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08 March 2011 @ 11:11 pm
"Holmes on Homes" (all seasons); and an ill wind  
When my mother and I visited Vancouver, we had downtime in our hotel room. She likes having the television on pretty much all the time, while I can't stand that; I want the TV on only when I'm watching something specific. It worked out, though; she wanted to get me into Criminal Minds, which was on all the time, so I got a nice hefty dose of a very good show. In addition, we also ran across a few other shows that didn't drive me insane; one of those was "Holmes on Homes", which I liked so much that — now that I've found it on US cable — I now record all episodes (new and repeats) for those times when I actually do want to watch non-narrative television.

(It might have been called something slightly different in Canada; apparently it has different names depending on the season and the airing country.)

The guy's not perfect, sure. I've seen a couple of gripes online about one or two things he's gotten wrong on camera; as a business model, I totally get why contractors aren't just going to throw in bonuses; and plenty of homeowners are going to turn down the expense and hassle of going down to studs for most jobs or using top-end materials.

All that said, though, I love what he's doing. Fundamentally, he's out there championing competence. He's publicizing skilled trades, and advocating better education and codes for those trades; he wants contractors to take pride in their work as an end in itself. He makes me appreciate what skilled plumbers, painters, carpenters, electricians, stoneworkers, glaziers, and numerous other construction professionals do (and makes me glad I don't have to do those things myself!). He also seems to be working to bring more women into those professions, which is quite cool.

He's made me sort of terrified of hiring anyone to do anything ever, but that will at least make me more conscious of the precautions I should be taking when matters do come to that point.
I bring this review forward now because it's become timely for me. A recurring theme on the show (and the spin-off "Holmes Inspection") has been "how not to run electrical wiring". They point out bad junctions, improper runs, inadequate cabling, hazardous placement near water sources, and the like. One tidbit they've mentioned is that side-entry electrical boxes have become the latest preferred standard. I found that interesting, but I didn't really follow the reasons, which they may not have mentioned; regardless, that observation stuck with me.

I now know why they're a good idea.

We've had very stormy weather lately. Heavy rain, high gusting winds. My house was built in 2000, and it's held up to everything so far, so I don't tend to worry. I just listen to the storm. I was working from home Monday, though, and just as I heard a particularly stiff gust of wind, I lost my internet connection. After ruling out my laptop, I went down to check the router and the cable modem. I stepped down one stair, turned on the light, stepped down another, backed up one, and tried the light switch again. Nothing.

That meant a tripped circuit breaker, obviously, so I went to the box … which smelled strongly of burnt electrical components.

I saw nothing that looked charred, nor any fire, but the smell persisted, and my immediate and primary concern was safety. If something was smoldering, the house and my health and the lives of six companion animals were at risk. I was already quite lucky to have been present and aware when this happened, but it also meant I needed someone skilled to investigate immediately.

violetcheetah looked up electricians for me. One independent guy she'd used could come over, but not until the evening; another agency around the corner happened to have someone who could come over within a couple of hours. This was a case in which speed was far more important than referrals or research (which I had no ability to do anyway, at least not until I thought to move the cable modem upstairs).

In the end, the nearer agency's guy came out in short order. He unscrewed the face from the box, pointed his light at it, and noted that there was water. In the electrical box. He traced it out in front of me, noting the wet and dry areas, and determined that it had come in along the main feed, dripped down each circuit feed on the right-hand side of the panel, collected at the bottom, drained through the feed to the outlet below the panel, and blown the GFI within that outlet. That's what tripped the circuit breaker (which, in fear of fire, I had correctly not tried to reset).

Luckily, that's all that had gotten fried; everything else was fine (though the garbage disposal breaker, on the other side of the panel, had also tripped, oddly). He replaced the GFI, and we then went outside to investigate further. Ultimately, it looks as if water somehow came into the main electrical box either through a punch-out on the back (which is not flush, because I have vinyl siding) or through the cut-around for the lock latch. The gusting wind then also managed to penetrate the box and "splash" water up over the lip of the sheath that carried the lines from the meter itself out of the box and into the building. We could see the water sitting at the bottom of that sheath. He produced a sort of putty that hardens like unto rock and sealed up both the punch-out and all around the entry point of the wiring into the sheath.

Everything else checked out (including all elements of the solar panel feed, happily). I liked him; he showed me everything he was doing and maintained intelligent conversation about power generation and batteries as well. I paid and he went on his way.

As it happens, that outlet was supporting a power strip (and alleged surge suppressor) that was powering two routers and the cable modem. Of those three devices, somehow the power supply for the primary router (in the middle!) was burnt out in this process. I wasn't about to reconfigure the borrowed second router (a slaved switch) to be primary, nor set up a completely different second borrowed router as new, when I was at the end of the time I could take out of my telecommuting day, so I instead used the secondary router's power supply for the primary router. They're both the same manufacturer, and a quick glance suggests they're similar, so it'll be fine, right? Well, it turns out I should have looked more closely, because the intake was the same rating but the output was too low an amperage. The router worked but was flaky, and I unplugged it that evening for safety. I'm now going directly through the cable modem, which means my 12-drop Cat5e-wired house gives me one wired connection and no wireless ones for now. Which means I do have to replace my already-somewhat-flaky primary router, so I've ordered a fancy new router and fancy new switch to match. And that means I'll be spending hours next week configuring a brand new network, because hardware and I? Let's just say we don't get along.

It could be worse. I've still got a functional connection; my house is safe and undamaged, all creatures great and small within the house are fine, and the bill was small (even including the new router and switch, I suppose, in the grand scheme of things). It's just irksome that such a small design flaw could be so dangerous and so frightening.

Originally posted at Dreamwidth | Comment | comment count unavailable comments
Current Mood: relievedrelieved
mabfan (Michael A. Burstein)mabfan on March 9th, 2011 02:08 pm (UTC)
I am glad that you and all are okay.
michelel72: Cat-Gonzo-Roundmichelel72 on March 10th, 2011 03:48 am (UTC)
Thank you.
aurora_novarum: Lee Whoopsaurora_novarum on March 9th, 2011 03:13 pm (UTC)
Oh, I'm so glad you found everything and it all worked out.

And I too like Holmes on Homes (I admit the name first attracted me). Interesting you found some counterarguments, but it's true his interest in educating homeowners was very very helpful.

Oh, also, go Canada! :-D
michelel72: SGA-Rodney-Pensivemichelel72 on March 10th, 2011 03:52 am (UTC)

Really, I figure on balance, Holmes is a Very Good Guy. I just have to keep reminding myself that just because someone says it doesn't make it true, generally speaking (I have a bad habit of forgetting that with certain types of information sources). So it's good for me to remember that he's no more perfect than anyone else. Which doesn't change the fact that he's fantastic. I forgot to even mention that he's just really entertaining, and so are his people, especially Shawn and Damon.

And yes, Canada totally rocks! Hee.