Getting some of the damage repaired…

Ian’s place has been driving me crazy. First an external spigot that goes through a block wall springs a totally uncalled-for leak – and the only way to fix the leak is to knock a hole in said (filled, of course) block wall, which I have no capacity to do at all. Water gushes forth, floods the powershed: The only way to slow the loss is to unplug the (brand new, cripplingly expensive) water pump. That reduces the loss to a manageable trickle, though I have still lost my beautiful townie shower until I can bash through that wall and fix the leak.

THEN! THEN! Evening before last Tobie and I stopped in at Ian’s for a cold beer to find the fridge isn’t working. Nothing’s working. Nothing.

I waded into the powershed to find the inverter blinking happily away.


All indicators show totally charged batteries, all systems go except for this one red LED that shows an error but doesn’t tell me what the error is – and I never figured out the nested menus that would might reveal the deep dark secret because, seriously, this thing has hummed away contentedly in this dim concrete building for twelve solid years, without the slightest need for reading error codes.

I have a pretty solid theory – after all, twelve years of flawless performance, then after four days of hard rain the whole system goes SNAFU? Sure, I’m guessing total coincidence.

But I don’t know how to test my theory, let alone how to get things working again. This morning my good neighbor S, who installs off-grid electrical systems for a living, came over to help me with diagnosis. He navigated the menus until they disgorged an answer, which validated my theory: AC output shorted.

Now, this raises the obvious but apparently irrelevant question: Why wouldn’t a short circuit blow one of the Dome’s perfectly good circuit breakers? Don’t know.


But we could now start narrowing the field. I opened all the circuit breakers and S rebooted the inverter: No error message, and the AC outlet on the side of the box worked perfectly. I then started closing breakers – having to walk back and forth to communicate, because Ian’s Dome is a veritable Faraday cage and cell phones don’t work inside at all – until I found the one that triggered an error and shut down the AC output at the inverter. Then I opened that breaker and closed all the others – and hey presto everything that had ever worked before now worked again. Happily the shorted circuit is the big mystery at the rear of the Dome that nobody ever used because nobody ever figured it out way back when we gave up on it.

Now I can bring my frozen meat back from Landlady’s freezer and put a big fan in Ian’s powershed before everything mildews.

In other news, I may start being able to use the road again soon…


A (very expensive, no doubt) county road crew found its way to that crossing that’s had me isolated for the past week or more. Maybe soon it’ll be passible and I can stop using the Bumpy Road while the Jeep’s undercarriage still works.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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13 Responses to Getting some of the damage repaired…

  1. Ben says:

    Life is giving you “Wack-A-Mole”.

  2. Ben says:

    As for the short, could there be a wet outlet somewhere? Or something plugged into an outlet and long forgotten, which got wet and finally carbonized?

  3. Joel says:

    More likely frayed wire pulled through a flexible conduit on the outside of the dome, then covered with shotcrete. Might be okay when it dries, which might take months. Either way, as far as I’ve ever known that circuit doesn’t do anything useful so I’m not going to worry about it.

  4. Jerry says:

    Is the yellow to the right of the grader the backhoe? Or some other working tool on the job?

  5. Alvin says:

    What attracted the county road crew to the problem area? Someone call them, or do they know that’s a problem area based on recent weather?

  6. Joel says:

    Oh, the county would never come in here on its own. The jungle telegraph says the crew is being paid by the POA but I know no details. Nothing! I know nothing!

  7. Spokes says:

    You’re living way to close to the cookie jar.

  8. Mike says:

    “The jungle telegraph says the crew is being paid by the POA”

    If the POA really is paying for this work, don’t be surprised when you hear members of the POA whine about an increase in their dues. TANSTAAFL

  9. Terrapod says:

    Not sure who wired that electrical box but it is a mess. As an engineer and shade tree electrician, it gives me the shivers.

    As to the shorting line, very likely an outdoor outlet that got soaked with rain and mud splatter, probably highly alkaline mud which does conduct electrons nicely.

    Put an electricians signal generator on the circuit and go find where it ends up.

  10. Joel says:

    No idea what this means.

  11. Steve Walton says:

    Next time a pipe goes through concrete, make sure it’s contained within a piece of pipe or wrapped with bubblewrap, so that it can be pulled out to be repaired without smashing the wall.

  12. Steve Walton says:

    Oh, and: I see all sorts of ground wires connected up to the grounding busbar in the box, but no actual ground conductor coming from that busbar out of the box to go to the, uh, ground. You may have issues with some GFCI somewhere because of that.

  13. Goober says:

    What Steve Walton said.. Always sleeve penetrations through concrete walls. It’s not just an “ease of replacement” issue, but it can very well be a “no need to replace in the first place because not sleeving it is what caused it to break”.

    Concrete has an uncanny ability to bond to things that it cures up against. It’s made even more so by any fittings in the pipe at the penetration, since the ridges from the fitting hub give the concrete something to bond to. As a result, the pipe and the concrete cannot move independently, and there is no room for one to expand without doing a smash on the other.

    Over multiple hot/cold cycles, this will almost inevitably stress the pipe to the point of failure. Concrete and most pipe materials expand and contract at different rates, and even in situations like steel piping where they coincidentally have the same expansion/contraction rates, as soon as you turn the water on and cold water is running through the pipe, guess which cools down first?

    I actually prefer to cast in a sleeve that is larger than the pipe, then run the pipe through the sleeve and seal with expanding foam and caulk. You see it on construction sites whenever a pipe penetrates a concrete slab, they wrap it with sill seal foam or bubble wrap to provide the little gap that keeps the slab from slowly destroying the pipe over time. Even a couple of wraps of roofing felt can do the job.

    When you do replace it, don’t repair the hole in the concrete with more concrete. Use expanding foam, and if you’re worried about aesthetics, hide the mess behind an escutcheon.

To the stake with the heretic!