Power Lines: What to Know About Overhead vs. Underground

Author: Passey Electric. |

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Power lines that carry electricity to residential areas can be installed in two ways: underground or overhead. Many people wonder whether one is better than the other and why power lines don't just have a streamlined, singular means of getting it done. 

Each power line installation method has its pros and cons. Let's delve deeper into each one:

Overhead Construction

Setting utility poles for overhead lines begins by driving them into the ground or rocky areas. A special machine is used to bore out a hole with heavier rock. Bogs and marshy areas can be navigated with various techniques to set poles in place.

After the two poles are erected, the power company runs wire from one pole to another and adds a transformer, fuses, and reclosers.

Overhead construction's advantages include:

  • Any voltage can be placed overhead
  • Can be built anywhere
  • Easy to spot faults and damage - When a line is placed overhead, linemen can see the whole thing in plain sight. That means potential problem areas or outage causes will be easy to spot when the need arises.
  • Lower cost - Overhead power lines are cheaper all around: as a means of giving your home power, to repair and to upgrade.
  • Quicker construction - Since no trenching is required, installation of overhead lines can be done pretty quickly.

Overhead construction's disadvantages include:

  • More susceptible to damage from vegetation or trees
  • More sensitive to high winds and other kinds of bad weather
  • Not aesthetically pleasing
  • Requires right of way trimming
  • Susceptible to damage from vehicle collisions
  • Vulnerable o blinks when branches and animals make contact with the lines

Underground Construction

Lines need to be installed underground or in a conduit for protection. When the terrain is very rocky, lines may be installed above ground instead. First, a trench is dug that is deep enough to keep the wires away from surface activities. As the wire is pulled through the trench and up to utilities, the trench fills with more dirt. The surface gets restored to its original state.

Underground construction's advantages include:

  • Aesthetically pleasing
  • Less susceptible to damage from vehicle collisions
  • Less vulnerable to blinks when branches and animals make contact with the lines
  • No right of way trimming needed
  • Not impacted by wind

Underground construction's disadvantages include:

  • Fed by overhead lines (vulnerability to outages increases)
  • Limitations on voltages that can be buried underground
  • More expensive to build and repair
  • Susceptible to flooding
  • Tough to find faults and damage
  • Vulnerable to dig-ins

The newer technologies used to wire underground power lines have made them more reliable. Although the tech improvements have not significantly lowered the initial construction costs, new wiring cables, ground wires, and conduits have helped ensure that the lines will work better.


Deciding whether power lines should be above ground or below ground boils down to context. What is the situation at hand? They might be best buried in some situations, such as residential areas, parks, or historical areas where people want them out of sight. Some cities and towns completely bury the wires for several reasons.

Need electrical solutions in Lethbridge? Reach out to Passey Electric today! We provide complete electrical solutions to farm wiring, residential and commercial establishments across Raymond, South Alberta.