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Archive for August, 2009

Electric Boogaloo

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Two posts in one day! Your eyes are wilting and your expectations are soaring. I think part of the reason we’ve been so lax about our posting is that we simply haven’t had much to say. The last couple months can be summarized in one painful word: Siding. Ah, but now the hounds have been unleashed and the hunt for December is on!

This week we’ve been wiring the house for electricity. This is one of those teach-yourself areas that have life threatening consequences if improperly self-instructed. Unlike plumbing and framing, we haven’t had the luxury of a wise and patient tutor. So we struck out alone with our three wiring books and nightly visits to the internets with google searches like: “wire sizing 100amp feeder subpanel” and “dimmer low voltage magnetic transformer” and “title 24 kitchen.” As it turns out, wiring a house is pretty easy and I think for the most part electricians are overpaid. That is, unless they are troubleshooting a problem. Right now, we’re just wiring away without a care in the world. We’ve planned our little circuits and crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. A couple months from now, we’re actually gonna turn on the power and flip that first switch and then we’ll see if we ever had any clue as to what we’re doing. Then we may have to hire some electrician to come in and figure out what we did wrong. And man, that will be a tough job.

Kudos to Kari for being a naturally gifted electrician. I myself have been reading DIY electrical books and watching DIY youtube videos for months in preparation for this stage. And yet I barely can figure out how to wire some of these circuits. To be fair, some of these outlet boxes are crazy looking with eight cables and 20 wires sticking out of them. Anyway, yesterday Kari came over to help “make-up” the boxes. This is sort of a pre-wiring step that is done before the actual switches and outlets are added – it makes that final step easier by dealing with all the splices and joins that need to happen that aren’t directly connected to the switch or outlet. I showed Kari how to do one or two (basically stumbling through the process since I barely knew how to do it myself) and she then proceeded to make up the rest of the house. Awesome! Hopefully she’ll have the same natural talent for laying down wood floors.

So, a couple of things worth mentioning…

First, it takes a lot of circuits to wire a modern house. I mean, you can go with the minimum, and that will probably work, but it seems like everything you plug in nowadays pulls 1500W. That’s basically half of what a normal circuit can handle. Go look under your toaster oven or your electric kettle or your coffee maker and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Indeed, the state of cali makes us install dedicated circuits for the microwave, garbage disposal, washing machine, kitchen countertop outlets, bathroom outlets and other places where the load is likely to be heavy or doused in water. Our little house has almost 30 circuits. That means lots and lots and lots of wire running all over the place. And it’s hard to keep track of. One little wire connected to the wrong color and you can kiss that circuit goodbye. Well, it’s not that dire – but you’ll have to start poking into every outlet and light fixture trying to figure out where your electrician screwed up.

Second, the State of Cali Title 24 requirements make my face hurt. These are building codes that force to you to be energy efficient and I wholeheartedly endorse such efforts. They would be much easier to love if they didn’t suck so bad. Here’s the example that is really getting under our skin at the moment. You are required to install high-efficiency lighting for at least half the wattage of your overall kitchen lighting. That sort of makes sense right? But what if someone invented a light bulb that used only 1 watt, yet produced light equivalent to a 75 watt incandescent bulb. That would be awesome right? And being the eco-organic-unbleached-hemp-stroller type of person that you are you’d buy a bunch of them. Except… they cost a fortune. So at great expense, with mother earth smiling upon you, you’d do half your kitchen in them. That would be 4 watts. That means you have 4 watts left for non-high-efficiency lighting. Let’s say you wanted to add three halogen spotlights for your kitchen island. That’s 135W. Okay, so here’s the messed up part. Right now you’re not complying. Your 135W are way over the limit. Your whole kitchen only uses 139W, but you don’t comply. In order to keep those spots and still comply, you’ll need to add 131W of highly efficient fluorescent lights. Now you’ve got 270W of lighting in your kitchen and you meet the requirements. Bottom line: 270W is okay and 139W is not okay. Only the government could produce that sort of logic. I went to the city of Capitola to plead my case – basically that our kitchen uses 200W right now, and that in order to comply, I’ll need to add another 150W. The inspector gave me this weird look and said, you must comply to the law. Aaarrggh. I kept reiterating the point that I was complying to the SPIRIT of the law and he kept pointing to this stupid worksheet that told me I needed to add more wattage to our kitchen in order to meet the efficiency requirements. Okay. I need to calm down. Here… look at these pictures:

Over the Side(ing)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

First of all, I want to thank everyone for their congratulatory comments on the as-yet-to-be-named babe. If it’s a girl, we’re thinking “Duchess” or “Ethiopia” and if it’s a boy we’ll probably go with “Galactico,” though “PowerEd Pro” is still in the running. The pressure is now on to finish this house by December. At our current pace, that is highly unlikely. Feel free to send meth via snailmail.

We are FINALLY done siding the house. Man oh man I’m stoked that that phase is complete. See the photos for some action shots. We used redwood all around, but the front is painted and the back is just oiled. The whole process took ages and for a while there it felt like painting, staining, cutting, fitting, nailing, etc, would never ever end. It was a bit like being at sea. At first it was an exciting yet challenging endeavor. Then it became rather ordinary, like a mindless ritual. Then it slid into monotony. Finally hopelessness set in – as though we were sailing in circles and would never see land again. Are you starting to get a sense of my relief?

Another big deal is that our new sidewalk got poured and massaged in place. The crew who did the work were true artisans of concrete. They did it all in one day and they worked like a precision drill team. Without really even speaking to one another they economically moved from task to coordinated task. Il Maestro was Rudi – he was the chief of the crew and the man responsible for making the curb cuts. See concrete wants to lay flat, not descend gently like a driveway does. They poured the concrete and immediately set to work on it. It was basically a five-man sidewalk massage. They just kept troweling and floating the mass until it stopped resisting and relaxed into their desired shape. Construction is not a nuanced practice. But these guys were an exception. So if you ever need a sidewalk or a driveway, let me know and I’ll send you their digits.

A side effect of the sidewalk installation was the removal of our gawd-awfully ugly fence. You’ll notice that besides the electric blue port-o-potty you now have an unobstructed view of the moneypit from the street.