I hope whoever reads this post finds this story amusing and gets a chuckle out of it. Let me know if you have run into similar circumstances.
I did a small residential job this week for a 80+ year old lady. She calls on the phone and sounding frantic telling me she got shocked plugging in her light, worried about an electrical fire, outlets not working, etc... I agree to go over, its 10 minutes away. When I get there I couldn't help notice her name and deceased husbands name on house, Rose Moses and Moses Moses. Yes, his first name was Moses. First thing I hear when entering the house is Jerry Springer Show blasting away on the boob tube. I couldn't help but notice the beautiful house as I am passing through on the way to the basement, where the trouble is. She has a small countertop with a new propane stove, no sink, and a fridge where she says she does all her cooking. The condition of the basement is finished but it looks like paneling from the 60s and a sagging floor. I wonder to myself, she has a beautiful upstairs, why would you want to hang out in a dingy basement. Oh well, none of my business so I take care of the matter at hand.
Back to the problem: She has a homemade stained glass hanging light on a chain right over the stove. There is about a foot of clearance between it and the stove. It is the plug in type with a switch built into the cord. She explains how she got shocked. She unplugs all her appliances after she uses them, toaster, coffee pot, etc. I plug the light in and it flickers. Check it with my meter and the voltage is bouncing all of the place, check outlet, its fine. I show her on my meter. I tell her the problem is in the light fixture itself and its not the outlet. She wasn't actually getting shocked, but probably seeing the arc whenever she unplugs things, which I believe is constant from observing her. She then points out a brand new Boiler/Furnace and starts telling me it is junk, don't ever buy one. The company who installed are no good, etc etc... I glance over at it and it looks like a nice install-system, wish I could afford one (Note to myself: she will pick my work apart and badmouth me after I leave)
She tells me, I don't care what it costs me, I would like this fixed. So I upsell her, I ask her, would you like a nice light mounted on the underside of the cabinet over the stove with a switch on the wall? Yes. My next mistake, I didn't look to see what was behind the paneling. I leave and retrieve a couple of lights from local hardware store and bring back for her to choose, she goes with a 11" circular flourescent which is perfect for this job. When I start fishing wire through the ceiling and down into the wall she is up and down the stairs, mumbling, griping, "I didn't want all of this work" "All of this isn't necessary when all I wanted fixed was a plug in" etc... I speak to her to assure her this is my job as an electrician and its no bother. I discover there is only 2 inches space between the paneling and a poured concrete wall. Someone installed shallow boxes in paneling about 40 years ago and the paneling is crumbling away when you touch it. I leave for the night and tell her I will have to go to the electrical store in morning and come back to finish. I get home and sit down, tell my wife what an interesting day I had, then it occurs to me, the fridge was on that circuit and she keeps all her meat and stuff downstairs. Call her up and tell her I'm on my way back over to bring cord to plug in refridge. She doesn't want me too. etc. I go anyways, would have just temporarily wired up the wires inside the wall for the fridge outlet, but she is scared a fire will start and she doesn't trust the extension cord. It is a heavy duty cord for construction. I plug it in anyway and go back home. She appears happy. She had all kinds of meat and chicken in the freezer, it is a large unit too.
Nest day I end up anchoring a 2 gang masonry box against the concrete wall. Of course from fishing my wires I make a larger hole and now have a 1/2 gap between the wall and the old paneling, what am I going to do? With the way she keeps yanking out cords I needed to anchor it solid, worry about the cosmetics later. I put a accent wooden cover plate and tell her I will have to come up with some wooden to cover the rest. Think I will use some moulding. I know this isn't up to code, but I figured safety takes precedence in this circumstance. I get the light installed and turn it on, she likes it, "oh, look at all that light I have, thats just what I needed", in her next sentence, "I just wanted the outlet fixed, didn't need all of this work done, oh my, it's going to cost me a fortune". I would have gone to find another light like I had but I have no way to the store.
She then shows me a lamp she plugs into the wall and unplugs from the wall because she is afraid of leaving it plugged in when its not in use, might cause an electrical fire. When she pulls the plug out the paneling pulls away from the wall about 4 inches. I instruct her just leave it in. I check all the outlets with a tester and they are properly grounded, etc.. I change another outlet near the washer that wasn't working and plug the washer back in.
I was going to install a GFCI outlet over the countertop but I know with all the stuff she is doing and having arthritis, she wouldn't be able to reset the switch. So I install contractors grade outlet.
Additional work on my way out the door: Show her how to open up vacuum cleaner so she can empty it. Hang new smoke detector, hang curtain over door.
I made 150.00 from that job, gave her a 20% Sr. Citizens Discount. She seemed happy and would be telling everyone she found an electrician now to do work.
