Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Power reduction

Saturday we came home to an electrical problem. I first noticed that my computer was running off of battery. Then I noticed that every other thing in the house did not work. Then I noticed that every other room did not work. It was as if - actually it was the case - that every other circuit breaker in the house was not working.

Fortunately for you I'll make this story shorter than it really was.

I called the power company which came in 10 minutes. One reason they came is because their automated phone system only allows you to indicate that you have no power. They have no choice for a general power problem or half power. They do have choices for downed power lines and the like.

I know too much about the power to our house, because soon after we purchased the place almost a year ago, the power company spent two days here trying to find their box near the curb. It's called a hanhole which is an awkward name when you first encounter it. The electric company eventually found the box under a one ton rock and 30 inches of top soil. It is supposed to be right at ground level, so they put a new box on top of the old one. I have since found out that there are things that all the utility companies should do, but sometimes don't quite do. The soil and rock were probably deposited after the sewer lines were dug 10 years ago, but nobody can be sure.

I guess this isn't that short a story, but I'll try to speed up.

The power company said that we were missing one hot leg between the hanhole and the meter and that it was our responsibility to fix. Nowadays they bury wires in PVC pipes, but when the house was built, they just buried the wires. A typical house has two 120 volt lines running into it, but we only had one functioning. Somewhere there was a problem. I was looking forward to having a big repair bill and a big excavation job done, not to mention having my driveway cut by a saw.

On Tuesday the job started. The main characters were the electrician and the excavator. They were also the director and stage manager, respectively. In order, we also had performances from the gas company (to map the gas lines), DigSafe to map the cable and phone (but it turns out not the electric, which would be our responsibility to map, but we were about to replace it anyway), an electrical parts truck, and the electric company (which had to turn off the power before any actual work could commence). Our front yard now has colorful flags and dots of spray paint showing were different things are. I plan to jot them down for future reference. I don't know where the water or sewer lines are, but I imagine they are down deep.

The DigSafe guy was quite thorough. He has nifty tools which beep when they sense he is near something live underground. I can imagine him retired on a beach in Miami finding all the lost wedding rings and none of the rusty nails.

Once the yard was mapped and the power was turned off, they started to dig near the house and fortunately for us they found the break about a foot away from the meter. In the picture the break looks a bit like a knee. Basically the wire turned to a bump of white powder. A kindly electric company worker who dropped by to do the electrician a favor spliced the line (even though he shouldn't have), and we were saved the added expense and time of running new conduit and wires and slicing open the driveway.

I haven't received the bill yet.


  1. Can you use a camera to note where everything is? Just wondering.

  2. Thanks. I plan on doing that, but it will probably be better to make a paper sketch of how the utilities enter the property.

  3. Anonymous14.5.08