Well, it’s been quite a week! As mentioned in the last post, the coming of fall (which is always bittersweet for me), a bout of miserably muggy weather, and then electrical problems in my home, have all conspired to batter the shores of my equilibrium. But there have been some raisins in the poo pile. This week, stressful though it was, has turned out a good one.
For one, my Minnesota Twins won the AL Central Division last Wednesday! They are going to postseason for the first time since 2010. (The bad news is that it looks like they’ll face the Yankees — who ended the Twins’ postseason in 2003, 2004, 2009, 2010 and 2017.)
And my electrical power problems are fixed. (I think.)
So last Monday I began experiencing transitory power outages that affected about half the circuits (lights and plugs) in my home.
I think the problem may have begun on the weekend. I noticed some flickers in my bathroom lights that I attributed to a faulty dimmer switch (I highly recommend installing a dimmer for your bathroom lights — it makes 3 AM visits much nicer).
My Dell monitor suddenly “died” at one point, but since I’m having issues with all my Dell gear, I assumed it was part of that.
The outages weren’t long enough to reset any clocks, and since I didn’t notice any other issues, I didn’t realize there was a more global problem.
In retrospect, the bathroom and the “office” turned out to be among the affected circuits, so now I think the problem started during the weekend.
But on Monday, using the dryer, I experienced outages that affected half the circuits in the place. (Which usually means something going on with the 240 VAC. Indeed it was.)
The outages during the day were generally brief, a few seconds or so. Power always came back on, but often in fits and starts. Sometimes my lights looked like flashbulbs until the power stabilized!
Later in the afternoon I took a nap, and, when I woke up, the power was off. (Since I was asleep, I have no idea when it happened.)
Half my home had power, but half didn’t.
Unfortunately, the affected half included the fridge and stove. And the bathroom and office. And the living room circuit my TV is on. (I had, and have, some concerns about what those surges were doing to my gear!)
Since I had a hard down (I waited 20 minutes or so after I woke up to see if power would come back), I called the local power company (Xcel Energy).
They sent a guy out very quickly.
The thing was, all he did was walk behind the building and touch the meter.
And my lights came back on.
Knowing what I know now, I think his touch was just enough to move something inside the 100-amp main circuit breaker for the house.
That breaker is next to, but after the meter, and therefore not their responsibility. He did check the meter, and power to the meter, and (of course) found no problem.
But my power was back, and there wasn’t much more he could do, so he left.
I tried the dryer again, and experienced more transitory outages.
D’oh! Also, ARG!!
I called Xcel Tuesday morning (after verifying the problem still happened if I used the dryer). They said they’d send someone out “usually within five business days” to do some tests.
That guy, a different one, showed up later that morning. He did his thing, and (of course) didn’t find any problems. He told me what I’d already assumed: I need to call an electrician.
[I gotta say: Xcel Energy is an awesome utility company in every regard. None of this is on them, and both techs were professional and courteous. They really are a top-notch outfit. Over the many years, I’ve never had a complaint, and I do have lots of kudos.]
Since I was already thinking I needed an electrician, I’d already arranged for one to come out Thursday. (Especially after hearing Xcel say it could take five days for their guy to come.)
That morning I had started with Google search, got a few names, but ended up using Home Advisor (dot com) to find an electrician.
Kinda funny how they work — a little aggressive, but it worked out fine.
I filled out a multi-page form that took me through many questions. Then they provided just one name: Service Today.
I closed the Home Advisor page and considered my options. I was reading Yelp and Google reviews (seems like there are always a few disgruntled customers no matter what, but overall the reviews were pretty glowing) when a gal from Service Today called me!
That’s what I mean about aggressive. Home Advisor sent me an email about their pick (and then many more emails over the next two days until I unsubscribed). Obviously they also emailed Service Today!
After chatting with the gal for a bit, and determining I could have a guy come out for a guaranteed fee of just $79, I went for it.
Wednesday I didn’t run the dryer. Didn’t want to risk a hard outage again!
Thursday (the electrician was due between 11–2) I did run it. And run it. And run it. Naturally with a guy due to show up, it all worked fine.
Dave called a half-hour ahead of arrival (as they said he would) and showed up a bit after 1 PM (well within his window).
I explained the problem, and then I got my first (pardon the pun) shock.
Turns out the $79 was essentially for him to show up and talk to me. That involves a brief presentation about their company, their licenses and certifications, their guarantees, their ratings (very high), their drug-free policy, and how they do things.
