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I have to do some painting and repair work on the outside of the house near the incoming power line. The repair is pulling off molding and replacing it as well as painting the surrounding area.

I am going to get a fiberglass ladder to work around the area but is that enough? I will be so close that I am bound to touch it and it scares the crap out of me.

What else should I do to get this work done and still be alive to enjoy it after?

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3 Answers 3

Call your utility company and have the power shut off at the pole for the duration of your work in that area.

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Fair warning, this will probably cost you a fee. –  Jason Sep 11 '13 at 14:17
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In theory, properly installed power lines (residential service level) are insulated and, if undisturbed, should pose no serious risk. HOWEVER, accidents (and equipment failure) happen all the time and a stray tool can cut or damage insulation. The Evil One has a point. –  bib Sep 11 '13 at 14:20
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The key word is "undisturbed". If he's doing repair work right around the lines, the risk is them becoming disturbed. –  The Evil Greebo Sep 11 '13 at 14:54
    
I should note: the line is fairly new (<5 years) as a tree pulled it down and off the house just before we moved in. I will add to my question as it seems relevant. @TheEvilGreebo - The cut off is right across the street from me and when they have cut the power, it is for the entire street. Can they cut the power to just my house? Or is this going to affect everyone on the circuit? –  Carl B Sep 11 '13 at 16:30
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@CarlB: They won't use the switch. They'll cut the wires going to your house and splice them back together at reconnect time. –  wallyk Sep 11 '13 at 18:44
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It's simple. Don't let anything touch those power lines. If you're not completely comfortable being on a ladder or just don't feel this is your forte, then call someone who is. Life is too full of risks as it is...

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Edit: As expected, some people don't like my answer. I have decades of electrical and electronic experience and I suspect those who don't like my advice do not have a solid education/experience in basic electrical theory and practice. However, I assure you that the wires are not as dangerous as popular ignorance imagines.

Climb up and have a close look at the wires you will be near. If the utility is on the ball, they will be completely wrapped in insulation with no exposed metal—except for the neutral—and the connections (between the utility wires and the leads to the meter socket) wrapped in electrical tape.

If the wires are old, possibly there is some cracked insulation, maybe even seriously cracked enough for some bits of conductor to be exposed. If cracking is serious or there is substantial cracking, call the utility and have them upgrade or wrap the wires. They should do this for free.

If the wires are in good repair, you can safely work alongside them, even while touching them. Respect them and keep all forms of metal away from them: no metal hammer parts, paint roller, crowbars, putty knives, wedding rings, wristwatch, etc. Use your fear of them to keep their position firmly in mind at all times.

If after working close to them and you still can't see yourself getting any closer, then by all means, call the utility and have them de-energized. This may require a permit and inspection, so it may be days before power can be reconnected. (I know permits and inspections don't make any sense, but the administrating authority is "just ensuring safety"—and making a living.)

If you were to fall off the ladder and the wires provided an opportunity to grab to save yourself, I would risk doing so. Probably the arresting force will bend the weather head, and might pull apart the electrical connection. After safely landing, keep the bare ends away from everything, and wrap them with electrical tape once you are steady on your feet.

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Wow. I was with you (in theory; I would avoid this project, but that is a personal choice) until the last paragraph. If you meant to show just how low a risk it was, I think that goes a bit far. Planning on how to fall off a ladder is not my idea of DIY advice. (Not voting down because there are enough flags on the risks of this venture). –  bib Sep 11 '13 at 18:17
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The service conductors are potentially unfused, which means there may be nothing to stop the flow of electricity. Inside your home a breaker/fuse (or GFCI) could trip and save your life. Outside the home, you could potentially be fried until the transformer blows. Make a phone call, and have the service disconnected. –  Tester101 Sep 11 '13 at 18:35
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Decades of DIY electrical work, does not equal decades of electrical experience. Doing it wrong for a decade, does not mean you know how to do it right. –  Tester101 Sep 11 '13 at 18:37
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@wallyk In your area they have fuses. Remember this is an international site, so your advice reaches far beyond your city. I have no idea how much experience you actually have, but I would expect somebody with decades of experience to have a bit more respect for safety. –  Tester101 Sep 11 '13 at 18:46
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I am also adding the -1 vote due to the paragraph regarding the idea to grab the power lines in case of a fall from the ladder. If the usage area of the ladder is particularly dangerous (height, uneven ground, unstable ladder contact with building or far reach zone during work task) then separate and smart precautions should be taken. This may entail the use of a safety harness and safety rope over the building structure. It could also be a demand for using stacking scaffolding brackets and planks to establish a secure work site in the work area. –  Michael Karas Sep 11 '13 at 23:38
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