Filed under: Electrical, Raceway, Duct and Conduit
Ever had to paint or hang a picture up in an old house, just to have your simple plans complicated by that old-fashioned surface conduit that they used to use? I used to find the stuff really annoying, until I learned how it came to be. It turns out that surface conduit, at least in the United States, was largely brought about by Wiremold in the early 20th century.
By around 1920, Americans were catching the electrical gadget craze, and were buying and accumulating more electrical devices than they had outlets to plug them into. Back in those days, walls more or less all fell into the plaster and lathe category, which, if you’ve ever worked on an old house, are no picnic to cut into and repair. Even for people who were lucky enough to have homes with in-wall wiring, the existing number of receptacles just wasn’t enough, but ripping into plaster walls to add additional outlets was pretty much out of the question.
And so, Wiremold came to the rescue with metal-based surface conduit for electrical wiring. It allowed people to add extra electrical circuits and outlet boxes anywhere they wanted, without demolishing their fragile plaster walls in the process. And while these days we’re spoiled with retrofit-friendly sheetrock walls, Wiremold metal conduit is still coming in handy, albeit in a slightly different form.
Meet Wiremold’s Aluminum Surface Raceways - the hipper, sleeker next generation of surface conduit. Instead of being used in homes, aluminum surface raceways have now carved out a niche in offices, where they’re used to run power and data cables around the perimeter of a room, with stops for built-in outlet wherever they’re needed. And what’s really cool is that they actually have cutouts into which wires from existing wall boxes can be fed, to be spliced onto new wire runs. Doesn’t get much easier than that.
Wire splices are pretty easy to knock out, especially if you’re using twist-on wire connectors. You just strip the wires, give them a light twist, and screw on the connector, right? There’s just one thing… you always need to have different-sized wire connectors on hand for different wire gauge ranges. Forget about carrying around one box of tiny loose parts – you have to carry along two or three, just to make sure you’re covered. Annoying.
Well, Wire Splicing’s annoyance factor has just been taken down quite a few notches by Ideal‘s Twister® 341® wire connectors. Unlike the usual gauge-specific wire nuts out there, these babies are practically one-size-fits-all, but they’re a heck of a lot cooler than those tacky $5 tourist t-shirts that bear the same description. Twister 341s are designed to accommodate wires ranging anywhere from #22 to #8 AWG, which, in regular speak, means most common wire sizes, whether they’re thin or on the chunky side.
Aside from their versatility, I also really like the fact that Twister 341 wire connectors have two built-in wings, which help you to get a better grip for easier twist-ons. Inside, the splice spring is actually square-shaped, which gives you a sturdy connection that won’t shake loose from vibration over time. And then they’re the extra long strip of plastic “skirting” along the bottom edge, which gives you improved dielectric coverage to contain possible flash-overs.
Filed under: Electrical, Power and Data Distribution, Raceway, Duct and Conduit
Earlier this week, I was reading up on the history of Wiremold, a 110 year old company that’s been a lot of places and done a lot of things over the past century. They started out making electrical conduit, and moved on to things like raceway, loom, duct, and power products, with a few segues into War Effort manufacturing along the way. One thing that caught my eye was Wiremold’s introduction of the Tele-Power Pole in 1969. I though to myself, “Hey, wait, I know that thing!”
Turns out, I had seen the very same product a bunch of times over the past few years (yes, we sell it)… I just hadn’t realized that it was made by the same company I was reading about. So, after that lightbulb went off, I thought it might be worth a mention, because it really is a pretty cool item, and it’s still going strong after 40 years.
Tele-Power Poles were invented with the wide-open, cubicle-infested workplace in mind. Yes, I know, I hate cubicles too, but hear me out. Nowadays, we have the luxury of power and data connections right at our desks, no matter how far said desks may be from the nearest wall (and wall outlets/data ports). That’s largely thanks to innovators like Wiremold, and inventions like the Tele-Power Pole, which began allowing us to drop power and data cables from above the ceiling down to any workstation, anywhere in the room. Otherwise, we’d not only be seated in cubicles, we’d be seated in cubicles with extension cords and mile-long data cables running everywhere.
