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What I learned from home improvement this month.
Old 05-17-2006, 02:06 PM   #1
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What I learned from home improvement this month.

1.* Replacing 120V breakers in your distribution panel looks a lot scarier than it actually is.

I'm not advocating that everyone go out to their garage with a long-handled metal screwdriver and start popping out those old breakers for higher ratings.* But I am saying that for a couple hours' research and $5 I was able to avoid an electrician's fee of-- what-- $100?* Assuming one would even bother to come out to the house for such a pissant project?

The implications are huge.* We have a storage shed far down in the backyard that would be a lot nicer and much more convenient for power yard/woodworking tools with 240V/120V workshop power.* I'm pretty confident in my ability to dig a trench and lay the waterproof conduit from my panel to the shed.* I know how to wire GFCI receptacles and now I can start figuring out how to add the breaker to the house's distribution panel.* It all started with a $12 subscription to Family Handyman, augmented with the book "Wiring a House".* The tuition has been minimal, I've enjoyed the learning, and we'll save a bundle on labor.*

Of course I'm admonishing everyone not to do this unless they're electrically safe and knowledgeable of local code & permit requirements.* My point is that, if you're interested, you can achieve those skills with not that much effort and very little money.

2.* Tripping the 240V breaker of an electric clothes dryer still allows it to tumble the wet clothing, although it won't dry anything.* If, while you're re-installing the cover of your garage distribution panel,* you bonk the breaker for the electric dryer, thus tripping that 240V breaker, the dryer will still turn its motor.* In other words tripping the electric dryer's 240V circuit breaker does not totally remove all power from its 240V receptacle.* I don't know who the heck designs these things but the only way to safely work on your dryer is to unplug it.* EDIT: There doesn't appear to be a way to safely work on your dryer receptacle yet, unless it's popping that 240V breaker out of the panel. (Even I'm not sure that's such a good idea.)* Maybe the house feeder breaker has to be tripped HFWR raises a good point that turning the breaker to OFF should cut off power to the receptacle, but I'd bring a multimeter to the distribution panel receptacle before I'd stick my fingers in the 240V receptacle.

Anyway the point I'm trying to make is that even if the breaker is tripped, the dryer will still run on 120V power.* However, because it doesn't have 240V power, it won't heat its dryer coils and it won't dry the clothes.* This confuses the heck out of people who've been trained for their entire adult lives to think that electrical appliances don't run when their circuit breakers are tripped.* After I'd field-stripped the dryer, checked the heater coil sat and started wondering about its thermocouple sensors, I finally went to the Internet and found out about the 120V/240V breaker tripping issue.* I also learned that the Samurai Appliance Repairman's website rocks.

So from now on if our electric dryer stops drying, even if it's still rotating, I'm going to reset the 240V breaker.

3.* Bradford-White water heater anode rods suck.

Every handyman eventually learns that they're supposed to check their water heater anode rods every few years.* (If you have no idea what one is or what it does, just stop reading now.* You won't lose any sleep or longevity over being blissfully ignorant of water-heater corrosion protection.)* Again, I challenge anyone to find a plumber who'll happily skip out to your house to tackle such a pissant project, let alone for under $100.* It's probably cheaper to have a plumber install a new water heater every 10-15 years than to prolong the original heater's life by having the plumber install new anode rods.

The problem is that the manufacturers install anode rods with pneumatic wrenches at a fairly high torque (perhaps even with pipe dope), and most plumbers don't bother to pull out the anode rods & wrap the threads with Teflon tape when they install the heater.* Four or five years later that rod is firmly entrenched in, perhaps even rusted into, the heater.

When we bought our solar water heater I was at least aware of the anode rod issue from watching "This Old House".* However checking our anode rod required a 1-1/16" deep socket plus a 3/8" driver and a three-foot cast-iron pipe.* These are not the tools one typically uses to assault a tiny little bolt in a water heater that's easily torqued off the wall with such potential force.* But now the heater anode's threads are wrapped with Teflon tape and I'm much wiser about the torque requirements.

