Thursday, May 25, 2006

Mother's Day Job

The events related here culminated a week prior to the plumbing nonsense related in "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" Our stove, a legacy item that came with the house and didn't owe anyone anything then began sparking when the rings were turned on. I fitted new rings, but the evidence was that there was some sort of arcing going on inside the fittings. The options were a) fix what was wrong and soldier on 2) continue as though nothing were happening until someone got electrocuted or the house burned down (my favourite option) or γ) buy a new stove. When I trotted out the options, Mrs Stevie let it be known that all options but for the last one were unthinkable under penalty of certain dismemberment, so off she went to pick out a new stove.

Fast forward to May 6th, which is when the stove should have arrived. Sears called to say that even though they promised up, down, back and forth that the bally stove would arrive in the morning, they would actually deliver it about the time we were due to be sitting down with our friend Ralph to celebrate his graduation from college and incipient Teacherhood. "Tell you what" says Mr Searsguy, "How about next Sunday (Mother's Day)". Mrs Stevie snarled an agreement and went off to Starbucks for a pick-her-up and that was that.

Sunday evolved and the stove arrives on a truck along with two hispanic chaps. Never mind minimum-wage slavery, I reckon the majority of working-age men from Central America work for Sears delivery and installation services. Unless I am mistaken (and it does, against all reason, happen occasionally) the same pair also delivered Troll, The Snowblower of Supreme Spiffiness a couiple of years ago. They wrestle the new stove into the Steviemanse via the spiffy Steviegate (a special reinforced fence panel that can be opened up gate-fashion, or even removed completely if the occasion demands, designed by yours truly for just such events as were transpiring), pull out the old stove and announce that they can't install the new stove. It turns out they can only put the stove in if it plugs into the wall in a special fitting. Needless to say our stove was installed "Genaro-fashion"1, being tethered by means of a thumb-thick cable attached at one end to the stove innards and disappearing into a rough hole hacked in the wall at the other.

Now the deal had included them taking away our old stove (Sears won't do this normally, but Mrs Stevie has a way of getting cooperation from such organisations) but with the awful, mind-blasting sight of this cable they had an out and the two amigos were on the point of bolting. "Hold on" I said, "I'll disconnect the old stove so you can take it, and I'll install the new one". I nip downstairs and throw the main breakers, grab Mr Socketset and run back upstairs to begin the stovectomy. Once I remove the "safety" panel off the back of the stove I discover something interesting. The wiring has been done "Genaro-fashion" too. I'll explain.

An American electric stove runs on 220 volts for the heating elements but uses 110 volts for the clocks, timers, oven lights and so forth. In order to supply this arrangement, both phases2 of the two delivered to the house are used (I call 'em up and down). To get 220v you take your supply across the up and down live wires, that is to say, the wires that come out of the ganged 40 amp breakers in your breaker-box. To get the 110 you take off between one of those breakers and the "neutral" wire. Couldn't be simpler, right? Well, the standard way to cable this is to have four-conductor "Romex" style cable rated at 600 volts or so. White sheathing with an inner paper wrapping surrounding a black ("up" live), red ("down" live), white (Neutral) and an unclad copper wire for the local ground. What I actually see is a black wire connected where the black wire should be, a white wire where the red should be, an unclad copper wire where the white should be and no ground at all. "Smashing" I think and disconnect everything. I pull the wires out of the metal framework of the stove and the Hispanic crew leap backwards in expectation of a lethal shower of sparks, screams and so forth. I look up and say "We Englishmen are used to messing with 240 volts. This womanly 220 volt stuff is no problem". They leave with the stove, although with unseemly haste it seemed to me.

I now take a trip to breakerbox land with Mr Flashlight and confirm that the wires are consistently f*^%ed up. They are, so we can proceed "safely". I need a strain relief (the metal surrounds on the new stove are razor sharp and the wire cannot be just fed through the holes without some protection), a grounding clamp and 15 feet of #10 copper wire. I have a spool of green wire I am intending to string grounds with (there are none in the house where they are needed of course - "Genaro-fashion" wiring throughout) but it is 14-gauge and rated at 15 amperes. If a dead-short happens in the stove the breakers won't go until 40+ amperes are moving through them. I could strand multiple lengths, but we are talking about anchoring under screws and I don't want a strand coming adrift, or, God forbid, the entire thing coming undone where I can't see it.

As I am leaving for Home Despot I hear the Stevieling enter the upstairs bathroom, turn on the light and howl "Is nothing working in this house?". "No!" I helpfully snarled.

I get the parts together, then go back home for my wallet which I had left on the coffee table for safety. I lose another ten minutes because the bods at Home Despot couldn't figure out how the cable spool folded to release the measured spool of wire wound on it, and ended up simply unrolling it again.

Back home and I attempt to locate the hole in the wall from a hole in the floor with an electricians snake (AKA Fish-tape). No joy; it seems the cable goes sideways through a number of studs before descending to the basement. I have Mrs Stevie grind her teeth by the hole and use the sound to try and locate it from below, and use that to drill a new hole. No joy. I end up doing the bonehead dance, then punching a hole through the floor which will be hidden by the stove as a location guide, and at that point Mr Battery Drill goes dead.

One "quick" temporary reconnection of the new stove later (to anchor the wires) And I power the house back on. Using Mr Hammerdrill I punch a new hole and feed the copper cable through it being careful not to accidentally poke the end into the stove and onto Mr Black or Mr Should-Be-Red-White live wires, which would have been par for the course about then.

Once I had tied the ground cable to the water pipes with the clamp, off went the power again and in a mere forty minutes I had invented a dozen new swear words. One thing you might not be aware of is that if you are going to ground out the casing of a major appliance it is vital to check that the center (white) tap hasn't been bonded down to the frame for a three-wire installation (don't ask). They say you should cut it, but there is no space for tinsnips back there so I just waggle it until it falls off. Once everything is connected we carefully back the stove into place, feeding the cables back into the hole or, in the case of the new copper one (which is an eighth of an inch thick and going nowhere holey due to lack of bendiness) coiled loosely so it collapses behind the stove like a spring. Then I had to fool around under the thing getting leveling blocks back into place (the new stove's feet were in different places to the old one) and the power turned back on while the family hid behind the sofa in a disappointing show of no-confidence. Mrs Stevie then announces the oven will be baked to remove contaminants.

So it was that after a mere four and a half hours after the thing was delivered I had my first cuppa from Le Stove Noveau.

1: Genaro was the previous owner of our house, and judging by the evidence held a Masters Degree in Bodge.
2: I call 'em phases but they aren't really, not like single/three-phase ones anyway. They are windings on a "pole pig" transormer that has +110v, 0v, and -100v tappings. I still call 'em "up" and "down" when figuring it out. If this still makes no sense to you, do not attempt electrical work more complex than putting new batteries in the TV remote.

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