Wenatchee Sunset Flyby

More video from my GoPro nosecam.

I took the helicopter up to Tsillan Cellars on Lake Chelan with some friends for dinner yesterday afternoon. After an excellent steak (but sadly, no wine for me), I flew us back along the Columbia River. There was a nice sunset with lots of pink in the sky and the river was dead calm, reflecting the sky back at us as we flew along at about 500 feet above it.

Wenatchee at Sunset
The lights of Wenatchee at sunset. Screen grab from a GoPro video.

The lights were on in Wenatchee by the time we reached it. Rather than take a direct route from the Rocky Reach Dam to the airport, I did a downtown flyby. My GoPro Hero 3, mounted on the helicopter’s nose, captured the whole thing.

Got three minutes? Take a sunset flight tour of Wenatchee, WA:

Construction: Wiring the Shed

The biggest challenge was getting the damn wire out there.

On May 20, 2014, I began blogging about the construction of my new home in Malaga, WA. You can read all of these posts — and see the time-lapse movies that go with them — by clicking the new home construction tag.

If you’ve been following these posts, you know that in late August, I finally got permanent power run to my building under construction and that I had taken on the task of doing all the electrical wiring in that building. You might also realize that when the Chelan PUD workers left, the only access to electricity that I had was from a single outlet inside the building.

I’d lost my 30 amp RV connection the previous day when I took down the temporary power pole I’d been plugged into. I was living in the RV but had no easy access to AC power. Instead, I was relying on the RV’s two batteries and the solar panel on the roof to keep them charged. While this is a very workable short-term solution, it did mean that I’d have to rely on propane for my refrigerator and hot water and that I wouldn’t have access to some conveniences, such as my microwave and coffee maker. Yes, I do have a 2 KW Honda generator that I could have pulled out and fired up, but who really wants to listen to that noise?

The Task at Hand

My task was clear: get the 30 amp RV outlet set up at the shed, which was on the opposite side of the driveway from my building, about 25 feet from my RV.

I’d run the 2 inch schedule 40 conduit under the driveway to the shed earlier in the week and it had been approved by Labor and Industries (L&I). All I needed to do was run a set of 10 gauge wires through the conduit and set up the appropriate sealed boxes on the other end for the outlet. While I was at it, I’d run a set of 12 gauge wires through the same conduit for a 20 amp circuit so I could put a 115v outlet on the outside of the building as well as an outlet and light inside the shed.

Running the Wire

Although the shed was only about 80 feet from my building, the conduit did not run in a straight line. Jeff, my earth-moving guy, had run it with the 3 inch conduit toward the transformer box, then turned left and ran it with the water line to the shed. Near the shed, it turned right to get to the north side of the shed where I wanted the utilities. (The frost free valve for the water was already installed there and running well, supplying my RV, chickens, and garden with water.) I’d walked the trench with my long measuring tape: 96 feet.

It was the bends in the conduit that could pose a problem: 90° at the building, 90° where it met the water line, 45° in front of the shed, and 90° where it came up out of the ground at the side of the shed.

The first job was getting a wire pull line — sometimes referred to as a fishing line — through the conduit. This was remarkably easy. I tied a bunched up plastic shopping bag to the end of some garden twine I had and tied the other end to the water valve near the conduit opening at the shed. I stuffed the bag into the conduit, then went into my building, plugged in my Shop Vac, and put the Shop Vac’s business end to to other end of the conduit. I fired it up and it sucked.

The shopping bag didn’t quite make it. The garden twine wasn’t long enough. No problem. I attached one end of the pull line the PUD guys had given me the day before to the end of the twine, went back to the Shop Vac, and sucked some more. Whoosh! The shopping bag stuck to the Shop Vac hose. I turned it back off and pulled the twine to bring the pull line all the way through.

Pulling Wires
Necessity is the mother of invention and I can get pretty inventive.

For each circuit, I needed 3 wires: black, white, and green. That meant six wires. I’d bought them on 100-foot spools a few days before. I carefully grouped the ends together, wrapped the strap around them, and used duct tape to make a smooth, somewhat pointed end on the pull line. I pushed it into the conduit. Then I rigged up my old copper grounding rod (from the temporary power pole) on two saw horses near the opening of the conduit, went back to the shed, and started to pull.

It was easy at first. Hand over hand, I pulled the wire, watching the spools turn by my building. Then I hit a snag. I pulled hard but didn’t get anywhere. I went back to the building, pulled back, then went back to the shed and pulled again. The wire started to move again.

