Archive for the ‘Electrical’ Category

Rain + GFCIs = No Blinky

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

Well, tonight was the first night since we started that we couldn’t put the show on. I came home from work to find that one GFCI had tripped. I thought it may be a fluke because the show hadn’t started yet, so I reset it and it seemed happy, but it wasn’t long before another GFCI tripped. I decided just to shut everything down for the night rather than running half a show. Hopefully everything will dry out for tomorrow night.

Edit: 12/03/09
After perusing on Planet Christmas about GFCI trip causes, it seems that I overlooked the leakage current that can arise from long extension cord runs… This combined with any other leakage is a trip waiting to happen. I think the plan for next year might be to replace the GFCIs in the sub panel with regular outlets and move the GFCIs out into the display on the ends of the feeder extension cords in weather tight enclosures. We’ll see if I can’t find the cause of the leakage. Maybe I won’t have to do anything.

Edit: 12/07/09
I’m no longer convinced the GFCIs were to blame for the outage that night. There definitely was one that was tripped, but there was the other that I was attributing to a GFCI that was not GFCI related. It was just a loose DMX cable. It has since rained just as much as it did that night, and the show ran without a hitch, so I am now thinking the initial GFCI trip was a fluke. Only time will tell I suppose.

First Vandalism

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

I ran through everything last night from across the street to get a better fell for how it looked and if everything was working properly. I found that two of my net light sections only were lighting up half way. Interestingly enough it was the bottom sections of both.

This morning I went out before work to assess what was going on and found that I must have some rabbit and/or squirrel friends that think my lights are tasty. I threw down some moth balls, but am not overly hopeful that it will help. Guess I’ll be doing some repairs tomorrow.

We have the Power!

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

Well I think the portable sub-panel is as complete as it’s going to get for this year. I finally got around to painting it last week. I was originally going to paint it grey, but at the last minute opted for white with thoughts that it might blend in with the snow better. Well, let’s just say if I was going to do it again, there are many things I would have done differently.

Note that if you do anything like this, when power is applied to the unit, the SSRs are very live. I would highly recommend only applying power to the panel while the door is closed. If you have to do any work inside such a unit, please remove the power first. Also note that I am not a licensed electrician and as such make no guarantees as to the correctness of the wiring and/or hookup. I only show what I have done for entertainment purposes and would advise anyone wanting to do anything similar to hire an licensed electrician.

I had in my head that I wanted the whole thing white. Well, that too way more paint then I had anticipated. It still isn’t completely covered, as there are splotches that are still visible as the original colors, but I refuse to spend any more money on this aspect of the project. It’s just going to have to do for this year. If I were to do it again, I would have bought one can of white to touch up the inside and one can of blue to touch up the outside and left it alone after that.

I also thought it would be a bright idea to paint it in my garage because it was supposed to rain most of last week. I laid some cardboard down and figured that would take care of it. Well, let me tell you, spray paint sure can travel once its on the ground. Everything that was on or near the floor of my garage now has a nice white haze to it.

I took the time to put some caulking around the inside of the toilet flange / weather head to add a bit more sealing power there. I wasn’t too confident that it would remain sealed as it seemed that the sealant we used to glue the foam we put between the case and the toilet flange actually ate away at the foam, so I just wanted to be safe.

I fully tested the thing tonight, first by showering it with the hose. I only found a slight bit of water inside and I think it came from the door not being tightened enough, but the good news was that the weather head didn’t seem to leak at all. I’m fairly confident it will do well all winter long. I then did a test with power applied and everything seems to be working well.

The only other thing I would have done differently is to have the power supply cord come out the top of the breaker panel and move the panel down, this way the whole assembly could be put into the box so that it is correctly oriented both when the unit is down on its back and when it’s up on its wheels. As it is now, when it is up on its wheels, the panel board and outlets are upside down, not a big deal, but it annoys me.

I really haven’t gotten too much else accomplished. I’m currently working on pixels 7-10, with plenty more to go. I’m definitely going to have to start sequencing really soon! It’s quickly becoming apparent I’m going to have to cut some stuff from the show, as I am not getting accomplished this summer what I had hoped to.

All that’s left is paint!

