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How Deep to Install Landscape Lighting Power, Is It Safe to Leave Electric Baseboard Heaters Unattended, How to Hook Up a Dishwasher Without a Ground Wire

May 30, 2010

DIY Electrical Wiring Help Chris Price asks:
I need to run 75 ft of 110 from my outside box on my house to a 18′ pole in my garden. I am connecting on a low voltage 12 volt 100 amp land scape lighting system. How deep must I bury the 110v cable and do I need to put a sheath around it? I have seen and worked with flexible PVC style will this work?

I also have two 20amp GFCIs for both ends and the special rain covers for the plugins. Please Help.
Chris Price
Have had some ex.p in wiring my crawl space and garage , but never outdoors under ground.

Residential Branch Circuits Rated 120 Volts or Less with GFCI Protection and Maximum Overcurrent Protection of 20 Amperes need to be 12 inches (300mm) deep. If the soil conditions are sandy, then direct burial cable is fine. However, if the soil conditions are rock or there are lots of roots, then I recommend PVC. The flexible PVC style will NOT work.


D Stitt asks:
I am considering buying an older home–built in the 1940’s. It is currently being heating with electric baseboard heaters that were put in 9 years ago.

The house is about 800 square feet–more like a cottage–on a lake–second tier.

The basement is finished with 1? heater there. The upstairs is where the bathroom, small living room and bedroom are located.

The house has been updated and very neat.

My main question is, is it safe to leave baseboard heat on in my absence, sometimes for several days at a time?

Thank you for answering right away as I am seriously considering the purchase.

Yes, it is fine to leave the baseboard heaters on. You just need to ensure that there is nothing near the heater that could start a fire; including curtains, drapes and power cords.


Daniel Rezac asks:
Question: I am installing a dishwasher, but my wall outlet has a red, black, and white wire. Where does my green ground wire on the dishwasher come in? My wiring in my house is older, so I don’t know where the ground goes FROM the dishwasher.

It sounds like you do not have a ground wire there. If the 3 conductor cable goes directly back to your breaker box, then you can change the red wire to a ground. Simply get some green phase tape and wrap each end of the red wire with green tape to re-identify the wire as a ground. Then terminate the newly re-identified ground wire to the ground bar in the breaker box.

If the red wire is being used as a hot wire to feed a garbage disposal or something else and you need a 3-prong receptacle, then you are permitted to either install a ground wire or install a GFCI receptacle. If you install a ground wire, then I recommend running it back to your breaker box.

If you do not have a ground, then installing a GFCI receptacle would be your quickest and cheapest solution. Instead of hard-wiring the dishwasher, place a 6 foot long appliance cord on the dishwasher and plug it into the GFCI receptacle.


Saturday Morning Round UP for week ending 5-29

May 29, 2010

Saturday Morning Round UP for week ending 5-29 I’ve been trying to come up with a posting schedule for this site, but I have a few empty days to fill in my schedule. Saturday was one of those empty days which needed to be filled. I like to read several blogs relating to the DIY home improvement and home & garden categories on Saturday mornings. So, I thought why not create a post to highlight interesting articles from these sites. So from now on, Saturday’s post will highlight interesting articles relating to the DIY home improvement and home & garden categories.

The team over at One Project Closer created a community of interesting sites relating to the home improvement industry. If you visit http://www.oneprojectcloser.com/community/, you will find 20 of the most recent articles from over a dozen home improvement related bloggers which belong to this community. Lots of great content.

I found an interesting article and video over at Unplggd this morning about a wireless robotics system. I’ve always had an interest in robotics and I could see myself setting something like this up in my house just to mess with people.

Charles and Hudson turned 5 this past Sunday. Happy Birthday! Timothy Dahl has built a great site here. In addition to the Charles and Hudson site he launched five other sites this year. One about kitchens, green building, tools, home security and paint.

I found 5 Home Repairs that Can’t Delay over on Calfinder’s remodeling blog yesterday. In addition to Calfinder’s remodeling blog, they offer a service connecting homeowners to pre-screened, quality remodeling contractors. This is another great site filled with tons of information about remodeling your home.

The Handyguys Podcast is always great to listen to. This week Brian and Paul answer questions from a listener which asks a plethora of questions over the past month. Go listen to Episode #113 – Listener Questions – The Steven Show now. Lots of great answers to many of Steven’s questions.

A Concord Carpenter Comments has another great article about Massachusetts’ new law regarding smoke detectors. Essentially, all homes in Massachusetts must have smoke detectors. Anyone selling a single or multi-family home that was recently built or substantially altered and sold after April 5, 2010 is mandated to comply before closing on any home, the seller must follow the smoke detector law and arrange for and pass a fire department inspection. I think smoke detectors should be a requirement in all homes worldwide. In my opinion, properly installed and maintained smoke detectors are a cheap insurance policy in any home.

