Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Shocking

Saturday saw another inch or two of snow fall on the House of 42 Doors. We are getting a very proper winter this year, which is not at all what I expected. In an effort to continue my emphasis on productive exercise, I decided to slip outside first thing and shovel the driveway and sidewalk by hand. Good for me and good for the environment.

All of this led to a pleasant and amusing conversation with my neighbor Joe, who happened to be using a snowblower to blow out his driveway. I think the story highlights clearly what sort of things can happen in an old house.

The first owner of our house, William, had several children, including Edward and William, jr. Edward ended up inheriting the House of 42 Doors from his father, but William jr acquired the land next to our house and built a very cute brick house stylistically similar to ours. I'm dying to get inside and see it.

I'm not sure how old that house is, but I'd guess it's from the 20's or 30's. Joe and I got to talking about electrical wiring, since we're almost done with ours. Like our house, they have a brick fireplace in the house and they opted to put in a wood burning fireplace insert. This included putting in a steel liner down the entire length of the chimney to provide air intake and venting. If you are not familiar with these wood inserts, they fit inside of the fireplace opening, are fully enclosed and often have an electric blower to capture the heat and blow it out into the room. They are usually highly efficient, very good at heating a space and generally a good investment.

After installation, Joe went to plug in the blower and as soon as he did so, he heard "Bang!" and he blew a fuse. He reset the fuse, tried again, and same result. After a few false starts with the fireplace installation guys, he finally called an electrician who found the problem.

Sometime in the past, a previous owner installed a bathroom fan in his house. This vented out a steel tube, which fed into the chimney and then out. Not happy with his heating bill, Joe asked a contractor "friend" to blow insulation into his attic. So this friend crawled up into the wooden rafters to blow insulation and saw an somewhat rickety, unsupported steel tube stretching from above the bathroom over to the chimney. Fortunately, there were bare wires in the attic that he was able to use to support the bathroom steel venting tube.

That's right. He used bare wires in the attic and wrapped them around the steel exhaust tube to support it. If you haven't guessed by now, those were live, knob and tube, electrical wires. It's only by the Grace of God and wood rafters that the "friend" wasn't electrocuted on the spot. So, not realizing what he'd done, he insulated the attic and went on his merry way.

As Joe said, they were very lucky. Nothing ever happened to them over the years while changing light bulbs, standing in water, showering, etc. This disaster wasn't found until the metal insert in the fireplace made contact with the metal bathroom venting and then the blower was plugged in. This caused the short, which blew the circuit.

It's a good lesson to learn. You need to watch all contractors carefully. They know their specialty, but that's it. And sometimes "friends", while meaning well, aren't necessarily the best option.

I certainly learned this lesson with our plumber. He did a great job with the plumbing, but that's it. He doesn't know anything about concrete work and next time I'd certainly do a better job of watching his excavator.

3 comments:

nonick said...

Reading this makes me very glad that I got all my wiring replaced shortly after moving in (thanks entirely to my dad, who would NEVER use electrical wiring to hold anything up). Yikes.

Mr. Kluges said...

Yeah, I was pretty amazed at this story. Joe and his family are awfully lucky. It also makes me glad that we got an electrician right away too. I wasn't inclined to update the electrical right away, but insurance forced us to. I think it was a good thing now.

Pusher said...

Holy....

Wow. That's a scary story.