Monday, August 25, 2003
Running Electrical Conduit
The barn requires good electrical service,
of course. Several weeks earlier, before any of the barn work had
actually gotten underway, I had consulted with an electrical that I use
from time to time about what would be required to get power out to the
barn, and the best way to go about it. He came over and chatted with
me for a time, and we worked out a plan. I planned to do most of the
electrical work myself, but wanted a professional to deal with the main
feed and panel, especially since it involved reworking the main service
panel in the house.
The distance between the closest corner of
the barn and the house was about 115', including about 15' of run directly
beneath the deck on the back of the house. Connecting the new cable
run to the barn with the house service would require some fiddling, as
access from the outside to where the panel is is a little interesting
because of a 14' house addition that was added sometime in the past.
In any event, the plan we came up with
involved installing a new master panel in the house, and moving the
existing house panel out to the barn for the service there. To run
the cable, I was to install PVC electrical conduit underground between the
house and barn.
Once the new slab was poured and in place,
I could install the conduit at almost any time. I had to wait for
the slab, obviously, so that I knew exactly where to run the
conduit. For ease and convenience, I chose the front right corner
(near the entry door) for my eventual panel location, and decided to run
the conduit to that location.
Even though the trench required for
electrical conduit only needed to be 12" or 16" below the
surface (unlike the 48" required for plumbing--which I am not
installing to the barn), the distance involved was too great to dig by
hand. I decided to rent a trencher, usually referred to as a Ditch
Witch (for a common name brand).
was kind of amusing, actually. The rental place I use is 20 or 25
minutes away, usually. By the time I drove there, waited for the
machine, and returned, over an hour had elapsed since I had placed a phone
call to inquire about renting the machine. I arrived back at the
house and unloaded the huge Ditch Witch. Driving one of these things
is interesting; they steer with the rear wheels (there is only one front
wheel to steady the tool), so turning involves a sort of crab walk.
This takes some getting used to.
positioned the machine where I wanted to start digging the trench, fired
up the evil-looking digging chain thingie, and went to work. Despite
some minor directional issues (my trench didn't end up as straight as it
could, mostly because of my inexperience adjusting the direction--very unusual
to drive), I had the 100' of trench dug out in all of 10 or 15
minutes. I couldn't believe how quickly it went. I had to turn
the machine around and begin trenching from the barn side as well, which
meant that I needed to meet up with the other half of the trench partway
out. It's a good thing I wasn't one of the engineers on the Chunnel
project, because I didn't do that well. As soon as I started digging
from the barn end, I saw that I needed to make a course adjustment, and as
a result this part of the trench ended up with a decided arc to it.
Oh well! It doesn't really matter much, as the conduit can bend
It was anticlimactic,
really. In short order, I had the machine loaded back on the
trailer, and went to return it--another 20 minute trip. $63.60 later
(despite the shortness of time I actually used the tool, I felt this was
money well spent), I was done, and headed to the nearby warehouse
store for some electrical conduit. I picked up 12, 10' sections of
2" conduit (for the main cable), and 24, 10' sections of 1"
conduit (for two runs for phone, cable, Internet, or future additions),
along with some elbow fittings and a new, longer electrician's snake that
I'd need to pull wires through. I also found some polypropylene
messenger line designed for pulling wires, so I picked some up so I could
run some through each conduit for ready use in any future addition later.
Back at home, I unloaded
and distributed the conduit along the run. Beginning at the barn
end, I assembled the pieces. (Sorry, no pictures of this
part.) The 2" conduit went together easily with some gray PVC
glue at the joints. I added a 90° elbow at the barn end, and a 3'
stub up vertical piece for later use to tie into the barn.
When I had most of the sections assembled (stopping short of the back
deck, where I still needed to dig a trench the remaining 18' to the
house), I lay the 2" conduit in the trench, pushing it as close to
the bottom as possible. Then, I began to work on the two lengths of
1" conduit, which I decided to install for additional wire chases and
for phone lines, cable lines, and Ethernet cables for Internet
access. It's easy to put extra conduit in the ground; why not add
some, thought I?
The 1" conduit was
irritating to work with. Each section of electrical conduit features
one flared end, which is designed to slip right over the regular-sized end
of the next piece. In theory, this works well--and did work well,
with the 2" conduit. However, many of the pieces of 1"
seemed to have distortion at the ends, meaning that the flared section
wouldn't fit without a fight. I developed a series of solutions to
this problem as I went, including using a drum sander to ream out the
opening, cutting off the end part of the flare to expose a section farther
up that seemed wider, and gently squeezing the flare with pliers to sort
of bend it back into shape. Eventually, and with far more effort
than should have been necessary, I prevailed. As with the larger
2" conduit, I stubbed up 3' sections of vertical conduit at the barn
Now, I had the best part left to complete: digging a trench under
the deck. The distance from the edge to the side of the house where
I wanted to stub up the conduit was about 18', and there was not standing
headroom beneath the deck. Fortunately, though, it is about 4-5' off
the ground, so there was adequate room to work--on my knees.
