thz.ca, Costs, Electrical, Geothermal, Water Heat, Insulation, Landscaping, Roof, Windows, Deck

    2012,   2011,   2010,   2009,   2008,   2007,   2006,   2005

Here's what's on this page:
  • Check-it electrical monitoring system
  • More LED lighting
    • A neat LED light I picked up in Hong Kong
    • Nearly the entire main floor switched to LEDs!
  • Making the solar panels tilt
    • An unexpected subsidy program gets us into solar panels
    • 1540 watts installed under a tight deadline
  • New solar timer and charge controller for the 12v system
  • Modify 12v solar panel frame to change angles to shed snow
  • 12v solar panel system with battery to run LED yard lights
  • LED lights in kitchen and for exterior lighting
  • LED lighting in the deck and pathways
  • Electric hot water tank added - check meter added for hot water
  • LED Christmas lights added
  • Upgrade from 70 amp service to 200 amp service
  • Add service pole at the garage and bury electrical cables in yard
  • Separate 100 amp panels for heat pump and the rest of the house


In 2012 I was really busy with the
Eco Solar Home Tour. That took up most of my time but at one house I saw this really interesting energy monitoring system. It is from Check-it in Regina and seemed interesting. Details below.

The other interesting thing this year was that LED light bulbs came on sale at Home Depot. For the first time the lights had good colour and were available at a good price. I re-did the entire main floor with these bulbs.

I called the folks at Check-it and they quoted me on a rather elaborate system. This type of monitoring system uses small sensing coils on each circuit that you want to monitor. Normally a Check-it System would monitor the main breaker in the house and 6 other main circuits of interest. I am not normal! I decided to monitor everything I could so signed up for 35 circuits! Once the package arrived I went through it so see how to put it all together.

The basic set up is that the sensing coils mount onto the wires of your breaker panel. Essentially they are coils that measure amps directly. If you have a 120 volt circuit you use one, and if you have a 240 volt circuit you use two coils pointed in opposite directions. In this picture there are coils on two 240 volt circuits. These little sensing coils are called CTs.

Here is one of the panels in the house with 13 sensing coils attached. Just getting everything sorted out in this picture before I run the wires to the measurement modules.

My main house panel consists of a house panel and a satellite panel. Here the wires for the 21 circuits are all brought to the space in the wall where I am going to mount the measurement modules.

I cut out a section of drywall and then lined the space with pink polystyrene insulation and the put up a wooden mounting board to hold all the units. The power bar is wired into the electrical panel and will provide space to mount the power supplies.

The measurement module (called an ECM) attaches to the wires of the sensing coils and then sends the information via a wireless radio connection to an internet gateway. The internet gateway sends the information to Check-it and they display the real-time energy use statistics on your account on their web site. There is a small annual fee for this service. This is the ECM for my heat sub-panel. This monitors the heat pump and the hot water heater. On the left is another type of monitor that measures temperature. I have it measuring the inlet and outlet water to my heat pump as well as outside air temperature.

Here is the module in the garage. It is on the wall nearest the house so that it can communicate wirelessly with the internet gateway. It was hard getting this module to connect and I had to move the internet gateway a few times to get it to connect. I also had to mount the module in a box as the garage can get quite dusty. This module monitors the main electrical panel, the solar panels, and this small garage sub-panel.

So here is the house panels just about done. This took three measurement modules which you can see mounted into their little cubby-hole. A plastic cover snaps over this hole to make it blend in to the surrounding wall.

The picture below shows the output of the Check-it system in an image from their web site. You can see a couple of things. First the large load on the left is from when the heat pump was on (the red line maked 756 Heat Panel). The notches in the purple line (229 House Panel) are from the washing machine. The notches are caused by the high efficiency washer drum rotating one way, stopping, and then rotating the other way. The top pink line is the overall total for the entire house and is the sum of the lines below. In this way I can actually see which circuits are using how much power in real time and can figure out where to find future cost savings.

On our winter vacation we stayed a few days in Hong Kong. One of the neat things about Hong Kong is that they are really into LED lighting. There is a entire district in Mongkok that is devoted to lighting and most of those stores feature LED lights like you have never seen before. I picked up this dome light for a basement bedroom. It has 128 small LEDs on the circuit board and a plastic dome cover. It is rated for indoor or outdoor use. A nice bright dome light with good colour for our yellow room in the basement.

