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I Can’t Figure It Out

September 13, 2007

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The electricity in this house continues to drive me crazy! I just can’t figure it out.

Half the electricity in the house is still out. I have been very slowly redoing what I can. But we still have only a cobbed-together kitchen light with two outlets. We are still without lights in the Front Entry, the Dining Room, the Laundry Room, the Breakfast Room, the upstairs Hallway, the upstairs Bathroom, and one of the bedrooms that we call the “Spare Oom.” So far, the only new circuitry I have put in are the Living Room, the girls’ Bedroom, the Master Bedroom, and the boys’ bedroom.

For the sake of brevity, I shall quickly explain my goal: in order to get lights for our Dining Room, I have to do the Front Entry first. And in order to do the Front Entry, I have to do the Upstairs Hallway. The switches I want for these rooms are all near each other, and the holes in the plaster walls are all open to accomodate the new lines.

So, I decide today that I am going to put a switched light in our upstairs Hallway. I remove the old fixture and test the wires (as I always do) to make sure there is absolutely no voltage surging through the wires. I am devastated to discover a mass of tangled wires behind the fixture, and some wires are still live. ??? Wha? I had shut off and removed this circuit a month ago. It should have no voltage!!

I suspect that the original installers used lighting fixtures as extra junction boxes. I am no master of electricity, so I don’t even know if this is possible. But this one fixture has three cables attached to it… I completely disengaged the switches for this Hallway fixture long ago. They were on Circuit #18. This circuit is gone– removed from the service panel! So I open up the fixture and find energy… I try to see where this fixture wiring is getting its energy, and when I shut off Circuit #15– the kitchen light with two outlets–one wire from the fixture wiring goes dead (but the third cable still has power from another place). So… this Hallway light was originally being fed from two or three circuits??? (Circuits #18 and 15 and something else?) Can this be? Or could the switches have been on one circuit and the light fixture on another circuit?

Whatever the case, I have absolutely no control over the old electric in this house, and it makes me terribly jittery. How can I disengage a fixture’s wiring if I don’t know where it is coming from and to where the electricity continues? (we have found junction boxes in the walls and ceilings and this kind of circuitry may be no different). And what if I disengage it anyway only to discover that I have disconnected a connection that makes the meager remainder of the house electrified (as what happened with my mouse-chewed wire)? It seems that the electric in this house is not in “sections” as is standard practice now (a feed cable running from the service panel out to sections of the house), but rather is in a loop (a “feed” wire running through all sorts of places, electrifying anything and everything it goes through, and then back to all sorts of other places in a “neutral” loop. It is crazy and how can I replace this kind of wiring without losing everything beyond it in the looped circuit???

Since I can’t afford to lose the small amount of electricity I have left in the Kitchen, I have chosen to leave everything alone until I can redo the wiring in one big sweep. And that means tearing down ceilings and some walls.


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Why My Electricity Won’t Work

July 31, 2007


I’ve run into some problems with the electricity in our house. Actually, we’ve had numerous problem with the electric here, for years. Only two of the four bedroom lights work. Various outlet receptacles are faulty. We’ve tolerated the situation for years, but I think we will have to do something drastic now. Quickly.

After we tried to replace a mouse-chewed wire, we lost half the electricity to our upstairs, all of our bathroom, 3/4 of the Kitchen, and the Laundry Room lights and outlet. I tried replacing the wire, but the circuit keeps shorting. So I am exploring why. I pulled down the Living Room ceiling today, and discovered a junction box with 100-year old wiring. That is still in use. And it’s in bad shape.

Here’s why our electricity won’t work:

Bad Knob Wiring 1

Here’s a close up of the handywork.

Close Up

More photos of the Living Room ceiling:

Bad Knob Wiring 3

Bad Knob Wiring 2

This is the moment I can either laugh or cry. I can be so very very happy I found this before a fire started. We have a lot of electronics in the house (and growing all the time). It is a miracle the house still stands after all these years.

I could cry because this means that, on top of redoing the Living Room, I have to rewire half the upstairs and the Kitchen, Dining Room, and Laundry Room now. And school and winter is coming. Ohhhh Lord….

Also, they had cut a substantial chunk out of a beam that had been (note the use of the phrase “had been”) supporting the upstairs bedroom flooring. The beam had failed to point of cracking and dropping. I will have to sister the beam to prevent more structural failure.

Of interest is today’s daily devotional by Dr. D. James Kennedy. I have it as my home page. Taking a break from my demolition, feeling a bit panicky about the situation, I took a break to check email. Today’s devotional is so fitting.

Have you ever faced a daunting task, one that looked not even remotely feasible? At times like this, God, who can do the impossible, wants us to have faith in His presence and in His ability to see us through.

…The ancient Israelites serve as an excellent example of what not to do under pressure. Faced with an overwhelming task, they failed to respond in faith.

…When circumstances overwhelm you and the task at hand is daunting, place your full faith in God and trust that He will deliver you into your promised land.

