Blowing up the electrics

It came as a bit of a shock to realise that it’s only 6 weeks till the Invaders from the South arrive. Guess that puts an end to my habit of lazy long lie-ins with a cup of tea and a good book. Time to get focussed about things.

So I went online and ordered my woodburner and flue – to be delivered next week. And then I’d made a plan for this weekend. Up early and off B&Q to stock up on a load of cement board and then back to the barn to crack on with preparing for the stove installation.

But having made my mind up that I would get up and don the overalls at the crack of dawn, Mother Nature decided to intervene again. This time in the form of heavy snow falling all afternoon on Friday, such that by the time I came to drive up the road, it was practically unpassable. Trying to drive up the track in these conditions, unless you’ve got snow tyres or a 4WD, is like trying to skateboard up a ski slope – not for the fainthearted. The only way up is to turn off the skid control, put your foot down and pray. I felt like I’d got about as much control over the car as Jeremy Corbyn has over his cabinet…

I did make it up, but abandoned all thoughts of an early trip out anywhere, particularly as it continued to snow for the rest of the night.

So much for the best-laid plans!

So it was going to have to be a weekend of ‘odds & sods’ again – though let’s face it, there’s enough small jobs left at the barn to keep me occupied for a whole decade of weekends.

To start with, I decided to hang the second chandelier in the living room. I finished making it a couple of weeks ago, but never got round to putting it up. (Well like I said, attention span of a kitten in a wool shop.)

I thought this would be a 10-minute job. Turn the lights off at the fuse box; take down the old fitting; put up the new one. Simples!

Well that’s how it worked for the first one. What I hadn’t taken into consideration was the lighting being on a loop . Yes, I know, DUH! But the first chandelier I put up must be at the end of the circuit – it was just one cable in and one out. And the light fitting could cope with that, so I hadn’t really given it much thought.

But it wasn’t so simple for this one – not only was it in the middle of the circuit, it was also on a two-way switch. So, 3 cables in and one out.

It was only as I went to put the new fitting up I realised its simple little 3-strip of connectors wouldn’t be enough. Well that’s no problem; I’ll just nick the connectors from the old fittings and replace the ones in the chandelier.

But before I did that, I decided I’d try reconnecting the old fitting – just to make sure I knew how it worked before attempting to lug the whole chandelier up to the top of the ladder. I hadn’t really paid much attention when I took the old fitting down, but I had a vague memory of which wire had been put where. How hard can it be?

Armed with a minuscule screwdriver and the old light fitting I hiked back up the ladder and reconnected it all up how I thought I remembered it was before.

Back down the ladder to turn the everything on at the fuse board. And the light came on. Which you might think is a good thing. Except when you can’t actually turn it off. I tried both switches but neither had any effect. Clearly I’d mucked up the wiring somewhere.

Turned it all off at fuse board and climbed back up ladder to switch the wires around. And came back down to flip the switch on the fuse board.

And it went bang.

Oops!

Well that is the point of a fuse board isn’t it – to shut it all down before anything blows up. So I double-checked to make sure it was all off and went back up the ladder to rearrange the wiring. Third time lucky right? Back down ladder; switch on at the fuse board again.

Bang – again – oops.

So I did what I should have done to start with – I went into my library and found a book on electrical wiring……

Having figured out at last which wire went where, I went back up the ladder and tested my new-found theory on the old fitting. Turned it all on at the fuse board and…Silence – no loud flash and bang, and both the switches turned the light on and off. Hallelujah, it all works! So all I needed to do now was swap it all over into the chandelier. Which should have been the easy bit.

But have you ever tried fitting a dozen wires into a strip of electric connectors with one hand, using one of those piddly little screwdrivers you get out of posh christmas crackers, whilst standing on the prohibited top step of a very tall ladder, with a bulky 8kg light fitting in the other hand, in the dark wearing a headtorch. Trust me, there are better ways to spend a Saturday night.

Part of me wanted to just give up and sort it out in the morning. But the lights to the kitchen are on the same fuse switch as the living room. I couldn’t leave a live wire dangling out of the ceiling, even if it was 5 metres high and out of anybody’s reach. Which meant I’d be cooking dinner by candlelight and head torch if I didn’t get the job finished…

By the time I managed to screw all the wires into the connector, my arms were cramping and my legs were physically shaking. And the light fitting was proving tricky to screw into the ceiling bracket. Because I’d had to put a larger connector strip into the fitting to cope with all the various cables, it wasn’t an easy fit. But I couldn’t let go – the only thing joining the light to the ceiling at that point was the three wires screwed into the connector with feeble millimetre screws. That wouldn’t be anywhere near strong enough to hold the weight. So if I let go now, the whole lot would crash down and smash on the stone floor below.

Only one thing for it……

Brute force and an awful lot of swearing. I got there in the end.

 

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Next time I’m just phoning a sparky.

 

A great big ball of light….

My attention to detail is a bit like a politician’s promise – short-lived and unreliable.  So whilst I could dance around in a big, draughty cow-dung filled barn, getting madly excited with wild ideas of what it might eventually look like, I wasn’t really that great when it came to checking all the details on the plans.

