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January 22, 2022

Tales of Chateau Merde [Jay Guevara

by Your Raving Roving Science Correspondent Jay Guevara

I was asked to provide some DIY anecdotes instead of continuing the series on my favorite YouTube channels. I immediately thought of the previous house I unaffectionately dubbed "Chateau Merde," which had endured countless outrages from the previous owner, who was a totally feckless DIYer.

That previous owner, we found out later, was a complete dirtbag who made his living conning retirees out of their savings, and who chiseled all and sundry he encountered, including us. For example, he dithered so long on making the repairs on the punch list that the realtor paid to have them done, just to get the deal to go through.

He also did everything on the cheap, apparently using illegal aliens as labor, although we didn't know that at the time. The house passed inspection by Stevie Wonder and Associates, who confirmed that it was in fact a house. Superficially, it looked great, but on closer inspection ...

An early tip off was that the hot and cold taps on the master bathroom shower were reversed. They'd lived with that for ten years; it took me maybe ten minutes to take it apart and fix that. No biggie, but symptomatic.

Next up we started seeing rust appearing in the water supply to the refrigerator. On tracing the line, I found the culprit: Einstein had joined an iron pipe directly to a copper pipe, in effect creating a shorted electrochemical cell that drove corrosion of the iron. Einstein had addressed this problem by putting a filter downstream of the coupling. I took that apart, too, and installed a dielectric coupling between the iron and copper pipes, and threw the filter away. Problem solved.

He'd had the kitchen counters tiled with Mexican floor tiles, which were uneven on the top, so glasses, etc. placed on the counter were perched precariously. A special treat was the kitchen sink. Apparently thinking that the phrase "drop-in sink" was some sort of marketing name, he'd had it installed from underneath the counter, so there was a gap between the top of the sink and the bottom of the counter that used to catch all manner of crud in it, and which could not be caulked effectively.

Next up, the water heater was accessed from outside, and Einstein had cleverly put an interior door over the compartment. He'd apparently not realized that interior doors are cheap because they are hollow, so when he cut an opening in it to allow air in, rain could - and did - then fall into the interior of the door, making it explode when the glue gave out.

I could go on and talk about the beautiful patio-like balcony that provided a great ocean view, but featured a drain that unfortunately was not in the lowest point, necessitating Herculean efforts to get the water out of Lake Merde after a rainstorm. Or I could talk about the retaining wall that did not feature any weep holes, so that after a rain the stucco covering the wall was forced off by the water behind the wall. I'll scarcely bother to mention the fun of trying to put new hoses on a sink, only to find after half an hour upside under the sink, with much heartfelt Anglo-Saxon commentary, that one fitting was one-quarter inch, and the other was three-eighths, which is why I couldn't connect the second hose until I swapped out one of the fittings.

These things were all a nuisance, but did not pose any serious threat, unlike some of this guy's handicraft. A metal plate on a wall covered a length of Romex hanging in the air, with bare copper wires splayed out from it. Inactive circuit, I thought. Nope. Those wires were hot, and totally unprotected. Wire nuts are pretty expensive, you know.

My favorite, however, was the distribution panel. I'd put in a GFCI in the garage, but couldn't get it to reset. I removed the GFCI, splayed the wires, and checked the voltage on the line side: 120 V. OK. But as a scientist, I'd learned not to assume things, and so out of habit checked the voltage on the load side: 60 V. Sixty volts?? WTF? I knew I was over my head then, and called in an electrician. Turned out there was an open neutral that was backfeeding the load side.

The electrician called me over to the distribution panel and said, "Look at this! BUT DON'T TOUCH IT!" Einstein had apparently had Juan and Miguel scrounge up a cover plate from a junkyard. The cover plate did not fit in the distribution panel, so they basically just jammed it in and called it good. The hot lead from the mains bringing in our 200 amp service terminated in a bare copper wire about a quarter of an inch behind the cover plate. Anyone bumping the cover plate would have energized it and gotten fried to a crisp by providing a route to ground through his butt. Somehow Stevie Wonder and Associates had missed this small detail in their "inspection." Needless to say, I had the electrician rip all of this out and do it over properly.

Long story short, I was never happier than the day we moved out of Chateau Merde, because I always had trepidation about what I would find ...

Does the Horde have any good DIY horror stories?

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posted by Open Blogger at 07:30 PM

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