Last year Phillips finally made a light that replaced a 60 watt incandescent bulb. It was expensive and a very strange 3-lobed yellow design. It didn't catch on. This year they have come out with another type of LED light. This time they have got it right. These lights are exactly the size of the former incandescent bulbs, are as bright as a 60 watt bulb, have good colour, and draw only 10 watts. Home Depot had a promotion on these bulbs and were offering them for $18 each (regularly $20). That's the right bulb and the right price for me. I bought 16 initially and then a couple more when I ran out. Our entire main floor is now lit with LEDs except for one free standing lamp (which will be replaced soon). All our rooms are brighter now with each bulb using half the power of the old compact fluorescents that were there.


For those of you that have read about my experiments with solar panels below you will know that I tried out a two-position solar panel on the garage in the spring of 2010. With the new dormer mounted solar panels I also wanted to make them two-position; vertical for the winter to shed snow, and angled in the summer to shade the upstairs dormer windows.

In order to speed the installation of the solar panels by the end of 2010 we just left the upper solar module frame bolted in a vertical position (it was winter after all). Then early in 2011 I started work to make the upper modules tilt out for the summer.

In order to figure out the tilting mechanism I built a full size model with corrugated plastic and tape. Here it is as I check the movement. With this model I was able to check the clearances and the actual amount of travel that would be needed to make this work. The solar module frame is at the top right. The support struts are bent at the top middle in an intermediate position. Originally I was going to make the operating lever an actual lever (seen at the bottom). The angles to operate this lever proved to be a bit too complicated so I took the bottom part of the lever off and just pinned the down leg to the house (much simpler).

So back to the workshop. One of the problems with building tilt into these panels is that if you spend too much money doing it you will never actually get a return. I am hoping for maybe an extra 10% of power by tipping vertically in winter to shed snow. That is not a lot of power. I wanted to keep the total cost of the tipping mechanism under about $100. Here I have cut some brackets from some angle aluminum. I made the struts out of square tubing and fastened everything together with stainless steel nuts and bolts.

Here is the tipping mechanism extended. There are three struts. Each strut snaps into an "over-center" lock to brace it securely. A piece of angle aluminum (right of the pivot bolts) ties the three struts together so that they all act as one. The piece of square tube that goes down from the center strut is the operating lever. It is pinned to the house. I open the dormer window to access this pinned lever. Since this lever only needs to keep the struts in the over-center position there are no stresses on it.

Here is the panel in the vertical position. In this position the struts do not provide much strength as they are bent up out of the way. To secure the frame in this position there are two garage door latches that engage at the furthest corners of the frame. You can see the garage latch in the center foreground (the flat horizontal tab). There is a cable attached to this latch. To extend the frame and tilt it up I reach out of the dormer window and pull on the cable to release the latches. Then I push the frame out while pulling down on the operating lever. When the struts click over-center I pin the operating lever to the house to keep it secure.

In this picture the solar modules are on the right. Note the construction of the struts. You can see that when they are pulled down there is considerable overlap in the square tubing to provide a solid over-center lock. In this position you can also see the operating lever parallel to the center strut. There is not much clearance for the struts in this retracted position!

From the ground you can see the retracted top dormer panel. I got this part of the project done on 20 Feb 2011. The thing was I wanted to get the top dormer panel mechanism working before I took the scaffolding back. Getting scaffolding up to the top dormer awning was a big job (20 ft high) and cost a bit more than I wanted to spend twice. If I could get the top dormer awning mechanism working before I took down the scaffolding then I could do the mechanism for the bottom dormer awning in the spring/summer (with a lower set of scaffolding that I could borrow from our church). Here is the top dormer awning in the vertical position. If you look closely you can see the bent arms of the mechanism in this retracted position.

So here is the view of the top dormer extended for the summer sun. All three arms lock with an over center lock and are held in this position by a down strut that hangs below the middle arm. You can operate this awning by opening the window on the left, pulling the pin and then pushing the awning with a stick. Not elegant but it only has to happen twice a year so simpler is better. The reason the middle arm is not centered is because it has to connect with the lever which is pinned to the window frame. Where it is located I can easily get to it from the open left window.

The mechanism works really well. It's a bit heavy to operate but not too bad. In the winter these top panels do not collect any snow and generate power when all the other panels are covered. In the summer time these panels tip out to match the angle of the rest of the panels on the roof. With the panels tipped out the top dormer windows are shaded and keep the house noticeably cooler.