This went on for a while. The wire got harder and harder to pull. So I did what any machine-loving woman would do: I hooked up the pull line to my ATV and used that to pull. That got me another 20 or so feet, but it was pulling sideways and damaging the top of the conduit. I needed a better solution.

Dowel Rig
My friends tease me about having so much “stuff,” but every once in a while, some of that stuff comes in handy.

I went into my shop and fetched one of the dowels that had been a curtain rod at my Arizona home. (There’s a funny story about these “curtain rods” and why I took them, but I’ll save that for another post.) I cut it to about 2 feet in length and then rigged it up to the side of the shed with some scrap wood and nails. Then I moved the ATV into position. Now I could use the ATV to pull straight up.

Pulling wires with ATV
It seemed like a good idea at the time.

That got me another 5 or so feet. That’s all. The wires were stuck hard. Repeated attempts simply pulled the dowel off the shed. (So much for that idea, huh?)

I could tell by the amount of wire left on the spools that I was almost all the way to the shed. The thought of pulling it all back and starting over was too much to bear. My arms already ached from the effort I’d expended. I called it quits to think about it some more.

I called my friend Bob. He told me to pull the wires out and check the connection between the wires and the pull line. He said the connection was probably getting hung up on one of the bends in the conduit. He said I should then bunch the wires together every 3 feet or so and wrap them with electrical tape. Then feed them through again.

I really didn’t want to do it. I knew that once I got the wire out, it would be a two-person job to feed it back in.

So I invited him for dinner. (Did I mention that there are no free meals here?) I grilled sausages and made a nice salad with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes from my garden. We ate outside as the sun was setting. It was very pleasant and relaxing.

After dinner, we pulled the wires out and bunched them with tape as he’d suggested. He reconnected the wire to the pull line using a different technique and we worked together to pull the line through.

And that’s when I got the really bad news: the wire wasn’t long enough.

You see, although I’d measured the trench distance, I failed to account for the sweep down from the building and the sweep up to the shed. The trench was 96 feet long and 3 feet deep. That added at least 8 feet to the length of the conduit, which stuck out at least a foot on either end. The wire was about 4 feet short of what I needed.

And no, splicing additional wires on was not an option.

So now I had about $150 worth of wire I couldn’t use.

Loose Wire
The wire guy at Home Depot gave me two bunches of wire: one set of 10 gauge and one set of 12 gauge.

The next day, I went back to Home Depot and bought 120 feet of each type of wire. I had to buy it off the bulk reels because the next size reels were 250 feet and I already had 100 feet of wire I didn’t need. When I talked to the wire measuring guy about my situation, he told me I could return the unused wire. All I had to do was get it back on the reels. (Talk about a job for a rainy day.) They’d just resell it from the bulk wire area.

Of course, now I had six loose strands of wire — not on reels — to feed into the conduit. Another two-person job. I prepped as well as I could and called my neighbor, Kathy, to come give me a hand. She promised to come later in the day, after work.

Wind Chimes
I hung my big wind chimes from the bottom of my front deck, just outside my front door. This spot is relatively sheltered from the wind so they don’t get tossed around much. I love the sound of these chimes and am so glad I didn’t leave them behind.

I busied myself with other odd jobs while I waited. I’d begun unpacking boxes with flower pots and other outdoor items in them. I was using the shed for anything garden or bee related. One of the boxes included my wind chimes. I hung the big, deep-toned ones by the building and the smaller ones by the shed. Later, when I heard them chiming, it brought back bittersweet memories of my home in Arizona, where they’d hung together at the front door for so many years.

This was the Friday before labor day. I was also expecting the Chelan PUD fiber optic guys to come by to re-run my fiber optic cable through the new conduit I’d laid to my building. (I’d cut the old fiber optic line when I took down the temporary power pole on Tuesday and didn’t have Internet either.) That afternoon, a PUD truck rolled up and a guy stepped out with some disappointing news: they wouldn’t be able to run the cable until Monday. No, Tuesday because Monday was a holiday.

Another three days without Internet. Ugh.

The PUD guy and I chatted for a while. Like everyone who comes by my place to do work, he commented on the view and what a “nice setup” I have. (Everyone uses that phrase: nice setup.) I told him I was doing all the electrical work myself and mentioned my current challenge: getting the wire run to the shed. I told him I was waiting for a friend to come help me.

That’s when he offered to help me.

I’m not an idiot. I said yes.

Wires Pulled
I sent this photo to my friend Bob to show him the hard part of the job was done.

He pulled at the shed, I fed the wire at the building. It took five minutes. I thanked him, still rather shocked at how easily it had been done. Then we wished each other a good weekend and he left.

