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Sparks fly!

November 11, 2012

Our house runs on extension cords. Yeah, I know, it’s not safe, but what else can we do when we have only one outlet in each bedroom? None in the dining room. Three in the living room—one that actually holds onto the plugs and two that have lost their grip, so the plugs fall out unless I bend the prongs outward. You get the picture.

The kitchen is just as bad. The only 120 V outlet is behind the fridge, so the fridge shares it with a multiplug adapter and two extension cords: one for the microwave and toaster on the left, and one that runs behind the stove to the coffee pot and cats’ drinking fountain on the right. Almost every outlet in the house (all 10 of them) leads to something like this:

Much of the house is still on the original knob and tube system, with an occasional outlet rewired with Romex. The 150 amp panel left no room for expansion—but at least wasn’t a fuse box. The wires still passed from the panel through the ancient (but now gutted) fuse box, which looked too scary for words.

Eric removed the asbestos siding in the back hall (which, sadly, covers the entire house), and the old shingles beneath it. You can see the layers behind the old panel at left. Click on this photo to magnify the horror.

We’re incredibly lucky to have found a reliable, reasonable electrician. Casey installed our new 200 amp panel in an accessible (and legal) position, and a new masthead outside. A new circuit heads upstairs for future attic power, and another down to the basement. An outlet appeared on each wall of the little breakfast room, which now has more outlets than any other room in the house! The inspector said he’s never had to write up Casey on anything. Now that’s the kind of contractor you want!

Cutting over the wiring to the new panel, Casey unplugged the stove and disconnected it at the old panel. That’s when Eric and I, standing in the living room, heard the outlets start to pop and zzzap … smoke curled up from the TV. YIKES! (I’ll always remember that moment Roy Lichtenstein-style.)

Casey threw the main breaker and headed off to the crawlspace to investigate, where he discovered someone (not us!) had connected a 120 V wire to the stove’s 240 V ground. When he disconnected the stove circuit, 240 backfed into the 120 system. Believe me, when that happens, you want your electrician to be on the premises! Fortunately, all of our electronics are on surge protectors, which did their jobs. Anything that wasn’t protected fried, including our brand spanking new microwave. I’m thinking, rewiring the whole house might be a good idea. One of these days that will happen.

This is a good start: the new panel—but no more scary, cobwebby fuse box. The wall eventually will be reshingled and painted to match the exterior, a nod to the back porch’s beginnings.

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From → Kitchen

6 Comments
  1. cathy permalink

    That is such a scary fuse box, D’Arce, it looks like DIY job from the early part of the century, actually, it was! Amazing it worked at all, but your list of outlets makes me realize they didn’t need all that many back then, anyway. Glad you are okay.

    • It’s true, they didn’t need many outlets in 1913! One Thanksgiving here, my dad wanted to use an electric carving knife on the bird, but there was no outlet in the dining room to plug it in. That’s another aspect of this house that teaches me how differently and simply people used to live. You did things by hand, and it worked just fine. We are so spoiled now.

      I should mention, knob and tube wiring is quite safe … it’s when people who don’t know what they’re doing start splicing things in that causes danger. And of course, it’s not meant to handle today’s loads.

  2. I hope you get the rest of the house rewired soon. It sounds so dangerous! I just love this story…..

  3. Laura permalink

    I magnified the horror as you suggested and holy cow, I was worried for your safety.

    • And to think I’ve been living on the brink like this for almost 30 years! It’s a miracle you haven’t heard about our house on the late news. Just today, Eric had a space heater plugged into one of the “floppy” outlets in the living room. Our new panel was buzzing softly as if it were trying to decide whether to flip the breaker. Guess we won’t use that outlet anymore.

  4. Just make sure you are using the right extension cords. I would hate to see one burn up and cause a huge fire. Cheers

    http://www.conntek.wordpress.com

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