Can You Run Electrics And Plumbing In The Same Trench?

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If you are thinking about digging your own trenches for utilities, there’s a lot you need to think about. Even though this is a great way to save money while you get your project off the ground, it is important for you to do so safely. Therefore, you need to have the right tools, the right equipment and be familiar with the local regulations. Keep in mind that codes can vary from state to state, so it is important for you to speak to your local city board or a local utility service before you get started.

Can you run electric and plumbing in the same trench? The answer is yes; however, you need to do so correctly. Otherwise, you could risk a few code violations, and you could create a severe safety hazard. Given the safety concerns with this task, always reach out to a professional if you ever feel uncomfortable.

Safety Must Always Come First

Before you get started, it is crucial to go through a few safety concerns. Given that trenches have to be a minimum of three feet deep (in most locations), this creates a lot of worries for cave-ins. Even though you may think a trench that is three feet deep is not enough to bury you, keep in mind that there are situations where you will be on your hands and knees. A recent report shows that the fatality rate for excavations is more than twice that of general construction work, so you need to be careful. A few important safety concerns include:

  • Cave Ins: You need to make sure the trench is not going to cave in on you. Even a minor cave-in can lead to serious injuries. Therefore, it is important to make sure you are familiar with trench design and soil types, which will be reviewed below.
  • Falling Equipment: Another major safety hazard is a falling load. Of course, you do not want to spend more time taking your trench than you have; however, you also need to make sure that you store equipment at least two feet away from the edge of the trench. If a piece of equipment falls into the trench while you were digging it, it could strike you in the head, leading to a serious injury.
  • Hitting Utility Lines: Most DIYers have heard horror stories about this. Before you start taking your trash, you have to make sure you are not going to hit any utility line. If you do, it could expose you to serious safety hazards and lead to a catastrophe for your local area. Do not take this risk. Always call 811 and wait for the utility operators to get back to you before you start your project.
  • Hazardous Chemicals: Before you dig your trench, you may need to order atmospheric testing. That way, you can make sure you are not going to be exposing yourself to any toxic chemicals are gases before you start aching. Even though this is required if your trench is going to exceed four feet in depth, it is recommended for the vast majority of excavation work.

These are a few of the most important safety hazards you may encounter. What can you do to mitigate this risk?

Use the Right Protective System

You can mitigate a lot of these safety concerns by following a few safety best practices. The first thing you need to do is explore the type of soil you are going to be digging through. It would help if you classified the soil type (to see how soft or hard it is), make sure you have the right equipment in place, and place your structural ramps appropriately. In order to establish the right protective system during your trench digging process, you should secure the site properly.

Metal excavation shoring for a trench
Metal excavation shoring for a trench

When you cut your trench, you should cut the trench wall at an angle that is away from the excavation. This is a protective measure called sloping, and it can prevent soil from falling back into the trench as you work. You might also want to use a protective measure called shielding, which means using trench boxes to protect yourself against cave-ins. Finally, suppose your trench is going to be particularly deep. In that case, you may want to use a technique called shoring, which means using hydraulic cylinders to create a protective barrier between the walls of the trench and yourself. This can also prevent cave-ins.

As you are making your trench, make sure you have safe access points. For example, if your trench is particularly deep, you may want to have ladders to help you get in and out. That way, you can quickly exit the trench in the event of an emergency. You may also want to add steps in your trance, also known as benching, to make it easier for you.

This project is going to take you a while to complete. Therefore, you should routinely inspect your trenches. Make sure you take a close look at it every day. You must evaluate the possibility of your trench caving in. Make sure you inspect it before you start work and after you finish for the day. In particular, you need to take a closer look after a severe storm. If any unsafe conditions are identified, you need to rectify them before you go back to work.

Now that we have reviewed a few of the most important safety requirements, it is time to go through some of the rules and regulations for utility trenches. If you are going to be dealing with electrical and plumbing trenches, what do you need to know?

A Guide To Utility Trenches

A dug trench with side walls for support ready for pipes to be run
A dug trench with side walls for support ready for pipes to be run

There are a lot of requirements when it comes to utility trenches. Their design and safety play a role not only in your house but also in the utilities running to residential and commercial properties nearby. Remember that before you start digging your trench, you always need to call 811. That way, you make sure you are not going to hit any underground utility lines.

