Electricity outdoors

Take special care around electricity outdoors. Whether you are working or playing near it, or using electrical equipment, it is important to be aware of the dangers. Make sure you maintain safe clearances when working on ladders and check for underground wires before you dig.

Before you do any work near power lines or underground cables, arrange with your electricity retailer to identify any problems or disconnect the supply. This work might be painting your house, trimming trees, cleaning guttering, replacing spouting or roofing, repairing chimneys or excavating a property.

Never touch overhead power lines, underground cables, or the bare conductors that connect them to the house, as this could be fatal.

Outdoor safety tips

  • Never build or store material under power wires, and so reduce the clearance height. Remember that children are fond of climbing, and wires look tempting.
  • Keep in mind the clearance requirements when undertaking house extensions and renovations, such as installing new windows or building a deck.
  • Watch that ladder! When carrying an aluminium ladder, long lengths of pipe, or any metal object, keep them as horizontal as possible. Take particular care when passing under overhead wires. Always check where overhead power lines are located before using a metal ladder, and avoid contact. Anyone touching a ladder when it is touching a power line could be electrocuted. Wind, uneven ground, or reaching to the side while on a ladder could cause it to shift position and come into contact with an overhead power line.
  • Before starting work on a roof, make sure no aerial lines pass overhead. If they do, arrange with your electricity retailer to have them protected, or isolated before starting work.
  • Teach your children never to climb up power pylons or near wires.
  • A power line that has fallen to the ground should be treated as live – contact your electricity supplier immediately. Do not touch the line, and warn your family members and neighbours.

Overhead power lines and underground cables

It is the homeowner's responsibility to ensure that, within the boundary of their property, power lines and cables are maintained in a safe condition.

Electricity is supplied to your home through overhead power lines or underground cables. These service lines are live and cannot be turned off by the main power switch on your switch board. If you touch them, or the bare conductors that connect them to the house, you may be seriously injured or killed.

Where entering a building, these lines are required to have suitable insulated covering. If the covering looks damaged or worn, contact your electricity retailer.

Very often, supply to an out-building is taken from the house by overhead lines. As with service lines, old coverings of the wire deteriorate with time. If the covering looks damaged or worn, have the lines replaced by a licensed electrical worker.

Be aware of the location of overhead power lines before working outside.

  • Always check where overhead power lines and cables are situated before using an object like a pool skimmer or putting up any tall object near your home. TV antennas must not be fixed above, or adjacent to, any power lines. 
  • Keep in mind the clearance requirements when undertaking house extensions and renovations, such as installing new windows or building a deck.
  • Flying kites or drones near power lines is extremely dangerous and can disrupt power to other consumers. Keep clear of power lines when playing with kites, drones, or any toys that could touch an overhead power line. Use these in an open space such as a field or park.  

Homeowner responsibilities

  • Property owners are responsible for the power lines within their property boundary which supply their property. If you are not sure which portion of the power lines is your responsibility, contact your electricity supplier to clarify this.
  • In some areas, especially rural areas, the overhead line may extend over several poles from the property before it connects to the electricity supplier’s network.
  • Property owners should carry out periodic checks to ensure that the lines and support poles are in good order.

Trees and power lines

Trees and power lines are not compatible.

  • Always plant trees well away from power lines and keep branches trimmed and clear of the lines. Never cut or trim a tree that could fall onto power lines or that is touching power lines.
  • Before you climb any tree, be sure no power lines run through it or near it. Even if power lines aren't touching the tree, they could touch it after your weight is added to a branch.
  • Remember that children love climbing trees and may not see the danger of overhead wires amongst the branches.
  • Keep your trees trimmed well clear of the wires, but obtain assistance or advice from your local electricity retailer when there is likelihood of danger when trimming the tree, or of the tree falling against the overhead lines. 

Underground cables

It looks good without overhead wires but remember the wires are still there! There are many advantages to underground power cables, but they can be dangerous when you excavate.

  • When you do any work that involves ground penetration, including digging, placing fence posts, or driving in stakes, make sure that area is clear of any utility services.
  • Underground services could be located between your front boundary and the footpath or roadway. You may also have underground services supplying your own property.
  • If you are not sure exactly where your supply cables are, before you start any excavations check with your local electricity retailer who will quickly locate and mark the position of the cables. In some areas there may be more than one set of gas mains.
  • Information provided by a plan or marked on site may not be absolutely accurate, so we recommend you use a location service contractor. Cable locations may not be exact, building lines or curb lines may have shifted, and depths may have changed due to road/footpath reconstruction.
  • If you aren’t certain of the location of cables, you must hand-dig to locate them. It is your responsibility to pothole and verify the position and depth of cables before beginning work.
  • Damaging or penetrating underground services could result in significant property damage, energy supply disruption, significant repair costs, serious personal injury or death.

Maintaining clearances around power lines

Power line safety

  • Touching a power line is dangerous and can result in serious injury or property damage.
  • Electricity can spark or jump across a gap. You can be some distance away from a power line and still receive an electric shock or severe burns.
  • Overhead lines move due to the effects of wind, temperature and load on the line, so always be cautious around them.

Safe clearances

Safe clearances between building work and power lines minimise the risk of electric shock, fire, power cuts, or damage to property and power lines.

The minimum safe clearance between power lines and buildings depends on the voltage of the power line and the type of conductor. Types of power lines can usually be recognised by their construction and by the type of insulator or number of disc insulators which separate the power line from the power pole or tower.

To protect people and property, minimum safe clearances from power lines have been established in Regulations under the NZ Electrical Code of Practice for Electrical Safety Distances (NZECP 34:2001). Prior to any planned construction a process for establishing safe distances from power lines must be undertaken to comply with this code of practice.

For all of the above you must check with your electricity supplier to find out what the power line voltage is so you can establish the right clearance.

Using electrical tools and equipment outside

Take special precautions when you use electrical appliances outdoors or in a damp environment. Electrical equipment and appliances used outside include electric lawn mowers, weed eaters, water blasters, and power tools.

  • Never use any damaged appliances or equipment with damaged leads outdoors. Visually check the cords for any cuts or damage to the cord, and run your hand down its length to feel for cracks or damage. If you find a problem, don’t use the equipment until the cord is professionally repaired or replaced.
  • Never use them in rainy or wet conditions.
  • Always use a residual current device (RCD) or an isolating transformer. These protect you from a fatal electric shock by cutting the current if there is an electrical problem.
  • Keep children and pets a safe distance away when you operate a mower or any other electrical equipment.
  • Wear strong protective footwear when working with electrical appliances or tools outside – do not work in jandals or bare feet.

Keep cords and electrical equipment away from any metal that can catch or cut it, for example metal ladders, garage work benches, metal roofs and garden fences.