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..................


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Full Circle

Well, we've been back in Alberta now since June 2, and since my last post, we have been over to Europe to see my son Lyle, and we did a 3 week tour of Germany, France, Italy, and Austria, before returning to Germany for the flight home. Sandy and I flew from Vancouver in early April, and returned to Vancouver in the 3rd week of April . We then took the ferry over to Vancouver Island and stayed there for a month. Sandy's blog has more details of our travels at Our trip back east took us to Vernon B.C. for a week or so before coming home to roost for the summer here at Gleniffer Lake near Innisfail, Alberta.

I'm not sure if this tells me that we have been travelling too much, or not posting enough blog entries? Anyhow, this brings the first year of our new life full circle, in what we hope to be many years of following the sun and avoiding winter. The weather wasn't very good this spring and the early part of summer here in central Alberta, but warm weather is here now so we're hoping it lasts for a while. I love boating, and this is where we keep our 22' Manitou Oasis pontoon boat. Lots of fun when the weather is good. Unfortunately our summer season here is pretty short (only between 30 and 60 frost free days). Sandy is busy getting our site converted over to a more user friendly editting tool, and I am working on adding more content, and improving some of the existing articles on the site. Time to work on the website is somewhat interrupted by distractions such as visiting friends and family, boating, golfing, playing ball, and relaxation.

We will be in Alberta until sometime in September or early October, when we will again migrate south.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


We've all heard stories about interesting and frightening electrical installations from people who have travelled to Mexico. From my own experience, my favorite is from my last R.V. trip to Mazatlan, some 20 years ago. The 15A R.V. service to our campsite consisted of a duplex receptacle nailed to a palm tree (no box of course, just the receptacle), with a single black wire coming out of the sand, attached to the hot side, another white wire out of the sand attached to the neutral side (kudos for correct polarity), and then a bare wire from the ground terminal was connected to a metal coat hanger, pushed down in to the sand. Nice! I wish I still had the picture of that!
My sister and brother-in-law tell of a ceiling fan installation in one room they stayed in several years ago. It was hanging by the wires only, no mounting screws whatsoever. When you turned the fan on, it would twist the wires up tight , and then slowly unravel as the fan picked up speed, wobbling wildly around the room. Not sure if this is more funny than dangerous, or vise-versa. Needless to say, they requested a repair, but that didn't happen in the time they spent there, so they just left it off.
With this trip through Mexico, I've noticed that for the most part, things have slowly improved over the years. It's truly amazing that more people aren't injured or killed by installations such as this.
On our way back north from Bucerias, we stopped to visit some friends, Del and Angel, who are staying near San Blas. They have decided to stay year round, and had a palapa built to park their R.V. under. Del wanted me to check to see if the electrical service was sufficient to serve his needs. Well, I didn't want to be the bearer of bad news, but this installation was BAD NEWS! At first glance things didn't look too bad. An indoor panel was installed , with two receptacles mounted underneath it, and fed by a 20 A and a 15A breaker. The power source came in with a piece of plastic water line, and individual conductors inside. I assume some kind of ground rod was buried because a wire attached to the panel ground lug went deep in to the sand. Upon further investigation, I found that they had only 2 conductors inside this plastic pipe, and the pipe ran over 300 ft. to the source. This is where it got interesting. It went up a palm tree, across the roof of a house on the property, and then spliced directly in to the service conductors that fed the house, upstream of the meter, and right off the utility power transformer with no over-current protection, other than the high voltage fuse links that protect the transformer on the pole. The wire was only #10, and only 120V supply, the same service as the house. Not only was this un-safe, but also illegal, even in Mexico. Splicing in ahead of the meter is theft. Not sure if the ignorance defense works in Mexico, but I know it doesn't in the rest of North America.

After informing Del that as he had suspected, this was NOT adequate for his needs, he asked that I provide him some direction and advise. This is where it gets tricky. How do you give advise on electrical installations in Mexico? How do you strike a balance between what is the correct way, what is the safe way, what materials are available, etc. All I could do was to show what the options were providing he could source out the correct materials, and advised him to do the best he could with what he had to work with. It turns out that the newly constructed motel on the property had a fairly modern electrical installation, so I suggested taking a new sub-service from there. Good luck Del, and I'll inspect it for you next fall!

