The house that Jerry built

and I have had a fairly easy weekend (not least because my work life has been stressful of late), and haven’t done much more than investigate various bits of the house. The results, unfortunately, are not entirely good.

When we moved in, we found that one of the walls in the living/dining room had quite a prominent and painted rough blob of filler protruding from it. The previous owners had a picture hanging over it, so we hadn’t spotted it when we visited (next time we buy a house, we’ll be checking behind the pictures as well). This initially struck us as another bit of gash decoration on their part (there’s so much to choose from), but over time I started to get a little suspicious. Buried in the filler were what looked like rawlplugs. Worse still, on the same wall at the other end of the room was a wall lamp. Can you see where this is going yet? I’m not completely daft, so I wasn’t about to go charging in to the filler with a screwdriver. Lo and behold, the cable detector I borrowed from my long-suffering ex-officemate Steve (WINOLJ) showed that there was a cable running up the wall from the gash filling. No way to tell if it was live, since no current flowing.

Fortunately, we’ve taken up the carpet in the room upstairs prior to fixing the floor, and there’s a floorboard in about the right place that had clearly been taken up before. What I was expecting to find when I opened up the floor was a cut cable with the live end of the cable going into a junction box, and the end that disappears into the wall downstairs being clearly disconnected. Which it wasn’t – one continuous piece of cable. I lifted another board to check the cable further back, and still no sign of it being terminated. At this point I started to get a bit nervous.

So, pulled out the fuse for the lighting circuit (the correct one – the previous owners had helpfully labelled the upstairs lighting circuit as the downstairs circuit, and vice versa, but I was prepared for this since they’d done the same with the ring mains) and started having a dig in the filler with a test screwdriver. What I’d thought were the ends of rawlplugs were in fact a pair of terminal blocks. Not a good sign. Picked enough filler out to get at the screw heads in the terminal block, then put the power back on so that I could check whether they were in fact live. Which they were.

At this point, I felt a little wobbly and decided to sit down.

Let me recap: the previous owners, who couldn’t correctly label the lighting circuits on the consumer unit, had slapped polyfilla over the end of a live cable that was only terminated with a terminal block, and then painted on top of that. I’m amazed that they managed to live in the house for two years without killing themselves. My next job will be to decide whether we want to keep that lighting point for future use (in which case I’ll fix it up and fit a BESA box with cover) or not (in which case I’ll at least terminate the cable in the floor void, and probably remove the cable from the wall as well – it’s not in a conduit, unhelpfully)).

And to top it off, while we we discussing what to do about it and what needed to be done on the floors in the library, I spotted a small patch of woodworm damage to one of the floorboards by the wall in the library (about 1/2″ by 4″, but the floorboard was still sound). Not something the surveyor spotted, but given that it was under a carpet, underlay and furniture that’s hardly surprising. Still, we’ll have to pull that floorboard up to assess the damage, treat the surrounding timbers with borax and replace the floorboard section with new. I’m hoping that it hasn’t spread as far as the joist, since we’ll have to get specialists in for that, but the damage to the floorboard is superficial.

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