Trees and power lines: common hazards and key precautions

Trimming a tree near power lines? When it comes to trees and power lines, here are common hazards and key precautions to follow to avoid an unwanted tragedy.
Most common hazards

Branches that touch an electric utility line may catch fire. If a tree is too close to a power line and its branches fall on— and snap—the wires, it may cause a power outage. Burning branches also could start a larger fire that spreads quickly, especially if there are dry leaves under the tree.

There is also a serious risk of electrocution, particularly if you're using a long metal trimming tool and touch the wires. You'll be grounded, which means the current will flow through you into the ground. The consequences may be fatal.

Key precautions

Planting a tree

When it’s time to plant a tree, the first thing to do is consider the variety of tree and how far away it has to be from utility wires to be safe. You need to know if you have enough space on your property, especially as it grows. For example:

  • A tree with a maximum height of five metres at maturity can usually be planted within five metresof a power line. Whereas, a tree of 12 metres must be planted five or more metres away. Guidelines are straightforward and rules are the same for each province.

Where can I find this information?

Power companies have all the relevant information you need. Contact the electric utility companies in your province or visit their website.

  • Hydro-Quebec has an online tool that allows you to enter the variety of tree you want to plant. Then, it determines what the recommended distance is from power lines. It takes into account the height and width of the tree, and also its vulnerability to storm damage.

Note that these are only recommendations—not laws. Nevertheless, if you don’t respect these guidelines, in addition to all the dangers, the electric utility company may come and trim the tree for you. As such, your tree may lose some of its shape and beauty, and may be weakened.

Trimming and pruning

When it comes to tree cutting and removal, you should never do it yourself. Experts have control over which direction your tree will fall and will mitigate the risk associated with power lines. That being said, keep these points in mind:

  • Before trimming a tree, first ensure no other trees, branches or tools come within three metres of the line.
  • When cutting a tree or branch make absolutely sure that in no way will it fall on a utility line.
  • If you have questions, call the power company. If there’s a danger, they’ll come and take care of it.

Who pays if the electric company sends a tree trimmer?

If the trees are trimmed for maintenance or construction reasons, you will likely be invoiced for the work.

  • However, if the tree or branches pose a threat to utility wires and may cause a blackout, the power company usually pays.

When it comes to trees and power lines, being aware of common hazards and knowing what precautions to take are important to safeguard not only your health, but also your property.

Trees and power lines: common hazards and key precautions
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