Saturday, March 06, 2010

Story of the Day

That’s what the guy at Home Depot said after we went through the saga that is our oven. We thought it died. We started the grieving process and made it to the bargaining stage – do we buy what we really want even though our kitchen renovation is years away or do we just get one that fits the space and is relatively cheap?

As we were going though that debate, we thought we’d disassemble what we had. My suggestion was to kick it, but Michael took a much more productive approach and uncovered what not to do with appliances.

If you’re like me and have qualms about being electrocuted, you may not know the ins and outs of wire and voltage but this atrocity that was our oven was so bad even I understood the severity of it. If you are familiar with electrical work, please don’t be mortified by my recounting of the tale. Now that we have that squared away, here’s the “story of the day” as told to the Home Depot man.

From the 60 amp breaker in the panel they ran 6-2 SEU aluminum wire (note: the wire is 40 amp max rated and the 6 has to do with the thickness of the wire. The gauge of the wire is critical, and confusing if you ask me – the lower the number, the thicker it is and exponentially more difficult to work with/bend the way you want to).

From the aluminum wire, they hard-wired the 12-2 copper wire with wire nuts to the oven. And, if you’re keeping track of the amps, it’s important to note that 12 gauge copper wire is rated to a max of 20 amps. The copper was connected to the oven with Radio Shack crimp-on spade terminals (improperly crimped as a bonus, and certainly not rated for 240 volts). Additionally, aluminum and copper don’t mix, requiring special connectors of which there were none.

[A digression, with each of the problems we find, I wonder if the homeowner was just duped by some unscrupulous contractor and I feel a little bad that they paid someone good money to have such shoddy work. I’ve abandoned that thought and have moved on to debating if the former homeowner was stupid, lazy or malicious.]

Now we had to deal with really bad electrical work and we still didn’t know if our range was even broken, partially fried or just confused by the stresses it had gone through with at least five years of surges and shocks. We knew that even if we had to buy a new range, the wiring was such a problem it had to go. We ripped out everything from the range to the panel; installed new wire, a new properly amp’d breaker, a plug on the range and receptacle on the wall, and the oven works better than ever.

What did I learn in the process? That the jury is still out on the former owner, that Michael is really good with electricity (and I don’t have to be), and that we’re happily (for now) stuck with the old range. Most importantly, I learned that we’re truly lucky that our house did not burn down.

As for the “story of the day” at the home improvement store, I think we’ll have many more to go.