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Monday, December 5, 2011

Cheaper Lighting

Compact fluorescent lamps come in a wide variety of shapes and wattages. Everyone knows that switching from incandescent to CFL's will save on your electric bill. Here is another plus you might not have thought about. Most light fixtures have a maximum wattage listed on the lampholder, usually 60W or 75W, however you can install a 26W CFL (which equals a 100W incandescent) without any problems. The wattage restrictions are based on heat output and the CFL's run much cooler. Therefore you get more light with less heat and lower power consumption. CFL's come in the twisty style or they have a cover that looks like a conventional incandescent, larger floodlight or smaller candelabra . They have different K ratings to give you warm white or cool white or other colors. There is still one drawback though, the CFL's take a moment or two to come on and get to full brightness.

LED's are making huge leaps in the lighting market. These lamps are more expensive than the CFL's but they have a much longer lifespan and use less electricity for the same lumen output. If you compare cost per lumen per total hours, these are actually quite comparable. You spend more up front but you won't need to replace them too often.

Another bonus of the CFL's and the LED's is their resistance to vibrations. A typical incandescent lamp can be damaged by a door slamming and sending vibrations through the structure to the filament. CFL's and LED's do not have filaments. This makes certain applications more attractive, i.e. garage door openers, exterior lighting, etc.

There are still applications where incandescent lamps are better. Some display lighting or where you need a greater range of dimming capabilities. Sometimes you just need the ambience of the incandescent.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


With today's hard economy, jobs are scarce. It is important to make yourself more appealing to employers.  One way to do this is to learn more skills. Knowing how to bend conduit proficiently, pulling wire properly, terminating neatly, or trimming out professionally is not enough. This is where versatility comes in. Learning new skills will improve your stock with employers.

Low voltage work may seem intimidating but it follows the same principles as electrical work. Ohm's law still applies. You may have to purchase some specialty tools and study a little more, but the rewards are worth it. Fire alarm systems, security systems, control systems, voice/data, CCTV, and energy management systems are a viable source of revenue in a down economy.

Customers are looking for ways to save money and cutting their electric bill can be very effective. Lighting retrofits reduce energy consumption and when coupled with proper control systems savings can double or triple. Learning how to install these systems will help you stand out from the crowd. HVAC systems are a large percentage of energy consumption for any facility. Installing new control systems on existing equipment will trim these costs. Utilizing VFDs, electronic temperature sensors, or upgrading to a completely new control system reaps great rewards for customers, while providing a profitable revenue stream for employers. Learning these systems is just another feather in your cap.

How many times have you been on a project that required a few phone lines and your company has subcontracted this work out? Pulling and terminating phone and data lines is not as difficult as many electricians perceive it. Learning to install racks, patch panels, etc. will cut the amount of work that needs to be subcontracted, making your company more profitable.

Being an electrician shouldn't be just a job, it should be a career. Continually learning new skills and techniques will keep you ahead of the pack and will also help you maintain a positive interest in your career. Anything you can do to improve the bottom line makes you more valuable to your employer. Remember, if your company doesn't make a profit, it won't survive, then you'll be out looking for another job.  

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Proper Wiring Methods

A few years back I received a call from a long time client, she was getting shocked whenever she touched the sink and stove at the same time.

I started my troubleshooting by interviewing my customer. When did the problem first start? What other events took place during that time? Is it an intermittent problem or does it occur every time?

Armed with useful information I proceeded. I verified that there was indeed a difference of potential between the metal frame of the stove and the stainless steel sink. There was approximately 90V. I then checked the metal frame of the refrigerator to the sink and once again had a 90V reading. I checked between stove and refrigerator and found 0V. Now knowing the voltage source was the sink, the possible causes was narrowed down. I went to the storage room to check on the water heater. I found the green, bond wire disconnected from the water heater. It was sticking straight up in the air with no contact what-so-ever to the water heater. There was also a small leak in the top of the water heater which was running down over one of the thermostats. This caused the casing to become energized, which in turn energized the water pipes. I turned off the power and water to the water heater and had the customer call a plumber to either repair or replace the water heater. I installed a ground wire from the cold water pipe to the grounding electrode and when the water heater was replaced, I returned to make the electrical connections to it.

Had this woman taken a shower before making the call to me, I might not have ever gotten the call.

Another time I had a friend that was building a custom home. It required 2 well pumps, one for house use and the other for irrigation. I wired both pumps to individual 220V circuits.

The irrigation company came in to install a Rainbird sprinkler system. The control panel had a small transformer to provide 24V for the remote valves. The problem was, the primary side of this transformer was 120V. The irrigation crew decided to tap off the pressure switch for the pump circuit to provide this 120V. They attached the hot wire to the line side of the switch and to get a neutral, they attached to the grounding terminal.

I returned to start the wiring for the 30' X 60' workshop and noticed the new sprinkler control panel. I decided to check it out. As soon as I opened the front cover and read the transformer I knew they had violated code. I opened the pressure switch and found what I described earlier. I disconnected their wiring and called the irrigation company to explain to them how their improper wiring methods could kill someone. I suggested they find a 220V → 24V transformer because the homeowner would not allow them to reconnect the 120V transformer.

