Welcome back to Farbulous Creations! I’m Ron, and this video is the second video in the series as I work to convert my garage into my dream shop.
In this video, we’ll go over the electrical subpanel I had installed in the garage. This work was completed back in the fall, and if you can see my breath it’s because this intro is being recorded in December.
So let’s step back to September, back before Minnesota temperatures dipped to near zero and dumped a foot of snow on the ground. As an aside, editing this video had me longing for green grass and tshirt weather. Let’s jump on in!
We live in Minneapolis, and almost all houses here have detached garages with alley access. Our house is no different. We had power in our garage, which isn’t always the case with detached garages, but unfortunately it was a single 15 amp circuit from the house via direct burial wire. That’s enough for some lights and the garage door opener, but not much else. In order to run lights, dust collection, heat or air conditioning, and a tool like the table saw, all at the same time, I figured I would need at least 60 amps available, and more certainly wouldn’t hurt.
I’ll get to more of the “why” here soon, but the “too long didn’t read” version is we had to dig a trench across our backyard. Before we started digging, we turned off the water line to our sprinkler system in case we accidentally hit one of the lines with a shovel. Because if you’re looking for a way to make digging a trench any less fun, hitting a water line with a shovel has to be towards the top of the list on ways to make it less fun.
So why did we need to dig a trench? In my search to hire an electrician, I got many opinions and options as to the various ways I could get the power I needed to the garage. There were basically three options: 1) Have a second electric meter installed in the garage, completely separate from the house; 2) Run electric overhead from a pole mounted on the house to a pole mounted on the garage; and 3) Dig a trench to run all necessary electric underground in conduit.
In weighing these options, the first one – having a separate meter installed from the alley to the garage – originally sounded the most appealing. For one, it would involve no digging, and two, it would make accounting easy from a home business perspective as my business could simply pay the separate electrical bill from business income. But in talking to the electrician that I eventually hired, he pointed out that having all new electrical service installed from the pole can take months to get approved by the electrical board at the utility company. I didn’t have months; I wanted this done before winter. Additionally, the thought had crossed my mind that future buyers of our house might not love the idea of paying two electrical bills just to have electricity in the garage, so it could affect our resale value going with that approach. On that same note, it was sounding more and more like a separate meter would have to be mounted on the yard side of the garage and I did not want the eye sore there.
The second option was a hard pass from me as soon as I heard it; I hate overhead wires, and after seeing how thick the wires were that were eventually used, it would have been more of an eye sore than the electric meter in option one would have been.
So we were left with the third option: dig a trench and have all new lines run underground. Easy peasey. Right?
Before I go any further, if you haven’t noticed, I didn’t do most of the digging. Huge shoutout to my workhorse hubby who excels at this type of yard work. You tell him what needs done and he just does it, with minimal complaining, and as long as you bring him a Manhattan in a sippy cup every few hours, he’s a happy camper. He’s a southern boy, born and bred, so I guess there’s something to say about that southern work ethic.
After the trench was all dug, it was time for Steven over at Atlantic Electric here in the Twin Cities to come and do his magic. I ended up hiring Steven as he was the one who gave me the additional insight about the faults with the other options I stated previously. What I appreciated was that he did this in a very respectful way without criticizing the other electricians who had bidded out the job. Additionally, he and I had brainstormed ways to avoid needing to dig underneath our sidewalk and came up with the winning plan of attack together so that also made me want to work with him.
Steven started his work early in the morning, around 8 AM. I of course wanted to stay out of his way, but I also find this type of work fascinating so you’ll see me hanging around a lot to ask questions and learn from Steven.
There was a point early on in this project that I was momentarily contemplating the logistics of doing this work myself, as I know how to do basic wiring of switches, outlets, lights, etc., but this was completely out of my wheelhouse. For something of this scale, it was a no brainer to hire a professional.
Steven started out by removing the drywall above the main house electrical panel to install the new wire that would lead out to the garage. Luckily this was fairly accessible from the service side of the house, so after drilling a hole on the outside of the house, he was able to feed a length of wire down the hole to the panel. I forget the name he used to refer to this wire, but it’s basically like romex on steroids – super thick gauge with 3 conductors and a ground wire.
After the junction box was mounted, he started mounting the conduit that would run along the side of the house. This is something that I might otherwise consider ugly, but this was the service side of the house and there were already a handful of things like this so it wasn’t much of an additional eye sore. While Steven was doing that, I drilled a hole in our fence post for the conduit to run through into the back yard. I didn’t have a forstner bit, so I had to drill a little with a hole saw and then chisel out the chucks before doing a little more until the hole was entirely cut.
After we were in the backyard, it was time for my favorite part of our plan – the part that avoided digging under the sidewalk. Here Steven used an elbow connector to slope the conduit downwards closer to ground level where a length of conduit could run underneath our back steps before making its final 2 foot descent into the ground. The rest was a mostly straight shot right to the garage along the length of the trench.
Once inside the garage, Steven could mount the new subpanel and connect the rest of the conduit up to meet it. Next he ran two grounding rods along side the garage and connected these to meet the panel.
After that was one of the final steps, pulling the wire through the conduit. These wires are thick – and there’s four of them. Two hots, a neutral, and a ground. Steven taped them all together, in a staggered fashion before feeding them through one of the junction box openings. I was on the other end of the yard, helping pull the wires through like a kid eager to help his dad. Once all the wires were pulled to the garage, Steven could make the final connections to the new subpanel.
Before making the final connections to the house’s panel, Steven connected the two different types of wire together – the aluminum wire that entered the house initially, and the copper wire that ran the majority of the run. He used these special wire connectors along with a chemical paste that prevents the aluminum and copper from reacting with each other over time. After these joints were made, he insulated them well and sealed up the box.
On the other side of the exterior wall and one floor down, Steven wrapped up the work by connecting the new subpanel’s circuit to the main house panel.
And, that was that! After a quick check in by the city’s electrical inspector a few days later to sign off on the work, it was time for us – err, the Manhattan-loving workhorse hubby – to fill in the trench with all the dirt that somehow fit that space to begin with. We didn’t put down any grass seed as this was late fall and figured it would be easiest to repair come spring.
And that’s where this video is going to end! Like I said earlier, I’ll be doing the rest of the electrical work within the garage myself, so Steven’s work was a crucial first step. Words cannot describe how happy I was with Steven’s work so if you’re in the Twin Cities and need some work done, be sure to give him a call. I’ve already installed a few new circuits to this panel, and that will be the topic of my next video in this series. I’ll try to have a new project video between this video and that one to mix it up a bit. So stay tuned for both of those, and until next time, cheers!