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Let There Be Light-Part 1

First Image
When I had my grill gazebo built last September, the plan was I'd be able use it 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. So lighting was always one of the items I planned on including, but the reality of the situation was the budget couldn't handle it at the time the gazebo was built. This year while my Kitchen was under renovation and my Big Green Eggs were not being used, I figured that would be a great time to add in the lighting. Part 1 of this blog entry will cover how I fed power to the lights and some of the materials used to do so. PART 2 will cover the selection and purchase of the exterior barn light style fixtures I ended up using. So if you are more interested in the lights, feel free to skip to PART 2.

I always had three main concerns with the lighting installation. The first was the appearance of the electrical feeds to the lighting and who would do the work, so it would be done exactly the way I wanted. The second concern was the light fixtures I would use. Lastly was how would I pay for this work. This last concern was actually the easiest one to solve. During the time period the Kitchen was under renovation, Apple would be issuing a quarterly stock dividend payment and this would help pay for the necessary wiring and lighting. One of my concerns had always been how the electrical feeds to the lights would look. My grill gazebo looks quite nice, if I do say so myself. I didn't want to spoil the appearance with exposed electrical feeds that weren't very carefully thought out. I also wanted to get light fixtures that looked appropriate. I didn't know exactly what I wanted for light fixtures, but I knew I'd know the right fixture the minute I saw them. This blog entry will describe how I solved these problems and began the process of adding lights to my grill gazebo.

When I started thinking about the grill gazebo lighting again, I was concerned about who would do the work. I didn't want Wreckum & Deckum Electricians coming in and running the wiring feeds wherever it suited their convenience. I wanted the feeds to be either completely concealed or blend in as much as possible so they would not detract from the look of the grill gazebo. The wiring would need to be run in conduit which I thought was going to need to be hard EMT metal conduit. Now I have a conduit bender for EMT and I can bend conduit. The problem is I am good with a single direction bend, which is typically all I have to do. The type of bends I would need to do for the wiring in the grill gazebo were two direction bends. This is a bend where you are turning horizontally and vertically at the same time. These I don't think I could pull off, and certainly not with the precision I needed for this application. I started doing research into other wiring alternatives and that was when I found Liquidtight flexible metal conduit (LFMT). This product is essentially a flexible metal conduit sheathed in something that has the consistency of a rubberized plastic. It can be easily bent and in my opinion actually looks nicer than EMT. When I played around with LFMT at Home Depot, I realized I might actually be able to do this work myself. At this point I started thinking about doing something I've done on other projects. I would need a tall ladder to do the high work for the lights. My very old wooden step ladders were not tall enough, but I've been eyeing the Little Giant X-Treme ladders for quite some time. With the money I would save on labor, I could do the project myself, buy the ladder, buy the materials, and still save some money. Plus the guy doing the work (me) would actually have to listen to the client (also me).

So I picked out all the materials I needed, The next step was to finalize the run from the first light to the switch. I had looked at a couple different ways of running the feeds. My goal was to minimize the exposed conduit, or run it in such a way that was the least noticeable. But when I started looking at some of the paths that would give me the most concealed installation, practical reality was setting in. In order to do some of those concealed feeds I would be boring holes in some of the structural members. I would be doing this at angles and in some cases in areas where there was little clearance to actually make the hole. And if I screwed up a hole, those bad results would be left exposed for all to see for all time. So I stepped back a little bit and look a fresh look at my runs. I cut off a short piece of the LFMT to see if I could use my hack saw and a mitre box to easily cut this cable. The results of this experiment also left me with an 18” section of cable I could use to test the various bends I would need to make for a given run. I soon came out with a run that would involve boring zero holes, was only slightly more exposed and would look clean & planned-not like some last minute afterthought.

“Second

The two light locations were centered between the nearest two toof rafters at the 1/4 points of the ridge rafter.


My Little Giant X-Treme ladder arrived and I began running the conduit & installing the boxes. I put the two exterior junction boxes for the light fixtures at approximately the 1/4 points along the underside of the ridge rafter. I say approximately, because I found the actual 1/4 point and then adjusted the location so the boxes were each centered between the closest two roof rafters. I added some pressure treated blocking to increase the width of the ridge rafter from 1 1/2” to 4 1/2” (3.75-11 cm) in the two locations where the boxes would go. The weatherproof boxes I used were the more attractive of the two types of exterior boxes. One type of exterior box is very clean looking with smooth surfaces on each side. The screw in plugs to seal off unused holes finish out flush with the surface of the box. The other type of box is also weatherproof but really aren’t very clean looking. I guess this second style of box is intended for installations where the box is somehow outside, but not visible. This was one of the reasons I was glad I did the work for myself, because I could select all of the fittings. Once the two boxes were installed, I ran the first piece of LFMT between the two light fixture boxes. This was an easy run: Straight with two small 3/4” (2 cm) offsets to get the conduit from the center of the box to the surface of the ridge beam. With hard EMT conduit this would have involved two bends with the conduit bender at each end of the conduit. With the LFMT I just had to allow for a little extra length to accommodate the bends in the conduit. The LFMT uses plastic gasketed connectors at the box. They screw into the box and the LFMT slips over a slide on friction fitting for the LFMT. Once I measured and cut the piece it was quick work to connect the conduit to the two boxes and clamp it in place.

“Third

The first run from the light fixture to the gable end rafter was straight and then curved to get up into the hidden space at the top & in between the two gable end rafters.


