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   circuit breaker box swap in Old Hurley
Sunday, February 11 2024
At about noon, I drove down to Ray & Nancy's place in Old Hurley to do the work of replacing the old, unmaintainable circuit breaker box in their garage. I brought the dogs with me so they'd be able to have an extended playdate with their dog Jack. I started with a little chitchat with Ray and Nancy while drinking coffee, having already drunk coffee earlier in front of the fire in our living room. By the time I went out to begin working, I was decidedly over-caffeinated, and this put a thin layer of misery over my mood. Fortunately, though, the weather for this time of year was about as good as one can get. It was overcast, but warm enough that my bare hands never felt the slightest bit stiff.
I began by turning off the breaker in the basement so the subpanel box I was working with would be dead. You can never be sure that all the electricity will be off by doing this, since there can be weird cases (such as one in our house) where a circuit is wired so it can be fed by one of two different subpanels, meaning a live wire can be present in a panel whose upstream circuit brekaer is off. But after doing some thorough tests, I was confident the box was safe to work in. I then removed all the screws and cable locknuts, as well as all the wall surface material above and below the panel. For some reason someone at some point had decided to cover some (but not all) of the walls in the garage with masonite wallboard. But the walls aren't insulated, so this surface does nothing but block access to the structure and wiring. The surface finish material particularly little sense near the circuit breaker box, where being able to run wires is important. Since the new circuit breaker box would be bigger than the old one and completely fill the inter-stud space, I needed to take advantage of a narrow channel inside the northwest corner of the garage (directly adjacent to the new breaker box) to tuck away some wires that had been routed past the old circuit breaker box. One of the these wires had actually been stapled atop the masonite I'd just removed, and to get it to where it needed to be, I had to take apart a switch box, disconnect the wire, climb up to the ceiling plate, drill a hole, reroute the wire, and then reattach it in the switch box. Doing all that ended up being about a third of the job, but it allowed me to get the new subpanel box in very neatly.
At around 2:00pm, Ray made lupper for himself, me, and Nancy. It was an Asian noodle salad with cucumbers and sweet peppers, vegetables Ray likes but doesn't get to use much when preparing food for me because Gretchen doesn't like them. But Gretchen had been craving alone time so badly she'd opted not to come to this meal. I didn't spend long at lupper because we were "burning daylight," and I wanted to get the subpanel installed before dark. With food in my stomach, the caffeine-induced malaise wasn't as bad, and I could start to take a little pride in my work. By the time darkness was falling, I was doing the last few things, including using an oscillating tool to cut out a notch in the north wall to accommodate a swath of panel cover protruding into it from where the panel is in the west wall. There were a few things wrong with the old panel (that is, code violations) that would have to live on in the new panel. These included the fact that it was supplied with only three conductors, meaning ground and neutral would have to be merged. And there was a 240 volt circuit that had been divided into two 120 volt circuits somewhere out in the wiring, far downstream from this panel. But there was no way I could fix these problems, at least not today, and the goal here was just to have a modern circuit breaker panel that can be expanded with standard circuit breakers. (The old panel was a monolithic block of four two six integrated circuit breakers that could not be individually replaced or expanded. It carried the Square-D brand, which, in my experience, is not one that deserves any brand loyalty.)
Back home on Hurley Mountain, Gretchen had made potato pierogies, which she was eating with leftover potato-kale soup. I just liked grabbing them and eating them like pieces of delicious savory fruit. I ended up eating them all, [something Gretchen would get mad at me tomorrow about because she wanted to take some to work for lunch]. But Gretchen was going out for the night with Ray and Nancy to see a the film The Zone of Interest, about the lives of Germans living near and working in Nazi death camps. Grim stuff! Meanwhile I was taking a bath to wash away the grime (and blood from a reopened burn wound on my left hand) from today's work. I should mention that my left shoulder is much better now than it was a few weeks ago. I don't do much YouTube-provided physical therapy work on it, but the little I do (and the little physical exertion I put it through) has allowed it to heal. It's not 100%, but I have more range of motion and much less pain, and I'm able to do things like reach overhead for today's rewiring work and even manipulate heavy objects like ladders just like the good old days.


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