Thursday, June 11, 2015

If This Dumb Blonde Can Do It, Anyone Can! (aka Electricity and Me)

There are two things I am afraid of; Electricity and Natural Gas.  I can wrap my head around plumbing because, after all, if something goes wrong the worst that will happen it not really that bad; I’ll get wet.  But there are so many scary / morbid aspects to electricity and gas that I’ve never been able to wrap my head around. 

My fear, however, did not stop me from designing my own electrical “system” for my tiny house. 

I started with the basics – If you think about it, with paper and pencil in hand, it’s not that difficult to envision where you’ll need a light fixture, the accompanying switch, or electrical plugs.  I mentally toured my house moving from one room to the next and noted an “F” for fixture, an “S” for switch, and a “P” for plug on the floorplan or elevation drawing.  Then I matched the fixtures to the switches and numbered them, F12 goes with S12.  Yes, there are actual symbols you can look up on the internet and use for this part of the project but what I did made more sense to ME so that’s what I went with.

What else do I want? – I knew I wanted a ceiling fan to help move air around what could easily become a tiny box of stagnant air and smells.  I knew I wanted a BIG fan in the bathroom to help control moisture.   I wanted inset lighting over the kitchen and to use LED’s where ever possible.  I like the look of having a sconce on both sides of the head of the bed (Thank you Pinterest!) and plugs everywhere!!  I also knew that I didn’t know where I was going to park my tiny house.  (I still don’t.)  The average house has an external plug near the garage or on the deck.  The average house does NOT, however, have a 220V plug (the kind behind your dryer and stove) available.  So, to increase my chances of finding someone who would let me park on their property and to increase my chances of them saying “yes” I decided I wanted the WHOLE HOUSE to run on no more electricity than a 110 volt extension cord would provide.  (a 110V extension cord is the kind you use in the garage, for power tools. Nothing special about those….)  Bottom line: I want to draw as little electricity from my host, as possible.  I accomplished this by deciding to use propane to “power” all of the heating appliances and electricity for only the lights, fans, and refrigerator.  And, I won’t have a microwave.

Pinterest Inspiration

Watch me do the math – I added up the F’s to determine how many fixtures I would need, and the S’s….you get the picture, right?  Of course, the number of switch boxes and plug boxes would equal the number of switches and plugs. 
So far so good.

Confer with the “Experts” – At the time, my ex-husband worked in the electrical department at Home Depot, and had for several years.  So, even if I am not necessarily his favorite person, he HAD to help me when I “visited” him at work.  Right?  He’s not a licensed electrician but he’s a smart guy and a pretty good do-it-yourselfer who welcomes a challenge.  He looked at my floor plans, grumbled a bit, and put together a quote for all the materials I would need.  How much wire?  Two 50 foot rolls of two different kinds, one 20 foot roll of the big black stuff.  Yay!  How many breakers?  One per “room” and one source line breaker.  Check!  I need a breaker box, two GFI’s (ground fault interrupter plugs in wet places) and so on and so forth….  I motivated him further by offering him $1,000 to do the installation work.  After I picked up his chin off the floor, he happily agreed.  We bonded.  It was actually a sweet moment.
Who needs a truck to haul stuff when I have a convertible?

Find a Sponsor – Throughout the process of planning for, and building, my tiny house I looked for sponsors.  Those are local and national companies who want their product to be used, reviewed, and prominently featured in the tiny house community via social media outlets.  This is not an easy process, finding them and their decision makers. However, the reward is well worth the extended effort and Platt Electric stepped up to the tiny plate in a big way.  They took my list of materials I had from Home Depot, converted it to their part #’s, asked a few questions, helped me clarify my goals, connected me with their experts for lighting design, and emailed me when it was all ready to pick up.  THIS is a cool company which I would highly recommend to anyone.  I didn’t know anything about anything when I started all of this and although they typically supply contractors, they didn’t make me feel like I was asking dumb questions. Yes, I share their story because they’re a sponsor but I have turned away sponsors who did NOT provide that kind of service because I want to believe in who I am working with and have confidence in their service team. 
Platt Electric is an awesome company with great team members,
who exude confidence with every transaction!