Later that night, she calls me. I see the name on caller id. I reluctantly take the call. She is upset, she can't get the plugs to go into the new receptacle like they used too. I ask her if she has them turned the right way. She wishes everything was the same so she could plug them in. I tell her, they are excellent outlets maam, contractors grade, you don't need to keep unplugging everything, just shut off the toaster when your down with it. She goes on and on (like I am in this post) and I say, "look, I don't think you would be happy with any work done, you kept talking bad about the new furnace, it's a good furnace and they did a good job putting it in, she cuts me off and says, I don't think you knew what you were doing, just like the furnace man! Click....
My wife overhears the whole conversation, she says, she'll be calling you back soon for more work. She doesn't have anyone around (the lady did tell me she outlived her son) and now she knows your a nice guy and will do anything she'll have plenty to do.
Anyone got advice about what I should have done differently, besides not take this type of job in the first place.
[This message has been edited by JFLS41 (edited 04-23-2005).]
Anyone got advice about what I should have done differently
I know this is not what you meant, but if you installed an outlet over her Kitchen countertop like you say, it should have been a GFCI outlet (or GFCI protected). No inspection does not mean you don't have to follow the Code.
Re: Eccentric Old Lady#51168 04/23/0512:18 PM04/23/0512:18 PM
I could swear you just described my neighbor and I'd be looking you up for referrals were it not for the fact that I attended this particular neighbor's funeral some time ago.
You described the same household conditions - a beautiful home in some sort of refurbishing limbo, sparse facilities for actual household operations, new or upgraded items which never will meet with approval, and an obviously lonely and not-well-attended elderly woman. In my case, I stood my ground (like when she had the county come over and tear out my driveway interface to the street the week of my garage sale so they could redo it and the other neighbor's to improve the water run-off for the whole cul de sac) and didn't let her badger me back into a corner. I could be right or wrong but I wasn't going to be over-ruled on things I was truly in charge of or knew more about. I ended up being the person who would go over and change her pain patch after she suffered a stroke and they wanted it placed where she couldn't take it off - in between her arthritic shoulders on her back. I also went to her rescue when she was essentially trapped in her car unable to get the seatbelt undone due to her arthritis. I could not for the life of me figure out who in the heck was honking their horn until I saw the wisp of gray above her headrest in the car in the open garage. (Incidentally, I told her to get faster results, start the car up again and drive into MY driveway and honk.) She never got to the point of being a sweet little old lady but we had many interesting conversations about her early career and our shared love of gardening.
So, my advice is this: decide that you're either going to commit to making her safer even if she protests or you're not going to get further involved. Know that you'll suffer some of the same fate as the other tradespeople though. If you stay on for more work, have the understanding that she's not going to like the 'new' safety features like the cord prongs which mandate the correct position in the outlet, etc. Mark her cords with an orange or other easily visible, non-removable dot on the upper side of the plug so she'll know that it's going to go into the outlet the first try if she can see the dot on the top of the cord.
If you're interested in being the good guy you seem to be, become her handy-man (of sorts) and know that you're doing a good thing for someone who has no one else. My neighbor's son actually apologized to everyone who attended her funeral and I thought, "If you'd been around she might have been happier. Perhaps you didn't know your mom's gentler side or find out what her interests were." I did tell him that there were many rewarding moments in knowing his mom as a neighbor but didn't mention that I believed some of that rapport stemmed from standing my ground without being bitter or wounded by her initial approach toward me.
[This message has been edited by BuggabooBren (edited 04-23-2005).]
Re: Eccentric Old Lady#51170 04/23/0501:36 PM04/23/0501:36 PM
The good book tells us to respect our elders....not always easy when they get old, lonely, and their minds falter. I suppose some 'business expert' would tell you to blow off such an unprofitable relationship...yet, don't we have a duty to show kindness? It's not an easy situation, with a clear solution.
Otherwise...there's a learning point here. "Better" for you might not be better for someone else. Maybe there is a place for cheap, weak receptacles. And- maybe the GFI makers could put that @$##@ reset button where you could reach it, without a screwdriver and a plow to push it! Maybe, just maybe, there's a market for a 'single' GFI recep on a duplex frame- with an oversize reset button.
Re: Eccentric Old Lady#51171 04/23/0501:48 PM04/23/0501:48 PM
My Grandma was born in 1902 when Oklahoma was still Indian Territory. As she got older we had many disagreements over modern technology.
Considering she traveled in a wagon for many years and saw personally the development of cars and airplanes from scratch I could understand how huge leaps in technology made her edgy.
She learned to trust her children and grandchildren who built her a house complete with indoor plumbing (we literally had to use the can until the mid-eighties) and plug ins in every room. That didn't stop here from questioning how often turning things on and off was good for an appliance or how much water plumbing uses up. She really appreciated what we did and the care with which we did it, but after all she had seen come and go and the effects of earlier unsafe products she probably still worried about a lot of things that didn't need to be worried about.
It may be rough on the nerves but it is a good thing to take care of people in spite of theirselves, especially the elderly who can probably remember the first time they saw an electric light.
Re: Eccentric Old Lady#51173 04/25/0502:46 PM04/25/0502:46 PM