01 May, 2008

Electrical Hazards, Courtesy of Uncle Jimmy

Part of getting ready for the tenants' arrival was cleaning the kitchen top to bottom. Sounds simple enough. Aside from the ironing board repair, we didn't anticipate having to do much else. So Ted moved out the stove and refrigerator to get at years of accumulated dust behind each one, and found one hell of an "Uncle Jimmy" setup.

A while back we started calling any dubious home repair, amateur fix-it, remuddling job, or downright dangerous setup an "Uncle Jimmy." It goes back to our home-search days, when our agent would say things like "Ugh, it looks like they got someone's Uncle Jimmy to fix that" instead of hiring a professional. So, basically, anything shoddily done is an "Uncle Jimmy."

I was fiddling with the blog when Ted came to find me. This "Uncle Jimmy" needed a second witness. I arrived with camera in hand.

The refrigerator was plugged into an adapter, which in turn was plugged into a 99-cent power cord:

This cheesy white power cord, along with the cord for the microwave, was plugged into a beat-up, cracked, badly damaged (and very, very cheap) black power strip:

The power strip was plugged into another cheap power cord:

This snaked behind a counter and behind the stove to join this mess:

At first, I couldn't entirely make out what was going on here; the entire thing was coated in thick, greasy dust. It's amazing there was never a fire. Clearing off some of the dust revealed that each half of the outlet had one of those 3-in-1 adapters, setting it up to hold six appliances/extension cords (even though the refrigerator/microwave extension was the only thing plugged in on one side).

Ted cleaned up the whole mess; unfortunately, I didn't get an "after" picture before moving the appliances back. He moved the microwave to the other side of the kitchen, where it is now plugged directly into its own outlet. The refrigerator is plugged into a cord that is rated for heavy use, and that goes directly into the outlet. The other half of the outlet powers the stove. Uncle Jimmy would be awed.

I know The Box House is an old house with only a few outlets in the kitchen at present, but sheesh. What were they thinking? We'll be installing some GFCI outlets in both kitchens--and more outlets period--sometime in the future.

Here's some additional info from the U.S. Products Safety Commission:

Limit Extension Cords To Reduce Risk Of Fire

WASHINGTON--If you use a lot of extension cords in your home or apartment, government safety experts say doing away with as many cords as possible can improve the safety of your home.

Noting that May is National Electrical Safety Month, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) said homeowners can use fewer extension cords by taking the simple step of relocating floor lamps, clocks, radios, television sets and other electrical products closer to wall receptacles.

According to CPSC estimates, there are some 4,600 residential home fires each year associated with extension cords; these fires kill 70 persons and injure some 230 others annually. Apart from fires, another 2,200 shock-related injuries happen with extension cords every year.

CPSC offered the following safety hints for using extension cords:

  • Don't use an extension cords unless absolutely necessary. If you do, it must be marked #16 or some lower AWG number (the lower the number, the larger the wire and the more current the cord can safely carry). Also, the cord should bear the certification label of an independent testing laboratory. Do not use #18 extension cords which were previously used for floor lamps and other low-wattage electrical products.
  • Always use 3-wire extension cords for appliances with 3-prong plugs. Never remove the third prong which is a safety feature designed to reduce chances of shock or electrocution.
  • When disconnecting cords from outlets, always pull on the plug rather than the cord itself. Discard any old, cracked, worn or damaged extension cords.
  • Don't overload cords by plugging in appliances that draw more watts than the rating of the cord. You can check this easily by examining the cord to see what its wattage rating is. Use heavy-duty cords for high wattage appliances. Use extension cords labeled for outdoor use when powering tools and garden products outside the home. Also, it is good practice to plug into an outlet protected by a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). The device shuts down power in milliseconds if the consumer is exposed to an electrocution or electrical burn hazard.
  • Don't run cords under carpets or rugs since they prevent heat from being released by the cord.
A free brochure on safe use of extension cords is available from CPSC by sending a postcard to Cords, Washington, D.C. 20207.


Anonymous said...

That is definitely scary and it's a good thing you caught it and fixed it. I just paid about $6K to have my entire old house rewired and updated. Who'd have thought there is such a thing as an actual "appliance outlet".

There were a couple outlets in my house that had five, that's right five plug-in spots on one faceplate all in a row! Yikes!

I also wanted to comment on your ironing board post. That is way too cool! Did you put a clause in your lease stating that they could not paint or nail into any of the original woodwork? I know after all of the work they did over at "Chicago 2-Flat" they added a clause that prohibited changing the woodwork in any way.

Ethan@OneProjectCloser said...

Wow! It's crazy some of the things people throw together. Sometimes I wonder about my homes wiring but I've never come across something like this.

Jen said...

OMG... Good thing you found that.

Thanks for the Frost quote, I had heard that before, just forgot, until you mentioned it. :)

Sparkle Plenty said...

Why does that make me think of Darren McGavin plugging in the Christmas lights in "A Christmas Story"? YIKES!

Marilyn said...

Ah yes, the Uncle Jimmy jobs of the world always require money and fixing and backtracking. I'm glad you caught it - and you know I loves the naming of things.

By the way, we had a similar ironing board setup in our old 1929 house, and I miss it. So much fun to pull it down!

Joanne said...

Anonymous--Our lease comes with a five-page addendum covering everything from what to use to clean the newly finished wood floors to how they are forbidden to alter anything or nail anything into the wood trim. Jocelyn at Chicago 2-Flat was kind enough to let me pick her brain on the subject.

Ethan--We're updating all receptacles at the moment, and are finding both cloth wiring and modern updates in the walls. About half and half. So maybe upgrading down the line won't be too scary a bill to face if some of it has been done for us. Although, I'd feel more confident saying that if the POs hadn't gotten some of the wiring mixed up during their upgrades.

Sparkle--That's exactly what we thought of when looking at that mess. I wouldn't have been surprised to see sparks suddenly leaping from it!

Marilyn--Even if I never iron with it, I think we'll pull the board down occasionally during parties and place wine glasses on it or something!

Jenni--Hope things have simmered down with your neighbor. :-)

Karen C said...

We have a word for that sort of work, too.

See, when I hired on at the airline, they'd previously contracted out all their computer work, to a guy named Art. Some of his stuff was legendary: the "externally mounted hard drive," bolted on to the back of a PC it wouldn't fit in, with ribbon cables carefully fed through the seam in the case. Thus, his name became a byword for any jury-rigging, and a decade later, we still refer to anything like that as:

"Art Work."

Joanne said...

Karen, that's hilarious! Thanks for sharing.

Jennifer said...

Scary! Scary! Scary! Glad you took care of it. Glad you have provisions in the lease for the woodwork and such, too (although, likely anyone attracted to such a cool apartment liked it for it's charm, anyway!)

Jen said...

Our PO had new wiring (70's ish) going into the breaker box. It had been sliced into the old fabric covered knob and tube wiring, which still ran through all the walls. The insurance inspector did not see this, or we would not have been able to get insurance on the house.

I think when the PO enclosed the origional back porch and made it into a "den" they moved the box. When we ripped out the paneling in the nasty den the outline of the origional box was on the wall.

We bought the house "as is". The electrical was a mess.

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