As I write this Alex is currently sputtering with rage, pacing anxiously, muttering obscenities, and generally having a nervous breakdown. Typically this is my role in our renovation adventures as well as our relationship, it's a rare occasion when the tables are turned and I get to witness his meltdown unicorn. When he turns into a seething monster, I try to be the calm one, instead offering up words of encouragement, support, and attempts at the general "look at the positive side" arguments. Tonight, all I can come up with is, "At least the house didn't burn down." But let me back up a couple months to bring you up to speed.

Earlier this year, after arriving home from work, I noticed something just didn't look right on the side of our house. After pausing and inspecting more carefully, I realized that the wire holder above our main service head had pulled out of the house, evident by the dangling anchor and gaping hole in our masonry. Alex covered it at length during one of his venting blog posts back when it occurred and received a lot of very helpful advice from everyone. Here's a photo of what it looked like when it was still attached.

Back when we first discovered the issue, Alex contacted our power company, who after paying us a visit advised us that we needed to install a new heavy duty wire holder on the side of the house in order for them to reattach the wires, thus correcting the problem. The helpful power company employee instructed us that unfortunately due to liability issues, we'd need to install the wire holder ourself (or hire someone to do it). Hmm. This presented some challenges given the location is at the middle of our second story, and the fact we don't have a 20 foot extension ladder. I also have a panic attack when my husband is up in high, unsecured places given his penchant for roof diving. (If it were an Olympic sport, he'd be a leading contender, I'm sure.)

So, in good form, we ignored the problem for a good five months, knowing we needed to address it at some point in the near future. Granted, the power company employee did say, "You know, it really doesn't have any stress on it, so there's no rush to correct it right now." Life went on, we were happy, but it was always a project nagging in the back of our minds.

Fast forward to two weeks ago, a mere 30 minutes before we were set to leave for our trip to Germany. In the whirlwind of packing, making sure everything was wrapped up before or trip, and general last second pre-vacation craziness, Alex discovered that the wires had pulled further away from our house, leaving them in a very precarious situation. 

Left uncorrected, we now ran the risk that they would pull away while we were thousands of miles away, potentially taking down our electricity (including our websites and Mel's air conditioned pad), or worst case, sparking and igniting our home or electrocuting a neighbor or pedestrian.

As unappealing as it was to envision returning to a lump of smoldering ashes, we had limited options:

  1. Run around like crazed lunatics, frantically searching for the wire holder we had waiting for this project. "Borrow" a ladder from a neighboring construction site, and rush to complete the work while we should be en route to Dulles airport. 
  2. Beg and plead for a neighbor to keep an eye on the situation, and if it worsened, said neighbor was instructed to call for backup.
  3. Do nothing. Leave for the airport, cross our fingers, and hope the house didn't burn down.

Well, Alex gave number one his all. At 35 minutes past our agreed airport departure time, sweating profusely and as frantic as I've ever seen him, he finally conceded that the wire holder must have been thrown out or was hiding in our disaster of a basement

While my preference was option three, I knew Alex wouldn't do well with that so we opted to go with number two. Alex quickly made arrangements while we waited to board the flight and got to a point where he felt just barely at the edge of okay with leaving the house in its fragile state. Truthfully I can't remember a time when I've seen him so completely agitated. Normally he's the perfect low key yin to my high strung yang, but if given the option to pull open the emergency hatch en route to Germany, I think he would have jumped at the chance. He was convinced our ten years of loving restoration and renovation would all be destroyed. He talked about it throughout the vacation, breathing only half a sigh of relief each time we looked in on our cat cam. (A webcam we have set up to check in on Mel as well as augment our home security.) We knew as long as the webcam was on and we could see the house, then it hadn't yet burned to the ground.

As soon as we returned, Alex made it priority number one to remedy the situation. After several more fruitless hours of searching for the elusive wire holder (What? In our amazingly organized hell hole of a basement? You don't say!) he finally agreed that we'd have to purchase a new wire holder. He headed out to several home improvement stores before he was able to find the specific wire holder we needed. He then asked (and received) permission to borrow the long ladder from a neighboring job site.

