House wiring, A Beautiful Mind style

Our power went out sometime in the last couple days’ raging thunderstorms and reset all the computers/clocks in the house, so I figured before I reset them, this was an excuse to do something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time: map out the breaker box. (Exciting, ya? Well, this anti-electrocution research is a dependency to a few other tasks I’ve been Meaning To Do, like replace a dimmer with a regular old light switch in preparation for energy-saver CFL bulbs, and relocate the bathroom light switch from in-the-hallway-behind-a-door to in the bathroom where it belongs.)

Basically, this process involves flipping each breaker one at a time, and running around the house plugging a lamp into every outlet to see which ones went out. It’s not a bad source of exercise, when you’re done dragging furniture from in front of them. :-)

So, as seems to be typical for New England houses, the arrangement of circuits around the house has proven more frightening than most Scary Movies. It’s clear that most of the wiring is an afterthought, and when they wanted to install, say, a new overhead basement light, they just grabbed whichever set of wires was closest and spliced it in. (Incidentally, one of the overhead basement lights is controlled by a switch in the kitchen – come on guys, that’s not even on the same floor!).

As an example, here is the layout of the 2nd floor. An unfilled square marks an outlet, a square with an X marks a switch, and a circle denotes a permanent/overhead light. The entire floor is on 2 of the 17 breakers, marked 3A and 4A here. Luckily, neither of these (unlike many of the others) spans multiple floors.

Breaker 3A controls all of one room (yay!), one of four outlets in my room plus the overhead light, one of two outlets in the other spare bedroom (plus its overhead light), and the hallway light. Don’t get me started on the one that controls the front porch light, the foyer light, the aforementioned basement light, the dining room light (but no outlets), and the one of three outlets in the living room that’s furthest away from any of those. :-p While some drive several rooms’ worth of hungry electrical devices, one controls only two small basement lights, and three (scattered throughout the panel) don’t appear to do anything at all.

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