I called Kathy and told her not to bother coming. Then I took a picture of the wire coming out of the conduit and the shed and texted it to Bob.

Wiring the RV Outlet

Before I could wire the RV outlet, I needed to finish work on the conduit at the shed. This meant adding a junction box and fittings and mounting the RV outlet panel.

It should come as no surprise that I needed another trip to Home Depot to get the fittings. The most challenging part was getting the fittings to downsize the 2 inch conduit to 1 inch conduit. That required a trip to Lowes because Home Depot didn’t have all the adapters I needed.

Conduit Done
In this shot, the conduit to the RV outlet is complete; the wire hanging outside the junction box is for the other circuit.

Because all this has to pass L&I inspection one day, it was important to do it right the first time. I used some scrap wood behind the conduit so I could clamp it to a solid surface. Then I cut the conduit to remove the damaged edges, assembled the fittings, and glued them all together. I used the junction box to separate the 10 gauge wires for the RV outlet from the 12 gauge wires for the other circuit I’d set up in the building.

Once the box was mounted, I wired the RV outlet. This wasn’t difficult at all; I’d already done one of these on my temporary power pole.

Then I went back to the building side of the setup. I had to drill a hole in my building (!) and fix up the conduit there. Again, I needed a good, weathertight seal that would pass L&I inspection. I also needed another trip to Lowes. (Of course.)

Once the wire was in the building, I ran it up to the service panel above it. I flipped off the main breaker and used my multi-meter to confirm that there was no power going to the board. Then I wired the white and green wires to the grounding bus and the black wire to the 30 amp circuit I’d bought. I snapped the circuit breaker into the board.

Or at least I tried to. The damn thing wouldn’t go in.

It took a while to figure out that the breaker I’d bought wasn’t compatible with the service panel. The breakers that came with the panel had an extra cutout that was necessary for a piece of metal to fit in. My repeated attempts to push the thing in was only scratching the plastic where that cutout should be.

I did not want to go back to Home Depot that day. I’d already been there twice and it’s at least an hour round trip drive.

Fortunately, I still had a 30 amp breaker in the temporary power pole now lying on the ground beside my driveway. I went out and pulled it off. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to see that it was compatible with my panel.

I attached the black wire to the circuit and snapped it in. Then I popped out the metal tabs on the board cover and put it on the panel. Finally, I turned on the main breaker and the 30 amp breaker I’d just installed. No breakers popped. So far, so good.

Plugged In
Plugged into my brand spanking new 30 amp RV outlet.

I went outside and swapped out the 100-foot 30 amp RV cord I’d been using for the temporary power pole with the 25-foot 30 amp cord stored in the RV basement. Then I plugged it in.

I went into the RV and looked at the microwave. The clock was lit up: 0:00. I had power. Success!

I can’t tell you how good it was to use my coffee maker the next morning.

Wiring the Rest of the Shed

After all this — hell, I’m tired from just writing about it — wiring the rest of the shed was pretty straightforward. I started it the next day after another trip to Home Depot.

First, I had to put a rectangular hole in the wall of the shed for the outside outlet. I marked where the outlet would go on the inside of the building and drilled holes in two opposite corners. Then I used my reciprocating saw with the wood blade on it to connect the holes along the lines I’d drawn. The resulting hole wasn’t neat, but it was the right size. I mounted the blue outlet box inside the shed facing out.

Then I mounted blue boxes for the inside outlet, light switch, and overhead light. I ran 12/2 wire from the outdoor outlet box to the indoor outlet box to the light switch box to the light box and tacked everything down with wiring staples.

Outdoor Outlets
Here’s what the outdoor wiring looks like on the side of my shed after wiring the 115v outlet.

Next, I had to put a round hole in the building for the wires to come inside. I fed the wires through various conduit and connectors and into the building. I glued and caulked where necessary to seal everything off neatly. From there, I ran the wires into the outdoor box.

Inside Wiring
The inside wiring, completed.

Then came the fun part: wiring the outlets and lights. The outdoor outlet had to be GFCI protected and I did that one first. Then the indoor outlet. Then the light switch.

Shed Light Fixture
This light fixture was originally mounted on the wall inside my building; it’s much better in the shed.

Finally, the light itself. I’d taken the fixture from the inside of my building after replacing it with a different style that I’d bought during one of my many trips to Home Depot. (Yes, I’m already replacing fixtures.)

