Wednesday, December 30, 2009

When DIY Makes no Sense (Dollars or Cents)!

When it comes to projects around the home, sometimes doing it yourself doesn't make any sense, even for the Internet Electrician. Case in point, we are having some landscaping and renovations done in our back yard here in Arizona, and with this comes the addition of a built-in spa to the corner of our pool. The spa needs a light installed. If I was asked for advise from a website client on a project such as this, I would most certainly strongly suggest that they leave this job to a licensed professional electrical contractor. Now for myself, there was initially no question that I would do this myself. Permitting in this county allows the homeowner to do this work, so why not? How hard could it be?

From discussion with the pool contractor, I learn that the best way to install these lights is to run a direct run of 1/2" rigid brass conduit right back to the junction box. In all my experience, I have never worked on the rough-in electrical for an outdoor pool installation, and had never heard of using brass conduit. I questioned why it had to be brass given that a #8 bond wire is required as well, so the issue couldn't be for bonding, so is it corrosion issues, or what? Anyhow, the light in the existing pool was installed this way, so I wasn't going to cut any corners. Running rigid conduit is a skill lost on most modern day electricians, as the introduction of Teck cable almost entirely eliminated the use of rigid conduit, but in my early years as an electrical apprentice in the oil patch, I have spent many many hours running miles and miles of rigid conduit, so this wasn't part of my apprehension towards the project at all.

When work progressed on the spa much more rapidly than I had anticipated (a subject for my next blog), the need for the electrical rough-in was immediate.
At this point I began to think about all the special tools that I would need, and didn't have with me, most importantly being threading tools and a tri-stand chain vice for threading conduit. Then the issue of where to get supplies? The Home improvement stores aren't likely to carry brass conduit. I was advised of where I can purchase the pipe from a pool equipment wholesaler about 15 or 20 miles away.
It was at this point that I thought that given the time lines, and the need to rent the required tools, and the possibility of having to make multiple trips for missing fittings, or forgotten special tools, that I should just get the pool contractor to have his electrician do this portion of the job for me. It was humbling for the "Internet Electrician" to suggest that we contract out the simple installation of a 120V light in a spa, but my gut feeling was that this was the right thing to do. A call was made, and initially it looked like the electrician was too busy to fit it in without disrupting the schedule and pushing things back to the new year, so I made the decision to get it done the next day myself. Gut feelings are not to be ignored!

I decide to head in to get the conduit that afternoon, so off I go to Mesa to get supplies. I first stop off at the Home Depot to check on the remote possibility that they carry the brass pipe. As I suspected, no. Nor did they rent threading tools, but did get the name of a place that does, so the stop was not a complete waste of time. Off to the wholesaler. No problem finding the place and rolled up to the locked gate at 4:00 PM. Closed Monday in lieu of Boxing Day landing on Saturday? No, just always closed at 3:30 PM.

-Add 2 wasted hours to the project cost.

Back home I go with plans to go back first thing in the morning.

The next morning, off I go to Mesa again. I stop off at a retail pool and patio store on the remote possibility that they sell the brass conduit, and this store is much closer for me, and close to where I need to go to rent the tools. No, they don't, so off to the wholesaler again.
Gate is open, all is good, no waiting at the counter for service as no other customers are in line. I place my order for 2 pieces of brass conduit (I estimated that 20 ft. will be all I need). No problem sir, that will be $300 + tax. What! I asked for brass conduit, not gold! I'm informed that this is the price (albeit the cash customer price and not the wholesale contractor price), but $150 a piece? Yes, that's the price. I ask if there is an alternative? Yes, you could use PVC conduit at a fraction of the cost. (I wonder why the accepted best method is brass when PVC will do, but I'm not going to rock the boat now). So I swallow hard, pay the $300 and out to the yard I go to load the pipe. To my surprise, the pipe is sold in 20' lengths, so I have just bought 40 ft. instead of the required 20 ft. Not to mention I am driving a Saturn Vue (small crossover SUV). Back in I go to explain the misunderstanding. While they process a refund, I'm given a hacksaw to cut the required 20 ft. pipe in half so it fits in my car. With the pipe loaded, and the refund processed, off I go back towards the rental shop.

A few minutes after entering the freeway, I begin to mentally planning things in my head again, trying to think of everything I might need to complete the job. 10 ft. rigid conduit is sold with factory threads on each end, and come with a coupling on one end. Rigid brass conduit, as we found out is sold in 20 ft. lengths, no threads, NO COUPLINGS! Damn! Take the next exit off the freeway, turn around, and back to the wholesaler for couplings. They only have 1 in stock, so hoping that I can complete the job with only 1 coupling, I pay the $2.56, and off I go again.

-Add another wasted 1/2 hour, and about $170 to the project cost.

Back towards the rental shop I go, thinking along the way about what tools I will need that I don't have. Threader, bender, vice, etc. I get there, and to my delight they have a thread tool kit. Now the vice? Nope, just a chain style vice grip. I try to imagine how I'm going to hold the pipe steady with a vice grip while I cut at least 4 threads? Sandy and the cats holding the pipe steady? Jamming the pipe in the car door? Wedging it in the patio table? Not going to happen.

