Mission Electrician Part Three: Making up and Hooking up (It’s not what it sounds like)

Week 48 – Amy

A lot has been accomplished in the past couple weeks.  The rough-in of cables is complete!  WOOT, WOOT!   (minus one more for the upstairs furnace- but who’s counting anyways?)  Joe already hard-wired all of our recessed lights and I already met with an electrician for a “pre-inspection” inspection.  The circuits were completed this week and we were ready to fire these things up!  I called up my electrician friend and asked if he would be willing to come back again and help me hook up my circuits to the service panel.  We planned to meet this past Saturday and he said we’d “hit it hard” to which I had no choice but to reply with emoji muscle flexes.

making up Junction boxes
making up Junction boxes

In preparation for our meeting I spent all last week “hitting it hard” by myself making up all my junction boxes in the crawl space and beginning to assemble some receptacles and switches so that I would have some circuits ready to turn on once we were connected to the power.

Making up these crawlspace junction boxes took me way longer than I thought they would. First of all, I’m slow.  Secondly, it was hard to get to them with the shallow crawlspace. And thirdly, we were in the middle of a polar vortex here in Indiana and I froze my butt (and toes and fingers) off. Here’s me trying (and failing) at staying warm.

Attractive moments
Attractive moments

The actual work of making up junction boxes and electrical boxes for outlets and switches is easy work.  You first strip the cable of it’s insulation cover, then you strip off the last bit of insulation on each of the individual wires and splice them together. It’s important to think through where you want the electricity to flow depending on the job of each cable.  When Joe and I are done with all of these we will probably do how-to posts for people who actually care about that sort of thing.

I went ahead and made up some of my receptacles so that we could have some outlets handy here and there. Won’t that be novel!?!  I don’t want to make them all up since they will be in the way when the drywall goes in.  I also worked to make up some switches so we could flip on some lights. (or at least try)

making up receptacles
making up receptacles

After doing some prep work, I prepared for my moment of truth.  I was truthfully very nervous for everything to be hooked up. What if it doesn’t turn on?  What if everything is wrong?  What if I failed?!? (and everybody knows it.)  I’ve worked so hard on this.  It would be devastating if all my work were for nothing.  Not to mention, embarrassing.

In preparation for the big “hit it hard” hook up day I had to make a run to the Depot the night before to get some 15 and 20 amp circuit breakers. I was not prepared to see such a variety of types and brands of breakers and hadn’t considered that this shopping trip would be confusing.  When will I learn?  I grabbed the first orange apron clad man I saw and asked if I could get some advice in the electrical isle.  (You know where this is going)  He kindly obliged to help a young lady out.  Then I dropped my question on him.

“So, I’m ready to hook up my circuit runs to my service panel and I need to buy some 15 and 20 breakers, but I see that some of these here are double poles and some are labeled as single pole breakers. I also see there are a variety of brands and types. What are the differences between all of the options and how do I know which I need?”

He starts scratching his head, “Wow, that’s a pretty technical question.  (Darn tootin’ it is!)  Let me call and see if we have someone who can help you out with that.” (Yeah, you go ahead and do that. I’ll wait right here.)

When the electrical expert did arrive to answer my question he did what I knew he was going to do.

I’ve picked up on a pattern. They won’t answer my question unless they get to the bottom of all the questions they have about me.  They always want to know, “Well, what’s your project?” (Imagine hands on hips, furrowed eyebrows in a questionable expression bordering on telltale “lady-your-gonna-kill-yourself posture.)  To which I respond with, “Why the hell does it matter? Just answer my question.”  Actually, I don’t say that. On that day I said, “I’m hooking up my circuits to the breakers, I need breakers.”  Then follows the next series of questions that inevitably follows between myself and all hardware store staff:

“Yeah, but what’s your project.”

“I’m wiring.”

“What are you wiring?”

“My house.”

“Yeah, but what are you wiring?”

“The house” (Are you deaf?)

“You’re wiring your house?”

“Yes, that is correct.” Let me lay this out for you. My house did not have electricity and I really thought it would be nice to have some.  So, I have run all of my cables AND NOW I NEED TO BUY SOME CIRCUIT BREAKERS so I can actually use those cables that I’ve run. Now can you answer my question?

On this particular occasion this man actually  gave me a look that bordered on disgusted and begrudgingly answered my seemingly simple and quite reasonable question.  To be honest, I anticipated getting some grief now and again for breaking the gender barrier, but I have been shocked to find out how frequently, unapologetic, and thickly laid down it has been. There are those who have been outright rude and then there are those who don’t even realize they are doing it.

On another occasion I asked an apron guy if I needed a special kind of electrical box for any of my kitchen appliances, or could I just use the same type as my regular receptacles?  This resulted in the prerequisite “Well, what’s your project?” conversation- which I hardly find necessary.  He then proceeded to quiz me on kitchen wiring. (The nerve!)  He wouldn’t dare answer my question until he felt satisfied I was ready for the answer.

“You know your microwave is going to need to be on it’s own circuit!”

“Yes, sir I know that. All of my appliances are already run on their own 20 amp circuits.”

“And those outlets need to be ground fault protected! You’re going to need yellow cable for that.”

“They are. It’s done.”

“You know they need to be on a 20 amp!”

“Yes, I’m aware that yellow indicated the 20 amp nature of the cable.”

Then he actually took it upon himself to demonstrate, DEMONSTRATE how the cables enter the electrical boxes. This was unbelievable. I wanted to say, “Look, at this point if I don’t know how to get the cable into the box I should just give up now.” Needless to say my feathers are frequently ruffled by mans lack of confidence and brazen unawareness of rampant sexism. Now would be a good time to whip out Rosie.

