Wednesday, December 28, 2011

An old job

The Adaptive Curmudgeon has a post up about, um, some interesting past home repairs.

Which reminds me of a previous life when I used to manage some properties. There were about a dozen, and some were historic and residential, some were historic and commercial, and some were just old farmhouses. I’m convinced that when The AC’s hicks moved on, they must have worked on some of these properties. I mean, who installs a heating oil tank directly over the sewer line leading to the drain field?
Or the plasterer that had a rather fluid understanding of schedules and deadlines. We found that a cold 12-pack of his favorite brew depositing on the scaffolding (I don’t remember if they were 12 or 14 foot ceilings) early in the afternoon offered an excellent incentive to show up and yielded outstanding results. (I can feel the OSHA reps out there cringing.)

Then there was the water heater that had split open, top to bottom, with water pouring into the cellar under the house. It was a tiny little farmhouse, and the cellar was dug out enough so I could stand upright under about 2/3 of the foundation. The other 1/3 wasn’t dug down as far, and the top of the water heater was sitting on that ledge, and the top of the water heater was about level with the top of my head. I don’t remember who turned the water off, but I do remember standing down in the cellar wearing rubber boots with the water well over halfway up my shins and thinking “You can’t have a water heater turned on with no water in it – that’s dangerous!” So I went over to flip the switch to the water heater and saw that it didn’t have a switch. Instead, it was simply hooked up to the Romex with a couple of wire nuts.
Okay. So I realize that the wiring in this house was put in B.C. (Before Code. Or “In Spite of Code”. Or, “What’s the hell is ‘Code’?”). And I realize that heaven only knows what interesting shortcuts have been taken. And that there is a bare bulb swinging from the ceiling and that I’ve got water halfway to my knees. So I beat it out of the cellar into the house and find the main electrical panel and ... nothing’s labeled. I throw the main and shut down power to the whole house, and pray that the water heater was included.

I then went back down into the pitch black cellar with a flashlight. This was 20 years ago, and it was your basic big old dim flashlight. I waded over to the water heater and realized that if I stood on my tip toes, I could reach the wire nuts. And since I wasn’t 100% sure that the wiring wasn’t still hot, I needed two hands to make sure nothing touched anything it shouldn’t. So I held the flashlight between my teeth and I carefully reached over my head and unscrewed one of the wire nuts, pulled the wires apart and put the wire nut back on the end of the Romex. Repeat on the other side.  And sloshed back to the door, went upstairs and turned the power back on.
And then I believe I went home and had a drink.


  1. What I hate about old structures is the cotton insulated wiring. After 50 years or so, the cotton deteriorates and so working with it is a nightmare.

  2. Oh 'those' are fun... knocked my self through the ceiling pulling out 'dead' wires... found out they were wired DIRECTLY to the pole...

  3. "And then I believe I went home and had a drink."

    Just the one?

    I seldom drink at all. After that encounter, I'd empty out every available source of potable alcohol in a 5 mile radius. Just for the excuse to believe, come the next morning, that none of it had actually been any more real than the pink elephants were.

  4. Matt -- the worst part (other than all of it, that is) was holding that flashlight in my mouth with my head tipped back so there was light on what I was doing, yet still being able to see at that angle, all the while hoping my jaw wouldn't cramp and I'd drop the flashlight in the water. I'm sure OSHA would not have approved.