I'd like to run two 20A circuits to the other side of my front yard. I'll be using 12AWG THWN conductors, over a length of about 20 feet through PVC conduit buried at a depth of 18 inches.

What diameter conduit is appropriate for my application?

  • 1
    What quantity, types, and gauge of wire are you running in the conduit?
    – JPhi1618
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 20:45
  • Edited to clarify my question.
    – John
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 20:52
  • 1
    while we are waiting we can provide some info for you schedule 40 pvc can only be used where not subject to phisical dammage. schedule 80 can be used where it is subjected to dammage. you will need to bury it 18" below grade,
    – Ed Beal
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 20:56
  • as the largest circuit would be 20amp I would run 1/2" conduit as it can handel 8 conductors of #12 THHN wire in schedule 40 or 6 conductors schedule 80 and that would be enough for both circuits in 40 or 80
    – Ed Beal
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 21:09
  • 1
    You have to make some design decisions, before this question can be answered. Otherwise it's too open ended. You have to at least decided what size circuits, and if you want two individual circuits or a multi-wire branch circuit.
    – Tester101
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 21:16

4 Answers 4


Code defines minimum sizes, based on fill percentage. Larger also meets code (by exceeding it.)

Anyone who has ever pulled a conduit at/near maximum fill % (40 for 3 or more wires in conduit longer than 24") can tell you it's not fun to do.

You have a short run across the yard, so the conduit expense is not a huge factor. In general, the conduit expense is always much, much less than the trench to put it in expense.

I would use schedule 80 PVC for a job like this; while it will mean finding your local electrical supply unless you have the oddest home cheapo I've never met (never seen sch. 80 at any of the ones near me, other than the odd sweep) it is far more robust than schedule 40. I would also use 1 inch - not because "code says you need it" (it does not) but because it is somewhat stronger and provides considerably more room than you require - and more room makes pulling wires easier. It also means you don't really have to define exactly what you are doing (so the absolute minimum size you need can be specified) because it's more than large enough for considerably more than you have stated no matter how you do what you've stated.

I would (but you don't need to) put in a second 1" conduit while the trench was there, if there was the remotest chance on the face of the planet that I might ever want to run phone, network (perhaps an outside wireless access point), garage door opener or any other sort of low voltage wiring to the location. See cost of conduit .vs. cost of trench again. But it's your call.

Finally, don't skip the "buried electric line below" warning tape in the top 6 inches of fill for the trench. Digsafe won't know your private line is there, so they won't mark it.

  • Is there some way to notify the Digsafe/One-Call people about where your private stuff is, so you don't have to remember to tell every contractor who goes a-digging at your place about it yourself? Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 4:15
  • @ThreePhaseEel AIUI they just coordinate having each utility go mark their own service, rather than having a single massive database. I/you/John would be the party responsible for knowing where the lines are on my/your/John's internal services either way. Make good maps and be sure they stay with the house when you sell it...
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 12:08
  • got it :) (and just remember to mark your own stuff if you have contractors a-digging at your place!) Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 23:14

You could do two 20 ampere circuits, or one 20 and one 15 ampere circuit. If you do two 20, you could run a multi-wire branch circuit, which would save you a wire.

Since you're using conduit underground, you'll have to use wire rated for wet locations. You'll probably want 12 AWG THWN wires for 20 amperes, or 14 AWG THWN wires for 15 amperes.

You'll need white or gray wire for the grounded (neutral) conductor(s), green for grounding, and black, red, blue, etc. for ungrounded (hot) conductors.

If you're sure you'll never want to run any more circuits through the conduit, 1/2" schedule 80 PVC will fit six 12 AWG THWN conductors. That should be plenty for your two circuits, even if you opt not to have a MWBC. If you might run more circuits, or you want an easier pull, you could install 3/4" schedule 80 PVC.

You'll want to bury the conduit 18" deep, and provide GFCI protection for the circuits (most likely via GFCI breaker(s)). If the circuits are 20 amperes or less, and are GFCI protected, you only have to bury the conduit 12".

Keep in mind that this is a very broad overview, as you haven't provided much detail in your question.


According to table 1, in chapter 9 of the national electric code, either schedule 40 or 80, 1/2" pvc is sufficient. However in practice I never use anything smaller than 3/4" conduit underground unless I absolutely have to.

  • 1
    Why do you never use anything smaller than 3/4" conduit underground? Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 22:33
  • Because most of my pvc goes in concrete slabs, and having more space in the conduit is better than less , especially considering there isn't much of a price difference.
    – Brian Duke
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 23:18
  • ...and I don't go below 1 inch - again, just not enough of a cost differential to justify the pain. I also REALLY like to run a spare conduit, just in case you might ever want network or whatever - trenches are expensive, conduit is cheap, relatively.
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 2:51
  • 2
    Extra space also improves the possibility of pulling another circuit should it be needed later. I've heard a suggestion that all houses have a 4" from basement to attic, initially capped, just to make future wiring easier (since in a typical house every room can be reached from one or the other).
    – keshlam
    Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 3:35

I know this is supposed to be an answer to the conduit but have you considered running UF wire(since your digging 18" underground anyway) and do away with the conduit and elbows and glue.

  • with no cover pad UF needs to be 24" down exhibit 300.10 wiring methods table 300.5/ if it is a 120v 20Amp gfci protected circuit collum 4 shows 12".
    – Ed Beal
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 22:48
  • 3
    Using a conduit still offers major labor savings if you need to modify anything in the future. Running replacement/additional wire through a conduit is far less work than digging a new trench. Commented Nov 13, 2015 at 1:25

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.