Those steel wiring boxes used to house outlets and switches back in the Sixties are mighty durable. Come fire, hurricane or busted water pipes, those things are going to hold up. Everything around them might disintegrate but not those steel boxes.
In addition to being durable, they’re pretty good conductors of electricity. Say, just for example, you’re drilling a hole through the floor and happen to bump against one of those steel boxes. Say, also just for example, there’s a loose wire inside that steel box. You might see a little flash and then the lights go out. Literally speaking, not figuratively. Although it could be both meanings. Sometimes similar encounters do result in a loss of consciousness as well as a loss of lights.
Since I happened to be wearing gloves and using a drill with plastic housing, there was no coma. In fact, I didn’t even get shocked. I went to the breaker panel, found the tripped switch and reset it. Lights came back on and I resumed drilling.
But when the same thing happened a week later during the plumbing phase of the laundry relocation, the lights did not come back on. The only thing I could figure out at first was that the breaker must have broken. Bought a new one, then checked the old one and found out it was still good. I used an extension cord and back-wired the circuit.
The lights came on but not the outlets in the kitchen. This suggested that maybe there was another wiring problem that did not manifest itself until the second time I shorted out the circuit by bumping the steel box in what was turning into the new laundry room. Another happy little insight gained in the experience was the realization that every ceiling light in the house, all the outlets in the kitchen, half the outlets in living room, all the outlets in the back room, all the outlets in the entry room and all the outlets and lights in the garage were all on the same circuit.
Diagnosing and repairing the problem could take hours of tracing wire through the attic, walls and crawl space. Since one of Randa’s nephews is a licensed and well-experienced electrician, I gave him a call. He listened patiently, asked a couple of questions and then said, “Yeah, could be anywhere.”
“You know, Matt,” I complained, “I could spend forty hours tracing down the problem and fixing it and it won’t add a dollar’s worth of value to the house.”
“No,” Matt responded lightly, “But it could keep your house from burning down.”
Sometime I get so focused on the wrong reasons and all the little inconveniences of doing something that isn’t quick, isn’t easy and isn’t fun that I forget that quick, fun and easy may not be the most important part. Sometimes, our inconvenience is the very thing that needs to happen so that we realize that what we are doing may be a lot more important than we realized. “Thank you, Lord, for the inconvenience of a loose wire in a steel box. And for the blessing of not getting electrocuted in the process.”
And, by the way, it only took about twenty hours. Time well spent.