Simple errors in wiring can become life threatening incidents later. Proper training and installations save lives.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Finding and Keeping Good Employees

In today's economy, it isn't too difficult to find people to come work for you, but finding quality help is still a challenge. Top notch electricians don't tend to change jobs very often. They get settled in with a company they like, one that treats them well and offers them the things they need.

Some of these things are good pay, health benefits, retirement benefits, paid holidays, paid vacations, advanced training and opportunities for advancement.

All these cost the employer money. The employer has to match the social security contributions made by the employee as well as the Medicare contributions. Worker's Compensation is based on a percentage of total payroll. Therefore it is in the company's best interest to keep payroll costs down. The lower the costs to do business, the easier it is to win jobs and winning jobs in a down economy is a cut-throat business.

Good electricians are the last ones to be let-go when companies are downsizing. The dead-wood is always first to go (unless they have a special relationship with the owners). Attracting the cream-of-the-crop isn't easy. You may have to offer substantially higher wages, a company vehicle, a company gas card, or other enticements. But once you have these people, profits should go up. The elite electricians work harder and smarter than the average Joes. They inspire their coworkers to work a little harder or smarter too.

Elite electricians strive to be at the top. They deserve a little extra. They are better teachers for our young apprentices. They are also better role models for proper work ethic.

On the other hand, it's bad for morale when companies keep deadwood during times of lay-offs simply because they are friends with someone higher up. When good employees get cut and slackers stay, the remaining employees lose their drive and willingness to do a good job. They lose that sense of fairness. If Average Joe can keep his job when he sits around all day hiding out, then what incentive is there for Elite Joe to continue to strive to make the company better?

Building a strong team environment is tricky. Getting personalities that get along and work together instead of a few "friends" that cause friction amongst the entire group. Remember, a business needs to make a profit in order to survive. Attracting top talent and keeping them is key.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Conduit Bending

Conduit bending is one of the first skills learned by new apprentices in a commercial or industrial shop. They learn to use multipliers for 15°, 30° and 45° for offset bends. Most settle in on the 30° bend since the multiplier is 2. It makes the math very easy. However it makes for less than aesthetic appearance if the offset is less than 6". However 15° bends can stretch out the offset too far when making 3" or larger offsets.

As an apprentice, I learned how to bend offsets using a triangulation method. It did not require any math at all nor did you need to worry what degree you were bending. It made it easier to copy existing work, all you needed to know was the distance between centers on the two bends. A simple method, just make the first bend to any degree you want, lay the conduit flat on the floor, place bender handle along the section of pipe that was just bent, measure from bender handle (90° to bender handle) to the conduit the amount of offset needed, then make the second bend. We still learned the math methods. As a matter of fact we had small charts that had the multiplier for every angle and the multiplier for shrinkage. We used these when bending with Chicago benders or hydraulic benders. We could cut and thread rigid pipe before we bent it and it would come out perfect.

Bending conduit had become an art form. There was real artistry in making a quality job. Then price became the driving force in construction. Cheaper methods had to be sought. MC cable use skyrocketed. Fewer and fewer apprentices are bending enough conduit to develop a real style. The craftsmanship has been lost in favor of the bottom line. Even on jobs requiring conduit, it is still about productivity. Electricians can't take their time to do a nice, neat job. When was the last time any of you installed a large rack of conduits and used concentric bends? In todays marketplace you can purchase pre-fabbed 90° bends of 1/2" EMT. It might actually be cheaper to buy these factory bends and couple the conduit together than break out the hand bender.

It would be nice if we could turn back the clock just a little, to a time when  electricians took more pride in what they did, when you wanted to take pictures of the work you had done.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Career Progression

It seems there is a natural progression to everyone's career and the electrical field is no different. We all start out as helpers and work our way up. Hopefully we pass the journeyman's exam, then on to the master's. Some will choose management in an established company while others will attempt a shot at ownership. But there are those who are quite content to be mechanics. These guys wear their tools everyday building America.  They continue on into their sixties twisting joints and bending pipe. Is it the satisfaction of doing a day's work for a day's pay or the fear they can't handle management responsibilities or fear their co-workers will no longer be friends with them that keeps them stalled out? Maybe they don't want to wear business attire or cut their hair in a more appropriate style. 

Are these the workers that companies want? They can't keep up with the younger guys, their break time and lunch time seem to stretch out more and more. However they do offer an enormous amount of knowledge they can pass along. How do they affect the bottom line? 

It's my opinion they become a drain on the company. Good electricians know 90% of what they are going to learn in the first 15 years, after that they will pick up a few things here and there to stay up with code or current with technology. These younger veterans are quite capable of passing along this information to the helpers. Most guys in their 50's and 60's are just too slow to be profitable. Their "don't hurry" attitude is infectious too. Everyone starts to get into the relaxed flow and production drops off. 

