Sparkin in the Dark

Progress continues apace in the living room, so much so that I have had my wiring hat on for the last couple of days. Not really wearing a hat, just toting around my wiring bag, pulling 12-2 wire through walls and applying wire nuts, that sort of thing. Wiring-BagNotice also, I said wiring bag, not electrician bag. I am not an electrician, just a dude comfortable with the magic pixies that run through cooper wire, and have learned enough to handle all house and shop wiring up to circuit box. I’ll draw the line at any thing over 220 volts, and will let the real electricians handle the scary stuff.

I took an interest in wiring when we lived in Missouri. We lived in a 1910 four-square that was in bad need of help, in all areas. When we had a new 100 amp service installed in the house, the guys that did it said I could save a bag full of money if I could do the inside stuff myself. Since we were not what you’d call flush with funds at the time, nodded my head to them and said sure, I could do that. Next thing you know, we were at Lowes, buying all the odds and ends a guy needs to wire the inside of his house. And right after that, hitting the internet for any and all information on house wiring. This was still during the heady early days of modern internet. Lots of “don’t do this, you will die, but you can watch me do it” type stuff. That and one book on basic house wiring, and I was good to go.

Since then, I have not shied away from anything electricity wise. Never been bit, seen a few sparks though, just good clean fun for the most part. Which brings us to our current project. This house got electricity around 1950. Late, even for rural Kansas, but that happens sometimes. The happy part is the house missed all the post and tube wiring of way past. What got installed was good old 2 wire, no ground on anything with heavy canvas/mystery stuff insulation. For the most part it was a stand up job. The unhappy part was the fuse box was installed on the living room wall and it got added to sometime after the original install and those guys did some crazy stuff. When we bought the place, I had a pro come in and give me new 100 amp service and he put the circuit box in the mud room, where it belonged. It meant he had to drill though 36 inches of stone wall, but that’s pretty much why I hired him. Get the box in the house, and I’ll take it from there.

I got done, what I will call version one, of the house wiring finished in the first month. That was 2006.  Added a few outlets and things in 2007 and that left only a few 1950s wires remaining in the upstairs. Everything I had put in was 12 gauge and 20 amp. It was clear, from further educating myself, that version one wiring would have to be changed quite a bit if we ever were going to sell the place. From there, we let sleeping dogs lie, or pixies if you prefer.

Sometime in 2012, the Mrs got a bug in her panties about moving back home. Most of our family still lives in Minnesota, where we grew up. We were both becoming disenchanted with our jobs and knew that at some point, the gypsy wagon would get loaded one more time and headed North. Now that the decision had been made, and knowing that a whole lot of work would have to be done to the place, I built a count down timer on our website’s home page and that was pretty much it. I had had a few back problems and one epic black widow (we think) spider bite that kept me preoccupied and delayed me from doing too much reconstruction, and the count down on the web page kept counting down. I am good under pressure, normally, and thought, it’s cool, I got this.

What I did not reckon on, in all my planning and scheming, is my age had been quietly creeping up on me. All that stuff I could easily do, back in 2006, was now kind of a pain to accomplish. When taking a frank look at the amount of work left to do, I was rather shocked that decrepitude was not factored into any of my estimations on how fast this or that could be done.

Clearly, somebody needed to be sacked, at least, for this kind of omission. I looked around for a more worthy successor, somebody comfortable with the idea of entropy. Somebody who could estimate, like I used to be able to do, how long it would take to do things and know that geezers will put a gnat in your brandy, so to speak, so plan on everything taking lots longer. The Mrs listened to all this malarkey and told me I was not ducking out of this, so put a sock in it, and get to work.

Alright then. The first problem encountered, in this brave new world, was getting into the attic. There were 2 openings, one in the bathroom of the stone side of the house and one in the large bedroom in the wood side. They are both 14 by 15 inches large and with a 4 foot step ladder, I used to get to the top step, wiggleChevy-in-Attic my shoulders through the hole, put my hands on sides of the opening and boost myself into the attic. No problem in 2006. 2015, with a separated shoulder and a crabby lower back, not an optimum entry vector. Houston, we have a problem. Solved, somewhat, by a 6 foot step ladder. Then, moving around in a dark, hot place and don’t put any weight on the plaster and lath part of the ceiling, It seems that I now have a Chevy Suburban sized wheel base. It’s like trying to parallel park in an area sized for something a lot smaller. Not as nimble as I once was, it seems. Be that as it may, I carefully parked my big Chevy in the attic and went to work.

Since the living room was just bones, the plans was to re-wire the room from scratch. The wiring of the outlets and switches in the room took a half a day. The attic portion need a bit more time, and light. I had been working with a small flash light and once all the incoming wires were sorted out, I thought, yelled to the Mrs to kill breakers 5 and 4. I had used 2 breakers in version one wiring, due to some creative thinking, but that was getting cleaned up with a very elegant one wire for outlets and one for lights into to breaker 5. As I was parked up there, working away, my flashlight would periodically decide to take a break from lighting and go dark for a bit. Now, I’m no Helen Keller, but I can do some good work in the dark, and would finish what I was doing by braille and then cuff the light back into working order.

When I got to the incoming power for this junction box, had my wire stripper out and was just about to chomp down on the black wire to strip it, the flashlight took another union break. Fine, just went ahead and squeezed the stripper and heard a pop and saw a very pretty blue arc on the metal of my stripper. If the flashlight had been on, I would have seen the magic pixies as they raced free of their enclosures, but the light was not on, so I just imagined it. Still was a bit surprised by the arc; didn’t get nipped though. Safety first, always keep your booger sticks on the insulated handle of your tools. While still blinking away the arc flash when my flash light decided it had better quietly come back to work. I was so deep in thought trying to figure out what went South and did not remember to smack it.

Turns out what some moron had labeled, back in 2006 as breaker 5 was actually breaker 11 and that was one of those that was still live. Oops. A few sparks in the dark and nobody has to know I screwed up in 2006 and it waited until 2015 to let me know about it. Well, you don’t learn nothing without screwing up now and then. Got that all sorted out and went down stairs, into the living room, paused a moment and flipped a light switch. And there was light. Yah! Knew there would be, but it’s nice when it works like you planned.

Light