More Power to Us

After completing the propane system, we continued working on utilities. Next up was power!

Up until now, we were using a temporary meter which powered one temporary electric panel inside. Sam put a few outlets on it, from which we ran many extension cords. It’s been a year of constantly wrestling, untangling, and tripping over extension cords.

Since we finished wiring the shop, we were eager to use the outlets and get rid of the extension cords. But, there were a few more steps to complete – mostly on the outside of the building.

The first step was replacing the temporary meter base with a new meter base. We tried to do this months ago, but meter bases are not easy to come by. In fact, Sam spent over a year looking for “the one”, and our electrical permit expired! Luckily, the county gave us an extension and Sam found the base of his dreams.

The meter base gets power from the transformer. Sam had buried empty conduit for this when the transformer was installed a few years ago. Now we just had to locate the conduit and dig it up. Good thing we had the cats to help dig!

We decided where to put the meter base, and Sam got the chainsaw out to cut the 3 inch conduit (don’t worry- it was still empty).

John was still around to help build a stand for the new meter. (And yes, I’m very behind on these posts.) He and Sam mixed up some concrete to make pillars. Then we bolted the rest of the structure together.

The power company runs wire from the transformer to the meter as the final step. In the meantime, Sam was able to set everything else up. Power from the meter is split to a service entrance rated transfer switch and a second main panel.

The second main panel can be used for a future building and outdoor power. It is under-utilized at the moment.

The service entrance rated transfer switch (let’s just call it a transfer switch) is where the magic happens. It sends power to the whole building.

Wiring this was not easy. We started with the largest wires. We had to pull about 115 ft of them through conduit to the main panel in the shop. We were short on man power, as John was back in Australia by this step, so we got the heavy equipment out.

This was by far the largest wire we dealt with. It is 350 MCM Aluminum, about the diameter of my thumb, and very rigid.

Sam bundled the ends of the wires together and got spooled up for the big pull.

Sam stayed outside to feed the wire down the conduit. He positioned the excavator above the transfer switch and hand-fed the wires down the conduit (with the help of some spools he rigged).

Meanwhile, I was on the receiving end inside. We ran mule tape (strong ribbon) through the conduit to the main panel in the shop. I positioned the scissor lift over the panel and tied the ribbon to it. Then I drove the lift up, pulling the ribbon and wires with it. Inch by inch, the lift pulled the wire through. I probably went up and down over 50 times. (I didn’t get an action shot of this, but I was pulling wires up through the lower center conduit below.)

Finally the ends of the wires made it through! However, the job wasn’t done yet. Sam still had to terminate the wires on both ends. This turned into a two person job, cutting the wires with a band saw and then trying to wrangle them into position.

The wiring between the shop and the transfer switch was complete!

The transfer switch is also connected to the generator. When the power goes out, the generator will kick on to power the building via the transfer switch. This of course required more wires- different, colorful wires. I lost count at 10, but it was by far the most number of conductors we’ve ever pulled at once.

The wires are in the “anaconda”. That is the actual name of the flexible metal conduit (see the big black snake in the photo below). Sam hooked the wires up, including the connections on the generator. My big contribution was locating the diagram in the user manual.

The work on our side was all done! All panels were complete. We passed our final electrical inspection (after getting a second extension on our permit) and called the power company. Lastly, the power company ran power from the transformer to our new meter and disconnected the temporary meter.

When their work was done, Sam back-filled the area.

Now for the moment of truth… Did Sam wire everything correctly? We were eager to test everything out, so Sam installed the first outlet…

It worked! No more extension cords! We have power! Sam is officially an electrician.

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