Utilities - At Your Service

Connecting services should be given careful consideration and plenty of time to ensure that this phase of your project runs smoothly.


Prices to bring mains electricity, gas, telephone, water and drainage to a site will vary enormously, depending on the location and existing services, but you don’t need to own a piece of land to obtain connection quotes, and the results will confirm whether a plot is financially viable. Get in touch with the local service providers to ask for a quotation for a new supply.

If you buy a serviced plot, or a house for replacement or refurbishment, then services should already be in place. Demolition and site clearance may be required, isolating the services as part of this process.

With existing properties the initial cost of the site might be higher than a vacant plot, but savings will be made on new service connections.

Whether you buy an existing house to renovate, a serviced plot of land on which to build, or a virgin site with no existing connections to mains services, you’ll need to consider your options before contracts are exchanged. Something as simple as a ransom strip of land belonging to a neighbour, across which access is required, can create headaches and add thousands of pounds to your build budget.

The lesson for selfbuilders is not to take connection of services for granted. It can be a slow, expensive and frustrating process.

Service Providers

The time taken to organise various services from quotation to connection can be lengthy, so enquire early and factor this into your build schedule. Bear in mind that you will want to have temporary water and electricity supplies, such as a standpipe, during the building or renovation process - not just when you move in.

Shared services trench

Most providers will agree for all mains services to be laid in a single trench and will provide guidance about the distance they should be from one another. Any trenches dug will usually need to be inspected by the relevant companies before they are back-filled.

Industry standards are to lay gas, electricity and telecoms at around 450mm below ground, with water at 750mm to avoid freezing and bedded on pea gravel to prevent damage. The position of meters and their location either inside or outside the property will also need to be discussed.

Living off-mains

Isolated rural sites may seem idyllic, but check first whether it will be possible to connect to mains services and if there is access to mains sewers. Approach all the statutory bodies to ensure that they can service the site, and at what cost.

Alternatives include wind turbines, solar panels and photovoltaic cells, but it is unlikely that these will supply all of a household’s electricity needs. A septic tank is relatively inexpensive to install or it may be possible to introduce your own mini treatment plant. Boreholes for water may be drilled in most areas of the UK at a cost of between £5,000 and £20,000, and rainwater can also be harvested for use.

Most rural plots will not have access to gas, but oil and LPG are common alternatives, and geothermal technology is becoming increasingly popular, using a heat pump to extract latent heat from the ground, air or water.

For more information see our Beginners Guide to Living off Grid

Mains Drains

Foul drainage carries used water from toilets, sinks, basins, baths, showers, dishwashers and washing machines. Sanitary pipework is above ground, with foul drains and foul sewers located underground. Usually a drain serves a single property, whereas a sewer serves more than one property.

Most people would prefer to be connected to mains drains, and if these are adjacent to a plot then this should prove relatively straightforward. If the main sewer is some distance away (further than 200 metres) or is higher than your outlet it may still be possible to pump waste uphill or over long distances, although a septic tank or treatment plant could be more practical. 

Surface water drainage is normally not allowed into the foul system, and a rainwater harvesting system will reduce the sewerage element of a water bill.

The local authority will usually provide a list of approved contractors to connect from the main sewer to the plot boundary and ensure any work to pavements and highways is completed to the correct standard.

Often your water company will also be able to provide a quotation for mains drains. This can prove expensive if the road needs to be dug up. Work needs to be licensed and will be inspected by the operator, the highways department and your building inspector. 

Site Safety

Building contractors must apply certain safety procedures on site. Before excavation starts, they should consult utilities suppliers and use service plans and cable avoidance tools to locate buried gas pipes or electrical cables – marking their route with wooden pegs or paint.

Mechanical excavators or power tools should not be used within half a metre of the suspected route, and overhead power lines should be avoided when handling long items or using lifting equipment. With all the mains pipes, cables and wires in place, trenches can then be backfilled to ground level and the boundary end left open so that final connections can be made. It’s also important to protect the surface of the trench from heavy vehicle traffic, which could disturb or damage the duct piping underground.

