Saturday, August 27, 2011

Electrical wiring the Ecuadorian way.

It has been a while since I have spent more than a day or two in La Paz, so it was nice to go for three days this week. I ran the underground electric service to the guest house, put in the sub panel and wired up lights and recepticles.
There are some major differences in wiring techniques between here and the U.S., as you can see by the picture of the sub panel. It's a Square D but is built for 240V single phase, as you see I have jumped the two incoming busses for 110V. It has a space for thermal overload but they don't sell them here, and there are no provisions for grounding or an isolated neutral - so I wired the neutral straight through.
The part of the building I wired was the pre-existing part so I needed to plumb it in since the wiring would be exposed. The conduit here is really thin plastic stuff and there are no fittings except real bad fitting elbows and PVC glue doesn't work on this stuff. I was going to use pvc plumbing pipe but there are no fittings for that either. All the metal junction boxes and handy boxes are real thin so what's the sense, there is no thin wall conduit anyway, and of course no fittings. There is no color coding here, if it were a big job I would be in real trouble. The plastic junction boxes and handy boxes are pretty nice with perforated knock outs and metal screw tabs, but no connectors, no couplings, and no screw threads in the metal screw tabs.

I have found ways around most of my building materials needs here in Ecuador but it really hirts my feeling to do such a jackleg job on the wiring of the pre existing building. The wiring is safe and functional but it just isn't ( as an old master electrician would say ) very mechanical. Cost - 300 feet of #10 stranded wire (thhn) $59, 300 feet of #12 solid $39, plastic conduit 85 cents a stick, elbows 15 cents each, switches ( single pole 15 amp ) $2.65 each, recepticles ( 20 amp ) $3.65 each, 4X4 junction boxes 65cents each, 2X4 handy boxes 26 cents each, Square D sub panel $7.85, bag of 100 - 1/2" finger straps 85 cents, cover plates 15 cents each, Square D 16 amp breakers $2.50 each, 100 feet of 1/2" pvc plumbing pipe ( for the outside feeder line ) $30 -$3 a stick.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

While the cat's away......

I took a day trip to La Paz on Sunday to lock the place up, after leaving the front gate unlocked for a few days, just in case the power company decided to come a week late. Look who showed up at the place in La Paz, while I was in Cuenca for the weekend.
The power company put in the meter head and swapped out my 50 amp breaker with a 40 amp breaker. That was a whole bunch of trouble, it took 6 months, for such a small amount of power.

This is the second time Barb has come with me for the day, in the last month. She really seems concerned about the wild flowers, maybe she is getting the hang of this retirement thing after all, or is she planning something else ? She was explaining to me the other day about the size and physical characteristics of the brooder house ( to raise chickens ). She has said that one of the things she misses most was her animal lab - she is a research scientist after all. Maybe the brooder house is her new research facilty ? The building she described to me seems way to big for just chickens. It's all just speculation on my part, it is hard to tell what she will get into, she'll tell me when she has made up her mind. I just try to stay one step ahead.

I've been seeing these green colored rocks all over the place, I think they are Olivine. Maybe I will tumble some to see how they look all smooth and shiny.

I hope to pick up the new puppy tomorrow, we'll see what happens.

Until next time,

Friday, August 19, 2011

String lines and a new wheel barrow.

I laid out string lines to dig the footers using the Pythagorean theorem; in the trades it's called the 3-4-5 method. At any rate that gets me square - you could use a transit to shoot your lines but this such a small job that it doesn't justify the trouble. The same holds true for batter boards, because of the small nature of the project I know exactly where my intersecting walls are going to be. When placing the concrete, I use the leveled lines as reference for footer height, since my mix is in small batches and pretty stiff it won't self level like it would if I poured the footers all at once with a high slump concrete.

This is a standard 1-2-3 mix with a slump of less than 2 inches, so it is important that I have a reference line to keep the footer level and at the same height throughout. I will use the same lines to lay the corner blocks, then switch to line blocks for the course blocks.

I can tell you one thing - this getting old stuff is for the birds. I am lucky if I can get a quarter yard of concrete mixed up and laid in a day - of course I have a lot of distractions that keep me from doing too much.

I got a new wheel barrow, it's the 3 cubic foot size, I haven't seen a 6 cu. ft. one in all of Ecuador. Once I figure out how to operate it I may have a story to tell. Oh yeah - $52. You may see some 3 liter bottles laying around in some of the pictures, they are the perfect size for water in mixing cement, exactly the amount of water needed for one cubic foot of concrete or mortar.

Until next time,
Happy Trails.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Back and forth.

