Deep Dive: Electrical

As I'd related in my battle for electricity, getting service to the house will not be a trivial process. The transformer on my property is too far away, which means another one is required. While the new transformer and its installation won't cost me anything, for some reason I still need to pay for a 750-foot trench running along the driveway to connect the two transformers—something that no one at JCP&L has been able to adequately explain. (Similarly, if the lines were overhead, JCP&L would not charge to hang lines or install transformers, but I'd have to pay for the poles. Go figure.)

Although the straight-line distance between the transformers is just a little more than half the length of the proposed trench (red line), it must follow the driveway because the electric company requires a road along any buried line, and building a new road between the two transformers was totally out of the question for countless obvious reasons. But it also meant getting permission from the neighbor who owns the property where the first 250 feet of trench must be dug. Making the connection will require the coordination of two contractors and JCP&L—that should be fun (not).

I'm doing all of the electrical work inside the house—in fact, it's already finished, although some of what I did wasn't by choice, because of code requirements. Specifically, I've got three or four times as many outlets as I really need, because they're mandated by code. In any living space, there must be an outlet no further than six feet from any point along a wall (i.e., every 12 feet). That meant having to install outlets in the columns on the windowed wall—unsightly outlets that I'll never use:

Also, there must be a 20-amp GFIC outlet no further than two feet from any point along a countertop (i.e., every 4 feet). Thus I also have a surfeit of outlets in the kitchen that I'll never use: at most I might need one, maybe two, but code dictates I must have seven, five of which are seen below. Plus, there must be at least one outlet on any island.

As far as the electrical inspector is concerned, my "pantry" is not a pantry; if it was, it would have the same requirements as a kitchen—or a total of about six outlets! The thinking here, evidently, is that a pantry may be used as an ad hoc food prep or cooking space. Seriously. So, my pantry will be a "closet" since I'll most certainly not be using any appliances in it.

Like the main living space, my office and studio are likewise bristling with outlets that I not only don't need, but will eventually cover up with built-in cabinetry. On the other hand, the outlet requirement for a garage is pretty minimal—only one is necessary—whereas my garage includes a workshop, so I've installed eight. Half of them can be seen below, along with boxes for six 4-foot overhead light fixtures.

The garage is also home to the main breaker panel (#1 on diagram at right; photo below left), next to the roll-up door and directly adjacent to the future transformer outside (#2); it handles all of the utilities, such as the HVAC system, water heaters, appliances, etc. Located conveniently next to the inside garage door, a sub-panel (#3; below right) has all of the general lighting and outlet breakers. This actually simplified the wiring by pulling a half-dozen circuits out of the main panel, and they're also easier to access. Oh, and these must now all be special new "arc fault" breakers, which are three times the price of ordinary breakers. This is the consequence of manufacturers looking for ways to boost profits; since they participate in establishing the electrical codes we must follow, they get to force us to use new products, regardless of whether or not they're truly necessary or effective. For instance, I must also have "tamper-resistant" outlets everywhere, even though there will never be any children living here. That's just the way the system works.

Some code requirements can leave you scratching your head. For instance, the breaker box labels cannot be written by hand, no matter how neat and legible your writing may be! Instead, they must be printed by some means, such as a labeling machine or computer-generated artwork.

Although the wiring is all done, I'm still doing a little tweaking here and there, and will probably continue to do so until the house is done. For example, given the benefit of a fresh perspective, I've recently reconfigured all of the kitchen lighting, as well as some of the bathroom lights, as detailed in Chapter 9.

Fire Detection

The electrical system sort of includes the smoke and CO detectors—I say "sort of" because code now requires AC-powered units with battery backup and inter-unit connections, so if one unit goes off, they all do. (Modern detectors now interconnect wirelessly.) But what code doesn't take into account is a new breed of detectors with permanent, sealed batteries rated for at least ten years of use. So, I will need to investigate whether or not they're acceptable to local authorities. In case they aren't, I still installed ceiling boxes to provide AC power to detectors—at a minimum, the boxes provide mounting points.

Another conundrum I face is how many detectors I need total. According to strict interpretation of code, I only need two: three feet from the bathroom door on the main living level, and one outside the garage. The question mark is the middle level: the language is vague as to whether or not a "level" is four or more feet, or more than four feet. So at a minimum I need two detectors, and at most three. To be on the conservative side, I've included a ceiling box on the second level.

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