In September of 2010 our City came out with a pilot program that offered $3 a watt for installed grid tied photovoltaic power (solar panels). Earlier this year I had been working on an idea to put together a grid tied system one or two panels at a time. I had even bought one panel and one micro inverter to experiment with. The pilot program gave us the incentive to buy a complete system immediately.

The terms of the pilot program were that you had to complete the installation of the system before December 31st. I applied for the program on Sept 2nd, applied for the development permits on Sept 9th, received the development permit on October 4th, the building permit on November 30th, and just barely got the system installed and inspected by December 31st. It got done, but was a bit more stressful than anticipated. The rebate worked out to about 1/3 the cost of the system. Not a bad incentive.

So here are some pictures and description of the installation of our grid tied system.

Let me start with the nearly finished picture so you get an idea of what we were trying to do. There are three panels mounted on the roof (on the right) and four panels mounted on two awnings above and below the windows of the south facing dormer. The roof panels are mounted directly to the roof and match the pitch of the roof. The dormer panels were mounted vertically to get the project done on time. Then I am going to modify them to tip out for the summer sun (see 2011 above).

The first thing is to apply for the development permit. I started out by thinking that the panels would be best either on a pole in the back yard or on the garage. In order to figure out how that would work I built this scale paper model to try things out. Here is a picture showing how the model matches the actual garages. The panels on a pole shaded too much of the back yard so that idea was set aside. It looked like 5 panels across the back of the garage would work best. Here's the layout I first proposed. On Sept 9th I applied for the development permit. The City didn't like the panels on the garage thinking that the pilot program specifically required that the panels be mounted on the house. After a bit of discussion we moved the panels to house with three on the roof and 4 in two awning mounts above and below the dormer windows. Here is the modified application. We obtained our development permit approval on October 4th.

In our cluttered back yard the were many issues with shading. One key item that made it possible to put solar panels in our yard was the new type of micro inverter that has become available in the last few years. These small inverters attach to each solar panel and create AC power right at the panel. The key advantage is that each panel becomes independant. That means that if a panel is shaded it does not affect the other panels in the string. That's important in our yard since there were lots of obstructions. We took out two trees (already diseased) but there were still some obstructions. We chose micro inverters from Enphase. Here is how they connect to the solar panel. They also connect to the internet so that you can monitor your actual power use every day. Here is a link to our real time solar power production at Enphase Energy.

The biggest problem in this installation was the dormer panels. We needed to come up with some structure in order to mount the panels on the dormers. This is where we ran into our biggest problem. It was difficult to find an engineer that had experience with solar panel mounting and we had a considerable delay getting the frame engineering to get our building permits. Finally we used Unistrut to create a frame to mount the panels and was able to get it reviewed by an engineer. We finally got our building permits on November 30th: one month left to install the system. Here is a detail of the Unistrut frame. Yes the weather really was that crappy. Note the solar mounting rails behind on the roof ready to mount the roof panels.

So now that we had our building permits and were ready to begin installaton the weather turned bad and stayed bad. Here I am in the kitchen building the solar mounting rails for the dormer mounts. Outside was snow, cold, wind and everything else that could slow down the installation. Only 30 days to get the system installed and they were the worst 30 days of the year. Go figure.

But our installer was up to the challenge. Here is Benn getting the bottom dormer panels mounted. He put in a lot of cold days getting solar panels installed for this pilot program. We were the second last system that he had on his list. He was kept hopping all through the fall.

The three panels on the roof were the simplest part of the job. The rails mounted to the roof with purpose built hardware and the panels strapped to the rails. The only trick to this part of the installation was finding the rafters in the roof. Remember that we created a second roof deck in 2005 with a ventillation space between the old and the new roof decks (see roof)? Finding the first rafter was the trick. I solved that by opening up the drywall inside the house to locate a rafter and then drilling out from the inside with an 18" long drill bit. The drill bit came out on the top of the roof and allowed the installer to mark the first rafter position. All other rafters were 24" from that location. There was no trouble installing the roof mounted panels after that.

The dormer panels were a different story. Once the engineering was done I built and installed the Unistrut frame myself. The installer had a number of other installions as part of the pilot program and was pretty busy. It was important to get the frame installed so he could concentrate his time on the solar panels. This picture was actually taken on Christmas eve. The last solar panels went up at 4 pm on Christmas eve. Quite the Christmas present!