Construction is a hard life and ranks in the top ten most dangerous professions. If we don't set goals and achieve them, then we become a burden. Continue to learn the latest changes to tools, materials, methods and code. Strive to become a leader. Those with ambition tend to be better electricians and therefore more valuable to the company. Remember, in the rat race of life it is survival of the fittest.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Homeowners and Electrical Work

Why is it we have all these rules and regulations for electrical work? We require licensing for electricians and contractors, yet any homeowner can do the wiring on their homes.

It is argued that the work will be inspected by an AHJ, so it should be up to code. If this is a valid point, then why do we require licensing at all? Isn't all electrical work supposed to be inspected and shown to meet code?

Electrical work is dangerous to install, to maintain, to use. If it is installed improperly it can cause property damage or loss of life. If we allow unqualified individuals to perform electrical work and something slips by the inspector there could be dire consequences. It may not happen right away either, it could be after the house is sold.

I have an example I'd like to pass along. I was wiring a house for a friend of mine (I am a licensed contractor by the way) and when I returned to wire his stand alone garage, I noticed the sprinkler company had been there. Both pumps that were installed during original construction were wired 220V. The sprinkler company installed a Rainbird system that required 120V supply to a step down transformer with 24V output. They decided to tap off the wiring on the pump pressure switch. They connected the live wire to one of the hot wires and tied the neutral and ground both to the ground lug. This is a very dangerous arrangement. There is now current flowing on the pump casing. If the pump were to leak water all over the floor and a barefoot person walked in, they could potentially be electrocuted.

We have all seen poorly installed electrical work. We wonder how someone could even do such stuff.

What if the do-it-yourself centers no longer sold electrical supplies to homeowners? It would surely limit the number of untrained people trying to wire an addition to a house, or connect a new hot tub, etc. Sure there are books out there that give the basics to residential wiring but how many really buy and read these books? We definitely have enough crackpot electricians working for legitimate companies that we don't need homeowners helping out.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

OSHA's Top Ten for 2010

Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards
for Fiscal 2010 (Oct. 1, 2009 to Sept. 30, 2010)

The following is a list of the top 10 most frequently cited standards following inspections of worksites by federal OSHA. OSHA publishes this list to alert employers about these commonly cited standards so they can take steps to find and fix recognized hazards addressed in these and other standards before OSHA shows up. Far too many preventable injuries and illnesses occur in the workplace.

1. Scaffolding, general requirements (29 CFR 1926.451)

2. Fall protection, (29 CFR 1926.501) 

3. Hazard communication standard, (29 CFR 1910.1200) 

4. Ladders, (29 CFR 1926.1053) 

5. Respiratory protection, (29 CFR 1910.134)

6. Control of hazardous energy (lockout/tagout), (29 CFR 1910.147) 

7. Electrical, wiring methods, components and equipment, (29 CFR 1910.305) 

8. Powered industrial trucks, (29 CFR 1910.178)

9. Electrical systems design, (29 CFR 1910.303) 

10. Machines, general requirements, (29 CFR 1910.212)

The above was taken directly from the OSHA website. I'd like to discuss what this means to employers and employees.

I addressed PPE in an earlier discussion, now we need to move on to workplace safety. The employer and employee are both responsible for workplace safety. A well written safety plan is only as good as the people who follow it. Take a look above, 2 of the top 10 are electrical related and the other 8 still affect most companies. 

Scaffolding goes together like grown-up Legos or erector sets. The pieces fit together in varying configurations, mixing and matching to suit our particular needs. We can assemble them to great heights, spanning over holes or obstacles. The problem is, these systems were designed as systems, not as individual pieces to be haphazardly thrown together. They must be erected under the watchful eye of a competent person. They must be inspected daily prior to anyone climbing on them. Training your employees to properly assemble scaffolding will save your company money in the long run. OSHA fines are stiff. Lawsuits from injured workers are even stiffer. 

I touched on fall protection in an earlier post. There's really no good excuse not to use proper fall protection. There are numerous designs and systems for every application. 

Hazard communication is one that slips through the cracks all the time. MSDS sheets get forgotten or misplaced. Employees need to be taught to interpret the information contained in them. Depending on the types of materials used, you will need extra precautions to handle them safely and equipment/materials to handle an accidental exposure. Employees have the right to know what hazards they are going to be exposed to while performing their jobs. 

It seems to me that ladders would have been number 2 on the list. This is the most common infraction I encounter on every jobsite. I always see workers on the top rung or next one down. It takes too much time to find a taller ladder, or we didn't bring one with us, or I will only be up there for a minute are the excuses I hear for this. I also see workers overreaching while on ladders, which leads to them walking the ladder instead of climbing down and properly relocating the ladder. Facing backwards happens all too often. Employers drill it into employees' heads that production is the number one priority. The company needs to make a profit to stay in business and keep it's workers employed. So workers start taking shortcuts to be more productive than their competition. Why climb off the ladder when I can scoot it along or reposition the ladder when I can just spin around and finish my task quickly. The answer is "it only takes that one time for an accident to occur". There are still more ladder infractions to be counted - leaning an A-frame ladder against a wall or something else, not extending an extension ladder to the proper level above the walking platform, not tying off the top of an extension ladder, improper foundation for any ladder, and on and on. How many people actually inspect their ladders daily?