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

I went out to my Dad’s tonight and he helped me attached wheels and a handle to the enclosure for my portable sub-panel. I took the panel with me and fit it in the enclosure. It fits well, and looks pretty good too. I left it with him in the back of his truck to bring to me in the morning (don’t think the whole shebang would fit in my car), but we had quite a bit of rain tonight, so that should test the water tightness of it. The elbow coming out the protect the wire opening hasn’t been cemented in, but it fits tight enough that it should have kept the water out tonight. It’ll be a good test I suppose. Next I need to clean it up a bit and paint it. I’ll get some pics up as soon as I get it back in my hands.

I got pixel #6 working tonight. A set of the green LEDs wasn’t coming on, turns out it works a lot better if you actually solder the joint as opposed to just letting the lead poke through the hole. Oh well, I like easy fixes. I’ve got another set of LEDs in testing, but I doubt I’ll get to soldering up another until after the weekend.

I also took some time to install one of the Ren2DMX boards in one of the controller enclosures. Turned out pretty good except I drilled too close to one of the standoffs so that made everything a bit more challenging. I also think I drilled with one size too big of a drill bit (seem to be missing one), but I just filled in the hole with hot glue like on the previous holes. The controller works great with the adapter board. Good job Frank! I wired it up with the new Sewell Cat5 cable I got off, that stuff is nice cable, especially for being solid rather than stranded. It’s perfect for the kind of stuff I need it for.

I also got a nice surprise in the mail today. I was talking to RPM about his DMX dongle, and mentioned that I had intentions of getting one of his designs just to play with, but didn’t think I should be spending the money this year as things are starting to get tight, putting most of my Christmas Light project spending on hold. Anyhow he sent me the board and most of the parts for free. He even included one of his new Grinch DMX converter boards. Talk about the spirit of Christmas in June! I just want to thank Robert, he is what the DIY community is all about. Once I get a few more things sold on eBay I’ll put in a small Mouser order to finish populating the board and give it a try.

I put my PSP and Firefly Mini remote on eBay tonight, and the PSP already sold Buy It Now, which is awesome. Now I only need to sell about $130 worth of stuff to pay for my commitments over at DLA for the wireless DMX stuff, and any extra I can use to populate Robert’s DMX dongle and save the rest for an FM transmitter. Once I get the transmitter I should be able to put on a pretty decent show with the equipment I have and not have to put any more money into it.
Ren2DMX board Installed

We Have Power!

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Yesterday I came home from work in the afternoon to begin the process of installing the 220V 50A outdoor outlet I need to connect my temporary sub-panel to. It is also the only way I had to actually test the panel, since I was unable to locate any 4 wire, 220 outlets anywhere. I got the hole drilled in the side of the house and the wire ran, and decided it was way to hot to be doing this stuff, so I went back to work in the A/C. After work I came home and got the conduit cemented in and the box attached to the house. I got the conduit sealed all nice as well as the top of the box. I think I will go out sometime in the next two days and put a bead of silicone all around the box just to be safe. I got the outlet wired up on the outside and was going to come inside and cut the power so I could wire it to the breaker, but I realized the DVR was recording two of my wife’s shows, and didn’t figure it was a good time to cut the power. So I decided to wait until today.

I came home from work today and set about wiring the outlet to the breaker panel. I cut the power and got it all wired up nice and purty. I took my temporary sub-panel outside for its first test run. I flipped on the breaker and there were no sparks or fire, so that was a good first sign. I started powering up the sub-panel, but soon realized the SSRs weren’t turning on the outlets. I started having thoughts that maybe there wasn’t enough draw to turn on the SSRs from the GFCIs and the GFCI’s couldn’t latch because there wasn’t any power. To test my theory I thought I would jumper across the SSR, so I grabbed some alligator clips and made a quick jumper.

So I’m leaning in the grass with this metal alligator clip and for some reason thought it was a good idea to try and attach it to a live circuit. I’m sure this is hard to believe, but since I had the hot end in one hand, and my bare legs on the grass (also known as ground), the power decided it needed to go through me (shortest path to ground). I quickly realized what I was doing and insulated the alligator clip and stood up so my shoes were separating me from the ground and got the GFCI to turn on, but still the SSR wasn’t providing power. It turns out I had the DC turn on wires wired backwards. Apparently when I tested them a month or so ago and marked the + terminal on one of them, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Once I got that corrected I started testing with a fan. When I would turn off the SSRs, the GFCI would trip, almost every time. I started to theorize that the fan (still spinning once power was removed) was inducing a current in one of the wires and causing the GFCI to trip. I decided that since I wasn’t going to be powering fans with this anyhow to get one of my controllers and plug it in. I power cycled it a few times and had no problems, so I’m pretty encouraged that the design will work…. Which is a very good thing since I won’t have the time or money to redo it!


Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

I finally got my camera back last week and was looking through the pictures still on the memory card and came across some that I took when I had to take apart one of the GFCI outlets on my temporary power panel. You are probably asking why one would want to do that, well let me tell you a story…

I was originally going to use ring terminals on all of the wires connecting to the GFCI outlets. Reason being I used stranded wire and stranded wire doesn’t play well with the screw terminals on outlets, so I was going to remove the screw, and screw it back in with the ring terminal attached. Well, apparently if you remove the screw from the GFCI outlets I bought, you can’t get it back in. I tried everything, I just couldn’t get the little nut part to stay in place long enough to tighten the screw. The only way I found to fix it was to take apart the outlet. So I proceeded to remove the “Do Not Open This Outlet” sticker, and I opened it. I got it fixed (whether or not it works, is still up in the air). I ended up shoving the wires through the holes in the back of the outlets and tightening them with the provided screws. Anyhow, I thought I would shoot some pics of a GFCI while it was open in case anyone cared.

Last night I put together the 4 Ren2DMX boards that I need to convert my Renard cabling to DMX. I think I know how I’m going to mount them in the enclosures, but I keep forgetting to stop at the hardware and pick up some screws for them.

Tonight I finished my 4th pixel. I think they’re starting to look pretty darn good and by my 30th, I should be a pro!

Check 1 More Thing Off… Maybe

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

I think [hope] that the portable sub-panel, or at least the electrical part of it, is done. I finished wiring up the SSRs tonight and did some more testing to be sure there aren’t any shorts and what not. I was going to plug it into the unused stove receptacle upstairs, but it turns out it is a three wire receptacle, not a 4 wire one. So as of yet, I have no way to test it. I’m going to peek around at work and see if we have any 4 wire 220 outlets, but I’m betting not because most of them are for welders and those are 3 wire. So probably the only way I’m going to test it is to get my outdoor receptacle wired up. That has to be on the list for a day that the wife and kids are gone (which is rare) because I want to completely turn the power off to install that rec, just to be safe.

I tested out the Ren2DMX board that Frank sent me that was already populated, works like a charm. Only three more to build… and 29 more pixels… and 3 more arches… and icicle lights… and sequencing… and many many cords to build… I’ll be busy for a while!

More Electrical Panel Work

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

The last few nights I’ve been doing more work on my temporary electrical panel. I should probably come up with a name for it, like Panel of Power, only better. I’ll work on that. As of tonight I’ve gotten all of the main outlets wired and the breakers in place. The last outlet, the one that will run the timer that will control the SSRs, isn’t in because I thought I had an extra GFCI here, but turns out that the one I have is ivory, and we can’t have an ivory outlet in a panel full of white ones. I’m going to see if the hardware will trade me a white one for the ivory one tomorrow.

I have some more pictures to post from the last few nights, however they are on my other camera card. That camera decided to die on me Monday night and the warranty is up on it in a week, so I was pretty quick to send it in for factory service. Anyhow, that camera card is on my desk at work because I keep forgetting to bring it home. Tonight’s pictures came courtesy of the camera my wife uses most of the time.

Back to the electrical panel. I had everything wired up and pretty like, and was all excited about it because it looked pretty darn good. I figured I had better do some testing on it to make sure there weren’t any shorts before I powered it up. Much to my dismay, the ground and the neutral were shorted together somewhere. I started using my CSI skills and found that the culprit was the cable clamps on the breaker box. They had some how found their way through enough of the insulation on 2 neutral wires to tie them to ground. Upon examining the wires, all I could find was some marks where the clamps were, but no exposed copper. It must have been something as small as a pin pricking the insulation because once I loosened the clamps and moved the wires the short went away. I was initially going to just wrap them in electrical tape and re-clamp them, but then I decided that since they were all wire tied pretty well, that I would just leave the clamping part off.

