Lamp Post Pole Tips
DEAR TIM: The house I grew up in had a lamp post out by the street. I'd like to install one and wonder if it's too hard to do. What are my options when it comes to lamp posts, and how are they set into the ground? Will I need an electrician to provide power to the light post, or is that a DIY job? What happens if the electric cable has to pass under a finished driveway? What other things do I need to be worried about? Shawn D. Akron, OH
DEAR SHAWN: It's really funny, but I grew up in the city and lamp posts 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 lamp post here at my house in the country, and it's a welcome sight driving down my pitch-black road on a cloudy night!
The degree of difficulty with respect to installing the actual post depends on the post you'll be using. If you decide to get a solid granite lamp post like I have, you'll need several friends or a small crane to install it. However, if you purchase a common steel or aluminum tube lamp post, it'll be a solo job that you can accomplish with little effort.
As with any digging, that chore 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 if it's moist. A sandy soil is dreamy to dig as it offers little resistance. But you may be cursed with rocky soil, and have all sorts of issues with large rocks at your post location.
Perhaps the biggest issue, and hardest job, is digging the trench from the house to the lamp post if you want a conventional 120-volt power supply that you control from the house. The added benefit if you decide to provide power like this, is that you can have a handy power outlet at the base of the lamp post. This can be very convenient if, for some reason, you need electricity out by the post for something other than a light.
If you don't want to go to all the trouble to run a power line to the post, solar-powered lamp post lights are the way to go. This will be your least expensive option, and if you have friendly soil, you could have a working lamp post 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 suggest 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 lamp post. 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 or callbeforeyoudig.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. What's more, understand that the markings on the ground can be off just a little bit. Always dig slowly and carefully within 2 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 so as to not 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.
You can create your own tunnel under a driveway or sidewalk using a PVC pipe that has one end cut at a 45-degree angle much like the tip of a hypodermic needle. I prefer to use a smaller diameter 2-inch PVC pipe for this job. You use this in the same way as my backhoe operator, but you tap the square end of PVC pipe gently with a sledgehammer so it penetrates the soil about 3 inches.
The sharp end of the PVC pipe cuts into the soil as it's tapped by the hammer. Rotate the pipe to cut the soil. Pull the pipe out of the soil and remove the soil plug from inside the pipe. Repeat this operation until you've created a nice round tunnel under the sidewalk or driveway. This method has never failed me in the nice Midwest clay soils!
You can watch an informative video that shows a video on how to creatively tunnel under a sidewalk or a driveway at www.AsktheBuilder.com. Just click this link "underground wire tunnel video" or type that phrase into the AsktheBuilder.com search engine.