Caution should be applied where service trenches are likely to conflict with excavation lines for drainage, or areas where the operation of heavy machinery is expected. In these situations, it is better to delay the installations rather than risk damaging them.

You should clarify ownership and responsibility before modifying or carrying out maintenance to existing drains, sewers and manholes, as these may be shared with neighbours or owned by the relevant sewerage undertaker. 

Some companies can offer CCTV surveys to determine the condition of drains, as well as their location and depth. An existing drain below, or close to, an extension or new build project may need to be moved or protected. Building over drains or sewers can damage pipes, potentially leading to odour, environmental damage and health problems. It also makes it more difficult and expensive to clear blockages and repair faulty drains in future. Approved Document H gives guidance on additional measures needed where drains have to run close to foundations. 

Electricity

Arranging a mains supply of electricity to site can be the most expensive of the services, so be prepared to pay several thousand pounds. Bringing mains electricity to a site will involve preparing a service trench which will run from the mains service to the property. Discuss options with your architect and contact the regional electricity distributor about the required dimensions of the trench.

Digging and back-filling can be completed by your builder as part of the groundworks or can be undertaken by the electricity distributor for a fee.

The armoured cable will drop into the open trench and pass into the building before connecting to a meter box. Electrical cables and conduits will be coloured black. A metering point administration number (MPAN) unique to the property will be issued, and an electrician needs to complete the installation.

A distributor/distribution company distributes the electricity, and your supplier buys the electricity from the distributor. This distributor is responsible for providing a new meter for the property and will supply electricity initially. Once the meter is installed and the MPAN number allocated, you may switch companies. All electricity suppliers have access to a national database called ECOES - Electricity Central Online Enquire Service.

Gas

Not all properties are near a gas main and so connection isn’t always feasible, but it is worth requesting a quotation because sometimes the main can be extended to take account of a new property coming online.


The regional transporter will dig trenches up to two metres from the house and a gas supplier can install the meter and connections to the supply. Alternatively, the gas company can arrange everything and charge for the connection and meter installation.

Gas connection tends to cost a few hundred pounds, but can rise to several thousand, which will determine whether you feel it to be cost effective. Unlike mains water and electricity there is no need to prepare an entry point into the property for mains gas installation – just an open trench and an appropriately positioned gas meter box. Gas pipes and conduits are coloured yellow.

Water

Water differs from the gas and electricity markets in that there will be only one local supplier of water to which a customer has access. Water supply costs are variable depending on the length of the run, with new homes in England and Wales fitted with water meters, which are normally placed as near to the main road as possible.

If there is no water main near your property you may have to ask your company to lay or extend a main.

Once you have accepted a quotation for a new supply, the water company will normally deliver and install the water to a meter position just within the plot boundary. The remaining sections of installation are your responsibility, and it is best to undertake this work first so that the water provider can make the connection to both sides of the water meter.

The usual entry location for mains water into a dwelling is at the kitchen sink, and it’s customary to terminate the supply pipe at this point. Water mains are now conventionally run in alkathene pipe, with water supply pipes coloured blue.

If you plan on having a mains pressure hot water system then wide bore pipework will ensure maximum flow into the house.

Smart water meters

All new water connections are metered. Some water companies, such as Thames, will insist on installing meters for existing properties in areas considered to have ‘serious water stress’. Refusal can result in being put on a ‘no access’ higher charge which is currently £602 a year.

Phone Line

Installing a new phone line doesn’t necessarily have to be carried out by BT, and installation from another supplier may prove cheaper – or even free - if you plan to take their calls package, which may include broadband and/or TV along with the phone. Most telephone and cable television companies will provide a link-up sectional duct piping to install in the open trench. A robust pull-cord inserted through each section will enable the companies to pull their wires and optic cables through once the property is completed.