So infused with knowledge & self-confidence (plus a good bit of hubris) I went to our tenant's house to replace their anode rod.* (Hint:* Do this only when the tenants are on a Mainland vacation.)* A Bradford-White gas water heater has its anode rod incorporated into the hot-water nipple, which only sticks above the tank by about 1" and is all piping thread.* You can barely see a quarter-inch band of smooth ring of pipe below the water-piping threads, let alone the threads going into the water tank.* That anode rod has kicked my butt for over five years.* Sure enough, once again my confidence evaporated (along with my hubris) and I called Bradford to learn about their special tool.* They nonchalantly declared "Oh, yeah, whatchagotta do is slap a pipe wrench around those threads and crank on that sucker!* Hey, you're replacing it so you don't care about the threads anymore!* Oh, but when you put the new one in you hafta be careful not to gall the threads with the wrench.* Havaniceday!"

Well, with that tech support it only took two minutes for me & the pipe wrench (augmented with that three-foot cast-iron pipe again) to take out the anode rod.* Or, should I say, hot water nipple-- because after nine years there wasn't any anode left on the rod.

Bradford-White's anode rod is a rigid four-foot pole topped by the water nipple.* The 40-gallon water heater is about five feet tall and the anode rod goes in the top of the tank.* The laundry room ceiling is eight feet tall.* Luckily I was able to move the gas exhaust duct aside and stick the new rod up into the ceiling hole to insert it back down into the tank.* I wrapped the threads with Teflon tape, "cranked on that sucker", and managed not to gall the threads too badly with the pipe wrench-- not an easy task in the corner of a room with only 60 degrees of available wrench arc.* It looked fine, but today we'll go back to the house to see if any of the joints are leaking!

Thanks for listening!* I'm basking in the warm glow of task accomplishment augmented with the avoidance of expensive contractor hassles.* If any of you have similar advice to enhance that feeling, I'd appreciate hearing about it.*

Gosh I miss submarine maintenance...
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.
Old 05-17-2006, 02:16 PM   #2
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.

There are some bright folks around here, but I wouldn't give the general public a rosy view of touching their house wiring!

In the houses I've seen there isn't a 240V breaker per se but two 120V breakers ganged together. One can pop leaving the tumbling cold dryer syndrome since the 3rd lead goes to the common connection.

My high school in Alaska had an electronics class. We made our own circuit boards and enclosures, soldered projects, and there was even 3 framed rooms with an electrical panel and boxes we could mock up house wiring projects in. When I moved to TX I never saw anything like that. Awesome class that helps me to this day.

Thanks for the story!
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.
Old 05-17-2006, 02:32 PM   #3
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.

If the 240v breaker is OFF, there should be no voltage to the dryer...

However...

Quote:
Before you even open the dryer, use your voltmeter to measure for 240v at the dryer wall outlet. You can't just look at it and think it's fine (I actually get people telling me that!) And just because the dryer motor runs, this doesn't mean you're getting 240v at the outlet, either. The motors runs on 120v but the heating elements require 240v and a common problem is for one leg, L1 or L2, of the 240v supply to open. If you're not getting 240v at the dryer outlet, you'll never get the elements to heat up. Plain n' simple. Whether you have a four-prong outlet or a three-prong outlet, you gotta check the voltage at the outlet with a meter!
http://fixitnow.com/2004/03/mailbag-...ot-heating.htm

Also, I wouldn't recommend replacing a breaker with one of a higher amperage rating unless I was sure the circuit had wiring and components rated to handle higher current.
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.
Old 05-17-2006, 02:41 PM   #4
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.

I forgot to add my favorite high-voltage story which was the first thing in my mind when I started reading the OP:

In my brief stint at a data center a coworker was demonstrating how to wire a new 240V outlet (some servers use 240V). He completed the outlet wiring at the end of the whip, then we went to the breaker and he turned it on. POP! Very loud, and I swear the breakers jumped out and back in. The master breaker for the entire row popped. Luckily for him it was a new row and nobody was actually shut down.

Now I know why several customers had small UPSes in their cabinets even though the building could run for hours on the big batteries and for weeks on the generators.
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.
Old 05-17-2006, 05:36 PM   #5
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.

Yep, as pointed out, your 240v outlet is miswired. Has one leg from that breaker and one from another. Thats not good at all.

Between this and the problem with your computers blowing power supplies, it might be a very, very good idea to have an electrician check your panels and wiring before your house burns down.

That having been said, yep, putting in breakers is pretty easy. Last time I did it I did have my wife stand next to me with a stick and told her if it looked like I was being electrocuted, to hit me with the stick.