When I was done with all the wiring and had checked it over to make sure it was right, I went back into my building to set up the 20 amp circuit. At the same time, I wanted to replace the 30 amp 2-pole circuit breaker I’d installed the day before with a single pole circuit breaker I’d bought to replace the incompatible one.

Completed Panel
When I was finished, I had three completed circuits: the small one for the panel area and two for the shed.

So, once again, I turned off the main breaker, tested the board to make sure power wasn’t flowing through it, and did some wiring work. The breakers snapped into place easily. I covered up the panel, turned everything back on, and went out to shed to test my work.

The GFCI had to be reset and tested; I followed the instructions to do that. I used a fan to test the outlets and flicked the light switch. Success!

Lessons Learned

I learned a lot during this project. First and foremost, the most difficult task ahead of me is probably going to be to run the wires. While it isn’t always physically demanding, it often requires two people. I suspect I’ll be making a lot of lunches and dinners for friends in the coming weeks.

I also learned that no matter how many times you go to Home Depot or Lowes to get the things you think you need for a project, you simply won’t get it all. There’s always another trip ahead of you. The solution is to always buy more than you need, including some things you might not need at all. Home Depot has a excellent return policy; each trip I make there starts with a stop at the return counter to bring back things I didn’t need. It all goes right back on my Home Depot credit card. I don’t even need to bring a receipt; they scan my card at the beginning of the transaction and can see exactly when I bought an item. No rush, either. I’ve returned things months after buying them.

I have a lot of electrical projects ahead of me. My goal is to complete one circuit each week, starting in my shop and garage before moving upstairs. I hope to have 90% of the wiring done before Thanksgiving. I’ll blog about the more interesting projects, like the arc lamp project I finished this past week.

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Want to volunteer to help me pull wire? Use the comments form for this post. I’d love to heard your construction and wiring stories, too!

Construction: Setting Up the Power

I bring electrical power into my building.

On May 20, 2014, I began blogging about the construction of my new home in Malaga, WA. You can read all of these posts — and see the time-lapse movies that go with them — by clicking the new home construction tag.

I don’t know if it’s a state or county law, but for new construction, a home owner has two options for setting up electrical power in their home: hire a licensed electrician to do all the work or do all the work herself. Because of my tight budget constraints, I elected to do all the electrical wiring myself.

Don’t get the idea that I’ve done electrical wiring work before. I haven’t. Any time something needed to be wired, I let my wasband do it. After all, he knew how and I didn’t. It wasn’t until he was out of the picture that I did my first wiring job: replacing a thermostat in my Arizona home. That was nothing compared to what I had ahead of me to wire a 2880 square foot garage and 1152 square foot living space. And a 6×8 foot shed 80+ feet away from the power source.

My Job

Meter Requirements
The Chelan PUD provides this illustration to show requirements for the conduit connection to the meter base.

The first challenge was installing the meter base and service panel. The meter base is the component that the power company — in this case, the Chelan County PUD — attaches the electric meter to. The wires come out of the ground, through a conduit I’d have to provide into a metal box on the outside of my building. The conduit had all kinds of size and component requirements and would have to be sealed to the meter base. On the other side of the wall I’d have to install a service panel with the circuit breakers that would connect to all of my electrical circuits. I had to not only mount both devices, but connect them with extremely heavy duty wires. In addition to all that, I also needed to run a copper wire from the service panel back outside the building and connect it to 2 8-foot copper rods driven all the way into the ground at least 6 feet apart.

(These requirements weren’t exactly new to me. After all, I’d installed my temporary power pole back in September 2013. But that was already partially cobbled together when I got it and I had an advisor to help me make the connections. The only part I knew how to do well was to drive in those grounding rods.)

In addition to all this, I’d also have to have at least one circuit installed in the panel. That circuit would have to run to an outlet and light, presumably with a light switch.

My work would be inspected by a government entity called Labor and Industries, which also sold me a permit before I started work. L&I, as it’s locally called, is responsible for all wiring inside a building; the PUD is responsible for wiring outside. L&I had to approve the installation of the meter base and service panel before PUD could connect power.

The Timing Issue

Coordinating visits by the PUD and L&I workers and inspectors was crucial and tricky. I had to know when each bit of work would be done so I could request services and inspections I needed.

Once the PUD turned off power to my temporary pole so we could finish the earth work in that area, I would not have power restored until I passed L&I’s inspection. I couldn’t pass that inspection until I installed the conduit, which had to be done as part of the earth work. PUD couldn’t reconnect my power until I passed the L&I inspection. Not only did all the work need to be done timely in a certain order, but the PUD and L&I work had to be scheduled properly.