Here are some pictures of other interesting mex-electrical installations I observed.
This is a receptacle, fed from the light fixture in the bathroom of the villa that my family rented while in Bucerias. It is mounted high in the corner of the SHOWER! The receptacle is for the air conditioner unit for one of the bedrooms.
This picture shows the service conductors feeding power in to a villa in Bucerias. Note the meter at the left of the picture, with a mast that has been torn loose from its mounting straps. The conductors are sagged down to within about 4 feet of the sidewalk. To walk down the sidewalk and avoid the conductors you have to duck to one side or another, or push the wires out of your way with your hand. Luckily, Mexicans have a healthy respect for electricity, so most people just walk on the street to avoid this dangerous situation. Here is picture of an open meter socket for a service that has been up-graded or moved. However, this one is still connected to the utility power, so the open and exposed lugs on top are hot. Just the right level to be poked at by the curious hands of a child.
Here is a typical installation of an outdoor light fixture. Just a couple of wires coming out of the concrete, and a pig-tail lamp socket spiced on with electrical tape. Does the job I guess, and the price is right too!
And now for my favorite. I'm dedicating this one to the boys from Fortis (utility power company) back home in Olds. Gary, Scott, Randy, what do you think of this innovative idea when you need some separation between phase A and phase C? Just tie on a water bottle full of sand to make the line sag a bit more. The more separation required, just hang a bigger bottle with more sand! Genius!

If you have some interesting stories, or even better, some pictures of amusing mex-electrical, send me a note at

If you're interested in our travel progress, catch up with the latest on Sandy's blog, at

Until next time!

Christmas gift follow-up

In my Christmas greeting blog posting, I mentioned that in lieu of Christmas gifts to family and friends, we were planning to find some worthwhile charity to contribute to, or some needy family that could use some help. This proved to be a daunting task. Not that charity isn't needed in Mexico, because it is. However, the same can be said in my own hometown in Canada, or anywhere for that matter. We first planned to give some toys or gifts to a children's charity in Puerto Penasco. We read up a bit on that, and what we found is that they don't need toys, bikes, or clothes, as they have warehouses full of these items from well-meaning people that are all thinking the same way. What they need most in most cases is food, not toys. Arriving in Mexico only 1 day before Christmas meant that we missed out on the normal Christmas charities anyway, so on to the next idea. I was hoping that something would become obvious to me, and began thinking that if I could find a need by getting to know different people that we would get to know over our stay in Mexico, then I would find a way to help them out in a more personal way. My biggest fear was that we would give a cash gift to a needy family, and then find them all wearing brand new i-pods, and not putting some food on the table. We spent a lot of time on the beach in Bucerias, and we always parked ourselves in the same general area. This area was always occupied by an elderly beach vendor by the name of Marcellino. He was unique in that instead of treading up and down the beach, he took advantage of the constant parade of people taking the long stroll up and down this beautiful stretch. He would set up under an umbrella, sit in his chair, with his wares spread out on a blanket in front of him. I thought it was a great strategy, and we got to know him quite well over the time we spent there. My friend Gary would always help him carry his stuff up to his car at the end of the day, and he appreciated this very much, and considered our whole group as his friends as a result. Gary and I had my family bring down a mega-phone to help him get his sales pitch message out the the customers walking by. I had purchased an inflatable boat that got a lot of negative attention on Sandy's blog, but to the Mexicans, this boat was envied to a large extent. One day Marcellino expressed his interest in the boat, and how useful it would be for him to have a boat like that for him and his son to go out fishing in. Viola! I decided then that I would give him the boat at the conclusion of our time in Bucerias. He was thrilled, and wanted to give me all kinds of merchandise in exchange, but I convinced him that I wanted to give it to him as a gift, and we settled on a few T-shirts and a hat or two in exchange.In our little campground, the owner had a guy hired to look after the grounds on a casual basis. His name was Francisco. This guy worked construction by day, and part-time at a convenience store, and washed and waxed R.V.'s, and the gardening on the side. A very hard-working guy, and when I asked him when he rests, he replied: "I can't, I have 3 kids and a wife"! He explained that the construction job paid very well by Mexican standards, but the job was just about done. He was hoping to find another job when it ended. Well, it ended while we were there, and because the global recession was starting to affect things in this area too, he was out of work. The worry showed on Francisco's face. I wanted to do something for him, and when he told me his daughter was sick, and he couldn't afford to pay the doctor, I decided to help him out in some way. I was going to hire him to clean the motor home, the car, etc., and pay him in advance so he could pay the doctor, but before I could do that, Jim, the campground owner came to see him and gave him a 6 month advance on his pay to get him through this tough time. I hired Francisco to clean the car, and wash the motor home before we headed out. I payed him over double what he wanted, and bought a kilo of fresh shrimp for him and is family to cook for dinner, and gave him a voucher for a trip out on a day cruise on the "Santa Maria", a catamaran trip around the Bay area, with all food and beverage included, for him and his wife to enjoy. Francisco was very happy, and hopefully they will take advantage of the trip as I'm sure they never had the time or the money to do something like this in the past.Small gestures, but I hope that my family and friends will feel good about what we did for these individuals instead of getting some gifts that they would appreciate, but likely not really need.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Feliz Ano Nuevo! (Happy New Year)!

