Electrical Wiring Can Be Hazardous
Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on May 14, 2012
It’s been a hectic week at the Cohen household. The fun all started when I was preheating my oven. I heard two or three popping noises in quick succession and then the stove went off. It had tripped the circuit breaker. As I had done when this happened a couple of times before, I switched the circuit breaker back on and put the oven to a lower temperature. My critique group was coming over and I had to bake our meal. However, this time I called the appliance repairman. Something was definitely wrong. Previously, I had called the electrician who did our kitchen renovation but he said it didn’t sound like an electrical problem.
Later that afternoon, the appliance guy comes. He tests the range and says it’s working fine. Now, the entire range is shoved out into the kitchen but is still plugged in. He puts the circuit breaker back on, which he’d turned off while he ran various tests, and I tried to recreate the problem by putting on the oven and a burner. Pop! Pop!
“Fire!” he yells. “Cut the power!” He grabs a glass of water and tosses the liquid into the electrical box in the wall. He’d seen the wiring arc in an actual flame. We retrieve our fire extinguisher from the adjacent laundry room and he sprays inside the hole. Whew. One disaster averted, but I’m still nervous about the house catching on fire if the flames got up inside the wall and reached the roof.
He suggests we call an electrician. Someone (i.e. like our kitchen renovators or the range installer) had spliced aluminum wiring with copper wiring in the wall. “That’s a fire waiting to happen,” the savvy appliance man said. The aluminum has to be replaced with copper.
I call my former electrician, who had worked on the kitchen. He answers the phone himself and sounds reluctant to respond. Says he’ll come over tomorrow. We go to sleep, reassured that we’d recently put in new smoke alarms. I kept my purse and iPad handy in case I had to dash out the door in the middle of the night.
After not hearing from the electrician the next morning, we look in the Yellow Pages and pick out an electrical service that sounds decent and is on the BBB site. They give free estimates. The foreman comes over and gives us the bad news. Not only do we need to replace the wiring behind the stove, but the a/c units are also running aluminum wires from outdoors to the circuit breaker box. Those wires have to be changed. But wait, our house isn’t grounded because of the screwy way someone put the wiring in the panel. Oh, this and that are loose and the whole thing isn’t up to code, not to mention being hazardous. So for $4400, we got an entire new circuit breaker panel and copper wiring the next day.
Another problem came to light. The panel had to be moved, because the a/c people had put their indoor unit partially over the panel cover. That was another no-no. But the panel can’t be moved over sideways because the wires come through fixed pipes. The only option is to cut a new hole into our breakfast room portion of the kitchen and put it there, then patch up the hole.
Next on the list is a painter. And a big picture to cover up the ugly gray panel door facing the kitchen. We still have to wait for the city inspector as we did get a permit (for an extra cost).
Oh, and we had to get our fire extinguisher recharged, so that was another expense.
Haven’t you heard that expression, “When it rains, it pours.” That applies to house repairs.
Our kids came home for Mother’s Day weekend, so I could relax a bit with them, if you call dining out and shopping relaxing. Buying them clothes put a further dent in our budget. Now they’ve left, the house has quieted, and I’m hoping I can get back to writing one of these days.
Don’t you love house repairs?
The moral of the story is: Don’t mess around when it comes to electricity. Get a qualified electrician to evaluate your house’s wiring. And get a permit when required by city ordinances.