So now we are an Independant Power Producer. The application to the utility was a one page simple document (introduced last year). The utility was very easy to deal with and accepted the application without issue. This was probably the easiest part of hooking up the grid tie system. To protect the utility linemen the lines going to our house are marked with the IPP tag shown as an independant power producer. This is to warn utility workers that there could be power coming from this location in the event of a power failue. Our inverters will automatically shut off in the event of grid failure but this is reminder to the utility workers to double check.

On December 24th at 4 pm the solar panels were complete. Then the following week the inspections were completed and we got our final sign off on December 31st at 10 am in the morning. I was able to email in the paperwork to meet the deadline. The City came through with the rebate right away. Here is the new bi-directional meter showing the first kilowatt hour sold back to the grid. In the winter this doesn't happen very often but it's nice to see the first electrons heading back to the grid.


More work on the 12 volt solar panels.

With the excitement of the grid-tied system it's hard to remember that earlier in the year I was still working with my little 60 watt 12 volt system. Here are some of the things I did with the small system before the grid-tie frenzy took hold in September.

Early in 2010 I set out to correct the problem of the solar panels getting covered with snow. I modified the frame for the panels so that it can be set to either vertical (to shed show) or about 53 degrees (our lattitude). This gives me more charging power in the summer and the ability to shed show in the winter. The other thing I found was a combination lighting timer and charge controller. This unit acted as a charge controller to charge the battery and then turned the lights on when the PV panels were darkened (uses the panels to sense the lack of light). The timer turns the lights off after a predetermined time rather that running until the battery is drained (like my previous dark switch). By controlling how many hours the lights need to run I can keep the battery from draining below the danger level for freezing.

Here is my new lighting and charge controller. This unit turns the lights on at dusk for a timed period. By timing the lighting I can keep the battery charge in the safe voltage range in the winter by reducing the light timing. Timing the lights also lets me get 2 to 3 nights from a charge. With the dark switch the system depleted itself every night so if we didn't have a sunny day there were no lights that night. With the timer I can get 2 to 3 days from a charge. The new lighting timer/charge controller came from WSE Technologies. The other thing I am noticing is that this is a much better charge controller than the one that came with the solar panels.

Now to try and keep the solar panels working through the winter without getting covered with snow. From November until the end of February a vertical solar panel will work about as well as a panel that is set at our lattitude. I set out to modify the frame so that it could move from one position to the other. The first step was to add hinges to the bottom frame. I was actually able to add the hinges to the frame without taking it down. The hinges look a little clumsy but much of that is from working on it at that height. The other thing I was doing was extending the bottom frame to increase the angle of the solar panels in the summer from 63 degrees to somewhere near 53 degrees.

Here are the solar panels in the vertical position. For now I have to go up onto a short ladder to undo the bolt that moves the panels. I also have to climb on the roof to release the bicycle lock on the panels. I'll sort that out before winter. I'm expecting to change the panel angle when I put up my Christmas lights each year.

Here are the solar panels in the summer position. You can see that the two arms at the top are retracted and that pulls the panels back toward the pole. I need to add a stop to keep the upper frame from rubbing on the main electrical cable but that will happen later.

To the end of 2010 these panels are working well and the timer/charge controller is great. In the darkest months I still had to add the battery charger and timer again but usually when I check the system on a sunny day the battery is charged before the timer has to turn on the charger.


This was the year we added our first solar panels. Granted, they only run the landscape lights but at least they are solar panels. Since these solar panels only run at 12 volts they do not need an electrcial permit for installation. That pretty much makes them perfect for experimenting. So for about $500 I have a nice little solar system and battery that runs most of the items in my workshop and powers the landscape lights every night. I use the 12v charging system to charge my tool batteries, to charge the battery on my weed eater and lawnmower, and it powers LED work lights over my work bench. It's not a lot of power but its a start. With the geothermal heat system in the house we use a lot of power. Our little solar panels have the very modest goal of making our garage power independant. Start small - but at least get started.

The other electrical project this year was to start replacing our lights with LED lights wherever possible. When compact flourescent lights came out years ago we bought some of the first ones made. At the time they were $30 a bulb which seems like a lot until I look at the $100 a bulb we paid for the kitchen LEDs. Now that LED lights are available we want to try and use them as much as possible. Unfortunately the colour of the light is poor in most LED lights. The is not the case for the type of pot light called the Cree LR6. We put five of these amazing lights in our new kitchen and they work great (expensive but great - I like them so much I bought stock in the company www.creelighting.com). We are trying out a number of different LED lights especially for exterior lighting (compact florescent light don't like the cold but LEDs do).