While he prepped to do the work, I made a call to the power company explaining the situation. After speaking with a customer service rep that was the antithesis of customer service, I was told we were put on the "priority list" and someone would be out shortly.

With ladder and supplies in tow, as well as a strong friend on hand for extra ladder support, Alex ascended nearly 20 feet into the air to install the new wire holder, patch the hole left from the old screw using appropriate mortar, and take care of a few siding maintenance issues. 

A photo of our helpful friend, just working on a different part of the wall.

He made several trips up and down, making me contemplate popping a few Imodium to deal with my growing paranoia, but despite my fears he successfully completed the work without injury, and exactly...let me repeat that, EXACTLY, in the manner that the power company employee had instructed him to complete it several months earlier. 

They had said, "Place the new wire holder about three inches to the left of the old location and we'll just put a new support wire on it and hook it right up."

So we were ready to go, but the next problem one from the power company showed up. Nightfall came and went, and Sunday morning rolled around. Still, no service. At one point at about 10:00am Alex saw a power company van drive up to our house, stop, and the technician look at our house before driving away. Not a good sign. 

By Sunday afternoon, we started to lose hope. As a last ditch effort I picked up the phone and hoped to contact someone who seemed to care a little more about helping than the last person. Though a bit more helpful, it was notable that this new agent had some interesting information. I was told that not only was our case not deemed an emergency, but there's no such thing as a "priority list," and in other words, they'd get to us when they got to us. Super.

As the afternoon set in, Alex started to take his frustration out on the Twitterverse in a constructive use of his IT resources, madly tweeting photos and messages to the power company. Though Twitter is often a very efficient location to receive expedited customer support, in this instance and much to Alex's dismay, we received no response. We had completed our end of the deal and the forecast called for thunderstorms with high wind the next day. Alex feared the worst, and he was relatively certain a moderate gust of wind would cause our service line to come crashing down, so as darkness fell and he had lost almost all hope, he called the power company one final time.

However, this time he was connected to a genuinely kind and helpful person on the other end. After a few minutes on the phone not only had he established the true urgency of the situation, but the person on the other end was able to inform him that a tech was being dispatched under an emergency order and should arrive later in the evening. Perfect! Perhaps this story would have a happy ending after all? Well, let's not go getting ahead of ourselves.

Well into the darkness of the evening, at about 8:00ish, Alex noticed the flashing strobe lights of the power company truck preparing to pull into our alley. Moments later there was a knock at our door and Alex bounced outside to inform the service tech of just what we were dealing with. I breathed a sign of relief knowing how much this concerned Alex and how he'd be able to finally sleep better.

Moments later Alex returned to the house, but the smile I expected simply wasn't present on his face. Instead, it was replaced with a furrowed brow and general look of anger mixed with frustration. I hesitantly inquired as to the reason behind this sudden change in attitude, knowing full well it wasn't something that I really wanted to hear.

Alex informed me, "Well, he looked at the anchor, you know the one I installed specifically according to the instructions of the previous tech, about three inches to the left of the old location, and this guy said, 'Why'd you install the anchor so far away? I can't hook that up there.' Can you believe it!?!?"

Now, you may not know Alex as well as I do, but this was not something that he was very happy to hear, and I could tell it wasn't really sitting well with him. Well, scratch that, what he had heard and had just repeated to me, well, he had been transformed into a bit of a mini rage volcano, almost ready to blow. Trying to stay calm, he excused himself form the situation and began pacing around the house.

In my attempts to be the level headed and even tempered half of our home improvement duo, I put aside the fact that we had spent an hour in the heat installing the new wire holder on a borrowed ladder precisely per the instructions of the previous tech. I assumed there'd be no way he would disregard our efforts and completed work. I expected he'd somehow alter the install to work within the boundaries that we'd set, especially since three separate people had informed us that the power company will not, under any circumstances, install wire holders on the sides of houses, you know, for liability purposes.

