Monday, July 23, 2007

Electrical Problems Solved by The Circuit Detective

For the past several years, we suffered through some strange, but highly intermittent troubles with the electrical sockets in our kitchen. It only affects a few plugs, and only some of the time, but it was getting annoying that every few months the coffee machine stopped working. Move it to another socket and it worked fine.  Leave it rest a few days and like magic the outlet came back to life.

About two years ago we paid an electrician to come to our house to take a look.  After an hour and $100, he concluded that the wiring for the entire kitchen was the wrong gauge.  The 20-amp standard outlets were being fed by wires that were too thin for the job.   Unfortunately that meant ripping out the wall of the kitchen and a lot more time and money than we were prepared to endure. The problem only happened occasionally (every month or two) and there was an easy workaround (use another socket for a while) so we just let it alone.

Well last month the socket stopped working again and stayed dead for a week--much longer than normal. The earlier diagnosis about wire gauge sizes didn't seem right, so this time we called a specialist:  Larry Dimock, a private contractor who calls himself the Circuit Detective. Boy is he good!  His resume says he's a graduate of Harvard Divinity School, but it's clear that electrical circuitry is his real calling.

First, he was extremely responsive and flexible. The outlet only dies sometimes, and then it can come back to life quickly, so we wanted him to see it immediately, and he did: on his way to another job he swung by our house to take a quick look. 

Second, he's very quick.  He dismissed the "wrong gauge" hypothesis immediately -- the symptoms don't fit, he said -- and within seconds narrowed in on the correct problem.  One of the outlets was just plain burnt out -- you could see the damage when he removed it.  The other outlets had been wired incorrectly -- not enough to break all the time, but in a way that made them likely to come loose.

Third, he's thorough: Noting that the same person who did these sockets incorrectly probably did other ones too, he walked through the house and tested our other sockets. Sure enough, several others had been wired poorly -- a potential future problem that he easily fixed.

While he was there, we asked him to look at a bathroom light that similarly seemed to malfunction intermittently.  In just a few minutes of inspection, he isolated the problem: a faulty light bulb!  By proving that the wiring was just fine, he saved us another bundle on a less competent electrician who would have recommended pulling and replacing hard-to-reach wires.

Finally, his prices were very reasonable. For about $200, he solved some problems that had been annoying us for years, and I believe he prevented others that we didn't even know existed.

By the way, even if you don't live in the Seattle area, you should take advantage of Larry's extensive web site:  It gives pages and pages of tips and tricks for trouble-shooting, and it should be your first stop if you are wondering about some nasty home electrical problem, no matter where you live. 


Incidentally, although Larry strictly limits himself to troubleshooting jobs, he recommends these places for other electrical chores: 

  • Snoqualmie Valley - Mark Stevens 425 788 5887
  • Jerry Burns - Electron Electron 425 222 7400

We want to have our house wired for a generator, and if these guys are anywhere near as good as Larry I'm sure we'll be in good hands.

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