Here are our first 60 watts of solar power. They are mounted on the same pole as our power feed but there is no connection to the grid. I asked about mounting the panels on the pole and electrical inspector said "you own the pole" so it was Ok to mount it there (be sure to leave lots of clearance to the main power lines). I also have the conduit marked as 12 volts so that any lineman will know that this is not tied to the grid. I built the aluminum frame from angle bar and use security bolts to hold the panels in place. Note the bicycle padlock on the top frame. The panels are 10 feet in the air but I am just making them unattractive to mess with.

I built the entire frame and then mounted the panels before hoisting them into position. I used a pulley mounted on the pole to raise the frame into place. You can see here that the panels are glass backed in plastic frames. I bolted them directly to my home-made frame. In this picture I have just placed flexible conduit along the bottom of the frames and am starting to run the wiring.

In the garage I have a solar charge controller and a deep cycle marine battery (in the box). These are mounted up off my work bench. Originally I used the charge controller that came with the Canadian Tire solar panels. Then I used a "dark switch" (clear topped box in centre) to control the lights. This switch would turn the lights on at dusk and then turn them off when the battery charge dropped to a low voltage cut-off. I was not able to get the dark switch to cut off at a voltage much higher than 11.5 volts. Unfortunately in our climate 11.5 volts is too low to protect a lead acid battery from freezing and I had to add a battery charger to keep the battery above 12.4 volts in the coldest winter months.

I had quite a bit of trouble getting enough charging for the battery in the winter. The main problem was snow. We had quite a bit this year and even though I set the panel angle at 63 degrees to try and emphasize winter solar gain it still collected snow. In this case I had to take a long pole and brush the snow off. You can see in this picture that even at a steep 63 degrees (our lattitude plus 10 degrees) that the snow is still sticking to the panels. It's important in this little system that snow does not obscure the panels as the voltage of the battery needs to stay above about 12.4 volts for freeze protection in the coldest months. In the end I connected a battery charger to a timer to add 2 hours of charging a day to prevent freezing (the charger comes on late in the day so the solar panels have a chance to charge the battery first). I ran the charger from December til the end of February. See the write-up in 2010 for how I fixed the charging problem.

Here is one of the new LED pot lights that I put in the kitchen. These LR-6 units from Cree LED Lighting are fantastic. I have tried a number of other LED lighting products but most of them have a green or blue colour and are not suitable for indoor lighting. The Cree products are completely different. The colour of this light is perfect. It looks like a 75 watt incandescent flood light but only burns 11 watts. That big heat sink on top keeps the LED chips cool enough so that they can throw off a lot of light. These lights fit into the existing cans that we had in our kitchen. A bit pricely at $90 a light but 17 years ago I paid $40 a light for the compact florescent spot lights I put into this same kitchen. These lights are excellent.


There always has to be some electrical in any of my projects. This year it was new deck lights. I found some really nice LED lights that mount flush into the deck. These illuminate the steps and have worked out very well.

Back in 2005 I called the phone company to move their phone wire into the conduit that I had included underground during our upgrade. The phone company was very unhelpful (though the cable company come and ran their wire for free). Last year I changed phone providers to an internet phone company that uses our cable feed for service. Although the internet phone company was very difficult to set up now that it is installed we haven't had any problems. So I called the phone company to remove their overhead wire - they wouldn't do it. Said I had to get an independant contractor to do the work. After 50 years of profits from our house they won't remove their wire! My pruning hook took care of that wire this year.

Finally I updated the thermostat for the geothermal heat pump. The heat pump came with a mercury thermostat that was made for the heat pump. It worked well but was not programmable. It also was printed with white letters on a silver background and I couldn't read it without my glasses and a strong flashlight. Upgraded to the top of the line Vision Pro programmable thermostat from Honeywell. Installation was OK but the way it is set up it uses the electrical backup heater too much. After talking to my geothermal installer I fit an in-line switch to the W2 wire (stage 2 heat). That keeps the electrical backup heater off unless we need it. Now that I have a programmable thermostat I can set back the temperature during the daytime when we are not home.

Here are the deck lights on the steps to the sidewalk on the west side of the house. These LED lights are on a timer that senses when it gets dark outside. We can set the time for a couple of hours after darkness or to stay on all night. We have two more appliances to change to electricity and then we can get rid of this gas meter. Once the stove and dryer are electric we can ditch natural gas and save over $30 a month in gas service charges.

