Monday, January 14, 2008

Making the Right Connections

When I retired to bed last night (ok, early this morning), I noticed that the lamp in my bedroom wouldn't turn on. Nor would the space heater. And the clock radio was dark. And the phone display was blank.

In short, all my bedroom outlets were kaput.

I could not figure this out. How could an electrical overload in my basement affect the outlets in my second floor bedroom?

Well, it was too late to work it out now. I'd see what the electrician would say on the morrow.

This morning, I was happy to find that the furnace had been working all night-- no frozen delight in the toilet bowl! But there was water ponding across the basement floor-- courtesy of the non-functioning condensation pump.

That was not unexpected. What I didn't understand is why the first floor phone, which is plugged into an outlet in my living room, was getting no power. And the lamp that shares that recepticle wasn't working, either.

Huh? Did last night's electrical fry extend that much influence over the house's whole system?

Or could it be that-- oh, no, not again! I thought I'd solved all that two or three years ago!

"All that" refers to the circus that was POs'-1 idea of upgrading the electrical system in this house. Yes, they used code-approved wiring and connectors, but they joined and over-joined outlets, switches, and appliances all over the house on single circuits. For instance, all the kitchen appliances and the back porch lights were on one circuit and my POs had to have someone out to untangle it: I've got the invoice in my house file as testimony. Shortly after I moved in, I discovered (thanks to an overload), that just one circuit was carrying the 3rd floor outlets, an outlet in the guest bedroom, the outlets, microwave, and dishwasher in the kitchen, and the outlet in the basement bath.

I got an electrician in to rectify that. But now are you telling me that the basement lights, my bedroom outlets, and the living room outlets are all on one circuit, too? Is anybody really sure where anything from my panel box really goes?

Well. When the electrican sent by the home warranty company made his appearance around 1:30 PM, that's exactly what he did tell me. Not only that, but he showed me that my workshop and main basement lights are on the same circuit, too!

No idea how I managed to trip the circuit last night, but that's all it was-- I simply hadn't shoved the circuit breaker far enough over to turn it all the way off, then back on again.

And as for the initial outage-- that was due to a loose connection in-- well, let's just say the only source of power in my workshop is a screw-in recepticle in the pull-chain ceiling fixture, with the bulb screwed into that. From thence, an extension cord or two snakes down to a power strip, into which I'd plugged my worklight, my radio, and a heatgun drawing maybe 2500 watts. The electrician tested the power draw, and it was about to the limit. He theorizes that the furnace condensation pump must have kicked in, and with the tenuous connection in the light fixture recepticle, it was too much.

So when it came down to it, nothing really was broken. That doesn't mean, though, that nothing needs fixed. That light-fixture recepticle arrangement gives me the willies, especially after last night.

So I asked the electrician how much he'd charge for a surface-mounted duplex outlet in the workshop and two in the main basement room. He suggested they all be on the same circuit, 20 amp rating. Should be enough for the power tools, work lights, and all.

He named what sounds like a reasonable price. But my regular electrician is coming by tomorrow night to look at things and give me a second bid.

Whomever I decide to use, if I'm to keep using the heat gun to tackle the woodwork stripping, I need a power source that can take it. I have a lot of items on my electrical improvements wish list, but the basement outlets have just moved up to No. 1.

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