June 1, 2008

Electricity, can't live with it, can't live without it

electric wiring, La Ceiba, HondurasWiring, Honduran style

The readers gave so much helpful information on the electricity issue that I thought I would respond here about our current situation and see if anyone has any other suggestions.

We have a GE whole-house surge protector breaker. Who knows if it was installed properly or is working properly? Certainly, not me. The electrician had never seen one before. I assume that it only protects against surges but not low voltage.

I say 'whole house' but I'm not 100% sure that it is. We have two breaker boxes, one for the majority of the electricity and a smaller one for items that used to be hooked up to our inverter, which is also long dead. I don't know if the electricity goes through the first breaker box and then to the smaller one.

We have our microwave, refrigerator, and televisions on surge protectors. We always run our computer and peripherals on a battery backup/surge protector/uninterrupted power supply (UPS) that is supposed to regulate the power. We keep most of our small appliances unplugged unless we are using them, but lamps and large appliances that I can't move are plugged in all the time.

While the battery backup adjusts the power supply when it gets too low, I guess the surge protectors don't do that. The power often blinks on and off and sometimes is visibly low − a brown out type situation where the lights dim. I know that that can be just as deadly for appliances and electronics as a surge.

stove panel going nutsMany things that we are having problems with are either 220 volts or are wired in, like the ceiling fans. I don't know what we can do to protect those. The 6 1/2 year old Whirlpool 'Gold' stove is going to be the next thing to go − it has these crazy fits where all the lights flash on and off and it turns itself off and locks the oven. Only by flipping the breaker a few times can we coax it to start working again and open up. No doubt it is the control panel.

We bought a wireless router just a few months ago and it quit working even though it was always plugged into the battery backup. My very expensive Fisher Packel dishwasher lasted only about 6 months. We fixed the dryer a few months ago but it is back to being super hot no matter which temperature I select.

El Jefe has had everything tested on our air conditioning and everything is supposedly working, except possibly the control panel ($200 plus). The A/C fan won't come on, even though it has been tested and found to be functional. Even though we bought the unit here, no one sells the parts. What is really scary is that it is entirely possibly to buy this control panel and find out that, no, that wasn't the problem after all.... Our original A/C guy took four months just to figure out how to connect our (ordinary) thermostat, just because it wasn't like the junk ones they sell here. It's really hard to rely on what people tell us.

El Jefe has talked to the company where we bought it and two or three other A/C technicians and they all say that we should have someone rig up a relay switch to turn on the fan and that the A/C will work fine without it. Has anyone ever heard of this? Is this something that will burn out the A/C completely or set our house on fire? If it only needs a relay switch to turn on the fan then why the heck do they put in a $200 electronic board that is going to fry when the power goes bad? Makes no sense to me.

All this talk reminded me of one story with a good ending. One of our electric gates quit working. One person said it was the arm ($300) and another said it was the control panel ($400). Those prices are without shipping and importation costs! El Jefe took the control panel to an electrician friend. He found the problem with the board and was able to repair it very inexpensively. It was something that needed to be resoldered. That's the kind of thing that you probably can't get done in the US. Oh, happy day!

We've had several power outages since I wrote that last article and now every time it happens, I'm wondering what else is going to go bad. ;-/

The funny thing is that our power has been pretty reliable for the past couple of months, so when it started going out again, I stopped to realize how grateful I was for electricity. What is that old country song, "You don't miss what you got until ..."

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