I need to run a circuit to the opposite side of the house from the service panel to an AC disconnect box. From my understanding this could be run with THWN wire in Schedule 80 PVC above ground if it's attached to the structure (A in attached pic). If instead it was buried, Schedule 40 could be used (for any sections not above ground) but it would have to be 18" deep.

Does that rule for burying 18" deep apply if the conduit is in contact with the structure? In this case the whole run would be up against the house, I would essentially just be wrapping it around the house. It would not cross through any area with traffic. I'd like to bury it enough to keep it from being visible (2-3 inches - B in attached pic) but it would seem that digging an 18" trench all around the foundation is overkill when the same path is allowed if it's simply moved up a few inches to be above ground.

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  • 1
    Good question. I suspect that if a pipe is out of sight it's considered vulnerable and would therefore need to be at depth.
    – isherwood
    Commented Aug 7, 2020 at 14:47

1 Answer 1


The trench actually needs to be deep enough that the TOP of the conduit is at least 18" deep.

Frankly, you'd be better off paying the slight upcharge for schedule 80 the whole way regardless, because it IS a slight upcharge and you would need schedule 80 for the parts coming out of the ground anyway, and it's a lot harder to break.

The difference is exactly what @isherwood's comment calls out - once it's buried, it's hidden and non-obvious, and "the rules" are that conduit hidden underground needs to be protected. Some landscaper planting rosebushes does not expect to find a power conduit 6" underground, and you won't always be around to tell them it's there, so there are rules.

There are ways to go shallower, but they cost serious money (Using rigid metallic conduit, pouring concrete cover that extends beyond the conduit) and are usually not practical for most people as a result. The conduit on the exposed face of the building can be seen and avoided, and is required to be at least schedule 80 (below 8 feet) as insurance against accidental impacts.

If the issue is that you don't want to see it running on the outside of the house, the simplest (and shortest) solution is usually to run it inside the house if you are heading to "the opposite side of the house" - drywall repair is trivial compared to ditch-digging, and you can use EMT or (I'd personally not) NM cable for the "inside the house" part of the run (still need wet-rated wire outside.)

  • Going through the crawl space might be an option also it looks to be a block foundation.
    – Ed Beal
    Commented Aug 7, 2020 at 16:58
  • 1
    Might be a full basement, might be finished or unfinished - no way to know from the information presently in hand. Sometimes up through the attic is most practical.
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Aug 7, 2020 at 17:44
  • It's an A-frame house so the gutter is just above the meter in the pic. So going up and over is not an option. The other side of that wall is a finished (walk-out) basement, so that is potentially an option. The joists are perpendicular to the direction the wire needs to run so each one would have to be drilled. If run on the outside, what if the PVC were partially buried against the foundation wall. It could still be seen but but not as obvious. Does that change the requirement for 18" depth?
    – cmc
    Commented Aug 7, 2020 at 18:17
  • Code dose allowed for exposed nm in a basement but putting it in conduit it could be surface mounted. Inside, if when you install it and get the inspection it is attached to the foundation at ground level and later you bring in some bark for your flower beds who is going to know? It will be schedule 80 so it could take an accidental wack from a grounds keeper but I would never suggest breaking code I could loose my license.
    – Ed Beal
    Commented Aug 7, 2020 at 18:54

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