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Getting power to your garden building

Garden sheds are a great place for people to store their stuff. If you’re restrained, that stuff probably includes useful things like tools, lawn mowers and garden furniture. If, like me, you’re more of a magpie, there will be the inevitable pots of hardened paint, bin-bags of assorted widgets plus other “essential” items that haven’t seen the light of day for several years.

But if you're thinking of buying one of our garden workshops, log cabins or summerhouses, you clearly have bigger ideas beyond just storage – maybe a hobby room, a garden gym or a garden office.  For those you’ll need to get power down to your garden building for lighting and for your electrical appliances.

Know your domestic electrical regulations

The first thing to appreciate about getting power to your garden building is that it’s not very practical (or safe) to run an extension cable from a socket in your house. That might be OK for the odd DIY project in dry weather but certainly not as a long-term solution! 

Since January 2005, major domestic electrical installations in England and Wales must comply with part P building regulations.  This includes the laying of any electrical cable from your house to a garden building as well as the other electrical work associated with getting power outside from your main domestic supply.  There is no shortcut here as you will need the necessary certification if you try to sell your property. There is also the issue of your liability should a non-certified, sub-standard electrical installation damage your, or your neighbour's, property, persons and/or pets…

However, there are exemptions. For example, if you already have power to your garden building and you just want to add more lighting or power points to an existing circuit, you probably won’t need certification.

Though you can do your own electrical work if you think you're competent enough to do so, it should ideally be undertaken by a professional electrician and preferably by a NICEIC-registered electrician.  NICEIC enables you to find reputable electricians that are registered to certify their own work to the relevant building regulations. Remember that if you do the work to power-up your garden building or if the electrician that does the work is not NICEIC-registered, you’ll need to submit a building notice to your local authority and pay a building-control fee to get certification. 

Laying electrical cable to your garden building

Whether you plan to lay the electrical cable above ground or under it, you’ll need to use Steel Wire Armoured (SWA) cable.

Running the SWA cable below ground is the preferred option as this will hide an otherwise ugly cable snaking its way along your garden boundary to your garden building. There are additional considerations when sinking it though: the cable will need to be buried to a depth of at least 1 metre to comply with building regulations.  You should also lay warning tape under the earth along the run of the cable but at a higher level (about 6" or 15cm below the surface). The reason for these measures is to reduce the risk of the more energetic gardeners amongst us inadvertently trying to dig up or cut the cable!

If you do decide to lay the cable above ground (or along your fence), you are quite within your rights to do so providing it is a) SWA cable, b) the installation has been certified to part P building regulations and c) it’s on your side of the legal boundary. However, it’s worthwhile discussing your plans first with your neighbours - it might be that the additional effort/cost of burying the cable is worth it just to keep on friendly terms…

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