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Electrical Work XVI: In With the New

April 13, 2010

In order to shut off all the old electricity in the house, so that I could finish the walls in the kitchen, so that I could hang the cabinets on them, I first had to get enough new electricity working that I could live without the old.  I already had new electricity in the kitchen, bathroom and the bedroom I’m staying in.  I could pretty much live with that, but in order to continue working on the house, I also needed to have light and electricity in the basement so I could use all my power tools.

The wires were pretty much all already installed, so all I would need to do was get them all connected.  And how hard could that be, right?  Well, it turns out that connecting wires is pretty much all about pushing as hard as you possibly can on things with the very tips of your fingers.  And often the things you’re pushing on are the sharp, pointy ends of wires.

The first step was to connect all the grounding wires in all the junction boxes between any outlet or switch I wanted to function and the breaker box.  It turns out, maybe I wasn’t quite as clever as I thought when I came up with the idea to use heavy gauge wire for grounding and just put enough of it in each piece of conduit to serve every wire running through it, instead of running one appropriately sized ground wire for each circuit.  My way meant using 10 gauge wire for all grounding, and 10 gauge wire is stranded not solid.  That means that while it is easier to bend, it doesn’t hold a shape that you bend it to, it just springs back.  Which means that it is really difficult to hold 3 or 4 pieces of it that are all coming from different directions so that their ends are all nicely lined up while you are twisting a wire nut onto them.  My way also meant that every grounding wire was broken and needed to be connected at every junction box it went through, not just where its circuit wires were broken and would need to be connected.  That meant a LOT more connecting of wires.  But hey, I think that my way does result in a VERY well grounded system, it’s just a real pain to install.

So, first you take a look at the junction box in question,…

A wild junction box, in its natural state.

…do some quick figuring and realize that, good grief, this one is going to require 4 pigtail connections to the junction box.  So you go ahead and make 4 pigtails and install them in the box.  And let me tell you, its not easy to keep 4 little wire bits that end in washers all on a screw that you are trying to get into the hole upside down behind 5 or 10 other wires in a 4″ square box a foot above your head.

Aww, isn't it cute with pigtails?

But after dropping it all a couple of times and having to go get a new grounding screw to replace the one you lost, you finally get it installed and do a little victory dance and celebrate.  Then you look up at the junction box and think, “Is that all I’ve accomplished?!!”  And you move on to connecting the grounding wires and pigtails.  After you get the first pigtail connected to its grounding wires…

One pigtail connected to the grounding wires.

…you do another little dance (which consists mostly of standing there and letting your poor aching arms hang limply at your sides) and celebrate until you look up and notice that it still doesn’t look like you’ve accomplished much.  So you continue on with the second…

Two pigtails connected to their grounding wires.

…and third pigtails.

Three pigtails connected to their grounding wires.

By the time you get the fourth pigtail connected you are starting to get a bit excited by the progress you are making when you stop to look up at the junction box.

All 4 pigtails connected to their grounding wires.

Now all that is left are the actual wires for the circuits.  And they are thin and solid wires so they stay put when you bend them somewhere.  So in less time than it takes to connect one pigtail to grounding wires (not even counting the pigtail installation process) you find that you’ve connected all the hot and neutral wires for not one, but two circuits.

A fully tamed junction box.

And you look up and think to yourself, “Gee, that isn’t so hard, what was all the moaning and complaining earlier in the process for?”

So, after closing up a few boxes like that and a few glorious ones that didn’t have nearly as many grounding wires in them, I now have 7 working outlets in the basement (out of an eventual 10) and 2 working light switches that control 2 (out of the eventual 4) lights.  I was now ready to take the plunge and disconnect all old electricity in the house.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jennifer permalink*
    April 14, 2010 10:31 pm

    Wow, that is amazing that you know all these words! AND how to apply them appropriately!

    • Craig Douglas permalink*
      April 14, 2010 11:05 pm

      Ah, but you only assume that I have, indeed, used them correctly. 😀

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