Saturday, March 26, 2005


The milestones are coming fast and furious. Today I hooked up power to the house, and nothing blew up, no breakers tripped and the lights in the basement came on.

I already had electricity to the little shed I built to house the solar equipment, and I had burried the 3" conduit the 100+ feet to the house. All I really needed was the wire to connect it. 200 amp service wire is big. Wire sizes get bigger the smaller the number. But once the wire got to zero instead of going negative, they just add zeros. Thus 0, 00, 000, 0000 abbreviated 1/0 2/0, 3/0, 4/0 and pronounced one-ought, two-ought, three-ought, four-ought. I needed a 3-wire set of either 2/0-2/0-1/0 copper ($450) or 4/0-4/0-2/0 aluminum ($150).

I hadn't decided whether to splurge for the copper and I was talking it over with Jordan last week when my neighbor Steve showed up. By his own admission he knows nothing about electrical wiring, but he heard us talking about it and mentioned that there was a coil of "really big wire" laying in the yard. I said it had to be really big, and he said it was, so I followed him over to take a look. Under a piece of plywood sitting in the grass was indeed a large coil of wire. I looked over the casing. 4/0-4./0-2/0 aluminum. It was the right stuff, but was it long enough. We uncoiled it in the driveway. I needed 128 feet. I paced it off. 120 feet. So close. I knew my calculation was generous as I had left an ample amount so as not to come up short.

I told Steve that it was so close the only way to find out if it was going to work was to try it. He agreed to help and we coiled up the monster and tossed it in the back of my truck. I had already pulled the leader rope through the conduit. We taped and tied the rope to one end. Steve went down the hill to pull. I stood at the top and pushed the cable in sections, pausing to apply a generous quantity of special wire lube. Steve didn't have to pull much as the cable slid down easily and once some weight was in the conduit, gravity assisted.

About half way down the cable became hopelessly jammed on something and we had to pull the whole thing up. This took both of us as the now slick wire was difficult to grasp. LIke pulling a 50 foot eel out of a hole. We guessed the problem was that one of the three ends stuck out a bit. We cut it off with a hacksaw (this wire is about 1/2" thick. Too thick for normal wire cutters). We also taped half a plastic soda bottle over the top to make it run smoothely. Back in it went.

This time we had no problems and within a few minutes the other end popped out at the bottom of the hill. It still seemed close. After feeding it through the wall at both ends it was clear it was long enough with only perhaps 3 feet to spare. "Sold" I told Steve.

Today the lights came on. Sadly the roof still leaks. The saga continues.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Roof Chimes Not Leaks

We tried another strategy for the leaky, high-tech vent and chimney seals. We surmised that water must be backing up under the standing seam of the adjacent panel and so caulked the entire seam up to the ridge. This was done several weaks ago, but with no significant rain in months, there has been no real-world testing.

But on the 16th and 17th we had a small amount of rain. Truth to tell I was affraid to look, but lo and behold, not a drop. It will take passing through a major storm till I'm really confident, but we seem to have licked this one.

Meanwhile I was able to create a makeshift hook-up my 300 gallon holding tank to the gutter. In the little bit of rain collected a week ago, the roof yielded 275 gallons. In the rain we had over the two days this week 200 gallons was collected, even though the downspout detached one of those days. The collected water has been used to test the DWV and mix the concrete for the porch footings.

An unexpected benefit of the roof design is that when it rains the gutter acts as a water chime.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Passing Muster

Today was inspection day, and I passed with flying colors. Because it is such a long trek to get to my house from Astoria, the county seat, I try to group the inspections together. On the list today were: drain-waste-vent (DWV) final, plumbing and electrical rough-in, and the footings for the porch posts prior to pouring concrete. In essence I was asking to be able to cover up the interior walls and proceed to finishing. In fact, I had already covered half of all the interior walls (the backs were visible) and, of course, because of the construction, the exterior walls arrive from the factory already sealed.

Code requires that there be the equivalent of a 4" vent pipe of venting total for the house. In most houses with two or three bathrooms, and perhaps other venting needs, this is accomplished by a collection of vents. But in my house, with only one bath and everything deliberately grouped close together, as in homes of yore, I have a full 4" stack running out of the house. The options for testing its soundness is to pressurize it with air or to simply fill it full of water. To keep the water from running out into the septic tank there is an inflatable plug that can be inserted into the system (not unlike balloon angioplasty) and expanded with air to hold back the water.

I bought one of these and stuffed it into the cleanout in the basement, pushing it up the pipe and inflating it with a bicycle pump. We filled the stack, about 20 feet high, and all the branch arms with water. As the water came gurgling in the pressure built on the fittings. As it filled to the level of the cleanouts, a few drips from the threaded fittings began to drip. Not crucial, but I decided that they should be refitted with some plumber's goo to ensure there were no issues. This meant draining the system. I took the bladder inflation tube and pressed the little pin of the schrader valve (like on a bicycle tire) and let the air escape. Pssssst WHOOOSH, water burst out of the opening in fire hydrant volumes, jetting up to the ceiling and soaking everything in its path. Jordan, acting swiftly, placed his two hands over the outlet only to direct the flow down onto his pants and boots. In a flash the whole episode was over and we laughed as water dripped down into the pool on the floor, making the dark, back half of the basement even more cave-like. Upon inspection it was clear that the plug had been driven down into the lower pipe, past the cleanout and thus effectively blocked the flowing water and directing it all into the pipe.

The Color of Electricity
There are two bundles of 11 wires each (5 pairs and 1 ground) that run in conduit up from the basement to the attic space. There the emerge from a junction box as Romex and spill down into the walls from above. I used up a full 500 foot roll of white (neutral) and black (hot) wiring just doing the basement, but when I went to Home Depot to buy more they were out of white. Instead I bought a very pale yellow wire. So pale in fact that it could be mistaken for old white wire. In anycase, I was sure that it could be "recolored" by applying a piece of white tape at each end.

Matt, my inspector, took one look at them and declared them "conductor non grata." It seems that only huge wire, larger than number 6, can be relabled. For size six and smaller the neutral must be white. What's really odd is that the off-white, pale yellow wire, which I think could easily be mistaken for neutral can be used for hot! The mysteries of the building code.

I've been living out of 5-gallon water containers again. The pump I had been using at the trailer to give me running water at the kitchen sink was called into service to pressurize the new house for testing. I simply put one end of the pump into a bucket of water and the other temporarily connected to the PEX lines. I had one leak and one hot-cold mixup, but otherwise everything worked splendidly. It was great to see water running into the tub. Ah, I can almost feel the warm water of a future bath.

Matt quickly approved the footings, which are built more like those needed for a highway overpass, and was about to leave when I offered him the spectacle of draining the DWV. He had remarked at the weight that my oversized lines were carrying, and wasn't going to miss this. This time I had drilled holes in a 4" cleanout plug to minimize any backwash. Again, and for the last time, I grabbed the pressure hose. This time i was determined to let only the tiniest puffs of air out until water could only seep around the side, and so let it gently drip out over time. Psst. Nothing. Psst. Nothing. Psst. Nothing. Psst - WHOOOSH. The cap didn't block the outflow of water, but instead concentrated it into a energetic jet of water that streamed out through the center opening. Everthing was soaking again, but at least for the last time. And more importantly I had a good laugh with Matt. And in the end humoring one's inspector is more valuable than a wet basement floor.