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Chapter 4 : Electrical and plumbing

This chapter reviews some of the details involving utilities, foundation and steel. The first photo shows electric and plumbing just before the plastic vapor barrier and sand have been placed. At the bottom is the reference point of the white temporary electric panel seen in previous chapters.

Notice the line through the foundation for the wall between the bedroom and closet; lower right quarter. You are looking for a thin ditch-like line through the footing. That small ditch was dug through the freshly placed foundation concrete with a small shovel for a plastic electric conduit which was not used by the electrician. It is pointed out to illustrate how a foundation design such as this facilitates placement of utilities. Similar ditches through the wet concrete are in place for all crossings and for all right angle turns upward into the walls. It is a real inconvenience to chip out a ditch after good concrete has cured. Right angle bends are called, "sweeps," in California.

The same footing also clearly shows re-bars protruding at an angle near the vertical wall-anchor bars. Those bars were stuck into the wet concrete by hand, taking extreme care not to go far enough to touch soil. If there is doubt about quality control on this point, then find a way to tie them into position so they donÕt touch soil and create electrolysis which will corrode the reinforcing steel. These bars were later bent to fit into the floor steel grid and are perhaps more numerous than required. Such bars are very necessary for types of construction where the walls and roof depend on the foundation and do not add further strength to it.

Experienced electricians will notice that all of the conduits crisscrossing the floor area are small circuits. The mainline entering is already deeply buried from the temporary post to an inner wall, where the main circuit box was installed later. Buried electric mainlines are placed about one meter deep so that it is totally impossible to cut the line with a shovel and be electrocuted. This is among the more strictly enforced building codes.

Examination of the foundation behind the white temporary power post shows curved form wood. Curves such as this are made by, laminating multiple layers of thin wood, or, by cross cutting thicker wood most of the way through with a saw so that it will bend. The curved line in the footing is an impression left by the plastic pipe which was used to tie the vertical re-bar in place, as shown in chapter one.

The upper left quadrant of the floor photo shows a black line at about a forty five degree angle. It extends from the outside to the inner wall. That black pipe has an inside diameter of five centimeters (2"), it leads to the position of a natural gas wall heater. There is a tee fitting on the end with what shows as white foam or tape over the end to keep the fresh cement out of the pipe. This black plastic pipe is a conduit for black iron pipe which is correctly assumed by the plumber and local codes to have a shorter life-span than the building.

A tee is used rather than an ell because, when the black iron pipe is slid into the black plastic pipe, the iron gas pipe has a ninety degree ell threaded onto it. This is done after the floor concrete has been placed. One person threads a short vertical length of pipe from the top while another person working from the outside holds the longer, horizontal pipe with its ell aimed upward. The reason the black plastic conduit has a tee on the end rather than an ell is to provide some adjustment space. An ell has a curve toward vertical while the black plastic tee has five centimeter straight down hole to a horizontal bottom which is flat and without end-to-end curvature. Pressure test all plumbing.

The rest of the plumbing visible in the upper left quadrant is toilet, vent, shower and bathroom sink. Extend black iron pipe and threads far enough past plastic pipe conduit for ease of fitting attachments on either end.

Dotted lines represent floor and outside wall (left arrow). Lower arrow indicates direction of gas flow.

Utilities are presented in the photo below with the water and gas entry ditch still partially open. I am sorry to report that most of the pictures for this book were swept away in an avalanche of bananas and boulders many years ago. Luckily, some photos of these projects were taken by others and kept in safety. For orientation: notice the sticker with a distinctive brand in the glare of the kitchen window, at the left. Now look to the far right and find the same brand sticker on the line where the egg shaped water tank disappears behind the steel. A grey plastic electric conduit passes over that almost invisible bathroom window that this sticker is on.

Electrical and plumbing work is wired to the reinforcing steel before the welded wire mesh is placed. An interesting building code requirement is visible in this photo. Plumbers are required to wrap the black plastic ABS pipe in bubble wrap. This is done, purportedly, to keep the abrasion of heat expansion and contraction of the plaster and steel from grinding through the pipe. Electricians don't really care if their PVC plastic conduit is masticated by the grinding of concrete and steel because the wires inside the conduit are insulated (electricity can't leak out and escape as readily as sewer gasses or water). The plastic kitchen sink vent goes up and was offset slightly by the plumber, great guy, Jeff Johnson, just to be sure there would be sufficient room for the window above the sink. The black circle not in white plastic bubble wrap is called a, "clean out." If the sink drain plugs, the black cap unscrews and the drain pipe is open to be cleaned out.