That’s how I spent Thursday while I was on vacation out at Lopez Island. I excused myself from my host, sat down with a calendar and note paper, and made a bunch of phone calls. The result:

  • Monday morning: Jeff the earth-moving guy and I would dig and install as much conduit as we could.
  • Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning: L&I would inspect the meter base and service panel. I should have enough of the conduit installed to satisfy them.
  • Tuesday morning: PUD would turn off temporary power.
  • Tuesday afternoon: Jeff and I would dig and install the remaining conduit to the transformer box.
  • Wednesday morning: PUD would connect permanent power to my building.

That was the plan, anyway.

The Meter Base and Service Panel

I bought everything I needed to mount the meter base and service panel. At least I thought I did. The funny thing about working on building projects is that no matter how many things you buy at Home Depot or Lowes, you always forget something. Or get a wrong thing. My primary destination these days is Home Depot, which is a 40-minute drive from my home. I’m there at least five times a week. (Maybe I should get a job there.)

On Sunday, my first full day home after vacation, I tried to start work. The trouble is, I couldn’t figure out how to mount the meter box on my building and I absolutely dreaded the thought of cutting a hole in the metal.

Bob Drills a Big Hole
Bob drilled a hole in my building while I looked on, cringing. Since then, I’ve drilled more than a few holes in my building.

My friend Bob came to the rescue. He came by with tools and experience and advice. While his dog Skip and my dog Penny played together in the yard, he helped me decide on a location for the boxes — height was the primary issue that needed determination — and has the dubious honor of being the first person to drill a hole in my building. Of course, we didn’t have everything we needed to finish up, so we made the trip down to Home Depot together in my Jeep, stopping for tacos at the Plaza on the way back. (Have I ever mentioned the abundance of excellent, authentic Mexican food in this area? Whodathunkit, huh?)

Meter Base Installed
Here’s the meter base right after mounting. I connected wires to the lower contacts, ran them through the hole, and connected them to contacts on the service panel on the other side of the wall.

By the time he left, the meter base was securely fastened outside the building with a “nipple” connecting it to the service panel securely fastened inside the building. I ran the three cables between the two panels and fastened them securely.

The First Circuit

Before leaving for vacation the week before, I had already wired my first circuit.

Light switch and outlet
The outlet and light switch for my first circuit.

Although I’d wanted to set up the entry hall light with a 3-way switch to make accessible from both upstairs and downstairs, Bob had convinced me to keep it simple. So I wired up a 2-gang box with an outlet and single pole switch that ran to a fixture mounted nearby. The fixture was designed for the ceiling, but I mounted it on the wall, which meant the shade wouldn’t stay on it. I hoped the bare bulb wouldn’t bother the inspector.

First Circuit
Here’s my circuit board with my first circuit installed. I’ve decided to use 20 amp circuits throughout the building except for circuits that require higher amperage.

With the service panel in place, all I had to do was run the wires from the outlet into the service panel and attach them to the neutral bar and circuit. This was remarkably simple. It was also the only time I’d be able to work on the panel without worries about electrocution since there was no power running to it at all.

The Conduit and Grounding Rods

Here’s the 3-in conduit where it approaches my building. My job was to connect it to the meter base mounted on the wall above it.

I began running the required 3-in schedule 40 conduit the next day when we started the earth work.

Measuring and cutting the conduit to piece together required components to connect the sweep to the meter base was a bit of a challenge. My reciprocating saw made a mess of the plastic pipe when I cut it so I had to use my hacksaw. I got the measurements wrong once — fortunately, I hadn’t applied any glue yet — and had to recut a piece. But in the end, it came together well. I glued everything together, feeling relieved that the hardest part was done.

Although everyone had warned me that driving the two grounding rods into the ground would be difficult, I knew otherwise. I’d already done it once on my property — for the temporary power pole — and with a T-post driver the work had gone remarkably well. My building site is pretty much free of large rocks, as the builders discovered when they dug the holes for my building’s posts. Besides, with a 4-foot trench in the area, I only had to drive them 4 feet into the ground. As I expected, the work went quickly. I drilled a small hole through the building’s metal near the ground, ran an 8-gauge copper wire I’d bought as a remnant from Home Depot the day before from my panel to the two poles, and considered the job done.

I was now ready for inspection.

The First Inspection

The inspector showed up very late that evening. It might have been around 7 PM. He’d spent the day up in Chelan and I think the only reason he came that evening at all was because he lived nearby and had more jobs to do farther away the next day. Knocking off my inspection would leave him free to get to those other jobs first thing in the morning.

