At Least The House Didn’t Burn Down

Jeff Powell
5 min readMay 17, 2024

Good day everyone.

I’m sure many of you recall last week’s post, which focused on Cruzer. I won’t dwell on him this week, but he is still missed. Tinkerbelle, however, seems fine. We don’t see any signs she is grieving his loss, but he wasn’t much of a playmate in the last year or so, and Tink is definitely the centre of her own universe.

Anyway, this week’s topic is what happened last Friday. I mentioned that an electrician had found a serious issue with our wiring, and we were waiting for BC Hydro (our local electricity supplier) to show up and take a look.

They arrived after about an hour, and found exactly what the electrician had told me: two of the wires from the pole to the house had fused together. Apparently they see this all the time in houses of a certain age. In our case, the wires in question are at least 30 years old.

So what did that look like? Here’s me holding the cut bits of the cable together. The crew pulled them apart after they’d shut power off at the pole, but it’s obvious how they were melted together:

That may look like one wire, but it’s two:

The insulation melted and the two aluminum conductors came within a milimetre or two of touching. The electrician was surprised they had not actually come in contact, and had that happened they could have blown everything out all the way back to the transformer. I suspect the sparks and/or hot wires could have started a fire as well.

Looking closely at the first photo we can see paint splatter on the wires. Even better, we can tell that the spatter happened after the wires melted together, because the paint droplets are on obviously melted insulation. It’s also clear that the paint colour is the original ugly tan that was on the house when we bought it in June 2020.

We have a document from the previous owner saying the house had been stained “last year” which was either 2019 or 2018. (I suspect the latter, given the house was on the market for a while.) That means whatever melted these wires happened more than six years ago — before that last stain application — and thus it wasn’t the result of anything we did.

We also know that the second floor was put on the house in 1996, and that’s when these wires were connected. So it seems this happened sometime between 1996 and 2018, but that is all we can conclude about the timing.

But there is more. The source of the heat that fused these wires together came from the connectors that attached the wire from the pole to the wire from the house:

At least one of those connectors got hot, and the heat radiating away from it (or them) melted the insulation and caused the problem.

Our power supply consists of two hot lines and a neutral line. In the photo, the two hots are on the left, and they show obvious heat damage. The neutral (on the right) didn’t heat up at all.

And there is still more going on! My original concern was not the wires that were fused together, which I honestly didn’t notice. Instead I was worried about the insulation on the wires going into the house. It had flaked off in places, and I was afraid of future problems. The crew from BC Hydro told me some interesting things.

First, our power supply comes into the house in an armoured cable (the kind that has a corrugated metal exterior with wires inside it). That sticks out of the house a bit, and the interior wires come out the rest of the way.

There are three wires in our case: two hot lines (black and red respectively) and neutral (white). And here things get more interesting.

The back wire is fine. The insulation on it is in good shape.

The white wire — the neutral — has cracking insulation, but that doesn’t matter. The neutral wire from the pole is actually bare. No one cares if the insulation on the neutral is failing. It is not a hazard. I know that sounds odd, but that’s what they said.

But the red wire — the other hot line — had failing insulation as well. In fact, it wasn’t even clear it was red anymore. If you look at the photo above, the middle connector appears to have some brown insulation showing at the top. That’s not brown… that’s heated and faded red insulation from the wire going into the house.

It turns out that red insulation (and white, for that matter) doesn’t do well in UV light. It was coming off in chunks. Black insulation is much more durable.

The Hydro crew consulted with their boss and decided they could tape up our old (red) hot line with heavy duty electrical tape as a short term measure. But we need to redo our power service in the next year or two to get this problem resolved.

That redo is going to be a bit of a mess, honestly. The building codes have changed substantially since 1996, and we’re going to have to replace everything related to how the power gets into the house, along with the main breaker box. It will be a big job. We’re hoping to do it with the kitchen reno, but we have yet to figure out what the plan for that is. I am pushing the contractor to get some things moving.

So that’s the story of how the house didn’t burn down on our watch, but it did come close at some point well before we moved in. It’s kind of terrifying, to be honest.

By the time that was patched and our power was back on, I was done. The combination of Thursday’s loss of Cruzer and Friday’s power line whackiness meant I was out of it. Exhausted. It took a couple of days to get my feet back under me.

Then things started getting busy with the next community email. I have a huge amount of writing to do for that, along with the usual organizational work as well. It’s keeping me busy.

But I hope to get some time back in the entryway soon. The wall looks pretty good, but I need to put a coat of primer on it (after a bit more light sanding) to confirm the lower half is ready to go. The upper half has issues that still need work, but I’m not there just yet.

And there are other commitments as well. (Sorry, Gary! I’m halfway done!)

So that’s life. I hope everyone is doing well.

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Jeff Powell

Sculptor/Artist. Former programmer. Former volunteer firefighter. Former fencer. Weirdest resume on the planet, I suspect.