Stories & Features

9 things you might not know about power lines

Illustration showing the difference between a distribution line and service line to a residential home
The service line to your home is lower voltage than the pole-to-pole distribution lines in your neighbourhood, but you still need to stay clear.

Doing some work in the yard? Know where power lines are

As the warm weather arrives, we all look forward to getting outside. Whether we're doing some gardening, cleaning up the yard, or enjoying the sun with our families, it's important to remember to stay clear of power lines. Here are some of our most important things to remember about power line safety.

1. If you're near, stay clear: stay three metres away from overhead lines

When you're working or playing near distribution lines, make sure to stay three metres away, or about the height of a typical basketball hoop. Usually you're worried about being three metres below a power line, but if your activities take you skyward, it's important to remember that this rule applies when you're beside or even above a power line, too. So be aware if you're trimming trees, cleaning gutters, or finally taking down your Christmas lights. You and your tools need to be three metres (10 feet) away.

2. It isn't just your body that needs to stay clear

If you've kept yourself three meters away from a line, you're doing great. But you have to remember that your body isn't the only thing that can conduct electricity. Make sure to keep any tools or toys well away from power lines as well. That includes kites, pruners, hedge clippers, balloons, or trees. There really isn't anything that should be closer than three metres to a power line.

3. Power lines buzz more loudly when it's raining

The buzzing sound, called corona, happens when the air around the electrical lines break down, or "ionizes". Very rarely, you can even see the sparks around electrical equipment. When it rains, the moisture in the air causes this breakdown to happen more quickly, making the corona louder and easier to hear.

4. You don't have to touch a power line to get hurt

Have you ever wondered why the safe distance for power lines is so far? It's because electricity can "arc" or jump from power lines to you or an object you might be holding. Keeping that three-metre distance for you and your tools will keep you safe from injury.

Image of birds perched on power lines
You can't fly and you can't touch a power line. Both are strictly for the birds.

5. Birds can touch power lines safely even though humans can't

Because birds are so far away from the ground by the time they land on a wire, there is no path nearby for the circuit to be completed. Electrical supplies are always connected to the ground on one side so that crews know everything is safe when the switch is off. That also means that if you're standing on the ground, you complete the circuit, providing a path for the electricity. Because birds on a wire aren't touching the ground, they don't complete the path for power, and are safe from electrocution.

6. Power lines aren't only overhead

It's important to look up and down when you begin your yard work. Power lines, like other utilities, can also be buried. Before you start digging, make sure to click (online) or call BC One Call at 1 800 474 6886, who can help you determine if the area where you want to dig is clear. That way, you'll be sure to avoid not only power lines, but gas lines, cables, and conduits as well. There are a lot of buried utilities you could risk damaging, so make sure BC One Call is your first call.

Image of a man trimming a hedge with a gasoline-powered hedge trimmer
If you need to trim a tree or hedge near a power line, make sure that you and your tools are at least three metres away. Better yet, hire a certified utility arborist.

7. You need to think for the future when you're planting trees

Before you plant anything new around a power line, you'll want to consider how big it might get. Any plants on your property are your responsibility, so check how big your new tree will likely grow before planting it to make sure it won't get too close to the power lines above. BC Hydro has a detailed guide [PDF, 1.6 MB] to help you determine which plant will work best for you, and to make sure it won't interfere with power lines.

8. One third of all outages in B.C. are caused by trees

If a tree or bush on your property is near a power line, it's your responsibility to keep it trimmed and at a safe distance. If the tree starts to get too close, or you can't safely trim it without you or your tools coming within that three- metre distance, call a certified utility arborist to help you safely care for your tree. Other outage causes include motor vehicle accidents, bad weather, and even animals.

9. Balloons and kites can mess with power lines

A backyard party can quickly become a problem if you aren't careful. If something like a balloon or a kite becomes tangled in a power line, it can cause a power outage. Make sure to weight your balloons, and fly kites far away from power lines to prevent them from becoming a hazard.

With the right knowledge and a little help, you and your family can have a safe and fun spring in the sun.