2013 Tesla Model S P85+ Long-Term Update 5
Ignoring an Electrician Proves Penny Wise and Pound Foolish
As I aimed my iPhone's flashlight at the main circuit breaker once again the shadows it produced moved drunkenly around the backyard. Ah, there it is -- I put my thumb on the breaker's stubby black lever and pushed. Snap! The lights in the house popped on for a few seconds – great! … and then quickly off again – frig! Making matters worse, the next thing I heard was eight-year-old Christopher inside the house, crying as he walked sheepishly out of his room. "What's going on?" he sobbed. "Why are the lights going on and off?" Suddenly I pictured what all this must be looking like: reflected under his door, the blinking lights were giving the effect of a horror movie. "Sorry! Everything's okay. Go back to bed!" My dad, who was an electrician when he was young, is spinning in his grave like a starter motor about now.
At last I'd finally gotten 100 feet of 240-volt, 50-amp-capable copper cable threaded all the way to our garage to charge the Model S at home. But with the car plugged-in and most everything in the house turned-off, the ancient main circuit breaker was snapping like sizzling bacon.
Four words of advice for any future, half-idiot Tesla drivers hoping to set-up home charging: Listen. To. Your. Electrician.
The electrical panels in many old houses like mine offer 100-amps – total. 100 amps. And from the get-go I should have listened to our wary electrician and thrown my old, rusty panel away and upgraded to a shiny new one enlarged to 200 amps – heck, a proper Tesla charger demands a 100-amp circuit all by itself. But what with actually owning a Model S being unimaginable on a journalist's wages anyway, and affordable EVs hardly needing 30 amps, I decided to Cut Corners! Forty amps would be plenty, I figured. Making the project even cheaper, I also eschewed the nice Tesla wall unit for the car's mobile charge cord plugged into a common Nema 14-50 wall receptacle. As you might now detect, I was painting myself into this particular corner so slowly that I didn't realize it until I was painting my shoes as well.
You see, six months prior we had some rewiring done in the kitchen, and our electrician suggested starting over with a new panel for no other reason than that the old one was ugly and worse, haphazardly crammed with ancient, and as I soon learned, much-dreaded Federal Pacific stab-lock circuit breakers. "You're the boss" he complied, shrugging his shoulders.
Of course, soon, one of these worn-out Federal Pacific Stab-Loc it's a trademark breakers needed to be replaced. Then another, and another until I found myself with a tidy little investment in them. In fact, eventually only one hadn't been replaced – the main. And now, with the copper wiring finally threaded through the eves (with big holes drilled into them to pull the cable along) and a nasty gash across the brick walkway between the house and garage (the conduit had to traverse underneath) our long-term Model S's inaugural charging … was being prevented by a balky main breaker.
Now, a nice, new, modern main 100-amp main breaker costs about twenty bucks. Off I went then, to Home Depot to pick-up its dreaded Federal Pacific Stab-Lok equivalent. The nice orange-aproned associate in the electrical aisle climbed down from his ladder and handed me a box with a pitying expression "Gosh, these little guys are expensive." Gulp, he's right – $190 bucks. Still, the next day I proudly handed it to our electrician who handed it right back "As I figured. They gave you the wrong type. This won't work at all."
So it was back to the Home Depot for a refund, and then off to a specialty electrical shop in completely the opposite direction.
I set the old, worn-out Federal Pacific Stab-Lok main on the counter. The guy stared at it then walked back into a very dark aisle lined with thousands of little half-opened boxes, returning with an especially yellowed and dirty example. "Only one we've got. $230." Fully cognizant that a new 200-amp panel would have cost less, I handed him my credit card.
In the backyard again, I passed the $230 Federal Pacific stab-lock main circuit breaker to the electrician as if it were a Faberge Egg. "Yeah, that's the right one" I noted, though without any enthusiasm. It turns out that when the old one was pried off, it cracked. "Doesn't matter. Going to throw it away anyway."
However, once we studied the new new Federal Pacific circuit breaker, we realized that was actually broken, too. I drove back to the specialty electrical store. "Will have to order that. Bout three weeks," they indifferent guy said.
"Three weeks!" I blurted. "Now the house will have no power at all!" I was getting panicky. "We'll have to move into a hotel. No TempurPedic bed!" To my relief, the electrician calmed me by reinserting the cracked original in an operation as tense and delicate as a human heart transplant. But during the following three weeks I frantically rushed around the house turning-off lights left on the minute somebody left a room – anything, anything to preserve that wounded main breaker.
Finally, the second, new-new Stab-Loc main breaker arrived. The electrician carefully installed it. Everything was finally in place. The moment had come.
But for weeks I was nevertheless lowering the Tesla's charging rate down to an easy-as-she-goes 20 amps anyway, too rattled by the whole episode to summon the courage to fully challenge my $230 main breaker's fortitude. What if this new, Faberge egg/Federal Pacific stab-lock main also popped? I'd need therapy. I'd need more money.
But as they say, once you've been thrown, you've got to get back on that horse. No, this Stab-Loc breaker would not defeat me. So the other night I confidently plugged the car into the NEMA 14-50 plug mounted on the wall, and started tapping the car's charge rate screen. 21 amps, 22, 23…36, 37, 38, 39… and after a long pause…40. I closed my eyes.
The lights stayed on. The episode of River Monsters continued to play in the house. I even strutted over to the clothes dryer and turned it on although it was empty. Not a flicker from the garage lights. Life is really a series of small milestones like this, isn't it?
All told, installing this whole set-up has cost me $1000 plus $230 for that dreaded main breaker. And I haven't figured out how to disguise the wrecked brickwork yet. But when I'm asked "Do you charge it at home?" I can now answer "Yes, of course! I'm a guy who lives in the modern world!"
Ah, just don't tell them about the details, okay?
More on our long-term 2013 Tesla Model S P85+:
|Service life||7 mo/20,060 mi|
|Average fuel economy||86.2 MPGE|
|EPA City/Hwy/Comb Fuel Econ||88/90/89 MPG|
|Energy consumption||39 kW-hr/100 mi|