Thursday, April 24, 2008


how to install electricity

Thursday, April 24, 2008

48 degrees and overcast here on the hill this morning. The ground squooshes as you walk from all the rain that fell last night. It is uncommonly dark which is unusual for folks who have had 11 consecutive days of sun and temperatures at 65 or above. Karl the wonder dog enjoyed his morning walk and was not frightened by the smell of a fresh bear track which followed last night's rain.

A powerful thunderstorm arrived last night when I was finishing up my piece on big diggers. I had to close the computer down quickly. The light show lasted well over an hour so the part I was going to write on electrification waited in safety until now.

Most businesses need power to accomplish something. Electricity is one of those things like water in most of America. You turn on the switch and you expect water to flow or lights to pop on. Electricity can be expensive. When we arrived here in 1989 from Burlington, our monthly light bill was programed at $39 a month. Today it is at $115 and it gets reprogrammed quarterly. Yes, things have gotten more expensive. Just the same, we cannot run a business without electricity.

Last fall as people stopped at the new land to find out what we were doing, many suggested we go solar. I applaud that thinking but could not find one single person with the suggestion that had any experience, could tell me what they were talking about or could recommend an experienced user who could help. Solar power is interesting to me anyway because Vermont ranks third in the continental US for darkness. We have to look for the sun here so getting solar power without an elaborate system is a feat at times. The most experienced in the field put their panels/collectors on mechanized trackers that follow the sun and adjust the collectors to maximize aborption. Just thinking about the cost of that would deter most from looking further. In our case we need dependable energy for water pumps and sprayers and everything in between down to the telephone and computers. No solar for us yet! Plus I couldn't possibly live long enough to see a pay back.

Getting electric to a site is not difficult but it can be costly. In our case, the utilities were close by as they run along US Route 2. Except for one thing. They run on the opposite side of Route 2 so that required a new pole for $809 to get the power above and across the road to our land. Green Mountain Power is the vendor in this area and they are easy to work with as long as you have a couple bucks. They consented to place the meter on the pole which made it easier for us and the meter reader since this is a seasonal business right now.

I first met with the field rep, mapped out the pole location, and made like Robert Amundsen at the north and south poles and sunk a stake laying claim to the pole site. The only stipulation was the pole had to be planted by a truck that was stationed on US Route 2 itself. A stability/safety thing I think. Once the pole was planted were were ready to do our work. That's where the real cost began.

First I had Kevin trench from the pole to the new building site. That was a distance of 110 feet. The trench must be a minimum of 2 feet deep to meet electrical code but we went deeper because we are going to be running heavy equipment over the top. When digging any trenches, it's best to call Dig Safe first and have them come scan the area for underground wires or pipes. In this case I did not use this service because I knew the existing utilities were across Route 2. Just winging something like this and making a mistake is not prudent because if you dig up something that's not yours, you pay to have it fixed. Dig Safe is a free service paid for through the contractor consortium so there's no reason not to use it.

The other point to remember about trenching no matter where you are is that you just plain do not put a person in a deep trench without providing for his safety in case of cave ins. Many have said "I'll only be down there for a couple minutes.", and never lived to tell about it. Not many mind you, but one is too many.

We dug the trench and the electricians ( Rachel & Chris, B&B Electric from Plainfield) appeared ready to complete the underground installation. One of them started installing the meter socket on the pole while the other one laid out the PVC pipe, threaded a pull rope, got ready for the cable and built the ground fault protector. Basically you are installing plastic pipe in the ground to protect the electrical cable from water or intrusion and deterioration caused by frost heaving, rocks rubbing, etc. There's not much good to say about pulling electric entrance cable through PVC conduit. It's actual three big wires bound together, it's heavy and like a snake, it's never straight.

As soon as the meter socket was up, two ground rods were driven into the ground and connected six feet apart. Grounding is part of the electrical code. Copper prices make you scream but it has to happen and from a safety and system protection standpoint, there is no thought about the importance of grounding an electrical system. It has to happen.

On the opposite end of the run near where we will build the new sales area, I built a temporary structure to hold the breaker boxes while we build the building. I used two 4 x 4 posts 8 feet long and screwed on six pieces of 36" 5/4 pressure treated decking. That made a good area to mount the breaker box and the receptacles. When the building is built, all of the electrical components will be moved inside the building and the interior and exterior wiring will be wired into the breaker box.

When the wiring was completed we began to backfill the ditch a little, I installed my own PVC and wiring for our telephone system (no cell service in our area yet) and then we rolled out a banner of yellow plastic warning tape the length of the hole. This is so if anyone decides to start digging in that area, they will hit the tape first and be reminded to stop what they are doing before they fry themselves. Kevin came back in with his equipment and filled in the rest of the ditch. The following day Green Mountain Power stopped by and made the connection from the meter socket up the pole to their line and across to the transformer. Presto! Electricity, expensive installation, but done right forever!

Installing electricity to your business site is expensive. Doing it right the first time means you only pay once. I find contractors and power utilities helpful and know they want to do a good job too. In this case. we needed electricity. By doing an underground installation we have enhanced the value of our property while meeting a power need. Another exhausting job scratched off the list!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the sun is trying to push between two big, dark clouds. Maybe, just maybe, we'll have some sunshine soon.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm

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