9 Common Wiring Mistakes and Code Violations

Link to an excellent article at Finehomebuilding.com I have referred to several times during home projects.

www.finehomebuilding.com/pdf/021190076.pdf

Tips for gas powered weed eaters

Grass season is in high gear and about once a week it’s time to mow. Enter my most unfavorite pastime. Weed whacking.

Weed eaters (string trimmers by their proper name) are temperamental creatures. But is have learned a few secrets that will keep them from ruining your day.

The edge of the string trimmer blade needs to be sharp. Use a file, Dremel, sandpaper, anything handy to keep a moderately sharp edge.

The string trimmer has a blade on the underside of the guard that keeps the string at an even length when you bump it on the ground to release more line. This keeps your cut even.

I used to use my own oil and gas mix. One day after spending half an hour trying to start one of my string trimmers, I decided to try TruFuel. True fuel is premixed high octane gas with oil. It has a 1 year (possibly more) shelf life. Since I began using it, my string trimmers, chainsaw, and leaf blower all start the first try!

You can buy premixed fuel on Amazon or in big box home improvement stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s in the yard section.

TruFuel premixed gas and oil does wonders for keeping your lawn equipment in optimal ready to use condition. It probably comes out to an extra $.50 cents per use but saves you half an hour of starting frustration and rebuilding carburetors!

If you still have a mental block on premix, I prefer the cheapest oil available. Super tech has always worked fine for me. I add a little Sta-Bil fuel stabilizer to the mix as regular gas goes bad pretty quickly.

If you must mix your own.

Last tip. For fast work…Get 2 string trimmers! It may sound crazy but stopping to restring your trimmer always ends up taking longer than expected. I always end up thirsty…then notice I forgot to empty the trash and so on.

Happy trimming! Wear safety glasses and hearing protection.

Whole home manual Generator interlock install

A generator interlock is essential equipment when using a portable generator to power your home. The interlock allows you to backfeed power into your electrical panel through a dedicated breaker that can only be turned on if the incoming utility power is turned off. This prevents power from being applied to the grid which would present an electrocution hazard to power line workers.

The complete interlock setup consists of:

  1. an incoming power connector (inlet),
  2. “back feed” breaker,
  3. and a manual sliding plate to prevent power from two locations at once (interlock) all wired together.

Many people install their generator power inlet box right next to their power meter. Doing so provides the fastest installation and lowest cost.

I opted to locate my generator inlet box about 65 feet away next to my grill on a covered patio. What does this accomplish?

  • I can run my generator in the rain or other poor weather without worrying about it shorting out.
  • It’s in a fenced in area behind the house where I can keep an eye on it and would be thieves can’t roll it away.
  • It’s next to the natural gas outlet I installed for the grill. Eventually, I’ll add a special regulator to the generator and have an infinite supply of cheap clean fuel.

So in my mind this was well worth the extra cost which all told was only an extra $150 in conduit & wire and a few extra supplies.

Here is a complete breakdown of expected costs.

Item(s) Total Cost 
6 gague THHN Green, Black, Red, White wire 100 ft x 4 $          249.98
Conduit, conduit hooks, screws, & solvent glue.  $          150.00
SDS concrete drill bit $             42.99
Electrician Fish tape – (i ended up not needing) $          100.00
Mechanical Interlock $             69.95
Power inlet cord Generator > House $          100.00
Outdoor Power Inlet Box w/ 50 amp connector $             71.56
Electrical Permit $          120.00
Total(s) $          904.48

I did start in the same location though as most. I opted to start from the main outdoor breaker panel and work back to the patio location.

Note any potential areas on your electrical panel where other conduits are already in place.

Step 1 – survey available spaces on bottom of panel making sure you find the most ideal space to add another conduit run. Mine already had 2 conduits sticking out the bottom.

Step 2 – Disconnect power and remove dead front. IF You have ANY doubts about what you are doing here STOP and get help from a LICENSED electrician or your power company. A “dead front” is the panel that covers the live component terminals to prevent you from getting shocked. Per code you can’t have any holes in it that are not “filled” so exercise caution when removing blank spots from your dead front.