Respiratory protection should be a no-brainer. When working with dust, flyings, chemicals, or fumes wear the right respirator. Train employees to pick the right one for the application intended and how to wear them properly. Quality of life goes down when you can't breathe.

Lock-out/Tag-out has gained ground over the past 20 years. It should be slipping off the top ten list, yet it persists in making it every year. Every company should know how to implement a lock-out/tag-out program.  All government installations have banned working on live equipment, whether these rules are enforced or not depends on each individual facility. Private sector should follow suit. Facility maintenance personnel need to be educated on every aspect of lock-out/tag-out, not just their particular trade. Hydraulics, pneumatics, electrical, mechanical, etc. pose different hazards and require specialized lock-out equipment. Using the right lock-out device is critical also. Just hanging a tag up doesn't provide the level of safety required.

How much is your life worth? How much would you be willing to pay for the life of one of your employees? Employers need to spend the time and money to train their employees and employees need to pay attention during training and learn how to work safer. In construction your safety doesn't depend on just your knowledge and habits but the knowledge and practices of others on the jobsite. What if the crane operator didn't follow the hand signals and swung the load into a group of workers not associated with his lifting operation? Being alert and keeping up to date with training will insure that we all get to go home at the end of the day. 

A Few More Code Changes

There are literally hundreds of code changes each time a new code book is released. Most are just new ways to say the same thing, hopefully making it clearer to understand the intent. Some, however, are adopted to improve the installation of electrical systems. I touched on some during an earlier post and I would like to note a few more here. I'll try to cover the new additions rather than just new wording of existing text.

200.4 Neutral conductors shall not be used for more than one branch circuit, for more than one multiwire branch circuit, or for more than one set of ungrounded feeder conductors unless specifically permitted elsewhere in this code.

So you cannot upsize the neutral conductor to a #8 to use with 6 circuits on a three phase system. You cannot upsize the neutral for a single run in a parallel feeder.

210.52 (I) Foyers that are not part of a hallway in accordance with 210.52 (H) and that have an area greater than 60 ft2 shall have a receptacle(s) located in each wall space 3 ft or more in width and unbroken by doorways, floor to ceiling windows, and similar openings.

This just clarifies a once gray area.

225.70 Substations - Consisting of 225.70 (A)(1)→(5) - An entirely new section devoted to substations concerning signage, disconnecting power before replacing fuses, and backfeed issues.

230.24 (E) Clearances from communications wire and cables shall be in accordance with 800.44(A)(4).

This just reminds everyone there is another section of the code dealing with communications wiring that was often overlooked.

230.44 Cable tray systems shall be permitted to support service entrance conductors. Cable trays used to support service entrance conductors shall contain only service entrance conductors and shall be limited to the following methods:

 (1) Type SE cable
 (2) Type MC cable
 (3) Type MI cable
 (4) Type IGS cable
 (5) Single thermoplastic insulated conductors 1/0 and larger with CT rating.

They just clarified which service entrance conductors were acceptable for use in cable trays.

250.2 Bonding Jumper, Supply Side - A conductor installed on the supply side of a service or within a service equipment enclosure(s), or for a separately derived system, that ensures the required electrical connectivity between metal parts required to be electrically connected.

More clarification of what is actually intended.

250.24 (C)(3) Moved to 250.24 (C)(4). 250.24 (C)(3) now reads:
Delta Connected Service - The grounded conductor of a 3 phase delta service shall have an ampacity not less than that of the ungrounded conductors.

This means no derating for neutral loads on feeders for delta connected services.

250.30 received a large makeover. It spells out new requirements based on the clarification of the supply side bonding jumper definition, and rearranged a bit to walk you through the requirements in a more orderly fashion. It is a rather large section so I didn't quote it.

250.32 (B)(2) Supplied by separately derived systems
 (a) With overcurrent protection, If overcurrent protection is provided where the conductors originate, the installation shall comply with 250.32 (B)(1).
 (b) Without overcurrent protection, If overcurrent protection is not provided where the conductors originate, the installation shall comply with 250.30 (A). If installed, the supply-side bonding jumper shall be connected to the building or structure disconnecting means and to the grounding electrode.

This section points you back to section 250.30 if you have no overcurrent protection on the conductors of a separately derived system. This assures a more effective fault current path and operation of OCD's further upline.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Union V Non-Union

This should spark alot of debate. Union versus non-union. Living in Florida, a right to work state, allows us to have both union and non-union employers. There are pros and cons to both sides of this coin.

Lets start with the union side. Better wages, retirement packages, health care insurance, sick days, vacation days, and apprenticeship programs all fall into the plus column. That's alot of pluses. However, some of the negatives weigh more than most of the pluses. Everyone makes the same wage. There is no competition on the jobsite. If one electrician can install 800' of conduit per day and the other electrician only runs 400' per day, what is going to happen? Will the slower man try to speed up so he is installing 800' or will the faster electrician slow down to the 400' per day pace? Doing better than the guy next to you puts a target on your back. You become a troublemaker. Employees are not allowed to bring in personal tools that will make them more valuable than the next man either. When it's time for lay-offs, it is last hired - first fired. Job stability relies on seniority, not skill level. While union employees may not see this as a bad thing, the employer definitely does. Another negative is paying dues. It doesn't seem like much, just a few dollars per paycheck. These dues go to pay the high salaries of union officials, to grease the pockets of government employees, to support political campaigns. Union employees must strike when told to strike, sometimes coming out on the short end of the stick.

