back to article Pulling down a partition or knocking through a door does not necessarily make for a properly connected workspace

Although a little late for Halloween, today's entry into the Who, Me? archives concerns mysterious outages and some electrics that were perhaps a touch too cunning. Our story comes from Gary, who was gainfully employed as a software developer. Like so many, he wore multiple hats and was also the sysadmin for his company. If …

  1. Joe W Silver badge

    Working on that..

    ... at home. The previous owner could be called a bit of a dabbler, thankfully he wasn't called an ambulance (or the fire brigade...). Half of the cabling was not rated for anything, ran wildly all over the place, and the whole thing was a complete and utter mess.

    Yeah, a goldmine for the certified electrician. (I could do most of it, but I'm not allowed, so I rather don't, "manslaughter charges" and "gross and wilful neglect", or whatever they are called, are terms I do not want to encounter).

    1. TonyJ Silver badge

      Re: Working on that..

      I am in the same boat. Fully qualified electrical and electronics engineer but at the end of the day I've used none of it for decades so I am not able to certify any work I would perform.

      So that being said, unless it's minor, I prefer to not invalidate my insurance by having a go. Mind you, I am also of an age where crawling around loft spaces etc is less than appealing anyway so I tend to avoid that as well out of simple choice.

      1. ArrZarr

        Re: Working on that..

        There's an age where crawling around loft spaces etc is appealing?

        1. Red Ted Silver badge

          Re: Working on that..

          Not really, in my experience, but there becomes a point at which you can delegate.

          In the office, I typically can find a more junior member of staff to do it, at home I go for the Victorian approach and send a child!

        2. EVP

          Re: Working on that..

          Approximately from 7 to 10 years of age.

          1. Dr. Ellen
            Thumb Up

            Re: Working on that..

            Ah. A retired five-year-old advisor for the Evil Overlord, I presume? The child is still alive, which is a good credential for the job.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Working on that..

            AC ..... just cos ....

            I have sent a borrowed 8 year old into the false ceiling to get into an office that somebody managed to deadlock from the inside.

            To be fair the kid was a junior state gymnastic champ who could lift himself into the ceiling with one finger

            1. herman Silver badge

              Re: Working on that..

              Err.. good for the kid, but what did you do with the dead body - the one that locked himself in…

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Working on that..

                They managed to press a catch and then close it deadlocking it when they left.

                Not sure whether to blame them or the idiot that installed the lock - but they were in reach......

                1. ShadowDragon8685

                  Re: Working on that..

                  Sounds like there's sufficient blame to go around. Blame is not a zero-sum game: you can apportion blame for an incident to one party without reducing the amount of blame another party takes.

          3. anonymousI

            Re: Working on that..

            These days, after 10 years of age they often know more than you do.

            Or at least claim to, which is not quite the same thing...

      2. SusiW

        Re: Working on that..

        Same here in the 'industry' for waaaay too many years, but qualifications stopped at 16th.

        AND, the A-hole that previously lived here somehow managed to connect parts of the upstairs ring with the downstairs.

        To make matters worse, a few years ago in the kitchen, I had the kettle on and the washing machine doing a boil-wash. I caught that unmistakable whiff of burning insulation. Looking around, I noticed smoke fuming from behind one of the kitchen cabinets.

        Behind the cabinet I found a huge mess of smoking filler. Turned off power and inspected. This utter wanker had extended the downstairs ring by using a bit of 6A chocblock!! FFS!

        I later found a similar fuckup on the other side of the kitchen where he had grafted in the cooker hood DIRECTLY into to the electric oven feed.

        Oh, and let's not forget the screw he had driven through the cold water feed to the tank in the loft (while fitting the pan shelves). He also stole all the *included* light fittings and bodged the wiring for the kitchen light so that when it was turned on, it caught fire.

        The final insult (so far...) was that he left the address owing over £24k and saddled this address with a 'debt warning' that took at least five years to clear. Bailiffs are not fun.

        F***ing C**t.

        1. Rufus McDufus

          Re: Working on that..

          Years ago in my house I realised with the obligatory shock that an electrician long ago had used the "1 wire too few" approach to wiring the top and bottom stair light switches so that switching off either the downstairs or upstairs lighting circuits at the fuse box meant they were both still live.

          1. KarMann Silver badge

            Re: Working on that..

            Was this 'obligatory shock' literal or figurative? Or potentially both?

        2. Rob Daglish Bronze badge

          Re: Working on that..

          Well, that explains where the guy who sold my in-laws their house moved to...

          He’d ran out of cable partway through a run, so he’d joined it in much the same way. Except he’d plastered it into the wall, and decided to run the cable diagonally across the room.

          As well as using a BT phone socket as a joint when he ran out of cable for the outside lights, and left a load of carpet gripper in the void space where he’d fitted down lighters.

