Monday, January 30, 2023

Heller and Shannon: Punching above pay-grade

Shannon was surprised to have to go through a metal detector to enter the county government complex. She was used to them being in airports but it never occurred to her than county government might be a target for “terrorists attacks”.

The permitting department was in the basement and it had the feeling of being the catacombs beneath Rome.

The only woman working in the Permitting office was in her upper fifties and clearly dyed her hair.

“What do you need?” the woman, Mandy if her name tag was accurate, growled at her.

“I am here to pull a permit” Shannon said. “And before I go any farther, you need to know I have never done this before so I realize that I probably don’t have all the information you need to do your job.”

Mandy’s expression softened fractionally. “Probably wouldn’t matter if you had done this before. Most folks don’t do this often enough to get any good at it.”

“Whatchya got?” Mandy demanded.

Shannon started spreading the documentation she had brought in her expanding, seven-pocket folder. “My boy-friend is going to build a root-cellar for Kim and Steven Bockbeck.

“Where do they live?” Mandy asked.

“A couple miles east of Morrison Lake” Shannon told her.

“Do you have a street address?” Mandy asked. “You would be surprised at how many people from Barry County come here to pull permits.”

Mandy double-checked. “Yep, Ionia County” she confirmed.

What can you tell me about the project and the site?” Mandy asked.

Shannon pulled out the topographical map with the house and outbuildings on it. “The plan is to put it here” she said, pointing at the rectangle Heller had penciled in.

“Is that to scale?” Mandy asked.

“Pretty close” Shannon said.

“What are those shaded areas?” Mandy asked, pointing at a rectangle where Heller had outlined and then shaded with the pencil.

“Drain-field” Shannon said.

“Did you mark the well?” Mandy asked.

Shannon pointed to a small, densely shaded square with a capital P printed above it.

“Will it be wired for electricity?” Mandy wanted to know.

“I don’t know. I didn’t think to ask” Shannon admitted.

“A lot of folks hereabouts would run a trench and put conduit in the bottom of it. They would run a line of baling twine through the conduit to pull a wire if they ever decided to up-grade. Just saying it is easier to do now and keep the option open than to do it later” Mandy said.

Of course, Mandy was not blind to the fact that the up-grade would start just about fifteen minutes after the inspector stamped off on the final inspection.

“Did you call Miss Dig?” Mandy asked.

That is when Shannon’s mind slipped a cog. “Miss Dig?” she asked, bewildered.

“I assume you will be excavating. Most root-cellars are below ground. You need to have Miss Dig come and mark the wires and gas lines and such” Mandy said.

“Oh. Right” Shannon said. “I can look that number up and schedule it.”

“No need to look it up. Their number is 8-1-1” Mandy informed her.

“Do you mind if I make some copies of these pages?” she asked.

“Those are yours to keep” Shannon said.

Almost apologetically, Shannon added “I work in banking and I know you cannot do your job if I don’t supply the information you need to do it. So I made copies of everything I thought you might need. You can even keep the folder if it would be helpful."

Looking at the wealth of paper Shannon had brought...plans, topographical flow lines, marked up overhead with well, drain-field and power lines...Mandy was impressed.

“Call Miss Dig and let me know if they find anything that will change the plans” Mandy said.

Even before she left, Shannon called Kim and asked her if there would be any problem if Miss Dig came onto the property. Kim said “No problem.”

Then Shannon called Miss Dig and gave them the critical information.

Again, Shannon was apologetic. “It is just easier to do now. Plus, if I left something out you would tell me and we would not lose another three days.”

After Shannon left, Mandy called Fred Barker, Shannon’s boss.

“I will be more than happy to work with her any time you want to send her here to pull a permit” Mandy told Barker. “She is definitely a take-names and kick-butts kind of girl.”

Fred Barker agreed. “We make too many loans that go into hibernation because our customers get tangled up in knocks on you. It will be good for our business if we can be THE place to go because we make it easy to start building.”

Fred steepled his fingers as he thought about Shannon. He was not about to look a gift-horse in the mouth but there were some things about her that did not add up. She was punching way above her pay-grade and that was a rarity.


