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Great balls of fire! January 31, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
Tags: , , ,

Silence Dogood here. I was stuck in traffic for hours last night en route back from going with a dear friend to visit her son at college. (Not only were we returning exactly at rush hour, but a massive accident had blocked the road.) By the time I finally made it back to Hawk’s Haven, it was dark, so our friend Ben, bless his heart, had turned on the outside light over the front door so I could see to find my way in. As it turned out, his thoughtfulness may have saved our lives, and definitely saved our beloved cottage home.

Once I’d come in and locked the door, I reached for the switch to turn off the outside light. And it was hot! In fact, the whole switchplate was hot, and I burned my finger on one of the red-hot switchplate screws. The wall surrounding the switchplate was still cool, but there was a definite smell of hot metal in the air. Fire!

Our cottage home is pretty old—some parts date back to the early 1900s—and its previous owners were jerryriggers (aka jury-riggers) par excellence. (Our living-room ceiling came down once during a heavy, prolonged downpour because, it turned out, rather than fixing a leak in the roof, they’d simply stashed a plastic dishpan under it in a dark, ancient, unvisited part of the attic.) So God alone knows what kind of wiring lay behind that switchplate.

Nonetheless, we’ve lived here upwards of 16 years, and no wiring problems have ever surfaced before. Our combined electrical knowledge amounts to plugging in and unplugging appliances and changing lightbulbs, but even I didn’t really think that turning on the outside light (a single bulb over the front door) would be enough to overheat the switchplate. So what was going on?

Looking around the front living-room wall, I tried to tally up our power usage. To the left of the front door was a surge-protector power strip that we use to power a boom box (to play our CDs), an infrared heater, and (at this time of year) a short string of small white Christmas lights. The heater and string of lights were on. To the right of the door, our Christmas-tree and wreath lights were plugged in. (As usual, our friend Ben, the last great sentimentalist, has refused to let me take our Christmas display down yet.)

Needless to say, these items were all plugged into wall sockets that ostensibly had nothing at all to do with the switchplate in question. But also needless to say, I frantically unplugged them all and turned off the power strip. And sure enough, eventually the switchplate cooled down and the burning-metal smell abated. The wall surrounding the switchplate remained cool, and I’m still here this morning to tell the tale.

So, what the bleep?! I really have no idea. It seems to me that the logical culprit is our new infrared heater, which we’ve been running pretty much nonstop in an attempt to lower our appalling fuel-oil bills. I can’t believe that any of the other items would draw much more electricity than a light bulb. But needless to say, we’re not turning on anything, inside or out, on that wall until we can scrape together enough money to get our handyman out to check the wiring. And I still have no clue what any of it had to do with the switchplate.

But on the plus side, your faithful bloggers are still alive and in possession of a roof over their heads and a more-or-less working laptop so the blog posts can continue here at Poor Richard’s Almanac. And as an added bonus, since we can’t turn on the lights, maybe OFB will see reason and finally agree to take the Christmas stuff down…

                 ‘Til next time,




1. Becca - January 31, 2012

goodness! Glad to hear you’re safe! Our home was built in the 40s and we’re always finding things wired together that wouldn’t seem to belong. I mean, one breaker will control things all over the house but not the things close to one another. (if that makes sense) perhaps is the same in your home??

Thanks for your concern, Becca! I must say, I’m still a little shaky even as I write, and the switchplate’s been stone cold since last night. Whew! I know the breaker box had been reworked shortly before we bought the house, and it seems that the breakers go to the things they should. But we’ll give it another look, and thanks for the suggestion!

2. Alan from Roberts Roost - February 2, 2012

I think it was sunspots…

We are having a major solar storm, and it concentrated on your switchplate…

Have you taken the cover off to see how many dead stink bugs were nesting behind it??? Bet fried stink bug is pretty good.



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