Two of my brothers and one of my brothers-in-law are all very good electricians. I know nothing about the magic of electricity and never felt compelled to learn, as one of them was always around to perform this mysterious work. All three are very neat and tidy and take great pride in their trade. So, from watching them, I do know what a good electrical installation is supposed to look like.
What I was seeing in my shop was not a good installation. There were many, many transgressions and the more I looked, the less I liked it. Everything seemed to function fine but most of it was a total patchwork of various components cobbled together over time. Most of the materials were obviously salvaged from other jobs or teardowns. Re-purposing materials is great but not when it includes improper installation. I won't go into long and boring detailed descriptions but there were a lot of locations that appeared unsafe to me. Here is a fine example of what some of it looked like:
Yikes! I could not just let it go. There were too many questionable examples like the one above and in addition to that, the appearance was generally horrible. It would not fit in with my vision of a neat and tidy end product. So I needed an electrician, someone with skills beyond my own. My two brothers and brother-in-law are all very inconsiderate. None of them moved when I did. All are between six to 25 hours away. Obviously I couldn't lean on them for free help as I had in the past.
I made a quick call to Yves, my neighbour. “Who's the electrical contractor around here?”
“Garry - here's his number."
Garry owns McDougall Electric and getting to his shop from mine is a rather pleasant 1-minute drive – maybe a couple more if I stop at the local Tim’s to grab him a coffee. He came over and we had a little meeting at the crime scene. After a few pleasantries and getting to know each other, Garry looked at me and said, “I think it would be better if we just started over again."
That was the answer I wanted to hear. He had wired the house and the installation was very good. Everything was neat, tidy and properly installed. I was pretty confident he would also do a good job if I let him loose in the shop. He sent a couple of his guys over and the first thing they did was to remove the ‘unacceptable' components. This was part of the pile:
These were all from surface installations. They left anything that was already installed in the walls as long as it appeared correct. The base installation appeared to be OK, it was all the add-ons that were not good. Then they did this:
Everything is now installed in surface mounted conduit, neat, tidy and well protected. I can have explosions, plague and fire ‘n brimstone happening inside the shop and never have to worry about the wiring. The best part is if I want to do any future additions (and I’m sure I will), it’s very easy for them to tie in and run another conduit to wherever I want to go. The outlets are all on 20 amp breakers and separated so I can run heavy electrical loads when required. Each outlet is properly labelled on the panel schematic and everything else is correct and completed to proper code. Aaahhhh, such a relief and a huge improvement to what it was before. So far I haven’t discussed lighting and this is a huge deal to me. I wanted to end up with a really well-lit shop. I’ve seen many that are badly lit and it adds another level of difficulty to the work, whether it’s engine building, repairs, fabrication, whatever. Without good lights, you always need that stupid, annoying and extra handheld light. There is a reason they call them ‘trouble' lights. They’re always in the wrong spot, falling off, shining right in your eye or somehow in your way.
My eyes are not what they used to be and good, strong lighting will help.
I did a bit of research beforehand and was surprised to find out more than I ever wanted to about lights. Regardless, the choices were clear. LEDs were the way to go. They get rid of all the disadvantages of conventional fluorescent lighting. They start instantly, no buzzing or flickering, and aren’t affected by cold temperatures and draw less electrical power. They are four foot linked units and that means no long awkward eight-foot tubes. The lighting tubes are available in different colour temperatures (how warm or cool the light will appear) and also different lumens (light intensity or brightness). The only thing I don’t understand is how they can guarantee them for a lifetime when they’ve only been in existence for 10 years. Phhht - they don’t know... More research showed that a shop or workspace should have between 70 to 100 lumens per square foot. This depends on several factors including the ceiling height. I wanted to end up on the brighter end of the scale and chose to install ten fixtures. I won’t bore you with the math but this gives me a total of 80 lineal feet of lighting and 120 lumens per square foot. It's a bit higher than the recommendation but so is my ceiling height. It’s 14’ at the peak and the total area requires more light input than if it was a standard 8 or 9 feet.
In addition to this, the shop has very good natural lighting. During daylight hours there are four good-sized windows, entrance doors that are primarily glass and two rows of window panels in the roll-up garage door that all contribute to a very well lit shop. I'm quite happy with the end product and glad I didn’t cheap out on this very important item. Lots of light available for all those late-night, last-minute repairs that seem to happen before every race weekend.
As shown in the photo below, part of the shop ceiling is finished in pine. It’s fairly dark and as you can see I’m partway through painting it white. It should reflect the light better and give a little more brightness. I will eventually install a white steel liner to match the other part of the ceiling but the white paint will have to do for now. The total cost for the electrical part of this project came in very close to $3000.
Next time: How to stay warm on those loooonng winter nights. OK, not that way! We choose and install a heating system.