On Monday, Greg, Dennis and I loaded up in the Big Smooth-mobile at around 8:30, planning to stop at Home Depot to grab a couple buckets of "mud"--joint compound--a box of caulk and a box of drywall adhesive. Roger was meeting us at the house, and the main goal for the day was to get moving on the electrical work. We thought this mean tracing the wires to the fuse box and replacing some outlets. How wrong we were.
Shortly after arriving, I realized that I really needed coffee, so I set off for Starbucks. While I was gone a fairly dramatic event occurred that will now be described by a special guest blogger, Greg Cesare:
"I resent being called guest blogger, I mean, how can you be a guest in your own home? Anyhow, way back on day one or two we noticed that some of the main hotwires coming from the basement right up alongside the copper pipes supplying hot water for our baseboard heat. Now, I'm not a plumber or an electrician, but even social workers know that water and electricity don't mix very well. At the time we figured that when the wall was redone the wires and pipes would be separated. When we arrived today, Roger was just starting to ask me how much rewiring we wanted done. He showed how the section of wires along the copper pipe was a fire hazard and as he did, there was a loud gunshot-like sound and a bunch of sparks, followed by water spraying like crazy from the pipe. My dad ran to the basement to turn off the electric and water while Roger grabbed the pipe to stop it from spraying all over the wires, among other things. Meanwhile I ran red Solo cups back and forth to catch the overflow, which would otherwise drip right onto the circuit breakers in the basement (the space was too small for a bucket). Then I took my turn holding my finger over the hole in the pipe while things began to be sorted out. Even though the electric was turned off at that point, I was still certain that my death was imminent. Basically what happened is that a current from one of the wires easily bypassed a shoddy tape job and blew a hole in the copper pipe.
A neat byproduct of the whole event was that the wet carpet now smells like wet dog butt, and the event served as a reminder of the previous owner's penchant for shoddy craftsmanship as well as a disdain for spring cleaning. As the day went on, things were sorted out and our house is much safer now than it was this morning, but let's just say if I was there alone when the incident occurred there would have been more than just water on the floor."
When I got back from my coffee run, things were under control, but as they filled me in on the story, I sensed an unusually grave tone. The message was this: your entire house is a fire hazard. Fixing it is going to take a good amount longer than planned. I gave my permission to do whatever it took--pull up floorboards, spend a small fortune on wire, whatever. Then I let the experts get to work and I worked on my own little project, putting shelf liner in the kitchen cabinets. As I worked, I tried to ignore the philosophical question that kept nagging at me: if beautifully lined cabinets burn up in an electrical fire, does anybody hear them?
Here's what the main floor looked like in the middle of all the electrical work.
We broke for lunch when Barb showed up, our supplier of sandwiches and potato salad. Roger and Dennis didn't stop working, but I was keeping my distance, not wanting to get in the way or be asked to make any more decisions about where I wanted outlets. I don't know! I've never had to decide that before!
After lunch, Barb and I kept busy pulling staples upstairs while the gentlemen worked in the basement. Every half-hour or so I would be called down to wherever they were, showed a particularly rotted and frayed piece of wiring (unfortunately the pictures of this didn't turn out) and told that I was lucky to be alive.
In case you know anything about wiring, I will try to repeat some of the things that the previous owners did, although my lack of understanding may confuse things. There were very few junction boxes, just groups of wires connected by being twisted together and then taped up. Instead of capping the ends of wires, they taped them, which isn't safe. There were yards and yards of wires that were completely useless. We also discovered that many of the outlets could be pulled out of the wall without any kind of effort.
Around midafternoon, Greg and I ran to Lowe's to pick up some junction boxes, more wires, and switches. When we got back, the light was failing but progress was evident. Roger, Barb and Dennis were replacing huge lengths of cracked wire with bright yellow, fully insulated wire, and the antique looking metal gang boxes with bright blue plastic ones.
It was getting dark, so we switched on flashlights and fed the wires feverishly through the holes in the upstairs sub-floorboards while Roger worked from below in the gaping holes we put in the ceiling for that purpose earlier in the day.
(Main floor ceiling.)
When the light was fully gone and the upstairs rewiring was done, we gathered on the main floor for a little powwow about the next steps. Because there were 5 of us talking at once, things were pretty noisy, but when there was a lull in the conversation, I was pretty sure that I heard the sound of rushing water. After a few attempts to get everyone's attention, I finally shushed them. There was definitely the sound of water coming from somewhere.
We rushed to the basement and discovered about an inch of water on the floor in the laundry room. It came from a pressure valve that had overflowed because we had shut off the water because of the earlier explosion. We got it turned off quickly, and then started sopping up water with whatever we could find. Taking advantage of the pitch black, I stepped aside and took off my shirt, donating it to the cause. Then I put my sweatshirt back on, stuck a flashlight in my mouth, and got down on my hands and knees to work on the puddle.
Working together, it didn't take too long. So much had already happened that we weren't even fazed. We just cleaned up, dumped the 8 or so gallons of dirty water down the drain in the back, and went home.