Mountain Man vs statist, petty bureaucrats, and the UN

Do you own your property? Can you do what you want on it, within reason? Think so? Keep reading.

Eustace Conway. Dangerous American. Homegrown extremist.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Conway, 51 years old, is best known as “The Last American Man,” the title character of a 2002 biography and National Book Award finalist by Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of “Eat, Pray, Love.” He has lived in the wilderness since the early 1980s.

He traps, shoots and grows much of his own food, makes pants out of buckskin and stitches his own wounds. He bathes in the cold creek that rolls through his 1,000-acre Turtle Island preserve in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. And he teaches others how to live off the land.

Last fall, a team of health, construction and fire officials showed up for an unannounced inspection of the preserve, acting on an anonymous tip. Escorted by two sheriffs’ deputies, they executed what Mr. Conway describes as a “SWAT-team raid”—peering into outhouses, stomping around log cabins, and climbing hand-hewn ladders.

Their findings are compiled in a 78-page report with a bullet-point list of violations. Mr. Conway’s sawdust urinal and outhouses? Unpermitted, according to the officials. The wood he used to erect two dozen buildings? Built with lumber that isn’t “grade-marked,” meaning it doesn’t specify the mill where it was produced.

The open-air kitchen, with its crates of potatoes and stacks of pots? “Not protected from insects and animals,” according to the report. “It is, in fact, outdoors.”

[...]

Fred Reed has captured the new dynamic completely:

Nobody in America, ever again, is going to be left alone. Not ever.

A man living off the land on his own property is no longer tolerable to the state. Harden yourselves. God have mercy on us all.

Read the entire article Mountain Man vs statist, petty bureaucrats, emphasis mine.

Down in Tulsa, they’ve got some stuff figured out, and they want to tell you about it. From Maggie’s Notebook

WOW! So proud of my fellow Tulsans in the 9.12 Project for offering this important symposium. There are two sides to what I think of as Agenda 21 – two separate entities, joined at the hip: Agenda 21 and ICLEI ”International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives.” In July 2011, Tulsa showed up as a “Local Government for Sustainability USA.” At that time, we were the only city listed under ‘Oklahoma,’ however, this article dated October 2011 is a “welcome” to Oklahoma City as ICLEI’s 600th member. Today, the site shows no Oklahoma membership. Today I’ve found a separate city membership page, and the State of Oklahoma continues to shows no participation – but friends, it once took root, and due to citizen participation, has apparently been uprooted.

Click this Graphic to track progress of OK SB 23 - Agenda 21

9.12 Project is holding a symposium to learn about the devastating and corrupt effects of Agenda 21 and their tentacles.

Understanding Agenda 21 – A Symposium

Date: April 5th and 6th, 2013

Location: Tulsa Marriott Southern Hills – 1902 E. 71st Street

Contact Information: Elaine LeoneNaomi Koehn

Just a few days ago the Oklahoma State House passed legislation to ban Agenda 21 in the state:

Continue reading Tulsa 9.12 Project Hosts Agenda 21 SymposiumMany many links to Agenda 21 information there.

Go, if it’s at all possible for you.

Here is a bit more on Agenda 21, from The Brenner Brief

This article is the fifth in a multi-part series designed to inform readers of the impending danger of United Nations (UN)Agenda 21To view prior installments, click here.

Agenda 21, also known as “sustainable development,” is the action plan to inventory and control all land, all water, all minerals, all plants, all animals, all construction, all means of production, all information, all energy, and all human beings in the world.  Thisplan was birthed at the 1992 United Nations Rio Earth Summit, officially known as theUnited Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). President George HW Bush signed the US was onto this plan by along with 178 other world leaders.

agenda_21_1The push for implementation of Agenda 21 in the US was provided by Executive Orders (EO). In 1993 President Clinton signed EO 12852, which established the President’s Council on Sustainable Development. In 2011 President Obama signed EO 13575, which established the White House Rural Council.

Clinton’s EO created the “President’s Council on Sustainable Development” expressly for the purpose of implementing the recommendations in Agenda 21 throughout federal, state, and local governments. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other federal agencies offered challenge grants to state and local government to promote the implementation of the recommendations in Agenda 21. The federal government gave more than $5 million to the American Planning Association to produce the “Growing Smart: Legislative Guidebook,” which provides model legislation for states that, when adopted, requires counties and cities to adopt recommendations found in Agenda 21.