Another year has passed, and all in all, a very good one for Sandy and I! Speaking of my Wife, and my Best Friend, Happy Birthday! (today, Jan. 2, 2009). Love Ya!
On a very sad note, I have to say goodbye to a business associate, but more importantly, a friend. Bruce Turcotte, of Olds Alberta Canada. Bruce lost the fight after a short battle with a cancer that was only diagnosed a few short months ago. I have known Bruce for about 30 years. He was one of the hardest working people that I have ever met. I remember looking out from our deck after hearing a noise at 10:30 or 11:00 pm at night, only to find Bruce loading up a trailer of electrical supplies, heading for Black Diamond, yet another 2 hour drive south. He was just getting in from a jobsite that he was tending to, 4 hours north of us. His day started about 4 am. This wasn't a normal day for him, nor was it unusual. Bruce was a man of many talents in the construction business. Bruce, you will be missed dearly by your family, co-workers, and friends. I only wish I had been able to say goodbye in person. Adios Amigo.
Our travels thus far have taken us from Canada, through the U.S.A., and now to Mexico. You can check our travel log at Sandy's blog, She is busy up-dating it right now as I write this. Then we will go out for her Birthday dinner here in San Carlos, Son. Mex. In our travels we have met people from all parts of Canada, U.S.A., and Mexico. The common thread? All great, very nice, friendly people.
To my friends in the United States of America, keep your heads high. The economy will pick up. Always be proud to be an American! I watched the "Winter Classic" outdoor hockey game from Chicago, with the Black Hawks hosting the Detroit Red Wings. The display of patriotism from the crowd, standing, singing, and cheering during the Star Spangled Banner, with fireworks and jets in the air, got me all choked up! That's the U.S. I admire! Healing your economic woes is much like trying to get out of a personal depressed state of mind. You have to like yourself first. Stop watching the news and all the gloom and doom stories about how bad things are, and go out and buy a new Ford, GM, or Dodge vehicle in the new year! The economic engine will start up only if you turn the key! God bless the U.S.A.!
Now on to Mexico. You all have heard how dangerous, dirty, and un-safe it is here in Mexico. People will advise against travelling here due to the danger, and even more so now with the drug wars going on in the border towns. We're here, and guess what? Haven't seen any of that. There are gang wars raging on in Calgary, Alberta! I haven't been caught in the middle of one of those either. This isn't to say that it couldn't happen, just not likely, in Calgary, or in Mexico. You can find trouble anywhere if you look hard enough for it. Yes, Mexico on the surface isn't as clean and sterile as it is in most parts of the U.S.A. or Canada. It's just different. They don't get all hung up on some of the details that we do. However, I have had some of the best restaurant meals here that I have had anywhere. Top notch service, and excellent food!
Sandy and I got a good laugh in Puerto Penasco when we saw a beat up old car with 2 men in it, the passenger holding the door closed with a piece of rope. A door sign made with colored paper and a felt pen said: "We repair fibreglass and paint motor home". Yeah, right. We'll get right on that! Don't call us, we'll call you! While parked in our R.V. park at Playa Bonita, these guys stopped by one morning and noticed that we had a 6 or 8" crack in our gel coat at the front of the motor home that I got when I bumped in to a steel bollard at U.S. border crossing. He asked me if I wanted them to repair it. Only $80 (usd). I had no intention of getting it done, but he proceeded to show me many pictures of his before and after repairs, and invited me to check with others in the park who had work done. He told me: "You no like, you no pay". I let him go ahead, and I would challenge anyone to spot the repair. He filled the crack, blended the paint and gel coat to perfection. All right there on the beach, with the sand, the wind, and no fancy paint booth. I was so impressed that I gave him a bigger challenge. I have always wanted to get my car trailer painted, or decals on it to match the motor home. He gave me a price of $450 (usd) and I told him to do what he can. Antonio and his helper, (also Antonio), worked really hard, and put in some long days, and here is what he accomplished.
As you can see he did a great job. Again out in the elements, with a small portable compressor and a paint gun. The motor home is done with decals from the factory. Antonio did this with paint, masking tape, and a decal for a pattern that he had made by a friend that makes signs I would presume. All I gave him for a pattern was a print out from a picture I took of the motor home. This is the result. The paint colors match perfectly, and he properly prepared the surface, primed, and painted. Thank-you Antonio's!

It has been said before, and it is so very true. The people that discourage Mexican travel have never been here, and are not likely to ever travel here. Come see this country for yourself. If not, you'll be cheating yourself out of meeting some excellent, friendly people, great food, and spectacular scenery. Again, check Sandy's latest blog entry for some pictures from this area of San Carlos. Arguably, one of the most scenic places on the planet (in my humble opinion).

Tomorrow we move further south towards Mazatlan.

Happy New Year!