That's when it happened. The service tech was out there moving our wire and determining how best to install the loop when the main service wire pulled free form the side of the house and fell across another wire extending from our home. This proved our concern. He'd barely touched the wire and there it was, draped across the alley in a dangerous and precarious position. Well, now what?

The next several minutes were a blur of confusion, frustration, and he sound of a drill repeatedly drilling into our home's masonry. He had ignored our new wire holder and went ahead and installed the old one in a completely different location than the first. Rather than drilling into mortar and using an appropriate anchor, he drilled into the center of our bricks to seat the screws. Alex ran outside to offer up additional anchors we had on hand and to ask the tech to use those, but it was too late, the work was complete. He had installed a new wire holder, secured the top of the service head to the house, and even installed three additional supports down the wire, once again drilling holes in the bricks as he went.

I couldn't believe it, Alex couldn't believe it, the tech was interested only in finishing the job as quickly as possible, didn't ask our opinion or how we wanted to do the work, and had essentially vandalized the house by putting five holes in our historic brick. Let's just say, it wasn't a particularly happy evening.

As I said, throughout the drama and chaos, all I could come up with was, "Well, at least our house didn't burn down."

Fast forward to today, the morning after, and we can look at the completed work and say, "Yes, the wire is secure, we don't need to worry about the coming storm, and we don't need to worry about it falling." However, the holes in the brick, employees that weren't helpful, tech that impatiently did what he wanted without consulting us, as homeowners, and then essentially ignored Alex's plea from the ground all combined to leave a very sour taste in our mouths. We'll now need to remove the anchor that Alex installed, somehow caulk the top of the new anchor and bolts to prevent any water infiltration through the holes of the bricks, and always watch the wire for fear they we'll have a repeat. But the thing that bothers both of us more than anything is the inconsistent nature of the messages we receive. If they were going to ultimately install new items, why tell us it was against company policy and have us do it the "wrong" way?

Today, we're exhausted from a long weekend of hard work. We're tired from having to deal with this ridiculous lack of respect (in our opinion). And we're tired of feeling like we just can't expect anyone to do a job right when we aren't doing it ourselves. So I think we're just frustrated and grumpy. I hope you had a better weekend!

Comments 13


10/7/2013 at 12:35 PM
Tell me about it!
10/7/2013 at 1:17 PM
How unbelievably frustrating. I would be all sorts of ragey!

Did there used to be a door between those two lower windows? What room is that there? I'm nosy.
We're not 100% sure, but I believe there was once a door there (or at least a window, as is obvious from the brick). That room is now the family room, but was once the original back room of the house and the kitchen. We've seen houses with similar floor plans to ours where that door still exists. What I actually believe is that the window to the left of that "door" is also original, but the arch fell years ago and was replaced with a steel header and regular brick. You can see the patched brick area and how massive of an area it covers. The window to the right was added much later (we think the 1950s or 1960s) and looks a bit out of place. Our hope is to eventually reconfigure things in the house, closing up the window to the right and then opening up the old door into a window and adding the arch back over the window on the left. Lofty goals, but perhaps some day.
10/7/2013 at 2:54 PM
If I didn't know better, I'd say you were dealing with the City of Oakland.
Hahaha! Puh-lease. You know you're sporting your I <3 Oakland tee shirt as I type this.
10/7/2013 at 2:59 PM
D’Oh! Did this post ever trigger a latent bout of hatred and fury! SAME power company, by the way…. Back in July, late on a Saturday as I was preparing to host some friends, I get a call from my 77 year-old widowed Mother who lives alone in a large house (with her very fat but adorable dog), telling me she smelled smoke coming from her electrical panel. I, of course, know NOTHING about electricity (nor does my husband) other than it can kill you, so I called a coworker, a Chief Engineer in charge of 4 large commercial high-rise office buildings. He dropped what he was doing and drove 45 minutes to her house (what he was “doing”, I later found out, was making funeral arrangements for his Mother-in-law who had died in her sleep the night before, and comforting his grief-stricken wife, but he mentioned none of that to me). He called me after assessing the situation and told me that her meter box, attached to the outside of her house and secured with a lock bearing the seal of un-named power company, complete with a warning to DO NOT REMOVE, was so hot to the touch that it burned his hand. He advised me that he had shut off half the power to her house, so that she would still have some lights, a tv and one zone of AC, to get un-named power company out ASAP and get her (and fat dog) out of the house. So, with my guests neglected, I sat on hold with un-named power company for 35 minutes, until a rep finally answered, clucked in a deeply concerned manner, and assured me someone would be out ASAP. An hour later, I find out nobody has shown up or called. Phone call number two resulted in a 40 minute wait and a far less than compassionate rep who told me that crews were busy at other outages (what? It had rained for about ten minutes that afternoon – really?) and would get to her when they could. I left my guests at the mercy of my husband and drove to her house myself. She didn’t want to leave (just as you didn’t for your trip), so I spent the night. Eventually the meter box cooled down (because my coworker had shut off more than half the draw). We made phone calls #3, #4 and #5, all with the same response – we’ll get there when we get there, and varying degrees of give-a-crap. I sat around ALL DAY Sunday, and finally left at 6pm because I have kids and a job, and the meter box was still cool. The final result of this long-winded story was that a truck with flashing lights finally pulled up close to midnight (over 30 HOURS after the first call). The man ambled around back, looked at the box, and promptly informed her that the meter box is the customer’s responsibility. I guess her look of complete shock and helplessness moved him somehow, and he went to his truck, got an “old wire, but it’s in good shape” and replaced her main wire.

