Dateline: Somewhere between electrocution and asphyxiation.
Shortly after I returned from Laredo, my electrician began bugging me. “So when do you want to start the electrical work? We’ve got some availability now.”
“Well, I still don’t have a complete plan together. Maybe you guys can start with the second floor, and maybe the easier parts of the first floor, and then we’ll just go step-by-step? I still don’t have a plan for the kitchen.”
“Sure,” he replied. “We’d be happy to do that.”
So I rushed to finish my electrical plan for the second floor. Then Victor and his guys showed up last Wednesday, and I’m now a fair chunk of the way through rewiring my old house. Initially, we had a long discussion about the merits of single-core wire versus stranded. I wanted single-core because that’s what we use in the States, it doesn’t tend to fray at the ends, and it can be easily attached to outlets and lamps. “Well, we mostly use stranded wire here,” Antonio, the assistant electrician said. “We used to use solid-core but gave it up. Stranded is better because if there’s a problem, the strands just melt down in a single spot; the entire line isn’t melted.”
“Isn’t this what the circuit breaker is for?” I thought, but said out loud, “I’d really rather have solid-core if you guys can work with it.”
“Well, that’s OK, sure, we can do that.”
That conversation took place Wednesday morning, and in the afternoon, I was scheduled to meet Antonio in the Centro Histórico to buy wire and a few other things. When we got there, it turns out that they only have stranded wire. I was kind of annoyed, but figured I’d just go with that. Besides, Antonio also mentioned that it was more flexible and would be easier to thread into the ancient conduit of my old house. This is not an insignificant consideration.
So nine hundred and fifty dollars later, we emerged into the street with what seemed to be several kilometers of wire and 100 meters of plastic conduit. Fortunately, Antonio had brought his wife, who carried the conduit (it’s light but large) and he and I each had a good 25 kilograms of wire to carry. We hailed a taxi and dragged the supplies into to my house.
Since then, much progress has been made. Antonio has managed to rewire most of the ceiling lights on the second floor. We’ve established the locations of switches and outlets. And the dreaded “ranuración” has begun.
Ranuración is perhaps the single worst aspect of this entire project, at least so far. It consists of cutting channels into the brick walls in order to lay cables between the outlets. First, you take a chalk line and mark where you want the channels. Then you take a diamond saw and cut a set of parallel grooves along that line. Finally, you chisel out the plaster and brick between the grooves. Oh, and you also cut out holes for the electrical boxes that hold outlets, switches etc. Amusingly enough, here those boxes are called “chalupas.” And no, don’t try to get one at Taco Bell.
So what’s so bad about “ranuración?” Well, it produces totally horrendous clouds of dust. Like dust so thick it looks like the house is on fire as it blows out the windows. It also produces a lot of noise, and a fair bit of rubble, which is hard to get the garbage guys to take. Fortunately, a 50 peso “service fee” smooths the waters considerably. Come to think of it, I think I did something similar with the garbage guys in Boston in 1997 when I remodeled my house there.
Anyway, I just couldn’t be in the house during the ranuración. The air was simply unbreathable. I don’t know how the guys could stand it. They were only wearing those flimsy covid masks, with all the leaks around the sides. I told them that they really ought to get something that would actually keep the dust out, and that it was bad for their lungs, but they just poo-pooed me. Color me shocked. Unfortunately, we’ve done the ranuración on only one bedroom so far. That means there are many more clouds of dust in my electrical forecast. Ugh…
Still, the benefits will be tremendous. Yesterday Antonio handed me a bundle of melted wires, missing insulation in places. “See this wiring? You’re right to replace it. It’s a guaranteed short circuit, and it was a mofo getting it out of the conduit.” I replied that the entire house had been on a 40 amp circuit breaker and that obviously was more current than the wires could carry. I replaced it with a 20 amp, but the damage was already done.
When the guys started, Victor, the boss, said it would take about a month. I’m hoping it’ll be less; maybe he’s under-promising and it’ll go faster? Meanwhile, there have been some setbacks. Victor and three of his team all got covid. So they’re out of the game, for now. Fortunately he doesn’t seem to be feeling too bad. And Antonio is fine, and seems to have no shortage of relatives who are helping out. So the job is continuing more-or-less smoothly.
