Electrifying Update - Jun 1, 2014
I've been thinking about the difference between knowledge and skill, lately. I realized that when it comes to electrical work, I am knowledgeable enough, but I'm not at all skillful. I spent maybe 15 hours working on a new sub-panel last week and while it was done properly (would have easily passed inspection had I pulled a permit), a skillful electrician would have done the same amount of work in maybe 2 hours. Maybe less. The end result would likely have been similar, but the skill comes into play when doing proper work in a much shorter amount of time!
So yeah, that sub-panel is what I've been working on for the last week. Oh, also scorpion hunting -- but that's only at night. 41 scorpions, though!
Anyway, the panel work didn't start out how I planned at all.Cramped
My original plan was to put a new 60-amp breaker in the service panel and then run a 6/3 NM wire across the house and down to a new sub-panel in either the theater or the office (which is right next to the theater). I even custom-ordered the 6/3 since it was far cheaper on a roll than paying per foot and I couldn't find a 75ft roll in stock anywhere locally. I got a standard Square D Homeline flush mount sub-panel and some breakers and was ready to get going.
It was at this point where I realized that I hadn't thought this through at all. Specifically, I hadn't made sure that there was space in the service panel to put a new 60-amp breaker... and there wasn't! The service panel handles a 200-amp service, but there is only one physical row for circuit breakers. Every one of them was full.
My next thought was to find some "slim" double pole breakers to replace a couple of the bulkier 20-amp and 30-amp 240v breakers in there. I started doing some research, though, and discovered that there really isn't such thing as a slim (1") double-pole breaker unless you had a specific GE model. This conflicted with the fact that I clearly had my water heater and clothes dryer on 240v circuits that each only took up one space. How was that possible?
I asked a detailed question about this on the DIY StackExchange forum and got some very informative replies: http://diy.stackexchange.com/questions/42315/using-a-30-amp-tandem-circuit-breaker-for-a-120-240v-circuit
In short, this worked because of a convoluted use of tandem breakers. The circuits were each set up to use one "leg" of each tandem breaker. This gave 120v + 120v = 240v and so it worked. It's quite unsafe, though, since that meant that you could trip one breaker and the other would still be live. Plus, it wasn't obvious until I tested which breaker was for which circuit. Dangerous stuff!
After that, I realized that I couldn't get away with slimming down the panel any more. I couldn't even replace any single-pole breakers with some tandem units, since all but one had already been replaced like that.
What that meant was that I would need to move at least one of the existing circuits into the new sub-panel, in order to get space for a new breaker. This also meant that the most practical solution would be to put the new sub-panel right next to the service panel, rather than put it on the other side of the house. The one other alternative would be to move the HVAC circuit from that side of the house to a localized sub-panel and use that space... but I wasn't in the mood to move a HVAC circuit in the middle of the summer, since as anybody reading this well knows, I don't work fast. That means that whatever circuit is moved will be inactive for at least a couple of days. That's a non-option for an HVAC circuit in 105 degree days!
So the 6/3 and indoor sub-panel were returned and I got a new outdoor panel and some 12/2 wire. As a bonus, this was all quite a bit cheaper than the original cost was going to be.Moving Time
The first order of business was deciding which circuits to move. I technically only needed to move one, but I figured that while I was at it, I might as well clear out more space in the service panel. So I decided to move all of the outdoor circuits to the new panel -- those are the ones that connect to the service panel through a punchout via conduit. There are four of them : a 30-amp 240v circuit to my workshop and garage; a 20-amp 240v for the pool pump; a 15-amp 120v for the pool LED; and a 15-amp 120v for some exterior floodlights. I chose the workshop circuit breaker as the one I'd replace with my new 60-amp sub-panel breaker.
I started the move by getting rid of a junction box that was used to connect up a few of the circuits. That was not actually up to code, but when the inspector passed me at the time, he made me promise to fix it. I did -- nearly three years later. Oops.
I installed the new sub-panel in the place of the old junction box and had to add a new PVC junction box for the workshop/garage wiring. That wiring wasn't long enough to reach the new breakers in the sub-panel and so I created a new splice box. That also allowed me to lower the entry point of that circuit into the panel. You might notice the tip of the umbrella in this picture -- I was getting massively sunburnt in the morning since this is on the East side of the house until I erected patio umbrella:
I tried to be as clean as possible in the new panel, but mostly was making sure that I had plenty of "leftover" wire in case I ever needed to rearrange the circuit breakers again. That's good practice until such a day that they create a wire lengthener.
I then created yet another junction box to connect the two EMT conduit lines to. I needed a junction box for the floodlight circuit since, like the workshop circuit, the wires weren't long enough to reach. The pool circuits couldn't easily route around the splice box, so I just routed them through it. At this point, though, I hadn't yet hooked up the floodlight circuit.Revive the Old
That's because first priority was getting the pool circuits working again. It's not a good idea to have a pool pump off for more than a day or two in the summer, or else algae starts growing like make. So three days in, I finally connected up the power. That wasn't as easy as it sounds, since the existing panel is almost unbelievably crowded:
Yeah, that's the neutral/ground bus bar completely hidden by all of the hot wires. This was a problem when connecting the neutral for the 6 gauge wire, since none of the accessible lugs in the neutral bus bar could fit a wire that size. I got a replacement lug that was bigger, but it didn't fit either. In desperation, I temporarily pulled all of the lower breakers to see what the neutral bus looked like there and noticed that while all of the normal "bigger" lugs were used, there was an unused lug clearly intended for a 1-gauge or so wire. I was able to use that to connect my sub-panel neutral. Whew.