Turns out he was right. If you get a copy of un-named power company’s 2005 updated terms of service, the meter box is, indeed, the customer’s responsibility. But they’re still the only ones who can legally pop their lock-out tag….. and why should we know this information, when NOT ONE “customer service” agents seemed to know?

So, in summary, I feel your pain.
O...M...G!!! I seriously don't know how you kept your cool and managed to navigate this situation. It's incredible how many people were needlessly inconvenienced/frustrated/scared/etc.! I'm so glad it turned out ok in the end and that your Mom's house didn't catch fire, but what a cluster.

We're under a tornado watch here and had a big storm, so I'm so relieved that it was "corrected" before today, even if it was a major pain.
10/7/2013 at 4:37 PM
This is a classic example of why I hate contracting anything out. I'm sorry you all had to suffer in this way and that the tech had to turn your brick into swiss cheese. I love it when you make a suggestion to a contractor and they act like they know everything and that every one of their customers are John and Suzy Homeowner who have no idea what a service entrance is, let alone how to secure one.

We had a similar instance with a cable installer who ripped cedar shingles off our exterior and was wanting to drill through the oak floors on our first level to run cable. I told him not to do it, he got an attitude and said there "wasn't any other way", so I told him to pack his sh!t and get out. I called the cable company and tore them a new one as well for sending such an incompetent bozo to do the installation.
Drill though your hard wood floors? Oh hey-ll no!

The next time we have an issue like this, can we please call you?? I much prefer your response to Alex's stomping around inside losing his mind. :-)
10/8/2013 at 12:37 PM
Sounds like quite an ordeal and the response and different stories sounds all to common to me no matter what company one seems to deal with.

BUT - it does sound like you guys could have avoided some of this though by not waiting until it was an emergency. Probably not the different stories, but maybe at least the holes in the brick.

I would write a complaint to the power company though about drilling it into the brick. Maybe it could result in somebody else not having to deal with that.
10/10/2013 at 11:10 AM
You really should consider having a subscribe button for a free dose of blood pressure medication for those about to read this full story. I found my heart racing and hands shaking a tad after reading this, but it could also be due to the giant cup of coffee I drank this morning and the completely empty stomach it went into.

I'm from Oklahoma, so I'm familiar with tornadoes, but is that normal for your area? Especially this time of year?
This story is INSANE (as is KarenK's). Bad customer service is so frustrating, but layering on bad instructions and inconsiderate 'fixes' just pushes it over the top. You have every right to feel tired, frustrated and grumpy.
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