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Thursday · July 01 2004

I'm far behind on everything right now, so measure your expectations. I have spent the last 2 and half days with no electricity save 3 outlets and a light in the hall bathroom. One of those outlets powers our refrigerator, a fact I would thank God for except I'd rather save my thanks to the Almighty when he's rescuing more than 2 packages of stale sausage rolls, a tin of hummus, and ketchup. You have to earn my gratitude.

I took the day off yesterday to help my dad rewire the back half of our home. A fly on the wall may have gotten the impression I took a day off to watch my dad say, “Look at this fucking shit!” in between smoke breaks and morphing into a tornado capable of fishing and splicing wires at 200mph. You don't get in my father's way when he's working. He needs to think, goddammit.

We had over 200 volts running through both bedrooms and the back section of our place. For the electrically green in the audience, this is a BAD thing. Normal voltage in our home, and most likely yours if you live in the U.S., is 120V. 200V doesn't play nice with home electronics — as you'll see in a minute. But 200V power surge, no problem right? That's why we have circuit breakers and buy surge protectors? Yes, but those devices make one major assumption: a high-functioning gibbon was not sub-contracted to wire the place.

Stacy and I made that assumption, as most homeowners do, and paid the price. We're lucky a fire didn't start based on the amount of electronics damaged in our home. My dad has been an electrician for 37 years and he has never said, “Look at this fucking shit,” so many times on one job. Behind our walls, an accident was waiting to happen.

The neutral wire connected to the two circuits in the back half of the house was not grounded. It never went back to the breaker panel. Extra power had nowhere to dissipate. Surge protectors are designed to offload extra power to the neutral wire where it returns to ground. This is groovy if your neutral wire is grounded, but groovy did not remodel our home. Non-union, money-saving Stupid did.

We didn't find what the problem was for several hours. We already had dozens of wires poking out of every wall switch, so we did the only sane thing: rip it all out and start over.

The remnants of the old wiring in our house

My dad worked nonstop from 7am to 4:30pm. I watched, shut up, and learned what I could along the way. I can properly trim an outlet, replace a wall switch, and change a light fixture now. Slowly.

The unofficial final damage toll of fried electronics and replaced electrical equipment:

  • Dell computer (may just be a blown power supply and not a toasted motherboard, which would be worthy of thanks to the Almighty)
  • 2 televisions
  • VCR
  • cordless phone
  • answering maching
  • wireless Slimp3 player
  • alarm clock
  • Denon receiver
  • wireless router/access point
  • Harman Kardon computer speakers
  • smoke detector
  • 3 circuit breakers
  • 4 wall switches
  • 6 light bulbs
  • several hundred feet of copper wire

Homeowner's insurance is going to cover replacement costs, but the pain in the ass factor is already high. The only item that money won't be able to replace is the media hard drive on the computer, but I haven't checked into the PC yet to see how bad the damage is. If it's just a power supply, that'd be the best news.

More later; I have lots to catch up on.

What you had to say:
July 01 2004

Oh god J that suks! do you have any grounds to sue? or would it even be worth it?

July 01 2004

I don't think there's anyone to sue. The place was remodeled 5 years before we moved in. As long as we can recoup replacement costs and some amount for repair costs from homeowner's insurance, I'll be satisfied. I don't think there's anything beyond those damages to sue for anyway.

July 01 2004

Dang. What a day you had! Reminds me of the bouts we had with electricity a few months ago, none of which were fun or even slightly enjoyable, but yours sound much worse, so... I wouldn't want to trade places with you. Good luck getting it all cleaned up!

July 01 2004

eeee. well i'm glad everything's covered anyway!

July 01 2004

Wow, wow, wow.
So you are truly back up and running now? Sounds like a nightmare.

July 01 2004

Yes, we have power now. However, we don't have a whole lot left to plug in.

This, I have learned, is not a bad thing. More on that later.

July 01 2004

One good thing about power is you can dry your hair. And read. However, I did enjoy the peaceful quiet.

July 01 2004

I am so sorry for all your trouble. But, the interaction between you and your dad makes for a really good story. My dad was an auto mechanic. I can relate.

July 01 2004

Thanks, Marie. I could easily write a book of short stories devoted entirely to the history of interactions between me and my dad.

July 01 2004

just looking at that picture makes my brain hurt.

July 02 2004

I'm glad insurance has you covered, but still, holy shit. Ugh.

Is there any way to check for something like non-existent grounding without tearing things to shreds first? I am definitely electrically green.

July 02 2004

We never discovered the smoking gun that we definitively know caused the problem. I was speculating based on everything I saw, what my dad told me, and what I've read online. My dad has been talking to his electrician buddies in hope that someone has a better idea based on his description of the symptoms we saw. He's been doing this a long time and his best explanation was: "It's just really weird, Jas."

July 04 2004

Well, you could DEFINTELY sue the developer. As it was only five years ago, you are well within the acceptable window (13 years - i think - ask Rotter). This is actually a perfect reason to sue the developer - if he is still in business. Of course, homeowner's insurance is certainly the easier route, but it almost makes you mad enough to do it.

If you were mad enough, here is my top five ideas for retribution:


1. You could have your Dad give you an invoice for $3,000 or $4,000 and sue them for the cost to repair the problem. Again, probably not worth your time, but it would be fun. You might want to bring this up to the association, because they may all need to do similar rework.

2. You could also talk to the building department and file a complaint against the developer. Before you do this, you might want to talk to your association, because they may want to inspect the development.

3. Find out what the developer is selling now, and go to their open house and distribute a leaflet describing your travails.

4. Call the local electrical workers union and report that this developer is not using union electricians. Make sure to tell them where the developer's latest project is.

5. Collect the cat shit out of your litter box. Find the developer's office or home. Smear the poop on all of their door handles.

July 05 2004

It was 8 years ago that the place was redone. All of these options (and they are all mighty good ones) require that I can identify who the developer is, which I have to investigate. I'll talk to you on the phone; there's a couple other reasons why I don't think a lawsuit is worth it here.

July 07 2004

The answer for suing is: it depends. That's always the good law school answer. However, from what I understand, it's really tough to sue after purchase unless you have specific/special warranties that guarantee these things provided in your contract. Most of the time it's caveat emptor.
And if you purchased from the previous owner (not the builder/developer), the developer warranties won't usually be good for you, the subsequent purchaser.
Let me know if anyone knows/hears differently, but that's my basic understanding. And that's not legal advice, just my opinion (hey, I have to protect myself, don't I?)

© 2004 Jason Keglovitz