The next step was to run the LFMT down to my switch location on one of the rear posts. This was where the ease of use of the flexible LFMT vs. the hard EMT really stood out. First of all EMT comes in discrete lengths of pipe, whereas I had a 50’ (15.25 m) roll of the LFMT. I would have had to try to measure and prebend the pieces where the ridge beam met the rafters and again where the rafters met the lower beams and post at the corner. It is possible I would have had to have done these pieces as two pieces. This might have been due to my lack of skill doing funky bends or the condition making it impossible to pass a single piece through where the change of direction occurred. I might have needed to make two pieces and join them in the middle. Joining two pieces of conduit in an area that is minimally accessible would not have been fun. This also points out that I would have had several other intermediate joints to deal with using hard EMT. This is because the length of the run at the rafters was longer than the EMT pipe sections. Also it might have proved to be impossible to get one piece of pipe into the space where it was running. EMT would have worked equally well if the hard conduit was run during the construction. Running the LFMT was a breeze. I started feeding the pipe down into the ridge beam/roof rafter intersection. Rather than bore a hole in the vertical post at this point I simply wrapped around it. I did the same thing where the roof rafters came down around the corner post. Rather than trying to bore several large holes in tight quarters, I bent the LFMT so it went into the corner at the horizontal 2x6 beams and offset it onto the corner posts. I never would have wanted to try running it this way with hard pipe. With LFMT it was quite easy. Of the time I spent making this run from the first light to the switch, I think I spent more of the time moving the ladder and setting up in 3 different locations, than I spent positioning the LFMT.

“Fourth“Fifth

The run from the low end of the gable end rafter down the corner post to the switch.


The next step was to run the wiring. I was a bit worried about the long run from the first lamp down to the switch due to bends involved. To make a run like this you use a tool called a fish tape. It is essentially a flat piece of wire coiled onto a spool. Similar in concept to a 50 or 100’ (15.25-30.5) m) tape measure where you manually reel the tape back in when you are done. The fish tape is pushed through the conduit until it reaches the other end. Once it reaches the other end you either attach the actual wires to it, or if space is tight you attach a pull string to it. Then you reel the fish tape back in which pulls the wires or the pull string through the conduit. If quarters are tight or you have more extreme bands you use a pull string in lieu of the wires. When you have the pull string back out at the other end of the run you tie the wires to it and pull the string back through the conduit. The first run I tried was the short straight run between the two lights. This run was about 5’ (1.5 m) with two 3/4” (2 cm) offsets required at the boxes. I didn’t bother with a pull string, I simply attached the 3 wires to the fish tape and pushed the wires through. This went quickly and easily and made me think I would try skipping the pull string for the long run.

The sun was starting to go down as I attempted the long run from the first light down to the switch. The fish tape and the 3 wires pushed easily into the straight run of conduit from the junction box over to the gable end rafters. When I got to the sweeping bend where the ridge beam met the rafter the fish got stuck. A couple push-pulls on the fish tape and I was past that point. I fed in quite a bit of fish tape and then it hung up again. This would be the sweeping bend in the conduit where the rafter met the post. Several push-pulls and I cleared that point. All that was left now were two offsets from the beam to the post and then to get the conduit centered on the post. I felt resistance rather quickly but got past this point fairly easily. First offset cleared I thought. Then resistance again, this would be the second offset to center the conduit onto the 4x4 post. I was able to get past this point to and I began feeding more fish tape into the LFMT. Then the fish stopped hard, very hard. This felt different and as I looked down at the switch box I didn’t see any wires coming out. I was confused at this point. Perhaps I had miscounted and one of the places I thought I was at a bend was just a place where the tape hung up in a straight run for some reason. It was now getting dark and I couldn’t see the feet marks on the fish tape-black fish tape with etched marks. Black on black in low light...I decided it would wait until morning.

When I went inside I plotted my strategy for the next morning. First I would look at the marks on the fish tape to see how much fish tape was in the conduit. Then I would measure the length of the actual conduit run. This would help me judge where in the run I was hung up. I also rigged up a piece of hard wire and put a hook on one end. I was pretty sure I was hung up somewhere in the vertical run along the post, perhaps at the final offset into the switch box. I would run this wire up into the LFMT and try to snag the wire and fish and pull it the rest of the way out. If this failed I would pull the wires and fish back though and try the run with a pull string. I was a bit frustrated because I felt I was so close. When morning came I went outside bright and early at 6:00. This gave me 3 hours before it was time to start my “day job”. I climbed up on the ladder and measured the conduit run: 15’ (4.5 m) approximately. When I looked on the fish tape, I still couldn’t see the marks. After grabbing a flashlight I found the nearest mark and it was 16’ (5 m). This was strange. I should have been there at this point. I climbed down the ladder and to my dismay and delight I found that the fish tape & wires had indeed made it through. They were "hiding" in the back of the deep box at such an angle that I couldn't see them up on the ladder. The resistance I felt was the fish tape bottoming out on the bottom of the junction box.

“Sixth“Seventh

A The last step for this phase of the work was to install a combination outlet and switch in the damp location gasketed box with a flip up cover.


The last step was to detach the wires from the end of the fish tape at the switch end of the run and pull the fish tape back through the conduit, free from the wires. When I got the fish tape out of the conduit I cut the three wires about one foot (30 cm) long at the junction box end of the run. I then tied them off so they couldn't accidentally be pulled through the junction box and back into the conduit where I couldn't reach them. I then installed the switch on the post and this phase of the work was complete. I now had to get some light fixtures and hang them. This will be covered in
PART 2 of this blog.

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