Archive | October, 2007

By the Skin of My Teeth

October 24, 2007

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Did you know that the phrase “by the skin of my teeth” comes from the Bible book of Job?

Just an interesting fact.

I’ve slowed down my renovations to a mere crawl these days. We are just too busy with school and fall/winter preparations right now. It has been…uh, interesting, using the fixtures on electrical system I installed. Nothing goes wrong, it is just me. I still remain jumpy when a light bulb goes out (oh no! did I wire it wrong?) or an appliance malfunctions (oh no! will it explode into a fireball?), but everything is really working as it should (no sparks, no flames, etc). So far.

Uncannily, we had a power surge during a horrific thunderstorm a few weeks ago. PEOPLE, BUY A SURGE PROTECTOR FOR YOUR COMPUTERS! During the storm, we heard this eerie, cackling zap throughout the house. Right after that, my daughter called me to the computers (which were on during the storm) as they mysteriously rebooted themselves and started spewing screwy BIOS information. Gulp. I shut off the power to the computers, restarted them, and, thank God, they seem to have recovered. I shudder to think of what might have happened had I no surge protectors. The rest of the electrical system here seemed OK (except for the digital timer on my coffeepot, which flashed Chinese numerals until I reset it). But it was a fright, to be sure. I also wonder if part of the problem was that the computers had not been plugged in to a grounded outlet area (the part of the house with the very old wiring). The next day we moved the computers to the part of the house that I had redone with proper, grounded wiring.

Other good news is that we finally got the thermostat for the furnace installed! On October 22nd (Monday)! Believe me, waiting that long to finalize the heating system in Upstate NY is risky. But the weather has been incredibly balmy in Upstate all month. No frost yet! Our frost date is usually about September 25th or so. I expect the weather to change at any time, however.

The problem with the thermostat was that… well, let me go back a little. Earlier in the summer I had removed it along with everything else when I gutted the Living Room. The thermostat wire had been plastered into the wall at some point when that part of the wall had been patched long ago. Needless to say I had to pry the very old and decrepit wire out of ancient, hardened joint compound, and the thermostat wasn’t too happy to move, either.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take a close look at how the thermostat was installed before I removed it. Oops.

So months flew by as we demolished, hacked, electrified, insulated, hammered, nailed, painted the room etc. Now I will say that I did have enough foresight in getting the proper wiring, placing it inside the wall, etc. Everything was set to install the thermostat until when it actually came time to do so. I just couldn’t figure out where to put the wires and where to place the screws. I didn’t remember how it looked when I had removed the thermostat….

I searched the internet for instructions and the most detailed I could find said, “For wiring instructions, see your installer.” Sigh. I have a great Furnace Guy, but this is peak season for him and not only was he hard to reach (I’d tried calling him a dozen times for advice but he was crazily busy) but I didn’t want to pay for a service call. My husband decided to tackle the thing. He studied the thermostat for a while and tried screwing in a few wires. I, in the basement, flipped the switch to see how it would go. Nothing. My husband tried moving some wires around, try that. Nothing. We were baffled. I was going to have to petition my Furnace Guy. Winter was coming and this fluky warm weather wouldn’t wait for us.

After two weeks of phone tag, my FG popped by. He took a long look at the thermostat and my husband’s wiring job. He scratched his head and asked, “And it doesn’t work?” He wondered if something was wrong with our furnace– that $4,000 furnace we got last year– brand new– after the flood–and whose warranty had just expired a week ago– that furnace. Gulp.

We double-checked everything: the circuit breaker (even though I had never removed the furnace circuit when I’d done the panel work), the wires, the junction boxes, the connections… time was ebbing away and my FG had to go soon. He tested the furnace’s electrical panel (with some very cool voltmeters!) when he suddenly said “aha!” He pulled out this tiny purple thing from the panel and tested it. It was the fuse to the furnace. Remember that power surge we’d had? It had blown out the fuse to the furnace. My FG said fuses are a great safety feature, because that tiny fuse absorbs excess electricity should any flow. If anything were to get by that fuse and zap the electrical panel, it would cost hundreds of dollars to replace. So that tiny little purple thing saved my new furnace. Neat.


The FG had an extra fuse on hand, he plugged it in the little slot, and voila! The furnace kicked in and started running! Not only was I thrilled that the thermostat finally worked, I was thrilled that my wiring work over the summer and my husband’s installation of the thermostat worked! Wow was I happy!

To put the icing on the cake, my FG said there was no charge for the service, not even for the cost of the fuse. What a guy! I paid him with a big bag of garden tomatoes and that seemed to make him happier than if I’d written a check.

Well, now we are really ready for winter. And given the weather forecast for the week, we did by the skin of our teeth.

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