Cherry picker of a different variety: connecting the power cables at the top of the new pole on the corner of my block

Services – Power Connection

Tuesday October 13, Monday October 26

DIY

Flowerpot has a lot going for it – a quirky name, beautiful rural scenery, only 40mins drive from Hobart, views of Bruny Island and the Channel – but not a lot in the way of services. No town water. No town sewerage. No NBN or gas line running down the street. These services are taken for granted in cities and towns – in Flowerpot it’s do it yourself or go without.

 

There has been plenty of work going on around the building lately, including the connection of services. The next couple of posts will talk about the connection and installation of services that took place during October.

In the not too distant future

I want 60k House to be as sustainable and self-sufficient – as the budget allows. I received a couple of quotes for an off-grid (not connected to the mains power) solar system with batteries – the quotes came in between around $16-$19k. I keep hearing that the price of solar, and the development of batteries to store the power captured, will become much cheaper in the next couple of years. The problem is – it’s always about two years away, and I’ve been hearing this for years…

 

I received a rough estimate of between $10-15k to connect to mains power. This would involve getting hooked up from the transformer across the road to a new pole on the corner of my bock – a distance of 53m. I would then need to either dig a trench and take the power cable underground from the pole to the house, or erect a private pole and go overhead. Underground is usually preferable (no wires) but also more expensive. Having a neighbour with a backhoe who is willing to accept payment in diesel made the underground option cheaper and the way to go.

 

Easier than doing it by hand: the excavator covering in the power cable

Easier than doing it by hand: the excavator covering in the power cable

 

* Remember – before you start digging anywhere on your block it’s a good idea to contact Dial Before You Dig. It is a free service that contacts all of the utility companies that may have infrastructure below ground (think water and sewer pipes, electricity, gas, phone and fibre optic cables) and alert you if they are in the vicinity.

Australia #1

I always intended to install solar panels on the roof – and still do. But now they can also be connected to the grid. There has been talk of the feed-in tariff (how much you get paid to sell the power you generate back to the grid) being cut, and government rebates wound back. While the incentive may not be as rewarding as it previously was installing solar still seems the right thing to do – an upfront cost to harness renewable energy that pays for itself after 7 years (give or take a birthday). Australia has the highest uptake of rooftop solar in the world – and so we should. How long will it be until most buildings have a roof that faces north, allowing easy installation of solar panels?

Easy as 1,2,3

Connecting to mains power should be relatively easy. It wasn’t. It took nearly six months just to get the power to the pole. At least the price was cheaper than anticipated – only $8k.

 

Once the trench was dug 600mm deep from the pole to the house, the electrician placed the electrical cables (in and out) within conduit on the bottom of the trench. In order to ‘future proof’ the block and keep the option open for another house nearby later we increased the size of the power cable to 60k House. I had considered a temporary meter box halfway from the road to the house – this could serve two sites and provide power during construction. In the end we decided it would be easiest to do it all in one go – dig a full-length trench, build the rear wall and attach the meter box in its permanent position.

 

Cover up: filling in the trench

Cover up: filling in the trench

 

After the cable is in the trench it needs to be covered with 200mm of soft fill (not rocks) before a layer of orange warning tape is laid. This tape gives someone a sporting chance to stop digging before they cut through the cable below and fry themselves. We also decided to run a length of 32mm poly pipe for water at this depth within the trench to connect the fire-fighting tank at the top of the hill with the house tank. If you’ve got an open trench use it.

 

Unwinding the poly water pipe to lay in the trench with the warning tape

Unwinding the poly water pipe to lay in the trench with the warning tape

 

The meter panels have to be mounted at a certain height so they can be accessed and read easily. Most meter boxes have the panels at the top, including the box that my electrician had bought and already wired up. The problem was the meter box would be half on the timber cladding and half on the cement sheet and look a bit dumb. After some phoning around we found a meter box with the panels on the bottom and thankfully the electrician was good enough to rewire that one and install it. With a small project such as 60k House the devil is in the detail – it took some goodwill and extra time to resolve but will make for a cleaner finish. We also have two powerpoints in the meter box to use until the electrician wires throughout the building.

 

Within reach: the 'upside-down' meter box with the panels mounted at the bottom

Within reach: the ‘upside-down’ meter box with the panels mounted at the bottom

Ah, the serenity

Once the trench was completely covered the electrician contacted the electricity supplier and a week later a couple of guys came and connected the power cables at the top of the pole, installed the panel in the meter box and said: all done, no worries. It was a great moment when the power was eventually switched on – we cut the generator, the din of the white noise evaporated and we enjoyed the silence, punctuated by the sound of the drop saw.

 

All done: no pole, no overhead wires - underground power connection in place

All done: no pole, no overhead wires – underground power connection in place

 

Costs: power connection to pole – $8,333; power connection to house – $2,969

 

Disclaimer: Any advice contained within this blog is of a general nature only and cannot be relied upon. Details provided are in good faith and relate specifically to this project. Any author will not be held responsible for advice or information presented.

2 Comments

  1. Hey Andrew.
    i would very much like to see the outside of your house.
    My wife and i our looking to do something very similiar to what you are doing as i am a builder.
    Anyway i could do a drive by and i can refer you to my parents when they travel to Tasmania.

    Kind regards Shannon and Angela Allen.

    1. Andrew Kerr

      Hi Shannon & Angela, you’re welcome to drop by and check it out. I may also show the house next year in some events: Sustainable House and Open House Hobart, etc. I will send you an email with details. Cheers

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