Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The electric onion

No, this isn't about the electric slide. It's about the house's electrical system, which continues to follow the model of an onion - you peel off one layer and find several others below it, all of which need to be dealt with before you can handle the original problem.

In this case, the issue is upgrading to 200 amp service for the house and consolidating the four existing panel boxes into one. When I type this, it sounds so simple. In reality, it is anything but.

Power comes onto the property via overhead power lines from the left front corner of the property. There is one telephone pole on the property, on the left side of the driveway, and then the lines connect to the roof line at the peak of the original brick carport. The lines then convert from the big black overhead cables to a single 100 amp cable that wraps around under the eves around to the back of the house outside of the utility room to where the meter and breaker boxes are located.

Now, there are a few glaring problems with this arrangement. Let me 'splain:
  • Overhead power lines are NEVER supposed to go over a roof. At our house, they go over the second carport - the one on the left as you face the house.
  • There should be a kill switch that disconnects power for the entire house, including the main breaker box. We have no such thing - so the main panel is always live, although you can kill off the sub-panels.
  • Any cable run outside MUST have some sort of conduit on it to protect it from the elements and provide fire safety. The 100 amp cable that runs under the eves has none. It's either stapled to the eves or bundled together with other wires of unknown purpose/origin using zip ties, and then the zip ties are stapled or nailed to the eves. Awesome.
  • Overhead power line clearance is supposed to be a minimum of 15 feet. Our camper, in the bed of our truck, is right about 10 feet, and we have perhaps 2 feet of clearance. Yikes.
  • You are not supposed to have a meter on the back of your house, for fire safety reasons (something about the fire department being able to find it and cut power to the house). Did I mention that the existing meter is on the back of the house?
Since we have to move the meter/can, it makes the most sense to relocate it to the middle brick carport post, which is directly under the roof peak. That way, we can add a galvanized pipe up through the eves to get the necessary clearance on the overhead power lines, then run the wires straight down through the pipe to the new meter. No problem, right? Except that safety codes say that meters can ONLY go on an outside wall, and as long as the second carport is standing, that middle brick carport post is not on an outside wall. Which means that we have to tear down the metal carport. Doing so will also remove the problem of having overhead power lines going over a roof.

Yes, we were planning to tear down that carport, but we weren't planning to do it NOW. Heck, we're still trying to get tile in so that we can put important things like toilets back in the house (shocking, right?) But hey, demo is fun, so if anyone wants to rip off shingles or use an arc welder to cut off the metal support posts, c'mon out!

Once we get the carport down, we can get our electrician to put up the pipe and install the new meter on the brick carport post. While the electricity is off to the house, he'll also put up a new panel box with a main kill switch and four breakers - one breaker for the house, one for the guest house, one for the (as yet to be built) barn, and one for a special RV hookup plug that we'll also install on that same brick post. With breakers to each structure, we'll be able to kill power to any one structure while leaving the power to everything else on. Handy, no? And I figured that one out all by myself!

Once that's done, we'll run new wire and conduit through the attic (where it's supposed to be!) to the existing main panel box. At that point we'll probably stop, tear out the drywall where the panel boxes are now, label all the wires and hang the new panel box, then wait till we're out of the house for a few days (since the power will be off) and have the electrician come out and connect everything together.

Of course, I'm sure we'll find a dozen more "little" things that will need to happen before this is all done, and then of course we'll eventually have to tear down the overhead power lines that go to the wellhouse and the guest house and bury them, but that's somewhere on down the line. After all, we can only do 237 things at once!

Is there a spreadsheet for this?

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