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Underground vs. Above Ground Power Lines: Which Is Better?

Aug 28, 2023 | Blog, Utilities

Hey folks, if you’re in the construction business, you’ve probably come across the debate: should you go for underground or above ground power lines for that new home or commercial building you’re working on? This decision can have a huge impact, not just on the initial construction but also on long-term maintenance and even aesthetics. So, let’s break down the pros and cons of each, and see which might be the best fit for your project.

Above Ground Power Lines
You see these pretty much everywhere. The tall poles and wires strung between them are a staple of most cityscapes and rural areas. Let’s talk about why they’re so popular.


  • Lower Initial Cost: Above ground power lines are generally cheaper to install. You don’t have to dig trenches or deal with complicated below-ground work. You plant the poles, string the lines, and you’re done.
  • Easier Maintenance: If something goes wrong, it’s easy to locate and fix the issue. Technicians can spot a problem fast, often without specialized equipment.
  • Quick to Deploy: Especially important in rural or remote areas where you want to get things up and running quickly.


  • Aesthetics: Let’s face it, they’re not the prettiest things to look at. If you’re constructing a high-end residential property, above ground power lines can be a bit of an eyesore.
  • Weather Vulnerability: High winds, ice storms, or heavy snow can bring these lines down. When that happens, it’s not just a problem for maintenance; it’s also a safety risk.
  • Space: Poles and lines take up space. You might have to deal with right-of-way issues or other logistical headaches.

Underground Power Lines
These are becoming more popular, especially in new residential developments and upscale neighborhoods. But they’re not without their own set of challenges.


  • Aesthetics: They’re out of sight, which makes for a cleaner and more appealing visual landscape.
  • Less Weather-Dependent: Being underground protects them from most types of weather, meaning fewer outages and more consistent service.
  • Safety: With no lines to potentially come down in a storm, there’s less risk to both people and property.


  • Higher Initial Cost: Digging trenches, laying cables, and all that jazz costs more. You’re also usually dealing with more expensive materials, like higher-grade insulation for the cables.
  • Maintenance Complexity: If something goes wrong underground, it can be a pain to locate and fix the problem. You might need specialized equipment and technicians, which adds to the cost.
  • Longer Installation Time: All that digging and laying cable isn’t quick work, so expect a longer timeline to get everything up and running.

Cost Comparison

In ballpark figures, above ground power lines can cost anywhere from $10 to $50 per foot, depending on various factors like local labor costs, material costs, and so on. Underground lines? You could be looking at $40 to $200 per foot. So, yeah, it’s a significant difference. But also remember to factor in the long-term costs, including maintenance and potential outage issues, especially in regions prone to severe weather.

The Bottom Line

So, what’s the best choice? Well, it depends. If you’re working on a high-end residential project where looks are a big deal, or if you’re in an area prone to extreme weather, underground might be the way to go. On the other hand, if you’re looking to get something done quickly and cheaply, especially in a more rural setting, above ground lines have their merits.

It’s not a one-size-fits-all situation, so consider the specific needs and challenges of your project. Either way, knowing the ins and outs of each option can help you make a more informed decision, saving you time, money, and a lot of headaches down the road.

Recommended reads:

How Dirty Electricity Can Damage Your Shop Equipment — and What to Do About It

Safety Rules to Prevent Electrical Injuries on a Construction Worksite