The Spark of Death

Dateline: At the short-circuit of two frayed wires from the 1930s

See the overhang?

Kim, ya gotta write something! Your last post had nothing to do with remodeling, and everyone knows that’s your main gig right now. People are starting to ask you, what’s going on with the house???

Yeah, you’re right. But man there’s so much! Where do I start? Sure, I have a pile of electrical goodies that I dragged through hostile territory back to my house. But I’ve been thinking and working on so much more. And who the hell wants to read about wiring anyway?

Well, why not just post some of those drawings you’ve spent so much time on? It’ll give folks a bit of an idea of what you’re working with. And maybe you could broach the topic of dealing with the electrician and see what folks think?

OK, OK, OK…

So that’s where I am. My life has gone from waiting around for my boyfriend to have a free minute, (and there have not been many as he’s super-busy) to me wondering how I’m going to squeeze him into my now-terrifying schedule. Well, ok, I’m exaggerating as I’m wont to do. Still there’s a lot going on and this house is quickly taking over my life.

Over the past few weeks I’ve spent a ton of time in the house, measuring it for an architectural drawing, or, for the less formally inclined, a “floorplan.” This seems easy enough until you actually try it. Like the first time I did it, the rooms ended up bigger than the footprint of the house. Since there’s no distortion in the space-time continuum in Roma Sur, I had to go back and remeasure. Oops… I can’t read my measurements, and honestly, who the hell wrote those little, tiny notes? I can barely read them, and some are downright cryptic. What the hell does “Other side 1” thicker” mean anyway?  Go back and remeasure again!

It finally got so bad that I had to date my measurements in my notebook. Then I could go back and see if I had measured the same thing with the same measurement more than once. If the measurements varied by much, well, that was kind of a red flag, wasn’t it? And let’s just say that being a precise kind of person isn’t at all helpful in these situations.

NO KIM!!! DO NOT MEASURE IN SIXTEENTHS OF AN INCH!!!! Geeze, the texture of the walls varies by more than that. Just stop, OK?!?! Quarter Inches are fine!!!

Through this process of remeasuring, after a few weeks, I began to feel sure I could state with some certainty the width of the house. Though perhaps not with total precision. Some days I think it measures 7.13 meters wide inside, while on other days I’m sure it’s 7.15 meters wide. Length? Look, that’s a rude question to ask a man, and in my case I’m even less certain than I am about the width. But the numbers seem to settling around 16.72 meters long. At least on the first floor.

Of course even that isn’t easy. As you’ll see from the drawings, the second floor has a sort of cut-out in the back that makes it a little smaller than the first floor. At least parts of it. Oh, but this house is tricky. It’s not even that simple. It took me literally months to realize that half of the second floor overhangs the sidewalk. Yes, I’ve looked at the façade many a time. And I’ve noticed the overhang. But somehow I became completely oblivious to this obvious fact while I was drawing. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but it’s true. Only within the past couple of days have I adjusted my drawing to compensate for this. Let’s just say that it changes everything.

Especially where walls line up. My earlier drawings had walls that were oddly askew, which is to say that a wall on the second floor wasn’t really directly on top of a first floor wall. Now, however, the walls are starting to line up, at least to within, say, 5-10 cm or so. And if you’re going to start to think about which walls you can knock out, and which must stay, or at least be replaced by girthy, steel beams, well, having the walls line up on your drawings is important.

OK, stop babbling, Kim, and just show them the damn drawings!

Well, this is the first floor. The big arrows are stairs, but I was just too lazy to draw each step. Arrow points up. You get the idea. Oh, and the little tiny black squares are small columns. There’s also a large window in the back (north) of the dining room that somehow didn’t make its way onto the picture. Sorry. (Hint: if you right-click the image and select “open in new tab,” you’ll see a much clearer view of the plan.)

Yes, it’s done in meters and centimeters, because that’s what they use here. Unfortunately for me. Because both (long and shorter) tape measures I brought with me from the USA are in inches and feet. So it is now firmly embedded in my memory that there are 2.54 cm per inch, and 3.28 feet per meter. I can recite these conversions in my sleep, and will probably never forget them, as I’m constantly converting my measurements into meters as those are the units of my drawing. Still, I can comprehend something that’s 8 feet long. But tell me something’s 2.4 meters long, and I’ll just give you a blank stare. I can’t do math in Spanish either, so slay me.

