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December 1, 2009

Blow the Bridge (and other home improvements)

I’m not know as “Mr Fix-It” around my family but I can manage the rare project when the time calls for it. After all, I did install my own wood flooring (with some great help) and can safely replace light switches, outlets and ceiling fans as needed. I’ve even been known to replace a dishwasher and install an over-the-range microwave. But aside from those relatively minor projects, I don’t have a lot of remodeling experience. That’s why one recent project really had me stumped.

Now I may be no Norm Abram but I’m a pretty smart guy and can usually figure things out. Besides being able to decipher complex instructions, I can usually reverse engineer anything given enough time.

Bridge on the River Kwai

Usually.

For those who don’t know, we’re getting ready to move into my in-laws house to consolidate during these tough economical times (what recovery?). There are several added benefits besides the obvious financial ones. Moving from a condo to an actual house will give Corbin a yard to play in. Living with the in-laws will give Julia an extra pair of hands and eyes needed when our second child is born and there’s always the gift of getting closer as a family (did I mention they have cable?)

As a result of this move, we’ve been slowly preparing the house for our arrival. We moved Mom’s office fully into the garage (she works from home) and cleared out two of the upstairs bedrooms (there are 4 bedrooms total). Then we began repainting the boys’ room, adding a chair rail and replacing the outlets and wall switch. And this is where I ran into trouble.

You see, the wall switch didn’t work a ceiling light fixture, but rather powered on of the wall outlets – specifically, one plug on a duplex outlet. Now careful attention to detail would allow me to disconnect the old outlet and correctly connect the new outlet with the same results. But it didn’t work. No matte how I configured the wiring, the wall switch was irrelevant. The outlet was always “hot”. I checked the wiring from the switch to make sure I hadn’t mixed up the wires. I opened up another switch outlet to see if the wiring was mismatch, I tried every reasonable configuration and still, no controlling the outlet from the switch.

Eventually we went online and found a ho-to video describing this very condition. I started watching it and thought – “yeah, I did that” and “but that’s what I did”. It wasn’t until the second time that I caught the subtle maneuver that made all the difference. You see, outlets have a copper piece called a “bridge” that connects the top outlet to the bottom outlet. This allows you to have one “hot” wire and one “neutral” wire power both outlets. The trick to making the switch work the one outlet was to snap the copper bridge in two thus interrupting the power link between the two outlets.

You can learn how to Blow the Bridge at 1:12.

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1 comment

  • At 2:12 pm on December 1, 2009, Talondale commented:

    Try figuring out a 3-way switch after the fact. I’ve done lots of construction and I still have to call one of our electricians every now and then to ask questions to make sure I have it right.

    [Reply]

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