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August 4, 2009
August marathon 2: Wiring 202

In this panorama, Gail (who is afraid of heights) installs an electrical “pancake box” in the vaulted ceiling (for a fan), while Dirk stands by

We have now been wiring our mountain house for almost two years. (It’s been almost three years, if you count from the time that we first brought power to the house.) Back in October 2007, Gail’s brother-in-law (and professional electrician) Jim estimated that we would need a couple of weeks to completely wire the house. After more than a year of intermittent work, Jim’s health and other obligations finally prevented him from continuing to help. We were stuck with a half-wired house. Fortunately, our friend (and unprofessional electrician) Dirk has stepped in to complete the job.

Dirk joined us during the first weekend of our August marathon week to continue the electrical wiring. He has brought a meticulousness and attention to detail that does Russell proud.

Dirk installs an outlet box on one of the exterior corners

The wiring work has consisted of pulling wires from the electrical panel (outside of the downstairs pantry) to pretty much every electrical outlet, switch and electrical fixture in the house. Romex wire comes in various types:

(The first number refers to the wire gauge or thickness. The second number refers to the number of wires in the casing.)

A stack of Romex wire

Part of the art of wiring is determining which devices (and how many) should be daisy-chained together onto the same circuit. Should each room be on its own circuit? If so, the downside is that if the circuit goes out, the entire room is without power. Should half of a room share a circuit with half of another room? If so, consideration must be paid to how much total electricity is likely to be pulled at any given time.

Ultimately, each circuit must end at the electrical panel, a connection called a “home run.” Jim and Gail spent countless hours drilling large holes through joists and studs in order to “pull wires” from the panel to the rooms.

Drilling 3/4” holes through studs is not fun! (One of the contributing factors to Gail's current tendonitis)

Unfortunately, the work they did was not completely documented. When Dirk stepped in, he was faced with a number of wires that left the panel and went nowhere. He was faced with a different set of wires that connected fixtures but didn’t go to the panel.

Not all of the current circuits made sense. Because our temporary kitchen is set up in Cameron’s bedroom, we were constantly tripping the circuit breaker for the refrigerator and microwave. We gave up trying to run them at the same time, and actually put the microwave downstairs so it would be on a different circuit. Separately, we were constantly tripping other circuit breakers from running the portable air conditioner/heater units throughout the house.

As a result, Dirk and Gail spent countless hours tracing every single wire in the house, marking what it did and where it went. They spent countless other hours unpulling wires, drilling new holes, and re-pulling wires. Again, Dirk has brought a meticulousness and attention to detail that does Russell proud.

The original switch box by the front door: a mess of unmarked wires.
The same switch box “AD” (After Dirk). Dirk installed a triple-switch box. In addition, the wires have all been labeled and screw-capped.

Dirk has done a number of wonderful things that have made Gail do happy dances. He has created a full electrical plan for the house. He has installed at least one 20-amp power outlet in each bedroom. We can now run the AC/heaters, refrigerator and microwave (as well as other devices) without constantly running downstairs to re-set the circuit breakers.

The original pantry wall (the hole at the bottom connects to the electrical panel outside the house). Our original electrician, Walt Perreira, hooked up a single outlet box to give us power.
The same pantry wall “AD.” Dirk and Gail have established all of the “home runs.”

A panorama of the pantry wall and ceiling, showing all of the “home runs”

Dirk has now confirmed every “home run” throughout the house. He still has a list of no less than 87 “to do” items, everything from wiring the radiant heat pads to wiring the outside lights. (Russell has a crazy idea of installing three different types of lights: white for the porch lights, yellow for bug lights, and red for animal viewing.)

One of the tasks still remaining is to “screw cap” and “pigtail” all of the circuit boxes.
First, the loose wires are pulled into the boxes.
Second, similar wires are “screw capped” together.
When necessary, a “pigtail” (extra wire scrap) is included in the screw cap to connect to the future switch.

Dirk has been patient and easy-going, a complement to our other friend Steve (and a good counterpoint to Russell’s intense and impatient work style). The only downside is that when the three men get together and talk about engineering, Gail starts to roll up into a little ball.

But that’s a small price to pay for the amazing productivity and generosity of our volunteer work crew.

Dirk and Steve with Gail – the finest work crew that Mike's Hard Lemonade can buy


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