My family has hired a contractor to construct a two-story ADU; the initial plans have been okayed by the city and the wood for the entire first floor has been assembled and the concrete laid. After this, the contractor identified a problem: after consulting with the utility company, we learned the second-story wall as planned is horizontally too close to the overhead power lines, requiring a change in the second-floor design. Upon consultation with the architect, we learned that not only does the second floor have to be changed, but the first floor would need alteration as well, because the workers building the second floor require additional room for scaffolding. Our contractor disputes this. It would be incredibly problematic if true, as that would require destroying a large part of the already constructed first floor and presumably raise our costs significantly.

We contacted our power company and they claimed the only way they could shift the power cables would be if we paid for a pole replacement, which would cost up to $25k. I am planning on visiting City Hall and asking what my options are, especially since they approved the plans. I have two questions:

  1. Is it true that clearance for scaffolding is required, even if the first floor has been already assembled? I live in SoCal.

  2. What is the simplest recourse for me to have the ADU built to standard and without sacrificing too much room or raising costs? Will pole replacement end up being the simplest option?

  • How long do they need the scaf for? And its up to the contractor to be safe. Its not your responsibility, unless you are technically a builder. Which down under happens if you supply the materials. Aug 8, 2023 at 20:15
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    Someone seems to have made a boo-boo. Having metal scaffolding close to high voltage power lines does not seem to be safe. Which option is better will depend on much you want the plans to stay.
    – crip659
    Aug 8, 2023 at 20:16
  • @RohitGupta In the US if someone fries a whole bunch of of lawyers make money and everybody related to the job loses.
    – crip659
    Aug 8, 2023 at 20:20
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    @GregHill Unfortunately, it's a distribution wire Aug 8, 2023 at 21:33
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    I'd consider the architect at fault, here, unless it was a situation of using stock plans at your site, not plans made for your site. But that's more a question for law than home improvement, when you start noticing all the extra costs and the fact that someone put that wall too close to those powerlines...
    – Ecnerwal
    Aug 8, 2023 at 23:37

2 Answers 2


I'm surprised no one noticed the powerlines before getting to the second floor. This is really a bad situation. It's hard to give any definite answers to your questions because we're not the ones making the decisions.

Clearance to powerlines is required for temporary construction aids such as scaffolding. The distances depend on the voltage of the lines in question. In some cases the power company can temporarily relocate or deenergize the line to provide the clearance.

The pole replacement might be the easiest way out but power companies are not known for their rapid construction methods and would have to get their engineers out there to decide what's needed to be done. They might need to get permits and or easements.

  • My power company mentioned to me many years ago my pole was listed for replacement. I think they forgot about it till a couple years ago. They did finally replace the pole and a few others. I did get to keep the old ones. Amazing what you get for asking nicely.
    – crip659
    Aug 8, 2023 at 22:38
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    @crip659 Nice is good. I had a really nice customer who wanted a pole moved a few feet to widen a driveway. He knew he'd have to pay for it. Since the pole was really old and had a little rot at the base, I replaced it with a new one where he wanted it at no expense to him.
    – JACK
    Aug 8, 2023 at 23:24

A temporary pole while construction is underway will be significantly cheaper than 25k. That will get the power lines out of the way temporarily.

For a permanent solution, consider landing the power at the ADU instead of the main house, and then running an underground feeder from the ADU to the main house. How were you planning to get power to the ADU in your original plan? Just reverse the power flow and upgrade the wire size.

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    It has been clarified in comments that this is not the 240V feed to the dwelling - it's a multi-kilovolt overhead line for distribution, and that's not going to "temporary power pole" and "relocate the service entrance" its way out of being a problem.
    – Ecnerwal
    Aug 9, 2023 at 12:30
  • Yikes. That's not a good update. :(
    – longneck
    Aug 9, 2023 at 15:34

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