Electrical Wiring Can Be Hazardous

It’s been a hectic week at the Cohen household. The fun all started when I was preheating my oven. I heard two or three popping noises in quick succession and then the stove went off. It had tripped the circuit breaker. As I had done when this happened a couple of times before, I switched the circuit breaker back on and put the oven to a lower temperature. My critique group was coming over and I had to bake our meal. However, this time I called the appliance repairman. Something was definitely wrong. Previously, I had called the electrician who did our kitchen renovation but he said it didn’t sound like an electrical problem.

Later that afternoon, the appliance guy comes. He tests the range and says it’s working fine. Now, the entire range is shoved out into the kitchen but is still plugged in. He puts the circuit breaker back on, which he’d turned off while he ran various tests, and I tried to recreate the problem by putting on the oven and a burner. Pop! Pop!

“Fire!” he yells. “Cut the power!” He grabs a glass of water and tosses the liquid into the electrical box in the wall. He’d seen the wiring arc in an actual flame. We retrieve our fire extinguisher from the adjacent laundry room and he sprays inside the hole. Whew. One disaster averted, but I’m still nervous about the house catching on fire if the flames got up inside the wall and reached the roof.

He suggests we call an electrician. Someone (i.e. like our kitchen renovators or the range installer) had spliced aluminum wiring with copper wiring in the wall. “That’s a fire waiting to happen,” the savvy appliance man said. The aluminum has to be replaced with copper.

I call my former electrician, who had worked on the kitchen. He answers the phone himself and sounds reluctant to respond. Says he’ll come over tomorrow. We go to sleep, reassured that we’d recently put in new smoke alarms. I kept my purse and iPad handy in case I had to dash out the door in the middle of the night.

After not hearing from the electrician the next morning, we look in the Yellow Pages and pick out an electrical service that sounds decent and is on the BBB site. They give free estimates. The foreman comes over and gives us the bad news. Not only do we need to replace the wiring behind the stove, but the a/c units are also running aluminum wires from outdoors to the circuit breaker box. Those wires have to be changed. But wait, our house isn’t grounded because of the screwy way someone put the wiring in the panel. Oh, this and that are loose and the whole thing isn’t up to code, not to mention being hazardous. So for $4400, we got an entire new circuit breaker panel and copper wiring the next day.

Another problem came to light. The panel had to be moved, because the a/c people had put their indoor unit partially over the panel cover. That was another no-no. But the panel can’t be moved over sideways because the wires come through fixed pipes. The only option is to cut a new hole into our breakfast room portion of the kitchen and put it there, then patch up the hole.


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As our door was open for much of the day to let in the light (the power was turned off) for the workmen, now we share our house with a happy group of mosquitos.

Next on the list is a painter. And a big picture to cover up the ugly gray panel door facing the kitchen. We still have to wait for the city inspector as we did get a permit (for an extra cost).

Oh, and we had to get our fire extinguisher recharged, so that was another expense.

Haven’t you heard that expression, “When it rains, it pours.” That applies to house repairs.

Our kids came home for Mother’s Day weekend, so I could relax a bit with them, if you call dining out and shopping relaxing. Buying them clothes put a further dent in our budget. Now they’ve left, the house has quieted, and I’m hoping I can get back to writing one of these days.

Don’t you love house repairs?

The moral of the story is: Don’t mess around when it comes to electricity. Get a qualified electrician to evaluate your house’s wiring. And get a permit when required by city ordinances.

Home for the Holidays


With Thanksgiving and the Holidays approaching rapidly, now is the time to straighten your house and clean out the clutter before festooning your living room with decorations and welcoming your guests.            


Here are some tips for getting started:

1. Dust Collectors: Make a list of all the items you want to get rid of in terms of furniture, memorabilia, paintings, and knickknacks sitting idly on your shelves. Write down descriptions and the prices you’d like to receive. If necessary, take digital photos. Then decide if you want to put them on eBay or Craigslist, have a yard sale, sell them on consignment at a local auction house, or donate them to a charity.

2. Photos, Slides, and VHS Tapes: Consider converting these into digital format. Re the photos, do you want to scan them onto a DVD, upload them to online storage, or scrapbook them into an album? It’s easier to sort your photos first by subject and then tackle one album at a time. Now’s the time to throw out duplicates and blurry pictures. Clear your drawers for other uses and save your heirs the job of sorting through this stuff later. Label the photos as you sort them. And how about slides and family videos of your early vacations or of the kids? Photo shops and places like Costco will convert your slides and VHS tapes onto DVD. Pay the price then toss the slides and tapes that take up too much room. Or buy a machine that will convert VHS to DVD in your home.

3. Clothing, Shoes, Handbags: Sift through your closet with a ruthless hand. Collect any clothing you haven’t worn in years and accessories you no longer favor. Donate them to a charity or hold a yard sale.

4. Files: Try to clear out those mounds of papers that collect everywhere. Tackle one pile at a time. Throw out items that are no longer relevant. File papers you want to keep for reference. Take care of things that need immediate attention. You’ll feel better when your home office or kitchen counter is more organized.

5. Stuff That Doesn’t Belong To You: What do you do about all the items in drawers and boxes that belong to your adult kids or spouse? Can you toss them without permission? If the item has any meaning to your loved one, don’t touch it. You wouldn’t like it if someone threw out your treasures, even if they held value to no one else. Remember the command: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. On the other hand, if you find a lot of old papers or letters, toys or tools, etc. that likely no one would miss, why not box the stuff and tell the owner you intend to toss the items. You’re giving him or her the option of sorting through them first. This makes the task less overwhelming by dividing it into small bundles to attack at a time.

6. Prepare For Company: Now that your house looks neater, and you’re ready to get out the decorations, there’s one more thing you have to do. Polish the Silver. Here’s a handy tip on getting your silver bright and shiny with little effort.   


Put the stopper in your kitchen sink drain. Line the sink with aluminum foil, shiny side up. Fill the basin with warm water. Dissolve 1/4 cup each salt and baking soda in water. Put in silver pieces. Let sit for a few minutes, then rotate. Sprinkle in more salt and baking soda as needed. When tarnish is gone, remove the item onto a clean towel and dry. If you wish, rub off stubborn spots with your favorite silver paste, rinse, and then buff with a dry cloth.