Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Old Switcheroo

Those of you who read Andrea’s blog know that she recently purchased a new house, which allows her to join the rest of us as wholly-owned subsidiaries of a mortgage company and enjoy all the tribulations of home ownership.

The other day she noted in her blog that “(The) House has some fun (ha ha ha) electrical issues. Outlets and fixtures that don't work for no reason...and yeah, that's going to be fun to fix.” This led me to think back a few years (24, actually) to the last time I lived in Germany, and the adventure we had with electrical issues …

I had been assigned to a unit in the beautiful city of Wiesbaden, and although there was plenty of government-owned housing for Americans stationed there, we didn’t want to live in an American ghetto, and so we sought a house to rent on the economy. Through one of my co-workers, we found and rented the larger part* of a beautiful house in the suburb of Kohlheck, overlooking the city in the foothills of the Taunus Mountains … it had a private yard separated from the street by a hedge, half of a two-car garage, and - most importantly – was within walking distance of a bus stop and a bakery.

We moved in and soon noticed that the house seemed to have an inordinately large number of electrical switches … where you might expect to see a switch or two, there might be a panel of four or five or more. Well, we thought, the living room had a cathedral ceiling and a lot of accent lights, so perhaps you really need a lot of switches.

Little did we know …

Here’s what we quickly learned:

1. There were switches that would turn various individual lights or groups of lights on, but not off again;

2. There were other switches that would turn off lights that had already been turned on somewhere else, but would not turn anything on;

3. There were switches that would turn power on (but not off) to various combinations of outlets, and other switches that would turn off the power to those outlets (but not turn it on);

4. There were switches that turned on power to various appliances (like the washing machine and dryer), and other switches that would turn them off again; and,

5. There were switches that didn’t seem to do anything**.

We were going crazy trying to figure it all out, so I called the landlady. “Oh,” she chuckled. “My husband*** was an electrical engineer, and when we built the house, he did all the wiring himself, according to his own system.”

“Ohhhhkaaaayyy,” I answered. “Do you have any notes that will tell us what all the switches do?”

She chuckled again. “No, I’m afraid not. I had to learn by experimenting, and so will you!”

Wonderful, I thought.

My next purchase was a label maker and a dozen rolls of tape in various colors. Agnes and I then spent an entire day and evening going all over the house flipping switches and working out what they did, then labeling each one. We did the same thing with each outlet that was controlled by combinations of switches, so we'd know where the switch was located to turn it on and off.

Eventually, we figured it all out. All the switches and outlets were labeled, and we gradually learned to live with the weird wiring …

… until the night my daughter told me that water was pouring out of the light switch panel in her upstairs bedroom.

But that’s another story.

Have a good day. Good luck with your own electrical issues, which can be shocking.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* Most houses in Germany are designed either as duplexes, or as a single house with a smaller, rentable apartment with its own entrance.

** I was reminded of this joke by Steven Wright: "I recently moved into a new apartment, and there was this switch on the wall that didn't do anything, so anytime I had nothing to do, I'd just flick that switch up and down, up and down, up and down. Then one day I got a letter from a woman in Germany...it just said, 'Cut it out.'" I think it was probably our landlady.

*** Deceased.


Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

That is an unexpected hazard of home ownership! I'm surprised that of thing is not covered by building or electric codes. Germany is supposed to have a lot of rules.

Kristen Drittsekkdatter said...

That was a real predicament! Switches need to be around the lights or gadgets that are supposed to control. I would find that confusing.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

Yup...that's my house! Remind me to post photos of all the outlets and switches in the basement...THAT DON'T WORK!


Mike said...

And then the electrical gremlin would come in and rewire everything in the middle of the night?

allenwoodhaven said...

Mike is right. You definitely have to watch out for those electrical gremlins...

Big Sky Heidi said...

That house sounds like he wired it in stages, with no overall plan or logic.

Gonzo Dave said...

When I first met Toni, she was in a house that had an outlet that you couldn't kill, even by flipping off the circuit breaker. It turned out that the electrician had run *two* separate circuits to the same outlet, so that when one was turned off, there was still power from the other one.