Monday, May 5, 2014

God Laughs when Men Make Plans

Men make plans that God might enjoy belly laughs.  And that their wives might also laugh.

Caution:  Nothing in this post is to be construed as advice

My new cable for the generator showed up.  It came in a box with a smile on it.  I installed the end that it needed.

5000W at 240V implies 20 amps.  According to the National Electric Code a 12 gauge, copper wire is sufficient for 20 amps. 

According to a Master Electrician the cable's end (NEMA  L6-20P) is no longer "to code".  "The Code" requires both a neutral and a ground wire. The cable and the plug only supports a single "non-pole" wire.  That setup worked for decades but some issues must have occurred to change The Code.

The other caution....and it was a big that double male-end plugs are inherently dangerous.  The scenario he described was that by plugging the cable in the wrong order (hot end first) the prongs of the other end had the potential to function as a 240V, 20A Taser.  It is possible to Safe Operating Procedure out of the condition.

With this set-up always dump the breaker for the 240V garage circuit before plugging or unplugging the cable.  Both sides must be either plugged in or unplugged before the circuit is activated.

Note that powering circuits up-and-down by tripping the breakers is bad practice.  The breakers are not switches.  But in this case, safety considerations outweigh the economics of maximizing the life of the breaker.  When flipping a breaker either on-or-off, stand to the side of the box rather than directly in front of it to minimize your exposure to events like the one shown in the short video clip.

On with the story

What better time to test the backup power plan than on a beautiful spring day when it is 50F?

I dumped the power at the pole.  I dropped the breakers for the drier, air conditioner, dishwasher and the 240V circuit on the side of the garage.  I unplugged the microwave and toaster.  I plugged the newly constructed cable into the plug on the side of the garage, and then the generator.  I started the generator and let it warm up.  Then I flipped on the 240V (20A) breaker.

Nothing happened.

I had forgotten that the wiring in the garage is tied into the house via the circuit for the clothes drier.  Dropping the breaker for the clothes drier meant that the running the generator powered up the garage but did not backfeed the house.  That is why we TEST things.  Because there is too much stuff to remember.

That was a minor glitch and easily fixed.

I walked around the house, reveling in the marvels of careful engineering and execution.  I fiddled with the thermostat and turned on the water to ensure the generator had sufficient power to withstand the in-rush demand from the motors starting.  It did.

I turned off the generator, unplugged and rolled up the cable.  I confess that I was oozing smugness.

I flipped the breaker on the pole back on.

Nothing happened.


I went into the dark basement and dropped all of the circuits.  Maybe the breaker was tired.    After all, the house is almost forty years old and it was probably the original breaker on the pole.  Maybe it would catch if I cycled it with no load. Yeah, I know, fat chance.

No luck.

Genesis 1:3

I exercised my Six Degrees of Separation skills and found a helpful electrician.  I bought a new 100 amp breaker figuring that might be the problem.

I would dearly love to share his name but I cannot.
  • If I paid him in cash then the IRS and his ex-wives would be mad at both of us
  • If I paid him with a check then my checking account would show insufficient funds.
  • If I did not pay him then the IBEW is going to get mad and I would be crapping in my mess kit in the event I REALLY need him at a later date.
He quickly popped the cabinet open.  Pulled the old breaker and popped in the new.

Still dead!?!?!

He dinked around and ended up cutting the stripped ends of the cables on the house side of the box and stripping another half inch of insulation to expose fresh conductor.

And then there was the Electrician's version of Genesis1:3
"Let there be light (hold the arc flash, please)"
He advised me to get a new service box.  The old one showed extensive water leakage and about three pounds of fried ladybugs.  He also advised getting the proper with a mechanical disconnect switch.  He also advised getting the box with a proper (4 conductor) receptacle and to feed the generator power into the system there.

Total elapsed time:  Five hours.

And that is why we test things like this on clement, spring days.

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