Well, I suppose we knew this was coming. Our lovely little Chicago bungalow was built in the 1920’s, and we knew before we bought it that lots of its innards were old. There’d been some deferred maintenance, no question about that — the tuckpointing was overdue, and the plumbing and wiring were probably about as old as the house.
But none of those things seemed particularly urgent, you know? Based on the home inspection, and living here since last summer. All systems were functional, and since there was nothing caving in or leaking out or burning down, we figured we could take it slow, save up money, and tackle one Big Thing at a time over the next few years.
Or at least that seemed to be the case until this past Thursday, when we woke up to find that the power had gone off in part of the house — mainly the bedrooms and bathroom, though some of the kitchen and basement lights also appeared to be affected. These all turned out to be on the same circuit, which had been tripped at some point during the night.
We reset it, the power came back on, and we went about our morning routine as usual, ready to write it off as just some kind of fluke.
But then Joe noticed a faint, erratic buzzing that seemed to be coming from the light fixture on the bathroom ceiling. By that evening, it seemed to have gotten louder, and while I was in there right before bed, it started making sounds so loud and alarming that I almost feared it would start shooting sparks at me. It was as though someone had installed a bug zapper in there.
The next morning, we found that the circuit breaker had gotten tripped again, and this time instead of resetting it, we called an electrician.
The verdict wasn’t that unpredictable: the insulation on our 1920’s wiring was brittle and disintegrating, causing the exposed wires to short out. The electrician was able to take apart the fixture and patch it up somewhat, leaving an ugly temporary fixture in the bathroom:
However, the worst of the buzzing seems to be coming from up in the ceiling somewhere, and fixing it will require some rewiring. And apparently grafting new wiring onto brittle 1920’s wiring is neither easy nor a very good idea.
So the logical thing seems to be to upgrade the house to all modern, up-to-code wiring. Even if it’s only the one section in the bathroom that’s noticably shorting out right now, we know that the rest of the wiring is just as ancient, and it’d be nice to not have to worry about these kind of electrical problems in the future.
The only downside is that rewiring an entire house is kind of expensive. (And by “kind of,” I mean the quotes we’ve gotten have ranged as high as $10,000, though we’re doing some intensive comparison shopping to find the best price.) With any luck, we’ll be able to pick a well-recommended, reasonably-priced electrician and get started on the rewiring project within the next few weeks.
In the meantime, since we’ve been informed in no uncertain terms that this is a safety hazard, we’re just keeping the circuit breaker turned off in that part of the house. That means no light at all in our bedroom or the bathroom, and no overhead light in the kitchen, although we still have the ones over the sink and stove. There’s also one outlet in Lily’s nursery, so we can still have her lamp and soothing sound machine turned on during the night.
Anyway, that’s the story of why we’ll have camping lanterns scattered around our house for a little while. What about you guys? Have you ever had major electrical work done on short notice, or experience with electrical problems in general? Feel free to share your thoughts, stories, or links in the comments.