I didnt know that just standing there holding a screwdriver looked "like being electrocuted"

Going from electricity to water, I had the most fascinating home improvement "problem" a couple of weeks ago.

Dishwasher started a "water hammer" (where the pipes in the house vibrate) every time it started to fill. Turning on the faucet thats connected to the same valve made it stop. @#$%$@#! That things 13 months old, right out of warranty. I figured it had a bad water valve...probably a hundred bucks to have it replaced. Its a small part.

Before I made the call, I thought I'd try draining the pipes. About 95% of homes built in recent years have a 'hammer arrester' installed. Either its a tee fitting (or more than one, in each line, usually in the attic) with about an 18" vertical rise thats capped, or an actual mechanical device with a diaphragm and a gas charge. Either way, the air space in that vertical pipe (which doesnt fill because it doesnt have an outlet) or the diaphragm absorbs the 'hammer' and stops it. Sometimes the pipe does fill with water or the diaphragm sticks, and draining the whole system 'restores' it. No go. Mine is one of the 5% of homes where the plumber stunk or they wanted to save the five bucks of pipe and solder to put in an arrestor. In my case, its probably both.

I could make and install my own "arrestor" right at the valve...same thing, a tee fitting, 18" of pipe and a cap for the top of the pipe. I'm starting to feel like I should put on the mickey mouse ears before proceeding.

Had sears out, the guy tells me its $200 to replace the valve. I've now re-learned the lesson that when an appliance fails, the repair peoples assumption is that you'll pay half the original purchase price to fix it, rather than replace it. Once again, if an appliance fails, just throw it out and buy a new one.

Now i've got a 13 month old $400 dishwasher that needs a $200 repair, or I can just say to hell with it and go buy a new basic dishwasher for $250.

I'm starting to think that while historically buying the 'extended warranty' is a bad idea, in todays world where everything is made as cheaply as possible by the cheapest labor and cost cutting is the word of the day...it might be a good idea.

So anyhow, i'm defeated at the few appliance stores we have in town as nobody stocks anything, everything has to be ordered and takes a week. We run at least one, sometimes two loads of dishes a day. There is NO way we'd go a week without a dishwasher.

On the way home, it occurs to me that the problem started right after I hooked up the dogs 'automatic waterbowl' in the backyard, now that the summer heat is kicking in. This is a galvanized bowl with a float and a hose, they drink, more water fills it.

I check it, and sure enough, the float is twisted and the thing has its valve opened the tiniest bit. Shut it off, the pipe hammer stops at the dishwasher.

So this thing has a flakey valve and the dishwasher valve is probably not opening all the way.

The good news is that it only cost me $65 for sears to come out for nothing.

:P
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.
Old 05-17-2006, 05:51 PM   #6
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cute Fuzzy Bunny
Yep, as pointed out, your 240v outlet is miswired.* Has one leg from that breaker and one from another.* Thats not good at all.
Well, I hear that, I'd hope that a tripping breaker would remove ALL power from an appliance so that I can safely extract my mangled fingers from it, but apparently the breaker is functioning as designed.

Like the Samurai guy and several other websites claim: "The motors runs on 120v but the heating elements require 240v and a common problem is for one leg, L1 or L2, of the 240v supply to open." The breaker is a double-pole with one side on the left-hand bus and the other on the right-hand bus. If only one side trips there's still 120V to ground. Like HFWR mentioned, the breaker has to be turned OFF for all voltage to be removed from both poles.

I think the designer owns an electrician's franchise. Certainly not an insurance company.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cute Fuzzy Bunny
Between this and the problem with your computers blowing power supplies, it might be a very, very good idea to have an electrician check your panels and wiring before your house burns down.
No, no, I fixed that and this time I really mean it!

The computer's plugged back into the circuit that used to have a GFCI breaker supplying it, and the new 20A single-pole breaker (no GFCI) hasn't tripped. If I get a trouble-free year out of this then I'll know I'm right. The biggest load we have on that circuit is a vacuum-cleaner startup.
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.
Old 05-17-2006, 06:46 PM   #7
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.

quote: The breaker is a double-pole with one side on the left-hand bus and the other on the right-hand bus. If only one side trips there's still 120V to ground.