Remove the “dead front” panel protecting breakers and bus. In this photo power is on and there ate LETHAL voltages present. DO NOT touch copper plated bus bars or beaker contacts. You will get shocked / possibly killed. IF You have ANY doubts about what you are doing here STOP and get help from a LICENSED electrician.

Reminder…As a homeowner you still need to comply with all local and federal laws regarding your installation. In many locations this type of project requires an electrical permit by the “AHJ” or “Authority Having Jurisdiction.” This will help make sure you are doing everything right and safe.

If you ever have a major insurance claim or liability issue with your home please know that it is very likely that a forensic investigation will occur to determine if the root cause was due to negligence which is not covered in most situations.

Note that almost everything manufactured has date codes stamped on them including wire and conduits. In most cases with electrical work it is fairly easy to determine if work that required a permit was not permitted.

Note where the conduits lead under the house.

I spent some time under the house in the crawl space determining where my new hole would appear before starting to drill. You don’t want to accidentally drill into a wire, drain, water pipe, gas line, or some structural component holding your house up!

Step 3 – If your power will be in another location than next to the distribution panel, drill any holes needed for conduit travel from point “A” to point “B.”

Concrete core drill bit with SDS arbor attachment and pilot bit purchased on Amazon.
I really like the cordless SDS drill. It can hammer, drill, or hammer and drill. It works fast too.

I used a 1.5” core drill to cut through both brick and cinder block. Supposedly a 1-3/8” hole is big enough for 1” schedule 40 PVC conduit. I wanted a little “wiggle room” just in case. It turns out the smaller hole would have worked ok. A little caulk will seal any gaps.

I ended up having to trim a holly bush that got in my way. The sawzall made fast work of it.

Step 4 – run & connect conduit paths from point “A” to point “B.”

These ratcheting pvc tubing cutters look like they shouldn’t be be able to cut 1” diameter pipe. They cut it like butter.

Dry fit pvc assemblies before gluing together.

Use a screwdriver or other tool to knock out the pre punched hole closest to where your pvc conduit needs to line up,
Hole is not big enough for 1” conduit coupler.
Move any ground or power wires out of the way so you don’t damage them.
I didn’t want to go overboard on hole size so I kept checking until I got it just right.
Tighten the retainer nut by hitting the little edges with a flathead screwdriver until the coupler is tight.
In most areas, primed PVC joints are code required. The way an inspector knows they are primed is by the purple dye in the primer. Prime before you use cement.
Notice I vacuumed out the metal chips from my enlarged hole? My favorite tool is my cordless ridgid shop vac.
Glued conduit body. These help you pull wires through 90 degree turns. Essential!

Step 5 – install your manual interlock. align the dead front carefully to make sure it will actually work. If you are off slightly it can cause the unit to not work as intended defeating the purpose of your project.

Use a punch to make sure your holes don’t wander off center!
Screws inserted through back of panel.
Install any provided stickers. they are just as much a part of complying with NEC code as the rest of the project.
Straighten your cables before pulling them and the pulling will go easy. I (pushed) pulled ~75 linear feet of these (Qty 4) 6 gauge wires without an electricians fish tape. Heavier gauge wires can be pushed and pulled because of their firmness.
Keep your wires separated while pulling and they will pull easier.
I did away with the pilot bit on the second hole. I found that not using a pilot bit and starting slow created a smooth hole.
Hole done. Again know where you are drilling. I clearly was near a gas pipe here.
sometimes you have to invent the bit you need.
Make sure all conduit is fastened with metal straps at appropriate intervals.
Wires pulled into distribution panel prior to trimming.
I had extra conduit straps so each joist got one. This conduit is not moving!
“S” type bend for easy cable pulling through a turn.
Get the conduit body tight against the wall.
Inlet box mounted to wall with Tapcon concrete anchors
THHN wire pulled into position.
I added a ground bus to this box.

The ground bus i added (small aluminum block) was complete overkill. But from an engineering standpoint i wanted this to be safe. In the event a wire came undone, in theory the wire could electrify the box and shock someone. Now everything metal is grounded to the same potential.

the gas pipe next to this was annoying me because I never painted it gray.
Pipe painted. Problem solved.