The ground beneath the deck
was happily sandy and quite loose, so digging by hand wasn't bad. I
used a garden trowel to dig, along with my hands for scooping out loose
dirt once it was freed by the trowel. After some time (I don't know
how long it took--not too bad), the trench was complete, and I finished
the three sections of conduit, cutting the final pieces to length as
needed and adding stubs at the house end like the ones at the barn end.
When I was sure all the
joints were complete, I ran an electrician's snake through one of the
pieces of 1" conduit to ensure that it would pass through unimpeded
the whole way. It did, meaning that I would be able to pull wires
through as necessary later, so I began burying the conduit. Using a
metal rake, I pulled some of the piled dirt into the trench and tamped it
down with the rake and my foot as necessary. This was tiring work,
much harder than any other aspect of the job. There was excess dirt,
as some had been displaced by the three lengths of conduit, so I piled the
excess here and there as necessary for later removal.
Thursday -Saturday, September 11-13, 2003
After a few weeks' delay waiting for the barn construction to progress
to a point where wiring could be installed, a flurry of activity over a
few days saw the installation of most of the wiring inside the barn, as
well as a new panel and main electrical feed out from the house.
During two evenings earlier in the week, I had installed the myriad
plastic electrical boxes needed for the many outlets, switches, and
ceiling fixtures that were to be installed in the barn shop.
Following a schematic that I had drawn up, I installed over 50 boxes in
the walls and ceilings.
With that preparatory work complete, I enlisted the help of my friend
Nathan to pull wires and complete the electrical rough-in. Two sets
of hands make for quicker work than one, and the two of us managed
to accomplish much--but not all--of the wiring in one productive
day. With a right-angle drill, we drilled holes through the studs to
accommodate the wiring as needed, and pulled the 14/2 Romex cable through
to each box as called for in my schematic. Because outlets are
cheap, I spec'd one approximately every six feet around the perimeter,
with several extras here and there as seemed appropriate. In
addition, the ceiling features outlets for up to 25 ceiling fixtures (fluorescent
shop lights) and three ceiling fans. In a solid day of work between
the two of us, we managed to rough in all of the wall outlets (which I
mounted 42" off the floor--the same as the light switches--for ease
of access), run bulk cable for two of the five banks of ceiling fixtures,
and for several other applications.
The next day, working alone, I worked on various
aspects of the wiring without clear direction, as I needed some materials
but couldn't really leave because I had an electrician on site pulling the
main feed cable to the barn and reworking the main house service
panel. The plan was to remove the older panel from the house and
install the shell in the barn (it's a 20-circuit panel). To better
suit the house's needs, I had them install a new, larger panel in the house,
so of course that required shutting down the power for much of the
With the power out (though I could plug into
Bob's generator as needed), I didn't end up getting that much done in the
wiring, though I did install 10 ceiling outlets that had been rough-wired
the day before, and took care of some loose ends (no pun intended) by
installing an outdoor outlet box on the south wall of the barn, where the
12' wide boat pad is located.
of the morning was spent setting up some pipe staging that Bob had offered
to bring down--he needed it for a little later in the project in order to
strap the bottoms of the trusses, but offered its use to me for completing
the wiring. Setting up the two, five-foot sections was easy enough,
but then it required a platform on top. I chose three of my old
homemade staging planks (a pair of 8' 2x4s on edge with plywood
screwed to the tops) and heaved them up on top of the staging. Then, I
had to brace things in place to prevent the staging from racking, so I
screwed more 2x4s to the bottoms of my three evenly-spaced planks.
Finally, I laid a sheet of 1/2" plywood over the whole arrangement and
screwed it down. Success! The staging platform ended up about
12' above the floor, between the planks I had laid on top and the large
rolling casters on the bottom. The casters were the key to the whole
setup: the staging could now be rolled around whilst perched atop,
making it extremely useful.
I couldn't imagine having
done the job without the rolling staging. Oh, it would have gotten
done, but it sure would have been less convenient, and more
time-consuming. Having the right tool for the job is simply priceless.
Unfortunately, Bob and I
spent a good part of the day chatting, slowing up both of our respective
work schedules. Oh well...
next day, Saturday, I attacked the wiring with a vengeance. Early in
the morning I purchased several more rolls of wire that I needed, and some
other things, and got to work at once. My plan was to complete the raw
wiring runs, so as to be ready to wire the breaker panel the next day.
I worked alone on the wiring all day, beginning with running 5 lengths of
14/3 cable for the three-way light switches I wanted for the overhead
lighting. I thought it would be useful to have the lights controllable
from either the man door on the north wall, or the smaller rolling door on
the south wall. Great idea on paper...but in practice it required 5
runs of this heavy, kinky, unwieldy cable, each one ending up using about
70' of cable. It took me most of the morning to complete the
job. With that done, I moved on to running a dedicated 20 amp circuit
for my table saw, dropping a pair of 20-amp outlets near the electrical
panel, and completing the remaining three banks of overhead outlet--15 in
all, plus associated wiring and connections. The overhead outlets will
be used to install the shop lighting; the fixtures I chose feature a normal
wiring plug and are not hardwired.