He checked the wiring of my outlet and light switch and seemed satisfied. Then he looked at the service panel. He disconnected the grounding wire, which I’d put in the wrong place. He was about to move it to the correct place when he realized it was 8-gauge wire. It was supposed to be 6-gauge.


He said he couldn’t pass me until I replaced the grounding wire. He told me either he or another inspector would come back the next morning. I told him I’d have it taken care of.

Replacing the Grounding Wire

I absolutely dreaded the thought of driving all the way down to Home Depot that night or the next morning to buy more wire. As I was going to sleep, however, I remembered that I’d never cut the grounding wire on my temporary service pole. Instead, I’d left the extra wire coiled up beside the pole.

The next morning, I took my bolt cutters and cut the wire as close to the rod as I could. Then I went back to my building, disconnected the other wire, and ran the old wire through the hole. It was a stretch, but the wire was just long enough to go from the panel, down the wall, through the hole, and attach to the tops of both copper rods. Yes, I’d saved some money, but I’d also saved myself a trip to Home Depot.

The Second Inspection

A different inspector came to look at my work later that morning. He had a long beard like the guys in ZZ Top. He pointed out that the first outlet on a garage circuit needed to be a GFCI — a fact the previous inspector had neglected to mention. He also pointed out that I needed to clamp the conduit to the building in at least one place. But he passed me for PUD connection purposes, with the requirement that I make the two changes before final inspection.

I asked him whether I needed him to inspect the conduit that ran from the building to the shed where I planned to install power. He told me that L&I was responsible for inspecting anything on the inside of the circuit panel. Since the two circuits I planned ran from the panel back outside, he did need to inspect the conduit. Even though it wasn’t 100% complete — I still needed to bring the conduit into the building and shed on either end — he approved it. If he didn’t approve it, Jeff wouldn’t be able to bury it and that would hold up the entire project.

PUD Disconnects and then Connects

The PUD workers arrived a while later to turn off the temporary power. That enabled us to do the earth work needed to get the conduit right up to the transformer box.

From that point forward, I had no power at all. Fortunately, my RV has a solar panel on the roof that keeps its batteries — which I replaced just last year — fully charged. I could go without the microwave and coffee maker for a while. Later that day, I’d move the few items I had in the chest freezer into my RV’s freezer, which would operate on propane.

A while later that same day, a PUD engineer, who’d come primarily to consult with me about the possibility of moving the transformer, approved the conduit from the transformer to the meter base.

Jeff finished the earth work and buried the conduits, pipes, and telephone cable I’d run. (My property had a telephone line running to it and a huge roll of cable sitting beside it on the ground. Even though I don’t want a land line, the next owner might so I ran the cable in the trench. Not sure if I’ll bother to run it inside the walls, though.)

On Wednesday morning, the PUD guys came back. A crew of six ran the cable from the meter base to the transformer and installed the meter. When they were done, I had power in the building.


Working Circuit
It worked!

I was alone when I flipped the main breaker in the service panel. Then I turned on my only circuit breaker. I reached over and flicked the switch for the light. The bulb lit up.

It may seem silly, but I consider the lighting of that bulb another major breakthrough in the construction of my new home. Like the day I held the keys in my hand for the first time, it’s a milestone — something that registered inside me as a sign that I was moving forward.

But what’s more important is that having electricity inside the building meant that I could begin the task of wiring the building. That means planning and adding outlets and lights and switches throughout the garage and living space above. It’s a huge task made more difficult by having to do it alone — try running wire long distances when there’s no one to feed it while you pull. But like everything else I’ve been dealing with for the past two years and much of my adult life, it’s just another challenge.

And I’ve come to realize that I live for challenges.

Construction: The Final Ground Work

The excavator guy comes in one more time.

Interior Plumbing Trenches
The plumbers hand-dug the trenches inside for the plumbing lines.

My building has a concrete slab. The cost of construction included plumbing “stub outs” — that means a plumber came and laid in pipe for my water and sewer lines before the slab was poured. Inside the building, I have a bunch of pipes sticking out of the ground under the stairs. In front of the building, I had the other end of those pipes, all ready to be connected to city water and my septic system.

Inside Stubouts
Here’s what the interior stub outs looked like right after the concrete was poured. This space, which is now under the stairs, will eventually house a small bathroom with shop sink.

All of my utilities were already on the property and not far from the building site. The septic system line, which had been installed the previous summer, came within 10 feet of the front of the building. The water line, which had been installed by the original property owner came within 50 feet of the front of the building. The electric transformer, also installed by the original property owner, came within 60 feet of the building. A telephone line and fiber optic cable came out of the ground between the water and electric lines.