I've been back and forth from Cuenca to La Paz quite a few times this week with side trips to Nabon. It's about getting the power hooked up. The electric company office in Nabon tells me they will send a crew last week and not to pay at this time, then I get a message through an intermediary that the main office in Cuenca requires payment up front. My take is, if they can't get their stuff together - they can keep their electricity. It is a small service to begin with, I will have to supplement the service to run half of my equipment any how. I can probably run a generator head off the water that comes through property. I have only been waiting for the power company for 6 months. 6 months is my limit for most everything - then the hard headedness kicks in. When our residency stuff for Ecuador hit 6 months and hadn't been done, I lined up property in North Carolina, headed to the lawyers office with every intention of booking a flight to the U.S. that afternoon. I figure 6 months is long enough to wait for something that would only take a couple of weeks in the private sector. I didn't mean for this to turn into a rant, but guess what - being upset about something translates into spanish real good, no matter what language you speak.

I did get a little done this week. I dug the footers for the north wall and the intersecting walls and put in the steel.

I took Barb down to La Paz friday on a day trip, so I showed her a few stucco mixes on the brick wall to see if she liked any of them - I guess I will need to show her a few more.

I have an appointment next monday at the animal shelter, to pick up my new puppy. I don't know what she will grow up to be but judging from the mother and the pups size at 4 weeks, she should be a good 50 pounder with medium long hair and be able to stand her ground when she needs to.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Playing in the dirt.

Aside from building, I am most at home in an agricultural setting. Having raised animals and their associated feed requirements most of my life, I know a thing or two about soils and plant nutrients. Ecuador is a little different; not just the weather but also the soil content. My concern is the Andrean soils because I need to raise feed stock for chickens, goats, at least two people and whatever else Barb comes home with.

I need to tell a little story at this point. In my youth, I was probably one of the worst violators of nature you can imagine. I have knifed in thousands of acres of anhydrous ammonia - 80% nitrogen to increase yields of corn and soybeans, sprayed thousands of gallons of 2-4D herbicide ( agent orange without the X-77 sticker )  to kill brush, aereal applied chloridane to kill European corn borers and used DDT on a regular basis for pest control. If that isn't bad enough, as a salesman for a farm co-op, I sold at least a thousand times what I used personally, every year. What I am saying is, I sterilized the soil with anhydrous, sterilized the soil with 2-4D and killed a bunch of wildlife that eat the insects sprayed with DDT. These practices still go on in the U.S. every year, different chemicals, same result. It took me a long time to realize that nature doesn't need a whole lot of help from the likes of me or the big manufacturers of gun powder after WWII - that's where our chemical fertilizers come from, the ingredients for gun powder.

In the Andes of Ecuador the soils are mostly of the weathered volcanic type, which have some different characteristics that I am not familiar with. My initial reaction to the 12" humus mat on our property was calcium ( lime) to raise the ph, loosen the soil and allow the aerobic bacteria to work on all that organic matter in the soil. Well that was partially right. I did some test plots and the soil shows improvement with the addition of about 2 tons to the acre of calcium carbonate. The problem, especially with root crops, is the lack of available phosphorus. The soil has plenty of phosphorus in it but because of the high humus levels and aluminum from volcanic rock the phosphorus in the soil is bound to the carbon and aluminum. So we will have to add phosphorus to the soil - about 300lbs to the acre, every year because in the course of a year any available phosphorus will become bound the the soil making none available to the plants.

All in all the soils here, especially in the mountains is yet another plus to life in Ecuador. With a little common sense and the addition of a low magnesium lime and phosphorus this soil can grow anything.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Meter socket - mounted.

It was nice to be back in LaPaz for a week, although after reading Barb's post on her blog, I think I could have gotten away with staying another week. The big city just drives me nuts and that has nothing to do with Cuenca, any big city - anywhere. I wonder what the actuarial statistics are for city life versus rural life ?

The meter socket is installed along with a 12 foot mast and insulator for the service to be connected. Since it will only be a 110 volt single phase service and the service cable is a #6 guage wire, I put in a 50 amp breaker in the bottom of the meter socket. In rural Ecuador electricity is a new thing so there is no 200 amp, 120/240 volt single phase service, just enough to run the lights. As a matter of fact, that's what the locals call an electric service - luz.
I'll put a little stucco on it and a little roof over the meter at some point.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot, cost. Meter socket - $20, 50amp Squre D breaker - $3.50, 2" conduit for the mast, about 10 feet - $12.50, insulator for the top of the mast - $6.00. I don't know what they will charge me to hook it up, when I went to Nabon to tell them I was ready they wouldn't take any money, my guess is around $25.

Since I am old and the property is right around 10,000 feet in elevation, I will be doing the footer for the addition in sections. The first section will butt the existing front wall because I need a mixing pad for all the cement I will need to mix, footer cement, mud slab and block mortar.
A little gravel for grip and rebar and we're ready to pour.

This will be a 12" wide by 6" thick footer with 1/2" rebar railroad tracks with the cross ties at 2 feet, a little overkill but I like to sleep at night. The rebar should be in the bottom half of the footer but at least 2" from the bottom - better strength from a vertical load.

I will probably be splitting my time between the addition and putting in shop space because part of the addition requires windows, doors and roof trusses and so will the main house and the chicken coop and the green house and the goat shed and rebuilding the old adobe house. So a shop is pretty high on the prioity list.