Here are the lights on the main part of the deck later in the winter. They give great visibility at the steps.

I also added two electical outlets to the deck. I added a set of switches outside so that I can turn off the lights in the steps. I also upgraded the motion sensor light to plastic conduit. There was another motion light on the east side of the house that had been wired previously with BX cable (not rated for exterior use). I ran a length of the correct type of wire to this other motion sensor. While I was up in the eaves I stapled up all the TV cables and other wires that hadn't been dealt with. Now all the exterior wiring is good shape.


Once we decided that the tankless water heater had to go I went looking for a solar hot water tank that I could run on electricity only until I got the solar collectors running. The installer came and put in the water heater but I was not impressed by either their plumbing or electrical skills. More on the plumbing on the water heater page. After they left I got an electrical permit and rebuilt everything they had installed. While I did this I also ran new circuits for an electrical dryer and connected the roughed in wires that had been left for a stove. The electrical inspector was pretty impressed by this completed installation.
First I moved the panel for the geothermal furnace as far right as it would go, then I took a sheet of plywood to my workshop to work on this layout. I added a seperate meter for the hot water tank, then a new breaker box. This allows me to track all the electricity that this tank uses. It's very consistent at about 210 kWh per month. Note my clip board at upper left where I keep track of all the readings. Underneath the small hot water breaker panel in the middle (grey) is the box for the contactor. This contactor boosts the power from the controller (small white box on left) to the 3,600 watts (220v) that the heater needs. The original box that the installer brought wasn't big enough to fit the contactor - I had to get a new box. To the right you can see the 100 amp panel that feeds the geothermal heat pump. The hot water breaker panel is fed from this larger panel. The check meters let me see exactly how much power is needed to power the geothermal heat pump and the hot water tank. To the right of the geothermal check meter are four thermometers that I use to track the inlet and outlet air and water temperatures for the geothermal heat pump.

The other electrical job I did this year was new Christmas lights. I got the new LED style of lights that change colour from red to blue with purple in between. In order to make it easy to put these lights up and down I strapped the lights to lengths of aluminum angle bar. These sections of aluminum have eye bolts on them which clip to hooks on the facia boards on the house. It only takes about 10 minutes to put all these lights up. I also put hooks into the ceiling of the garage so that I can store these light assemblies over the summer. The aluminum bars have worked really well - unfortunately one of the lighting controllers got wet and crapped out the second year. I replaced the string of lights but the colour is not quite the same and it doesn't look quite as good as they did the first year. Oh well. I'll wait for these lights to wear out before I change all the strings again.


This next set of pictures shows the main electrical upgrade we completed in 2005.

Part of the requirements for geothermal heat is that you need at least 150 amps (220 volt) of power to your house. Since our old house only had a 70 amp service we needed to upgrade our power. We elected to upgrade to a 200 amp service. We also needed to move the wires away from our deck as they were too close to the deck for safety (we want to extend the deck next year). We elected to move our wires underground.

So this is our backyard where the wires are going to go. Lots of difficulty figuring out what we could do with the electrical inspectors. We wanted to feed the service to a pole at the garage first and then feed to our old 70 amp panel in the house and a new 100 amp panel for the geothermal heat exchanger. In the end we settled with the inspector to put a 200 amp main panel in the garage with the meter on the back of the garage. Then two "branch circuits" of 100 amps each fed the house underground from the garage. The rule is you have to feed the building where the electrical service enters first. OK there is a little 30 amp service to the garage subpanel from the main service panel.

Looking north to the backyard you can see the old electrical entrance and meter. We are going to trench from here to the house through the middle of the yard. Should be fun.

But first we need a pole. The electrical utility will set a pole for you on your property for about $500. I got this 6x6" pressure treated post from work where we use them to wind up plastic liners (big ones!). It cost me about $80. The pole is 24 feet long and I brought it home on the roof rack. Quite a few funny looks on that drive!

The idea was to paint the pole and then mount all the electrical wires needed onto the pole before we tipped it up. That way we wouldn't have to work high in the air. The rule is that the main service wire needs to clear the back alley by 18.5 ft. We set the pole 4 ft in the ground so it would be 20 ft high.