As someone mentioned above, the breakers should be ganged together so if one trips, it pulls the second one with it. I would either replace the breaker with a proper one, or you might be able to find adapters that tie breakers together, but you would need to go to an electrical supply store, the box stores would not likely carry one.
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.
Old 05-17-2006, 06:59 PM   #8
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.

Nords, interesting post.

I worked with electricity (beyond installing ceiling fans) for the first time when I installed the Jacuzzi. 240V line that I had to run nearly 100 feet. My two cents, if you decide to run that line to the shed is rent a trencher, it worked fabulously for me. I have to admit that while the regulations told us it had to be buried 18 inches below ground, towards the end me and my buddy started saying, "Looks like 18 inches to me!" - just don't fudge that too much.

The Conduit is just PVC, but I've heard several horror stories about people trying to pull that electrical cable through the put together conduit around the corners ( I think that's partly why there is a "4 90 degree bend" rule). I laid all the conduit out but didn't connect them, that way I could pull the line through one 8 foot peice at a time. Once I had the cable all the way through, I then connected all the conduit. Good luck with that.
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.
Old 05-17-2006, 07:04 PM   #9
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Laurence
* Once I had the cable all the way through, I then connected all the conduit.* Good luck with that.
It sounds like you pulled "romex" through electrical conduit. If that's the case, it's actually is not up to "code". (Don't ask me how I know).
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.
Old 05-17-2006, 07:41 PM   #10
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.

Hmmm, couldn't tell you, all I know is the city inspector was all over me, and he inspected the wires, conduit, breaker, the junction box next to the spa, and the connection to the spa. Maybe he didn't notice, but he saw plenty of the wire I used, and signed off my permit saying the work was "up to code". I did buy the stuff from Home Depot, with what they said was right, so I have to admit that's already a strike against me. I'm happy to be blissfully ignorant since I'm good in the eyes of the law, unless there is a danger I'm exposing myself/my family to?
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.
Old 05-17-2006, 08:29 PM   #11
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.

Nords,

You still have your hubris?? Me. I was circumcised at birth.

As I recall, code requires that the buried conduit be protected with a cover of some kind if you can't bury it deep enough. We ran one to our garage from the house in Houston. [Yes, the garage was also in Houston. The conduit was only about 10 ft long.]

When you pull the wire, use a "fish tape" and grease up the wire with the recommended lubricant (kind of a soap or grease). Strip a few inches of insulation off the wire, fold it over the loop on the end of the fish tape and tape the end back onto the wire. Soooo much easier than other methods.

Agreed: minimize the number of bends of any kind in the conduit.

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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.
Old 05-17-2006, 09:43 PM   #12
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ed_The_Gypsy
You still have your hubris??* Me. I was circumcised at birth.
Good one! Remember the Saturday Night Live skit with the rabbi in the back of the Lincoln Continental? My parents claim that I made enough money from that acting gig to help them move to a better neighborhood... they say you should always give a piece of yourself to your work, but I didn't want to continue my career after that gig.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Laurence
240V line that I had to run nearly 100 feet. My two cents, if you decide to run that line to the shed is rent a trencher, it worked fabulously for me. I have to admit that while the regulations told us it had to be buried 18 inches below ground, towards the end me and my buddy started saying, "Looks like 18 inches to me!" - just don't fudge that too much.
The Conduit is just PVC, but I've heard several horror stories about people trying to pull that electrical cable through the put together conduit around the corners ( I think that's partly why there is a "4 90 degree bend" rule). I laid all the conduit out but didn't connect them, that way I could pull the line through one 8 foot peice at a time. Once I had the cable all the way through, I then connected all the conduit. Good luck with that.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ed_The_Gypsy
As I recall, code requires that the buried conduit be protected with a cover of some kind if you can't bury it deep enough. We ran one to our garage from the house in Houston. [Yes, the garage was also in Houston. The conduit was only about 10 ft long.]
When you pull the wire, use a "fish tape" and grease up the wire with the recommended lubricant (kind of a soap or grease). Strip a few inches of insulation off the wire, fold it over the loop on the end of the fish tape and tape the end back onto the wire. Soooo much easier than other methods.
Agreed: minimize the number of bends of any kind in the conduit.
I learned a lot of that while we were pulling photovoltaic wire through PVC in two-foot-tall 100-degree attics. "We" as in I was doing the pulling while spouse was reeling out the wire. Absolutely a trencher, as we also have twenty or thirty feet of sprinkler lines that have worked their way to the surface.
- First I have to get from the panel under a three-foot sidewalk to the dirt.
- Then I have to trench about 50 feet back, not hitting any sprinkler lines or other surprises.
- Then I have to go under or over the 10-foot lava rock wall. Sprinkler lines go through it via oversized drain holes but if that lava rock wall ever moves I'm not sure I want 240V conduit moving with it. So maybe I'll go over if it passes the spouse aesthetic check. Did I mention the lava rock is lined with bougainvillea thorns?
- Then I have to trench down a hill with at least a 10-degree slope (more sprinkler lines).
- Putting the sub-panel & receptacles in the shed is the easy part.
- If I make this conduit big & slippery enough, I could also route a pair of 10-gauge twisted THHN wires and mount a few more photovoltaic watts to the roof of the shed! Hmmm.