Take a minute to imagine that. It would be mass chaos, and people would be tripping everywhere. Not to mention that every inch of wall space would have to be encrusted in receptacles and data faceplates to accommodate everyone. Nope, it just wouldn’t work. But with Tele-Power, well… it’s a totally different story. Like the heavens have opened and are showering connectivity down upon us (literally – these things go from ceiling to floor). Since that fateful day they hit the market in 1969, Tele-Power Poles have let us tap into power and communications, without even leaving our rolling office chairs. I’ll raise my coffee mug to that.
Lately I’ve been loosely involved in the purchase and repair of ceiling tiles, and it surprised me how lightweight and flexible the things are. I guess the whole lightweight thing makes sense, considering how they have to be suspended above a room and all (anything weighing in at more than a few ounces would probably be dangerous in the event that one fell), but I wasn’t expecting them to have so much give.
That said, drop-ceiling products like the Erico-Caddy Fixture Stabilizing Clip are beginning to sound like a pretty smart idea. While drop ceilings aren’t too common in the average home (unless, of course, you want to snazz it up with funky patterned ceiling tiles), they’re pretty much all the rage in commercial properties. From offices to retail stores, this style of ceiling just seems to work, because it allows for easy access to ductwork and cable runs, and is easy to repair in the event of water damage.
There’s just one catch: commercial environments tend to have things like exit signs hanging from the ceiling, which means extra gravitational pull on those sag-prone ceiling tiles. It doesn’t take much for a bulge to form, but no one wants a deformed ceiling. What to do? Well, remember how I said those Fixture Stabilizing Clips have started to sound pretty smart to me? Here’s why. They actual help to increase or relieve tension between above-ceiling sign mounts and ceiling tiles as needed, so instead of having a wobbly sign or bulging ceiling tiles, you get a nice, smooth ceiling and securely-mounted signage to boot. Best of both worlds.
Who knew that something so simple could be your #1 weapon in the Battle of the (Ceiling Tile) Bulge?
Filed under: Electrical, Power and Data Distribution
Well, I never thought the day would come, but I’ve actually come across a power strip that can only be described as manly. I’m not referring to the wussy, delicate, light beige-colored plastic ones that we all have around the house. I’m talking about a power strip that you need two hands to heft up onto your workbench. A power strip that has 10 outlets that were built for power tools. A power strip that’s covered in (wait for it)… diamond plate.
You heard me. Diamond plate. The manliest surface-cladding material known to mankind. And it’s pretty much all you can see when you look at the Plugmold® Tough Power Strip from Wiremold. This thing is awesome. So much so that I’m actually not going to show it my dude’s dude car guy husband, and instead save it as a Man Cave-warming surprise for when he finally lands the 2½ car detached garage he’s been drooling over. But since you don’t know him (so you can’t squeal) and I have you here anyway, I’ll tell you all about it.
The Plugmold Tough Power Strip is 48 inches long and has 10 outlets, which makes it perfect for mounting along the back of your garage workbench. There’s no shortage of power here, but there is a built-in circuit breaker to protect your tools against overloads. And have I mentioned how great it looks? I’m pretty sure it would even impress Courtney Hansen.
Filed under: Electrical, Fire Protection, Workplace Safety
I usually try to kick off my blog posts with an at least somewhat comical life observation, personal experience or childhood memory, but today I’m going to put all things quirky aside, and instead blog in all seriousness. Today, we’re talking about arc flash, an area in which I’m very grateful to have to no firsthand experience. In case you’re not too familiar with arc flash, it’s basically an industrial-strength electrical short that causes voltage from one conductor to spontaneously “arc” through the air to another exposed conductor. This arcing action can result in an extreme electrical explosion called an arc blast, which has the power to gravely injure, or even kill, anyone who happens to be nearby.
