New electrical crew for the OKC container home

By the last week of August, I had already ditched Red Hot Electrical Trade Services and found a new electrical crew in MinnTech. Scott Minney, the owner/operator, met me at the OKC container home to take a look and gather notes for his eventual quote, which wound up being half of what Red Hot wanted to charge.

Further, once his crew put boots on the ground, they worked FAST. The first order of business was running power from the newly installed meter pole to the container. I wanted to have this main line buried, because in Oklahoma we experience ice storms just about every year, and, invariably, the power goes out.

Having only my personal power line wouldn’t prevent power outages when the main utility lines that run from pole to pole on the overall grid gave way to heavy ice accumulation or the weight of fallen limbs and trees, but it would provide an aesthetic improvement, imho. Who wants to have a black wire running across their backyard? And further: Who wants to have one of those receptacle poles sticking off the top? It just seemed like burying the main power line would increase curb appeal while eliminating a small sliver of power outage risk.

I was fortunate that the track hoe operator who dug the sewer and water trenches agreed to also dig my electrical line trench at no extra cost. He completed this task while he was onsite filling in those other trenches, and he didn’t charge me for this new trench (the one caveat being that he would NOT return to fill it as he had the others, but I figured that would be a task for my own personal labor).

Once the trench was dug, the electricians came out to build a new meter base, install it to the meter pole, and run their line from the pole to my cube.

New meter base is installed on pole; surprisingly smaller than the first one from Red Hot.
New meter base is installed on pole; surprisingly smaller than the first one from Red Hot.
The trench and electrical conduit running to the cube. By code, the trench had to be at least 30 inches deep.
The trench and electrical conduit running to the cube. By code, the trench had to be at least 30 inches deep.
Th electrical conduit as it enters the cube (in the back of the bedroom).
The electrical conduit as it enters the cube (in the back of the bedroom).
Rigging up the circuit breaker box.
Rigging up the circuit breaker box.
Circuit breaker box as installed. We used a scrap piece of wood on the left-hand side of the breaker box to shim it into place between the studs. Little fixes like this happen often onsite, and it's amazing what otherwise junk can be put to good use.
Circuit breaker box as installed. We used a scrap piece of wood on the left-hand side of the breaker box to shim it into place between the studs. Little fixes like this happen often onsite, and it’s amazing what otherwise junk can be put to good use.
Next came the install of the switch and outlet boxes. These boxes have a little wall built on the side that helps prevent the box from being pushed out of place.
Next came the install of the switch and outlet boxes. These boxes have a little wall built on the side that helps prevent the box from being pushed out of place.
The boxes were installed on the aluminum studs using self-tapping sheet-metal screws.
The boxes were installed on the aluminum studs using self-tapping sheet-metal screws.
After the crew had all the boxes in place, shielded cable was installed. Because the container is all-metal, the wiring had to have metal shielding, by code.
After the crew had all the boxes in place, shielded cable was installed. Because the container is all-metal, the wiring had to have metal shielding, by code.
The excess electrical wiring, or "whip," was left unfinished, as is usual in a commercial electrical install. Unfortunately ...
The excess electrical wiring, or “whip,” for the porch light is seen. The inside wiring was left likewise unfinished, as is usual in a commercial electrical install. Unfortunately …

This process was crucial in the progression of construction, because it allowed me to continue work that required power inside the cube. While the plumbers had employed generators to power their tools before power was connected, the lugging and setting up and breaking down of a generator, even a small one, cuts into labor time and daylight. Having power onsite would increase build efficiency, save their labor and allow me to continue onto later stages of development.

I learned a lot about code regulations during this phase, because, when dealing with electricity, safety is paramount, so there are a lot of codes. Fortunately, the skeletal aluminum framing inside the cube made wiring a snap, and I think the whole place was wired, from pole out back to circuit breaker in the bedroom, in about three days.

A miracle, considering the six weeks it had taken just to get a pole onsite with the other guys. Things took a turn for the worse, however, during the first inspection.

MinnTech had been operating under the assumption that the container could be treated like a commercial installation with regard to code enforcement. The inspector disagreed. Points that were failed during initial inspection included failure to cover with concrete the area of electrical conduit that popped out of the ground and entered through the cube’s floor. That fix was easy enough, as told to me by the inspector: Just dump a bag of concrete on it.

The main point we failed on, though, was leaving the ceiling lights unwired, and I take responsibility for some of the confusion regarding this part. At this point, I didn’t even have lights picked out, because I was working under the assumption that I would install a drop ceiling to accommodate recessed lights, and I had told MinnTech as much. Meanwhile, they were working under the assumption that code enforcement would regard the container as a commercial build rather than a residential build, in which case they wouldn’t need to finish out the wiring by installing lights of any kind.

So, with the inspector having failed us, it was up to me to decide how to install a drop ceiling that would accommodate lights throughout the cube.