The Builder: How to install a lamppost

The house I grew up in had a lamppost out by the street. I’d like to install one. What are my options, and how are lampposts set into the ground? Will I need an electrician to run the power, or is that a DIY job? What happens if the electric cable has to pass under a finished driveway?

— Shawn D., Akron, Ohio

I grew up in the city, and lampposts in front yards were pretty rare. I never gave it much thought until I moved to a rural area and realized how dark it is at night when you don’t have all those municipal streetlights flooding the streets and driveway entrances with light. I’ve got a lamppost here at my house in the country, and it’s a welcome sight driving down my pitch-black road on a cloudy night!

The difficulty of installing the lamppost depends on the kind you use. If you decide to get a solid granite lamppost like the one I have, you’ll need several friends or a small crane to install it. However, if you buy a common steel or aluminum tube lamppost, it’ll be a solo job that you can accomplish with little effort.

Digging can be easy or tough depending on the soil conditions where you live. If your soil is a modest clay, you might have no issues slicing through it when it’s moist. A sandy soil is dreamy to dig, as it offers little resistance. If you are cursed with rocky soil, expect difficulties with large rocks at your post location.

Perhaps the biggest difficulty, and hardest job, is digging the trench from the house to the lamppost if you want a conventional 120-volt power supply that you control from the house. An added benefit of power like this is that you can have a handy power outlet at the base of the lamppost, which can be very convenient.

If you don’t want to go to all the trouble to run a power line to the post, solar-powered lamppost lights are the way to go. This will be your least expensive option, and if you have friendly soil, you could have a working lamppost up in less than 30 minutes.

If you’re not familiar with the National Electric Code, and all the nuances of working with electricity, I recommend that you hire an electrician. You may be able to save money by doing the required trenching and drilling of holes to get the electric cable from the switch location to the lamppost. Be sure you’re crystal clear on where the trench goes and how deep it must be.

Before you ever put a spade or shovel into the ground for this project, be sure to call 811 or go to call811.com to have all underground utilities marked for you. It can take up to three days for a worker to come out and mark where danger lurks.

Digging on your own land or out in the public right of way near the street without knowing where buried utilities are can be expensive and deadly if you make a mistake. Also, understand that the markings on the ground can be off just a little bit. Always dig slowly and carefully within two feet of any painted mark on the soil.

If you need to get a cable under a driveway or a sidewalk, there are any number of ways to do this. Once again, clay and sandy soils can be your friend here, while rocky soils will give you fits.

Years ago, when I was a young builder, the backhoe operator I used had a clever device he had made. It was a 14-foot-long steel tube that had a flared cone tip much like a missile. He would dig a trench perpendicular to the driveway or sidewalk deep enough not to be too close to the underside of the pavement. The tube would be placed in the trench and he would use the backhoe’s powerful hydraulics to push the tube through the soil like a needle going through fabric. A simple hole on the other side of the driveway revealed the tip of the tube. The hole that was created was 6 inches in diameter which was plenty to insert a PVC conduit.

Tim Carter is a columnist for Tribune Media Services. He can be contacted through his Web site at www.askthebuilder.com.

 
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