It would seem that these weren’t the right kind of clamps to use, but I didn’t see anything else at the hardware that would work. Maybe the key is just surrounding the wires with something, like electrical tape. After more testing I determined that the clamps on the receptacle boxes weren’t doing the same thing, but it still worries me a bit how easily a short was created. After removing the clamps and re-securing the wires, I thoroughly tested the whole thing for shorts and couldn’t find any, so that’s a good sign.

All that’s left is to put the last receptacle in and run the control wires for the SSRs. Then I should be ready to test. Since I don’t have my 50A 240V outlet installed outside yet, I will probably just plug it into the unused stove outlet (the one whose circuit I’m stealing for the outside outlet) to see if it works.

Also, in Pixel news, I received a tracking number from JEC for the replacement boards, so that means they are finally on their way. I’m hoping they will arrive Fri. or Sat., but I proabably won’t have time to assemble one until Sun. at the Earliest. Still no sign of the Ren2DMX boards, but I’m still holding out hope.

Goings On

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

As much as this blog would indicated due to the lack of posts lately, I actually haven’t been slacking (too much) in the blinky flashy world. I’m still waiting on the Ren2DMX boards and the pixel boards, so that will be some stuff to assemble once it arrives. In the mean time, I did some more tests on the LEDs that I will be using in the pixels. I tried using 6 of each color this time to give a better representation of what they would look like in the pixels. So far they seem like they will be bright enough so I’ll keep my fingers crossed. I ran the LEDs for several hours because In talking with Tim Y. at LUO, some have the potential to work at first and then fail. Not looking forward to debugging and desoldering LEDs, I wanted to get some run time on them first. I tried the LEDs in the containers I’m hoping to use for the show, they look OK, but the arrangement of the LEDs on the breadboard isn’t the same as the pixel, so there were hot spots of the different colors. I’ll wait until I get a pixel assembled before posting pics.

The 300′ of 12/3 Cable I ordered off eBay came this week. It arrived in great shape, but to be certain that I got 300′ I ran it across the warehouse floor to measure it. This caused it to get all dirty, oh well. It’ll get clean again once it’s outside in the rain. Seems like good cable. I’m slightly worried that it isn’t SO, but rather, general purpose, but I knew that when I bought it, and it is only going to be outside for 2 months, so hopefully it’ll be ok. I was able to fit all 300′ on an old hose reel which will be nice for storing the cords once I make them.

I also started work on my temporary sub-panel. I’ve got the breaker panel and all of the receptacle boxes mounted. I want to get the SSRs mounted before I begin wiring, but I can’t really do that while my daughter is sleeping so it severely limits my opportunities for mounting them. I also got the input cord attached and ready to go. The 6/4 SOOW cable is NICE cable, but it should be at $3 a foot. Good thing I didn’t need 300′ of that!

Not much going on

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

Haven’t made much progress on the blinky flashy front. I’ve been playing with sequencing a bit more, but am still hesitant to dive right in as I haven’t quite finalized the layout of the display yet. I found some 12/3 outdoor wire on eBay yesterday which appears to be the military equivalent of SO wire. I got 300 feet for .46/foot shipped. Seemed like a good deal considering the local hardware wanted 1.15/foot + tax. The plan is to use this to feed the controllers from the subpanel. The 12 gauge is overkill for the 15 amps I am currently planning on pulling, but if I ever decided to move a board up to 20 amps (which I may as I currently have one whose calculated load is 14A), I will either need to run another complete cord or use heavier cord, which is the reason I went ahead and got the 12 gauge.

Actually I just went and looked at the chart again, and the 12 AWG will only handle 20A up to 50′. Fortunately the controller in question won’t be that far away, but still good to know. I also see that the 12 AWG is only good up to 10A at 100′, which one of the controllers will be, kind of disappointing, but that controller isn’t near 10A yet, so we won’t worry about it just now. I’m glad I got the 12/3 after all.

The sub-panel is under way. My dad is going to use his plasma cutter to put a hole in it for the wires to come out. After talking it over, he talked me into letting the panel lay on its back in order to keep it more stable. We are going to build some sort of frame on it to allow it to be moved around easily because once all the pieces are in it, it is going to have some weight to it.

I’ve also begun looking for solutions to locking the controllers and sub-panel in some fashion. I’m leaning towards cementing an eye bolt at ground level so that I can mow over it during the summer, or mounting some sort of hasp, so that the hasp covers the screws when it’s locked to the house and locking the stuff to that.