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Amped up

Any novelty that accompanied the challenge of living through this winter without heat is long gone. I think it disappeared completely right around the third consecutive morning with temperatures in the teens early last week. Heating this house with electric radiators mid-winter is, to use an indelicate analogy, like pissin’ in the ocean: it just doesn’t make much of a difference. I’ve made peace with our modern-day frailty and look forward to the day when we can click the thermostat over to ‘heat’ and luxuriate in a living room with temps somewhere north of arctic.

Fortunately, that day is almost here. Our biggest obstacle to installation of the new HVAC systems was our undersized electrical service. The previous owners limped along with only 100 amps by using fuel-fired appliances: the boiler, water heater and dryer all run on natural gas. To complicate matters, the main electrical panel is almost full, limiting our ability to add new circuits in the future. And to top it off, our existing service entrance was outdated and recently blew itself apart, probably because the radiators were showing it more action that it had seen in years.

Last week our electrician got us upgraded to 200 amps, the de facto standard for electrical service in today’s energy-hungry homes. Before the switchover, the main electrical wire dropped from the street to the house, went down the masthead, punched into the crawlspace of the library and looped around to the meter box on the back side of the chimney. From there, a chunky metal conduit ran along the foundation across the back of the house to the main electric panel in the basement. This arrangement was roundabout, ugly, and lagged behind modern building codes.

old meter

In order to avoid the cost and disruption of completely rewiring the electrical panel in the basement, the electrician used a combination meter base and breaker box. This will give us the ability to pull new circuits directly from this box, rather than the maxed-out panel in the basement.. A chunky feeder cable runs from the meter/breaker box, through the crawlspace of the library, across the ceiling of the basement and into the existing panel. When Duke Energy moved their wires to the new service entrance, it took the electrician only about an hour to wire this cable into the old panel, restoring power to all our existing circuits.

new meter

I wouldn’t classify any electrical equipment as attractive, but our electrician did very neat work and his installation was tidy enough to elicit unsolicited praise from the county electrical inspector. Come spring, I’ll paint out the new box and masthead and remove the old meter base and conduit.

service entrance

Most of us could care less whether we’ve got 40 amps or 400 as long as the lights come on when a switch is flipped.  I’m happy to know that we’ve got a professionally-installed electrical service, but ecstatic to know that we’ve got what it takes to install central heat and air.  One week from today, a service van will pull into our driveway with the first furnace in tow, not a moment too soon.




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