September 03, 2004

Attack Of The Cowboy Electricians

We've kept on touring houses -- most have been pretty unremarkable, but one house was a good older-home candidate; generally well taken care of and with much of its original detailing, but with some odd notes. One bedroom was only reachable by going through another bedroom. The entire house was grossly overdecorated in a kitschy "country life" style -- lots of wallpaper with ducks and chickens, blue and white tile, reproduction vintage advertisements on tin signs, and wicker geegaws. It was hard to decide which was worse: the living room ceiling, which had been sponge-painted to resemble a blue sky full of white fluffy clouds, or the kitchen sink. Now that I've discovered that the sink carries a suggested retail price of $1,060, I think that it wins hands down. If we bid on that house and won, I guess that we could sell the sink on eBay ...

(I know that when we look at a house, we're supposed to look beyond paint, carpet, and other surface decoration, because they can all be undone -- but when somebody's obviously put a lot of work into decorating a house, it means we'll have that much more work when it comes to undecorating.)

On a more fundamentally worrying note, the house had numerous examples of do-it-yourself "cowboy" electrician work -- not only were there no GFCI outlets in the recently-redone bathrooms, but the light switch for the master bathroom was incorporated into the tilework around the shower stall!

During the process of trying to find out more about the knob-and-tube wiring in the Birch Street house, I came across the forums at Of particular interest were the "Violation Photo" forum and the "Photos Submitted For Discussion" forum, which have plenty of examples of dubious electrical 'work' like what I saw in the Anaheim house, as well as more generalized electricity-related idiocy. Not being a professional electrician, I can't follow the more esoteric discussions about particular violations of the electrical code, but many of the problems are blatantly obvious as soon as you seen the pictures. Reading these forums has given me a much better sense of awareness as we walk through older homes with electrical systems that have suffered decades of modifications. It's a wonder that more do-it-yourselfers and handymen don't end up killing themselves ...

My favorites so far:

(These forums also make me flash back to the last house we rented in San Jose, where outlets had been added in every room via lamp cord stapled along the baseboards -- the landlord paid as cheaply as he could for any work done on the house, and boy, it showed.)

Posted by Kevin at September 3, 2004 06:31 PM