The explosion can generate a pressure wave that packs thousands of pounds per square inch, as well as temperatures up to 35,000°F. Force and temperatures of this magnitude can mean broken bones, collapsed lungs, ruptured eardrums, concussions, extensive third degree burns, and even damaged eyesight – and that’s if you’re lucky and it doesn’t just kill you on the spot. Arc blast can easily become personal tragedy, and there are electrical workers who face the risk of it every day.
Thanks to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) and OSHA, electrical workers are now required to wear a range of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and flame retardant (FR) clothing to decrease their risk of injury should an arc blast occur in an area in which they’re working. Standard items of arc flash clothing include FR shirts, pants, and coveralls, arc flash hoods, face shields, safety goggle, ear protection, insulating rubber and leather gloves, and dielectric footwear made of rubber and/or leather. But while most arc flash PPE is intended to be worn, there’s one protective measure that you don’t actually put on: the arc protection blanket.
Arc protection blankets are generally made of heavy-duty canvas, and are intended to create a barrier between the arc explosion and the worker. Depending on the room or vault that the work is taking place in, arc protection blankets can either be suspended in various ways, or hung up against a wall. They’re particularly good for work in underground vaults, where they can be arranged like a makeshift funnel, to direct blast energy up and out of the chamber. Arc blast blankets not only have the ability to direct blast flow, but are also able to absorb impact and contain flames to a certain degree. And while they may not be completely foolproof (nothing is, when it comes to arc flash), when used in conjunction with regular arc flash PPE, they can leave you a lot better off than you’d be if you hadn’t used one.
Filed under: Cables and Wires, Electrical, Power and Data Distribution
Being a small house dweller, I’ve found that no matter which room I arrange furniture in, something inevitably ends up pushed against a wall. Not that I wouldn’t love to have stylish little furniture groupings in the middle of the room, it’s just that the rooms I’m currently in possession of don’t have enough “middle” to allow that. So whether we’re talking the bed, dresser, couch or bistro table, they’re all getting pretty cozy with the outer perimeters of the rooms they live in.
While those up close and personal wall/furniture relationships aren’t so much a problem in and of themselves, the fact that there always happens to be a much-needed power outlet right where I need to position the latest IKEA purchase is getting to be a bummer. Sure, you can always leave said piece of furniture a few inches away from the wall, but with use, everything ends up weaseling its way right up to the wall, and I don’t want to have to worry about constantly making sure that plugs aren’t being squashed beyond the point of recognition and safety.
That’s why that FlatPlug® low-profile extension cord is about to make my life so much easier. True to its name, this handy power extension has a truly flat plug that won’t jut out from the wall and start a turf war with your furniture. That means you can arrange a room as you see fit, and still enjoy the modern conveniences of electricity without worrying about starting an electrical fire. Sounds good to me.
Over the past year or so, I’ve become a huge fan of Lutron® – they got me at first glance with their gorgeous, high-style colors and finishes, and then really secured my admiration as I got to play around with samples of the dimmers and switches, and learn what an insane amount of energy they can actually save.
Up to now, my experience with dimmers, Lutron® and otherwise, has been that they’re either on the high-end side (the ones that are hardwired in place of light switches, and can be programmed or wirelessly controlled), or tend to be less expensive (but novel and useful), like the type you attach to a table lamp or strand of Christmas lights, and operate manually. Both classes of dimmer are great in their own right, but they’re miles apart from one another in performance and function. Leave it to Lutron to take the proverbial lime and coconut, mix them up, and create a hybrid technology (a dimmer coctail, if you will) that combines the best features of wireless, programmable dimming with the simplicity of lamp control.