Then we tipped the pole up and attached it to the garage. It's bolted to the garage and set 4 ft into the ground. It's not likely to go anywhere. Next the fence comes down and we rented a tiny excavator to do the digging.

We rented the smallest excavator you can get, a Bobcat 310. This excavator has a 6" wide bucket. I figured the smaller the hole I dig the easier it will be to fix afterward. See that line to the excavator? We are going to dig that all up.

And there we are. A 60 ft long trench from the garage to the house. It took 9 solid hours of digging with this little excavator to get that hole in place. The trench is about 3.5 ft deep. We were trying for 4 ft but the hard clay at the 3.5 ft level just wouldn't give to that little excavator. Your cables should be below 3 ft deep - actually since we were putting in what amounted to "branch circuits" they didn't have much a specification on depth. We put them at 3.5 feet deep which is where a standard 100 amp service cable would be buried just to be safe.

Then we drove the excavator out of the yard while the conduit and wire was placed. The boards are to help us straddle the trench by our garden shed where it makes a right angle turn. The shed was too heavy to move.

In the trench there are two 100 amp direct-bury cables. The cables are in the tallest 2" conduit. That conduit ends just underground and the two wires are buried directly in the soil. There are two other conduits. The 1 1/4" conduit is for telephone and cable. You can see it taking a right angle turn to the left just as it comes out of the ground. It then runs up the pole and stops about 2 ft below where the electrical service is connected. The other conduit (with the white cap) is a 2" conduit that I ran as a spare. There may be some additional electrical things I want to connect from the garage to the house in the future so this conduit is there just in case.

At the house is the old service entrance (3/4" steel conduit), the new service entrance (2" PVC conduit), the spare 2" conduit (with white cap), and the 1 1/4" conduit for phone and cable which runs up to just underneath the eaves.

Then we started backfiling. This is actually harder to do than the digging. It is very close quarters in our yard and it was tough to pick up the dirt and get it back into the hole. Another day and a half was needed to get this done. First we added a 3" layer of sand in the trench to cushion the cables. Then a layer of dirt (trying to get the clay not the topsoil but that was really hard to do).

Once the first layer of dirt was in place we put in a layer of pressure treated wood to protect against digging up later. You don't have to place the wood but we had old landscape timbers that we were getting rid of that just fit the length of the trench so we put them in. Then another layer of soil and then a yellow plastic CAUTION tape. Finally a layer of topsoil (if you can call what's left over topsoil). Much more time consuming to backfill than to dig.

Ready for the caution tape and final backfill.

Backfill completed.

We tracked over the area with the excavator a few times and it packed everything down nicely. Then we cleaned up the backyard, put the fence back up, and threw down some grass seed. The weather obliged by raining for the next week.

So in the end it doesn't look quite like the mess it did when it was dug up. I thought the 6" bucket on the excavator was perfect for our yard. We ended up paying for two full rental days on the excavator but we had it from Thursday night until Monday morning. That was perfect. We dug Friday, put in the cable and conduit on Saturday, and then backfilled Saturday afternoon and most of Sunday. It takes a bit of practice to operate the excavator but by Sunday it was easy. Damaged a bit more grass than I would have liked to but it all grew back.

So at this point there is an electrical inspection to see if you are ready for service. The post is in with the wires hanging out the top ready for connection. The phone and cable conduit are on the right of the pole with two yellow pull ropes in place. Although you are not normally allowed to place the cable and phone service on the same pole as the electrical service the inspector OK'ed it after we lowered the phone and cable entrance by about 2 feet. That provided enough separation to keep the inspector happy; he thought the pole was plenty study enough to carry both sets of wires.

Once you get your inspection for service complete the utility company comes and hooks you up. Curiously they do not charge for this. They also hook you up to exactly the same wires in the alley you were hooked to before. They just re-sized the wire from a 100 amp service to a larger wire for a 200 amp service. Then they looked at our old meter, and since it was also 200 amp they stuck into the new meter base and hooked everything up. Same meter hooked to the same wires on the same pole. Then we had the electrician we were working with come in and hook the new service to the old 70 amp panel that powers most of our house.

So here is the main panel in the back of the garage nearest to the alley. It is a 200 amp panel. It is mounted upside down with the main feed going in the bottom and the two branch circuits to the house going out the back through the wall. The garage circuit it going out the top. Seems kind of silly to have a panel with 48 breaker spaces and only 3 breakers in it but that's how the code works. The three breakers are a 30 amp breaker to the garage, a 70 amp breaker to the old house panel, and a 100 amp breaker to the new geothermal sub-panel.