- Luckily for me I have a teenager who really really wants electricity down there. We're about to test the depth, so to speak, of that commitment...
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.
Old 05-17-2006, 10:01 PM   #13
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.

Getting under sidewalks can be interesting. In Houston, we could use a garden hose and a length of PVC pipe as a hydraulic drill to flush the 'gumbo' (hard clay and silt--what passes for soil in Houston).

Going through or under the wall, consider a protective sleeve of cast iron sewer pipe or some such. This is common construction practice going under roads and such with pipes and conduits.

Nothing prevents you from using larger diameters of galvanized pipe for your underground conduit, too.

I don't call in inspectors if I don't have to, but my wiring is hell for stout and always to code.

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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.
Old 05-17-2006, 10:01 PM   #14
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nords
- Then I have to trench about 50 feet back, not hitting any sprinkler lines or other surprises.
This is probably known to most, but it was new to me.* *I'm doing some landscaping this week, and I didn't want to run into any power lines while digging.* *So, I called an 800 number and they arranged for every utility to come out and mark where their cables/pipes are.* *No charge.* * Guess it helps keep the neighborhood lit up (and keeps the death rate low), but I found it pretty cool.
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.
Old 05-17-2006, 10:02 PM   #15
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.

Quote:
Originally Posted by wab
So, I called an 800 number and they arranged for every utility to come out and mark where their cables/pipes are.* *No charge.* *
I wish they'd do that for my sprinkler lines!
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.
Old 05-17-2006, 10:07 PM   #16
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.

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I wish they'd do that for my sprinkler lines!
Just run them in the same trench used for the utility lines.
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.
Old 05-17-2006, 11:33 PM   #17
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Nords
- Luckily for me I have a teenager who really really wants electricity down there. We're about to test the depth, so to speak, of that commitment...
I would be quite wary of a teenager who wants electricity put in a remote place on the property
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.
Old 05-18-2006, 12:15 AM   #18
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.

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Originally Posted by Cute Fuzzy Bunny
I would be quite wary of a teenager who wants electricity put in a remote place on the property
Yeah, I asked the question, and she said that they were spending a lot of money burning, uh, incense, yeah that's it.

I probably need a lock on the subpanel... or the shed door.

We bought a chair swing a couple months ago with a mosquito-netting enclosure. It seats two quite comfortably and it even folds down into a swingin' futon. It was quite popular with the 13-year-olds until we started calling it the "kissing chair". Now they won't go near it.

Still got a year or two left...
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.
Old 05-18-2006, 11:29 AM   #19
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.

After six years, I still can't find two of my valve boxes... Hope they never break...

If it were me, I'd put all the valves in ONE box....
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.
Old 05-18-2006, 12:24 PM   #20
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Re: What I learned from home improvement this month.

Quote:
Originally Posted by wab
This is probably known to most, but it was new to me.* *I'm doing some landscaping this week, and I didn't want to run into any power lines while digging.* *So, I called an 800 number and they arranged for every utility to come out and mark where their cables/pipes are.* *No charge.* * Guess it helps keep the neighborhood lit up (and keeps the death rate low), but I found it pretty cool.
Ditto, the guy brought out mega-glow chalk and drew out out the whole thing, which was good, because I was headed right for one in my plans!
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