Electrical Ancestors

So I’ve been wanting to write an electrical blog post for a while now. I feel like the electricity in your house can be such a mystery, and since I love to geek about it, I could share some of my knowledge. But what do people really want to know about? Like, why does the electrician not give you an estimate over the phone – why not just tell you?

Well, unlike most, I have a general price list, but I also have this line item ‘additional wire pulling’ where I charge per hour. This seems like a sneaky way to add in money, but it’s actually a safety net to protect against my bizarre Electrical Ancestors.

The Electrical Ancestors are the wacky folks that wired your house, changed your house, got in and just mucked around with the wiring because they saw it on youtube – or if we are being honest sometimes the current owners (you or your spouse) are the Electrical Ancestors that played around with the wiring in some interesting way. Trying to understand the thought process of these ancestors is oftentimes Interesting, if not down right confounding.

A lot of you know already if you have this history to your house. You have already found some crazy baffling thing that makes no sense, or had some expert of one type or another look at parts of your house and say ‘WHYYYY?’  

And so, when you tell me your outlet doesn’t work, I can’t give you a price until I’ve unravelled the work the ancestors have done. Sometimes it’s my lowest price – a wire popped out! (and if I’m doing other work for you, that’s sometimes just free) Sometimes, especially with outlets that have never worked, there is some crazy wiring going on. 

GFCI Outlet
GFCI Outlet

Oh, and pro tip – if an outlet that isn’t working is on a GFCI circuit – check all the GFCI outlets and make sure they are reset. And check in your panel for a breaker with a reset button. Well, check your panel first to make sure a breaker isn’t tripped. Tripped breakers are not flipped all the way to off, they trip to the middle, so it’s not always obvious.

Also, sometimes you wonder if the mysteries your ancestors left behind were unsafe. Some things are obvious. If you see a lot of flying splices in your attic – that is not a great sign. If they are taped, then it’s probably not a safety hazard, but the fact that you have them means someone got into your wiring and took some shortcuts. It’s done quite a lot – weirdly, not because people are lazy, but because they didn’t have an electrical box on hand. I mean, it’s still lazy – but people will do some crazy things to avoid going to the store.

Some things are much more unsafe. Good things to watch for – outlets or switches that are hot to the touch. Actually just about everything electrical in your house should not be hot to the touch. Your panel should not make noise – or be hot to the touch. I’m throwing these things in because I’m not trying to scare you with the things the wacky ancestors have done. I certainly do not want you frightened to be in your own house. People are generally pretty savvy about what is NOT RIGHT, but if electricity is mysterious to you, then it’s easy to get paranoid. 

That’s it for my fun tips for the day. Feel free to ask questions in the comments. There are some things I won’t answer – along the lines of a professional giving advice to folks on how to do dangerous things in their house, but I can answer a lot of basic stuff.