Energy Adviser: Electrical hazards lurk outdoors



Electrical hazards may not be at the top of your mind when you tackle outdoor projects around the house this spring, but they should be.

Think safety first — before stepping down on a shovel, raising a ladder or plugging in an extension cord.

Call before you dig

“If you’re going to do any digging for planting trees or fence posts –anything you’re going to do outside where you’re going to sink shovels in the dirt — call to have the service lines located,” said Michael Getman, safety manager for Clark Public Utilities.

The utility responds to about 26,000 to 28,000 requests a year phoned into the Call Before You Dig line at 811 or 800-424-5555. Call at least two business days beforehand. Workers will use color-coded water-soluble paint on lawns, sidewalks and driveways to mark utility-, municipal- and company-owned lines.

Clark Public Utilities will mark power lines with red. The utility and other water providers will mark those lines with blue. The gas company will mark its lines with yellow, and the cable and phone companies will use orange. The paint wears away in about two weeks.

Heads up

Power lines aren’t only underground. Some are overhead. So look up before tackling tree trimming, gutter cleaning or painting your house.

“Make sure the ladder you’re using isn’t going to get into the power line,” Getman said

It isn’t just ladders that require extra attention. Be careful not to touch overhead power lines with long-handled equipment.

When working on trees, always keep an eye out for power lines. Once in the tree, it may be difficult to spot cables, which often blend in. If there are power lines running through the trees, call the utility or visit the website at to find the request form for trimming trees away from lines.

Careful with cords

Before you use any outdoor tool, inspect it — especially the cord and plug.

“If you’re using any power tools outside with extension cords, make sure they are in good condition and grounded,” Getman said. Don’t string your extension cords into the house, he added.

All outdoor outlets should have ground fault circuit interrupters, which immediately turn off electricity to an appliance if a “leak” in an electrical circuit is detected. If necessary, purchase a portable GFCI to use with outdoor tools. You can find them for about $20 to $30.

Getman also advises against using power tools, such as electric mowers or edgers, in wet conditions. Water and electricity don’t mix, which is why you should be extra careful with any outdoor fountains, spas or pools. Learn where the circuit breaker is for any of these water features and educate family members about how to turn off the power in case of an emergency. Also, keep electrical cords and appliances at least five feet from water.

Hands off

If you see a wire down, don’t touch it. You can’t be sure what kind of wire it is — electrical or phone — just by looking at it, and you can’t tell if it’s “dead.”

“The best thing to do would be to give us a call,” Getman said. Report downed power lines immediately to 360-992-8000 or 360-992-3000, or call 911. Keep others away from the line until help arrives. Do not attempt to move it for any reason, even with gloves on.

“A set of rubber gloves you use for washing dishes doesn’t cut it,” Getman said. “Our crews use special equipment and apparel to work around electricity and the types of items we have at home aren’t designed for power lines.”

Make sure your children know downed lines can be dangerous. Caution them to never climb substation fences, green transformer boxes or trees with power lines nearby. Substations have dangerous equipment. If a toy accidentally goes into a substation, however, it’s not gone forever. Just call Clark Public Utilities to retrieve it for you and someone will be happy to help.

Energy Adviser is produced by Clark Public Utilities and relies on the expertise of utility energy counselors and staff, who provide conservation and energy use information. To contact us, call 360-992-3355, email or visit