          You can relax though, he was much better at other areas of DIY, for example the manhole covers he mastiked in place were really neatly done, as was the patio he built over the one we couldn’t find...

        3. Zarno Silver badge

          Re: Working on that..

          He's so far below (Above? Did he roll-over a 128 bit number?), that even Vogon poetry would be too lenient a punishment...

          Icon because when faced with nuclear or fire, go with the nuclear fire.

          Although the idjit would probably fizzle the detonation somehow.

        4. TwistedPsycho

          Re: Working on that..

          Sounds a bit like my gaff.

          Was previously an unregistered high occupancy build. Four small adult rooms. Owner cut the immersion heater from the main board and fitted a 13A plug to it to 'stop it being used' and then run a two socket extension from one bedroom to another, having created the gang using a brick splitter (the cube you plugged in to make three sockets.

          Then the socket for the washer dryer; run off an extension plug wired into the oven socket....

          I have not asked an electrician to installer a new consumer box; don't fancy having the rest of it condemned.l!

        5. ShadowDragon8685

          Re: Working on that..

          Once is a mistake;

          Twice is incompetence;

          Thrice is sabotage, mate.

          You should find the wanker and sue his bollocks off.

      3. WhereAmI?

        Re: Working on that..

        You're both UK-based by the sound of it. Last regs that enabled you to do your own electrical work were the 15th. I rewired my entire previous house under 14th regs with a bit of guidance from my then-girlfriend's father who was a qualified electrician. Couldn't afford to employ anyone to do it. Hours and hours of channelling walls and running cables. It was alright until it came to pulling floorboards and running cables in the loft...

        This was in Poole and I lived on Poole Quay. Poole Quay was a heavy industry area before it got gentrified in the 90s. At the top of my road was a town-gas gasworks (it processed coal into town gas with a byproduct of coal tar soap). At the bottom of the road was the part of the quay where the colliers pulled up to discharge the coal. Joining the two was an overhead cableway carrying the full buckets to the gasworks and the empty ones back round again... and quite frequently the neighbourhood kids too.

        So, pulling floorboards upstairs revealed a good 20mm of very fine coal dust that had accumulated over the years. I had no choice but lift Every. Single. floorboard to clean the mess out. I thought I worked in IT but you could have fooled me - for weeks I looked more like a coal miner. Downstairs was another mess - living next to the sea brought flooding and pulling the floorboards there I found 1940s cabling literally sitting in seawater. I dropped a concrete raft in and ran the cables down the walls from upstairs.

        It was an interesting exercise but I have no desire to ever repeat it.

    2. KittenHuffer Silver badge

      Re: Working on that..

      Many a decade ago..... A friend of mine, while still in his late teens, rewired the family home pretty much solo. At that time it was just necessary to get it inspected and signed off. When it came to the inspection it was not just signed off but the inspector said it was the best job that he'd seen, and wanted to know which workmen they'd used so he could recommend them in the future. He was slightly 'surprised' to find who had done it.

      1. EVP
        Thumb Up

        Re: Working on that..

        I'm not so surprised. A professional is just a person who takes money for his/her services and is qualified on paper. The end result is often crap. I hope your friend chose the trade and made fcucktons of money.

        1. KittenHuffer Silver badge

          Re: Working on that..

          Actually IIRC he went on the get 7 'A' O-levels, 5 'A' A-levels, and a First. Then had a very successful career as a well paid boffin! Though he could also have had a career as a Richard Stilgoe impersonator!

          1. EVP

            Re: Working on that..

            Respect! Tell him my kudos, if you two still keep in touch.

        2. My-Handle Silver badge

          Re: Working on that..

          The lesson I learned is similar.

          A professional -should- know their trade and have the relevant experience to do a good, timely job. But their motivation comes only from the desire to get paid and professional integrity (and I've met a good few that lacked this, including one who installed a door that wouldn't shut).

          Someone doing work privately may not have the relevant knowledge or experience, but will have a really strong desire to do a good job, as they are going to be the ones living with it. That, with time and research, can often result in a better job being done.

          The trick is to realise when you're out of your depth.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Working on that..

            My municipality (in southeast US) allows a homeowner to do their own repairs and modifications - but only if they're not going to sell the house anytime soon. Seems to be the same motivation, and it works.

      2. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Working on that..

        Grew up in an ancient old farmhouse. We did some rewiring and at the time got more for the lead cable we pulled out than the new copper cost. Still remember the smell of 300 year old cowshit in the wattle and daub walls when plastering around the new sockets/switches. The whole place was higgledy piggledy and extended out to a garage up against a very large old barn. In the garage about 10' up was a bakerlite box with a big switch on the side. We never looked to closely at it until the barns were turned into houses and in the process it was discovered (by a huge flash and bang from a digger) that this was connected to an old underground mains cable that even the electricity company had forgotten about. We could have cut our bills enormously!