Obama’s EO established the White House Rural Council with 25 executive branch departments including Defense, Justice, Homeland Security, National Drug Control, Environmental Quality, Labor, Commerce, Interior, EPA, Housing, Health, Education to name just a few. The order covers 16 percent of the American population who lives in rural counties because they “supply our food, fiber, and energy, safeguard our natural resources, and are essential in the development of science and innovation.”

Continue reading Agenda 21: How it’s impacting life in America, and still more links.

Still think you own your property?

 

Guilds, Licensing, Inspections, and Code, Oh My; part 1

The National Electrical Code, 2008 edition

The National Electrical Code, 2008 edition (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[Author's note] Because it’s late, and I’m tired, I decided to let this go out as it is, written from memory of a lifetime spent in the industry. So, there might be a few minor factual errors here but, this is exactly what I’ve told innumerable clients over the years]

Guilds and Licensing

You’ve often heard me say that trade licensing is like nothing so much as the medieval guilds. Here’s why.

You decide you want to be an electrician, so you go get a job with one or you go to a community college, now you can get your apprentice card, you lucky boy or girl. Either way once you’re on the job site, you’ll carry parts, run a broom, maybe bend some conduit, dig a trench, the stupid stuff that young people always end up doing. That’s fine, it’s been that way forever, I did it, and so did my dad.

You keep doing that for a few years (it varies with school or pure apprenticeship) and you’re qualified to take the journeyman test. They claim it has some electrical knowledge on it but, for the most part, it’s a code test, which is important, but not the be all-end all you think. Let’s say you pass, many don’t, 5 or  times isn’t uncommon. I think it’s a ridiculously stupid test and open book at that, but it’s not up to me. Now you’re a journeyman.

As a journeyman you can supervise three apprentices (these are all Nebraska examples) in theory you could be in charge of wiring the new skyscraper in Omaha, as a 25-year-old journeyman. (Don’t worry, you won’t be, usually that job will have 50 or so electricians on it). But most likely you’ll be in charge of a crew, and as you learn what you’re doing your responsibilities will increase. It’s not all that bad a system.

The next step, and many never take it, is to take the contractor’s test, it’s a little more difficult but not much. If you pass, and buy insurance you can be an electrical contractor. Woo-Hoo!

Say you decide to go out on your own, which is really the only point to that license, you might be a good electrician, many are barely OK and lazy to boot in my opinion. But here’s some things you need to know:

  • How do you do a fair estimate?
  • How do you figure out how much of which material to use? [Most house plans leave all that up to you, and if they're three or more ears old, they'll need revision for the current code cycle]
  • How do you figure a fair return? Not that you’re going to get it on residential work.
  • How does accounting work?
  • What do you have to do to comply with OSHA?
  • What is and when do you have to apply NFPA 70E or NFPA 101
  • What is the UL White book, and why does it matter.

My point is, there’s a lot to being a contractor that a journeyman rarely sees.

Oh, did I mention that your present contractor has to sign off on you taking the test? That’s where the guild thing comes in. It’s nothing less in my mind, than using the government in restraint of fair trade.

Inspections

Here inspection is done by the State, and they’re pretty good, knowledgeable, fair, and consistent. Just about all you can ask, really. Or is it? See the thing is, their job is to enforce the code, period. And as we’ll talk about in the next section that introduces some problems.

What I would like to see is this, when you buy a home, if you want insurance (and most mortgages require it) why couldn’t the insurance companies require that electrical, plumbing and whatnot be brought up to code, using their own or contract inspectors, which would mean that every once in a while homes would get inspected and not the messes that some so-called handymen leave behind them.

Nothing new about this either. When I was young, nearly every factory in America was insured by Factory Mutual. Factory Mutual not only required compliance with a very strict code, that covered lots of things, they even had their own labs for rating products, and if your product didn’t have a F-M label it couldn’t be used. But if you complied, the insurance was pretty cheap. Why? Because the losses were low. You know, the free market at work.

Codes, Codes, and more Codes

Residential

For the most part electrical work is covered by the National Electric Code (NEC, NFPA 70), it’s a good code. Like it plainly states it is not a design manual, although if I want the job, I’m usually not going to go very far beyond it. If wired in accordance with the code, your house will be safe, it may be adequate and convenient, or it may not.

