Sustainable Living Lesson III: Electricity

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metalmongrel's picture
metalmongrel
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 7 2008
Posts: 38
Sustainable Living Lesson III: Electricity

Hi all,

 To continue our dialogue on sustainable living technologies, I thought I'd include a lesson on electricity with the hopes of some other knowledgable people chiming in because I am no electrician.

  At first, I didn't think a chapter on electricity would be as important as some other topics, but we humans have progressed so far with the help of and depended upon electric devices so much throughout the 20th centure that I figured it should be mentioned.  I think that the odds of a total electrical grid system failure in the US is slim to none.  That said, the availability of professional electricians who can come to your house to fix things might not as solid as before, or tools might not be as abundant.  If that's the case, then it'd be pretty handy to know how to do some repairs yourself.  Having the option of using the electrical appliances that you're used to will go great lengths to retaining a level of normalcy that will make life a whole lot easier.  Plus, after reading personal accounts on the situation in Argentina after their collapse, electricity was still available to the majority of people even though it might not have been 24/7, and people who knew how to FIX electrical appliances were in high demand.   

 So let's start at the beginning, the most important electrical infrastructure is the one in your house.  I've found the following PDF that describes simply and graphically how the electrical system in your house works.  If a picture is worth a thousand words...

 http://media.popularmechanics.com/documents/PMelectricalgatefold.pdf

  Remeber, should you need to make any repairs to your electrical system, ALWAYS cut power at the breaker box by flipping the circuit breaker switch on your main disconnect panel inside your service panel box.  Keep a healthy respect for electricity and keep in mind that while making electrical repairs is easy, 120 volts of electricity can easily kill you.  Any electrical problems upstream of the service panel and meter entering your house are likely a problem on the power provider's end and probably isnt something you can (and definitely something I would not try to) fix.

  The simplest repairs to an electrical system consist of merely connecting and disconnecting wires.  There are proper ways to do this though...  I'd always have a small solder iron on hand along with a spool of solder that is rated for 120Volts for connecting and disconnecting wires.  I HIGHLY recommend practicing soldering pieces of wire together because it takes a little getting used to.  If anyone wants tips on soldering, pm me or google it; think of it as painting onto a small wire using a very hot tube.  In general, a solder joint between two wires that is shiney and not gloopy is good.  Excessively foggy colored solder connections indicates a cold-solder point and won't conduct electricity as well.  A good way to practice this, is to solder together a simple lightbulb/battery/switch system like the kind you did in grade school, it's simple and is good practice because it's exactly how your lightswitches work in your house.  I would also keep electrical tape on hand to wrap around any solder joints or exposed wiring because exposed hot wire is a no-no (it's dangerous and it will corrode if exposed to the atmosphere openly). 

However, if you don't have electricity to even turn on your soldering iron, another connection option would be to use screw-on wire connectors like the type shown in the diagram and here http://www.electricalbasics.com/acatalog/Standard_Screw_On_Wire_Connectors.html .  To use these, simply twist the two wires together, insert the twisted copper end into the cap of the wire connector, and turn the wire connector clockwise while holding the two wires still.  The threads on the inside of the cap will bind the two wires together.  It's easier to connect wires this way, but might not be readily available unless you're near to a stocked hardware store.  It's always good to have a few different sizes of the screw-on connectors around the house just in case.  Most household appliances use cables that are between 12-18 AWG (guage) thickness. 

Keep in mind the following household items are good conductors of electricity should you ever be in a pinch, ie they will help pass electrical current. (do not use these items on your house's 120V system):

Copper Wire (maybe taken from spare telephone cable), Metal Coathangers, Aluminum Foil, Saltwater, the flesh of a Lemon/Lime, pennies, most metallic objects.

And the following household items are good insulators (will not pass electrical current):

Glass, Wood, Hard Rubber, porcelain, etc. 

 

I have to run for now, but I might add a bit about solar panels and generators later.  Anyone is free to contribute, thanks!

 

-Tom

 

metalmongrel's picture
metalmongrel
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 7 2008
Posts: 38
Re: Sustainable Living Lesson III: Electricity

I've moved the content of this post to lesson IV...

Morpheus's picture
Morpheus
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Dec 27 2008
Posts: 1200
Re: Sustainable Living Lesson III: Electricity

metal. As an electrical engineer I must add that if by necessity (I don't recommend anyone "practicing" on their home's electrical system) you need to make repairs then you ABSOLUTELY must have a portable voltmeter on hand to check to see if a circuit node is hot relative to two positions (note that I didn't say ground. It's possible to have a hot ground).

Also it is critical that the multimeter havve a continuity mode built into it. This is a mode where when you touch two points with the probes, the resistance shows up on the meter scale, AND the meter "beeps at you" indicating contuinity between the two circuits nodes. 

 

Continuity = short circuit. The two nodes (points) are electrically "tied together". 

Without a multimeter I suggest that you leave the system alone. Better to eat cold food than to die. 

I'm queasy about laymen messing with this. Skilled electricians and engineers have a LOT of training to be able to look out for unituitive dangers that might kill a lay person. 

metalmongrel's picture
metalmongrel
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 7 2008
Posts: 38
Re: Sustainable Living Lesson III: Electricity

Hi MGhandi,

   Thank you for your input and I agree that I was at first hesitant to post anything about electricity because it can be very dangerous to inexperienced people.  I agree wholeheartedly that having a voltmeter/multimeter at hand to test any connections before doing anything to them is a must.  I also don't recommend "practicing" anything on your house's installed electrical system just to learn.  I meant to practice soldering by taking two bare unconnected pieces of unloaded wire and just practicing soldering technique.  Soldering will be useful whether you are fixing your car, lower voltage appliances, or (in worst case scenarios), your house's electrical system.    

   To be honest, if your circuit breakers in your house are fully functional and work as intended, you shouldn't have a problem with the rest of the house's electrical system.  However, it's just good preparation to be familiar with how it works and if need be, how to go about diagnosing the problem even if you can't fix it yourself.  Thanks mghandi, your knowledge as an electrical engineer is a good resource to people on this board, don't be shy :)

-Tom

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