Monday, November 8, 2010

Big Electrical Upgrade Today!

Bigger than expected, it turns out.  But it's always that way, because the old stuff was always worse than you thought...  Often way worse.  Today, I discover, that my house is not actually grounded.  There was no actual connection to an 8 foot copper ground rod as the electrical code requires.  I was only "grounded" through the wiring from the power company.  That kind of indirect grounding is potentially hazardous, illegal, marginally effective, and electrically noisy.

There was a ground wire, coming out of the power box, but it wasn't actually connected to anything, it was just touching the ground.  Funny, I remember it has been that way since I've owned the house.  I didn't realize that the 10ga ground wire was THE ground wire.  I thought it was just an unnecessary ground for an old and long-since-canceled cable TV line.

The little outside corner where the electrical service connects has been re-fenced 3 times, re-landscaped about countless times, dug up endlessly by my late mother's dogs, etc.  And that's just since we've owned the property.  The old ground rod is probably there, somewhere, but nearly impossible to find without messing up the underground wiring for the cable companies, the phone company, and the electric utility.

I hate underground utilities!  My back yard is marked by a big power company transformer, and cable and phone company wiring is anywhere within a 10 foot easement along the back of my property.  Then there's another 5 foot easement along the back fence leading up to the small corner where the electrical and telecommunications services connect to my house.

As a result of this, whenever a new cable or phone company comes along, or whenever the power company decided they need to upgrade their lines or transformers (which happened a few years ago), or whenever some additional power or telecomm repair is needed, they need to tear up my back yard.  And they usually don't put it back together very well, often leaving big clumps of dirt and open seams that attract weeds and volunteer trees.  I've gotten better at complaining and demanding that they replace destroyed lawn with sod, but then I've got the problem of getting the sod to actually take root, which is nearly impossible in a hot Texas summer.

But despite that, I've had my cable service (now used exclusively for internet) go out many many times.  With the previous cable company this happened annually.  Now I understand why.  It's because the cable company line that actually runs to my house is only allowed to be 3 inches (!) deep so it doesn't interfere with the power company lines which are more than a foot deep.  And often after a heavy rainstorm or hot summer you can see the lines right on the surface, indicating that they didn't even really get it 3 inches deep.  Pull a few weeds and you can break your cable.  (That happened to me last year.)

Anyway, today I'm getting a new 8 foot copper ground rod connected with 4 gauge wire (much bigger than the old 8 gauge wire).  That was not planned, but clearly needed.

What I mainly wanted to do was install a new whole-house surge protector.  Unfortunately the Leviton unit I bought is for indoor use only, so electrician suggested a couple different kinds.  I asked for the best one, and asked that it be installed the best possible way.  (Never the cheapest, here, always the best!)

So he chose a unit, installed inside the existing service box.  That requires moving several breakers to a new sub-box.  The alternate and cheaper method would be to keep the old breakers and add the surge in a new sub-box, but then the surge wouldn't work quite as well.

I'm replacing the existing 20A breaker on my dedicated audio line with a GFCI unit to protect against getting electrically shocked.  My living room system is so complicated, far flung, and sometimes used to experimentally test equipment and modifications.  I'm careful, and haven't gotten shocked in 40 years, but you never know when something might go wrong, so a GFCI is a very good idea.  I wanted to add GFCI breakers to many other circuits (the new standard is to have GFCI on *all* household circuits along with AFI also) but that would require replacing all my electrical service panels because I now use mostly half width breakers and GFCI's are standard width.  Basically, there isn't any more room.

And fixing an outdoor light.

And, replacing the outlet on my dedicated audio line with an even better outlet.  More about that in my next message.

Meanwhile, I suspect that having a new solid ground will make all my electrical lines quieter.  As well as safer.  Surge protectors require a really good ground.

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