Monday, August 24, 2009

Electric Dryers Suck

I had a guy come out to give me an estimate for a fence in the backyard. He hasn't gotten back to me yet, but if he gives me a reasonable offer I think I'll take it. Either way, he is a former engineer turned entrepreneur. We "talked engineer" for awhile when he was surveying the backyard. We were lamenting that the problem with engineers is that we are overqualified and underexperienced for every construction job. I'm not even a "real" engineer (biomedical engineering!), but I've still taken classes on circuits [electricity, wiring, design], thermodynamics [vents, ducts, flow], materials [stone, metal, ceramics, etc.], and industrial design. Unfortunately, I've never actually done any of that stuff -- like pouring concrete, for example. But I know the principles, and so that is enough. Right?

I have put the patio on hold for a bit. Lindsay was doing the laundry the other day, and noted that the clothes weren't as dry as she would have liked. We had planned to replace the old gas dryer with our own electric dryer sooner or later, so now seemed like a good time. (As it turned out, the old gas dryer is working fine -- it just needed the lint traps and vents cleaned out.)

However, there was no 220V electrical outlet near the dryer. Luckily, I am an engineer :P Having watched my experienced-and-handy father-in-law install the 220V outlet for our new electric range, I felt fairly confident that I could splice a new outlet into that line. Doing what I do best, I started by faithfully googling "How to install dryer outlet" and commenced reading for awhile.

I started my journey over the weekend by purchasing all the parts I would need -- a junction box for the splice, 8 feet of wire to make the connection, a new outlet, and some wing nuts. Although the dryer was already set up with a 3 wire dryer cord, I decided to upgrade it to the new 4 wire dryer cord. I figure this will be more appealing to future home buyers. Here's what my tools and parts looked like before I started.

Since the wire from the range is coming through the floor in the kitchen into the basement, I had the brilliant idea of mounting the junction box on the ceiling in the basement, so the wire would come into the box from the back. Supply would come from the east, and the new outlet would go out the west. Beautiful, and elegant. From the outside, it will just look like a pass through!

Lindsay doesn't like when I work on electricity when she's not home, so I waited until she got home from work on Sunday to start -- about 9pm. First, I tripped the breaker, made sure the power was off, and cut the supply wire to the kitchen range with my garden shears. (I had to use 6-3 wire, because the circuit breaker is 60 AMP. Yes, you read that correctly -- AWG 6 gauge stranded wire. It is a real pain to work with.) With a little help from Lindsay, I screwed the junction box into the ceiling -- it fit into the hole like a glove! See the wires poking in from the back?

I proceeded to put the supply wire and the dryer wire into the box, and found out that I had a lot of big cables in a little box. On top of that, the cable coming from the kitchen was way too short. I messed around with the wires until about 2AM, trying to get it to work. It just wouldn't go, my hands were full of cuts, my wing nuts sucked, and I was fairly demoralized. What to do? Of course, I went to the internet and read up. I went to bed with a lot of good ideas.

On Monday, I put my plan into action. First, I replaced the cable coming from the range with a longer one that I had left over from when we first installed that line.

Next, I went to the store and bought the three items that were key to my success. First, I got wire strippers. Although you can do electrical work without them, I would find out that they are a HUGE boon. Second, I got a junction box extender. I didn't know they made them until I did my late night googling on Monday. Turns out that junction boxing is a science, not an art. My junction box was too small for the size and amount of wires I was putting into it -- it just wouldn't fit. A junction box extender is just a junction box without a back. You can screw it right on top of your old box to make it twice as big! Lastly, I got some appropriately sized wing nuts that were not filled with insulation.

Shortly thereafter, I was able to clean up the now-larger box, and make all the appropriate connections. Horray!

Next, I had to install the outlet on the concrete foundation wall. I used TAPCON screws along with the bit they provide. Although they recommend using a hammer drill, I found that a normal drill can be used as long as you have a bit of patience. I ended up having to drill an extra hole, because I'm a dummy. I also put some Liquid Nails behind the box (belt and suspenders!), so that outlet isn't going anywhere soon.

As I said in my previous post, having the right tools is really the key to any job. In this case, having wire strippers and a good set of needle nose pliers was very helpful. Since the wire is so big and unwieldy, doing anything "by hand" is impossible. Anyway, here are all the tools I ended up using (besides the garden shears). In case you are wondering, the dryer passed its first test this evening with flying colors.


  1. Hooray for dry clothes! I would have just run a wire btween two trees outside, HA!

  2. "Belt and suspenders!"

    Without a doubt, the funniest part of this post. After all, if you aim for the bottom rung, you better hang on tight.

  3. Belt and suspenders ... hmmmm .... where have I heard that before?

    Signed, Mr. X.

  4. I did the same thing and now my range won't work. the clock and oven light comes on so I know it is getting power, but no over or stove top.... Any suggestions? I'm thinking it has to be a range issue but it's too much of a coinsidence....

  5. Can you clarify what "the same thing" is?

    It sounds like your range is busted. Assuming you are powering it correctly, here's a good place to look for info: