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Troubleshoot in Salmon Creek Area

I got a call to check out a power problem at a townhome in the Salmon Creek area of Vancouver, WA. The customer said that the power to the upstairs bedrooms goes out and she has to reset the breaker for it to come back on. She mentioned that some siding work had been done recently and there were no power issues before this work was done. She thought maybe a nail was shot through a wire during the residing process and was causing the breaker to trip.

I went out to see what the problem was and asked her to recreate the problem. She plugged in her flat screen tv and turned it on and POOF! The breaker tripped! Just like she said. This intrigued me as a flat screen tv should not draw enough power to trip a breaker, so I went to the panel to do some more investigating.

I noticed that the breaker that tripped was an arc-fault breaker. Arc-fault breakers are designed to detect a short between the neutral wire and ground. This is important because the neutral wire is what carries any unused electricity back to the panel and if it shorts out, that unused electricity can go elsewhere, like into you, in the form of an electric shock. Normal breakers only detect shorts between the hot wire and ground. Arc-fault breakers are required for circuits in a home that are powering lights and plugs in bedrooms and closets.

There was another arc-fault breaker in the panel so I switched the wires between the breakers to see if maybe we had a bad breaker. It still tripped the other breaker so I knew the breaker wasn’t bad.

I put the wires back to their original position and plugged the tv into the other arc-fault circuit to see if the wiring in the building was at fault from a nail shot through during re-siding. It still tripped the other circuit so I knew the wiring in the building was okay.

The conclusion was that there was a short in the tv somewhere between the neutral and the ground and it was causing the breaker to trip when the tv is turned on. Unfortunately, the only solution is to get the tv fixed or replaced. The good news is, the wiring in the building is still ok and the siders didn’t damage any wiring with rogue nails.

If you’re ever having problems with a particular piece of equipment, try plugging it in to several different circuits to see if the wiring is at fault or the equipment. It will save both of us time and money.

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Hot Tub Install in Vancouver, WA

Have you ever wished you had a hot tub but didn’t exactly know what the costs involved are and how much you have to do to get it ready? Well, check this post out, and it may shed a little light on the situation.

I went to this home in Vancouver, WA and they had a cram-packed full panel. There was no extra room for anything. A hot tub requires a 50 amp, GFCI protected circuit run in #6 copper wire. I did some research and found a special breaker that worked in this panel that allows you to fit two breakers into one breaker space. This is called a twin, tandem, mini, or wafer breaker. I used this special breaker and was able to make room for the required 50 amp breaker I needed to complete the job.

Breakers in panel, hot tub is 50 amp in bottom right

Breakers in panel, hot tub is 50 amp in bottom right

I ran the wiring in conduit from the panel in the basement, through the garage, and out to the disconnect on the back of the house where the hot tub was. Electrical code requires that the disconnect be within 25 ft of the hot tub and within sight but no closer than 6 ft to the tub. We found a location that satisfied the requirements and then ran the circuit from the disconnect to the hot tub through a trench that the customer dug for me. (Digging your own trench saves you lots of money rather than paying an electrician to dig for you. Plus, I really hate digging so this was great.)

Wiring in conduit at panel in basement

Wiring in conduit at panel in basement

Hot tub disconnect with GFCI breaker

Hot tub disconnect with GFCI breaker

Wiring in conduit through trench 24" deep

Wiring in conduit through trench 24″ deep

Wiring in conduit through garage

Wiring in conduit through garage

Wiring inside hot tub motor compartment

Wiring inside hot tub motor compartment

The customer dug out a section of their back yard, laid down gravel to level it out, sand to make it smooth, and decorative pavers to make it pretty. They set the hot tub on these pavers and the final installation looks great. After the tub was full, we fired it up and everything worked out great. This was a full days worth of work, but in the end, it turned out hassle-free and a job well done.

Hot tub, filled and ready for fun

Hot tub, filled and ready for fun

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In-Wall Speakers for a Home Theater System in Battle Ground, WA

I received a request today to fish some speaker wiring up a wall in Battle Ground, WA. The homeowner had already pulled the wires to the location where the speakers were going to go, however, he just drilled a hole in the floor and poked them out of the floor rather than bringing them up to the location on the wall. That’s why he called me. As I was looking at the situation, I realized that the area where the home theater was at was not in the center of the room. It was off to one side. This meant that if the in-wall speakers were installed where the homeowner originally wanted, the left speaker would be blasting the viewers in the side of the head and the right speaker would be 20 ft away and hardly noticed. The available wall space severely limited where we could put the speakers and it didn’t look like it would work very well with the speaker being mounted in the walls. So, I suggested that we do a ceiling mount application. There were no obstructions in the ceiling and we could get them almost exactly the same distance from center. This was the option that ultimately worked. I was able to fish the wires through the joist bay in the ceiling without having to cut any additional access holes, and was even able to reuse the wire that the homeowner had originally run through the crawl space. Once the painters get done and those speakers go in, I hope I get to see that home theater system in action. It will definitely put out some impressive sound.

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Subpanel With Crispy Breakers

Today I had a call to look at a subpanel that fed a pool and it’s equipment. The customer gave me a story covering a span of about three years which ultimately ended up in the breaker for his pool pump not working right. He said the pump would come on for a couple minutes, then shut off. The breaker wasn’t tripping, so he would turn it off, then back on, and the pump would start working again for a couple minutes, then shut off. He figured he just had a bad breaker. Little did he know…..

When I got there, I opened the subpanel and everything looked okay….from the outside. I decided to remove the breaker that was having the problem and when I did, I found this:

Burned breaker

The breaker crumbled in my hand when I removed it from the panel and part of the breaker came off and was partially welded to the bussing in the panel. Overheating? You betcha.

Pieces of breakers welded to the bussing

I pulled out the rest of the breakers to see what the condition was and there were two that were completely destroyed, and two others that had significant heat damage due to being next to the ones that were really bad. Of the other two, one had a piece missing.

Burned bussing

Burned bussing

The bussing was so burned that new breakers couldn’t be placed on those spots, and there wasn’t enough room to accommodate all his circuits on the spots that were still in good condition. My conclusion was to replace the panel and all it’s breakers entirely.

Once this was done, everything worked perfectly and everyone was happy. Doesn’t it look much better now?

New subpanel

New subpanel

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Residential Troubleshooting

Today I had a request to restore power to a washing machine circuit. The homeowner knew that the washing machine was not working and knew that there was no power at the outlet but did not know why. After troubleshooting it, I traced it back to the electrical panel where I found a wire that was not connected to a breaker. After verifying the integrity of the wire, I connected it to a spare breaker and got power at the washer outlet. However, I only found 18 volts and the washing machine requires 120 volts to work properly. After a bit more troubleshooting, I found a loose connection in an outlet, repaired it, and the washing machine worked perfectly. In the end, everybody was happy with a job well done.

Burned up connection in outlet

Burned up connection in outlet

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Electrical Work Done at a Marina

The marina we worked at today have ramps going from the docks to the parking lot. These ramps have garbage facilities and mailboxes at the top and people will wait there if someone is coming up or down the ramp. The marina had covered areas built at the top of each ramp and wanted lights and a plug in each one. We quoted the job and the marina accepted our bid. We did new construction wiring and put the lights on a photosensor to only allow them to come on at night and a motion sensor so they would only come on when someone is near. This will save the marina money in electricity costs and will enhance the waiting area’s atmosphere by making everything visible.

Wiring inside a shed at the top of a boat ramp

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