The Work

On May 20, 2014, I began blogging about the construction of my new home in Malaga, WA. You can read all of these posts — and see the time-lapse movies that go with them — by clicking the new home construction tag.

My task was to connect the utilities to the building. For that, I needed my earth-moving contractor, Jeff of Parkway Excavating, to come back and dig some trenches. I then had to lay conduit in the trenches — 3-in. schedule 40 for electric service and 1-in. schedule 40 for fiber optic lines — while Jeff laid 1-in. pipe for my water supply and sewer pipe for my septic system. At the same time, I wanted to run power, water, and the sewer line out to my shed, which was 80 feet from the building, so I could have a full RV hookup for future guests. That meant running 2-in. schedule 40 conduit, 1-1/2 in. water pipe, and more sewer line.

Conduit Requirements
The Chelan County PUD very kindly provides this diagram to show the requirements for laying all kinds of conduit for underground utilities.

Although Jeff was allowed to do all the plumbing and sewer line connections, I had to lay all the electric and fiber conduit. This was required by local building codes: either the owner hires a licensed electrician do do all the electrical work or the owner does all the work herself. Because of my limited budget, I elected to do it all myself. That meant everything, including the laying of conduit.

There was also an element related to timing for the electricity connection. But I’ll cover that in a separate post.

Digging the Trenches

Jeff in his Backhoe
Jeff got right to work. In this shot, he’s begun the trench for the electric service.

I got back from my vacation on Saturday and did as much prep work as I could on Sunday. Although I expected Jeff bright and early on Monday morning, he was delayed. There had been heavy rain over the weekend and his equipment was partially buried in mud. He didn’t roll down the street with his backhoe until 11 AM. He got right to work.

Jeff had to dig three trenches. The first, for the electric, fiber, and telephone service, ran from the space between my front door and the RV garage door to as close to the electric transformer as he could get. The second, for the water and sewer lines, ran from the space to the right of my front door away from the building and then connected to the first trench. The third ran from a place near the transformer across my driveway to my shed. He dug this third trench last, after both he and I had moved our vehicles away from the building so we could still drive away.

Frost-Free valve
A frost-free value goes deep into the ground, far below the frost line. When it’s turned off, it drains the water in the pipe out so it doesn’t freeze. Rather than buy a new one for the shed, we moved the old one.

The plumbers had left enough 1-in. pipe from the building stub out to reach the main water line, which was 1-1/2 in. pipe. Whoever installed that pipe had left a bunch of it behind — enough to reach my shed. That would save some money; I wouldn’t have to buy any water pipe. Jeff dug around the frost-free valve and eventually turned off the water so he could pull the valve out. From that point on, I had no water.

(If I’d planned better, I would have topped off the water tank in the RV. But I didn’t. I had only 1/3 tank of water left. Since I didn’t know how long I’d be disconnected from the water supply, I showered that night at my neighbor’s house. Thank you Michelle and Aaron!)

Laying the Pipe and Conduit

Jeff was all business. (It’s such a pleasure working with someone who has done the job so many times before.) He stayed focused and worked quickly, laying the pipe and making the connections.

Here’s the 3-in conduit where it approaches my building. The copper wire is for grounding; unfortunately, it needed to be redone because it was 8 gauge wire and I was supposed to have 6 gauge. (Fortunately, I was able to salvage the correct wire from my temporary power pole the next day.)

Meanwhile, I laid conduit. It’s really not difficult to do. Each length has a wide end called a bell that fits over the narrow end of the piece it’s connected to. You brush some special glue inside the bell and outside the other end and slip them together. The glue sets in less than a minute. The only challenges were the bends, called sweeps, which had to be within certain specifications. For example, for the 3-in. conduit, the 90° sweeps needed to be 36 inches. Tight bends simply wouldn’t work for pulling heavy wire.

Jeff called it quits for the day around six. I was hot, tired, and covered with dirt. After a hot shower at my neighbor’s house, I just about passed out. I slept amazingly well.

The Dig
I shot this panoramic image from the top of my RV on Tuesday morning. What a mess!

Final Conduit and Plumbing Work

On Tuesday morning, Jeff was back to work. The Chelan County PUD guys showed up around 8:30. to turn off the power. This was necessary because I had to remove the temporary power pole I’d installed the previous year. The pole was in the way of the ground prep work Jeff needed to do for my concrete driveway apron; I needed the concrete to get as close to the transformer as possible. The PUD guys opened the transformer and disconnected the cables. I was now without water and power.

