Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Nesting Dolls

Someone once said to me that old houses are like nesting dolls: you see one problem and think you have it licked, but inside that problem is another problem and  then another and another and another...  That's true. Oh, so true.

Let me take you through the last go-round of nesting dolls. First, the obvious problem of no water pressure, so I hired a plumber. Second, the plumber discovered that the gas water heater vented into the same chimney as the furnace draws from, a situation that could potentially pump carbon monoxide through my house, so he replaced my gas water heater with an electric one. Third, a new breaker and electrical work. I counted the new water lines being on the outside of the walls as being the fourth, last, and smallest of the nesting dolls, the one that's the size of a thimble.  It undoubtedly still is the smallest doll, but it turns out a few dolls were missing from the set. 

I came home from work the other morning to find the house a chilly 50°. Fourth nesting doll now accounted for. HVAC guy shows up and discovers a blown transformer in the furnace, which, all things HVAC considered, is not all that bad. (I confess I feared it would be something terrible and I cried.)

Today I was washing dishes in the sink when I decided to stick them all in the dishwasher instead. Loaded it up, turned it on, and the kitchen lights flickered on and off, the dishwasher shut off then started up again weakly, and the range shut itself off. I cursed a blue streak, turned everything off, and crept down to the basement expecting to see tripped breakers and/or some other disaster. Everything looks normal. Clearly everything is not normal, but it looks normal. 

Then I decided to see if the washer worked, because I thought it probably wouldn't and I wanted to know sooner rather than later. It filled with water super fast (awesome water pressure!) but when I turned it to Spin the washer made a series of ominous clicking noises and shut itself off. Dammit, dammit, dammit. 

Checking the breaker box again revealed no tripped or half-tripped breakers still. Also no smoke or fire, which is always a good thing. 

So I called the plumber and asked him if he thought the new wiring for the water heater could be the culprit here, and he blew out his breath in one long sigh and said "Wow, I wouldn't think so but it is the only thing that's different." Then he asked me a bunch of questions about what I had described as "weird electrical stuff" in order to get a more technical idea of the issue. He thinks it might be a problem with the lug (whatever that is), the main wire, or the meter. The outside stuff is the responsibility of the power company to fix; the inside stuff is mine. He'll be out tomorrow to take a look. 

The nesting doll count is now at, I think, five or maybe six. I don't know yet which one is the biggest doll, but I hope it was the plumbing.  Meanwhile, here I sit at home, not running any major appliances, asking Louis Cat every half-hour or so "do you smell smoke?" as if he'll answer me, and feeling sickish about the prospect of the electrical being as easy a fix as the furnace was. 

I always thought those damn nesting dolls looked evil. 


  1. At this point I would be wondering if the transformer blew because of the wiring problem. I would be thinking about calling an electrician, not a plumber.

    This all sounds like another reason 2016 sucks.

    Do plumbers need some sort of license to do electrical work?

    Maybe you need a 220 circuit for the hot water heater and it's on a 110? Or not enough amps? (I have no idea what I;m talking about.)

    But I really would be thinking about an actual electrician.

    1. It turned out to be the last of the many reasons that 2016 sucked. Gah!

  2. Electrician!!!

    And unplug any sensitive electronics like phone chargers, computers etc. in the meantime! It sounds like you've got an open neutral somewhere, which could send the better part of 240 V into stuff designed for 120!

    It could also start a fire if you tried using heavy 120 V stuff like a hair dryer or space heaters.

    And yes, it's probably somewhere early in the chain like at the meter or in the main box.

    1. I unplugged EVERYTHING before I read this comment, and now that I read it I'm glad I did!