First steps: more power!

One of the first things I realized when I decided to use my garage as a wood shop is that I need to address a serious power shortage in there.  Aside from a single overhead light fixture (a socket with a bare bulb) and an outlet on the ceiling for the garage-door opener, there was only one power outlet in the garage–on a 15-amp circuit.  This isn’t nearly enough power for running power tools; in fact, when I run my circular saw from that outlet, it dims the lights significantly.  I know that once I get a table saw in there, along with some kind of electric shop heater, all bets are off.

So I realized that somehow I was going to have to provide additional power to the garage, and although I’ve done some wiring in the past, I’m not up to the task of running a new circuit from the main breaker panel in my house to the shop.  Well, let me rephrase that: I’m not confident that I know enough about the electrical code to do it right.  Unfortunately, this means hiring an electrician.

I made the decision early on that I would insulate the two bare-stud walls in my garage and cover them with some sort of paneling (I decided to use OSB paneling), but before I can do that, I need to do the wiring of new outlets.  And before I can do all of that, I need to get a building permit, as it turns out.  And before I can do that, I have to hire an electrician to run the new circuit to the garage.

So I called three different electrical contractors in my city and asked them to come over and give me an estimate.  All three were apparently competent and professional, and all were properly licensed to do the work in my town (a requirement for my building permit), so over a week or so, all three came over and poked around.  The first two immediately suggested that my old breaker panel needed to be replaced and the service to my house needed to be upgraded to 200 amps (it’s an older house with 100-amp main service).  One of the estimates involved running metal conduit from the breaker panel at one end of the house and outside along the rear exterior to the garage, at the other end of the house.  The second guy wanted to trench from the place where the electrical service enters my house through the back yard and over to the garage.  The third guy didn’t see the need to upgrade the main service, and plans to run cable through the crawl space to the garage.

I was unprepared for the sticker-shock: the first estimate came in at nearly $3000.  The second guy still hasn’t provided an estimate after about two weeks.  The third estimate came in at just over $1000.  The moral of this story: it pays to get a variety of estimates.  And if you feel capable of doing some of the work yourself, you can save a bundle.  The third electrician actually suggested that if I wanted to save some labor costs, I could help him pull the cable through the crawl space, which would eliminate the cost of him sending two electricians to do the work.

I haven’t pulled the trigger on the electrical work yet, but here’s my plan:  (1) I’ll probably hire the third guy, then (2) I’ll file the building permit, which involves making some drawings that illustrate the work I intend to do, including the wiring the electrician will do, plus the wiring I will do to connect outlets in the shop to the new subpanel, plus the work I will do to put in the insulation and paneling.

After the building permit is approved, I’ll set up the date for the electrical work, then there will probably be a series of inspections along the way, after the new circuit is pulled and the new subpanel is installed, then again after I’ve done the rough-in wiring for the new outlets, probably once more after the new outlets are all connected, and possibly once more when the insulation and paneling are up.

I have no idea how long this will take–my hope is that it will all be done within a couple of months, but scheduling this work around my part-time job and family responsibilities (and Kansas winter weather) could extend that into the spring.

But we’re getting closer!


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