With the power to the pole turned off, Jeff wasted no time digging it out. With a weird sense of dread, I cut the fiber optic cables, thus disconnecting my Internet service. I helped Jeff attach a chain to the pole and he used his backhoe to pull it out of the ground and lay it on the ground out of the way. (Later, I’d salvage my 30 amp circuit breaker, RV outlet, and Internet connection components from the pole for reuse and put the remaining components on Craig’s List.) This made it possible for me to run the remaining 3-in. and 1-in. conduit for the power and fiber-optic cable.

Meanwhile, Jeff installed the frost-free valve at my shed — after I filled the hole with three loads of rock leftover from my septic system the year before — and finished the water line connections. He wanted to pressurize the system to make sure there were no leaks. So he went up to the road and turned the water on. I immediately heard water running and yelled up for him to shut it off. Turns out, neither of us had capped the open water line inside the building. Turning the water on had sent up a geyser of water under the stairs. (No harm done — the water hit the bottom of the stairs and came right back down; it dried quickly in this desert environment. Bonus: I got to test the slope of the concrete in my garage — it did indeed drain out the doors.) Jeff put together a makeshift plug and turned the water on again. The only leak was at the plug, which I’d have to replace as part of my plumbing work. He covered up the water and sewer pipes.

(Later, I’d connect the RV supply hose to the valve at the shed to restore my water supply. The first thing I did was drain the water from my tanks and fill it with fresh water.)

Sewer T
Here’s how Jeff connected my new RV spot sewer port to my existing septic system.

Around this time, Jeff also laid in the sewer lines that would connect a new sewer port to my septic system. He did this by digging a trench from the port behind my RV to a spot we’d agreed upon near the shed and putting a T in the line. Once I ran power to the shed and set up a 115v and 30 amp plugs, I’d have a very nice RV parking spot for visitors. (I’d likely be the first to use it when I returned in the spring.)

At midday, an engineer from the PUD came by as requested to talk to me about moving my transformer. I really wanted it about 10 feet either closer to the road or further from my building. Either was possible at what was actually an affordable amount — if I had Jeff do all the ground work. But Jeff’s time with me was limited and I really couldn’t wait for him to come back. Besides, I don’t think he was too keen on using his equipment around live wires. (Can you blame him?) So we decided not to make the move.

Covering the Trenches
Jeff covered the trenches about 24 hours after he dug them.

While she was there, however, she also inspected the trench and conduit and passed it. That gave Jeff the green light to cover the trenches up. I laid the red warning tape the PUD supplied as he dumped dirt onto it. (Of course, that meant I was covered with dirt again — fortunately, I could take a shower at home that night.)

Power Restored, Prepping the RV Garage Apron

With the trenches covered, Jeff got right to work on prepping the area for my RV garage apron. This meant digging and moving earth to create a gradual slope from the building down to my driveway. He took the extra dirt and moved it in front of my garage, smoothing down the fill so I could better access the last garage bay, which is where I expect to park my truck. (My dining table is currently set up in there for the occasional dinner party.) Along the way, he created an area in front of my front deck that would be perfect for a lawn with a rock border.

View from Above
Here’s what my building site looked like on Wednesday morning. The bobcat is parked on what will someday be a small lawn for Penny. (She loves grass.)

Jeff finished up on Wednesday morning with the delivery of two loads of gravel that he spread on the garage apron area and my driveway.

He was out getting the second load when the PUD guys returned. There were six of them in three trucks. They backed one of the trucks up to the meter base I’d installed on Sunday (more on that in another post) and pushed the heavy cable from a spool through the conduit. They connected the cables to the transformer. They installed the meter. They tested some things on the panel inside. And then they left. It took less than 15 minutes. I now had power running to my building.

Before they left, however, I chatted with them about my upcoming project — to pull six wires through the 2-in. conduit I’d laid to the shed. One of them asked what I was going to use to pull the wire. When I told him I’d buy some nylon rope, he gave me a 200-foot length of the fiber strapping they use to pull wires. Apparently, they have so much of this stuff they usually just throw it away.

Jeff returned with the second load of gravel and spread it out. He was done by 11 AM. He left with his dump truck and backhoe on a trailer behind it. Later, I’d meet him at another job site and bring him back to my place to fetch his truck, smaller trailer, and bobcat.

Although the place was still a bit of a mess after all that work, it was definitely shaping up. I was now ready to start wiring my shed and building and install the plumbing. But more important than that, I was ready to get the concrete laid so I could finally get my helicopter inside.