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Volume 16, Issue 51 - December 18 - December 24, 2008
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Extension Cords

A bad extension cord will spark up the holidays — but in all the wrong ways.

 by Margaret Tearman


When extension cords work, the world is a brighter place. But when they go bad, darkness falls, or, in my case, the water stops.

            Several years ago, our well pump started to randomly blow its circuit when we turned on a faucet.

            My husband figured it was a breaker gone bad and replaced it. We turned on the faucet; pop went the new breaker.

            Our pump house is subterranean, a walled-in eight-foot-deep hole in the yard. We get to the well mechanics by climbing down a ladder permanently propped against one wall. It’s an adventure usually involving black widow spider webs and some very lengthy snakeskins. I’ve only descended into the dankness once. That was enough.

            But no water required a close-up investigation, and Tom climbed down into the pit. He fiddled around for an hour or so but found nothing obviously out of order.

            Time to bring in the pros. We called the local well drilling company.

            The two well pump guys decided the problem was a bum pump pressure switch. A new one was ordered. A few days later, the pros returned and installed the replacement.

            I turned on a faucet, and pop went the circuit.

            The pros scratched their heads, bewildered, then decided it must be a bad pump.

            For those of you on city water, a new pump is not an inexpensive replacement. Before handing over a four-figure check, we wanted to be sure that was indeed the problem.

            The well pump guys agreed, and they continued looking for another explanation. I watched them work from above.

            A slight breeze blew, and I saw a flash of light in the hole. I looked closer, but seeing nothing more, I shrugged it off.

            Another breeze, another flash. This time I identified the source: an old brown extension cord once used with an electric pipe warmer was still plugged in and dangled next to an equally old and unused water expansion tank. When moved by the occasional breeze, the cord would tap the metal tank with enough charge to spark — and blow a circuit.

            I asked the professionals if the cord was supposed to be doing that.

            With their heads hung low in embarrassment — they couldn’t believe they missed something so obvious — they unplugged the damaged extension cord. Now our water flowed without interruption.

            The worn extension cord was a safety hazard, and we chastised ourselves for letting it hang there all those years.

            As you drag out the extension cords to light up the Christmas
tree, your roofline or the reindeer yard ornament, make sure the cords are in safe working order with no fraying or loose ends.

            A bad extension cord will spark up the holidays — but in all the wrong ways.


© COPYRIGHT 2008 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.