  1. Good tip given with future conduit and pull wire. That should be done with any outbuilding. You never know when Mr. Electricity will be a great addition to it. Just be sure to mark its location on a map. You may later want to add a tree and find the two coincide.

    1. Sealing the ends of the conduit with Great Stuff expanding foam is likely to reduce the chances of meecie-mice from building nests and chewing through the twine in the conduit.

      Larger conduit/pvc is easier to pull wire through than smaller.

      If they do chew through the twine, a ziplock baggie stuffed with tissues and sealed can be sucked through the conduit with a vacuum. Tie light fishing line to the baggie before sending it, then use fishing line to pull sturdier cord that is easier on the hands when pulling.

    2. I like the bag suggestion. Any number of times the twine you are sucking through gets hung and you either end up with double or never. Roger

    3. The bag, or shop rag with twine works. Vacuum or air compressor. Now for a huge pet peeve of mine, SWEEPING TURNS(!), not 90 degree right angles at the junctions. It seems obvious, but...

    4. Anybody putting in over 45s should be shot... Just sayin...

    5. Watch your conduit fill.
      Per The National Electric Code:
      One wire: maximum fill is 53% of the space inside a conduit.
      Two wires: maximum fill is 31%
      Three wires or more: maximum fill is 40% of the conduit's total available space.

    6. XTPhreak: That isn't the Redneck Way...we use PVC ....PVC stand for Pipe Very Crowded

  2. Interesting stuff about the baggie and the shop vacc. I might be using that once the snow melts on a project.

    A too large root cellar might be useful in the storm shelter-false wall sort of manner. It's already cool, dark and ventilated if done correctly.

    1. The other prudent thing to do is that when you pull your wire, pull another length of twine with it. Then you have the option to pull another wire for power or signal in the future.

    2. I am batting about .500 on getting twine to pull when it is installed with the wire, lots of times it is faster and easier to tie twine to the existing wire, pull it back, add the new circuit and pull it all back.

  3. It is always remarkable to me how people that are reliant on information are always the best ones in supplying the information as well - in some localities, they can (and do) list out all the requirements and yet many people still fail to prepare. No wonder county employees can come across as grumpy.

    All good information on the conduit - and yes, you will always need to pull something.

  4. Some good ideas here.

    Most county courthouses have security to avoid court problems, not for terrorism. Judges and bailiffs don't like having to face weapons!

    The courthouse where I live now is the first place I've lived that doesn't require security and it's a refreshing change.

    1. A clear indication that everyone in there is armed. Draw at your own peril... roger

  5. Spray foam might go a little further than you want. It also sticks to the conduit walls really well. Removing it might end up with pieces pushed into the conduit. There is official 'duct seal' that is a putty that you form/mold around your wiring and conduit. Steel wool is also an option.

    Twine may not be up to the task of pulling. It will also rot and is munchable by critters. Just get some purpose made nylon pull tape. You can get it with a built in tracer wire which makes locating what you did easier when you loose the drawing you made. Tie each end to something that won't fit in your conduit.

  6. Conduit is cheap. Trench is expensive. Bigger conduit is better. A 2nd, backup conduit, is much more better - high voltage lines and low voltage lines should not share the same conduit. If there's room, both ends of all the conduits should wind up inside a standard underground cable junction box or water meter box (or irrigation system valve box) with each end of the "spare" conduit capped. A few inches extra length can be cut off right at the cap when/if the spare is needed. Forgetteth not the pull twine in the spare.

  7. Good 'explainer' there, well done!

  8. I reckon 'root cellar' can have different meanings. Why would a root cellar have a leach field and a well?

    1. The topo drawing showed where the root cellar was going in. But it also showed where other important things were so the permit office could see that the new cellar wouldn't interfere with them.

    2. if using baler twine, best would be plastic twine, won't rot, doesn't break as easy. And twine for square balers is thicker, and stronger, than for round balers.

    3. Heller sketched in the information knowing that it would be of interest to Permitting. Inspector might do a "drive-by" inspection to look for Miss Dig flags or he might do a boots-on-ground look-see. Depends on his trust level.