The hot and cold inlet pipes leading to the sink are off-centered below the window to make room for inside valves, faucet tubing and the sink drain trap, which is center-line, below the window center. An important point to consider about pipe wrap is to be sure that copper pipe is wrapped; concrete does "eat" copper pipe, chemically.

I find it somewhat humorous that the black plastic is protected by plumber's bubble wrap inside the concrete, but, as soon as it leaves the protection of the concrete plaster and steel, for the open air above the roof, the black plastic is left bare for solar radiation to destroy it. My impression is that minions of some immortal corporation successfully moved its particular branch of government to make a rule requiring foam bubble wrap in order to create another cash flow tributary from the government's mortal subjects, known as, "consumers," nowadays. In fairness to code writers, the pipe wrap does provide slippage for plastic pipe within minimally reinforced concrete, which will crack and move slightly.

Leaving the musings of this street political economist, momentarily, be sure to notice the gas pipe entering the black plastic conduit as it disappears into the concrete, in the ditch. It's just to the left of the exiting sewer pipe which can be identified by the bit of white bubble wrap protruding from the concrete.

Standing immediately left of the partially open ditch is an inverted U of nominal two centimeter gas pipe (3/4"). It exits the soil vertically and turns horizontal with a shiny galvanized ell > on/off valve > tee, then back down into the ground and on into the five centimeter diameter sleeve. The open closet-sized room is for a water heater, which will be supplied from the tee.

Looking further into the bathroom area are two white wrapped vent pipes, one for the toilet and one for the bathroom sink. The white of the toilet is visible as well.

This chapter will undoubtedly grow over the years as additional points raised by tradespeople are included. An opening discussion for alternative power sources and voltages is placed here for precisely that reason. Building structures intended to last over very long time-spans eventually brings sculptors and builders a method for thinking "out of the box."

Ferrocement and thin-shell structures utilizing biological fibers - such as hemp, jute, bamboo and flax - should be around at least as long as ancient greek frescos made of cement. Note: Some greek frescos were made centuries before Rome came into being and started using its long-lived concrete.

I once tried to break the corner off a greek fresco that had been stolen from Greece and then placed in a Boston museum. The edges of the fresco were rough where it had been broken free of its rightful place and moved from Greece to Massachusetts. My half-closed eyes furtively glanced side-to-side, scanning for a museum guard. None were present so I slipped one fingernail under a sharp, broken edge of the fresco and tried to prize it from the whole. The fresco proved too strong for all four fingers.

A second furtive glance assured me of additional testing time. I used a closed pocket knife to tap the fresco edge and listen for its tone. Poor concrete thuds softly, like a dirt clod. The pre-christian greek fresco clicked like a castenet; it was very hard, not at all like a falling-down, thirty or forty year-old, concrete bridge in the north-east part of central north america.

The power center pictured next is for solar or wind power low voltage into and out of batteries. It is the sort of thing that will function for quite a long while. Higher tech, alternating current gizmos wear at the universal rate of normal entropy or speeded up planned obsolescence for product and brand. I have seen later versions of this which include an instantaneous on/off switch impossible to fit in a box three times as large. Why? Memory fails me.

This small power center makes sure the batteries do not boil away with excess power input. The chance of being electrocuted inside this box are the same as for being electrocuted by a car battery. Is that possible? If something is possible, the chance is greater than zero. IÕve never heard of anyone being electrocuted by 12 or 24 volts. Have you ever heard of someone being electrocuted by a car or truck battery?

What happens to excess solar roof power?

A voltage sensor switches power to pump fountain and irrigation water or compress air. The sensor switch is also in there.

Compressed air can store and then regenerate electrical energy as efficiently as directly power tools.

Some locations utilize a small dam or tank to store water at a higher elevation. Water mass is then used to store power and regenerate electricity as needed.

Battery storage can be much smaller when augmented by either compressed air or water pressure.