        I have an honours in electrical and electrical eng and it always amazes me that I can tell employees to do things I cant legally do myself.

        1. 2+2=5 Silver badge

          Re: Working on that..

          > I have an honours in electrical and electrical eng

          Does that mean you got a double-first?

      3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Working on that..

        "At that time it was just necessary to get it inspected and signed off."

        It still works like that. Anything your side of the consumer unit is fair game, but you MUST have it checked and certified or you won't be able to sell the house or have valid insurance.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. John Miles

      Re: but I'm not allowed

      It is worth checking the wiring Regs Part P as it was updated in April 2013 with less stringent requirements as to what was notifiable

      Some FAQ

    4. Martin an gof Silver badge

      Re: Working on that..

      Just in case...

      As pointed out in the FAQ linked by John Miles, there is nothing stopping you doing electrical work in your own home, and indeed there are some things that don't need certification if you are doing it for yourself - the obvious things like replacing a light fitting, but also adding a spur to an existing circuit, and this applies particularly where an urgent repair is necessary for safety.

      It's also possible to do more extensive work yourself, but you will need at the very least to issue a notice to Building Control, and as they will usually require inspection by an electrician it's usually simpler (in theory) to engage a self-certifying electrician to oversee the work in the first place.

      The problem is that by agreeing to do so, such an electrician effectively "owns" the work, for the purposes of professional indemnity and liability insurance and so will want to be absolutely certain you've done the work correctly.

      We've recently built a house, and as someone who was self-certifying until I got a "proper" job a few years ago, I was desperate to save money by installing the electrics myself. Our builder had an electrician he worked with, so we asked him about oversight, but the bloke wanted to be on site the whole time I was working and apart from the inflexibility this would entail, he estimated a cost that wasn't far off what he would have charged to do the work himself.

      I did eventually find a more flexible electrician, who visited a couple of times while we didn't have ceilings or plaster just to check routes and make suggestions, and then did a full-day take-everything-apart inspection once I'd finished. Much more reasonable.

      And of course, we're all following the recommendation to have full installation inspections in our homes every ten years, aren't we....?


      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Working on that..

        A couple of years ago I had to get an electrical safety certificate for a house I rent out. The chap doing the testing found that two double sockets in the main room were very via a length of 0.5mm^2 flex from the cellar lighting circuit. That particular installation had been carried out by a "professional" electrician and later, when I rented the house myself, certified by another one.

        Mind you, a friend of mine had an Alfa Spider which passed half a dozen MOT tests at different testing stations with the rear brakes completely inoperable ... the pipe feeding them ended in a blanking plug. Which shows just how reluctant "professional" MOT testers were to do the road test required for cars with limited slip differentials.

        1. Martin an gof Silver badge

          Re: Working on that..

          A previous employer many moons ago had a 20ft trailer, previously used as a mobile classroom. It had "electric" brakes which came on with the brake lights, but obviously only to a certain set point as otherwise you risked overbraking the trailer, skidding, jackknifing etc.

          Getting that thing through the MoT was nigh-on impossible as there wasn't a suitable test profile. Instead we found a friendly garage where the tester was willing to put his foot on the rolling road rollers at the appropriate point in the test.


        2. phuzz Silver badge

          Re: Working on that..

          Which shows just how reluctant "professional" MOT testers were to do the road test required for cars with limited slip differentials.

          And there was me thinking that my brother's father-in-law was making up the requirement that he had to have a quick test drive when someone brought a Ferrari F40 or E-type Jag in for it's MoT.

          (His garage was in the Cotswolds, and most of the local speciality garages would bring their clients cars to him for their MoT. I think the F40 belonged to Nick Mason of Pink Floyd, but I can't remember exactly).

    5. aerogems

      Re: Working on that..

      As part of some halloween thing, the local public radio station here aired some segment which had a horror writer buying a supposedly haunted house and then the things they had to go through. It included getting a contractor to inspect the place and included bits like, "they said one of the things you never want to hear a contractor say, 'Interesting.' " This involved some previous owner doing something like putting in doors for a closet, except there is no closet, or they had walled off the closet and never bothered taking off the doors. Then they continued on with the segment saying how the contractor said another phrase you never want to hear, "Never seen that before!" This time apparently someone decided to add onto the house at some point and never bothered to get rid of the old roof, so about half the attic was taken up by an old section of roof.

      Also reminds me of the time when I was a wee one and my parents decided to take away my access to the cable TV feed as punishment. I traced the cable back to the main splitter and then set up my own secondary feed one day when my parents were gone, drilling a small hole in the floor of my room to snake my extra cable up through. I assume some time after I moved out my father found that extra cable, but it served me well for those few years until broadband was an option and I figured out how to find entertainment online.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Working on that..

