Alan

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One more way to pull wire thru conduit is to use what we love to call a "mouse" and a vacuum.  To do that you put a shop vac at one end and suck the mouse thru.  That mouse could be a piece of an old plastic bag for example with a string tied around it.  I usually wind up using an old Home Depot bag cause inevitably there is what will be handy at the time.. I rip off about a 4"-6" square and take the center of that and tie a string around it about an inch from the puff peak.  (Looks ike a ghost more or less).  Turn on the vacuum and drop the mouse in the other end.  Should use two people.. one on the vac and one feeding the string.  If all is right it will pull that string thru 100' of conduit in seconds.   This will leave you a pull string to tie your wires to. 

 

I did that with the 3" PVC that we used for the main feeder to my house.. the run was about 200'.  (I used an entire plastic bag on that one).  It pulled it so fast I darn near dropped the string into the conduit.... took about 10 seconds or so to get thru that 200' of conduit..

 

You are right, at some point there will be water in the conduit.. I have never seen one that didn't have water in it after a year or so.. THHN wire is waterproof so no issue there.. just make sure you use data cables that have a waterproof jacket.   I use gel filled Cat6 for my Ethernet to my shop because PVC jacketed cable only lasted a year or two before it was waterlogged and the data rate dropped.. good now for 5 years no drop in rate.. Just a thought.

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Yep, the cotton ball and string with a whop vac works well with a couple possible issues. The conduit needs to be empty (or at least VERY close to it). It also needs to be dry. However the shop vac works well for the drying too. Just attach the shop vac hose to one end of the conduit and let it run for a while. Unless the vac is very close to the low point in the conduit, you will likely not actually suck much liquid water out of the conduit, but the airflow will cause the water to evaporate and the moister air will get pulled out. This obviously works best on a fairly dry day.

And I agree with Plasma that you WILL end up with water in the conduit. Even a conduit that goes between 2 completely dry locations (like inside the house to inside the garage) will still manage to get water in it.

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I have screw on caps at both ends of the PVC pipe where they come to the surface on either side of the sidewalk.  Water does get in from time to time, so before each season, I do use the shop-vac to blow out any water.

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Have to point out that Liberty-laser has a good suggestion with using the shop vac to blow out the conduit. The blower seems to warm up the air and warm air does a better job of drying out things. Although most show vacs have a blowing port, but not all.

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Plasma where did you find the gel filled? I ordered a 100' cat 5e cable from monoprice $9 to pull next week to the shop.

google    Cat5e, 350 Mhz, UTP, Gel Filled (Flooded Core)

 

Several suppliers sell it.. it ain't cheap.. but it is worth it if you plan on leaving it in the conduit all the time.

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