Friday, September 21, 2012

Is this apartment up to code?

I used to assume that living in the North End of Boise, a 10 minute walk from downtown in the largest city in Idaho, in the United States of America would preclude experiences like tripping a breaker due to shotty wiring. I have since learned that Russian electrical shottiness may not be half as bad as a job by a lazy or underpaid electrician. The difference between the two countries may be that I could report this apartment in Boise to the fire marshal and something might be done, while in Russia I would just live with it. Now, the assumption that the fire marshal would take action … well, that may be proven false. In fact as I have started to learn, dishonesty, bribery, and corruption are alive and well in Idaho as well as Russia … but that’s a story for another day …

Back to the event(s) that caused my disillusionment with American safety standards and fire codes. When I first moved into the second smallest place I have ever lived in (128 square feet / 12 square meters), I anticipated that life would be a little different. I would have less counter space, sleep on a pseudo-Korean style mat on the floor, live without an oven barring my trusty old toaster oven, experiment with an interesting contraption that combines sink, range, and fridge, not to mention live on a modified/enclosed porch. Yet, I never dreamed of the electrical issues that would pile up, one on top of the other until the breaking point (tripping point?) when my new neighbors bought microwave popcorn.

To the right is the wonder that combines range, sink, and refrigerator
The first night in my new apartment, I blew my surge protector by trying to run the range, fridge, and toaster oven through the same extension cord. And in the first couple weeks, I tripped the breaker and learned my lesson about not running the fan, the toaster oven, the stove, and my hair dryer at the same time. When that occurred I was running late for work, so I got in the car and called the landlord asking them to flip the breaker.

Several months went by. I effectively avoided running too many things at once and relied on the ability to use both burners and the toaster oven at the same time while making dinner. I succeeded in cooking breakfast and dinner for different people on three or four separate occasions. All was fine and dandy until the “new” neighbors and their microwave popcorn moved in. Of course, I only discovered this when making dinner for someone I hoped to impress.

I began steaming broccoli, frying potatoes, and baking fish gradually pushing the circuitry to its extremes. The overhead fan cooled the apartment on this balmy Wednesday evening. Everything functioned perfectly. Timing couldn’t have been better with the preparedness of each dish. As we drank rosé and noshed on toasted bread with olive tapenade, I relished my accomplishment … a little too soon. In the middle of preparation, the cooking lights went dark. The fan slowed. I rolled my eyes.

Something tripped the breaker.

As I stepped out the front door trying to laugh off the faultiness of this electrical system, I ran into my “new” neighbor. He sauntered out of his apartment. He jabbered a bit about popcorn. I asked him if he knew where the breaker was. No idea.

During the previous electrical incident, the landlord had informed me that the breaker was at the back of the house … my guest, new neighbor, and I all tried to sort the situation. Tens of breakers existed on the side of the house. And at the back of the house, another neighbor emerged complaining that her TV had gone off. How many people were on this one elusive breaker?

After much searching, consternation, and the determination of my neighbors to use the microwave, which I’m blaming (they always seem to be the issue … the microwave served as the tripping point in Moscow as well.), the breaker was located and flipped back on. It immediately tripped several times successively until we switched everything off. Unfortunately, this was not a singular dinner experience but was repeated the next week, when, luckily, I was not trying to impress anyone.

Lessons learned? A) My neighbors should chuck their microwave. B) It’s important to locate the breaker switch for your “new” apartment and try to determine how many other places are hooked up to the same. C) The wonders of "Soviet" electric wiring are not far from the wonders of "American" electric wiring.