      I was asked to put some network cabling in when we moved into a new office. The floor was a layer of expanded polystyrene sandwiched between two layers of floorboards. There were floor mounted power points at each desk cluster and I was asked to add network points.

      When I lifted the floorboards, whoever had run the power cabling had just cut troughs in the polystyrene and laid the power cable directly in them as they were obviously not aware of the undesirable reaction between PVC and polystyrene. The cable had gone so brittle that when I accidentally disturbed one of the cables, some of the outer covering fell off exposing the copper.

  2. lglethal Silver badge

    We've called in the Electrician for our new place (an old 70's house), there are a number of light switches which dont seem to do anything, and in the entrance hall, we have 6 wires sticking out (for one light socket!) but none of them are the standard colours for Earth, positive, and negative. No way am I playing round with that to try and work out what the hell is happening.

    The electrician should have some fun trying to sort it all out...

    1. Wally Dug

      "we have 6 wires sticking out (for one light socket!) but none of them are the standard colours"

      Really? That's shocking...

      (Watt? Ohm, you're right, sorry, I should really have kept it current.)

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        That hertz.

        1. Korev Silver badge

          We must resist making these puns...

          1. EVP

            Nah, a good pun always sparks more conversation.

          2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

            They add impedance to the comment section, which nobody has the capacitance for.

            1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge

              Ohm Mho God.

            2. Swarthy Silver badge

              Wire you all doing this?!

    2. tip pc Silver badge

      Safety first etc,

      But 6 wires going to a fitting is normal

    3. Roger Kynaston Silver badge

      fun for the electriction

      I hope they are a down to earth type though.

      1. Korev Silver badge

        Re: fun for the electriction

        Oh they're completely grounded....

    4. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Part of my current property (gedit) was knocked up by a builder and his sons in the 70s. When a switch fails I can guarantee its because the cable to it was cut 1/2" short and over time the tension has pulled the copper lose from under the not tightened down enough screw. When I had the PV put in the fitters noted half the wires in the back of the consumer unit were loose! I did wonder whether some previous occupant just overinsured the place.

    5. Anonymous Coward Silver badge

      > "colours for Earth, positive, and negative"

      If you're expecting mains to have those three then it's a good job you're getting a professional in.

      Mains is AC. The positive and negative swap 100 times per second (or 120 time in some countries). Good luck updating the wiring quickly enough for that.

      Live and Neutral are the terms you're looking for. Live will be brown, red or black, or in some cables/situations it could be grey, blue or yellow. So I'm left wondering what non-standard colour you've encountered.

      1. Martin an gof Silver badge

        Or "phase" and neutral as both wires are - technically speaking - "live" and should be treated as such.

        In the UK, in a single-phase domestic installation, the "live" in a "twin and earth" cable will only be brown, or red before 2004. Domestically you will sometimes find "three core and earth" between the switches in two-way (or three-way, etc.) lighting installations. Before 2004, 3&E cable is red-yellow-blue. Now it is brown-black-grey.

        Confusion arises because before 2004, black was "neutral" and blue was "phase 3" while now, blue is neutral and black is phase 2. Just be thankful that they didn't go with one of the harmonisation proposals, which was to have all "live" cables black, and print "1", "2" and "3" on them, or brown-black-black which was one of the daft compromises considered.

        It is for this reason that if you make changes to the wiring in your home and use brown-blue cable in an otherwise red-black installation, you need to fix a warning sticker, usually to the consumer unit.

        Heating systems are sometimes wired using many-core flex. Quite a lot of colour or numbering schemes are in use, including all-black.

        And to complete the confusion, appliance flex in the UK was red-black-green until 1970 or so, when it changed to brown-blue-green&yellow.


        1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

          "(or three-way, etc.) lighting"

          So, on, off, and...... something else?

          1. Martin an gof Silver badge

            Just in case you were serious (no joke icon detected), in the UK a "two way" lighting circuit usually means one where two switches operate the same light. Similarly, "three way" etc.

            The "end" switches (i.e. both in a two-way) are what would normally be termed "changeover" switches - with a common and two "lives", one at a time of which is connected to the common depending on the position of the switch.

            The "middle" switches (in a more-than-two-way) are crossover switches where if "A" and "B" are your inputs with "P" and "Q" as outputs, in one switch position A connects to P and B connects to Q but in the other, A connects to Q and B connects to P.

            This type of arrangement is most often found operating one or both of the hallway lights at the top and bottom of a staircase so that you can turn the light on before you go up, and off when you get to the top (or whatever).

            Here are some diagrams and note that the recommendation is to use the "three wire" variants (at the bottom of the page) these days (hence the use of 3&E cable), as they avoid awkward current loops which can interfere with (for example) hearing aids on the "T" setting, and they discourage the use of "borrowed neutrals" which another poster has referred to earlier.


          2. PBXTech

            In the US, you would use a "Three-Way Switch"...Double pole/Double throw.

