Confessions of an Electrophobe (Part 1)

By , April 13, 2013

After a faithful reader commented on how easy I’d made my 12 volt outlet installation sound, I joked that that was because I’m the one who writes the blog.

Having said that, I realized that she is one of many who rely on me to share my experience, good and bad, concerning projects that she is pursuing.

I admit to purposely glossing over the mistakes I made in the installation, some of which might be understandable, a few that were just plain stupid. If I hope to provide value through this blog beyond sheer, self indulgent entertainment, I need to be more forthcoming. I need to elaborate on this story paricularly, because it led me to take steps that others might also find useful.

I’ve never tried to hide the plain fact that I’m afraid of electricity. I still can’t quite figure out how I ever got myself into this situation, where I am solely responsible for my home’s electrical system. In a way, that’s a good thing. I am continually showing, by example, that even the timid, inexperienced, and inept can generate and use electricity.

The problems I had with the recent outlet installation arose from wire coding.

I disconnected the old outlets one wire at a time, and somewhat methodically connected the corresponding new ones. My problem came when I traced the white stripe wire, which disappeared into the outlet housing. When I opened it, I found the wire attached to a metal bar that ran across the back of all three outlet cylinders. I am familiar with buss bars, or the negative, “ground” bar in a boat’s electrical system. (Almost all of my electrical experience arises from creating an electrical system for our homebuilt sailboat, and closely related work on our off-the-grid system here on the “homestead.”)

This assumption proved incorrect. I would learn, in a rather dramatic fashion, what a moment’s cool observation and deduction should have made plain to me: the bar provided a positive connection to the center of each of the three outlet cylinders. The negative (all black) wire was attached to the center cylinder.

Operating on my incorrect assumption, I identified the white stripe wire as the negative, and tied the new outlets into the house system accordingly. That was bad enough. What proved to be outright stupid was my next move: attaching the fuse link with one end on the positive wire, and the other on the negative.

Many of you see the problem immediately, but allow me to explain for those, who either don’t know, or, like me, manage to forget at the most inconvenient moments. A fuse provides a weak link in the positive or “hot” wire in a DC system. This creates a safety valve, in that a surge of power that exceeds the amperage of the fuse (they’re all marked, more or less clearly: 2 amp, 5, amp, 15 amp, etc.) will break the fuse linkage, cutting the positive power to the device (the outlets, in this case).

Instead of tying the fuse holder into the positive wire, I linked the positive and negative wires with the holder, creating a short.

When I reconnected the negative wire to the battery, I got showered with sparks, scared the crap out of myself, and realized I had a problem. I soon identified my mistake, and remembered what I was supposed to do.

That was the worst of it, but I’ll relate what happened next in an upcoming post.

One Response to “Confessions of an Electrophobe (Part 1)”

  1. Charity says:

    Now you tell me! just kidding – this is great detail though, and greatly appreciated!

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