House Work

Ever heard of Dick Van Dyke Appliance World? If you live in east central Illinois, you have. They have this catchy little jingle that they litter the airwaves with.. If you buy from us, you get the whole store! And, it’s the home of the $25 service call!

Last Thursday evening, the refrigerator at one my homes started making abnormal clicking noises every few minutes, and this continued throughout the night. It sounded kinda like a cricket, to be honest. The next morning, Friday, my resident that lives in that home emailed me to tell me about it, and I dropped by before work to look things over. My knowledge of appliance repair can basically be summed up on a sheet of notebook paper, and I didn’t have a clue what might be wrong, since all of the exterior things looked approximately normal (except for the dripping water from the melting ice in the freezer).

So I called up Dick Van Dyke a bit after 9am, explained the situation to them, let them know that this was for a resident and not for me, and that they needed to do their best to get this taken care of as soon as possible. They let me know that, even though all of their trucks say $25 service call, that it is actually $28 dollars, as of February 14. Strike 2. (Where’s strike 1, you ask? See down at the bottom)

A few days ago (last Thursday, maybe) I walked into my office at home and flipped the light switch. The light flickered for half a second or so and went out. So, I flipped the switch off and back on. It flickered for slightly less time and went out again. I thought to myself, “Hmmm. That’s not quite how a burned out light bulb behaves.”

But, me being the optimist that I am, I figured I’d change the light bulb and see what happened. I’m aware that I might have boring blog posts, but even I wouldn’t stoop to the low level of a new blog entry just because I had to change a light bulb. That would be too pedestrian, even for me. So, needless to say, changing the light bulb didn’t make any difference. Still no light.

That got me a little bit excited. I was going to get to do some detective work with electricity. I really enjoy working with electricity. If changing the lightbulb didn’t work, the next obvious thing to check, and what I was assuming all along, was that the switch had gone bad. I could see the light behaving as it had (flickering) if the switch had gone bad, so that was my best guess as to what the problem was. So, I made my way out the shed, grabbed a replacement switch (you have spare electrical parts lying around your home as well, I’m sure) and headed back into the house. A quick flip of the breaker switch, some screwdriver and plier work, and I had a shiny new switch installed. I went and flipped the breaker back on, made my way back to the office, flipped the switch and….. nothing.

Hmm.. That was unexpected. The lightbulb was confirmed good. The switch was brand new, so it was most likely good. That left… the light socket. Since I didn’t think I had a spare light socket lying around (come to find out later, I did have. *snap*) I ended up having to go to Lowe’s to pick up a replacement light socket. The light socket that I originally had in there was a 3-light socket. Lowe’s had a replacement 2-light socket that was $3.98. It had the same size threading for the lamp shade, so I figured it would work well enough. I was only using a single light bulb in the socket anyway, so the 3 to 2 change didn’t matter.

So, I made my way back home, made sure the breaker was off, and proceeded to replace the old, obviously decrepit, 3-light socket with the shiny new 2-light socket. A quick trip to the breaker box later, and I was ready to test my handiwork. I flipped the switch and…… nothing.

This was a conundrum. The bulb was good. The switch was good. The socket was good. That left…. the wiring? The odds of the wiring magically going bad were very, very slim. So, it was time to get out some better testing equipment. So, I pulled out my trusty digital multimeter and started taking some readings.

And, I saw some interesting numbers. You would expect to see something close to 120 volts across the hot and neutral wires. Hot to neutral at the switch was showing 54-57 volts. Hot to neutral at the light was showing about 27 volts. Very strange. With the switch ‘off’, I was getting about 11 volts across the hot and neutral at the light. I pondered this for a while.

Then, I decided to look at other things in the circuit. The hallway light, the bathroom light, and one bathroom outlet were on the same circuit. Testing of the hallway light and the bathroom circuit both revealed that they were getting 120 volts, just like they should. My paper telling me what’s on each circuit (that I keep near the breaker box) also said that the doorbell was on that circuit.