In the end, I did have power and I was able to turn the pool pump back on (plus get in the garage using the door opener):
The next day, I connected up the floodlight circuit. Just as there is no such thing as a wire lengthener, there is also no such thing as a conduit stretcher. I cut off a piece from one end of the existing conduit (I needed to move six inches to the right, anyway) and connected them up to the bottom of it. A few splices later and all of my existing circuits were back in business.Bless the New
I added a 1-1/4" conduit on the top of the panel that punched through my eve into the attic. I'm not a huge fan of running Romex inside of conduit, so I made sure it was amply big to handle two 12-2 Romex wires.
I put in two CAFCI breakers for my new two 20-amp circuits. Those are required for bedrooms by the most recent NEC. Now, three years ago when I create my addition, my city followed an older NEC code and so it wasn't a requirement. I used them anyway, since it seems safer. In this case, those circuits aren't going to be used in bedrooms... but I am relatively certain that the theater and office are considered bedrooms according to the code. Regardless, I'm using them for the same reason I used them for the addition -- they appear to be safer up in the attic. Wish they weren't so much more expensive, though ($40 vs $3)
I pulled two runs of 12-2 NM through the attic to roughly around the theater space.
It sounds so simple when I write it that way. It's not. This very well might have been the most miserable work I've had to do since starting the theater.
Here's how it went. For the first circuit, I got a roll of Romex and popped up into the attic. I waited until the sun was going down to lessen the heat impact, but since it was 115 in the theater, I knew it wasn't going to be pleasant in the attic. Nope -- somewhere around 130 degrees. Plus I had to wear pants considering what I was going to be doing. I hiked over to the other side of the building and hit the maze of HVAC ductwork. I don't have to deal with that on the theater side since there is a trunk system. Also, all of the plumbing on the theater side is underground. On the addition side, all of that is in the attic. So there's multiple flexible ducts all hanging at different levels and then Pex pipes, vent stacks, and exhaust ducts darn near everywhere.
That picture was as close as I dared to get while having my iPhone out. After that point required going on my hands and knees to get through the ducts and then -- oh, here's when it got REALLY fun -- I had to get on my stomach with my face in the insulation as I shimmied underneath that support bar you see in the distance. Even then, the roof pitch is so shallow that I could only get within three feet of the eve. So there I was, sweat from the 130 degree temps pouring into my face and smearing my glasses; buried in the insulation which ends up sticking to every square inch of my body; stuck in a claustrophobic space with no room to move; and only having my little headlamp light to see by. Yeah, it was a absolute BLAST. I threaded carefully eyed up the conduit opening in the eve and did my best to thread the romex through it. That done, I slowly shimmied and crawled backwards out of there.
That was only one circuit and since it wasn't anchored in the sub-panel, I didn't want to unroll the roll in the attic lest it pull the wire out of the conduit. That meant that I'd need to be doing it at least once more.
For some reason, I chose to do it during the middle of the day. Kind of a "I'm going to be miserable no matter what so might as well get it over with" type of deal. This time, though, I decided to thread the second circuit's wire through the conduit from the outside and then just pull it in the attic. So I repeated my trek of walking to the other side; then crawling; then shimmying. The only real difference from the night before was that it was substantially hotter (140s) and it was a lot easier to see.
I made it to my belly resting point and... the new circuit wasn't even close to being in reach. It turns out that when I pushed it into the attic, it decided to just coil up right by the eve rather than poke in in. Again, I could only get within three feet of the eve and so I couldn't reach that wire at all. That meant that I would need to go through this a THIRD time! Many an impolite word was uttered at that realization!
I did use this time to unroll the first circuit over to the theater space and then promptly jumped in the pool to cool off. Man did that feel good!
My third time up was a couple hours later and this time I enlisted the help of my wife. I brought up my metal fish tape a did my now familiar walk; crawl; shimmy. I carefully aimed the fish tape through the hole (which was harder than doing the same with wire, since the tape curls so much) and my wife grabbed it on the other end. She then secured the end of the second wire to the tape and I started pulling.
That wasn't too bad, considering. I couldn't go very fast, due to all of the obstacles in the attic and so that gave my wife plenty of time to even out any kinks in the wire, so that it pulled smoothly. It took maybe five minutes to get it all the way across the house.
AND THAT'S IT! No more doing the crawl for the foreseeable future. I will, of course, still need to be in the attic do finish the wiring when the time comes and to do insulation and chases and all sorts of fun stuff. But no more crawling with my face in the insulation (that I know of).
And the final panel: