Establishing Temporary Power Supplies

Keep safety at forefront to avoid serious injury or damage.

Electricity is essential to modern life. It lights up homes, powers computers, makes cameras work, and keeps cars running. For builders and remodelers, electricity is needed to run power tools and light the interior of a home during construction. But during construction, most jobsites don't have power, so utilities typically aren't available for a builder to use.

As a result, builders often have to find a temporary power solution for the jobsite. An important part of choosing the right temporary power solution is ensuring that it's a safe, reliable power source. Temporary power systems can be dangerous if they aren't handled correctly. Because many workers are unaware of the potential electrical hazards of these systems, they become more vulnerable to the danger of electrocution. With a little knowledge, builders can choose the right temporary power source for their jobsite and provide a safer working environment for their team.

Electrical hazards are harder to detect than other construction hazards. The effects of electrical shock range from a tingle to immediate cardiac arrest to death. Even if you aren't killed by a shock, electrical shock is dangerous.

Common Mistakes

There are many mistakes you can make that can lead to serious or even fatal injuries. It's important to recognize these and correct them before injury occurs. The following are a few items to look out for on a jobsite:

  • Don't allow the overload of normal-duty extension cords that are connected to temporary power.
  • Don’t get closer than 10 feet to power lines. Power lines carry a very high voltage. Use nonconductive wood or fiberglass ladders when working near power lines; don't allow workers to use metal ladders.
  • Keep all extension cords that are plugged into temporary power away from standing or flowing water.
  • Inspect extension cords to make sure they're not damaged or frayed and that they have a secure grounding lead. Only someone qualified to repair cords should try to fix one. Black electrical tape isn't a way to fix damaged insulation on extension cords.
  • Confirm that all temporary power is properly grounded and protected from the weather.
  • Make sure that all buried cables are marked properly to alert trades of their location.
  • Be sure all work receptacles are GFCI-protected. A GFCI protects workers from shock if the grounding system fails. If the GFCI detects a fault that exceeds 5 milliamps, it shuts off the electricity in 1/40th of a second.

Coming into contact with an electrical voltage can cause current to flow through your body, resulting in electrical shock and burns. Low voltage doesn't mean low hazard, because if the voltage is low, the body could be part of the electrical circuit longer. Electricity has long been recognized as a serious workplace hazard, exposing workers to electrical shock, electrocution, burns, fires and explosions.

Temporary Power Options

There are three options available to provide safe electricity to the jobsite during construction:

The first option is a power pedestal that is incorporated into the home's final electrical system. The pedestal and an electrical meter are mounted on a permanent post and a power cable is run underground to the main electrical panel. The meter is usually installed immediately after the foundation is completed. The electrical panel can be temporarily installed on the pedestal, protected from the weather, and later moved into the home, if necessary. Builders generally won't have to pay a fee for this temporary hookup, but there are strict rules about where the pedestal can be placed and what equipment must be used for installation.

The second option is a temporary service, which can be set up and used to power more than one site. These services may be more expensive and time consuming than using a power pedestal or a gas-powered generator. These can be set up in two different ways. The first way brings the power underground to a temporary location and the other way provides temporary power by setting up a power pole. The height, depth, and bracing of the power pole are all determined by local codes, and the minimum height if the pole comes in over a road is 18 feet. Both methods of providing temporary power through a service require an electrical panel, a meter socket, and a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI), all of which need to be protected from the weather.

The third option is a gas-powered generator. This is a stand-alone, portable unit that the builder can take and place anywhere on the jobsite. Though relatively inexpensive, these units can be noisy and require time to fuel and maintain. Also, gas-powered generators may not supply sufficient amperage for an electric compressor, so builders may also need to purchase a stand-alone compressor unit.

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