Friday, September 19, 2014

Buying A Voltage Tester

Mrs. Cynical and I moved into a new old house. We (I) hated the old new house we built in the old new neighborhood, what with the everybody's jacked-up pickup trucks, screaming 3-year-olds, and endless cop questions, so we moved into a new old house in a new old neighborhood full of new old neighbors that keep quiet and mind their own businesses. We (I) love it, which says something about me that I don't want to think about.

As part of renovating the new old house, I decided to upgrade some of the light fixtures, switches, outlets, and the like. The breaker panel was very poorly marked, and I had no clue which breaker went to which light/switch/outlet/whatever. So, I embarked upon a plan to turn off each breaker one-by-one, and then test the lights/switches/outlets/whatevers to see what was affected. The outlets I tested by plugging a desk lamp into them, then seeing if the lamp went out when the breaker was turned off. Foolproof, right? When I was done, I typed up a nice sheet with the breaker numbers and their corresponding lights/switches/outlets/whatevers, and taped it to the door of the breaker panel. A profound feeling of accomplishment washed over me.

Until yesterday, when I was swapping out a crappy old kitchen outlet with a nice new one. I carefully turned off the presumably appropriate breaker, removed the wires from the old outlet, and was in the process of attaching them to the nice new one when suddenly I felt the Earth shift on its axis. There was a bright flash, a buzz and crackle, and the screwdriver in my left hand flew across the room. The sensation in my arm was not unlike having all the bones up to my shoulder pulled out through my fingertips. My brain stem changed channels, and I briefly saw Grover Cleveland looking in through the kitchen window. The sound that emanated from my lips was something between the hysterical sob of a 9-year-old girl and a yodeling asthmatic soprano. Mrs. Cynical observed this event from across the room and momentarily went ghostly pale. Then, I believe, she remembered how much I was worth in FOP life insurance versus what I'm worth as a working patrol cop, and a faint smile crossed her face.

Today I went out and bought a voltage tester. As soon as I'm over my fear of anything that isn't powered by fossil fuels, I intend to use it. Or maybe have Mrs. Cynical give it a try.


yarnwhore said...

I love old houses and old neighborhoods. If you're lucky, you don't have a mystery breaker box hidden somewhere completely strange that's only hooked up to random switches.We found one in my mom's attic that still used old fuses (in addition to the breaker box and fuse box in the basement) when the electrician was rewiring up there. There were scorch marks on the wood next to it.

Matt M said...

When my old house was new to me I did some wiring work. It took some testing and head scratching, but I determined that some areas were connected to two breakers at the same time. I learned to be wary of what some fool in the past may have done to my house.

Anonymous said...

If you plan to do any more electrical work (I don't mess with it myself), turn off the whole house--just to be sure. I'm glad your story has a happy ending.

--Queen Anne's Lace

John said...

John in Philly

My father was showing me how to change a light switch without turning off the power. If I dig around I bet I can find that screwdriver, hint, it is burned almost in two.

Although after taking the 440 volt 3 phase course the shipyard offered for mechanics, I may have been living proof of the the axiom, a little knowledge....