“Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”
Stephen King

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

Why Writing Is Better Than DIY Home Improvements
Thu 2013-01-31 12:38:44 (in context)

We are in the midst of the Saga of the Range Hood Replacement. No, there are no Vikings in it, but I do think the term "Saga" is justified, because Loki has had his hand in every single step of the project.

Stanza 1: We decide that as long as we're replacing the stove, we might as well replace the dying overhead fan and light. We pick up a new range hood at the Home Depot on our way out from ordering the LG 30" convection oven and glass-top range. We drive home fantasizing about a fan motor that doesn't sound sick-unto-death and an attractive, easy-to-clean stainless steel finish with all the hard-to-clean angles and moving parts tactfully hidden away.

Stanza 1: I contemplate uninstalling the previous range hood. This is initially worrying until I find an instructional video online that makes it all look simple. It even shows me how to make a "screw template" by laying paper along the top of the range hood and poking holes through the places where the screws go. What it doesn't explain about is the wiring. That's is the worrying bit. Well, nothing ventured, right? I turn on the fan and go flip circuit breakers until I find the one that makes the fan shut up. Circuit deactivated! It is noon on Wednesday the 30th.

Stanza 2: The idea of "temporarily" taking the range hood down to see what the wiring connection to the wall looks like was a bad one; the keyhole openings are tiny and I can't get all four mounting screws to poke through at once. And my arms are getting tired. And there's no one home to help. And the door's locked so I can't yell for a neighbor. And my phone's in another room. And my arms are going to fall off. Finally I take the risk of letting the whole thing dangle from its wiring for about 30 seconds while I grab a stool.

Stanza 3: While the range hood sits on top of an upturned stool on top of the stove, I discover the wire-shielding panel. It is on the LEFT, which is an important plot point. The screws that hold it in are like the mounting screws that used to hold the range hood up, in that they are neither flat-headed nor Phillips-headed but rather this smooth-headed hex flange thing that probably requires an arcane ratchet forged by dwarves and blessed by the Aesir and ritually cleansed under a full moon conjunct Jupiter. I use the pliers on a Leatherman, which nips my fingers a few times but does the job. The shield comes down, exposing the wires: two white wires paired under a plastic terminator, two black wires ditto, and a thick-gauge wire with no sheathing that's looped under a grounding screw. I detach everything like the fearless bad-ass that I am. Then I wrestle the range hood off the mounting screws and stow that sucker under the table.

Please notice, because this is a plot point too: The wires exit the wall via a ragged hole on the LEFT.

Interlude A: The Leatherman was a bad idea. A crescent wrench works better at brute-force removal of mysterious hex flanges.

Stanza 4: I make a screw template, just like the video said. I tape it up to the cabinet bottom. I unpack the 1/2" mounting screws that came with the new range hood. I go get the electric drill. WHERE IS THE ELECTRIC DRILL?! As it turns out, it's still with the friend we loaned it out to several months ago. Not their fault! We just keep forgetting to reclaim it. Happily, John's over there right now and will bring the drill home just as soon as he's done over there.

Interlude B: It is now dark. You know what else is on the same circuit with the range hood? All the kitchen and dining area lights. Also all the nearby AC outlets. (Our electric drill is not cordless.) Hooray for extension cords and upright lamps.

Stanza 5: The mounting screws that came with the range hood are too short. The manufacturer imagined, not unreasonably, that the range hood would lie flush against the cabinet bottom. The manufacturer did not count upon whoever remodeled our kitchen extending the cabinet border panel facade thing a quarter inch below the cabinet bottom. Sinking the mounting screws deep enough for sturdy support makes it impossible to mount the range hood, because that quarter inch of wood panel is in the way. John and I confirm this by attempting to mount the range hood. One screw head can't get below the metal lip at all, and one of the remaining ones is wobbly. (But at least they're all pretty much in the right place. Yay screw template!) I briefly consider sanding down or hacking off that quarter inch. Then I sigh and resign myself to a McGuckins run in the morning.

Interlude C: You know what else is on the same circuit with the range hood? The entire bedroom. WHYYYYYY.

Stanza 6: It is now the morning of Thursday, January 31. Home from McGuckins, armed with 3/4" mounting screws, I pull out the stove for the (3rd? 4th?) time and position extension cord, upright lamp, and electric drill in convenient places. I set the screws. I mount the range hood on them, which is not difficult because A) standing under is easier than reaching over the stove, B) the new range hood is lighter than the old, and C) the much larger keyhole openings make pinpointing all four screws at once much easier. I can just look through the holes the way I used to look through the hole in a vinyl record to sight it on the turntable spindle. (I discover the rear screws are too far back after all, despite the screw template. I reposition them and remount the range hood.) And then I take the range hood down again in order to thread the 120 volt AC wiring through the hole in the back.

The hole in the back of the new range hood is on the RIGHT. The wire block, also, is in the RIGHT half of the range hood. Clearly the previous installers did not foresee this eventuality, because they cut the wires to a length perfect for attaching to corresponding wires attached to the LEFT of a range hood fan.

The grounding wire is too short.

The grounding wire is too short.

Stanza 7: Having hit my DIY wall and bounced off hard enough to bruise myself, I call up an electrician. The electrician will come tomorrow afternoon (Friday, February 1) to extend the grounding wire and make sure nothing else will go wrong with the range hood installation. Originally, the earliest appointment the receptionist could get me was Thursday, February 7; I allowed myself to be scheduled for that time slot, and made assurances that should I find another electrician who could visit sooner, I'd call back to cancel. Possibly the thought of losing a potential customer to a competitor with a less-busy schedule was enough to inspire someone to pull a magic parcel of time out of their back pocket, because they called me back in under 10 minutes with the offer of Friday the 1st.

Which means only 24 more hours without kitchen and dining room lights, bedroom lights, or bedroom electricity. Or convenient alarm clock, cell phone chargers, lights to read in bed by, plugged-in laptop to play or read on until I'm ready to drop off into sleep. Not to mention 24 more hours wallowing in the mess of an ongoing home improvement project under, on top of, and around the kitchen table. I suppose if I had to wait a whole week, I'd figure out how to safely cap the live wires so I could turn the circuit back on, and I'd do a more complete job of tidying up the project-in-progress. So it wouldn't be horrible. And, really, "horrible" is an exaggeration. It's just bloody damn inconvenient, is all.

But I was so proud of myself for taking on the range hood installation project! I felt so competent, so capable! I really, really hate not being able to finish something I started.

And that's one way in which writing is better than DIY home improvements. With writing, I can always finish what I start. Guaranteed. Without fear of electrocuting the household.

Meanwhile, I have mopped up the truly disgusting patch of floor that was hiding under the stove. Because that, at least, I could do something about. When the Home Depot techs get here to deliver our new stove and haul away the old on Tuesday, I will not, at least, be embarrassed by under-stove filthiness.