Use cable ties to strap the breakers together to make sure they stay in place and secure!

Last step – put the dead front back on and call the inspector then test!

Note the APPROVED Inspection label after the inspector came out.

Astro turf

I have spots that are a mucky mess under the outdoor play set. The grass just doesn’t grow well and the weeds are a pain to constantly wack.

So I’m opting for a fast fix here. I found several companies on Amazon that sell this stuff. make sure you get the kind with “drainage holes” so it stays dry over time.

While waiting for my order to arrive, I sprayed the area with a vegetation killer (aka herbicide.) The one I like best these days is called “Total Vegetation Killer.” With a name like that how could it not work?

Now For instant gratification…putting this stuff down is so very simple.

  • Unpack.
  • Cut to fit. I opted for scissors over a knife for this small job as it helped me slow down and keep a consistent cut. I also used a drywall T-square to check my measurement as I cut.
  • Hammer down with yard staples. Done.

Replacing CFL surface mount lights with LEDS

CFLs (compact fluorescent lighting) has been a popular choice for many years when compared with incandescent bulbs. CFLs were a go-to choice for high output lighting with low heat and low power consumption.

Due to these characteristics CFLs have been a good choice for closets and other areas where incandescent heat is problematic for safety reasons.

However, CFLs have a limited lifespan and the light color temperature is a big drawback for aesthetic reasons in many areas such as under counter applications.

Original CFL. Just plain ugly.

With the advent of affordable LED lighting it is quickly becoming almost impossible to find CFLs and incandescent lighting for general use. Light fixtures are becoming integrated as LEDs have improved so much they may only need to be replaced every two dozen years.

Integration of LEDs into the fixture allows for sleek profiles that provide a much more modern / clean look and feel to any living space. Good LED fixtures emit a nice even beam or glow without any dark spots like traditional light fixtures have.

Remove protective cover. No wonder the light looks uneven.

Removing the existing light fixture is easy in most cases. A Philips #2 screwdriver is all it takes to remove this particular light fixture.

Scrape off any paint or drywall mud on ground wire.

Note the painter decided to paint everything including the wire. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE THE POWER OFF. Scrape any paint off the ground wire with your fingernail or a tool.

Clean ground connection.

When you can see clean copper you are ready. Don’t go overboard and ruin the wire.

Save wire nuts for re-use.
Connect Hot, Neutral, & ground wire.

Connect the new fixture by connecting the new fixture. Hot (this is the power wire) Black to Black, Neutral (white power return wire), and copper colored ground wire to copper stranded ground wire. Use wire-nuts or push nuts to make a solid connection.

Align fixture with mounting screws.
Twist on diffuser cover.
Enjoy a clean look and bright light in cubby and closet areas that may last a lifetime without replacing!

Portable Backup Home Generator project part 2. Making a connection.

In order to use a portable generator to power appliances you need a quality connection.

As you connect individual items, you begin to see some of the issues with using a standard extension cord.

1. generators can’t come inside safely. It’s noisy and generates dangerous carbon monoxide exhaust. So the generator sits outside and the cord has to come into the house through a door or window cracked open.

2. You can’t plug in much with standard outlets on the generator. It doesn’t matter how big your generator is, ~15 amps at 120 volts is about all you get even with power strips connected. So roughly the equivalent of ONE single home circuit for lights or a room.

3. It becomes very apparent that some things can’t be plugged in at all. Your dishwasher, your air conditioner, ceiling lights, bathroom fan, etc.

On larger generators there are the large plugs you may have never seen before. These allow you to hook up much higher capacity circuits and appliances.

For instance my generator has a NEMA 14-50 receptacle. This can supply 240 volts AC at 50 amps! That’s enough to power a good amount of residential household items at once.

The cable is essential to making a high capacity connection to our “power inlet box” the two most common are 30 and 50 amps. I chose the highest capacity compatible with my generator which was 50 amps.

50 amp power inlet box.

This box will be mounted to an exterior brick wall using tapcon screws and conduit will reach between the breaker box and the power inlet.

