A: Cable and phone wires don’t carry current, so it’s safe to remove them. However, it’s critical not to cut into a power line, as you know.
The first step is to be sure you know the difference. Christina Harper, a spokeswoman for Pepco, which supplies electricity to Washington and surrounding communities in Maryland, said you can trace a power line as it comes into your house. “If wires are coming in off a pole, the very top wires are Pepco’s,” she said. “Under that are the cable and phone lines.” The wires connect to your house at a vertical pipe, called a weather head, and the lines dip close to that so any rainwater can drip off before the line carries power down to the meter box.
If power gets to a home from a buried line, it comes up to the meter via conduit. Pepco has pictures on its website that can help you identify the power-system components. Find it by doing a Web search for the words “Pepco equipment responsibility.” The wire to your house is Pepco’s responsibility; past the weather head, it’s yours.
Licensed electricians, who work with power lines and various kinds of cable every day, can tell at a glance what is safe to touch and what needs to be switched off before they start working. Kevin Williams, owner of Hands on Electric in Washington (202-731-8253; handsonelectric.net), looked at the pictures you sent, which included a picture of the lines overhead and a section of the mess of wires snaking down a wall on your house. The pictures don’t show the actual connection at the weather head, but he immediately recognized the power line as the thick channel that forms an L shape on the left side of a bundle of smaller wires. The smaller wires were for phones and cable-connected TV and Internet.
The third picture shows two boxes and more wire tangles. One box was for phone service, the other for cable. If you’re not using either, you can just “take them down and throw them away,” Williams said. The wiring under the boxes doesn’t have any power, so it would also be fine for you to cut that off and throw it away.
However, if you want to really clean up the mess above that, the power-carrying wire and the abandoned cable and phone lines are pretty close together, and you’d need to be working on a ladder. Having an electrician clean that up is the safest step, and for the cost of calling in someone for that, you could probably get the whole job done and have complete peace of mind that you aren’t making any mistakes.
Williams charges $95 an hour. He gives free estimates, but because you have already supplied pictures, he has all the information he needs. He estimated that it would take an hour or two to go up on the roof and take down the abandoned cable and phone lines. He’d cut them and strap them back as far as possible. He would also remove the phone and cable boxes and all the wiring once connected to those services.
Another option, he suggested, would be to call Comcast and ask them to remove their old equipment. Williams suspects the cable is Comcast’s because the cable is above ground. Verizon service typically comes in underground, he said.
One important safety precaution: If you or someone you hire is doing any work within 10 feet of Pepco’s line, which might be the case if the old cable and phone lines come in near the power line, the company says to call first, at 1-202-833-7500, and Pepco will determine the best course of action.
If you’re doing any work that might involve a power line past the point where Pepco’s responsibility ceases, you should have a licensed electrician do the work.
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