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How to Bury Underground Cable

Four options for underground wiring

electrical cableFamily Handyman
Running electric power to a garage or garden pond? Learn about code requirements and different options for depth of trench, conduit material, and type of electrical wire.

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Electrical cable depth options diagram

Electrical cable depth options

Underground cable for running electrical power to a remote location can be installed at different depths, depending on the type of conduit and type of wire used.

 Bury cable in the Ground: Dig 6 inches

Bury in the Ground: Dig 6 inches

For a 6-in. deep trench, use galvanized rigid metal electrical conduit with individual conductors inside.

Bury cable in the Ground: Dig 12 inches

Bury in the Ground: Dig 12 inches

For a 12-in. deep trench, you can direct-bury GFCI-protected underground feeder cable with a short length of PVC conduit at the house.

Bury cable in the Ground: Dig 18 inches

Bury in the Ground: Dig 18 inches

At 18 inches, you can use THWN-2 conductors inside a continuous length of PVC conduit, which protects the wire all the way through the trench to the house.

Bury cable in the Ground: Dig 24 inches

Bury in the Ground: Dig 24 inches

At 24 inches you can bury underground feeder cable, using PVC conduit to 18 in. below ground only where the wire comes up.

If you’re considering running a power line underground through your yard, you have four options. Your choice depends on how much power you want. It also depends on your soil type—if it’s sandy and easy to dig, save money by digging deep (you won’t need to use metal conduit). If it’s rocky or clay, keep your digging to a minimum.

Whichever method you choose, be sure to include a service entrance ell, which has a removable cover to give you access to the inside wires, above ground level. And get a permit and talk to your inspector about local codes before starting.

Decide how much digging you’re prepared to do, which determines the type of wire you need to use. At 6 in. deep, use galvanized metal rigid electrical conduit (1/2-in.-diameter is large enough for the water feature) and run individual conductors inside. The conductors need to be waterproof, so look for a “W” on the label, as in THWN-2. This method lets you run any size circuit. The downside is the cost—1/2-in. metal conduit is over a dollar a foot. If you have soil that’s tough to dig, or you only need to run the cable a short distance, go this route to minimize digging.

At 12 in. deep, use direct-bury UF-B (underground feeder) cable, provided it meets three criteria: It has GFCI protection before it enters the ground, is limited to 120 volts (enough for your fountain), and is protected by no more than a 20-amp fuse or breaker. We recommend this for your situation—it’s only 1 ft. deep and you don’t have to put the cable inside expensive conduit. This is the best choice if you only need to power your water feature.

At 18 in. deep, run THWN-2 conductors inside PVC conduit. This method lets you run any size circuit, so it’s a good idea if you want to run electricity to other items besides your water feature.

At 24 in. deep, run direct-bury UF-B wire cable. There’s one restriction: It needs a conduit where the cable is exposed on the outside of the house and to 18 in. below the ground. Burying the cable 24 in. requires more digging, so this method only makes sense if you have easy-to-dig soil or are renting a trench digger.

Required Tools for this Electrical Cable Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • 4-in-1 screwdriver
  • Adjustable wrench
  • Corded drill
  • Spade

Required Materials for this Electrical Cable Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.

  • Electric wire with W (waterproof) designation
  • Metal or plastic conduit and fittings
  • Service entrance ell