            In a nutshell, You are toggling back and forth between two terminals. One switch is wired to power and the other to the light. In operation, Switch A sends power to the other switch over Lead A, leaving Lead B cold. If Switch B is set to connect to Lead A the light is on. Toggle it to Lead B and the light is off. Toggle it back to Lead A and the light comes back on.

            Assume that Switch B is now toggled to Lead B, leaving the light off. Go to the OTHER switch and flip it. This routes power to Lead B instead, turning the light back on.

            This configuration requires what we in the US call a "traveler" extra hot lead between the switches. Instead of the standard White/Black/Bare or White/Black/Green (Neutral/Hot/Ground) you instead use (generally) White/Black/Red/Green (Neutral/Hot1/Hot2/Ground.

            To add to the confusion, a standard residence in the US is actually wired for 240...we just use half of it. A standard residential panel is wired for 240V/200A. The difference is that the pole transformer is center-tapped to provide a Neutral. Incoming to the panel are two phases, a Neutral, and a ground. Between either phase and Neutral is 120, between the two phases is 240. In theory, Neutral and Ground should be at the same (lack of) potential. Neutral is the return path, Ground is safety if you lose the Neutral. The service panel has a bus for each phase, with each 120 breaker picking up an alternate phase. A 240 breaker is basically just two adjacent breakers ganged together to provide 2 hots instead of 1.

            High-current appliances (water heaters, furnace, air conditioning, range top, oven, etc.) are generally 240, with everything else being 120. To allow for internal 120 circuits within an appliance (oven timer, oven light, etc. current code requires that the Neutral be present in a 240 receptacle, even if not used. This means that opening up a 240 junction box will most likely reveal a Neutral, 2 hots, and a ground...White/Black/Red/Green...just like the box on the wall for your 3-way (120) light switch.

            The old standard did NOT require a Neutral, so you would just find Hot1/Hot2/Ground...Black/Red/Green. If the device required 120 internally, they just used the Ground as a return path. This could cause unpleasant surprises while working in the box, as lifting the ground connection from the ground bus resulted in a bright flash and an ENERGIZED BARE CONDUCTOR running around in your breaker panel.

            I am NOT an electrician. I generally work with 48VDC, and only see 90-120VAC when the phone rings...I do Telecom. Electrical knowledge is courtesy of the US Navy, as is the Telecom. (FWIW, Navy ships are all 480V, 3-phase, 60 Hz, then we do the same weird shit for 240/120 equipment. I've sat switchboard watch with 8MW worth of steam turbine generators online and paralleled.)

    6. Dr. Ellen

      You can probably use inductive logic to figure it out.

  3. Jon Smit


    I bought a long empty house in the Welsh valleys and arranged for the leccie man to reconnect and the old slot meter, the day we moved in.

    No chance, he said after a couple of minutes looking at the old wiring. The old stuff didn't have an earth and was lead sheathed. The newer wiring was mine detonator cabling, nicked off the NCB.

    Fortunately he called early in the morning and I was able to purchase the necessary bits and bobs to enable to house to lit and powered by rather a lot of cable sockets, connected to a new fuse board. We lived like that for almost a year, waiting for a council improvement grant to come through.

    1. Rob Daglish Bronze badge

      Re: Condemned

      You’re lucky, one spark and that detonator cable could have gone with a bang...

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Condemned

        Joking aside, it would be det cord to be able to go with a bang, and that's non-conductive. It's a tube full of explosive :-) The NCB stuff that was half-inched would just be normal copper wire used to set off a remote electrical detonator.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Condemned

          Just so long as you don't have any of those big long red tube shaped fuses at the end.

          Not joking, we had a high voltage power supply to a flash x-ray (what the kids today call an x-ray laser) where the connection from the bunker full of capacitor banks to the head was a glass tube full of copper salt solution wrapped with explosive tape.

          It's rather difficult to turn off 10,000A of high voltage DC with your typical 2 pole switch.

    2. Ian Johnston Silver badge

      Re: Condemned

      Until they moved out, about fifteen years ago, my parents' house still had functioning 15A two-pin sockets, wired up (with gutta-percha insulation) when the house was built in the 30s.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Condemned

        Some friends rented a nice old farmhouse and I'm guessing the owners just put in new cable at random every now and then. Above the lean to kitchen door into the rest of the property there were around 30 cables in a block coming from the consumer unit to a living room, two bathrooms and two bedrooms! I did wonder it it might be structural.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I remember Grandma's houses wiring

        You could see the knob and tube wiring in the basement. House is still there. I hope the knob and tube wiring has been replaced.

