Depth Specification for Installation of Underground Cables in Australia

October 7, 2018

All things being equal, mains electricity cables must be installed 500mm below the ground. Then, if a consumer decides to do some digging on their own land, that hole cannot go deeper than 300mm. Of course, this fixed value only refers to someone's final-run power linkage. If the cable is carrying thousands of volts and hundreds of amperes, the mandated installation depth goes deeper.

Multi-Voltage Depth Specifications in Victoria

Let's try and keep this topic nice and simple. No ambiguity is allowed here, so we'll stick close to the facts. As mentioned, that 500mm underground cable depth applies to home and small commercial property linkages. The cables used must be designed for underground power purposes, so the insulation on the lines will be double-insulated and armoured, too. From here, trenching project leaders consult their regulatory guides and burial depth tables. For example, a directly buried 1.5kV electrical cable should go deeper, perhaps as far down as 750mm.

Talking About Unambiguous Depth Ratings

Directly installed residential power cables sinks down to 500mm, and they must remain at that depth until arriving at a nominated termination point. Now, let's say the cable comes from a city distribution complex, and it's entering a local substation. It's an 11kV cable, which is protected by a dielectric gas lining or an oil-infused paper coating. A thick rubber sheathing and a wire-armoured shield further protect the live conductors. Adding depth to the high-voltage protection, a 1000mm depth specification keeps the high-tension line safe from damage. Again, we're referring to a directly buried cable. Carrying this voltage, that burial method is becoming less likely, though.

Mechanical Coverage and Enclosure Options

Installed under thick slabs of concrete, the 1000mm depth rating used to determine how far down an 11V cable can run shrinks to 600mm. In 22kV and over cabling, the depth drops from 1000mm to 750mm. Again, the project boss needs to consult the relevant electrical regulations and depth sinking tables. The tables are topped by direct and mechanical coverage headers, plus an option that covers steel and flexible plastic conduits. But do remember, these values are quoted as regulatory minimums. Left to the discretion of the trenching service, the cables could sink even deeper, perhaps as a compensatory measure, one used to offset a cable's passage under a highway or obstructive underground service.

Critically important, the depth specifications printed in regulatory electrical guidelines must be fully observed. That's a job for a professional trenching service, someone who recognizes the different voltage thresholds and the risks that accompany a properly conducted underground cable installation procedure. Baseline minimums, as used on underground cables in Australia, are non-negotiable lows, although the depths can go deeper, as mandated by a project-unique feature.

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