Non-union employment doesn't have many pluses. Hmmmm, you can work for whichever contractor gives you a job. If you are a talented electrician you can earn more than the lesser electricians. Some employers do offer apprenticeship programs, some don't. Some offer health insurance or retirement or vacations, most don't. There does tend to be more job stability in the non-union sector. With lower wages, the contractor can be more competitive in the bidding process. Layoffs generally target deadwood, not longevity on the job.

On paper the union job looks so much better, but is it better for America? We don't manufacture many products anymore. We simply can't compete with countries like China It all boils down to this.... there has to be a better system. Unions were effective in procuring worker's rights, no one is doubting that.  But it seems they have gone too far now, more so with government employee unions than with private sector unions. They extort the government into paying much more than what is fair and equitable for services rendered. Retirement packages paid for by taxpayers, 4 weeks of vacation per year, and on and on. It sure is nice to have if you are the one receiving it, but if you are just a taxpayer footing the bill it hits a raw nerve. Maybe higher tariffs on imported products. Then what would Walmart sell? Can all working class Americans afford to pay $150 for work boots? Sure they can if we raise their salaries and give them benefit packages. But now, who can afford to build a new house, it will cost twice as much as it did before just for the wage difference in the actual workers building it. But there's more, now we have to pay the deliveryman more to do his job, and the lumber mill worker more to do his job, plus the benefit packages for them and so on and so on. See the dilemma?

So what is the answer?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Cadwelding Tips

Exothermic welding looks very easy and it is, until it isn't. There are times when the welds don't stick, or the weld material all runs out on the ground. There are simple solutions to most of the problems associated with Cadwelding.

A new mold is great to work with. If it is taken care of properly, it will give long term satisfactory use. Do not clean your molds with wire brushes, screwdrivers, pliers or anything that will scratch the mold. These scratches are the start of the deteriorating effects. The weld material doesn't flow properly, the mold doesn't fit snuggly, harder each time to clean it out. The mold manufacturers sell brushes specifically designed to clean the molds. For the price of one mold, you can buy 18 brushes.

Properly cleaning the wire and surface to be welded to are just as important. Impurities have a negative effect on the welds. Make sure all the dirt, oil, grease, water, etc. have been removed.

Pre-heating the wires and/or metal surface before attempting to shoot a weld aids in the welding process. If the wires or metal surface are too cool the welds won't stick.

Sloppy molds are difficult to use, but we have all had to use them at one time or another. To stop the weld material from running out, Cadweld sells mold sealer (looks exactly like duct seal). I have found this doesn't work very well and leaves a sticky mess on the mold. I prefer to get the mold set and then pack moist dirt around the mold. The cool wet dirt makes the weld material cool faster and stops the flow. Duct seal just melts and creates a bigger mess.

Cadweld also sells copper strips that can be used to increase wire size. For example, you have a 4/0 run & tap mold but you need to tap off your 4/0 with a 2/0. These copper strips are wrapped tightly around the end of the wire increasing the 2/0 to the same diameter as the 4/0. Much easier than cutting small strands of wire and trying to fit them in the mold. The strips save time, which saves money.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Rules and Regulations

In our society we have plenty of rules designed to protect stupid people from themselves. We have found the lowest common denominator to abide by. Should the NEC follow suit?

There is another website, a forum for electricians, that I recently joined (a very good website). There have been numerous discussions on multi-wire branch circuits (MWBC). Sharing a single neutral with 2 or 3 phase conductors is perfectly safe if installed properly and maintained by qualified electricians. But there are inherent possible problems. Lifting the neutral at the panel can cause voltage spikes on the phases, damaging connected equipment. Trained electricians know how to avoid this, but what about the guys that don't have a license or apprenticeship schooling. They learned on-the-job from other electricians. These other electricians may or may not have had any schooling either. They may have learned on-the-job too. This leads to a relaxed attitude toward licensing, the "I know what I'm doing, I've been doing it for 20 years" attitude. Doing it wrong for 20 years doesn't make one a qualified electrician. With the growing number of non-licensed electricians performing electrical work, should the code enact stricter rules to safeguard the public? I read numerous statements from opponents on this, "If I install it properly then I have done my job and I can sleep at night. What do I care if some idiot comes along after and screws things up?" I think the real question is how much do we owe the end user. If I install the electrical system per code and another electrician comes in to perform additional work and is either lazy or uneducated concerning the hazards of MWBC's, the end user may suffer equipment losses. This could be very expensive.

