Thursday, March 17, 2011

Too Much Or Not Enough?

I am sooo frustrated, the electricity hasn't worked here since we moved in 3 months ago.  I have asked and asked for someone from the local electric company to come out and fix it, but to no avail.  We get usable electricity once every two weeks or so, for a couple hours, and then it's gone again.  Worse than that, it is somehow draining our battery system as well.  After frying two batteries already, I'm much more careful with the four I just bought to replace them -- these things are EXPENSIVE!  I eventually get so frustrated with the situation that I end up turning off the circuit breakers for city power all together.  Unfortunately, that still doesn't seem to solve the problem with my batteries.

That means I have to run my generator twice a day to keep a good charge on the batteries, and that's getting really expensive (gas is $6/gallon here, that equates to about $15/day).  And, to make things worse, the generator we just bought blows smoke everywhere, and that's about it.  So now we don't have any electricity at all.  I dive straight into the diesel engine, even though I know next to nothing about them.  But hey, I'm willing to give anything a try once.  So the tools come out and 5 minutes later I have diesel fuel, oil, and dirt all over me.  I tinker, clean, and get to know the engine a little bit before putting it back together.  When everything's back where it belongs, I give the chord a pull, figuring I've got nothing else to lose.  And what do you know, it works. Score one for me.

Even though we have a generator again, I lay awake at night, trying to wrap my head around these really confusing electrical problems.  As a perfectionist, this is just not acceptable, and it's only a matter of time before I'm back outside, staring at the power pole, debating whether I want to risk my life in exchange for a little electricity.  I decide that I'd like to be around for my family a while longer, and get the idea to just disconnect all the wires at the box where they come in from the pole, that way at least my batteries won't drain faster.

Safe person that I am, I check to make sure there's no voltage between the wires first.  I use my electrical meter to verify between AC neutral and all three "hot" phase wires, and as usual there's nothing.  So I start to undo the wires one at a time, no sparks, no shocks, no melting wires.  Great! This is turning out to be a good day.  I pull out my trusty multi-tool and grab the first wire, wrap it in electrical tape, and continue on to the other wires.  I get to the second phase, squeeze my pliers against the cable, and that's when my involuntary reactions take over.  You know, the ones that pull your hand away from a hot object, make you blink, or keep you breathing without thinking about it.

After sitting up and realizing what happened, I quickly take inventory...phew, 10 fingers ok!  I decide to take a little stroll and "walk it off." I come back after putting my hair back down and the throbbing in my ears subsides.  So, I take my trusty multimeter and measure between the wire that nailed me and all the other wires.  Between that one and AC neutral I read nothing, just like before.  That makes no sense to me.  So I check between phase 1 and phase 2...285 volts!!  Ouch!  So how does that work?!?  Oh well.

So I hook up my neutral and hot wires to these two wires, flip all the switches one by one, making sure I don't melt anything along the way.  There's power at the main box coming in from the pole, that's good.  I flip the circuit breakers ON to send the power to my main switch inside, and yep, I've got power here, so far so good.  I flip the main switch to city power, sending it through all the circuit breakers, stabilizer, and inverter, and everything comes to life.  The stabilizer actually has to lower the voltage to a usable 230 volts and the inverter accepts it right away, taking part of it to charge up our batteries, and the rest to run everything in the house.

That was 4 days ago; we've had city power almost nonstop ever since.  Sometimes it's so strong (280-300 volts) we can't even use it, which I suppose is just as bad as not having any at all.  But those times are relatively rare.  We haven't had to run our generator once since then; what a huge blessing just to take a hot shower!  I just wish I didn't have to get nailed or weld my pliers together to figure it out, but hey, that's life!

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