Self Made, LLC - Electrical Contracting Company

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Mice Damage

Posted by Eric Self on February 7, 2017 at 10:50 AM Comments comments (0)

Mice have no business in your house. And you can add to that rats, squirrels, flying squirrels, chipmunks, whatever. And if you have snakes or find snakeskins, rest assured you have enough mice around to keep them happy.


So what’s the beef with mice? That they eat wires?


Well, yes, but not because they are hungry, or bored. From the damage we come across, it’s because they are trying to open up passageways for traveling around inside the walls.  Your walls and ceilings are all drilled out for the wire and cabling pulls. When these holes get made for the wire pulls, they also create pathways for the mice to travel once they are in the house.

Nowadays, the Romex style wire cabling has a built in “anti rodent” pesticide in the sheathing.  This ingredient supposedly deters mice from chewing the Romex. That’s good news if you have more modern wiring, but the older wiring doesn't have it and it’s not real clear that the new stuff works anyway from what we’ve seen.


How do you prevent mice damage? Number one, keep the mice out of your house. Seal the gaskets around your garage doors. Sprayfoam any cracks or penetrations in your foundation. Look for holes around your soffits on porches and roofs. If you can keep the mice out of the house, you can keep them out of your walls and wire pathways.  Look for the new pest proof spray foam.  It works well, much better than the old regular spray foam. And it doesn’t rely on pesticides but instead incorporates a sticky glue that hardens better and is very difficult to chew through. Combine it with the copper wire brillo style cleaning pads and it works great to fill the larger gaps.

If you find that you cannot keep them entirely out of you house, say particulary the basement or garage, block the openings inside those areas that allow them to make it to your interior walls. Use that same spray foam and copper pad combo.  Fire Caulk is another product that works well.  Mice proofing your house is a game of inches, and it can take a little time, but it can be done. And it can save you a lot of expense repairing damaged wires.

Live Fire, Live Wire At The Gun Range

Posted by Eric Self on March 8, 2016 at 3:40 PM Comments comments (1)

Of course these things seem to always happen on Sunday.  Why is that?  Maybe for the same reason your smoke detector wants to false alarm in the middle of the night, not the middle of the day.  Murphy's Law.

We got a call from Vince at the local gun range.  On a Sunday.  It seems that one of the guys leaned against a metal building on the property and was nearly electrocuted.  Or shocked.  It depended on which story you heard and how far down the line it had travelled.  Anyway, by the time the story got to Vince, and he and a few guys went to check it out, they found a bullseye-shaped hole the size of a quarter burning in the side of the service equipment.  He called me.  I said shut the breakers off.  He said he HAD!

Did I say I was in Old Forge for all of this?  So we got a hold of Adrian and set him in motion to the club, and got Central Hudson in motion too just in case.  Vince shutting down the Main Breakers hadn't stopped much.  We had to pull the meter.  Adrian hit the shop on his way long enough to grab an Arc Flash Suit.  Pulling the meter took care of the power problem, and he had found the problem before the line crew showed up.  With the short repaired and the meter back in, we were able to get the service back up and running on the same day.  Later in the week we could bat cleanup on the cause.  

Well, what happened?  And why didn't the breaker trip when the wire started shorting?

Good question.  Gets us back to the good old Grounding and Bonding discussions in trade class.  Here's what happened.  The 400 amp main feeders were tapped coming out of the bottom of the Meter Pan, and split into two separate 200A panels.  Picture it this way: three panels in line above a gutter or trough that connects all of them from underneath.  The service feeds drop down off the roof in conduit, go into the meter, down out of the meter and into the gutter underneath.  They travel the length of the gutter, and smaller service wires are spliced onto the main feeder wires that go up into the two 200A panels above the gutter.  These service taps then hit main breakers.  Make sense?  I'll post a picture...

Anyway, the main feeders down in the gutter dead end into the side of the gutter instead of stopping a little short of the end.  And these wire ends were secured with electrical tape.  Maybe one or two wraps, pretty thin.  Either way, the copper wires were actually touching the metal gutter through the tape and energizing it.  And since the building was metal, and the gutter was screwed to the building, it was energizing the whole metal building too.  That's how the guy got hit when he leaned against the building.  