Others have stated that we just need to enforce the rules we already have. How do we do this? Is the answer stricter licensing requirements for electricians? Should apprenticeship training be mandatory? If we abolish the on-the-job training only approach we will develop better tradesmen. Requiring apprenticeship training would insure that knowledgeable persons perform electrical work. Those that don't make the grade would be weeded out. Electrical work is dangerous and should only be done by trained people, not homeowners, not plumbers, not A/C techs. If it is done improperly it can , at worst, cost lives or, at least, cause nuisance tripping of ocd's.

Let's hear your thoughts.

Monday, January 24, 2011


Let's face it, there are times when it is just easier to do our jobs without having to get all the personal protective equipment (PPE). We save time not having to hunt it down, not putting it on, not taking it back off, not putting it back where it belongs. We save money not having to buy it. It gets in the way while we are working, it gets hung up on everything as we try to get to our task, it's uncomfortable. But, you have to ask yourself, are the cons outweighing the pros. PPE saves lives and limits injuries. Can you really put a price tag on that? Did those few extra minutes really payoff against the trip to the hospital?

Many of us "oldtimers" remember the "good ole days" when construction work was fun. We joked around all day, played practical jokes on each other, and got more work done. We didn't have to put on safety glasses to cut anything. We climbed steel and walked beams without having our safety belts attached to anything until we got to where the work was. Looking back now I realize how lucky I was on numerous occasions.

We don't think accidents will happen to us. We pay attention to what we are doing. We have training. We know our jobs. But accidents don't discriminate. They do happen to anybody. It doesn't have to be something you did or didn't do. It could be the person you're working with, faulty equipment, incorrect as-builts you're working from, etc.

Safety harnesses have gotten lighter, but stronger, making them more comfortable to wear. There is never any reason not to wear one when working at heights. Even if the fall is not enough to be fatal, it may still break an arm, leg or possibly spine.

Hard hats protect our most valuable asset.. our brains. Sure they won't do anything if a transformer falls on your head, but the everyday bumps and knocks and small falling objects will be deflected rather easily with minimal or no injury.

Safety glasses protect our second most valuable asset.. our eyes. Sure there are plenty of blind people that lead fulfilling lives, but I still believe it's better to see the world we live in. How many blind electricians do you know?

Face shields add that next level of protection for face and eyes. It provides better coverage and should be utilized when necessary.

Gloves protect our hands from cuts, abrasions, chemicals, heat, and cold. Even minor cuts are a nuisance.

Proper footwear, proper clothing, the list keeps going. They are all designed to make our jobs safer, so we can go home to our families each night. Re-think your opposition to using PPE, it might save your life one day.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Let's Talk Transformers

We use transformers for all types of jobs. There are step-up transformers, step-down transformers, potential transformers, current transformers, auto transformers, buck-boost transformers. Each is designed for a  specific use.
Basic design involves a magnetic core with primary windings and secondary windings. The number of primary windings to secondary windings (winding ratio) determines the voltage ratio. A 2-to-1 ratio would give us 120V and 240V, 240V and 480V, etc. Transformers have inherent losses built into them. Designers/engineers try to come up with new ways to reduce these losses. One type of loss is eddy current. Ferromagnetic cores are good conductors and constitute a single short-circuited turn throughout its entire length. Eddy currents flow along the core in a plane normal to the flux (magnetic field  developed from the applied voltage and current) and create resistive heating. Heat equals energy loss. Eddy current losses are a complex function of the square of supply frequency and inverse square of metal thickness. Most designers now utilize thinner, insulated metal plates laminated together to form the core in order to reduce the effects of eddy currents. By using this design, however, there is another phenomena created. Magnetostriction is the effect of magnetic flux in a ferromagnetic core that causes the expansion and contraction with each magnetic cycle. This is what causes transformers to hum.
Autotransformers utilize a single winding with two end terminals and one or more terminals at intermediate tap points. Primary voltage is applied across the two end terminations and the secondary is usually connected across one end terminal and an intermediate tap. These transformers are cheaper to manufacture but are not as safe as separate primary and secondary windings. Another style utilizes exposed windings in the intermediate area and uses a brush to make the secondary connection. The brush can be moved up or down the exposed section to increase or decrease voltage output. A rheostat is an example of an autotransformer.
Leakage transformers have a significantly higher leakage inductance. This loose coupling between primary and secondary provides an inherent current limiting effect. This makes it possible to create a short on the secondary side and not cause damage to the transformer. Doorbell transformers are an example of this design.
Current transformers and potential transformers, also known as instrument transformers, are used for measuring current and voltage in electrical power systems,  and for power system protection and control. These transformers are used where it is impractical or unsafe to use conventional meters to measure voltage or current due to the high values present. Current transformers measure current in a circuit without being electrically connected to that circuit. It consists of a core, usually circular or rectangular, with a single set of windings and two end terminations. The circuit to be measured is routed through the center of the core, and as current flows through the circuit it induces a current in the CT which sends this to either a meter or control device. A potential transformer is designed to be connected in parallel with the circuit to be monitored to provide a consistent value (proportional to circuit values) that can be measured or controlled. These transformers impart a very small load to the circuit, but provide a means to measure the voltage safely and accurately.

