Chasing Electrons

Sunday around our home is a day for coffee, contemplation and chores. I often take the time to make breakfast for the family on the weekends as our weekday mornings are slightly chaotic.  On this Sunday morning, I finished loading the ultimate time saver of the kitchen, the dishwasher.  All dishware were arranged for maximum coverage, plates in a row, glasses in a line. With a flourish of fancy footwork, because I’m too lazy to bend down, I close the door with my foot and press START. And nothing happens.  We have lived here at our “new” house for about two years. I immediately break into problem-solving mode. Is it the knob, the latch switch? No, it’s the breaker, right? The breaker is fine.  Ok, flip it anyway, maybe the cycle will correct the issue.  Obviously, from the length of this, this was not the issue.  Let us return to the kitchen.  Here is the setup.


Under the sink is one plug, one plug to rule them all.  Well, not all, but rule the dishwasher and garbage disposal.  Each is plugged in.  And yes, I did jiggle it.  Every man knows to jiggle it, this was not lost on me.  I’m no amateur. Ok, so the plug looks good.  I flip the switch above to turn on the garbage disposal. Success, that has power.  So the top plug is wired to the switch for the disposal, so that good.  But the bottom plug is dead.  Alright, time to pull out a voltmeter and pretend I know what I'm doing. I have no idea what most of those symbols mean or do, but I was smart enough to mark the ones I need for checking home connections. Permanent markers are lifesavers.  Confirmed: hot top, dead bottom. Now we are getting somewhere. Ok, so because this plug is on a 2 pole single breaker, maybe the breaker is bad.  This means that there are two “hot” coming to one plug, one to the top, one to the bottom, but the bottom is dead.  I check the breaker again.  Maybe the breaker is bad?  Maybe the plug is bad?


At this point, I’m beyond what I think I know.  And because Nikola Tesla is dead, I called the next best person, my dad.  We work the problem like two old men, telling stories and gripes about incorrect installation.  I’m in over an hour deep checking every connection.  At this point, I’ve decided the house is haunted and I’m being screwed with by a specter laughing their ass off.  The conclusion is that the installer must have ran out of wire and added an extension.  The connection must somehow have come loose and I will need to search through all the boxes and switches to find this installer shoddy work.  The quick fix is simply to remove this dead wire from the breaker and the outlet so that I’m not waking up at 3 a.m. thinking I smell smoke.  I can use the good plug for the dishwasher instead of the garbage disposal.  I’ll just have to keep the switch turned on.


And then a moment of clarity.  The switch.  Maybe the extended wire is in the box with the switch.  I can’t recall whether it was me or my father that came up with this because I was in awe of light from heaven shining down, illuminating the solution the problem that has caused me this headache. I unscrew the cover, pop it off and start looking behind the three switches. Three switches?  Three. Switches.  And like Rick James on cocaine, SLAP. It all came to me in a flood of early morning memories pulled from a sleepy brain. My father-in-law had been visiting.  I distinctly heard him turn on the garbage disposal in the wee-hours by accident. Three. Switches. I rarely use one of them, much less three. I relayed this new information to my father, who like me, was surprised to find that the dishwasher plug was also controlled by a switch.  The third switch. So after hooking everything back up, for the hundredth time. I flip the switch.  It didn’t work….I’m kidding, of course it worked.  It was on a damn switch the whole time, and it happened to have been turned off.  A damn switch. That never crossed my mind.  I thanked my father and we had a chuckle.  For a split second, I wanted to murder my father-in-law, but he was at no fault.  I put everything back in order.  All was right in the world.  All that running around to figure out it was a switch, but I solved it.  At least I could walk away knowing that I solved the problem and I was aware that the dishwasher was on a switch.


Later that day, I told my wife what had happened.  Her reply “Yeah, we figured that out when we first moved, because we couldn’t get it to start. Why didn’t you ask?”.  Wait, what? We did.  I really feel like she figured this oddity out on her own and it was never relayed to me.  It probably was, but I somehow forgot it in the chaos of moving in.  So in short, always ask your wife about the electrical problems first, she might know something you don’t. And when in doubt, try the switches.


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