Fairfield Ledger
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Neighbors Growing Together | Dec 19, 2014

Do-it-yourself home repair electrifying

By VICKI TILLIS, Ledger news editor | Dec 27, 2012

For weeks, Ethan and I had been using a dark, humid, stinky bathroom because the exhaust fan and its light had stopped working.

I discovered the reason when I was playing around with the plug-in fragrant wax warmer my brother’s wife had given me a couple of years ago for Christmas. This warmer never worked unless it was sitting in the electrical outlet at just the right spot. I had to jiggle it around until it found the spot it liked before it would light up and melt the little blocks of wax.

One afternoon after Boxxy had used her litter box in the bathroom and everyone was gagging over the smell — I don’t know what is wrong with this cat; she has the stinkiest poop ever — I started jiggling the warmer around so it would light up, melt the little block of dark pink wax and fill the air with “Sweet Pea & Vanilla.” For some reason, the light and fan toggles on the other side of the bathroom mirror were on because when the melter hit its spot, the fan and the light came on, too!

If the warmer fell out of place, the light and the fan went off. If I turned the warmer off, the light and the fan went off.

I decided this could not be a good thing.

I decided I needed to replace the electrical outlet right away before my house caught fire and burned down around my son, our dog, our stinky cat and me.

I decided I needed to replace the old outlet with one of those fancy outlets — you know the kind with the buttons in the middle that you are supposed to test monthly, the kind that short out if something plugged in falls into the water, the kind that is now required to be installed near sinks, showers and bathtubs.

During one of my biweekly shopping trips to Ottumwa with my mom, we stopped in Menards so I could buy a new outlet. I didn’t know the kind with the buttons was called GFCI, but a guy shopping in the same aisle knew what I was talking about and pointed them out to me. And it just happened to be on sale for $9.99! Yay! I like bargains!

“Do you want your dad to come over and put it in?” my mom asked.

“No. I can do this,” I answered with confidence. “We used to wire things up in science classes whenever we studied electricity at school — lights, buzzers ... and I took that home mechanics class in high school. We did some wiring.”

I could imagine the man who’d pointed out the GFCI receptacle rolling his eyes as he overheard our conversation.

The little black and red cardboard box sat on the bathroom vanity for several days. The confidence I’d had when I told my mom that I could do the job had almost completely ebbed away — what if I electrocuted myself? What if I did something wrong and ended up burning down my own house? What if ...

My mind was full of the worst scenarios. After all, when we did wiring at school, the power source was always just a couple of D batteries, not the 110 volts of electricity running along a wire through the wall of my bathroom.

The little box set there a few more days stealing away even more of my confidence. Then my 16-year-old son Ethan took charge.

Ethan’s attitude was: “We’re doing this, and we’re doing this now.”

Ethan flipped the breaker in the electrical panel to shut off the electricity to the bathroom. He took the old outlet and its receptacle out of the electrical box in the wall and unhooked the wires. He hooked the wires up to the new outlet, put it in the box, turned on the electricity and — ta-da! Everything worked — the outlet, the fan and the light.

OK, I admit it wasn’t really as easy as that. Ethan hit a few snags. But between the two of us, and the instructions folded neatly into the box, he did it, and it works, and our house is still standing!

Now, our next home improvement project is to install the two garage door openers my daughter Kendra and her boyfriend Bolo gave us for Christmas!

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