But there are problems. If your house was wired in the 50s or before, it may still have a 60A main, you will find it inadequate. If I remember the code started requiring 100A in the early 60s as it still does. So if you have that 60A service, usually it will have two sets of cartridge fuses labeled main and range, which is what they are normally used for, in addition it will have four of the old plug fuses, we call them Edison base, same as a light bulb.

Here’s the kicker, say you blow a fuse, and you call me, and by some miracle I can come right over, if that panel shows any sign of overloading, like too big a fuse for the wire size, or pennies behind the fuse, or even if it’s hot (and I’ve burned myself on a few). I can do one of several things, I can replace all the fuses with the proper size Type S fuse and its adapter, so that you can’t overfuse, although you’ll be very limited on load, I can replace the panel, or I can refuse to work on it. That’s it.

The best option for Joe Homeowner is to replace it. That’s problematical too though. In the current code I have to protect just about every circuit in the house with either a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) or a combination type Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI) instead of using a regular circuit breaker (I can’t even buy a fusible panel any more).

GFCIs work fine here, no problem, it’s one of the very few ways I can replace a two wire outlet as well. AFCIs can be an entirely different kettle of fish. Invariably if I try to put one on the old cable with the woven covering, it won’t work, it could be something as minor as a staple driven too tight or something. If I’m in that spot, from the get-go, I’m going to tell you, you have to rewire your house. You really do need to anyway, but here we are talking about it on a cold winter’s night while we watch your pipes freeze.

OK, that’s settled, right? Oh, you want an estimate or a bid. OK, that better for both of us, anyway. It’s gonna cost you about $5000 dollars, more or less.

Why?

Because times have changed, in 1965 or so we went to grounded outlets, first with a small conductor and then with a full size one, it was a very good idea.

In about 1980 we started required bathrooms and kitchens to have GFCIs essentially wherever we are within six feet of water, and in the basement, garage, and outdoors. Again a good idea.

Now we require AFCIs on almost anything else in a dwelling unit. It’s not a bad idea, they detect an arc in the wiring and shut off the circuit.

Not least of the problems is that instead of about $5 for a circuit breaker, these (and GFCIs) are about $50. They also change some of our methods of wiring, and yes the new ways are more expensive in both time and material but, it can’t be helped.

Now the fun begins. Under the code certain things are required.

  • An outside light, wall switch controlled at each entrance
  • An outside outlet, as described above
  • Outlets not more than 12 feet apart in all rooms of dwelling units, including any wall more than 18 inches long, except some halls and stairwells.
  • Wall switch controlled luminaires, or in some cases outlets, in all rooms, controlled at each entrance.
  • Bathroom circuit, 20A GFCI cannot serve anything else (sometimes it can serve another bathroom)
  • Kitchen, 20A GFCI, outlets every 24 inches over the countertop (not excluding that fancy island), two circuits required minimum.
  • There are limits as to how many outlets can be on a circuit 7 for a 15A circuit if I recall.
  • Any appliance that has nameplate that calls for a separate circuit, has to have one. Invariably dishwashers, garbage disposers, freezers, furnaces, and icemakers do
  • A laundry outlet that serves nothing else.
  • Usually, I’ll spec a circuit for the refrigerator because they don’t always play nice on GFCIs or AFCIs and I hate call-backs.

So where are we, somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen or more circuits, electric dryer add 2, electric water heater add 2 more, air conditioning add 2 more. If I remember, and I’m writing this from memory, the biggest 100A box I can buy has about 15-20 spaces in it, and it’s very poor design not to leave room for expansion, so you’re looking at a 200A service. In truth, I haven’t recommended anything else in 20 years, and I’ll bet those that insisted on saving that 50 or so bucks regret it now.

Did I mention that I have to use tamper resistant outlets too. It’s not a big thing, only about a dollar more per outlet.

So after you cry for a while (I don’t blame you for it either) you say OK and pay the deposit which will be in the neighborhood of $2500. Now we can pull the permit and get started.

Everything I’ve mentioned above is required by code. I and the inspector have no choice. What we used to be able to do is to stage it, we could figure out the whole job, change the panel now, and rewire later, and occasionally it still can happen. Oh don’t forget to schedule the drywall guy and painters, cause we’re going to damage your walls.

