Thursday, January 17, 2008

Seeing The Light


Every now and then I have to resort to home repairs. I am usually content to let things rot and decay provided they do so slowly enough that it doesn’t draw attention. But some things demand action. For several years the ground fault circuit interrupter on the electrical outlet in our bathroom would pop. This was a result of me actually installing a GFCI protector on that outlet. Up to that point, hair dryers and shavers and other small grooming gadgets kept mysteriously shorting out. When I realized that somehow, against all building and electrical codes, the bathroom receptacle had been installed without a GFCI I went and installed one.

That was when we noticed the pattern to the tripping. It always happened during or just after a rainstorm. Clearly the two things were related. I even went as far a getting an electrician in to try to track it down. He tried to blame a dustbuster plugged into the garage receptacle. I knew that was bullshit, but not wanting to throw good money after bad, I let it go.

When we had some kitchen cabinets installed, it required relocating a couple of outlets so I picked the brains of the handyman for theories. He suggested that something outside, perhaps a light, was getting just enough water in it to short out that circuit. I filed that idea away and didn’t pursue it any further. After all, the GFCI did its job of protecting the receptacle and it was only a minor inconvenience to reset the tripped circuit once a month or so.

Then I got FIOS (which is a tale for another day once that settles down) and they plugged the network MUX or TUX or whatever they call it into the receptacle in the garage that was on the same circuit as the GFCI. Now every time the circuit tripped it took down the phone, the cable TV, and most seriously, the broadband connection. This was now a problem. I can live without a shaver for an hour to two. I can’t make it through a day without the interteat.

I decided it was one of two things. The short was either in the weatherproof outdoor receptacle or the backdoor light. There was also a suspicious bowing of the wall by the switch for the backdoor light which was just over the outdoor receptacle. Some forensic circuit breaker tripping narrowed it down to the receptacle since it was on the GFCI circuit. Rather than take chances, I told my wife that I was going to replace both the receptacle and the backdoor light. Since my boss had given the company Christmas Eve off, I was going to brave the mobs at BigBoxOfLumber and get the supplies I needed.

Old Front Door LightNew Front Door Light
Old Back Door LightNew Back Door Light

My wife, catching me in a home improvement mood and not trusting my taste in fixture, insisted in accompanying me and to pick out a new light for the front door as well. It seems all the neighbors had replaced their front lights and we had to keep up. She picked out the duplicate to the one that our more ambitious, young, home-improvement minded, childless neighbors had bought. The best feature of the replacement lights is that the bulb is changed from underneath rather than from above, thus allowing my spouse to change the bulb at will without the aid of me or a stepladder.

Once back at the house, armed with a can of foaming insulation goop and a cordless screwdriver, I went at the back door devices. Sure enough, the receptacle was rusty on the inside and the cover was fitting none too well. I got a big can of foaming insulation and squirted fizzing goo all around the electrical box. I then replaced the cover and the foam that keeps it “watertight.”

Then came the light at the back door. We hardly ever turned it on since we rarely went out back and our next door neighbors always complained if it was on while they were using their hot tub late at night. This thing was so rusted out I was amazed it hadn’t fallen clean off the wall already. It too had a gaping hole behind it that I caulked within an inch of its life. After I got the new light solidly affixed to the vinyl siding I turned back on the circuits and everything worked fine. Exhausted I quit for the day and rested on my laurels.

A few days later, after a few polite questions from my wife about the timetable, it was time for the light up front. To change it I had to stand on my trusty painters ladder and lean out over edge of the front steps and not drop anything into the bushes below. This should have been a two person job, but with only one ladder, a helper would have only gotten in the way. I got it installed with a minimum of banging, pulling, and cursing. This new light has all sorts of cool features. A light sensor turns it on at dusk and a timer turns it off after either one, three, or six hours. It also has two levels of illumination so that when I pull into the driveway or when a neighbor walking his dog goes by, it brightens up.

