Building My House

I have always wanted to build my own house. I am retired now, so I have the time. I found some land, designed a house that would fit the land and my needs and got started. I am doing all the work myself, so progress will be fairly slow. To read this blog from the beginning, start with the oldest archive and read posts from last to first.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Another Detour

Back in mid-June, after we finished installing ceramic tile in the girlfriend’s house I got some worrisome news. I would have to vacate the apartment that sat next to the building site. While losing the apartment wasn’t such a big deal, the fact that I had drawn all my electricity from that apartment was a problem for me. So, I had to do two things fairly quickly; 1. get electric service to the workshop and 2. build some kind of a room inside the workshop that could be air-conditioned and heated and could provide me a place to escape the summer heat and winter cold.

So, building the actual house has been put on hold until these two other tasks are complete. That has been the reason why there have been no posts to this blog during the interim. But now things are coming to a finish and I can take a break to write.

The room inside the workshop is just an 8x10 room with insulated walls. I guess the hardest thing about building the room was rearranging all the contents of the workshop to carve out enough space to build it. As I am building this house by myself and I can’t both pick up and install 4x8 pieces of sheetrock alone, so I decided to do the interior in masonite (also called hardboard).

Now, as for the electricity, I had to get busy and finish a preliminary electrical plan for the house and workshop. Yes, I could have brought in a temporary electric service pole fairly easily, but then everything in my workshop would be running off extension cords for a long time. I didn’t particularly like that idea. Something more permanent appealed to me.

So, I checked out a couple of books from the local library on residential wiring and started reading. I also visited with an electrician who said he would be willing to work with me as an inspector to see that I wasn’t doing anything dangerous. The particular book I read talked about the electrical code (as in the NEC) being just a minimum set of standards and that in some cases going “above code” was not only smart, but that it didn’t have to be overly expensive either. My electrician also had a few suggestions along those lines, such as pulling two extra 12-2 with ground cables up into the attic as well as two extra 10-3 cables; those to be there for future additions if needed. Run them back to circuit breakers that would be taped to the off position and marked for future use. Another one was how to do GFCI breaker coverage in kitchens and bathrooms less expensively. So that everyone understands this that reads it, a little background is in order. For GFCI protection you can either install a GFCI breaker in the panel (about $35 each) or you can install individual GFCI protected plugs in all locations needing one (about $10 each). They are usually recognized by the push to test and push to reset buttons located on the face of the receptacles (plugs). There is yet another way to do it that is code accepted and that is to use a standard breaker in the panel and a GFCI plug at the first box in the circuit. There are two screws on the back of the GFCI plug that you can attach to plugs further downline in the circuit. Using them makes all the plugs on that circuit GFCI protected.

I asked him about doing the same type idea in the bedrooms which must be AFCI protected, but he didn’t have a cheaper way of doing those.

My electrician listed everything I would need and I got it all for about $300. We went with a 200 amp exterior combination main service panel that contains both a meter can as well as a main service disconnect and slots for 8 circuit breakers. All the workshop circuits will be run off this panel. Also located in the panel are three lugs (attachment points) that I can use when I want to run my big wire to the auxiliary main panel that I will mount in the utility room of my finished house. At first I thought I would not use an auxiliary panel, but my electrician straightened me out on that too. His logic, you have to use big expensive cable (wire) for certain things like ranges, air conditioners, water heaters, etc. If the panel is far away from these things the wire runs will be long AND expensive. If the panel is close to these things; short and less expensive. So, I will go with an auxiliary main panel in the finished house. It also gives us the benefit of not having to go all the way out into the workshop to reset a popped circuit breaker. As an example of this I saw a guy in the checkout line ahead of me buying a whole bunch of electrical stuff for a remodel. One item was an 80 foot length of big conductor three wire (with ground) cable. This stuff was as big around as a quarter coin. The guy said it was for the air conditioner. That cable alone cost $240. There were several other big rolls of wire in his basket, and all because all his loads were quite far from his service panel.

It took about a day to install everything; the panel, the 8’ ground rod (which was quite difficult to drive into the ground - remember I have a shale layer that starts two feet down), the rigid conduit “mast”, the weather head and then get all the 4/0 aluminum cable thread thru it and down into the service panel. Since aluminum corrodes (oxidizes) in air I used anti-corrosion paste on all the connections. That being done I had the electrician come out and inspect everything. He liked what he saw, so the next morning I called the electrical utility company and wonder of wonders, they said I was first on their list, so I would get power that afternoon. The truck showed up at 1 pm and by 2 he was through and gone. So, now I have power.

All my workshop circuits are installed now and I even put in two extra circuits for future use. I did all this because the panel is on one of the walls that will be insulated and covered over with masonite.

If any of you readers have suggestions, I’m all ears.


At 6:48 PM, Blogger lenny said...

Great blog. I happened upon it while googling for info on spacing rebar in a slab.
I'm also building my own place and can commiserate with you on trying to deal with jobs alone(like the drywall) that are quite simple for a couple of people to handle. Your solution to the power issue is pretty much the same route I went and is a pretty common practice for people building from scratch in the rural area I'm in. The first thing I built on the property was an 8x8 shed to recieve a permanent main panel, water(we share a well with a neighbour), phone and cable. I have one suggestion, though it may not acceptable under the code where you are, the standard practice here(B.C. Canada) is to use a grounding plate rather than rods. It's basically just a 2 sqft galvanized plate that you bury a few feet in the ground. In my case, just thrown in the ditch with the service wire.
Good luck!

At 8:50 PM, Blogger Tony said...

Hi Lenny:
Power company requirements here are the 8 foot rod; and it HAS to be 5/8" diameter; just so you can't use the same ground rod the phone company uses (1/2").

At 10:22 AM, Blogger Ed Abbey said...

Hey Tony, glad to see that you are back! I was beginning to think you were permanently blogging AWOL but now I see that you have been busy.

I like the tip about running a couple extra lines to the attic. I have been putting off splitting up a circuit (great room addition and garage) that the previous owners did and is very close to overloaded. I keep putting it off because getting the extra wire ran down to the load center in the basement is going to be a bear of a project.

You also solved the problem of why I have one GFI outlet in one of my bathrooms and not the other. The GFI outlet occasionally has to be reset though that bathroom is rarely used. I always thought that the GFI outlet was worn because it tripped when we rarely used it. Now I'm guessing the bathroom that has it is first in the circuit line and we are tripping it from the main bathroom.

I'm curious, how did you drive 5/8 rod through shale? Did you drill through the shale?

Finally, I have hung 5/8 drywall by myself by building up a rig out of some scrap metal, 2x4's and some cheap bottle jacks.

At 5:38 AM, Blogger Tony said...

I think the shale layer is only about a foot or two thick; still it took about a million licks with a 12 lb sledge to get it in. I probably should have rented a roto hammer like others suggested.

For my sheetrock hanging I have a friend who is going to loan me his sheetrock lift. Though, in this case because the room is only 8x10 I don't think I could have used it very effectively.


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