I don’t know much about electricity and wiring

but I’m pretty sure that strange things as were happening around here last night should not be happening.

I’d literally just finished complaining about the techno hell I was scheduled to endure and had gone over to C-Span to watch some more of the Rice confirmation hearings when suddenly the light on my desk went out and the icon indicating that my laptop had switched to battery power.

Frank made the comment that it could be due to the age of the building, speculating that it could have been pre-WW2 and originally unwired, then wired and re-wired. I’m not quite sure of the age of the original building itself, but it could very well have been pre-WW2. In 1999-2001, though, it was completely rebuilt. I don’t mean renovated, I mean rebuilt — all that’s left of the original building is the foundation and the outer walls. The floor Kinga and I live on was actually non-existent then, so everything here is about four years old.

Short-term power outages happen around here (super-rural Poland) semi-regularly, so I thought nothing of it. In fact, for the first time in my life, I was happy about the apparent blackout. “Peace!” I thought.  But the thum-thum-thum-th-th-thum-thum-thum was still going on downstairs.

And Senator Bidden (bless his compromising heart) was still making me smile via Real Player and the LAN router across the hall.

Intrigued, I tried the kitchen light. Nothing. Still further intrigued, I went out into the hall and tried the light switch there. “Ba-ba-ba-PING!” and the incandescent lights were on.

Odd.

As a side note, I will very irritatedly report that most of the students were not hooting and hollering but just sitting at the edge of the room — a typical dance. Why the music has to be so loud for that, I’ll never know.

I put on my coat and descended into Techno Hell. The teachers’ room there was without electricity, but the adjacent areas had power. In fact, as I left, I noticed that there were lights on almost throughout the school. Talking to the teachers there, I learned that they were just as confused about it as I was. No one knew what was going on.

Returning home, I decided to start cooking dinner by candlelight — a minor irritation, compounded by the bit of back luck that had given Techno Hell a different electrical fate than me. “Why oh why didn’t they lose power?” I muttered.

Then the fridge switched on and I thought I was saved.

I reached over to turn on the light — nothing. Fridge running, no light. I checked the lights in the living room. They worked. I went to the bedroom — nothing going. So then I did the only logical thing: I systematically went through the apartment switching on all the lights to see which power outlets were live and which were not.

The bizarre results:

  • The bedroom and bathroom were completely without power.
  • The living room was fine, even though one of the outlets was in the same wall as one of the dead outlets in the bedroom — directly opposite it, in fact. In theory, on the same line.
  • The main light in the kitchen didn’t work, but the small light above the sink did.

Now, as I said, I don’t know much about electrical wiring, but this seems pretty damn odd to me.

And it seems to indicate some pretty weird construction practices. When the maintenance man came, I stood talking to him for a moment with my neighbor, and I found out some even more bizarre info:

  • Most of the wiring for the upper floor where we live goes through a fuse box on that floor — which makes since.
  • Some of the lines run through another fuse box two floors below us.
  • My neighbor had power everywhere except where his fridge was plugged in.

“Who the hell thought up such a wiring plan?!” I wanted to scream/laugh, but I bit my tongue and thanked the maintenance man for his help.

An hour or so later, the power all came back on, but I’m still scratching my head over it.

That’s not the only example of weird wiring in Poland. The switches for most bathroom lights are outside the bathroom. You flip it on as you enter. In the first apartment I lived in, though, the lights were on the hinge side of the door, so if you forgot to turn on the light (which happened when I first arrived), it wasn’t just a matter of sticking your hand out the door. You had to go back out into the hall, close the bathroom door, and turn the light on…

One thought on “I don’t know much about electricity and wiring

  1. The light switch outside the bathroom is common. It’s required code in some places in the states. Water and electricity mix dangerously. I guess the overzealous thinking is that if it’s outside the bathroom, steam, wet hands and accidental splashing won’t cause a short. Now these codes are not as important today because of GFCI outlets which are outlets with a built-in cirtuit breaker which trips really easily. You know a GFCI outlet because they have two buttons on them. As for the strange wiring in your home, it’s hard for me to make a good guess. Since it’s in rural Poland and the wiring is confusing and illogical, I’ll assume the house was built before WWII. My hypothesis is that the wiring schematic probably makes sense. If the building was originally constructed without electricity, at somepoint it had to be wired. When the building was first wired, people’s electrical uses were few. Especially in comunist Poland. Primaraly ceiling lights and maybe an outlet per-room. To avoid ripping apart walls and ceilings, the original electricians often only pried up a floor board or two, cut a few small holes in the walls and employed creative circuitry. Eventually, the original wiring for the house became dangerous and outdated. The low amps and type of wire first used couldn’t keep up with more modern needs like a refridgerator, tv, brighter lights, electric ranges, etc. So, your place was probably rewired and again no one wanted to rip out walls and make a difficult task even more time consuming and expensive, so they had to come up with plans that don’t make much sense to a guy dealing with a triped breaker, but do make a whole lot of sense to me because I just rewired my 115 year old Philadelphia row home.

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