Friday, November 28, 2008

Anyone memorized Summon Electrician this morning?

Now that I'm doing okay on the Lumberjack branch of the Handyman skill tree, I've run into not one but two incidents of falling short on the Electrician branch. It's always something!

Water Pump and Generator
I bought a generator a few months ago. It's nowhere near a whole-house generator so I don't need it to be wired into the house mains; instead, it's only intended to be adequate to run the water pump. When we've had extended power outages in the past, even in the winter, we could have stayed home for days that way. We can use candles and a hurricane lamp for light, the woodstove for heat, our propane cookstove for cooking, and while we do a lot of electronics-based entertaining we certainly can pass days at a stretch on books, crosswords, and other things. The Achilles heel was always water pressure. You can live without showers for a few days, and drink bottled water, but you can't live without flushing the toilet. (Doubly so for people who've had gastric bypass surgery and thus whose digestive systems are a little eager.) And you can't possibly keep enough bottled water on hand to handle flushing the toilet with it. After a power outage we have enough water pressure for one, maybe two, good flushes per toilet, and then we're stuck. So our generator is adequate to run the water pump and a few other things (fridge and freezer, for instance) but not the house lights, let alone TVs and computers.

Spent a distressing amount of time getting the generator working; it was a refurb and proved reluctant to operate, though a lot of that was just that I didn't know stuff about how to start it which the directions didn't make clear. (My favorite instruction was "adjust choke as necessary". But no clues as to what adjustments it might need or why.) But now it's working.

Only problem is, the water pump is actually wired into power in a wall box, not with a plug in an outlet. I actually checked before buying the generator that it was plugged in, but I checked wrong, I was actually looking at the power for the water softener, not the water pump. To make matters worse, the box has three sets of wires coming into it: one goes to the pump, one goes to (I think) an outlet outside, and one comes from the mains. I'm not sure what it'll take to put in an outlet and a plug without screwing up the other wiring; it seems like it should be perfectly simple and well within my skills, but I'm also not sure where I'd mount the outlet (will that box fit one?) and that makes me wonder if I'm over my head.

Home Automation Four-Way Switches
When the house was built I bought a bunch of Z-Wave switches and had the electrician put them in instead of ordinary switches, to save me the trouble of replacing the switches later. Problem is, at the time, Z-Wave three-way and four-way switches hadn't been released yet, so a few key lights (most notably the overhead lights in the living room that are our primary light source there) are not controlled by my home automation system.

I've since purchased those switches (ZDW103 and AS101), but putting them in myself has proven beyond my abilities. The instructions are not very clear -- all they really offer is a wiring diagram -- but more importantly I can't tell which of the many many wires in those three wall boxes (each of which have other switches in them) are which of the things the diagrams refer to. None of them even has as many wires as the switches need! It's agonizing to think I'll probably have to spend a few hundred bucks paying someone to install some switches that themselves cost less than a hundred bucks, just because I can't figure out which wire is which, but I don't see a way around it. (Especially because, if I'd been able to get the switches in time, putting them in would have cost me nothing.) Posting on the HomeSeer forum has been, as usual, non-productive.

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