As mentioned (2 or 3 million times), we bought the house sans inspections. One of the most promising aspects was the electric: it looked new-ish; the house had a new meter; generally the wiring looked pretty good (there was no knob & tube wiring, for example). The house’s distinct lack of walls gave us easy viewing access to see the wiring (and plumbing), so we were cautiously optimistic about both.
Electricity is one of those things you don’t really want to mess with (at least, I don’t). I’ve been incredibly paranoid about everything since closing on our beautiful house, fearing the house would burn down, a tornado or hurricane would smash it, the chimney would crash through the roof, etc. So the turning the electric back on was an almost unbearably stressful prospect that (in my mind) just gives the house one more risk of destruction. I had to make sure everything was okay before I could bring myself to make that call (to NYSEG*).
But – fun fact – electricians can’t really do anything to determine the safety or functionality of wiring if there is no current running through them… ultimately, the whole process turned into a giant scheduling, anxiety-filled, jigsaw puzzle. Which is actually something I enjoy (puzzles!), so I tried to focus on that.
We found a day our friends (one of whom is an electrician [I will call him “Bob” until I get his permission to share his name] who is very generous with his time and expertise, all of whom are amazing and wonderful people!!!) could meet us at the house, and coordinated with NYSEG to turn the power on that day (over/under how many times I checked that the breakers were off?).** We found that two of the three breaker panels were actually in pretty decent (safe!) shape. Want to guess which one wasn’t?
If you guessed middle, you’d be correct. It’s actually not even a breaker box, but a very old fuse box. Luckily, it’s in the garage and is definitely not a priority, so “Bob” just disconnected it entirely at the main breaker (far right…the one with “main” written in sharpie above it…)
“Bob” spent all day and evening going through the house. Much of the wiring is new (yay!), plenty is not (boo), but the vast majority is in surprisingly good shape. He disconnected things that looked strange, were the wrong amperage (or current.. or voltage… or something) for their wires/breakers. He butterfly-clamped random bare wires sticking out of the wall. Bonus: a lot of the light bulbs in the house still worked!
A few things to note:
Bare wires coming out of the plaster? No case, no box, just sticking out of plaster? That’s bad and needs to be fixed before that wire is used for anything (shocking, I know).
Cloth-wrapped wires of a similar age and manufacture apparently disintegrate into nothingness in Brooklyn faster than in Wassaic (sample size 1 house, but still). They still need to be replaced, but slowly and carefully, not in a rushed panic with fire extinguishers at the ready. 🙂
Light bulb sockets in a basement can get completely carboned-over. It’s crazy, they don’t even look like sockets anymore, more like something off Davy Jones’ cursed ship. They should probably be replaced.
Tracing electrical wires is fun. Seriously, it was one of the most fun tasks I’ve performed at the house so far! It is very satisfying to successfully trace a wire through a 3500 square foot house!
Professional electricians are very patient with paranoid people asking 8 zillion times, “Is that okay? Will my house burn down?”
At the end of the day (actually, at the beginning of night), it was almost surreal to see my house lit up with lights. It was a marvelous break from the everyday we had come to know and expect in Wassaic.
*Shockingly, every interaction with NYSEG has been very pleasant – I don’t think I’ve ever dealt with a friendlier lot at a utility company!
**Or, how many times I asked Sergiu to confirm that we were sure the breakers were off?