Anet’s a real live wire

#416 in a series of true experiences in real estate
January 2003, Hills Newspapers

Anet is learning electricity, not big electricity, but little stuff that she can do herself, and she is very excited.
For Christmas she asked for one of those gadgets that tell whether a wire is live. You stick it into an outlet and it beeps if electricity is running there. As Anet is very scared of electricity and really doesn’t want to be shocked or killed by it, finding out what’s live and what isn’t is a most important first step.

You just can’t imagine how delighted she was when she opened the present on Christmas Eve and realized that she could test electric wires. I think she actually shouted something like “Oh boy, oh boy” before jumping up and hurrying over to the closest outlet to try it out.

“Beep beep beep” it went because, of course, there was electricity there, and Anet smiled largely. She beeped her way through several rooms.

Not many days passed before our good friend Shaun arrived to give Anet her first electricity lesson. Sitting together at the kitchen table, Anet told Shaun that she wanted to learn to change out light switches, wall outlets and light fixtures.

Shaun assured her that absolutely, all of these were well within her capabilities and, as Anet took notes, he described what she would find when she removed existing switches, outlets and fixtures.

Diagrams were drawn and then, using a new wall outlet, Shaun provided a hands-on demonstration of its parts.

I was listening with only half an ear but I know there was talk of 2 wires and 3 wires, neutral and hot, black and white and red, and grounds. Anet asked many questions such as “What if I open it and the wires are not colored?”

They discussed 3-way switches and the possible reasons why turning on a switch at one end of a hallway doesn’t work if the switch at the other end is turned off.

After only about an hour of intensive discourse, Shaun left, and Anet, very cheery, announced that she was ready to begin her electrical work. But first she needed to buy supplies, so we went to Home Depot. With rapt attention, Anet moved along the electrical material aisles gathering things she’d need.

Having decided to first install a GFCI outlet in the bathroom (the type that clicks off if there is water present), she bought one of those, also a few dimmer switches (both single and double, I think) and a couple of regular ones, and two new convenience outlets.

Back at home, she got her tools together: headband flashlight (another Christmas gift she requested a couple of years ago for which she has found many uses), screwdriver, pliers, and the testing gadget. At the electrical panel she read all the tiny labels trying to figure out which circuit the bathroom outlet was on, found one, switched it, then confirmed that it was truly off.

She removed the old outlet, peered at the wires (she called me to come and see how old the wires looked), wired the new one in place, and turned the juice back on.

Triumph, it worked! But there was a problem. The new GFCI was just a smidgeon larger than the old outlet and would not fit back into the recess in the ceramic tile.

By great good fortune, our fireplace man was at the house at that moment cleaning the chimney, and when he heard what the problem was, he offered Anet the use of a metal rasp, just the thing to shave off the edges of the tile. “Ah, an excuse to buy a new tool,” I told Anet. “You really must have a rasp of your own.”

And so Anet’s first electrical installation was complete, and she was pleased, and she moved onto her next adventure, that pesky two-switch hallway problem. Shaun had told her that the difficulty might lie in the dimmer, that the wrong type had probably been installed.

Again she was careful to make sure that there was no current flowing before she took apart the switch, examined and replaced it, but this time, her ministrations failed. Apparently something else was wrong, something that Anet and Shaun had not covered in that first lesson. She would need further instruction and, perhaps, Shaun at her side. She’d already encountered another situation that Shaun hadn’t thought to describe to her (something to do with tag wires she said), and so she was anxious to get more info.

Before another lesson could be arranged, we were back at Home Depot for something else, and I took the opportunity to look over the selection of books they’ve got on electricity. Knowing nothing at all about the subject, I chose one with what I thought were the best photos and instructions in plainest English, and told Anet she should have it.

We charged the book to our company account, a business expense because Anet will be applying her electrical skills soon, we hope, at our listings. Light fixtures tend to conk out at the most inconvenient times like just before we’re holding a house open.

How marvelous it will be. No more having to locate someone to come fix it, come quick.

Instead, just let Anet do it. Heaven.

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