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One hot mess

A wise man once said: you don’t own an old house, it owns you.  Every time I begin to suffer the illusion that we’re running the show over here, another issue crops up. Late last week, the house bent me over its knee and gave me a gentle reminder of who’s boss.

We’re continuing to limp along with space heaters while I collect bids for the HVAC installation. To complicate matters, our electrical service has never been upgraded beyond 100 amps. Even a single  A/C compressor would overtax the electrical panel we’ve got. In order to get enough juice for the new HVAC units, and to give us plenty of extra capacity for future wiring, we’re going to jump up to a 200 amp service. Fortunately, beyond the main panel, the wiring in the house is relatively new. Most of the receptacles are even grounded. As with any older home, it’d be nice to have more outlets to meet the constant power requirements of all our modern gadgetry. But we’re fortunate not to have to worry about knob-and-tube or aluminum wiring (perhaps I’m tempting fate with that statement?).

Thursday night I returned home after a late meeting, walked through the back door, flipped a switch and – nothing. No light. One room away, the dining room lights worked fine. But the ones in the living room didn’t. Neither did the outlets – so much for our electric heat. All told, about a third of the power in the house was active. To confuse matters greatly, not a single circuit breaker was flipped in the panel box. I grabbed my flashlight and checked a few outlets for an obvious loose neutral or signs of damage, but it didn’t make sense that the outage was spread across multiple circuits. An electrician had been to the house that very morning to talk through the service upgrade, and he’d looked in the main panels.  Maybe he looked at them wrong?

I was exhausted and went to bed, consumed by worry that we were about to have to rewire the entire house, not just the main panel. Thankfully, my weary musings were wrong. The following morning, another electrician showed up to prepare an estimate for the service upgrade. I’d already rehearsed a pitiful plea that he take a look at our problem while he was there, out of the goodness of his heart, even though it wasn’t a service call.  But, the electrician had solved our problem before I even opened the front door.  He introduced himself and immediately noted that “your main service cables don’t look very good.”  I glanced over and saw this hot mess:

electrical service

I’ve never claimed to understand electricity, but I really, really don’t understand how it’s possible to have power – any power – when your service drop looks like that.  A quick call to Duke Energy alerted them to the issue, and they fixed the cable the same day.  From the ground, the patch looks almost as sketchy as it did before, but I’m going to insist that it get corrected when the service upgrade happens.

For now, we’re back in action, electrified, and fully confident that we’re NOT in control of this crazy old house.

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6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Anonymous #

    Learn that lesson early and learn it well. The minute you begin to think things are OK…well, watch your back!

    January 13, 2013
    • jrh #

      I’ve really always known it, but this incident served as a timely reminder that there’ll always be something to attend to, often when it’s least expected.

      January 17, 2013
  2. Anonymous #

    In case it’s relevant, we would not use Andy Helton with ESP again.

    January 16, 2013
    • jrh #

      It’s absolutely relevant. Both in my work and for this house, I’m continually on the look out for good tradesmen. I’ve toyed with the idea of adding a list of the contractors I use to the blog with short reviews of my experiences with them. But for now, I’m happy to report that I’ve hired our electrician and it’s not ESP.

      January 17, 2013

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