At this point, a lightbulb went off…. in my head.

A couple of years ago the doorbell quit working. There’s a doorbell transformer up in the attic that converts the 120 volts from the house to the 12 volts that is needed for the doorbell. It’s just a little box, about 2 inches on a side, that attaches to a junction box. Nothing very interesting. When the doorbell quit working, I just assumed that the transformer had probably died. There was about a foot of insulation on top of the junction box and transformer, and I figured that the transformer might have gotten warm and quit working, and I didn’t care about the doorbell all that much anyway. Since blowing in the insulation a few years ago, I’ve tried very hard to not go up there and disturb it, since that decreases its effectiveness.

But, having the office light quit working got me to wondering whether or not it had been wise of me to ignore the doorbell problem. I began to wonder if maybe the transformer was pulling off those missing volts and converting them into pure heat up in the attic. I decided that the switch and the light socket were OK, so I put everything in the office “back together” (using the old 3-light socket) and turned the circuit back on so that I could use the light in the bathroom.

And, I flipped the switch in the office, and the light worked perfectly. This was last night. I had fully prepared myself for a trip into the warm attic (summertime sun and all that) and now the crazy light was working perfectly. So, I went to bed last night comfortable in the knowledge that I wouldn’t be getting up early in the morning (to avoid the daytime heating) for an attic trip.

This morning arrives. I flip the switch. The light flickers once or twice and goes dark.

So, I turned off the circuit and headed for the attic. I didn’t really know exactly where the doorbell transformer was. I had a general idea of where it had been several years ago before burying everything under a foot of shredded newspaper, but one’s mind can play tricks in times such as those. So, I started digging around. I found wires for the alarm system and knew that I was close. I dug more. Each time my hand dipped down into the insulation little puffs of dust rose into the air, inevitably destined for my nose. Finally, I found the junction box. A couple of minutes later I had the transformed totally disconnected and made my way out of the attic. Flipped the circuit breaker back on, tested the light, and it worked.

That’s where things are at now. The circuit is live and hopefully when I get home tonight the office light will still be working. We’ll see. This has been a fun experience, though. I love working with electricity.

Each year, I try to make it until about Halloween before I turn on the furnace. This year, we had one of the coldest Octobers on record. As luck would have it, I still managed to make it past Halloween before using the furnace.

Around October 20th, I got really sick. And it got pretty cold outside. I wanted to have it nice and cozy warm inside, so I decided to turn on the furnace. I set the thermostat to “heat” and turned it up so that the furnace would kick on. The draft inducer motor kicked on and I went about my business. A few minutes later I noticed that the main blower still hadn’t kicked on. Further testing revealed that the draft inducer was kicking on, but I wasn’t hearing the “sparking” noise that the pilot ignition normally makes, the pilot wasn’t getting lit, and I wasn’t getting any heat. The furnace is down in my crawl space, and I wasn’t in the mood to crawl around under the house at the time, so I got out my little portable Titan heater and used it to get me through the sick spell.

I’m having problems with roots in my main sewer line. I’m planning to rent an auger to chop them up sometime later this week. This isn’t the first time I’ve had problems. A few years back they caused me some grief as well. Some people were asking about that, so I decided to put this writeup on the blog so that others can read and be amused by it. I certainly wasn’t amused at the time, so hopefully it can give others some joy. This occurred in May of 2002. I was working on some other projects at the time as well, so bear with me. The amusing stuff will happen if you keep reading.

Hey hey.. Well.. It’s been an interesting weekend.. Mostly negative, but a positive thrown in here and there just for grins..

All my stuff got delivered last wednesday night for the privacy fence that I’m putting around the backyard. I now have a garage full of lumber, etc. I’m estimating about 3 tons or so of stuff. I
could be off by a little bit, though. I’ve got over a ton of concrete and rock, though, so I don’t think I’m off by much.