        1. Dog11

          Re: I remember Grandma's houses wiring

          Eh, my knob & tube was replaced. By single strand bitumen & cloth insulated wires (the multiconductor cable that left-pond calls "Romex" had apparently not yet been invented). House retrofitted with electric in maybe the 1920s (original lighting was gas). Since construction c. 1900 it has seen much inventive work by mechanics and such. More recent addons by electricians and pretenders of various vintages. (One private inspector said "that brand of panel (maybe what Brits call consumer unit? holds all the circuit breakers) is only used by DIY, not electricians). I am normally competent (have done new-house wiring elsewhere unofficially) but don't dare touch any of this stuff. If you disturb it, the insulation starts falling off. But I've lived here 30 years, give it another 20 and I'll be beyond caring what happens.

          1. WhereAmI?

            Re: I remember Grandma's houses wiring

            Thanks for the reminder. I had almost forgotten that my grandmother's house still had the gas fittings on the wall and that (fifty-five years ago) they still worked. My grandfather demonstrated one night at my young insistence. Coal-gas gave a very smelly bluish light.

        2. PBXTech

          Re: I remember Grandma's houses wiring

          Nothing intrinsically wrong with K&T wiring. They generally used a large enough conductor to avoid most problems.

          The problem generally comes in back at the fusebox full of the old screw-in fuses. Fuse keeps blowing? Obviously, you need a higher amperage fuse. If it STILL blows, then you obviously need some fingernail polish.

          (Glue a penny a bit off-center to the end of the fuse with the fingernail polish, then run it on in, back it off, then run it on in again. Running it all the way in breaks the fingernail polish, backing it off allows the penny to fall, running it back in locks the penny between the bottom and the center contacts of the fuse holder.

          Anybody know what the ampacity rating is for a solid copper US 1-Cent coin?

    3. MrBanana Silver badge

      Re: Condemned

      I once knocked two small cottages into one house, but the price that the electricity company wanted to combine the two systems, one being Economy 7, was extortionate. Cheaper to keep two separate systems and pay the extra standing charge.

      The lounge was circuit 1 at one end, and circuit 2 at the other end. When we had some building work done it involved some electrical work in the lounge, but they hadn't picked up on this fact. They had the correct protocol of Bert turning off the mains at the consumer unit and Harry then double checking that the circuit was no longer live in the lounge. After Bert turns the mains off, Harry checks the circuit is dead and starts work. Then Harry looks at the lamp that is still lit at the other end of the lounge. Lots of shouting ensues. "Are you sure Bert", "yes Harry", this continues for quite a while until I let them in on it.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Network woes

    I had the joy of managing a umber of flood wiring projects when the move from thin Ethernet to Cat5 started. The first few projects only put sockets where there were desks as the departments concerned didn't want to pay for 'useless' sockets, needless to say they then restructure, moved offices and sometimes just moved desks around and I ended up paying to have additional individual network points put in. this was expensive as a qualified electrician did all the work rather than testing and inspecting the work of a network technician.

    After a couple of those issues I mandated true flood wiring with sockets along every wall no more than 2 metres apart. I got in to work one Monday morning to find out a whole network segment was down sending a comms technician over revealed that the department concerned were having some offices remodeled but had not thought to tell us. They removed a whole wall complete with trunking, network cables, sockets etc and were then surprised that the rest of the network points on the floor died.

    We had to make up some patch leads to get them back on the air then pay again to have the destruction remediated properly later. The same department refused to have a small room flood wired as it 'will only ever be used for filing cabinets' then announced at 10 am on the Friday before bank holiday that they had moved an out of hours Child Protection Officer into the office and there was nowhere to plug in his PC. That was resolved with a large drill cutting a hole through the wall big enough to feed an electrical extension through and a long network cable, I suspect its still like that 20 years later.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Network woes

      "That was resolved with a large drill cutting a hole through the wall"

      A better resolution would have been to quote the signed off statement that the room would only ever be used for filing cabinets.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Network woes

      Or like here (NHS hospital) - need to move people into this office now! No expense spared to add power and network points.

      Six months later - users move out, room never used as an office again .....

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: Network woes

        I think a lot of waste in the NHS is top-down, largely led by government policy.

        Like, for instance, the "Nightingale hospital" where I had to go for my second COVID jab, which was never used as an actual hospital, despite being converted from a conference centre, at massive expense. Largely because there were never any staff to actually operate it.

        I'll bet that someone got a cushy contract to do the work though, at the tax-payer's expense.

        1. ICL1900-G3 Bronze badge

          Re: Network woes

          Downvoted because...? Truth hurts, I guess.

  5. ColinPa Silver badge

    Putting walls up!

    I was at a customer for a 2 week project. We had been told that there would be building works at the weekend.

    We arrived the second week to find there was now a wall with a combination lock, stopping access to the machine room where we were meant to be working.

    No one knew the combination, so we pulled up a few floor tiles, and sent a small person under the door to open it. When the "building manager" came round at lunch time to see the work and found the door blocked open there was a "full and frank discussion" about the requirements of the wall - if someone can crawl underneath it why have it.