The power inlet box “knockout” only accepts up to 3/4” conduit. Given our application with (4) 6 gauge wires we will need to make a larger hole to accommodate a 1” conduit. The hole size for 1” conduit is 1 3/8”. We will use a step drill to enlarge the hole.
This is a “step drill” bit. They cost about $60 for a decent one that’s big enough and will last longer than one time use.

We will keep working on the project this weekend!

Whole Home Portable Backup Generator project Part 1 – the DuroMax XP13000EH portable generator

I recently purchased the DuroMax XP13000EH portable generator. It is portable in the sense that it does have wheels. If you don’t have a trailer with a ramp, i wouldn’t expect to be carting it around anytime soon. Its big and heavy. The unit weights ~260 lbs with no gas. Gas weighs less than water at about 6 lbs per gallon. With an 8.3 gallon gas tank add another 50 pounds and you are right at 300 lbs. fully loaded.

My plan is to keep this generator in the garage and roll it outside and plug it into the house when outages occur so i really don’t have to move it more than 25-50 feet. It has some fold down handles and newly improved solid tires to prevent flats from becoming a problem in an emergency. To do this right, I am going to have to pull some heavy wiring in schedule 40 PVC conduit under the house and install a “power inlet box” (NEMA SS2-50P receptacle) as well as installing a manual generator interlock kit on my outside electrical panel. The entire setup will be rated for a capacity of 50 Amps at 250 volts AC.

A few of the many items i am collecting as i prepare for this project. (6 gauge stranded THHN wire…still waiting on my black wire…1.5″ diameter concrete dry core bit with SDS compatible auger, interlock kit, and 50 amp generator connection box)

More on the actual generator… I was looking for the biggest portable generator i could find at a reasonable price with a high approval rating from end users. Home depot sells the XP13000EH for $1,399.

The Generator is powered by a 500cc OHV Engine and with 10,500 watts of running power and the ability to surge up to 13,000 watts, this generator can power household essentials such as lights, small and large appliances, and your home’s central A/C system. The fully loaded power panel features multiple outlets including (2) 120V GFCI protected household outlets. Also on the power panel are individual breakers to prevent overloading and keep everything safe. $1,399 met my budget for the things we need to power in an emergency. This unit is both EPA and CARB approved for operation in all 50 states if you need to care about those sorts of things.

The next step up in size (the XP15000) 12500 running watts with 15,000 starting watts moves up in price to $2,999! From a math standpoint you start to get into some other cost considerations too. 15000 watts divided by 240 volts is 62.5 amps. At this point to meet NEC code depending on how far your wiring run is you are looking next size larger wiring. Note: thick wire gets expensive really quick. I’m also not sure how this largest model gets away with a NEMA 14-50 receptacle from an engineering standpoint which is rated at 50 amps unless the unit can’t supply 100% of its capacity from the largest outlet. Maybe an electrician out there can answer this.

The XP13000EH came boxed and strapped to a pallet. You will need to do some assembly such as putting on the wheels and handles. A small tool kit with wrenches was included.

The generator has an electric push button start which is another great feature for ease of use. One thing i did realize upon firing up the generator for the first time is that it is noisy. However, after thinking about this in depth its sort of like having a 500cc motorcycle parked outside all day running. If you need lots of power, physics says you need a big motor. (you can’t get somethin for nothin!…1st law of thermodynamics)

Front panel view of generator showing buttons, breakers, receptacles, and switches
It also has a pretty blue fuel tank!
Rear view of the Duromax XP13000EH

I also REALLY liked that this is a DUAL fuel setup runs on gasoline or propane. Propane and Natural Gas are excellent choices for emergency fuel if you have access to it.

Why? Propane Gas can store infinitely in a portable tank or Natural Gas can be piped to the generator for almost unlimited use at a very low cost. These fuels also do not create large carbon deposits when they burn so your engine and carburetor stay cleaner meaning longer service life for your investment.

Since this is dual fuel (propane & gasoline), it will require a modification to run off Natural gas which i eventually intend to also do. I have my eye on a kit from http://www.nashfuel.com/ is selling a conversion kit on Ebay for $109.99

view of the components that make up the Nash fuel duromax natural gas conversion kit
Natural Gas Conversion Kit Duromax XP13000EH Generator 13KW LP 20HP Dual Fuel LP

This Kit essentially turns you Dual Fuel setup into a Tri-Fuel setup and will allow your generator to run on low pressure propane, low pressure natural gas, or gasoline.

