Upgrading electrical system with new 200 amp (main disconnect) service panel then underground 110 feet to house and a new 200 amp sub-panel. There is a 3 wire feed of 4/0 Au in 2" PVC conduit (with two 45 degree turns in the run) servicing the house now. To provide for a 4 wire feed and code, I need to run a 4th wire as a ground condutor (4 ga Cu) between the service and the sub-panel to meet code in El Dorado County, California. Unfortunately, I have been unable to get a fish tape through the conduit, past the first turn in the run. The upgrade and the county requires a 4 wire feed. The question is, can I run the ground conductor in a separate conduit pararell in the same trench (yes, I'll dig it) between the main service and the sub-panel? Thanks.

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    Not appealing, but you could use the existing cable as a pull tape. Attach a cord to one end, pull it out the other, attach your new cable to the cord and pull it back again. I have done this more than once, albeit on a smaller scale. Just make sure your attachments as dead solid. Apr 6, 2017 at 19:55
  • Thanks mickeyf for your response. Yes I could give that a try. I'm concerned about having the leverage and strength to pull out that 4/0 wire.
    – Msteve
    Apr 6, 2017 at 20:16
  • Are these existing conductors copper or (modern i.e. compact stranded AA-8xxx) aluminum? Apr 7, 2017 at 1:31
  • I have had some luck by using string and cutting a dozen or so pieces of string 4-6 inches long and tying some fishing line in the center of the short ones then using compressed air to blow it through the pipe keeping a little tension on the fishing line so it doesn't knot up. After the fishing line makes it through a heavier line can be pulled in and use that for a pull string. If the line gets stuck when trying to push it through pull it back a foot or 2 and keep trying. I have tried foam we use foam plugs to "blow a mouse" and a vacuum or compressed air but with wire in the pipe that fails.
    – Ed Beal
    Apr 7, 2017 at 1:47
  • @ThreePhaseEel The 4/0 is modern and was put in conduit and in ground a couple years ago but they did not run the ground.
    – Msteve
    Apr 7, 2017 at 5:32

1 Answer 1


I quite agree, pulling three 4/0 Al wires is the kind of job a DIYer ends up getting stuck on and having to call an electrician just for his truck full of pulling tools.

How old is this work? If it was legal to wire ungrounded at the time, it may be legal to retrofit ground using the NEC rules allowed for that. For a retrofit, the rules are liberalized and you have a much wider set of choices for how to get it done. Make that argument to the AHJ and see what they say.

Also, why dig a wnole 'nother trench? You only need to dig out the old trench to the 45, which I assume is only a few feet from the house and shed. Then you can disconnect the wires, cut the pipe (carefully) and get the access you need to get the ground wire through. If the joints were not cemented, it'd be even easier. Really keeping an underground conduit watertight is a lost cause, it will fill up with water, that's why the wire has a THWN rating. So not cementing it does make sense. It's exactly what I'd do in that circumstance.

Also, if your wire is the obsolete AA-1350 type, just be careful with your terminations, make sure the lugs are made of aluminum (most are), use the anti-ox and torque them exactly to spec. I see no reason to spend a fortune on new AA-8000 wire, they both conduct electricity just fine, the issue was always at the terminations, and even that was mainly an issue for the tiny wires (10-12 AWG) on Cu terminations. On the other hand if the old wire is not outdoor rated, that's a different kettle of fish.

  • Thanks Harper for the reply. Yes, cutting the pipe had crossed my mind and I might give it a go, praying for a steady hand the whole time. As you also suggested I'll check to see if any of the joints were not cemented.
    – Msteve
    Apr 7, 2017 at 5:43

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