    1. KittenHuffer Silver badge

      Re: Putting walls up!

      I have heard of similar situations where the 'solution' was to cross the wall via the false ceiling.

      I hope that the person you sent was suitably dressed for H&S?!? ---------->

      1. Spanners Silver badge

        Re: Putting walls up!

        Centuries in the future, this is going to still be the case. It is called Jeffries Tubes in Star Trek!

    2. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

      Re: sent a small person under the door to open it


    3. PBXTech

      Re: Putting walls up!

      New security door for the server room. All high-tech with keypad entry on the outside and an Egress Button on the inside...with a wall that went up to the drop ceiling...and stopped.

      Several unhappy management types after I demonstrated that I could grab a ladder, pop a ceiling tile outside the door with my hand, gently lever up a tile with a screwdriver on the inside of the room, then simply poke the Egress Button with a broom handle, use my foot to open the door, then let it close on the broom handle.

      After the wall was extended up to the hard ceiling, I just went back to my old method of sliding a credit card down the gap between door and jamb until it released the striker...

  6. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "The outlet in the boss's office was still live:"

    i hope this wasn't discovered the hard way.

    1. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

      You'll note he's referring to the outlet, not the boss.

  7. Arthur the cat Silver badge

    It was water for me

    When I bought my current house my water bills were stupidly large as they went by rateable value rather than consumption, so I had a water meter fitted. This reduced our bills to a quarter of what they were initially. However, over the next couple of years they went up inexorably and the water company contacted us asking if we had a leak. No sign of it, but consumption kept going up even though we'd not changed our usage. Eventually they sent one of their chaps round to check and in the end he turned off the supply at the meter. Our taps kept flowing regardless. It turned out that they'd put the meter into the supply for the HMO next door, which crossed our land, rather than our supply. The HMO had been empty when the meter went in, and only had a couple of tenants for the first year while building work happened on the rest of the place, and our "increased consumption" coincided with the building works finishing and the place being fully occupied.

    The great thing about this was the water company accepted they'd been massively overcharging us and offered a refund. To work out how much they were supposed to monitor a quarter's consumption to get a base figure for us. In fact they only monitored for two months and we were away on holiday for three weeks of that, so we ended up with a very pleasant four figure repayment just before Christmas.

    1. Rob Daglish Bronze badge

      Re: It was water for me

      We have something similar with one of our rental properties every time the tenant changes. It goes in a loop like this:

      Me: Mr Tenant, ring the water company and tell them you need to be put on assessed volume charge, as the rates for this property were calculated when it was a shop and they can’t change them, and they can’t fit a water meter.

      Tenant: right-o. Rob. [relays conversation to water company.]

      Water company: Mr Landlord, we’d like to fit a water meter to this property, is that ok?

      Me: yes, but you’ve already been out X times and failed, so you normally just put the tenant on AVCs.

      Water Co: (books appointment to fit meter, drives out to house, scratches head) sorry, we can’t fit a meter. Can we put you on AVC instead?

      Tenant: yes...

      Me: !

      You’d think they would have some way of recording it against the property, but it seems to be against the person, as they do this every time the tenant changes, around 4 times so far.

  8. arrrrr

    Same here

    At a previous house there were live, cooker circuit* wires just taped under one of the kitchen wall cabinets, a switch that still worked the kitchen light lying on the ground under the floor of the extension, near the drain which had just been covered with a plastic sheet so it could overflow if blocked!

    Also under the floor to of the living room was socket extension cable just twisted together and wrapped in electricians tape!

    And that's just what we found without really looking....

    We did at least fix those problems, and leave notice about the drain for future occupants.

    *UK cooker circuits have higher amp rating than normal sockets.

  9. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Big Brother

    I was lucky

    I moved into to my place just before the axe came down. The wiring was a few bits of VIR cable for the lighting, so definitely pre 1960, and a couple of sockets downstairs plus an (underrated) shower line. All on rewireable fuses.

    Did the lot myself. I did think about getting it certified recently, but I'm not intending to go anywhere, so not really bothered.

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: I was lucky

      All on rewireable fuses.

      30 years or so ago my parents moved into a house that still had rewireable fuses. The previous owner had wired them with the correct rating of fuse wire, but he was obviously keen to do a thorough job - each 5A fuse had 5-6 turns of 5A fuse wire looped between the terminals. The 30A ones 'only' had 4 turns...

  10. BenDwire Silver badge

    @John Miles

    Thanks for those links, I'd missed the fact that outdoor works were no longer notifiable.

    Unfortunately I need a replacement consumer unit which is still in scope, so I need to engage a 'professional' - depite me having a degree in electrical engineering, being a chartered engineer and being a fellow of the IET!

    I'll still be checking their work afterwards ...