We will explore connecting this and other similar generators to a home electric panel in Part 2.

Easy fix Freezer problems

Last night the ice cream seemed soft indicating something might be amiss with this essential appliance.

Further inspection revealed that there was a large buildup of ice in the back of the freezer reducing the proper circulation of air.

I removed most of this with a putty knife.

Some of the ice I removed. There was a LOT.

Further I noticed ice and crud build up that was possibly causing the door to not shut easily or completely.

I removed these tracks by unscrewing them

Only 3 screws hold in each assembly

I put everything I took out of the freezer that was part of the freezer in the shower and washed it with hot water. Then I carefully dried to remove all moisture as any little bit would cause the bearings to work poorly upon re-freezing.

Bath time for your appliances.
All cleaned and dried!
Finished cleaning. Wipe out any remaining moisture with a towel.

It’s also really important for the door to seal keeping warm air out and cold air in. I wiped down all the refrigerator and freezer door seals and their respective mating surfaces with Clorox wipes. You will be amazed at what looks clean but is most likely very dirty if you have never cleaned these before. Sometimes after cleaning them the door will mate so nicely that it feels difficult to pull the door open from the low pressure vacuum created by the cold air inside. This is desirable as it will really help the units efficiency by reducing air leaks.

Wipe down seals and mating surfaces.

In about an hour the ice cream was solid and there were no wet spots in the freezer.

Opening crawl space vents in Spring

If you have a crawl space under your home, you most likely have crawl space vents. These vents allow you to control the amount of airflow under your home. It’s really important to have good ventilation to keep mold and moisture from accumulating and ruining your home.

However, In winter months it’s essential to keep these vents mostly closed to keep any plumbing under your home warm so it doesn’t freeze or crack. There is also the energy savings factor as well.

As warmer temperatures come with spring it’s essential to open those vents to allow the foundation to “breathe.”

It’s rather simple. Simply locate the vent(s) and slide them open. Except that they rarely open easily with a simple push of the finger. So I bring a hammer with me an gently tap them open.

Be careful not to break off any plastic tabs on the vents while tapping.

Gently tap the finger tab to open the vent.
Fully opened crawl space vent.

One caveat, some newer energy efficient (green) homes have air conditioning in the crawl space. In this case, traditional venting as described is not necessary.

In-wall shelf trim replacement

I am not a wood worker. Generally the best I can hope for is to make big wood smaller.

I built some functional in-wall shelving a while back and decided to try my hand with a router. The results were terrible.

Basically the idea was to build a box that could screw between two studs and put holes on each side for shelf pins.

Thin homemade router trim. Terrible idea. Hang my head in shame.

I used the kreg shelf pin jig to make the evenly spaced holes when I originally built these. Kreg makes some great products.

I then proceeded to make some really terrible trim for the outside with my dewalt laminate router.

I have lived with this for a couple of years and really just hate it every time I see it.

Anyhoo… my wife went out of town for a few days. Perfect time to rip apart something in her vanity area right?

I started to pry away the trim but the drywall started to peel immediately. So i stopped and cut around the perimeter with a razor blade to free any caulk seal.

Cut any caulk seal before demo to make sure the drywall doesn’t rip.
Peel off any junk and get a flat surface to work with.
I like to mark an “x” on the side I plan to throw away and the angle of a cut.

I decided to use composite (fake wood) trim. Its perfectly smooth so it makes for a better finished product. The closer you start to perfect, the better the possibility you will end up somewhere close to there. It also is already white. So no priming and for now I’m not going to paint it. It looks great as-is.

DeWalt compound miter saw. Set at 45 degrees.

This DeWalt miter saw is really easy to set. there are de-tent positions for standard angles such as 45 degrees. I used to like small saws but now the bigger the better. More power = smoother faster cuts.

Air nail in place
Fill any holes and edges with white caulk.

This looks so much better.

If you have a project to fix this weekend, don’t forget to vacuum and clean up too.