I would also like to announce a new site which I recently launched. A Guide to Gardening is the newest addition to my network of home improvement sites. We are going to have a large garden this year, so I thought I would blog about it and pass along other gardening tips and advice which I learn.

How to Identify the Hot Wire in Lamp Cord, Adding a Switch and Light to a Receptacle Circuit and Adding a Receptacle to a Switch Box

May 26, 2010

DIY Electrical Wiring Help John Stevens asks:
I am rehanging a chandelier and it has a brown lamp cord wire coming out to connect to the power box. one wire has writing on it the other does not. Which is the hot side?

The hot side is the unmarked wire. The National Electrical Code requires the neutral wire be identified. Typically, you will find writing or ribs on the neutral wire.


Michele Brown asks:
I am installing all new electrical wire in an old home (1944). My ? is, In my living room I have installed new outlets using 12/2 on a 20 amp breaker. Can I tie into the last receptacle and wire in a switch and 2 lights? There are only 3 receptacles on this breaker. How do I tie into the receptacle to switch to light?

Yes you can tie into the last receptacle and wire in a switch and 2 lights.

Start by installing a 12/2 from the receptacle to the switch box. Now install a 12/2 from the switch box to the light box. When terminating, I prefer to work back towards the power source. This way no one can turn on the circuit you are working on and hurt you. So let’s start terminating in the light box. Connect the ground wire on the light fixture to the ground wire in the 12/2. Next connect the white wire from the light to the white wire in the 12/2 together. Now connect the black wire from the light to the black wire in the 12/2 together. Now install the light fixture, lamp (bulb) and lens (if there is one).

Now go to the switch box and connect all of the ground wires together and leave an approximate 6 inch tail to connect to the ground screw on the light switch. Connect both of the white wires together with a wire nut and tuck them into the box. Connect one of the black wires to one of the brass colored screws on the light switch; it doesn’t matter which one. Connect the other black wire to the other brass colored screw on the light switch. Install the switch and cover plate.

Now go turn off the power to the receptacle circuit and verify that it is off with a voltage tester. Her you just need to connect the ground to ground, neutral to neutral and hot to hot. The ground wires need to be tied together and leave an approximate 6 inch long tail. You may connect the neutral and hot wires to the respective terminals on the receptacle. However, you are not permitted to install 2 wires under the same screw. If you have more than 2 cables in the box, then you need to pigtail the wires. Simply connect all of the neutral wires together and leave and approximate 6 inch long tail to connect to the receptacle. Do the same thing with the hot wires. Install the receptacle and cover plate. Turn on the power and test.

You can also run the power to the light box first and then down to the switch box. If you need instructions for this option, just let me know.


Dr. Eileen Steele asks:
How do I change from just a light switch in a single box to a double box that includes the light switch and a plug in receptacle?

The first thing that you need to do is check the switch box to see if there is a neutral wire in there. If there is then you can add the receptacle. If you only need one place to plug into, then you do not need to increase the box size. You can buy a single device which contains a single pole or 3-way switch and receptacle.

If you need 2 places to plug into, then you need to start by turning off the power and verifying that it is off with a voltage tester. Now remove the single gang box and cut-in a 2 gang box. I’m going to assume that the switch box just had power in and power out to the light.

So, first connect all of the ground wires together and leave 2 tails approximately 6 inches long to connect to the ground screws of each device. Now connect all of the white wires together with an approximately 6 inch long tail to connect to the silver colored screw on the receptacle. Now connect 2 tails approximately 6 inches long to the power supply wire. One tail will connect to the brass colored screw on the receptacle and the other to one of the brass colored screws on the switch. Now connect the final black wire to the other brass colored screw on the switch. Install the receptacle, switch and cover plate. Turn on the power and test.


What are the Requirements for Installing Smoke Alarms, Heat Detectors and Carbon Monoxide Detectors in Your Area?

May 22, 2010

Smoke alarm I usually get up way before everyone else in my home on the weekends. I really enjoy the quiet time in the mornings and I like to read lots of other home improvement type of blogs during this time. One site which I found a month or so ago is A Concord Carpenter Comments. Today, Robert wrote a great article entitled Where To Place A Smoke Alarm. I started to write a comment on his post and it turned out so long that I decided to write an article on my site which will hopefully compliment Robert’s. Go read Robert’s article first, then come back to read mine.

Robert had a lot of good information in his article. But after reading his article, I realized that the requirements here in Montana are a little different than the requirements in Massachusetts. Here, we are required to install a smoke alarm in every bedroom, one in the hallway of every bedroom and one on every level in the home. In Montana, we are also required to install a smoke alarm in the crawl space if there is equipment (furnace, water heater, etc.) down there.