  11. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    You'll all be OK

    As long as everything is properly grounded.

  12. sam 12

    Back in the late 1980s I helped run a youth organisation that had its own ( historical) premises which were fast approaching 100 years old. You can imagine the wiring nightmare that had been built up over the years. Most of the heating in the vast spaces were electric radiators, a few oil filled but most of roof or wall mounted ones that looked like 2 bar electric fires ( 15 of )but without the coal effect.

    Anyways one evening the cupboard containing the electric junction boxes, meter etc went on fire, luckily it was caught in time, the fire brigade called out the power company to make it safe, the chap came and made it safe but noticed that at some point in the past, the meter had been bypassed ( we only ever got estimated bills as no one was in premises during day) He said it looked as if it had been done years previously, so he reconnected back to way it should legally be, luckily he was an ex-member and no more was said.

    The upside to this is, he took meter readings and the power company git back to us a week or so later telling the trustees that, over the years, their estimated bills had been wildly over-charging us and here's a cheque fora few grand to make up for that and a donation to make up for our overpayments not being spotted sooner.

    We reckon the meter bypass was at least 40 years old - no one ever owned up to having done it..........

  13. clyde666

    Days long gone

    We had premises in a city centre many years ago. Ancient tenement buildings. Most of the upstairs places were long empty, in fact some of the upstairs places were missing floorboards and the like.

    Down below there were still second world war bomb shelters. It was obvious people were able to move through from street to street well below ground.

    Anyway some of us got to exploring, and ended up able to go up and down and through adjoining premises. We found cables running from three or four addresses away, through these long abandoned premises, supplying ground floor shops.

    It's all demolished and shiny new shops now. Sad.

  14. NXM

    A mate of mine was asked to rewire the lights in a long shed where the old wiring had been eaten by rats.

    There were two consumer units serving each end of the shed, so he turned one off and the lights at that end went out. He turned the other one off and the lights at the other end went out ... apart from one bulb in the middle.

    He never found out where the supply for that one came from.

    1. EVP

      From neighbor's consumer unit? In any case, I hope you mate was wise enough to replace the light in the middle by a consumer unit and rewire both ends of the shed from the new one, fed by rat-resistant wires...

  15. bernmeister

    Anonymous Mains Feeds

    It happens to the best of us. The company I work with has its locked server room UPS powered from the workshop trips!. The workshop staff were the first out and the first in everyday. They religiously powered down the workshop overnight and powered up every morning. They did this for years without anybody noticing. Every now and then the server would crash over the weekend but not often. One day I asked power maintenance what the beeping sound was every evening. He said, that's the UPS on standby. He said it only had 24 hours autonomy but for years it had hung on sporadically all weekend. The solution was simple, label the trip-switch clearly. Older buildings tend to have breakers scattered all over the place, sometimes their location is unknown until they trip and have to be hunted down.

  16. Diez66

    Gas, Cut those pipes, no worries!

    OK, not at work, not even data but it is part of a network.

    My parents house still had two capped off pipes where gas lights were once equipped.

    They decided to redecorate, it really was time.

    OK, gas off, cut the pipe; Hissssssssssssss.

    Turns out they were connected to the neighbours house, laugh, well we did later.

    At the time we ran away and got the man in.

    1. Potty Professor

      Re: Gas, Cut those pipes, no worries!

      Many years ago, we bought a 1930s semi detached house. On the wall above the electric cooker, a 3/4" gas pipe projected out of the wall. During redecorating, it was decided to remove this pipe, so I turned off the main gas incomer valve, loosened the cap, and was surprised to find that the pipe was still gassed up. I called the gas company and asked them to come and disconnect the pipe outside the property, to which they replied that it had already been disconnected and the remaining pressure was probably being generated by corrosion or rotting inside the pipe. I did some further investigation and found that it was still very firmly connected to the gas main outside, and did not go near the gas meter, so I contacted the gas company again. They again said that their records showed that it had been disconnected several years before, and to just let it vent until the pressure was dissipated. I then asked if they would have any objection to my connecting my central heating to this (unmonitored) supply. A gas fitter was at my house within half an hour to permanently disconnect it.

  17. Rich 11 Silver badge

    "Ever found yourself connected somewhere you shouldn't be?"

    The House of Lords. Best three million quid I ever spent.

  18. MachDiamond Silver badge

    Great money for logic

    I made some good money working here and there for a general contractor when he'd get a job on an older home that had been added onto a few times. The previous sparkies would just latch on to whatever wire they could find then they opened the walls to power the new rooms. Most of the time they were a bit too creative. I'd get paid pretty well to bring in my toys and spend a few hours mapping out what had been done. A couple of jobs ran several days with lots of holes in wallboard/plaster as they were just too dangerous to leave as. My job was just to trace and make a map so I didn't need a license although I did often work under the contractor to do the repairs.

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