Why does my dryer not get hot?

Okay, this is actually more of a rhetorical question. I now know the answer to the question, thanks to a call to my handy electrician, Mark. My biggest worry was that I’d made a mistake with high-amperage wiring.

Turns out that I’m just ignorant. Electrically-speaking, anyway.

So here’s a tip for those of you who go the DIY route in putting in your own (modern) dryer. Several, actually, since the process isn’t terribly-well documented.

First, understand that your fancy new (electric) dryer is not a hair dryer, a microwave, or a toaster. This is a fairly large chunk of electricity-sucking mechanical wonder. It needs juice. A lot of it. Usually, about 30 amps, rated at about 125V/240V (more on this in a sec). You won’t be able to plug this into any regular socket, either.

If you’ve already got your dryer, you’re probably staring at the plug. It’s a beast. You won’t be wiggling these terminals — they’re at least 1/8″ thick. And there’s a weird J-shaped one, too. What the heck? This is how you’ll get your electricity. The round pole is your ground. The J-shaped one is your neutral. The two rectangular ones are your hot leads — and you need both for this sucker to work.

Assuming you don’t already have a receptacle for this (in which case you probably don’t need this page), you’ll need to install one. Let’s also assume you’re not going for an electrician and want to do this yourself. You’ll need the following:

  1. A dryer receptacle. You gotta plug your dryer into something, right?
  2. The box to attach said receptable.
  3. Two cable connectors / strain releases. This will keep the cable from being cut by sharp edges on the box.
  4. A length of 4-wire 10-3 electrical cable. (Measure the distance you think you’ll need, and add a metre or so just to be safe.)
  5. A double-pole 30-amp breaker for your panel. (Again, assuming you don’t have one.)

Drill holes (using at least a 3/4″ — preferably a 1″ — drill bit to run the cable through your walls. You might want to soap the holes so the cable glides more freely. The stuff is stiff, and does not bend easily. (It also doesn’t cut easy, so have some strong shears around to cut ends off.)

At the receptacle end, find a proper place on a stud to secure the box. Use screws, as they’ll hold better than just nails. Attach the cable connector, pull the cable through connector (leaving enough room for strippping), and secure the cable by screwing the connector closed. Strip your wires about 1″ at the various ends, and ensure you’ve attached them correctly to the receptacle.

Okay, you’ve got one end. Now you’ve got to do the other. Wiring a panel is a little more involved.

  1. Turn the main power off. The entire panel. (The entire house.) Don’t even think of doing this any other way.
  2. Pop one of the blanks out in the panel, insert a cable connector, and pull the cable in and tie it down. Give yourself a lot of room — you’re going to need it.
  3. Attach the ground (the bare copper wire) and the neutral (the white wire). It should be pretty obvious how you connect these.
  4. Here’s the biggest trick: Make sure your dual-pole breaker is spanning across phases. (More in a second on this.)
  5. Insert the two wires (black on top, red on the bottom). Screw everything tight, and close up the panel.

More on that phase thing. If you look closely at the metal part (usually down the centre) that the breaker plugs into, you’ll see that the plugs are arranged in twos. If you insert a breaker so that it sits in one of those pairs, your breaker will be on the same phase. This means you’re not actually getting the juice you need.

Think of it as one of those fancy executive balls toys, with all the balls swinging in the same direction at once. Really boring, right? That’s because all the balls are in the same phase. No energy transfer. Put the balls in different phases, and things bounce off of each other. Same principle in electricity — your breaker needs to span the pairs, with each half of the breaker in two different pairings. This keeps each of the two wires on different phases, and presto! You have a drying dryer.

Otherwise, you have just a gizmo that spins clothes around. Not so useful.

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