Where can I find the fire alarm codes?

You will not find any of the above information in the National Electrical Code (NFPA 70). It is in NFPA 72 which is the National Fire Alarm Code. However, I’ve never purchased this book. I’ve always either asked the electrical inspector or the fire marshal. The fire marshal is a great resource for all fire alarm codes and they will usually answer a question over the phone for you.

In Montana, the smoke alarms are required to be wired so that they are interconnected for new construction projects. This would make all of the smoke alarms work when smoke is detected anywhere within the house. Within certain city limits, you are required to install hard wired smoke alarms everywhere in your home before the completion of any remodel or addition; if your house doesn’t already have smoke alarms. They don’t have to be interconnected, but I highly recommend doing so always. The smoke alarms are required to have a battery backup as well.

My recommendations

A few things that are not required here yet are heat detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. A smoke alarm would not work very well in the kitchen. Every time you open the oven door or burn toast, it will go off. A heat detector works best in the kitchen and I highly recommend placing a heat detector in your kitchen. I also believe that carbon monoxide detectors should be placed by all gas appliances and in attached garages. I recommend placing a combination smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector in your attached garage.

There is some confusion out there about carbon monoxide detectors. Some say that the detectors should be placed on the ceiling and others say down by the floor. From the little research that I’ve done on these, I think that they should be placed nearer to the floor because carbon monoxide is lighter than air. However, when you purchase a combination smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector, the manufacturer recommends the placement be on the ceiling or up high on the wall. I’m sure that is is because of the smoke alarm. My recommendation here is to definitely follow the manufacturers directions.

Here are a few tips for maintaining your smoke alarm.

  • Test your smoke alarm monthly, Don’t just use the test button, you can get smoke in a can (canned smoke for smoke detector testing). The smoke in a can provide a more accurate test and one I highly recommend over the test button. I’ve pushed the test button on other smoke alarms and the alarm sounded. However, when I sprayed the smoke in a can, the alarm DID NOT sound.
  • Change the battery every time you change your clocks.
  • DO NOT paint your smoke alarm!
  • The average smoke alarm will last for approximately 10 years. If your smoke alarm is ten years or older, then replace it.
  • In new construction, keep the included dust bags on the smoke alarms until the project is complete and cleaned.

What are the requirements for smoke alarms, heat detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in your area?


Wire Size for a Sub-Panel in an Attached Garage and Troubleshooting Loose Neutrals

May 16, 2010

DIY Electrical Wiring Help Lee asks:
I want to run a sub panel to my attached garage fifty feet from the main panel which is 150 amp service what is the maximum size sub box i can run and what size wire to connect?

It really depends on how much power that you need in the garage and if you will be using large loads in the house at the same time that you are working in the garage. You can easily install a 100 amp sub-panel in your garage. However, you can use the range and dryer at the same time while you are welding in your garage.

As for the wire size, you need either #3 AWG copper wire or 1/0 AWG aluminum wire. With a sub-panel, you need to install 2 hot wires, 1 neutral wire and 1 ground wire. You also need to ensure that your neutral and ground wires are separated in the sub-panel.


Gabriel Fequiere asks:
I was adding some wiring in order to add some recess lights in a dining room when suddenly I noticed the tool that was plugged in an adjacent room was turned off. Thinking the problem was related to my new wiring, I removed everything and began testing the 3 receptacles in question. I thought that the receptacle were cold (no juice) through testing the conventional way however, testing EACH insert against the box turns out to be hot and at no time that the circuit breaker was tripped. How can i solve the problem?

It sounds like you are missing a neutral. You need you open the receptacles and test for voltage between the hot and neutral terminals. You should have 120 volts here. If you do not, then you are missing a neutral. You need to go back to each electrical box that you worked in and look for a loose or disconnected neutral wire. Make sure that you turn off the power first. A neutral under load will grab you faster than a hot wire.


Ken Snyder asks:
Hi everyone. My problem is I have 6 pendant ceiling fixtures all on the same 3 way switch. Problem is that when I turn on the lights sometimes light 3 doesn’t turn on. I then replace the bulb and light 3 turns on but light 4 doesn’t. I repeat and light 4 now goes on but not light 3 doesn’t. I’ve checked the wiring and it appears right and the work was performed by a licensed electrician several years ago. I don’t remember when this first started but I have ignored it for some time. I am completely baffled and the licensed electrician who installed it has retired and moved away. Any suggestions?

Check for a loose connection. You will find these at the wire nuts, the screw on the lamp holder and if not originally stripped properly, at the back of the electrical box. If you are burning out light bulbs, then you may have a neutral issue as well.


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