Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Electric Slide

Our house needs insulation.

It was built in 1915, and is uninsulated, so even though it has rocking steam heat, and cast iron radiators that whistle while they work, we need to insulate the attic to keep some of that juicy moist heat in the house.

My friend Mark, who with his brother tore apart and gorgeously remodeled the entire first floor of his house (built in 1920 – practically brand new), blew insulation into his own attic last summer (with the crucial help of his faithful woman, my eldest sister MB), so I hired begged him to help me. He agreed and took half of Monday and Tuesday off from work. Because he's a really good friend. And a super hero.

Mistah and Westy and I met Mark and Big Blue (his pick-up truck), at the Lowe’s parking lot on Monday at 4, and we got the giant “Cocoon” green fiber machine, the giant box-on-wheels that holds 100 feet of hose, and 20 bags of green fiber insulation. We also got a couple rolls of pliable foil insulation and some eyewear. Mark had every other tool we’d need. We were laden.

We got home and got straight to work, prepping for our big day of Blowing ‘Er In.

We spent hours up there.

We used the pliable foil insulation to build “dams” between all the joists, so the insulation wouldn’t go down the sides and block the vents.

Our attic has a tongue-in-groove pine floor, and we needed to pull up some boards so we could get the hose into the space between the attic floor and the 2nd floor ceiling.
What we found in that space there, though, was knob and tube wiring – a really old, really old-fashioned means of conducting electricity through a house. Even though it looks like it couldn’t possibly be safe, it actually is . . . if it is.

Ours, though, was so brittle and so bare in so many places – exposing uninsulated wire – that we were sure there was no way it was still tied into the house’s electricity.

This is a house, mind you, that was completely renovated and has a modern, up-to-date, organized fuse box in the basement.

Oh, it's organized.
So? Naturally, we cut the wire.

And found out it is still tied into the house’s electricity.

We only lost power to 2 upstairs bedrooms, and the attic light, so it wasn’t the worst catastrophe in the world, but all of a sudden not only did we have old, old electrical wiring in our attic, we had old, old electrical wiring in our attic that didn’t work.

We regrouped, showered, and ate the killer baked ziti I’d made (Mistah was downstairs taking care of kitchen business), sent out a few SOS emails to friends looking for electrician recommendations, and talked about our options.

When I got out of bed on Tuesday morning I found Mark on-line reading about knob and tube wiring. (Mark is now New England's expert on K&T wiring; call him with any questions). We decided what we needed was a guy who could actually fix what we had, without having to redo the whole system.

Every electrician in New London county, though, was in Voluntown at Extreme Makeover on Tuesday.

Bill went off to work, and Mark and I returned the machine, hose and 20 bags of insulation to Lowe’s, who gave us all our money back. We checked out other insulation options - for a day to be named later - and bought a Christmas tree (good practice for Mark and MB picking out their own tree on Friday). We went to lunch. Mark insulated our back door with stick-on strips, and our basement windows with canned foam insulation – the man was dying to insulate! – while we waited for a call-back.

Finally, we talked to a young guy in Norwich who could help us. He asked when we wanted him to come look at it. Today, please, while Mark is still here. Half an hour later he and Mark were crawling around in the attic, assessing the situation. (The electrician who recommended Kris said he was “lean and wiry.” Wiry. An important characteristic for an electrician. We decided he was high-voltage too).

Kris said he could rip out all the knob and tube wiring in the attic and upgrade it in a couple of hours. Get rid of all the scary bare wire and bring it right up to code.

Up to code. Music to my ears.

We hired him. He said he could do it on Thursday afternoon.

He pointed out the few more boards he needed us to pull up. He left, and Mark and I got right back to it, pulling those 100-year-old boards up, square nails and all.

And found this:

This, my friends, is not up to code. This is a mess wrapped up in a nightmare covered by a disaster.
My firefighter friend Mr. Dibs would love this.
Bill got home, Mark and I each showered (it's dirty up there), we three had a lovely, leftie-baked-ziti-ful interlude together, and Mark set off on his hour-drive-home. And I have got a date with a 12-year-old (well, he looks 12) electrician this afternoon.

And our house? Still needs insulation.


Michele said...

Ahhh! The joys of owning an old house. Have you looked into the plumbing yet? At least it won't light itself on fire. It's a good thing you found this.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I feel for you, I really do (our house was built in 1915, too, so I totally understand). Like Michele said, it's good you found this.

One day, I'll have to tell you about the plumbing in our house -- and how some previous owner decided that plumbing with lumber was the new, hot thing.

Me, You, or Ellie said...

Plumbing with lumber? Yikes.

Actually, I wish I included a photo of the plumbing system (did I really just say that?). The guy who renovated the house used red and blue tubing in the basement, instead of pipes.

It looks awesome down there. Yep. Just like the electric box does.


ChurchPunkMom said...

When we first moved to Des Moines, we were living in a house that was built in 1908. It had knob and tube in the attic and basement.. and a very poorly updated electrical system. We had brown-outs every other day (like what you had when you cut the wire) and they ended up frying my husband's computer.. our source of livelihood.

We now live in a house (that IS up to code) that was built in 1905. It's wonderful.. but could use some insulation.

Thanks for stopping by my blog. :)

Me, You, or Ellie said...

That is a sad, sad story. But I love the photos, it brings out my inner Bob Villa. Thank God for The Dowd, I loved how mom and I both took advantage of the fact that he was trapped in your attic to pepper him with electronics questions throughout the day. Good luck with your 12 year old live wire!


Anonymous said...

Wow. I wouldn't know the first thing about any of this... impressed by how knowledgeable you are!
Oh, and great idea for a blog! Love it!
:) robin
cinnamon & honey

Me, You, or Ellie said...

12-year-old live wire -- good one, Jacquie!

Great story, Ellie. I love the last photo, it looks like it should be in an Eye Spy book.

MB sure has got a keeper, eh? I'm going to schedule some time with him the next time he's in town. (When is the next shady electronics conference in San Diego?


nicole antoinette said...

I clearly would have electrocuted myself up there. Congrats on not doing that :)

Captain Dumbass said...

I hate home renos. "You can do it, we can help." More like "you could do it, but you'd probably just screw it up so why not let the experts take care of it."

Anonymous said...

Hubby is an electrical engineer.. he would poo his pants if he ever found wiring like that in our house... Yikes! Glad you uncovered it though and can get it taken care of for safety sake.

KG said...

Wow - good times. These types of projects with old houses ALWAYS turn out to be worse than you think they're going to be.

Good luck!

Me, You, or Ellie said...

6:15 p.m. EST

Done! The boys came, the boys left, and *we* have electricity.


Anonymous said...

Those pine boards and square nails are worth $$ to antique aficianados.
Might even pay for the re-wire.

Please tell me you turned off the 'juice' to the wire before you cut it. Please.

Me, You, or Ellie said...

Leslie. Of course! I was even the guy running to the basement turning the circuit breaker on and off for Da Boys, this afternoon.

The pine floor is staying. But money for square nails? Now you're talking...


Springer Kneeblood said...

Yikes! And I thought my attic was scary. Glad you got that that addressed.

Anonymous said...
A link to a hand forged nail site...

Lola said...

That's scary! My house isn't that old, but I worry about the wiring, because we had a couple real winners for electricians.

I hope you get that insulation in soon. Stay warm.

NucMEd is Hot said...

I love home improvement until this happens. Good lcuk with the pre-teen electrician!