Ramblings from the Gryphon Rose

Monday, December 06, 2004

Breaker, Breaker, Come In

Last week my friend Paul came over to give me a hand with the house. Paul’s good with electrical (and actually works with lighting and wiring professionally), and he’d offered to help me replace all the outlets, because they’re all ancient two-prongs and half of them are so old they’re falling apart. We stopped by Home Depot, picked up a bunch of new outlets, and then walked home from there (picking up a small end table and a little bookcase on the way). And then the fun began.
First we took a look at the doorbell. Now, let me set this one up for you. When we bought the house, we noticed that there was a doorbell by the front door—and another just inside it. Or, more precisely, there was a fairly normal-looking doorbell on the outside of the front wall, and then a much older-looking round metal doorbell between the storm door and the front door. Obviously that second one was the original doorbell, and when they added the storm door they simply added the second doorbell instead of moving the first one over. Strange, but okay.
While painting, however, we discovered that only one of the two doorbells worked—and you can guess which one. That’s right, when I got home in the evenings I could ring the bell to let Jen know that I was already inside the storm door, but no one on the outside could get to it. Not terribly useful, right? Paul offered to inspect it and see if he could fix it. And, that very afternoon, Jen had been startled by a FedEx guy showing up and ringing the bell for a delivery—because it turned out that the outer bell did work, but only if you pushed it in the right spot.
So Paul took the outer doorbell apart—and discovered that its wires ran from the inner doorbell. These people didn’t actually add a new doorbell—they basically added an extension to the old one. Wacky. So then we had to get the original doorbell open and get to its wiring. Turns out the original wires are fine—but the newer wires running from there to the extension were falling apart. The house is like that all over, by the way—things added later are in bad shape, but the original materials are still strong.
Paul replaced those second wires, and now we have two working doorbells. You might wonder why he didn’t just remove the inner one. I told him not to. First off, the wires wouldn’t actually reach from inside to the outer doorbell. Second, removing it would leave an odd hole in the frame of the storm door. And third, I think having that inner doorbell is amusing. And hey, it’s my house, I might as well get some amusement while I can.
Now we had working doorbells, a nice set of them, and started looking at the outlets. Paul and I went downstairs to check out the breakers, and discovered that they’re all neatly labeled—things like “kitchen,” “kitchen refrigerator,” “second floor,” and so on. Which makes it easy. We flipped the “first floor” breaker, and the living room lights went out. Perfect. Except that when Paul started unscrewing one of the living room outlets, it sparked.
Then we flipped a different breaker, and the living room outlets went out. So did the dining room light. And the family room light—yes, the one in the basement. But not its outlet, or the ones in the living room.
Yes, apparently my house is wired like a jigsaw puzzle, with randomly shaped pieces on each breaker. Charming. We’ve relabeled them—the ones we could figure out—and they now say things like “living room outlets, dining room light, family room light” and “Kitchen outlets, one dining room outlet.” That last part is because the dining room must be some sort of nexus—it’s got three outlets, and each of them is on a different breaker.
Oh, but the second floor is easy. As far as we can tell, it’s all on one breaker. All three rooms, plus bathroom, plus hallway light. When Adara becomes a teenager we’re going to have to budget her hair-dryer hours or she’ll short everything out on a daily basis.


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