I’ll take this one step at a time, yes I will. For now, I am planning a new circuit map to restore electricity to the house. I think I’d better finish the Living Room first before attacking the Kitchen. The kids will need a station to do their schoolwork, and the Dining Room is pretty cramped now as it is.

One very positive note is that I will be removing that awful drop ceiling from the Kitchen!

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My Ingenious Husband

July 14, 2007

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Remember how I discovered an old stovepipe vent in our chimney? How it had never really been filled in, except with a brick and some joint compound? We had to shut off our hot water tank so no exhaust fumes would come into the house. We had to figure out a temporary cover so we could turn our tank back on.


My ingenious husband (who was in no mood to mortar bricks all evening) came up with a solution: a paint can lid fit perfectly over the vent hole. Seal the lid on with duct tape, and there you go! We hung a carbon monoxide detector closeby, just in case. It has not gone off at all.


Good job, honey!

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Oh. My. Gosh.

July 12, 2007

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Today I was feeling well enough to demolish a little section of plaster and lathe. A small job, right? I took down plaster from a half-wall that has irked me ever since I bought the house: a short, ugly little “wall” that hangs down out of nowhere from the ceiling. It’s only purpose is to support an even uglier drop-ceiling in the kitchen.

Half Wall

There was once a full wall here. Someone chopped it in half and left the upper half hanging. It was really cobbed together. Here’s a close-up of one side. The chimney is behind this section (the white cracked plaster is part of the chimney– someone had pasted joint compound around part of the chimney).

Half Wall Close Up

I always wondered if there were perhaps plumbing pipes installed in this half-wall, or loads of electrical wire…. I am pleased to say the interior is empty. And it is not a load-bearing half-wall, either. So I was so happy! I can get rid of this lousy wall!

But then I found this jaw-dropper:

Stove Pipe Hole

Someone was hiding something beneath the plaster and lathe and 70s paneling. At one time, a stove pipe was vented through the chimney, to vent a woodstove. The people never took out the cast iron fitting when they removed the woodstove. They just slapped a brick over it and slathered joint compound all around it. After a few decades, the compound has weakened. Thus belies the source of our moisture and mildew problem.


The area was home to an enormous mouse nest. An area about 1 foot by 2 feet was filled with frass, fluff, and stuff. And plenty of stinky, fresh mouse droppings. This was obviously an ideal home, since so much heat and moisture leaked out from the chimney here.

I had to shut off our hot water tank, which vents right up through this chimney. We have no hot water until we plug the hole. Thank God we replaced the furnace last year with a new direct model and that no longer vents up the chimney.

We are fed up with the chimney. I think this may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. We are looking into a direct-vent water tank and just may remove this troublesome hole in the house.

“As is.” They sold the house to us “as is.” …. sighhh….

Other bad news. Our property is affected by the Sauquoit Valley Pumping Station. Looks like our taxes are gonna go up through the roof again. I wish those greedy politicians would leave us alone. We have enough to do and pay for.

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Good News, Bad News

June 26, 2007

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Well, the bad news is that we aren’t going to rip apart the whole place all at once. It is just too expensive and too messy for us to handle. Doing the house piece-meal has its drawbacks, but on the good side, we can go at our own pace and avoid debt. So right now we are handling the most crucial of repairs: water damage and mildew growth from a leaky chimney.

We’ve removed the one wall from the Living Room, and part of a wall in the Kitchen. I’d wondered if the chimney was original to the home. We’ve discovered it is not. Bummer. This means that the chimney is of a lower-quality build. The original builder was very careful and thorough with his work. All owners after him were not. This is classic remuddling.

The chimney was built over an existing plaster wall. The plaster wall still has the original wallpaper. I can’t believe they built a chimney on top of a wall with wallpaper! All it took was a little leaking, and the paper rotted. Mildew growth all around the chimney must be removed.

You can see in the above picture the lathe and the plaster. The wallpaper is that brown papery stuff behind the bricks. That blue stuff is paint. After they built the chimney, they smeared joint compound all over the brick, then painted it over. Through the years, they painted it sterile white, then mustard yellow, then pink, then that Eisenhower blue. In the 70s, they smeared paneling glue all over it and stuck fake-wood paneling on top. I could scream in agony.

After days of indecision, we decided not to remove the chimney (yet). It would be a much larger and more expensive undertaking than we are prepared for. I also need my Kitchen and Living Room back soon. We will install an interior chimney liner to vent out hot-water tank vapors. Then we will remove all the plaster and lathe around the chimney, replace the walls with drywall, and paint. I have no idea what I am going to do with the actual chimney, how to cover it. That joint compound is like concrete. I could try scraping off the paneling glue, but that would be weeks of painful work. I sure am open to suggestions.

Here are some close ups of the wallpaper.

Actually, that wallpaper is not even the original wallpaper. There is another layer of wallpaper beneath what you see (it is hard to peel the two apart, but the original looks flecked). I think the layer that you see was put up in the late 1910s or early 1920s, as it has that Art Deco/Art Noveau look.

Even the layers of wallpaper border, at the top of the wall, remained intact.

The good news is I can finally install some electrical outlets since we have the walls open.

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