Why didn't anything trip?  Well that was kind of a mess.  First of all, the gutter wasn't grounded.  At first look, the fittings were all metal, the gutter was metal, everything was metal.  You would think there was a mechanical ground if nothing else, but the installers had used plastic sealed metal lock rings.  Great for keeping the water out but it in effect isolated the gutter from the service.  When the wire shorted to the end of the gutter, the only way to get to the service ground was back through the metal siding on the building.  It was faulting to ground but arcing to get there.  Kinda makes you understand why Building Codes are moving the direction of combination arc fault/ground fault breakers.  In this case, there was no breaker yet, only the fuse on the transformer at the road.  Don't you like to think that would have tripped eventually?

Fixing this mess wasn't terrible.  We had to re-work the service grounds to properly ground the gutter.  And we pulled a new wire to bond all the metal parts together, from the Meter to the Main Panels  The hard part was getting the bonding bushing onto the EMT fitting after all the wires had been pulled.  But we found these cool bushings that could be retrofitted.  Weren't cheap but saved us a lot of time and money.  They clamped around the threaded ends of the connectors and then screwed down tight as any standard looking bushing. 

And as far as that burnt out bulls-eye on the gutter, we painted it gray again.  Didn't want anybody to get any ideas down at the range...

Don't Mess With The Main

Posted by Eric Self on February 10, 2016 at 9:30 AM Comments comments (1)

I'm not a superstitious person, but I don't like to mess with Main Breakers.  If they are working, I say leave them alone.  Breakers aren't like switches, and if you turn the Main Breaker off, it might not come back on.

Just saying.  And it happened again today at a Dental Office.  A compressor breaker was tripping and for safety, the staff thought it would be a good idea to turn off the main breaker until a service tech could come.  Guess what happened?  The main breaker now couldn't be reset.  It would stay on for a while and then "trip."  Great.  It's freezing cold at night, they don't make this old breaker anymore, and it won't reset.  

Once on site, we found the Main Breaker halfway over from the off position.  At first attempt, the lever seemed frozen and couldn't be moved.  We took the cover off and got a picture of the breaker itself in case we needed the part number for an order.  While shutting off the individual circuit breakers, we saw one of the circuit breakers below in the the tripped position.  Probably the compressor.  With the cover off and my safety glasses on, I got serious about moving that handle over.  Something about a pair of pliers and a screwdriver, but there were no witnesses.  I figured if it died in the process of being resuscitated it wouldn't be my first patient.  But it lived, and when the handle got all the way over to it's stop position, it held.  Probably didn't want the old hammer and chisel routine again.  More likely it held because it was now fully reset whereas before it had not been.  Either way, still a win.

Not every story like this has a happy ending.  In the past I have been called out on these problems to find that the main had been somehow turned off, couldn't be reset, and now had to be replaced.  Or the whole panel replaced because the breaker is unavailable or outdated.  Don't do that.  Don't be that guy!

Hey, we found the reason those compressors were tripping.  Overloaded circuit.  Splitting up the load to nearby outlets got that fixed.  We then came up with a plan for turning them off and on at night.  Worked great.  Wrapped up, cleaned up, and headed out.  Happy ending, right? Well...

Here's hoping that breaker holds.  Kinda feel guilty about how I mistreated it.  But it was me or him you see, and I hate messing with the Main Breaker.  

Basic Troubleshooting

Posted by Eric Self on February 10, 2016 at 8:35 AM Comments comments (0)

Often on a service call we get a chance to educate the homeowner on some basic troubleshooting tips.  Once you have an understanding of how some wiring in your house is supposed to work, you might find you can fix it yourself.  Or you'll have a pretty solid diagnosis of the problem before the electrician shows up.  If your electrician arrives with the right materials in hand, quite a bit of time can be saved.

What are some examples?

Maybe your outlets aren't working.  Where are they?  In the kitchen, look for a GFCI outlet.  Same goes for garages, outdoors, or anywhere you would likely be plugging in an appliance.  These outlets will be rectangular and have buttons on them.  Maybe even a LED indicator light.  If the light is out, or the buttons cannot be pressed for "test" and "reset," you could have a bad GFCI, a tripped GFCI, a bad breaker or a tripped breaker.  That kind of thing.  In any case, look first for an equipment reason as to why the outlets aren't working.

Press the buttons hard, the newer GFCI's have a lockout feature that is harder to press in than the old ones. And remember - multiple outlets may be protected with just one GFCI outlet.  The rule is up to five.  So, if you have three regular outlets and one GFCI not working on your kitchen countertop, start with the GFCI as the possible problem.  Here's another one.  The basement outlets were dead in a local townhouse.  No power anywhere and all the breakers were "ON" in the panel.  But in the garage, there was a GFCI.  It was tripped.  Once reset, voila, the basement outlets were now back on.  Pretty cheesy, but welcome to condos.  You can lord it over your neighbors when they have the same problem...