I see that they have a power threading tool, complete with cutting oil, reamer, pipe cutter, all on a tri-stand vice. Everything I need for the low rental price of $65. The hand threader was $15. Oh well, money well spent.

-Add $65 and another 1/2 hour to the project cost.

Off I go towards home, again going over the job in my head. Pipe, coupling, threading tools, bender....BENDER. Damn! Should I go back? I need a few things at Home Depot anyway, so I'll just buy a bender. I might use it again in 10 years or so. Thankfully they have 1 bender left in the store, so I purchase the bender and a few other items, and off I go.

-Add another $50 and 1/2 hour of time to the job.

I get back home around noon, and begin work right away as I have to have the tools back to the rental company before 5:00 PM to avoid an extra day charge. Besides wrestling with trying to jam the conduit in among all the re-bar, and cutting up my arms on the sharp re-bar and wire ties, the actual job goes very well, and the most amazing and almost divine intervention-like result was that the 20 ft. of pipe was EXACTLY the correct length. Not even 1/2" too long (no problem), but 1/2 " too short would have meant yet another trip to the wholesaler, and a whole bunch of swearing and cursing at myself for not doing a better job of guesstimating the amount of pipe needed.

With the pipe installed in good time, and a pause for a visit with some good friends who stopped by for a beer, the tools were returned to the rental shop with a full 5 minutes to spare before the 5:00 PM closing time.

-Add another hour to the total cost to return the tools.
So, to sum this all up, here is why I should have let the contractor do this job.
-Add the $285 in direct cost to the 6 or 7 hours of my time (with the actual job only taking about 2-1/2 hours) at $20 / hour (my time should be worth at least that), and about $25 for gas for a total of about $450.
As it turns out, the electrician would have squeezed the job in for us as a favour to the pool contractor, for about $200! Total DIY savings......... a net loss of about $250!

In hindsight I would have swallowed my pride and contracted this out for sure.

However, after it was all said and done, in some sick way, I felt quite satisfied that I had done it myself, even if it made no sense, dollars, or cents!

Monday, December 21, 2009

From Summer to Winter, what happened to Fall?

I must be one of the most inconsistent bloggers on the net. Good luck to me should I choose to tweet on the twitter! Here it is, only 4 days until Christmas, and I'm posting my first entry since Summer. Oh well, better now than not at all I guess?

In September we loaded up the boat and went out to the Okanogan area of British Columbia for some visiting, boating, and some golfing, staying at the Swan Lake Rec. Resort near Vernon, B.C. We returned to Alberta after a couple of weeks.

We pulled out of Carefree Resort on Gleniffer Lake about a week earlier than planned. The critical services in the resort are considered "shallow" services (water and sewer), and thus are buried well above the winter frost level and must be shut down and drained every fall. The tentative plan is to winterize the lines just after the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend (mid-October), but the weather took a nasty turn for the worst about a week in front of Thanksgiving, so we packed up quick and headed for warmer climates on October 7. We travelled south through Alberta in the wind and wet snow / rain mixture, got covered in 2" of wet snow that froze solid overnight in Lethbridge Alberta, woke up to below freezing temperatures, but nice and sunny, and then made our way south through Montana only hours ahead of the really cold, snowy weather. Two days later we were basking in the sunshine and warm temperatures of Las Vegas.

We stayed in Vegas for a week or so, then made our way to Mesa Arizona where we stayed until December 16.

Our plan was to purchase a house somewhere in the Valley area here in Arizona so our time here has been focused on that task. Several factors influenced our decision to purchase real estate here.

  1. Need for an investment

  2. The market conditions here being close to, if not at the bottom of a huge down-cycle.

  3. The Canadian dollar close to par with the American dollar.

  4. A nice intermediate place to call home, and to be able to have family and friends come to visit us, or to use for a nice place to escape the cold Canadian winters back home.

So when we got here, we hooked up with a local Realtor (Kristy) who had been faithfully sending us listings matching our search criteria for several months prior to our serious searching. We looked in Glendale, Mesa, Maricopa, Phoenix, and finally ended up making two unsuccessful offers on homes in Queen Creek, but 3rd time was a charm! We ended up very happy with the house we found in an area now known as "San Tan Valley", near Queen Creek Arizona. We got possession about the 8th of December, and our time has been filled with shopping, unpacking, and setting up all that is required to make a house a home.

Other activities have included two NHL hockey games (Phoenix Coyotes vs. Montreal Canadians, and Coyotes vs. my beloved Calgary Flames), my first NFL game with the Arizona Cardinals taking on the Seattle Seahawks, a trip back to Calgary Alberta for the CFL Grey Cup activities, golfing, visiting, tennis, jogging, hiking, etc.

Looking back I guess I can see why blog entries have taken a back seat. I have to find a way to make time more entries (said Terry, again).

Check out our new house and get a bit more up to speed on our travels on Sandy's canusamex travel blog, at

As far as the website goes, we did manage to shoot the raw footage for another "video short" that should be ready soon. The project involves the installation of some additional electrical in my trailer / garage using electrical metallic tubing (EMT). This video feature should be ready in the near future.

To all my family, relatives, friends, and website clients, have a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year! (or have a good, great, or happy whatever you might celebrate this time of year)!

Until next time..................