Ramblings from the Gryphon Rose

Monday, June 12, 2006

Another Wiring Nightmare While Wide Awake

My goals this weekend were simple: replace the doorbell, replace the light switches in the foyer, hang a few pictures, hang the mirror in the laundry room, and do a little writing.

No problem, right?

Yeah, not so much.

Hanging the pictures was fine. The mirror was more of a pain, since the wall down there is crumbling cinderblock, but I did finally manage to drill some holes that didn’t collapse in on themselves immediately afterward.

The doorbell was a problem and for once I can’t really blame the previous owners. When my friend Paul and I rewired it a while back, we used decent wires, sturdier than you might normally find on such things. That proved to be a mistake. The wires were too thick to fit on the doorbell leads easily and too sturdy to bend easily, which meant I couldn’t push them back inside the wall without having the ends pop off the leads. And the new doorbell was a flush-mount style, so the mechanism had to fit inside the wall—and the hole there wasn’t large enough to accommodate it. Eventually we gave up and did an end-run around it, since my lovely wife has never liked our existing doorbell anyway (and the bell for it is inside a kitchen cabinet, which is ridiculous). We bought a new wireless doorbell, which is much louder and was easier to install (though I did have a few moments of swearing when I drilled into the wall to hang the chime itself).

But this past weekend’s problem child was the foyer. Oh my yes.

We had two switches in the foyer, side by side. Or rather, one switch and one dial. The switch worked the dim overhead light in the foyer. The dial was a timer control for the porch light. We had removed the switchplate back when we painted, before moving in (yes, over eighteen months ago now—how times flies!) and had never replaced it (because they’d carved it to make room for the dial, and it didn’t really fit properly). Which meant that every time we turned on the foyer light we could see the sparks jump from the switch. Not good.

So I bought two new switches and a new switch plate. I’d done light switches before, so this should be no big deal. Right?

I removed the old switches and found four wires. Good, that’s how many there should be. Except that two of them were taped together. And when I removed the crumbling tape I found they were actually twisted together in the middle.


So I untwisted them and, suspecting what would happen next, hooked each to its respective switch.

One switch worked. The other? Nothing.

I reversed those two wires.

And again one switch worked. The other one.

Which meant one wire was live and the other not. They’d crossed them to basically split the wire. And I wasn’t all that thrilled about crossing them back again.

It was getting dark and I wasn’t sure what to do about the wires so I figured I’d leave it until Sunday. Which is when I found the next fun bit of information. Because we went to turn on the living room light—and nothing happened.

They’d apparently drawn the power for those two switches from the living room somehow. And without crossing those two wires we didn’t have power in the living room anymore.

Sunday I went to HomeDepot and asked the guys there what to do. The answer? “No, we don’t have a connector for something like that. Just use electrical tape.”

Oh joy.

That’s what I did, though. Shortened all four wires to remove any excess, wrapped each wire separately with tape, re-wound those two wires, wrapped the juncture with more tape, connected both switches, turned on the breaker.

Yep, they all worked now. All three lights: porch, foyer, living room.

And the foyer light is at least three times brighter than it was. Apparently that connection hadn’t been tight, which is why it was dim and why it always sparked. Now at least it’s secure, and securely taped.

But it took me most of the weekend to accomplish that, which I thought would be a half-hour job.

Not surprisingly, that was most of my weekend. I did manage to get in some writing, and to do most of my other self-appointed tasks, though I still haven’t hung sconces in the dining room. And slowly, piece-by-piece, I’m uncovering the idiots’ legacies throughout the house. And fixing them.

Or at least smothering them in electrical tape.


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