Me? I’m just glad that the electricity seems to be moving forward and under control. I’ve had to do some running around to find things that I mistakenly thought were commonplace. But so far, so good. And after breathing down the guys’ necks for the first couple of days, I’m now confident enough to leave them to their own devices. I let them in in the morning, and then close up at night when they leave. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks, I’ll have a bunch of extra circuits, and plenty of outlets. And that will also open the door toward painting the bedrooms, and maybe refinishing their floors. That’s pretty much all that the two front bedrooms need, and will be a big step forward.
So the job is moving ahead, pleasantly, and without much drama. Next I need to think harder about the kitchen, plumbing, and the flooring downstairs.
Saludos and thanks for reading.
It’s a little late for this suggestion, but you could do what is quite common around Phoenix when “updating” (not remodeling) a house: On a block wall house (in the 60’s it was 90% of new construction), they will surface mount metal conduit and outlet boxes and leave in their raw metal finish. Even install conduit down from the ceiling to outlets just above the sink top. And instead of hiding HVAC ducts, the suspend round galvanized ducts from the ceiling, leaving them exposed to be seen forever. Sometimes, they will just drill through the block wall and leave the conduit exposed on the outside. Anything goes for the lowest bidder.p
Kim G said:
Great suggestion. Really, that look, especially if the conduit is done well, can be modern and nice. And I have to admit, I did think briefly about doing that, but in the end decided against it. That said, I’ve still got the apartment and the house next door to do, so I yet may take up your suggestion. Cheers and thanks for your comment.
The Legal Mexican said:
Given the sort of construction one finds in most Mexican houses, work more often than not produces apocalyptic quantities of dust. It’s very fine dust that gets into everything. At least you have not moved in with furniture. That’s when it gets really nasty. It’s one reason I do no repairs in my house if it can be avoided. Carry on, señor. It’s fun to read your, uh, renovation obsessions.
Kim G said:
Hola Felipe, yes the dust is insane. But I don’t think it’s limited to Mexican houses either. When I remodeled my Boston house in 1997, the old plaster created a truly frightening amount of dust too. It was then I discovered HEPA filters for shop vacuums. I’ve got one here too. And yes, the dust is the key reason I haven’t moved anything in, besides my car in the garage. Cheers and thanks for stopping by.
Fred V said:
I almost forgot. If you have new floor ceramic tile installed, let me know so I may share two separate instances about contractors thar may be helpful. Simetimes no matter how experienced contractors may be, they need to be supervised constantly or they do things that one would not expect.
Kim G said:
Hey Fred, there’s definitely some new ceramic or terrazo floor in my future. And yes, supervision is key, especially with something where the cost of fixing errors is so high. Thanks for your comments. Cheers!
Fred V said:
The grooves in the walls for the new wires are cut clean and straight. Nice crew!
Kim G said:
Hola Fred, yes, they are a nice crew and have been doing a reasonable job of cleaning up afterward too. Cheers!
When we were renovating our Merida house, we told the electrician that we wanted the wiring outside the wall ( like they do in offices). I can’t remember why but it’s moot. He agreed and the architect agreed. He then “forgot” and made the channels inside the walls. The other thing that I remember about the electrical is arguing that we wanted at least one outlet per wall, not just one per room. The electrician also put the entire kitchen on one circuit. We also didn’t know we had to ask for a master breaker switch in the breaker box.
Renovation in Mexico is not for the faint of heart.
Kim G said:
Too funny!!! If I didn’t have the time to supervise these guys closely, I’d be much more nervous than I am. Fortunately, I have my color-coded electrical plan and I’ve made it VERY clear that they need to follow the plan, or talk to me for approval of any changes.
As for outlets, circuits and such, I’m over-the-top by Mexican standards. There are about 8 outlets (2×2 + 1×4) on each wall of each bedroom. Whatever might happen in this world, I don’t want to be short of outlets. As for putting the ranuras on the outside of the walls, I’m thinking of that for the kitchen, as I don’t want to ruin the vintage (and irreplaceable) tiles that are there.
And no, this is not for the faint of heart. But so far I’m holding my own. Saludos and thanks for your comment.
LikeLiked by 1 person
It sounds like you’re weathering the storm rather well, far better than expected. And you’re making progress. Amazing.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Kim G said:
I think I lucked out with my electrician. He was well-recommended by a good friend who characterized him as a “tipazo,” which I think translates roughly to “really good guy.” In any case, that’s what he is. So I’m counting my blessings. Thanks for your comment. Cheers!