Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Things aren't always as they seem...

A few nights ago, the lights flickered kind of strangely. It was enough that both Karey and I noticed it, but everything seemed fine so we ignored it. The next morning, Karey calls me at work and says the refrigerator wasn't working... Hmmm, maybe that's what the light flickering is all about. Compressor motors tend to go out in an inductive blaze of glory...

I have her set up an appointment with the repairman for the next day. I might be able to fix it, so I don't want them coming out that day, and they may be really busy, so it's good to get an appointment set up as soon as possible... Later on Karey calls back about something unrelated and I have the bright idea to ask her if anything else isn't working. She tries the toaster... no joy... Hmmmm. try plugging it in somewhere else... Bingo works great! Ok, so the fridge isn't broken, it's a power issue. I have her check the breakers, but everything seems in order. She cancels the appointment and I wish upon a star that it's just a bad breaker, and not some mysterious break in the wall.

I get home and confirm that every outlet in that string is dead. I further confirm that none of the breakers are tripped. Hmmmm, weird... During our remodel I was careful to do all of my electrical work up to code. I am now very glad I did because all of the splices are accessible through wall plates with plenty of spare wire, etc. I test all of the wires and everything is working. I am pretty certain I did not touch the wires in the dead string during the remodel, but it helps to confirm that everything behind the plates is unaffected by this... anomaly...

I mentally trace where the wire would probably be and realize that the most likely route to the panel is a trip underneath the house. That means I have to get into the crawlspace... I hate that place... I move 64 tons of crap out of the closet to get access to the crawlspace and finally get the "portal to hell" open. The usual musty smell floods in while I get the light turned on (I always feel like the bogeyman is going to grab my hand while I'm grasping in the dark for that infernal light switch puller string).

I peer inside and am immediately shocked by what appears to be pools of blood and spatter! Holy %^&* what the ^&*$ happened! My first thought was to wonder who the heck you call when you see something like this. It wasn't a huge amount of stuff, so I figured it was a rodent of some sort that bit into the wrong wire and learned a very shocking lesson. It then hit me that I didn't notice the usual rotting flesh smell when something dies. Odd, maybe it crawled off.. I also thought it was weird to see spatter, I didn't think animals did that when they were electrocuted...

I was too chicken-$%&^ to actually go in there just yet, so I got a stick and poked around the heating duct that crossed in front of the "crime scene" to see if I could find more clues. Despite my best efforts, I couldn't see any dead body or anything. Could something else have gotten in there and carried it off?????

I finally got the nerve to go in there and take a closer look...

I slowly creep over to the puddles and survey the scene. There's definitely nothing dead (or .... yuck ... dying) that I can see so far. There's also more spatter than I could originally see from the entry. I poke around a bit more and notice a dark red stain permeating the insulation above the spatter. Yuck! Maybe whatever it is, is in the insulation somewhere.... I guess that makes sense since the wire runs above the insulation. I poke at the insulation (from a distance) and nothing falls out, but I do notice the stain travels up... to... the... floorboards... above...

And then it hits me...

Remember that bottle of wine we broke a month ago.... I bend down and smell the puddle very carefully, and confirm that it's got a rather pleasant boquet to it... a rather *CABERNET*-ish smell, mixed with 30 years of musty dirt...

One mystery solved... but the power still wasn't working...

I traced the wire underneath the house and it was very much intact and unadulterated. I decide to call it a night and sleep on it...

Next morning I noticed the heater air circulator (we keep it running year round to filter the air in the house) wasn't running. Ah ha! A clue! After getting home from work, I go to take a look at it and also notice that the automatic litter box has been falling down on the job. Wait a mintue... the power light is off! Ah ha! Another clue!

At this point, I'm considering that a surge hit the house and took out a few of our geriatric circuit breakers. It wouldn't be the first time something like that ever happened. Since my circuit breaker box labeling hasn't been up to date for nearly 20 years, I need some help tracing which wires go to which circuit... I purchase some trace tools from Home Depot and promptly discover that you need an energized circuit to get them to work. *GRUMBLE*...

I'm prepared to use my pulse generator and reciever that I use for LVW (Low Voltage Wiring) tracing since the circuit is clearly not energized. Before I do that, I pull the panel cover and use my passive electrical detection pen "thingy" to see if I can identify a dead breaker. You can also test a breaker with a multimeter by checking for an AC potential between the wire screwed into the breaker and the ground. I just happened to have the pen handier than the multimeter in this case...

As I'm testing the wires, they all seem to work. Hmmmm, not good, that means there's probably a break buried somewhere in the wall. *GRUMBLE*...

I set my pen down on the generator hookup switch box to think about my next course of action when my eyes drift down to the switches on the front of the switch box...

Hmmm, two switches aren't lined up with the rest of the... *HEAD SLAP*

Two switches accidentally got bumped to the "generator" setting, which cuts off the main panel supply to prevent grid backflow... I check with Karey and she confirms that it was probably her when she was grabbing the stroller to take her infant nephew for a walk...

Mystery solved...

No broken appliances... No electrical surge... No bloody horror show... No broken wires... No bad circuit breakers... A few new tools and a good test of the generator hookup switchbox...

Not bad for two day's work...

1 comment:

ydna said...

Ha ha! That was a good one. Oh, the joys of home ownership.