Where my peeps are.

The Rough In Wasn’t so Rough – This is Me:  “Here’s the stuff, there’s the house.  Is there anything else you need?”  In a nutshell, my ex showed up, working on it for a few days, and left.  I “helped” by posting pink post-its on the walls which corresponded with the plug locations on the floor plans (marked with a “P” of course) blue ones for the switches, and yellow ones for the fixtures but at that point, he’d have to figure out what goes where because that’s why I was paying him the big bucks.

Working hard or hardly working?

Confer with the Experts Part II – I finally found tiny house insurance, which is no easy feat, but discovered that although the underwriter’s criteria are somewhat easy to meet, they do require that a licensed electrician sign off on the electrical system to ensure it is safe for occupancy.  Eek!  Freak out moment!!  So, before I put up the drywall I arranged for a licensed electrician to stop by and took a look at what my ex had done.  Overall he approved of my intent but couldn’t really figure out how it would work.  (more on THAT later)  He said he would come back after the final installation was done to confirm that it would indeed work as designed, and then sign off then.

Three Way Switch?  Check!

Is this an RV? – While most tiny house enthusiasts would vehemently fight against anyone who would classify their creation as an RV, there are many similarities and if you’re building one you have to accept that you might just have to visit an RV dealer.  Please note, however, that when a single lady (aka me) walks into an RV dealer and asks for “a 50 amp plug for her tiny house” they’re going to ask questions.  They weren’t quite sure that I really knew what I wanted but after a somewhat spirited debate, and $119 later, they commented that I was the most brave lady they had ever met and they truly envied my “why not” approach to building my tiny house. 
I left with one 50 amp plug for the source cord and one more thing checked off my list.

Big House or Little Plug?

Is it hot in here or is it just me? – A few months ago my ex moved several hundred miles away.  Since he was planning on being back in town for our son’s graduation he decided to kill two birds with one stone and finish up the final installation for my electrical project while he was there.  Going into it, I knew he hadn’t set aside enough time, but knew that he would get it done, even if it meant a lot of grumbling in the process. The worst part of it, however, was that the 90+ degree temperatures outside the tiny house quickly turned into 100+ degree temperatures inside the tiny (ceiling fan not yet installed) house. I swear he almost lost his mind.  At the end of the 2nd day he declared that the fan and the living room light fixture would have to be returned to the supplier because they were “broken” and he left.  While I do not regret, at all, hiring a non-professional, I did have to sacrifice one of my three way loft switches because he wired it wrong and it simply couldn’t be fixed without tearing out the new drywall.  It’s a small price to pay, however, considering the $2,000 I saved on installation labor.

Eureka!  They work!

All the final details – The day after the final installation he called to tell me that he had an epiphany while driving home.  He had checked for a power source for the fan and fixture, but in his heat induced stupor, he had not verified the neutral.  He walked me through the process of testing for an “open neutral” and…..ta da…….we had discovered the problem! I then proceeded to un-pack and reinstall the light fixture and the ceiling fan.  And when I plugged the tiny house into the big house for the first time and turned on ALL the lights and fans, I almost fainted with happiness when the main house breaker didn’t pop. 

Success at Long Last!  I've done it! 
I can run my entire house with a 110V extension cord!

I’ve said it before, and will say it again, there is simply NOTHING that will build your self-confidence more than facing your fears and doing something that is very, very, very uncomfortable.  I am, of course, referring to the fact that I worked side-by-side with my ex-husband who really is, after all, the nice guy I remember that he used to be.

P.S.  While writing this article I had an epiphany of my own:  I forgot to install the down-rod on the ceiling fan.  Ugh.  Can you say “Fan Installation Part Three”?

P.P.S.  The "inspector" is scheduled for next week.  Since everything works, we'll have sign off and can then proceed with purchasing insurance.  Yay!

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