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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Don't Burn the House Down

Whether you are talking about an electrician or an investment advisor, professional services cost. And man's instinct is to avoid costs where possible. Woman's instinct is to raise her eyebrows. Eyebrows were raised as I set about to wire my family room. My thinking was that with a few weekends, a couple of six-packs, and the Reader's Digest Homeowners Guide I could save some bucks. I figured I would read a bit until I understood where the black wire goes, the white wire goes, and how to do the ground; and I would be on my way.

In the beginning, it was pretty easy. I got one of those drill bits that makes nice holes and drilled the holes to run the cable thru the 2x4s exactly as illustrated in the book. Going by the book - no problems. Hammered in the outlet boxes and put in the receptacles. Read up on how to strip the wire and, making sure the central power was off, started hooking stuff up, thinking all the time how I was beating the game.

Then my wife pointed out you could only turn the lamps off from one switch. She wanted to turn them off from two switches - entering and exiting the room. This was the next chapter - three way switches. No problem. This is where the chapter in statistics on permutations became real. I hooked up the switches according to the diagram on the 3-way switch package. ,Worked at one end, not the other.

Changed some of the wiring around after going to the Reader's Digest Book. Now it worked at the other end, etc. This is what you come to understand - with 3 wires and 3 places, they can be hooked up and two switches there are 17,653 different combinations. The permutations formula in statistics books is wrong.

Anyways, to make a long story short, a friend of a friend came over, looked at the situation, asked for my screw driver, changed a couple of wires and presto! - fixed the wiring inside of a minute. He didn't even look at the diagram. He could have at least pretended to look at the diagram.

All of this was no big deal - cost a couple of beers and some frustration. I learned that I could do simple wiring but the complex stuff should be left to the professional. At least that's apparently what part of my brain learned.

Time went by, my wiring experience receded to the reptilian part of my brain, and the Reader's Digest book went back on the shelf. Then the day came when the dryer needed to be moved. The amygdala stirred.

This is my advice - not appreciated at the time - don't try to wire a dryer. It is serious business. I changed wires around so much I ended up convinced that the dryer had to be broken. We must have broken it when we moved it. My wife pointed out it worked fine yesterday. , I appreciated that.

This time I called in a professional electrician and he looked at it and laughed. I provided his laugh of the day (that made me feel like I had accomplished something!). He looked at me with tears in his eyes and asked who had done the wiring. I guess he could tell by my expression it was me. As he walked out the door he muttered, loud enough for my wife to hear, "Lucky he didn't burn the house down."

That ended my career in wiring. The days came when the kids were upset that I wouldn't help them hook up the batteries for their science fair projects. They just didn't know.

For the DIY investors out there, think about bringing in a professional from time-to-time to discuss your investment program. You don't want to burn the house down.


  1. Funny story. I've never install an outlet for a washer or dryer, but about 5 years ago, I finished my basement by myself. Saved about $20-$30K. Putting the mud on the dry wall and getting it to look halfway decent was the most difficult and frustrating part. Did all the wiring by myself, including a few three way switches. But called in my Brother in Law to do the hook-up to the main electrical box. I was too chicken to tackle that myself.

  2. @The Grouch - I have no issues drywalling / mudding, but electrical frightens me. First there was that bad experience in college where I managed to blow every fuse on the main floor of the house trying to fix a lamp. I was "buzzed" for half a week. The 2nd issue w/ home electrical work (beyond switching out a light fixture - i'm talking installation as presented by Robert) is that if you DO burn the house down your insurance company will want proof of permits and such. Upon finding out you did the work yourself, bye bye home insurance. I'll leave this type of work to the pro's or that friend of a friend ...

  3. Re: Grouch and Sustainable For me drywalling isn't easy. You really appreciate the tricks of the trade when you try something and then see a pro do it. They score it, size it up, bead it with that metal thingy and sand it before I've even put the drywall in place. One of these days I'll tell about my experience saving money by being the laborer for the guy building my fire place. I'll just say that digging an 8 foot hole for the foundation isn't as easy as it sounds.

  4. DYI, I agree with you when it comes to plumbing. In fact, we just cut a check to the contractor that replaced a whole mess of plumbing. But he doesn't do tile. So, I'm about to embark on a wood flooring and tub enclosure tiling project. It's been twenty years since I last laid tile. I have illusions, it's going to be a booger. But I'd rather spend a few weekends toiling away, with my I-pod for company, then spend the money for *another* contractor. This I can do.

  5. Re: Andrew You're right about plumbing. You need the right tools. I'm sure the tile laying will go fine as long as you get it lined up right.
    Good luck.

  6. Haha, loved the parting line. The most electrical work I've done is installing a dimmer switch, so haven't gone further than that. Sustainable PF's comment makes me laugh as well. I've done that to myself a few times... I think the first was when I was 4 or 5 and tried to plug in an electronic keyboard. I think I had my fingers on the metal prongs while trying to insert it into the wall... :S

  7. D Waz says........

    How many economic advisors does it take to change a lightbulb???

  8. re: D Waz with what economic advisors charge they can hire electricians to stand by in case lightbulbs need replacing!

  9. Remember, scre up plumbing and you get wet feet, screw up electrical and you get flowers and condolences