[Since I’m handing out electrical kudos, these guys are pretty awesome, too. I would recommend them without hesitation or qualification to anyone in the area.]
From that point, he offered several tiers of service, and after talking it over, the one that made the most sense was Tier 3. For $598!
But that’s a flat fee to diagnose the problem no matter how long it takes (even if it takes days of effort). It also included some tiers of repair, so — depending on the problem — repair costs might be included.
It was a bit of a shock to jump from $80 to $600 without the guy even looking at anything, but in retrospect it’s kind of a good deal.
It took maybe an hour for Dave to find the problem: the 100-amp main circuit breaker just after the meter (and hence condo association gear).
Synchronicity: In five years, he’d never seen a problem like this. Earlier this week, he’d seen one, and that helped him spot the problem quickly.
The breaker is a dual-gang unit. Turns out one of them was fried (see pictures above). Dave was certain it was a bad unit to begin with — they shouldn’t fail like that.
He’d checked my dryer and found it was drawing 25 amps, which he thought was on the high side, but since the dryer breakers were 30 amp, not necessarily a problem.
I’d been wondering if my dryer was running hot lately, except for usually when it seems to run cool. I’ve been having to run two cycles to get clothes dry. But sometimes it’s really hot to the touch (and doesn’t need two cycles).
It’s at least 16 years old, so I should buy a new one. Dave didn’t think it caused the problem, but it may have hastened the failure. It definitely triggered the outages.
The short version: It turned out Dave had a replacement part, so after explaining my options, he replaced it, and I should have reliable power now.
(One thing I’ve already noticed is that the fluorescent lights in the laundry room, which have been acting up, now start just fine.)
About my options: Dave did a safety inspection as part of the service and determined my smoke detectors were way beyond their lifespan. Also, he noted I had no CO2 detector.
That 100-amp breaker is an expensive part (about $500), and it wasn’t covered in the list of things that were covered.
So now we’ve gone from $80 to $600 to $1100!
He also offered the option of a five-piece set replacing my four useless smoke detectors plus a CO2 detector. That bumped the price to $2400.
My third option was adding a system-wide surge protector (lifetime warranty) that will protect various appliances. The company that makes it even covers things if it doesn’t work. That brought us up to $2800.
At first I was going to take option 1, and just get the breaker fixed. But by the time Dave went to his truck to get the part, I’d talked myself into the whole megillah.
I mean, why not? For one thing, one of my smoke detectors is high up on my vaulted ceiling, and when the battery ran down, and it started that annoying can’t-ignore beeping, all I could do was use a long pole to knock it off the ceiling.
So for a couple years now, I’ve just had wires hanging out a hole up there!
It was late in the day by then, and Dave didn’t have the smoke detectors or other units, so he said he’d be back tomorrow (Friday) at 9:00 AM.
And he was, along with Jake, who did the actual work. Dave came to introduce me to Jake and because he had the long ladder to reach that high smoke detector. (And then he was off on another call.)
Jake did the work of installing the detectors and surge protector in good time. Then he explained the new stuff and showed me how to test the smoke alarm.
Turns out it’s pretty cool. They’re interconnected, so they act together. What’s more, the two in the bedrooms (one of which is my office) have these bright lights that come on during an alarm, so if it’s at night, you have light to show the way.
And now I won’t die if my furnace develops a leak.
Plus my appliances have some protection. (I already have surge protector power strips for the computer and TV, so now they’re double-protected.)
I’ve been wondering if my power issues might be responsible for my poor and inconsistent WiFi performance. I’m not noticing an improvement yet, but haven’t tested with the surge protector in place.
It all cost nearly three grand, but I’m not at all unhappy about it. I have a very high opinion of Service Today, Dave, Jake, and the work they did.
Makes it a damn good week, after all.
Factor in the Twins winning the pennant, plus Nancy Pelosi finally getting off her aging ass and starting an impeachment inquiry, and it’s a very damn good week.
As a postscript, a few hours after Jake wrapped up and left… I had a brief power outage that affected the entire house (all my clocks reset).
I think that’s a coincidence — a general brief outage such as happens sometimes. I called Dave to let him know, and he agreed it was probably coincidence. It hasn’t happened again.
But if it does, and looks like a problem, they’ll be glad to come out and make it right.
And so ends my very damn good week!
Stay electrified, my friends!