But, here’s the problem, remember where we started this story, when I walked in, I burned my hand on your panel. Let’s say you just got a job that pays say $10 dollars an hour, and your house payment is $300 a month. How are you going to be able to pay me? Short answer is, you can’t. I know it, you know it, and the inspector knows it too. But we’re all stuck.

Thing is, a competent electrician can do other things to make it reasonably safe, without all that drama. But the way the code is written we can’t.

That’s one of the reasons I like the system I outlined above, when you’re buying the house, you’ve got options, maybe the seller will help, in the worst case maybe you can include it in your mortgage,  instead of trying to do it right now when you have a problem.

Basically, we’ve made code compliance so expensive that we are leaving very dangerous situations in homes, because no can afford to fix them. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in their quest to make electricity safe for a two-year old, have priced fixing actual real world hazards out of reach of the average homeowner.

The next time will be Agricultural and Commercial.

How NOT to Deal with a Contractor

Wiring a residential loadcenter

I think most of you know that I’m the operations officer for an electrical contractor. One of the things I do is our estimating, and it can get rather complex. I’ve been doing one kind of electrical work or another all my life and still enjoy it, most days. This week has been incredibly stupid and insane however.

We primarily do commercial and agricultural work, for several reasons one of which is that it is more profitable but, given the economy we are doing some residential. I personally haven’t wired a house in about 20 years, so it’s been a learning experience. We do some residential maintenance and service calls, so we do have a basic idea of the code changes and such.

Anyway, when one of the general contractors we work with asked if we wanted to bid on this house that happens to be about 50 miles from our office, we said sure. He handed us about four sheets of notebook paper with a sketch that looks like it was done by an electrician. It’s missing doors, windows, stairs, furnace, and a few other minor details. Well, I finally put it together and get a bid out.

Yay, we win. We get the deposit check in and are told he’ll have the proposal signed when we get there, that’s not exactly kosher but, OK, we can live with that.

So, I get the purchase orders out and about $2000 worth of basic wiring stuff in. You know, boxes, wire, the loadcenter and breakers. We buy the electrical permit, and off we go. We consult with the Power Company and the client and change the overhead to underground, in this case, that’s a wash for me. (Yes, that’s unusual.) He wants a larger panel, well that’s OK, not much different and so forth. This is the kind of nonsense that makes electricians reluctant to do residential but whatever.

When you are doing electrical work, you can, legally, put only so many wires (conductors, to us) in each box. It depends on the size of the box and the size of the conductors, and it’s to prevent overheating and fires.

In case you’re curious, the 2011 National Electric Code Handbook is 1444 pages long, and Nebraska has some changes also. It’s pretty much all enforceable by law.

When you are designing a system (especially to price) you use the smallest conductor that will do the job safely. You basically do whatever the book says you can do to reduce the cost, both material and labor, that’s how you stay competitive, (it’s also why electricians have so many tools). So, I design this house in #14 gauge wire where applicable. That makes a 15 Amp circuit, some circuits are required to be 20 Amp, kitchen and bathrooms, mostly. This is just so you can see how the system works. It’s a reasonably minor chore but, must be done correctly.

In residential work, I always expect a flurry of change orders fairly early on, and try to leave some flexibility in the design. It is often hard for a prospective homeowner to see how a house will work when it is just plans on paper.

That happened here, all right. By the end of the first day of rough in we had accumulated 20+ change orders, mostly additions, and most relatively minor. But some of them weren’t, a simple staircase turned into a 2 story foyer with three additional circuits.

And the really big one: The customer decided that #14 wire isn’t safe, he wants all #12. If you don’t know, there is no difference in safety, only capacity, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal usually, especially ahead of time.

The kicker here is that this house has more switching than I’ve ever seen. Single Pole, 3-way and even 4-way switches are reproducing all over this plan like they are rabbits. The thing is; a single pole switch takes 2 wires; a 3-way, 3 and a 4 way, 4; and I like to have a neutral in the box, because a lot of dimmers and fan controls and such need one. I try to foresee what you are going to need for about ten years, it works more often than not.

With #14 wire I’m bumping on the limits for conductor fill, with #12 I’m exceeding them. So I pull my people off to redesign and figure out what this is going to cost. It was worse than I thought. The wire I need to do this nonsense is called 12-4 NMB and it’s not very common. One of my suppliers found me a 1000 foot reel of it in Minnesota. It’s not cheap either, my cost is a bit north of $1000, plus freight of course.