Time For Another Tip

Have you ever been drilling with a holesaw and just when the pilot bit breaks through the teeth on the holesaw grab and snap your pilot bit? Well here is a simple trick to help eliminate that. Place a 1/4" X 1 1/2" fender washer over the pilot bit for holesaws up to 1 1/2" (1 1/4" conduit size). When the pilot hole is drilled, the teeth on the holesaw grab the washer, spinning it instead of grabbing. For larger holesaws you can stack 1/4" X 1 1/4" fender washers until there are 2 washers protruding past the teeth on the holesaw.

Submit your own tips and tricks.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Few New Code Changes

The new 2011 NEC is out. Hopefully everyone ran out and purchased one for themselves. This year they came with a free .PDF version that can be downloaded at their website, www.2011NECOFFER.ORG. As everyone knows, the code is released every 3 years and it always has tons of changes. I thought I would discuss some of these. I will do more each week so as not to make this one long boring read.

I want to start off with Section 110.11. The new requirement is to protect equipment identified for indoor use, dry locations, or damp locations from damage DURING construction. So don't be hanging panel boxes before the building is dried in unless you have some way to protect it.

110.24 (A) Field Marking. Service equipment in other than dwelling units shall be legibly marked in the field with the maximum fault current. The field marking shall include the date the fault current calculation was performed and be of sufficient durability to withstand the environment involved.

220.5 (B) Fractions of an Ampere. Calculations shall be permitted to be rounded to the nearest whole ampere, with decimal fractions smaller than 0.5 dropped.
Doesn't seem like that big a deal, until you get an inspector that argues you have exceeded the amperage limits. Suppose you calculate 16.4 amps for a 20A circuit, now you can drop the .4 and use the 20A circuit.

250.24(C)(3) Delta-Connected Service. The grounded conductor of a 3-phase 3-wire delta service shall have an ampacity not less than that of the ungrounded conductors.
You may not derate in this situation.

250.30 (A)(2) Supply-Side Bonding Jumper. If the source of a separately derived system and the first disconnecting means are located in separate enclosures, a supply-side bonding jumper shall be installed with the circuit conductors from the source enclosure to the first disconnecting means. A supply-side bonding jumper shall not be required to be larger than the derived ungrounded conductors. The supply-side bonding jumper shall be permitted to be of nonflexible metal raceway type or of the wire or bus type as follows:
So if you install a transformer in a building and the disconnecting means is not located in the transformer enclosure then you must install a supply-side bonding jumper along with your ungrounded and grounded (neutral) conductor. Do not forget the rest of the requirements in Article 250 regarding separately derived systems.

More to come.....

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Understanding electricity is key to being a good troubleshooter. Knowing how circuits work, the operation of the individual components, and how it all fits together is the basics of troubleshooting. But there is more to it. You need to ask questions. When did the trouble start? What was happening at that time? Were there any other problems that occurred? Is there any new equipment that was brought in around the same time? Was there a storm recently? Sometimes just speaking with the occupants can start us off in the right direction. We don't need to start at point A and work through the entire circuit.
I'd like to pass on an experience we had recently at one of our new projects. We had just finished installing the parking lot pole lights and were power checking them. As soon as the breaker was turned on it tripped out. The electrician assigned to the task of troubleshooting decided to start at the panel checking for shorts. He then moved to the lighting contactor, then the electronic time clock before he moved to the first pole. He spent 4 hours taking off covers, checking, replacing covers and moving on before he finally found the problem in the first light pole. A good place to start would have been at the first pole. He would have isolated the interior section of wiring from the exterior section. It would have cut the circuit almost in half. Even if the problem had been in one of the other poles he wouldn't have wasted all that time removing and replacing covers.
Troubleshooting should be looked at in a logical manner. What is supposed to be happening? What type of problems could cause this not to happen?
Having the proper testing equipment will also save you time and more importantly keep you safer. I was reading on another forum about an old school electrician that uses a homemade buzzer with a 9 volt battery for a continuity tester. What happens if he were to place his tester on a live circuit by mistake? Chances are it would blowup in his hands. Todays meters are built to stringent standards to comply with not only the technical specifications but the safety specifications too. Having the right type of meter will also make your job of troubleshooting easier.
Here is another example. We received a trouble call from a new client. He had been using one of our competitors for quite some time, but they were swamped and not able to take care of this call. This customer had some nice accent lighting in their display room. It uses a transformer converting the 120V to 24V. It is connected to 2 wires that are run exposed 6" below the ceiling on insulators spaced 36" apart. The light fixtures lay on the two wires and set screws clamp the fixtures to the wires. The problem they were experiencing was the transformer kept going bad. The previous contractor had replaced it twice at a cost of $300 each. We counted the number of fixtures, calculated total watts, checked the transformer output. Everything was correct. We used an ammeter to check circuit amps. It was higher than the calculated load. We removed all the fixtures (there were 8). We used a true RMS DMM (digital multimeter) to check continuity of the two 24V wires. They tested fine. We used the same meter to test each fixture individually. They tested fine also. I decided to bring in the megohmeter and retest the fixtures. We found a high impedance short in one of the fixtures. We ordered a new fixture and the circuit has been trouble free since. Would we have figured this out without the megohmeter? Probably not. Would we have figured this out if we hadn't known to check for a high impedance short? Definitely not. Schooling, equipment, trade experience, interviewing are all necessary parts to becoming a successful troubleshooter.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