The call it the Maestro® Wireless Lamp Dimmer (what else?). You just plug any lamp into it at the outlet level, and then dim (or brighten) away via the rocker switch. You can happily go on using it this way more or less forever, but if you want to get really fancy, you can wirelessly network it with new or existing Lutron® occupancy sensors or lighting control, and tie it into a home-wide lighting scheme. Remote-controlled lamps, anyone?
Filed under: Electrical, Home Theater, Power and Data Distribution
It’s not something that most of us give any thought to, but did you know that studs and beams play a huge role in where your home theater’s A/V faceplates are located? We only see what’s on the surface of the wall, but if you were to take a peek behind the sheetrock, you’d most likely find that your outlets and home theater connections are actually supported by cable boxes, which, in turn, are securely screwed onto studs or other structural supports.
While that system has worked up to now, if you’re installing a home theater from scratch, it can be pretty frustrating to have stud placement dictating where you can or can’t put in a wall plate. The location of faceplates can affect where you place your TV, speakers, and even furniture – who wants their style cramped like that? Not me. That’s why I like the single-gang (in non-tech speak, that’s “regular size”) Wall Plate Mounting Bracket from Cables To Go®. It doesn’t have to be anywhere near a stud to give you a solidly-installed connection.
As I mentioned before, most mounting brackets and electrical/cable boxes need to be attached directly to a stud; otherwise, they’d wobble around like crazy whenever you tried to plug anything in. They also need to stand up to the extra gravitational pull put on them by cables – when cables naturally sag toward the ground, wall plates can take a lot of the brunt from that downward force. Attachment to a nice, solid stud ensures that brackets and wall plates will be as close to rock-solid as possible.
Luckily, Cables To Go® has figured out how to create a solid faceplate installation minus the studs. Their bracket has a unique design that uses fold-down tabs to grip onto drywall. To install, you cut a hole in your sheetrock, fit the bracket into it, and then fold the tabs back to hold it in place. From there, you just attach in-wall A/V cables to your wall plate, and then screw the plate onto the bracket. It’s simple, solid, looks great, and is perfect for retrofit installs.
Filed under: Electrical, Power and Data Distribution
Ever wonder why power outlets often seem to be located in areas that are natural spots for sofas, bookcases, and even beds? That drives me crazy, considering that you either have to rearrange your room plan so that outlets are accessible (no way), or put your furniture where you darn well want it and lose the use of several much-needed receptacles. It’s easy enough to say that you’ll just compromise by plugging into the outlets and then pushing your furniture in front of them, but in reality, that often isn’t a safe thing to do.
For instance, let’s take the old “sofa in front of the outlet” scenario. It’s not really a problem if you can place the couch 5 or 6 inches away from the wall and know that it will stay there, but let’s face it: that’s not likely to happen. I don’t know about your seating habits, but at my house, it’s pretty rare for anyone to gently lower themselves onto the cushions and remain daintily perched along the forward edge of the sofa. No, we’re more for the end-of-day flopdown to catch a nice, relaxing episode of The Barefoot Contessa. This generally entails a high-impact landing that results in said flopper coming squarely to rest against the sofa’s back cushions. A few of these maneuvers always result in the sofa, which was hereto prudently positioned away from the wall and electrical outlets, making full contact and potentially crushing the power cords and plugs that are unfortunate enough to be behind it.
I do enough research on electrical safety to have a healthy paranoia about shock and electrical fire, especially as they relate to damaged cords. Suffice it to say that a crushed cable can be a bad, bad thing. So I never feel good about plugging in behind furniture, and, to be honest, go to great lengths to avoid doing that. But I just found out a very cool (and cheap – yay!) product that will let you have your furniture and your electricity, too: the Hug-a-Plug adapter.
The Hug-a-Plug plugs into any standard household power outlet to give you 2 outlets that are set at 90-degree angles to the wall. That means that you can plug in behind furniture far more safely, because plugs and cables don’t come jutting straight out from the wall, but instead lay against it. Your furniture can now get cozy with your walls again.