Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Wonderful World of Electricity...
...and old homes.

Well, we (Mark and I) survived our sojourn into the world of electricity today. After helping to wire the Aerie and doing the basement outlets and lights by myself, I must be getting more comfortable working with the juice.

We did make a discovery that made us wonder why the Bolt Hole hasn't burned to the ground long ago, however. Seems that there are 25 AMP circuit breakers in the box when there should be 15s and certainly nothing stronger than a 20. This explains why the outlet box, the extension cord and the router plugged into it fried without tripping the breaker. Weakest link and all that.

The refrigerator was plugged into a circuit that had three other outlets (one used occasionally for the coffee maker and/or the toaster oven) and an outdoor light running through it, while a separate circuit in the living room had just one outlet. Both had 25 AMP breakers and were wired with the old tarred canvas wire from ancient days. We pulled that wire out, replaced the two breakers with 20 AMP spares Mark had laying around, rewired both circuits with 12-2 grounded wire, set it up so the fridge had the solo receptacle...and lived to tell the tale. Took us a little longer than I thought it should, but, then again, working on old construction is never as easy as working with new.

There are still two 25 AMP breakers in the basement and two more in the garage that we'll have to swap out. Plus there's still some of the deteriorating coated canvas wire in the basement that we'll replace with more 12-2 and some wiring in the garage that looks to be 14-2 that should be 12 that needs to be done.

I remember watching This Old House with Bob and Norm and the frequent comments about how you never know what you'll find when you open up the walls of an old house. Now I know exactly what they meant. The core of the Bolt Hole was built around 1900. The wiring was an afterthought...probably soon after they ran wires out to the end of the road. (Prior to that they were using gas generated on sight to light the house. The remnants of that process are to be found in the side yard. Coal and, maybe, wood was burned to heat the place. I still use wood, but my gas of choice is bottled propane. (For the life of me I can not remember the type of gas that was often generated at remote locations fr use in gas lamps and even stove. I remember reading about it once and it was made by mixing some chemical--or maybe coal dust--with water. Happened, as I said, in remote areas in the late 1800s early 1900s before electrification.) (Of course, it's possible that the apparatus is from the 1920s and was used to process the apples in the extensive orchard that was here into a more...ahem...palatable and profitable potion.)

The thing that gets me about those 25 AMP breakers--which wouldn't tip unless every out let on the 110 volt circuit melted first--is that the master circuit board was done about 15 years ago by the guy who installed the wiring for my old well. He had taken a look at the old board, one using the old screw-in buss fuses, and asked--with a bit of a quiver in his voice--if I wanted to have it upgraded. Said he could do it with what he had on his truck. I said sure, since you're here anyway.... No building inspector of course, and I knew enough about electricity at the time to leave it the hell alone. If it's not broke, don't fix it, was my motto. Never thought about it until now.


Tomorrow I become a short distance hauler again...bringing the cut firewood out of the forest. After I cut myself a road into the woods.


Rev. Paul said...

I've gotten into similar electrical situations from time to time, and can only say "well done- you did it & survived."

joated said...

I said I'm getting more comfortable working with juice. I just hope I never get so comfortable a to get sloppy. It only takes one mistake.... ;-)