GFCI Protection

The rules regarding GFCI seem to be misunderstood, alot. Everyone knows they are required in bathrooms, outside and in garages, but I see this question quite frequently: What are the rules for replacing 2-wire receptacles without replacing the wiring? The answer is you can replace them with new 2-wire receptacles or GFCI receptacles. You can feed receptacles downstream of the first GFCI receptacle with standard 3-wire receptacles as long as they are labeled "GFCI Protected - No Equipment Ground". These stickers come in the box with the GFCI receptacles. Even the 15A GFCI receptacle has a 20A feedthrough, therefore it does not restrict the circuit amps.
Another misconception is the use of GFCI breakers vs GFCI receptacles. They work in exactly the same way. The determining factor is usually ease of resetting the GFCI or routing of wiring. If the receptacle is in an elevator pit in a commercial building, it is easier to reset if you use the receptacle, but in a residential dwelling it is just as easy to put the bathroom receptacles, garage receptacle and exterior receptacles on a breaker.
Another rule that is often broken is the use of GFCI protection during construction. The building is getting near completion, the power systems are on, the receptacles and lighting have been turned on, but there is still work going on. People start plugging their cords into the receptacles in the walls. Why not they are hot and much closer than the temporary receptacles mounted at the temp panel, which may have already been removed anyway. The code requires that construction personnel use GFCI protection during all construction. Workers need cords with built in GFCI or the GFCI plug in units. This requirement is for all workers, not just the electricians and not just on commercial or industrial projects. This also holds true for remodel work in  an existing facility.
Another misconception is that GFCI receptacles require a ground connection. This is 100% false. A GFCI monitors current flow on the "hot" wire and the "neutral" wire. If there is more than 5 miiliamps difference between them, the GFCI interrupts the circuit. So basically, what goes out on the hot must come back on the neutral. If it goes anywhere else, the circuit is opened.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Tips and Tricks

Every electrician has a trick he uses to make his job easier. We all  adapt our methods to suit our work style, making our jobs easier or sometimes just more aesthetic.
Have you ever noticed when bending conduit with a foot bender the first bend is nice and tight, a clean looking bend, yet the second bend always has a slight banana after the bend. This is caused by the conduit not being flat on the bending surface for the second bend or flipping the bender upside down and pulling down on the conduit. Most electricians already know that the closer you grasp the conduit to the bender, the less banana you get. I always slightly over bend the second bend. Then when I take the overbend out, it removes the banana before it starts to straighten out the actual bend.
What are some of your tips or tricks? I'll continue to post more and would like to include yours.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Quality Tools = Quality Work ?

Does the quality of the tools used by electricians equate to the quality of work they do? I believe the answer is mostly yes. Through the years, the electricians I have come in contact with have proven this to be correct more often than not. I'm not talking about an apprentice or helper just starting out. They may be trying out the trade to see if it's what they want to do for a living or may not be making enough money yet to afford the better tools. I'm referring to journeyman level workers. The guys that can read the blueprints and go do the tasks assigned to them. These people seem to understand that the right tool for the job actually makes the job easier and faster, therefore making them more productive. Yet there are many that choose the bargain tools. Why spend $35.00 on lineman pliers when you can get the same thing made in China for $12.95? Don't they do the same thing? At first glance they appear quite equal. Try cutting some #1 wire with each. Did the cheap tool do the job? Will it do it more than once? You will find out that in the long run the quality tools will last and continue to do their job. I know some guys that have Klein pliers that are 20 years old and still use them daily. How many Chinese pliers would you have gone through in 20 years?
I also tend to think that if a man buys cheap tools he really isn't in the trade because he enjoys it, he just does it to make a living. If you're not doing it because you enjoy it, then you probably won't put forth the effort to do a quality job.
What are your thoughts?

Just Getting Started

Welcome to Everyday Electrical. I will be discussing topics related to the electrical construction industry.A little about me: I have been in the trade since 1982. I have had an electrical contractor license since 1996. I have worked in primarily industrial and commercial construction and service.
I welcome comments and questions from readers. I know not everyone will share the same views, but by sharing opposing opinions we will have a chance to learn. 
I'd like to start off today by talking about Journeyman licensing. I believe all electricians should strive towards obtaining this license. It shows your employer that you are serious about your choice of occupation, that you are not just here to collect a paycheck. It is something to be proud of, an achievement, a goal recognized. Yes, it costs you hard earned money each year to maintain, but it gives you greater bargaining power when applying for a job. I know when I hire people on, I am willing to pay a better wage to a license holder. It tells me this person is more likely to do a better job and require less supervision.
I know there are many electricians out there that don't have a license that are top notch. I have to wonder why they don't have a Journeyman card. Are they too lazy to take the exam? Are they not that good with math? Do they lack knowledge of the NEC?
What are your thoughts?