Ideas That Work is one of the most consistently well-read features in the magazine. Every month, it fosters community and idea sharing among contractors, electricians, and installers with the goal of saving our readers time, money, and frustration. If ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR does nothing else for its readership, we seek to make our readers' lives and jobs easier.
At the direction of Anton Mikec, COO of Lighthouse Electric, 2016 was a banner year for great ideas. We received ideas ranging from the hyper-specific to the general in application.
If you're unfamiliar with Ideas That Work, every submission we choose is a winner, but one great idea wins a first-place grand prize. These are the best Ideas That Work from 2016.
January—Patio block for anchoring floor boxes
If you are on a project with a large number of floor boxes that require both power and low-voltage, it helps to lay the floor boxes out on graph paper before starting. This helps to minimize conduit crossing and mix-up. You can even number the floor boxes and prep them with fittings before placing. You can then use patio blocks—after setting the right elevation and leveling them—to anchor floor boxes. A little prep can save headaches when installing multipurpose floor boxes.
Fort Wayne, Ind.
Next time you need to cut wood or metal with a jigsaw and are worried about scratching your project, buy a roll of coarse Velcro (not the cloth type) and cut two pieces of it about the size of the undercarriage. Stick the Velcro on, and you’re good to go. This solution should last a long time, as well.
March—One tube, many uses
In the field, a tube of valve grinding compound can be a helpful item to use in a variety of work situations. When I run into a rusted hardware fastener, the microscopic grit from the valve grinding compound gives a screwdriver tip extra torque-gripping capabilities to minimize slippage and cam-out. When drilling a hole into metal boxes, this compound coats the drill bit’s cutting edges to better engage to the metal. Also, this grit’s grinding properties help to sharpen a dull pocketknife while on the job. Valve grinding compound is available at any automotive parts store.
When pushing wire in overhead runs with multiple junction boxes, everyone knows that the end of the wire may get hung up and stuck in the box. One solution is to get a piece of ½-in. EMT conduit with a ceiling hanger wire run through it and a hook bent on the end. With this, you can reach up and hook the wire with the ceiling wire to pull it free.
Fairview Park, Ohio
May—Plastic tube fishing
Fishing cable (such as Types NM, MC and AC) into existing wall cavities can be made much easier using cross-linked polyethylene (PEX), a flexible plastic tubing used in plumbing. The PEX acts both as a push rod and as a channel to easily guide the cable through the wall cavity to the box cutout. Push a 10-ft. length of ½-in. or ¾-in. PEX through a predrilled hole in the wall toward the cutout. When you have the PEX through the box opening, you can easily push your cable through from the top or bottom. When the cable is in, simply slide the PEX off the cable. One more tip: cut the PEX at an angle on the penetrating end to allow it to cut through insulation better. Cover this end with tape so it won’t fill with insulation or other debris.
June—It’s in the bag
We’ve all been in a situation where we’ve had to patch a drywall or plaster wall. When I have to make a small patch or fill a hole, I take a small plastic bag and add some dry plaster of Paris mix (I carry a small bucket of it with me). Add a little bit of water, and knead the mix through the bag. Keep adding water until the mix is the proper consistency. Next, use a small putty knife to patch the hole. When you’re done, throw out the bag and clean the putty knife. You can use the same method to mix grout, cement or any dry mix. You can also use a large, black garbage bag to mix concrete or repair larger areas.
Miller Place, N.Y.
July—Less mess, less fuss
These days, the slightest petroleum spill is often an issue when threading conduit, even on big industrial sites. The oil-soak pads and kitty litter trays of the old days just don’t cut it anymore. We still end up tracking oil into the field. An ordinary, heavy-duty, plastic 27-gallon storage tub filled with kitty litter placed under a 300 machine or vise can hold a pony motor and spare dies, and it is easily tucked away for storage at day’s end.
August—Nowhere to escape
Tired of losing your hex head bits from your side bag every time you put your tools down? Put a magnet at the bottom of the bag in which you keep your bits, and they will never sneak out of your pouch again.
Sometimes smart people do dumb stuff. To prevent this as much as possible, I keep a binder in the truck with a list of common safety mistakes, from ladders to cutting and grinding to electrical issues. They take about 5 minutes each to read—they are more reminders than instruction manuals. For example, if I see someone on the top step of ladder or sticking uninsulated dykes in a tightly packed panel, I don’t yell at them and embarrass them. Instead, I have them read the appropriate page. On a break or at the end of the day, I may call the whole crew’s attention to that topic for a mini safety meeting, all without pointing the finger at the person who brought it to my attention. The first line of each page reads: “These are mistakes we can’t afford to make, and continued warnings of these dangerous actions may result in your dismissal from this project.”
Sherman Oaks, Calif.
October—Taking (remote) control
I’ve been in many commercial buildings and office spaces with dropped ceilings. Pulling communications wire or other wires through a long span is a repetitive process, removing every fourth tile or so. To help, we’ve taken radio-controlled (RC) trucks with tires big enough to go over the channel, hooked the wire to them and driven them to the other end. This was surprisingly easy, and nowadays, some RC trucks actually have built-in cameras.
New Cumberland, W.V.
November—Keeping things together
Every time I need to put screws in a horizontal or inclined position in a deep box, they fall from the screwdriver tip, even though it’s magnetic. To solve this, I cut a short piece of electrical tape and apply it around the screwdriver tip and screw head; that keeps things together.
December—Ceiling tile solution
When dealing with lay-in ceilings—usually in commercial and education projects—it is often difficult to immediately tell what is on the other side. To identify the placement of various boxes and systems above the ceiling, it helps to color in the ceiling tile, signifying what can be found there. (For instance, red can mean fire alarm, yellow can mean lighting, blue can mean 120-volt power, etc.) If there is more than one system above the same tile, then multiple colors can be used. This can be beneficial to both the owner and the contractor.
Fort Wayne, Ind.
IF YOU HAVE AN IDEA that has saved you time or money on the job, ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR readers would like to hear about it. Be sure to include a good photo of your idea—hand sketches are often hard to interpret. Note that some similar ideas are submitted by more than one person. In these cases, the one that is more clearly written and includes a photo is given precedence. Send your letter and photo to Jack Pullizzi, Ideas Editor, ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR, 3 Bethesda Metro Center, Suite 1100, Bethesda, MD 20814-5372, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or use the online submission tool at www.ecmag.com/ideasthatwork.
CASH AND TOOL PRIZES FOR WINNING IDEAS
Each published author in Ideas That Work receives a $50 American Express gift card from ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. In addition, each month’s first place winner will receive a $100 gift certificate from Zoro, to be used at www.zoro.com.
DISCLAIMER: The ideas presented in this article are for consideration only. Before using such ideas, make sure codes and safety issues have been fully adhered to. ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR disclaims any liability from your use of these or any other ideas. ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR reserves the right to reprint the words herein at its discretion.