Peter McCarthy Electric Co., Inc. - Specializing in Older Buildings in Chicago
Adventures in Old House Wiring....

Paying the "Tax"

Man I hate to see things like this.

A very kind lady called me about 6-7 weeks back to get a quote on installing electric power for her new range. She had had gas for years. Now she had purchased a new electric range from Home Depot. All she needed was electric. I was able to get there and give her a price after a few days. I brought my daughter with me, and the lady was very kind to let me do that.

This lady works during the week, so she was only available on Saturdays or Sundays. Sunday is church and family day for me, so that made it Saturday. And there is usually a standing back up of 2-3 Saturdays in my schedule. It would be 3 weeks till we could do it if she wanted us. She had gotten us from Angie's list and had confidence in our reputation, and apparently I sounded like I knew what I was talking about, so she said OK.

I told her the what the job would involve. I explained that a 220V stove uses fairly large wires. They generally pull 50 Amps, even at 220, so you need a minimum of #8. Maybe even 6, I'd have to double check the book. We would have to run a 3/4 conduit out of the panel and across the wall to the other side of the basement, where we would enter the floor under the kitchen. We would drill up into the wall and install a fully recessed 1900 box with a flush mounted receptacle in the wall. When we finished, it would look like it had always been there. I gave her a very reasonable price.

Well, as you might guess from the entry above (Mea Culpa), I can have a hard time staying on schedule. She and I had not firmed up a date, but the 3 Saturday backup turned into 4. I felt bad and contacted her, and she said she went ahead and got it done already, but asked if I would mind coming by to check to verify the other guy did a good job. I said sure I would. I felt I owed her at least that much.

Now I have come to understand I would make a very poor Robber Baron. I am much too nice. There is not a ruthless bone in my body. You could probably put a kid through college on the amount of income I have forgone by doing favors and not charging people, or giving them real discounts when they are in need. I have a hard time fighting, legally or even verbally, when a "shrewd" or otherwise preoccupied with money type customer decided to stiff me or partially pay me, or employ some clever ruse to justify not fully paying the bill. I have learned from experience over the years how to be less vulnerable. But I'm just not a harsh capitalist by nature, I guess. I am especially generous with older folks, widows, and people who live in the "rougher" part of town (Think 10-20 blocks south, west or to a lesser degree north of Hyde Park) who obviously don't have much money to work with, or retirees on pensions or social security, who are all alone. A very corny part of me thinks "They paid their dues. They built this country to pass it down to us. They deserve a break." I see it as a bit of "giving back" or honoring the catholic value of charity, or something like that. Celtic sentimentality, perhaps?

At any rate, the fellow who was there in the meantime was clearly not encumbered by such a sense of obligation. He decided to lop off a piece of range cable, string it exposed along the wall, poke a hole in the drywall and run it into a junction box which he screwed to the floor behind the stove. My heart sunk when I saw it. I told her it would "work," but it was clearly against code. The wiring needs to be in conduit in Chicago. Running this type of cable is legal in some jurisdictions but not here. Having a 50 Amp, 220 v circuit run in cable tacked to the  2x4s without the mechanical protection of pipe does not fly here, to say nothing of the lack of a permanent case ground. The 1900 box, while not only looking cheap and half a**ed, was set right upside down on the floor, all ready for water to seep in when the floor was washed. I told her the bad news, and that I would write a letter for her citing the exact code chapter and verse for these violations, which she could use against the guy.

But like so many folks who have been ripped off, she just didnt want any further contact with the guy. That is the part that really bugs me. Because now he will do it again to someone else. Now this lady is African-American, an empty-Nester, close to retirement, single, not savvy and well-versed in the language of contracts or electrical construction and she lives alone in Park Manor. For those non south-siders, that means a few blocks west of cottage grove and a few block off 73rd St. The folks get ripped-off every day of the week. And it turns my stomach.

I'm glad Notre Dame is off this Saturday. I have some place to be.
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