If you are digging a trench for electrical and plumbing purposes, the trench has to be at least 36 inches (three feet) deep. If you dig a trench that is too shallow, it increases the risk that someone is going to hit the lines you run. If you dig a trench that is too deep, you may have a difficult time cutting surface, and you may release toxic substances into the air. If at any point you have trouble getting three feet into the ground, it is time to reach out to professionals for help. Remember that these regulations can vary from location to location, so when you speak to the professional with the 811 number, you might want to clarify this with them.

Digging an Electrical Trench

If you are going to be digging a trench for power lines only, the trench still needs to be wide enough to accommodate a power conduit. This means that the trench has to be at least four inches wide (in addition to the depth rule above). Even though four inches should be wide enough, you will probably want to dig a trench that is slightly wider than that. That way, you have some extra wiggle room on each side. For example, when you are trying to place the power conduit, you want to have some freedom regarding where in the trench you place it. If you only dig a trench that is four inches wide, you will be fairly limited. Even though you want to finish this job quickly, it is more important to get it right.

Once you place the power conduit, you should bed it using at least four inches of sand. This is important for protecting the power conduit from harm. Even though this is only required if you are digging through rocky or rough terrain, it is good practice to use sand in all cases. You can reduce your chances of suffering a problem with a conduit in the future.

You will have multiple options when it comes to your power conduit. Make sure your power conduit is gray schedule 40 electrical PVC. This is a requirement in many locations, and even if it is not, this is going to be your best option. It is safe, durable, inexpensive, and will work well in your utility trench.

Rules for Joint Utilities Trenches

Water pipes being run in a trench underground
Water pipes being run in a trench underground

If you are going to be creating a joint trench for multiple utilities, there are several separations you need to follow. These include:

  • Electrical and gas lines need to be at least 24 inches apart from each other
  • Electrical and water lines need to be at least 12 inches apart from each other
  • Electrical and sewer lines need to be at least 24 inches apart from each other
  • Electrical and communication lines need to be at least 12 inches apart from each other

This means that electrical and plumbing lines cannot be touching one another. It is important to make sure these lines are sufficiently separated from each other. Even after they are buried in the ground, they could shift slightly as the ground moves beneath the surface. You do not want these lines to be touching each other because friction could cause them to degrade. In addition, water and electricity do not mix, so you need to prevent disasters from occurring.

Finally, if there are any situations where you are going to be dealing with water lines and sewer lines in the same area, you need to make sure that the water line is placed above a sewer line. That way, if there is a leak in the sewer line, it is not going to leak into your water line, which can make a major probably even more serious.

What Equipment Do You Need?

Lastly, it is important to explore the tools you will need in order to create a strong trench. A few examples of the most important tools include:

  • A Trench Hoe: A trench hoe with a tool you will use to dig a flat-bottom ditch. This will probably be a helpful tool early in the digging process, as you can use this effectively up to about 24 inches under the surface. This is a great tool for creating an angled wall, which is important for digging a trench safely. You can use this tool to create a new ramp, pull out the soil, and repeat.
  • Clean Out Shovels: A clean-out shovel is going to be one of the most common tools you use. After your cut your trash, there may be loose soil in the bottom. This could be soil you have missed or soil that has leaked back into the trench over time. You can use this shovel to remove loose soil at the bottom of your trench.
  • A Power Trencher: You may also want to use a power trencher. This is going to be important for finishing the job. A power trencher is extremely helpful for getting your trench to the required depth. It has the power to cut through packed soil several feet underground. If you are digging a trench three or four feet in depth, this is a tool you might want to use. Of course, you need to make sure you know how to use this tool safely.

If you use the right tools, you should be able to dig a strong trench.

A Few Final Tips

A few helpful final tips you should follow include:

  • Always plan the location of the soil process carefully. Make sure it is not too close, as this will prevent it from spilling back into the trench.
  • If you find that your soil is rocky, you may want to use a long-handled pick to help you.
  • Think carefully about where the trees are located. You don’t want to find yourself going through roots.
  • Think carefully about the location of the sidewalk. You don’t want to damage this.

If you follow these tips, you should place yourself in a position to be successful.

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About Charlie D Paige

Charlie is a massive DIY fan, with dozens of DIY projects under his belt - ranging from tiling to electrics, and concrete pads to walls. Charlie loves tinkering, seeing how things works, the outdoors and playing with power tools... so is it any wonder that he's completed so many DIY jobs over the years?

Charlie loves spreading his hard-won DIY experience with the world via this blog.