Lights Out

You would think this is a SOPA protest, a day late.  But no, this is what several rooms of our house looked like last night.  Which would be fine, being nighttime and all, except I was flicking the light switch on and off with increasing consternation.  Okay, okay, out to the fuse box.  No fuses tripped.  This is when I began the worst-case-scenario brainstorming:

  • Mice have chewed through the 60-year old wiring and I’m going to be sliding on my stomach through the dirt in the freezing cold crawlspace trying to locate a frayed wire.
  • Some small connection has finally crumbled to corroded dust and a bare wire is happily sparking away inside a wall, on its way to complete ignition sometime in the wee hours of the morning.
  • One of our appliances has overloaded our house’s antique circuitry, rendering a wire into molten copper.

But as I returned to the dark rooms and began checking each outlet, I noticed an odd pattern:  all the power was gone in a line from our master bathroom through the second bathroom and into Child Harbat’s room.  All other circuits were working.  When we bought our house we had all the outlets replaced with GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlets.  Normally you only find these in bathrooms and near areas with water.  The idea is that when you knock the toaster into the sink full of soapy water, a little breaker trips in the outlet, making your only inconvenience removing the toaster and resetting the outlet, rather than trying to snare an angry and sparking toaster out of a basin of electrified water.  They look like this:

We had them installed because we were too cheap to have someone install grounding wires from all the outlets, and it would allow us to identify and reset circuit faults inside the house.  So last night I’m exploring the dark rooms on all fours waving a flashlight like a WWII searchlight and trying to reset all the GFCI outlets.  Finally I find one in CH’s room that resets and, with a heavenly chorus and flood of golden light, the power is restored.  For one minute.  Then I hear the circuits clicking like angry cockroaches and everything goes black again.  Do I give up?  Do I say naughty words?  I’ve forgotten to mention that at this point Child Harbat is following me around and “helping”.  So I do not say naughty words, but I think them.  We stumble through darkness to the bathroom that Child Harbat uses and I notice the mirror is smeared with soapy fingerprints.  Odd, since I’ve just cleaned that mirror.  Then I see the counter is all wet.  And the wall.  A basket beside the sink is filled to the brim with soapy water.  And a quick look at the outlet next to the sink gives me my Aha! Moment:  the outlet is dripping wet.  I fashion a miniature tampon out of toilet paper and swab the thing dry, cross my fingers, and reset the outlet with the nub of CH’s Snoopy toothbrush held at arm’s length.  [click!]  The power is restored.

Thus we ended the day with a stern lecture about not ever mixing water and electricity.  CH nodded and solemnly agreed to never do it again.  What is the moral of the story?  Sometimes the gremlins in your house are much bigger and more obvious than you think!

Writer, architect, father, husband.

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6 comments on “Lights Out
  1. Tim once spilled a whole bunch of talcum powder on the floor of the bathroom and decided to clean it up by getting it wet (so it would stick together and be easier to pick up) and then vacuuming it. Add to that the advanced age of the vacuum, and you have the recipe for one horrified mother.

  2. psoutowood says:

    I can just imagine an old vacuum cleaner with calcified innards, something like hardened plaster of paris, that baffles the repairman.

  3. Babs says:

    Well think of the positive–she had REALLY clean hands! Good problem solving.

  4. Julio Ibanez says:

    Oh man! Nice to know the GFCI’s did their job, though!

    My 50+ year old house may soon get the same treatment in lieu of the $10,000 to ground all the outlets.

  5. LOL, the kids are winning!

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