220 Volt Wiring + Drills = Bad

If there’s one thing I’ve come to expect over the years of renovation projects on my house, it’s that there will always be surprises in every project. Whether it’s ripping off the eaves and discovering rotting wood beneath them, giant rocks in the way of holes that need to be dug, incorrectly installed insulation, or something else, any time you open up a house that’s 178 years old, you’re bound to find a thing or two you’re not expecting.

We’ve already come across the first surprise with the new renovation.

Yesterday my contractor was taking off the siding from the bathroom. It’s vinyl, and we’re replacing that bit with clapboard so that it matches the clapboard going up around the sun porch. As he’s ripping it off, he came across some areas where the supports for the old porch had been drilled into the wall. No big deal. You can you a sawz-all to get through those old screws no problem.

Except one area didn’t look quite right. There was a hole around it, and looking through it, he could see wiring right next to the screws. Suspicious, he carved out some of that area to be able to see more before he sawed through the screws. It’s a good thing he did, because three of those screws had gone straight through the 220 volt wiring that leads to our dryer.

This is, naturally, disturbing on many levels. If you’re not familiar with wiring, let me explain a bit. Most electricity in American homes is 110 volts. When you plug your toaster into the wall, that’s what you’re plugging into. Some appliances need more juice, so they have wiring and circuit breakers that allow more voltage through. 220 volts to be specific. No electricity is safe to get zapped with, but twice the amount of it is that much more dangerous.

When you drill through a wire, you take something metal and put it into contact with that electricity. That can complete a circuit, sending all that electricity through the metal whatever-it-was and straight into you. If somehow that doesn’t happen and you don’t notice, that metal and wiring can cause electricity to arc inside your wall. Arcing electricity generates heat, and heat generates fire, and fire inside your walls means your house burns down.

So to put this in context: someone in the past drilled through the most dangerous wiring in my house not once, not twice, but three separate times. Somehow they were able to not get zapped on any of those occasions, so they unwittingly left those screws in place in the dryer wire, where they’ve now lived for at least 12 years. A constant fire hazard that could have gone up at any time.

I count us very lucky in many ways. Lucky that our house is still standing, and lucky no one got hurt in the renovation process. We have an electrician coming today to fix the work and make it safe at last. It’s not an expensive repair, thankfully. Which is why it’s surprising it ever happened in the first place. It also hasn’t pushed back the timetable of renovations at all, since it’s in a spot that can be ignored for now as work proceeds elsewhere.

We just don’t have a functioning dryer until it’s repaired, but that’s why they invented clotheslines, right?

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