4 min read


Adventures in electricity!

The guys from Elite Electrical Contracting have had varied reactions to the Pushmatic Electri-Center panel in the basement of 615 Sunset. A little bit of nostalgia at the name, a dash of awe that the house is still running on this, and a healthy caution approaching it.

I was so pleased when Randy at Elite agreed to take on this job and gave me a good price. Randy and I go back to when he took over our home's electrical needs from Mike, the electrician who worked for Bob Varney, our long-time general contractor. (Bob the oak tree is named after Bob Varney; Ann the walnut is named after Bob's carpenter, Ann.) A few years ago, Mike died like we all should: a big heart attack while out in his canoe. We were sorry to lose him, but Randy has been a mensch.

Randy was the guy I ended up calling during the great ice-storm power outage of Solstice 2013, when so many of us around town lost power because BWL hadn't trimmed the trees in a hundred years. I didn't need Randy myself – our power got reconnected by a crew brought in by BWL from Illinois, after a week of being in the dark and the cold. I called Randy back then because I was trying to help people around the area get their masts fixed so they could be reconnected. I was part of a band of three citizens on Twitter working to keep lists of who needed what help, because, back then, BWL didn't have a functional outage-tracking system.

Standing in the kitchen of 615 Sunset this week, Randy and I reminisced about that wild time. He told me he thinks they did over 130 service calls during that period to get people reconnected...

The existing electrical box. Yikes!

Anyway, back to the Pushmatic. Basically, 615 has a completely inadequate electrical service and it needs an upgrade. Randy's guys will be doing that, but while we're undertaking that, we're also having them fix some other items that need to be brought up to code or adjusted for changes coming with the rehab.

This week, the guys from Elite brought down the drop ceiling in the kitchen (yes, it had a drop ceiling) to get the electric up there ready for what's coming – a reframing of the kitchen ceiling to be covered in drywall.

The kitchen will ultimately have great overhead lighting, including over the breakfast nook. The guys also upgraded the outlets over the kitchen counters to GFI and put in the right kind of outlet for the electric stove and vent. We could have skipped that but I don't want to leave my new neighbors with anything dangerous.

One of the guys from Elite working in the kitchen ceiling. Note the stove having been pulled for its plug upgrade.

Naturally, fixing the electric in the kitchen led to the discovery that the basement bathroom was on the same circuit – a real no-no. So the basement bathroom was disconnected and currently has no electricity. It will get its own circuit after the new service is installed. That bathroom will also get some kind of rehab, most likely a paint job and some new lighting. It's an odd bathroom, but it will be great if the new owners have a dog that needs washing or teenagers vying for vanity space.

While he was checking out the Pushmatic, Randy discovered that the nearby washing machine was plugged into a power strip (!), so that will also be getting its own new circuit.

We're also putting central air in the house, so that requires another circuit. The good news is that, after the upgrade, the house will have plenty of circuits for what it needs. And I'll feel good knowing we fixed a bunch of iffy things that are essentially invisible but important for safety.

At Lisa's suggestion (I'll explain who Lisa is in a coming post!), we also had the Elite guys take down the ceiling fan/light in the living room to create a more modern box for a new ceiling fan. They did the same in the sunroom, where there was a charming but small and dim ceiling light. The sunroom and the living room will both get low-profile, modern, white ceiling fans to help keep the front rooms comfortable in the winter and summer.

Modern code requires that there be nothing blocking the electrical panel. So, the electricians let me know we'd have to take out the counter that had been installed along the wall that holds the Pushmatic. This afternoon, I asked my spouse to come remove it. In the midst of it, he observed to me, "There are few things more pleasant than swinging a hammer."

An installed counter blocked the electrical panel (to the left), so it had to be removed in advance of the service upgrade. Aron did the honors and I played scrub nurse, handing over tools as needed.

Removing the countertop turned out to be a big to-do. It had many layers, all fastened down, and then below it we discovered a huge cache of heavy cinderblocks that also had to be moved. Those went into the garage for the coming "pick-over party" for the neighbors. Someone will want them, I'm sure.

We also threw out a whole bunch of empty cleaning supply bottles and took down a slew of fasterner-thingees from the walls in that area of the basement.

The area, now cleared of the built-in countertop, the cinder blocks, lots of old cleaning supplies, etc., etc. To the left is the slop sink that stands next to the washer and dryer. I'll clean all this up some more and probably give it all a fresh coat of paint.

Now, the Pushmatic is fully accessible and ready for its close-up. Stay tuned.