I mean, yes there were lots of light fittings and sockets on the plan, but I never really tried to envisage what that meant in reality. That’s just plugs and lightbulbs – all ‘stuff I can deal with later’. But of course, all the necessary wiring in the first fix electrics goes in long before you get to actual light fittings. And once all the plasterboard is then put in place, it becomes a bit problematical to make major changes. As a result I do have a couple of unnecessarily dark corners. Hindsight is a wonderful thing – I do wish I’d paid a bit more attention. Hey ho! Guess I’ll just have to buy a few extra floor lamps!

IMG_1286The one place where I did actually intervene was in the music room. As a result of the irregularities of the stone wall and the way I decided to frame them out, I’ve ended up with a ledge half way up the wall. I decided it would look quite cool to put some uplighters on the ledge. And it does give a lovely wash of light up the wall.

But it was also almost the cause of me burning the place down.

The sparky had put the fittings in place; I was just adding the finishing touches. I decided to use up some of my leftover oak floor boards to trim the ledge. So I cut a hole through the boards to fit the first light. Then moved on to the second. And wandered off to get something, without realising I’d put a piece of floorboard over the top of the light fitting. And also without realising the lights were on. And got a bit distracted. (Yes, I know – attention span of a kitten in a wool shop..) A while later, at the other end of the house, I thought I could smell burning. I got back to the Music room to find the oak boards smouldering and the light fitting melted. Oops!

So I’ve steered clear of getting involved in the rest of the light fittings, which is maybe  just as well!

As a result, for the most part I’ve ended up with downlighters (about 100 of them in total) as the Mr Sparky’s failsafe-total-lack-of-imagination-fallback option. In the one room that I said I want proper pendant lights of some sort, he has put in a bog-standard plastic ceiling rose and left bare bulbs hanging. OK, to be fair, he’s a sparky not an interior designer, and he didn’t know what else to put up there, because I hadn’t managed to find my dream light fittings at the time.

But these bare bulbs are suspended from a cable that is about 10cm long in a room that has a 5m high ceiling:

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To say it looks ridiculous is being polite!

So this weekend I’ve decided to do something about it – though hopefully without burning the house down this time.

I found my perfect dream to-die-for lights on the internet ages ago. Unfortunately they were a couple of thousand squids each and I need 2 of them. I’ve been hunting everywhere for an alternative that doesn’t need a second mortgage, but without success.

So I have come up with a cunning plan. Baldric will be proud of me. I’m going to make my own by buying a couple of bog-standard chandeliers and creating some large globes around them using hula hoops (the gymnastic kind, not the ones you eat!) OK, it probably sounds a bit weird and hideous, but I know what I’m trying to get to. Trust me. It’ll work.

And for anyone who wants to try this at home, in true Blue Peter style, here’s what you will need.

  • A bog-standard chandelier
  • A couple of random spare bits of oak (I used leftover worktop)
  • Some wooden gymnastics hoops
  • Pliers
  • Glue
  • Varnish
  • Some metal chain
  • A large hole cutter
  • A small hole cutter
  • A router
  • A ball of string
  • A couple of 4 inch screws
  • Sticky-back plastic (just kidding)
  • The patience of a saint (not kidding)

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First problem is that most bog-standard chandeliers are made for bog-standard houses, which have bog-standard ceiling heights.

To make them long enough to look even vaguely sensible in a room with 5m high ceilings, I needed to make the drop longer.

So I went out and bought some chain. Fortunately there was quite a bit of extra cable, so a bit of nifty handiwork with a pair of pliers, and my ‘chandelier’ was a foot longer. (Could have done with another 3 feet to be honest, but there wasn’t enough cable length.)

Then to make the ‘globes’. Cut out a large circle of wood. Route it round the edges to give a more professional finish. Then cut a smaller circle out of the middle of it. Saw a few notches round the edges of each circle. Now all you need to do is cut the hoops in half and slot them in to the notches. Easy, right? Well in truth you’ll need a maths degree to figure out how much to cut out of each hoop to ensure that they still create a perfect circle when you join the whole thing together.

In the absence of a maths degree, I made do with a ball of string and guesswork….

How simple is that???

Now all I need to do is get it up to the ceiling and wire it in. How hard can that be?

The original light fitting was  a mere 4 kg. And although individually the wooden hoops weren’t particularly heavy, by the time I’d added half a dozen of them to each light, the weight had doubled. Bear in mind that in order to be able to secure it to the ceiling, I would need to be able to hold the fitting in one hand whilst wielding screwdriver in the other.

But hey. I’m a gym bunny – I can lift 8kg in one hand no probs. I think my PT would be insulted if I couldn’t. But the problem is, that one-handed 8kg lift has to be whilst climbing a step-ladder. And such is the height of the room, that I’m going to have to ignore this:

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The only way I can reach the ceiling is by standing on the ‘paint-pot shelf’…

And if it all becomes too heavy, or I lose my balance and have to let go of the light, well underneath it is my lovely hand-carved teak, glass-topped dining table – which is too heavy to shift out of the way. So dropping the chandelier is really not an option…

And finally, this was fairly late in the evening. Obviously I’d need to disconnect the power to the lights before I started playing around with the electric fitting.

So, carrying a rather bulky 8kg in one hand up to the very top of a large step-ladder in the dark with just a head torch to see by…… Well why make things simple????

I made it. But I’ll confess to feeling quite shaky when I got back down to earth!

Well that’s one done. One more to go. But I’m bored with this now – I want a different ball of wool to play with……….