Installing your Electric Service is not the most complex part of building a home or even wiring your homes electrical circuits but it must be done with extreme care because the risk for electrocution is pretty good.
I say this because unlike the wiring inside your home there is no circuit breaker to limit the amount of electricity that can be passed through the service line. Any part prior to the Circuit Breaker must be treated with extreme care and even though the wires are insulated you should never work with or come into contact with your service line after it has been connected to the electric company lines unless you have years of training.
For this HowTo we will assume that the drop line from the electric company lines to your house has not been connected. NEVER TRY TO MAKE THAT CONNECTION ON YOUR OWN! NEVER! additionally installing a Service Line which is the wire that connects to the electric companies line must either be done by a professional licensed electrician or can be done in an emergency by another professional if the home owner still obtains an electrical permit and inspection.
Ok so lets get on to the howto
Most people have seen their service line but have never had to replace it or add a new one for a barn or new building but since it is a main part of your home you should understand how it works so you can work around it or hire someone to make repairs.
What are the parts that make up the Electrical Service?
The service can be considered all the parts that are between your homes Circuit Breaker Box and the Electric Companies wire that runs down the street. There are 5 main parts of this system.
Starting at the electric companies main wire you have:
A Drop Wire.
This extension wire brings electricity into your Lot and to the side of your home. The wire must have a clear path that does not run across a neighbors property and it must be less then or about 100 feet only in length from the electric company’s pole or wire splice.
A weather head is where the splice connection is made on the side of your house. It is a PVC conduit type material with an Elbow in it to restrict flow of rain water into the Conduit. The Weatherhead must be installed on your house to be level or within the height set by the electric company. Usually they limit the height on the home to 25 feet.
The Service Entrance Cable
This is your wire that runs up the side of your home and connects your Electric Meter to the Weatherhead.
The Meter Socket or Box
This is the metal box that contains the Electric Companies Meter. This box is your responsability to install and repair and a type of box may be required by your local electric company to match their Meter.
From the Meter Socket you have another piece of Service Entrance Cable that connects the Electric Meter to your Circuit Breaker.
And then Finally The Circuit Breaker where you can manage and design the internal circuits of your home.
We should also mention that a Ground must be connected to your Circuit Breaker. This can be accomplished by installing a copper ground pole into your ground and attaching it with a wire to the ground in your circuit breaker box or the ground can run to a Natural Gas Line or Sewer Line in some situations. Installing the ground is important and must be done to the local and national code requirements. If in doubt use a dedicated Ground Pole and drive it into the ground with a Rotary Hammer. You will need design plans of your electrical layout to be submitted with your home plans so a review is required even if you do the work yourself.
What Voltage / Amps do you need
The serving voltage for residential services is typically 120/240 volts and minimum 200 amperes. This means that you can run appliances at 120 volts or you can have a double circuit breaker that will serve 220 volts to larger items.
If for some reason such as a Barn with heavy electrical equipment your location is in need of 3 phase commercial grade service then you will need 2 drop lines sent to your location. This will most likely require an inspection of your plans and location before the electric company will install such service but you can get this if needed.
Construction sites will often install a drop to a temporary pole. This Drop will require a direct path to the Electric Company’s Lines and a pole and weatherhead mounted high enough to meet their requirements. It will also require a meter box to be installed. A construction Circuit breaker box with a lock is important to install and GFCI Outdoor rated outlets.
Temporary service can also often be installed when you expect serious extra load. If you decide that you want to go crazy with the holiday lights a Temporary Drop to a Pole may be in your best interests so you are not loading up your homes circuit breaker.
What About Underground Service
Underground services are handled in a similar way and they are no easier to install. First you need to get an inspection by your local safety dig utility support company. They usually provide this service for free and they will come to your location and mark the areas where utilities cross your building lot.
At that point you will have to decide how you will dig your trenches. If the area you will dig in is within about 2 or 3 feet from an existing service then you will have to dig in that area by hand only. If it is a new lot with no services installed then you can use a backho or a dedicated trencher. Either can be rented for half a day.
Grouping all of your utilities in one are is probably not in your best interest. If you have Cable TV, Electric, Gas, Water all in similar locations of your property then digging gets difficult if you need to make repairs or upgrade services. For this reason you may want to run some of your services in one side of your home such as waste and water and on the other run your electric and gas.
The planting of trees and bushes is also a concern as they may penetrate or disturb your utilities or they may die if the roots come too close to electrical emissions.
As we have mentioned everything except the Drop-line from the Electric Company Pole and the actual meter that fits in your meter box is part of your home. The requirements are set by the electric company but you can work with your electrician and maybe save yourself a few hundred dollars if you install the parts yourself and then have the electrician make the final connections. All of this will depend on your location and local regulations.
Once the Service Entrance Cable is connected to your Circuit Breaker box you can work in a safer environment of lower amperage.
If for some reason the Entrance Cable on the side of your home gets dammaged you should NEVER try to work on it when it is live. You will need to call the electric company and have them do a temporary disconnect or shutoff your power at a point before your Drop Line and at that point you can make repair.
Again there are only a handful of times this is true but … this is a relatively dangerious part of home building that really should be done only by a professional.This HowTo is only a description of the items because it is part of your home.