Thursday 21 March 2013

Sunshine and Sugar Soap...

...and a lucky escape!

Well, after Kate’s initial ‘excitement’ at seeing the house for the first time which you can read about here, it was time to get down to the nitty gritty, to roll up our sleeves, use some elbow grease and make our house shine...well, begin to shine anyhow!
The most obvious task to complete first up was to clean, clean, and clean some more!  Normally, in a newer house and has been our experience in the past, this would be an easy job consisting of cleaning the floors, wet areas, and inside all the cupboards. But as we were prepping to renovate this old house, it also meant breaking out the sugar soap in a bucket of warm water and cleaning the old girl fully…from the 9ft ceilings to the shiny hardwood floors and everywhere in between.  This doesn’t seem like too big a task at first as it is ‘only’ a small three bedroom Queenslander, but when you add in the heat and humidity factor in the land of sunshine (remembering we had just arrived home from a Pennsylvanian winter), then it does make for one hot and sticky job!
I have to say it’s amazing to see how much ingrained dust and grime comes off the walls and ceilings when it has been allowed to accumulate over a number of years, and in this case I would say there was about three years of buildup needing to be removed. I also think previous residents may have left the air conditioners running a lot of the time with the windows closed up, creating areas of minor surface mildew. One room that showcases the power of sugar soap and elbow grease is bedroom 2, its ceilings were the worst, practically grey, the picture below really doesn't show its full extent but gives you an idea.
We were under no illusions, we knew it was going to be a big job and initially we only had 4 days to get as much stuff done as possible (this later changed as our furniture removal was delayed and we were given an extra week to play with – thank goodness).  We started with the master bedroom and bedroom 2, followed by the bathrooms and kitchen. We wanted to get the first two bedrooms cleaned, prepped and painted in the first week so that when our removal finally arrived, us and the children would have a clean fresh sanctuary to retreat to at night, as luck would have it we left the kitchen ceiling till last, and luck was certainly needed…
To fast forward slightly; as we finished painting the two bedrooms, our removal arrived and the delivery, unpacking and sorting became our next priority. We got our sparky (electrician) in to install a few new power points in the kitchen and to quote on some additional work. As everyone knows, electrical and plumbing jobs often uncover many unforeseen issues, and this case was no different. You see, at some point someone had decided to cut the earth wire off from the ground stake, as in completely remove it!  So after installing our new power points, and our new earth, our sparky then had to complete an earth test of every single electrical outlet and fixture in the entire house. All our power outlets were fine; but then it came time to check the lights and ceiling fans and they were not fine....not by a long shot! The last room to be tested was the kitchen – see the photo below for a quick memory jog.
kitchen with old light fitting
You can see the big, old, black, circa 1950’s fluorescent tube light fitting at the top of the shot. When Wade 'our sparky extraordinaire' went to test it, it started registering on his test equipment before he even touched it, it actually sparked as he got closer.  He immediately shut the power back off to investigate.   To his horror an internal wire’s protective coating had cracked and the electrical wire had fused itself to the metal body of the light fitting, which when tested revealed 150 volts of electricity running through the fitting making the whole assembly live!! He had never seen anything like it.  Had the ceiling lights been earthed, this would have kept tripping the fuse and the problem would have been discovered long ago, but due to some idiot taking out the earth it was never discovered, it just kept on working.  Thank goodness no-one had ever touched it.  You can see in this picture what the inside of the fitting looked like when it was safely removed.

We don’t even want to think about what the end result would have been if I had been cleaning the kitchen ceiling, with sugar soap and come into contact with the light with a nice wet sponge… :o(
On a serious note, finding this unseen problem highlights the importance of having a licensed electrician conduct a detailed inspection prior to commencing any renovation work. There were no issues highlighted in the building inspection report from when we purchased the house three years prior, and in the three years we have been renting it out we had had many electricians round for different jobs over the years, from installing air con units to changing out smoke detectors, but none had ever noticed the earthing issues.  With old houses you never know exactly what you might find until you take a closer detailed look, and to do that you need to put your money and trust in a great electrician.
Keep watching this space to see how we slowly but surely transform our kitchen from the dodgy light fittings, right down to the cracked and peeling lino!
Till then, happy renovating ;o)

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