In bedrooms, there are some basics also.  If your house was built (or remodeled) around 2000 or later, AFCI breakers were most likely used.  These continue to be used in any "sleeping" area.  Mostly installed as breakers, you will find them in your electrical panel or sub panel.  Look for the breakers with white buttons on them and see if one is tripped.  And many times the outlets in bedrooms are controlled by a switch.  We saw a case where an outlet was not working in a bedroom, and noticed that a wall switch was taped up with painter's tape near a closet door.  When we pulled the tape off and flipped the switch up, the outlet came right on.  Homeowner said it had been like that for years. Bless their hearts!

Breakers can be a little obscure for the uninitiated.  We have seen cases where a breaker was tripped and the homeowner had already scoured the panel for one but missed it.  I showed up, looked in the panel, saw a breaker that was tripped and reset it.  Believe me, I hated it too.  If you are in doubt, physically switch the breaker off and then on.  And if you do spot a tripped breaker that looks like it is between the OFF and ON position, be sure to push it to OFF before pushing it to ON. Some breaker trips are harder to spot.  Make sure your panel is labelled properly.  And don't mess with the Main Breaker.  That's different, and if you turn them off they don't always want to come back on.  I think I had an earlier rant about that one...

If you do find that an outlet is bad or a breaker is bad, and decide to call an electrician, take note of the brand or the color.  For breaker panels, Square D makes two different kind of panels and it helps to know which one you have.  Murray, Seimans, GE are pretty much interchangeable.  Is it a mini breaker?  Get the model number on those, they can be tricky.  Take a picture and send it over with your smart phone.

We'd always rather you decide to stay safe, so don't hesitiate to call us with a problem, even if you suspect it may be an easy fix.  And hey, it may provide us with another idea for a troubleshooting blog!


One Red Truck

Posted by Eric Self on January 11, 2016 at 7:10 AM Comments comments (0)

If you know much about our company, you know that we like trucks.  Red trucks. Why red?  Lann Rubin, the GM of All American Ford, sold me my first new truck about 15 years ago and it was red.  After that, everything that followed had to match.

For years we stuck with red trucks.  They did it all for us.  I think we had four of them at one time.  I spent a lot of time crowing about how great they were and all we could do with them.  The snow, the ice, muddy access roads, yada yada...

Well, we are now down to one red truck.  And it's the one I drive.  What the heck happened?

I had to move on.  We grew as a company in the last couple of years.  At the same time, the kind of work we were doing changed too.  We found ourselves working on a lot of different job sites in the course of the week, we were doing more commercial work in addition to our residential work, and we were still trying to get our service calls done.  Bottom line, we just couldn't carry enough stuff. Not that we didn't try.  We had one truck weighed and we were over 10,000 pounds.  Problem was, the truck was only rated to 8800.  Whoops.

It started with Joel's truck.  With the miles adding up, we were looking to replace it anyway.  I was thinking F350.  Maybe a work body.  Joel was looking around and was really trying to sell me on one of the new Sprinter style vans.  One thing led to another, and we settled on an E350 van from Ford with a Reading work body on it.  It was ten grand less than a new truck and it came all set up with racks and storage.  I think we walked away for around 38K for the van all set up, and that was less than a base F350 truck without any racks or boxes.  I hated it, but I could beat the deal.  

Joel was on vacation when I swapped his truck out.  I think I put his entire overloaded truck into just one half of that work body van.  And there you had it.  We just couldn't carry enough stuff in those trucks anymore, much as I liked the versatility.

So I moved on.  

Swapped out everybody's truck for a van.  I kind of tend to go overboard my wife says.  But the decision has stood up.  Joel was right, those darn things go just about anywhere.  Too heavy to be stopped by the snow. And with all that storage space you have what you need when you get there.  And your tools don't get wet in the back.  And you don't have to climb into it to get what you need.  Blah blah blah.  Believe me, I keep hearing about it from the guys.  Oh well, I'll live it down eventually.

Except for that video on why red trucks are the best.  I'll probably never live that one down.  I've got to re-shoot that.  Sigh...

And I've got to get photos of the new fleet up on the site.  Four white vans.

And one red truck.