So for less than a hundred bucks I gained some handyman cred and made my wife happy. I may even be off the hook for another few months unless something else breaks. And best of all, the internet has not blinked out in the rain since.

BlatantCommentWhoring™: What home improvement projects have you been up to?

13 comments:

The Mistress of the Dark said...

I like your new lights, very pretty. Me it's all about organizing, and cleaning. I need a new area run in my computer room but not until I sort out the computer situation after taxes :(

DemetriosX said...

Oooh, I wish you hadn't brought this up. Like you, I tend to ignore things as long as they work or there is a reasonably convenient workaround. Unfortunately, we moved into a 200 year old house 2 1/2 years ago and there are a lot of things that need doing. The top priority is the unusable downstairs kitchen (the house had been sort of divided into 2 apartments), but that is going to involve an electrician, probably a plumber, and professionals to deal with the floor. Then we get to replaster the walls, paint, hang the cabinets and install the cupboards and counters (in Germany, there are no built-in fixtures), and whatever else needs doing. Of course then we will finally have a dishwasher again. We have finally started to recover from the hit that buying a house put on our financial reserves, so I guess we're going to have to do this soon. Then comes the next room which will involve major insulation hassles, windows, and a lot of other things. The captcha says it all: hgwagggl

Cham said...

Why is that front light cockeyed?

flasshe said...

Congrats on the cred-accrual and the wife-satisfying. I know this is the sort of thing I'm just supposed to know how to do (according to the gf), but I'm a geek not a handyman. It exhausts me just reading about your experiences.

Anonymous said...

Up here in colder climes, February is renovation month. I'm not sure but I think the marriage vows included something about not bringing up renvations until the last week of Janaury in any given year.

mr dr spent much of his pre-surveying career supplementing farming as a carpenter and builder. He knows how to do all sorts of things, and ecept for plumbing he isn't afraid to try (he refuses to do plumbing even though he knows how). Even though he can do these things, his eyes glaze over whenever the subject of renovations come up.

dr

yellojkt said...

dr,
Plumbing is actually one of my fortes. I can field strip a toilet in under five minutes. The weather was quite nice both days, so it was a better sooner than later situation.

cham,
The light is not level because I've tightened it as much as it will go against the vinyl siding. The electrical box it hangs from is a little loosey-goosey, but there is nothing that can be done about that without undoing the whole front of the house.

flasshe,
I feel for you. Fortunately my wife knows many women with spouses even more incompetent than me. You just need to find gf some guys that know less than you.

yellojkt said...

d-x,
That is quite a house. I know several people in a gentrifying 1930s era neighborhood and the types of repairs they have to make is mind boggling. I can't imagine a 200-year-old place.

Jeff said...

Good job. I'll trade electrical work for plumbing any day. I always have problems with plumbing.

Hey, I'm assuming your last sentence was supposed to read "...the internet has NOT blinked out in the rain since."? At least I hope that's what you meant to say.

yellojkt said...

Thanks, Jeff.

Fixed.

Claude said...

Well...if you saw my post on the condition of the Morrell Park house, you know that I'm probably going to have a heap of repairs to do, and I'm still not sure what, yet. (They changed the lock and I can't get in without the assistance of my local locksmith.)

Those sensor/timer lights are way cool. Too bad you can't put the compact fluorescents into them because of the dim/bright function.

yellojkt said...

Claude,
That's one of the problems with being a slumlord. I only have to worry about just my family living in my squalor.

Flyboy said...

Well I'm proud of you demoing you handywork ability. The light looks good in the photo and I'll check it out in person when we come to visit.

Impetua said...

But, your front light and back light don't match! How can you stand it knowing that there is no continuity?

GAAAAAAAH!

...Okay, all kidding aside, I'm deeply impressed with your project here. My own home improvements run more toward 1. painting, and 2. hiring professionals for everything except painting. This is due to a lack of interest on my part in spending any of my hotly contested free time grudgingly learning a skill that I'll get to use perhaps once or twice in my life. I'd much rather spend it nuzzling the (as you so, so aptly worded it) the interteat.