The old panel in the house is actually two panels. It has a 70 amp breaker but is actually a 100 amp panel. We ran 100 amp cable so that if needed in the future we can upgrade this panel by simply changing the main breaker in the garage and the panel breaker to 100 amps. We've never had any shortage of power in our house in 11 years so we left this panel at 70 amps. Since the old 30 amp garage circuit has been removed from this panel there is now almost double to power available to the house circuits.

In 2006 when I added the 30 amp circuits for a dryer and a stove I updated the main breaker in this panel to 100 amps and upgraded the break in the garage to 100 amps at the same time.

The little sub-panel in the garage is currently run on a 30 amp breaker. We sized the wire to this panel so that we could upgrade it to 60 amps if we need the power later for something like a welder.

Here is the electrician connecting the new service to the old panel. We had the electrician working on the changover before the utility company came to do the changeover in the afternoon. The electrician cuts the power to the house by removing the seal and pulling the meter out of its base. This cuts the power to the house completely. Anticipating a bit of time on the changeover we emptied our regular freezer in our fridge and put everything in the chest freezer down stairs. In actuality the changeover only took about 6 hours (but we washed the fridge out while we waited). You can see the holes in the ceiling where we ran the electrical cables.

In the basement ceiling we had to cut holes to run the new electrical cables and to make some repairs to plumbing and other services. Since the ceiling was open we figured we might as well run all the wires we think we will need. Here you can see the 100 amp electrical cable (black for the geothermal panel) the old wire for the furnace (orange, now powers the water heater) and a bundle of speaker wires (speakers in the living room and deck, humidifier control wires, and thermostat wires). Here the wires are running between the two main heating ducts which for some reason were painted red (will be covered with drywall).

Here are all the supplementary wires I ran. There are two sets of speaker wires; one for the living room, and one for the deck. There is a set of wires for a humidifier control and there is the 7 wire set required for the thermostat for the new geothermal unit.

Here is the new sub-panel that we added strictly for the geothermal heat exchanger. To monitor how much power it uses I added another electrical meter. This meter will will allow me to get accurate estimates of what the geothermal unit costs to run. One of the reasons the power requirements for this heat exchanger are so high is that it has a backup electrical heater. This backup heater can heat the whole house if something goes wrong with the geothermal unit. The backup heat draws 60 amps at 220 volts so it is a mighty big "toaster."

With the geothermal unit opened up there are two electrical centres. The top centre is the 60 amp circuit for the electric heaters and the fan. The bottom centre is where the 40 amp circuit for the compressor and all the thermostat connections are.

Here are the electrical connections in the side of the geothermal case. There are also two liquid circulating pumps (on the left). These are wired to the load side of the compressor relay so that they come on when the compressor is running. These two pumps bring the liquid from the ground into the house where the heat exchanger can extract the heat.

So here is the new meter on the back of the garage facing the alley. They used the same meter that we had before. The wires are much heavier though to accomodate the 200 amp service. In this case we used Tek Cable to make the service. Our electrican had some of this cable left over from another job, otherwise conduit would have been cheaper. The Tek Cable connectors are wickedly expensive in this size (we needed 4) but I like how the installation turned out.

Here is the new electrical connection at the top of our post. The electrical service is about 18" higher than the conduit for the phone and cable. Normally they would not let us put the phone and cable on the same post as the power. In our case we used a heavy post (6 x 6") and there was lots of room to separate the two service types. It also helped that the power came to our lot from the west and phone and cable came from the east.

Finally here is the finished entrance into the house. You can see the shadow of the old meter base. The 2" conduit enters the house here with the two 100 amp cables (just under the garden hose reel). The second 2" conduit with the white cap is a spare. The 1 1/4" conduit runs up to the eaves which is where the phone and cable enter the house.

So here we are a month later. The grass has grown back in the back yard and everything is getting close to normal. There's this big white pole on the other side of the garage but it's not in the way of anything and none of the wires are running through trees anymore.

It's nice not to have the wires overhead on the deck. The cable company came and ran their wire into the conduit the other day (no charge). The phone company is on strike so no-one knows when they will come and move their wire. They want to charge $45 for the move too. Maybe it's time to change phone providers...

thz.ca, Costs, Electrical, Geothermal, Water Heat, Insulation, Landscaping, Roof, Windows, Deck