Get ’em Rosie!

That’s better.

[Edit from Joe:  In defense of the sexist hardware store workers…  I think some of this is because my wife is pretty darn cute.  Of course, people that only know Amy via the blog may not know what she looks like without a mask on her face and covered in dirt.  But trust me, she cleans up real nice!  She just doesn’t look like someone that would wire a whole house, especially when dressed in non-working-on-the-house attire.  NOT that this is an excuse for sexist treatment.]

SO, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system…

With all of the electrical shopping behind me all that I had left to do was to put it all together.  With butterflies in my stomach, I went over to the house an hour early on Saturday to get everything organized and laid out for my electrician helper arrival.  We worked for five hours at the house hooking up all of my circuits to the breakers. I know that doesn’t sound very exciting but IT WAS!

The downstairs panel
The downstairs panel. Just look at how organized it is!!!

Here’s what the downstairs panel looked like when we were done.  My electrician did all the real hook up work.  I was happy to be a glorified cable stripper and holder-out-of-the-way-er.  I also continued with my overly-controlling labeling by mapping out exactly where I wanted each circuit to go.  I tried to be flexible and let him hook things up wherever it was easiest for him but he said, “You’re the boss.”  That had a nice ring to it.

Here’s my map. My circuits are in alphabetical order 🙂 and color coded elsewhere.  I’m cute like that.

Downstairs panel map
Downstairs panel map

You can see I had to make some on-the-spot changes which are par for the course when doing house work. I’ll make out the final copy later and post it on the panel door.  Here is a picture of the smaller upstairs panel after we were finished.

upstairs panel
Upstairs panel. Glorious.

I have also mapped out and color coded all of my circuits.  This is especially important as a reference since I had to have some strange configurations (like a random dining room outlet on the bath circuit).  It also gave me piece of mind to have it all visually laid out.  I felt like I was holding too much information in my head and by putting it all into a map I could let it go and get more sleep at night. (I spend most nights wiring away…in my sleep)

first floor circuit map
first floor circuit map
2nd floor circuit map
2nd floor circuit map

Since we had added a few things (Ahem, a ton of additional recessed lights) along the way and some of my original plans were thwarted by obstacles such as HVAC, I added up all of my suspected loads to the circuits just to be sure nothing would be overloaded by plugging in a vacuum or anything.  This was also a nod to peace of mind.

planning out the circuit loads
planning out the circuit loads

Hopefully all of my worrying, mapping out, double checking and adding up hypothetical 60 watt bulbs and toasters will make for a very organized and working system of electricity.  But, mostly, I was just crossing my fingers that it would turn on.  To me, electricity is in the same boat as gravity, black holes, and the internet.  I have no idea how they work.  But, somehow they do.  And I just have to accept that.

I usually haul a book or two with me from room to room reading aloud to myself, straining emphasis on key words, “Okay, the black wire from the two wire cable goes to the brass terminal…” Slowly, methodically, carefully I get the job done.  Also, I use spare cable as bookmarks. The true sign of a seasoned electrician. 🙂

One of three wiring textbooks and my trusty tool tray.
One of three wiring textbooks and my trusty tool tray. How I love thee.

You’ll be happy to hear that after all that work, and all that planning, and all the worrying, and passing all the hardware store clerk pop quizzes…..THERE WAS LIGHT!!!!  Shout it from the mountain top! LIGHT!!


[Edit from Joe:  Looking at that lonely light bulb I can just imagine all of you readers thinking, “Really?  What’s the big deal?”  But to us this light is accompanied by clouds parting and angels singing!]

Yup, it's on!
Yup, it’s on!

This all made me feel rather proud my myself.  Chromosomal worth proven.  Case closed.

This weekend was quite a celebration and made me feeling a little like….

Yay, Science and Technology!
Yay, Science and Technology!

After I’m done jumping up and down and trying not to pee my pants with excitement I’ll realize that I’ve still got a lot of work to do.  I need to make up the rest of my boxes and make everything look nice.  I’ve also got a lot of messes to clean up.

Nests of stripped cable remains
Nests of stripped cable remains

Meanwhile, Lucy is enthralled watching video’s on how to repair old plaster.  On to the next project…

Studying up for one of the next big projects...  PLASTER REPAIR!
Studying up for one of the next big projects… PLASTER REPAIR!


For now, I’ll just keep being my humble self…


I did it!
And you thought I couldn’t do it!

3 Comments Add yours

  1. amyheavilin says:

    I’m both heartened and disheartened that I’m not alone in the breaking the gender roles! Congratulations on such great work. 🙂 Also, sidenote, I love love love plaster repair. If you need anything!


  2. Erin Palermo says:

    I know this is an old blog post, but I’m whipping through your blog from entry one. I’m also a mom of a 5-year old and an old home restorer. 1910 Victorian, and about to embark on rewiring the 3rd floor, since it and the 2nd are on the same (single) circuit. We’re getting estimates on a new roof and one dude corrected my pronunciation of fascia and followed it up with “sweetie,” before once again directing his entire attention to my hapless, sweet, but fully unhandy husband.

    At Home Depot, the trick is to spend enough time there without your hubby that they offer you a job because random shoppers think you ALREADY work there, and start asking you for advice. I’m sure you know that by now, though. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Amy and Joe says:

      This is so true!! I’m so glad to hear that there are other women out there doing rehabbing work. How is your electrical coming along?


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