Last Thursday, we had two electricians here sawing into the living room ceiling to install recessed lights. I’ll point you over to the often-ignored houseblog for the gory details, but that’s not the focus of this little story. No, the funny thing is just how messed up the wiring is in this house of ours.
The good Doctor, over the years, made additions and modifications to this house to suit the needs of a family of nine. However, none of these were made with any common sense, and they were carried out by bumbling incompetents. Originally built in 1925, the house came with knob and wire going to each bedroom for a total of one light (in the middle of the ceiling), one switch (for aformentioned light) and one baseboard outlet (varying in quality from a single ungrounded socket to a crumbling ungrounded dual socket.) Additions to this system included raised track wiring in one bedroom for a total of three sockets, Bell Telephone hookups into the front bedroom which resulted in the careless removal of one floor plank and replacement with a board of lesser height and value, and a bewildering maze of additions to random circuits for new lights and sockets throughout the house.
Much like the addition of heat to the doctor’s office on the front porch (which simply involved relocating the radiators that used to be in the living room and dining room, leaving the bottom front of the house cold and drafty), addition of wiring to the office was done randomly and without regard to already overtaxed circuits. At one point, the Doctor had the entire doctor’s exam room, his office, and the baseboard for the first floor on one 15-amp breaker. It’s a miracle this house hasn’t gone up in a brilliant ball of flame by now. (Don’t even get me started on the live gas line going up into the exam bathroom, theoretically for a bunsen burner or some other gas-fired scientific equipment—that fucker never passed a code inspection.)
As a result, our electrical panel in the basement, which is a brand-new 220 service, is nearly full. Throwing a breaker is a little like playing Russian Roulette, because there’s no rhyme or reason to the wiring layout. Turning off the breaker clearly marked “living room” disables one socket in the northwest corner. The other three are still live—the east side sockets are on the breaker marked “office lights” and the other western socket is a holdover from the days when the entire first floor shared a breaker. Currently, I can shut off power to a basement outlet and kill the attic lights in the bargain. Power to the atrium outlet is shared by the lamp at the end of our front walkway.
In the last three years, we’ve made progress remedying this situation. Each bedroom is now on its own circuit, as is the kitchen, the hallway, and the dining room. As we’ve bypassed them, we’ve killed the old circuits, but this often has unintended consequences: an outlet in some random location will cease to function.
The electricians finished the living room lights last week and had to schedule next Tuesday to finish the other jobs. In the meantime, the power on three of the four baseboards is off, which means that the entire east side of the doctor’s office is dark—lights, sockets, everything. The lights in the iceroom and coal cellar are dead too. And so is my music server, which sits on a cabinet in the exam room. I miss my music.
(Humorous sidenote: The electricians put a hole in the living room wall for the dimmer switches and found a “patch” over the original outlet box hole, consisting of wadded pages of a 1952 Baltimore Sun covered with a quart of plaster. The wiring in the walls, leading to a hastily capped junction box in the ceiling, were still live. This, apparently, was how electrical repairs were done during the Eiesenhower Administration.)