In any case, the grids on the drawing are 50 cm square, about 20”, roughly speaking. That means that each floor is roughly 1,285 square feet, including staircases, interior walls, and closets. (At least one of which will be dedicated to my BF; don’t ask why. He doesn’t want to talk about it.)

If I had any sense, I’d do these plans in something like AutoCad, which is widely used by architects. Or even in SketchUp, which has a free version and is likely importable by AutoCad. But no! I’m using a very old version of Canvas (5.3). I think my copy was last updated some time in the late 90s, and definitely has its quirks that I’ll just have to live with. But unlike the programs mentioned above, I actually know how to use Canvas, and it does the job. Just don’t ask me to show an elevation.

Anyway, on to the second floor. The layout lies below. Though it’s not drawn, the hallway at the top of the drawing lands next to the cuarto de servicio and from there you can descend a staircase to the patio at the back of the house.

A lot of space is “wasted” on the ample hallway, but even then, three of the bedrooms are sizeable with good sized closets, and the smallest bedroom makes up for it by having its own bath. As does the largest bedroom. And if it plays its cards right, it’ll get its bathroom expanded and remodeled too.

And spaciousness is one of the wonderful aspects of this house. It would be suitable for a decent-sized family. For a guy who’s not even sure he’ll be able to persuade his BF to share it with him? “Wretched excess to the highest degree” might begin to describe it. Oh, and let’s not forget that it’s also tall. Most of the ceilings are over nine feet five inches. (No, they’re not all exactly the same, but this is Mexico, and you can’t tell anyway.) So I’m not going to live merely large; I’m going to live voluminously.

Yesterday and today my drawing reached a feverish pitch. The electrician that I had consulted about what to buy in Laredo is champing at the bit, and seems to need a job. I was hesitant to hire him before I had a full and final plan, down to the last auxiliary power outlet in the maid’s quarters. But we’ve talked it over, and he’s happy to start where I’ve got a plan, and then come back later to finish things when I better know what I want. The kitchen is the area of greatest uncertainty, as you might imagine. And it’s also the place with the most intensive wiring. So it’ll probably be last. And it’ll certainly get its own blog post. For now, we’ll start with the simple stuff found in bedrooms and hallways: plugs and lights, running on plain-vanilla 15 amp circuits. (When it’s all done, I’m planning to throw a circuit party; click the link if you don’t get the joke.)

Wiring a brick and concrete house is not a walk in the park. Existing wiring sits inside smallish conduit, and one can only really guess about how it gets from point “A” to point “B.” Fortunately, a certain amount of the guess work has been eliminated. Marco, the former owner’s son, gave me an original electrical plan, which at least shows what’s connected to what, if not exactly how. The plan is charmingly hand done, and hand lettered with a lovely script. So we’ve got a roadmap to what’s there. Or at least what was there in 1930; there have been changes, so some guesswork remains.

And that leads to all my drawing work. Not only did I have to get my drawing in order to make sure all the walls and rooms lined up, I had to complete the electrical plan. This consists basically of figuring out where I want new outlets, and how to break up what’s there into separate circuits. Since it was built nearly a hundred years ago, the entire house runs on a single circuit. So a big part of what I was doing was figuring out where I wanted to break the existing wiring up into separate circuits, using as much of the existing conduit as possible. For that, I overlaid my precision (haha) computer-generated plan over the 1930’s drawing so the electrician could see both. Sure, we’re going to have to chisel grooves into the bricks for new stuff, but I wanted to minimize the scarring the old girl is going to have to suffer, here in her old age.

Here’s the mostly-done electrical plan for the second floor. It’s a mix of the computer-generated and a scan of the original, hand-drawn plan, and it’s what I’m going to hand the electrician Monday morning. Each circuit has its own color. “Signos” is the key to the symbols.

So Monday, we’ll see what happens when an experienced Mexican electrician meets a persnickety gringo. For now, thanks for reading along. Saludos.