Sunday, June 03, 2012

Attention class! Come on, settle down now...

Sort of a lite work day for me and my intern. There was some classroom time, a lab assignment, and a field trip.

The main job today was to put up the plaster medallion in the back parlor. This was the lab assignment. Since we had to cut the power to parlor and remove the existing ceiling fixture, I took the opportunity to go over residential wiring and show Megan the work I had done on The Petch House. This was the classroom work. Finally, we headed to Blue Ox Mill to order baseboard. The field trip.

Back in 2003 I took a two semester course on residential wiring at CR, which was invaluable and allowed me to rewire the house myself. I guess invaluable is not accurate, because I saved $15,000 or so dollars doing the work myself. It took me about 3 months, but I replaced every inch of wire in the house, installed a new mast, main disconnect, 2 sub-panels, every switch and outlet – except the switch in the dining room – and ran all new phone, coaxial cable, and CAT V to 7 rooms in the house.

Today Megan and I went over wiring a switch. Wiring a series of outlets. Load calculations. Calculating amps based on voltage and wattage. We talked about the different wire gauges and how they are used. The difference between hot, neutral, ground, and traveler wires. Wiring 3 way switches and smoke detectors. Along with when and how to use GFCI and AFCI breakers and outlets. I thought it went quite well.

Then we cut the power to the parlor and put up the medallion. I would like to say that went off without a hitch, but there were issues. It was nothing major. Actually, the problems we had were fairly typical. When I put up medallions in the house I sandwich them between two electrical boxes and tie everything in to the original gas lines, which ran the gas lighting in the house back in 1895.

There is a gas pipe up in the ceiling which runs along the top of the joists. I screw in a piece of pipe to that original gas pipe and connect an electrical box to it, using the center knock-out. Then another length of pipe is added to that box so that it will just come out of the opening of the medallion. After that another box is attached and the ceiling fixture is attached to that second box. The medallion itself is in between the 2 boxes. It ain't goin' no where after that.

I had gone to the hardware store before Megan showed up, but even with careful measuring, none of the pieces of pipe I bought were the right length. After some trial and error it was back to the hardware store to return a 5.5 inch and a 6 inch piece of pipe and to buy a five inch piece of pipe. A lot of time and effort for a lousy half inch, but it really made the difference.

After that there was some back and forth with deciding how best to attach the pipe and the two boxes. It is all apart of the process. So finally we have everything set so the medallion would be firmly against the ceiling and the bottom box would be firmly against the medallion. I mixed up a batch of plaster. I held the medallion while Meagan slathered some on the back. Then I forced it against the ceiling while she put on the bottom box and attached the nut. It was perfect...or so I thought.

While Megan got the sticks in place to secure it while the plaster set (not really necessary, but it is sort of a belt and suspenders approach) I started to think about putting the ceiling fixture back up and that is when I noticed we had forgotten to pull the wire through. Ack!

Fortunately the plaster had not completely set up. With a little effort we were able to unscrew the bottom bolt, remove the box, get the medallion off and do the whole thing over again, this time making sure the wire came out the bottom box. Whew!

While we were just finishing that up Eric from Blue Ox called and told us to come on down. Blue Ox Mill is a custom mill here in town and is an amazing place. It is in the 1902 power plant which supplied energy for Eureka's trolley cars. Eric was the only one there so we made our way back in to the shop to find him. He was working on a book binding project for this years group of kids who learn skills at the mill. We made our way past the collection of antique scroll saws, an 18 foot lathe, and piles of wood, sawdust and millwork. It's like Willy Wonka's for woodworkers.

Eric gave us the full tour and told Megan to come back anytime. She may be able to get time on some of the lathes this summer. Besides the milling machines there is also a printing press, blacksmith shop, and casting shop, all utilizing antique machines and traditional methods. I've been there many time, but I never get tired of going back.

The baseboard should be finished in about 2 weeks.


Amanda said...

My husband and father-in-law are both electrical engineers, so they have been rewiring our house as we go. I don't even want to know what it would have cost us if we had to hire an electrician. Eeek!

Greg said...

That was my original plan, but the wiring was sooooo bad it really needed be done at once. On top of that, all of the outlets in the house came from electrical conduit that snaked through the house. It had to go.