I do my redesign and with all the change orders added up it comes out to about $3500 additional, and that’s the best I can do. About $3000 of it is due to the downright silly request for all #12 but, it’s his house, not mine.

So, I go down with my lead guys last night to present this. The client instantly gets angry, refuses to pay the bill and even to sign the original proposal. I’m into this project for about $2000 in material already, so I don’t really want to blow it up either. Well, that’s not exactly true. I do, and so does the general contractor, he’s nickel and diming (actually $50 and $100 bill) him too. But we are supposedly professional enough to get the job done and only then go on down the road.

The clients last statement was that we should do the original plan and if he signs the proposal, that’s what we’ll do.

I am pretty sure that he is thinking that as soon as we have the rough in inspection done, he’ll fire us and change it without regard to the code. He’s entitled to his fantasies.

Under Nebraska law, we are required to pass the rough in inspection, then the insulation and finish materials go on and we put outlets and switches and such in and only then do we have the final inspection. Until then, we are responsible for the wiring being code compliant and we take that responsibility seriously, as do the electrical inspectors (and even the Fire Marshal). Willful violations are criminal misdemeanors. Not to mention a huge liability if the house would burn.

If he doesn’t sign the proposal we will take our supplies that aren’t nailed down and leave, abandoning the stuff that we’ve installed and wait for him to sue us. It’s a lousy way to run a railroad but, it’s the railroad we’ve got to run.

For the rest of you, if you are working with a contractor of any type, tell him what you want (Architects plans are great, by the way, but not necessary), if he’s any good he’ll try to accommodate you, as well as complying with all the various codes.

Even here, if he’d bothered  to listen, we might have been able to figure something out. His problem, as near as the general and I can figure out, is that he’s got the construction money in the bank, and doesn’t want to spend it, so he’s going to try to screw us all. Well, we didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday, either.

And that’s why my posting has been pretty sparse this week, I’ve been screwing around with this mess till 10 or 11 every night.

Home Inspection Part 1

You guys know that I do some home inspections and will continue to do so on a time available basis, so I’m going to tell you what I look closely at and what I tend to ignore.

The most important thing to look at is structure; especially foundation and/or basement. If you’ve got problems here, it can be very, very expensive to fix .

If you’ve got signs of water in the basement you would be well advised to figure out why. I had a house once where I left the soaker hose on overnight accidentally and got water in the basement. Well, I didn’t do it again and never had water in the basement again. The problem: Operator Error, Duh. But I was on a hilltop, if I was in a valley it probably would have been a different story. If you are building a new home; don’t skimp on the waterproofing of your basement.This is also where I start looking for mold. If you’ve got much at all of a mold problem you are in for some hefty expenses. Mold remediation often falls under the same rules as asbestos.

Other structural problems tend to appear when a home has been renovated. We all like the so-called ‘open concept’ homes as opposed to the older multiple small rooms. The problem arises when walls are removed; what is left to hold up the roof. Often it requires a beam (often an I-beam) to be installed to carry the load. Houses and their furnishings (and people) add up to a heavy load. If you have sagging or rolling floors or roofs check it out. Preferably before you buy it. You can also have a problem, even with a new house, if you live in area without a building inspector, if your contractor is trying to save a buck. In truth, new houses aren’t built as well as old ones, most are built to price, just like the knockoff products you buy cheaply that are “just as good” as the name brand ones.

Do understand that neither I or any other home inspector, is  going to tear the house apart trying to find problems. What we are going to do is use our experience and knowledge gathered over the years to make a SWAG (scientific Wild A** Guess). Plus our inspection tools, of course.

I do not encourage homeowners to try to do renovations themselves simply because there is an large chance that there are problems that the homeowner does not know how to solve (or doesn’t want to spend the money to do it right). Some homeowners do, if your one of them, go for it.

Incidentally, I’m not talking paint color here or what kind of door, or whatnot. Cosmetics is one thing I completely ignore, besides as a guy, I’m not qualified to have an opinion.

I always look at the roof and gutters (if any) and make a judgement about remaining life and condition. I also, if at all possible, look in the attic for the amount of insulation, roof venting and mold. Also be aware that some vermiculite that was used as insulation has free asbestos in it. I will be talking about that too, later.

%d bloggers like this: