The Snowball Effect


It’s cold and grey here – a great day to hunker down in the house and get some work done. On the list (after making coffee, which is always job no. 1) was to chip off the plaster where the framing for the landing and bottom two stairs will go.

Next was supposed to come the framing and stringers, then scavenging floorboards from the third floor for the landing. I figured I could get that all done by Sunday afternoon.


As everyone who’s ever owned an old house knows, there are always surprises, they are rarely welcome ones and they are never cheap.


Yes, that is fabric-wrapped wire that’s been embedded in the plaster. It must run all the way up the stairs to the three-way light switch at the top – and that’s tied in to a three-way switch on the front wall next to the doorway, both of which operate a light fixture in what was the hall to the second-floor apartment. In other words, there’s a great deal of that wire under the plaster running hither and yon in three walls – two of which are plaster over masonry.

There will be no finished front staircase in my immediate future…or even the framing for one. There will instead be a colossal mess, followed by a colossal check to an electrician.

Anyone want to buy a kidney? Or a Shaker stepback cupboard? (I think the cupboard will last longer.)










About fitz

Woodworker, writer, editor, teacher, ailurophile, Shakespearean. Will write for air-dried walnut.
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13 Responses to The Snowball Effect

  1. Dave says:

    Megan, Don’t panic yet! Leave that for 2 AM with a bottle of bourbon (I suggest Bullit). It may be possible, not knowing the layout of your house however, to tie the 3 wire off into a 4 square box (do not bury it in a wall, that is a no no), and snake a new 3 wire to the fixture. If you can get the existing wire into the basement, you could place the box on a floor joist and snake the wire to the second or 3 floor through closets or a soil stack and back into the fixture. I hope this helps.

  2. Scott says:

    Check with the city. If an electrician disconnects and certifies the wire as abandoned you should be able leave the plaster and rewire the light a less expensive way, maybe. Hope so and good luck. You’re doing a great thing.

  3. gespanne says:

    Megan, you knew some of this stuff would happen in a house this old. Consider an old high tech solution… there are wireless switches that will do what you want. Get the electrician to legally abandon the wire under the plaster and “Google” wireless three-way switches. Probably much cheaper than running lot of new wiring. Good luck!

    • fitz says:

      But sadly, there are (to the best of my knowledge) no wireless plugs. Someone invent those, please!

      • Gye Greene says:

        I think Nikola Tesla did —

        “On 30 July 1891, at the age of 35, Tesla became a naturalized citizen of the United States, and established his South Fifth Avenue laboratory, and later another at 46 E. Houston Street, in New York. He lit electric lamps wirelessly at both locations, demonstrating the potential of wireless power transmission.”

        But, probably not available at your local hardware store. 😦


  4. JC says:

    Bulleit is real good but right now I’m working on a bottle of Michner’s. Both do the job in fine fashion. I can’t help with the electrical, I make sawdust and leave the sparks for the pros too. Cheers, mate. “Of all the money that e’er I had I’ve spent it in good company…

  5. SteveM says:

    If the electrical quotes come back at more than you can afford consider learning and doing the work yourself if allowed to by local law. It really isn’t that hard, few specialized tools are needed, and your local home improvement store will usually have everything that you need. I like the book “Wiring A House” by Rex Cauldwell, ISBN 978-1-56158-527-4. If I can re-wire my entire garage including a new sub panel and pass inspection then you can handle this one cable if need be.

    • fitz says:

      I do know how to run 110…it’s the running the wiring and conduit up solid masonry walls that’s the problem :-). The plaster isn’t thick enough to cover conduit, nor do I want it to be. And I’m not experienced enough with a hammer drill to create a neat channel of the perfect depth in the brick. Plus, that wire and circuit really do run the front half of the second floor. So all tied together, it’s got to be at least 100 feet of wire in multiple exterior and interior walls.

      So while maybe I could do it, it would take me forever. Better to pay for it to be done well and quickly, and concentrate on what I can do well and quickly.

      • Patrick says:

        Maybe the electrician can figure another way to get power up there using a different wall or an existing chase. Beats cutting into brick. Good luck.

        • fitz says:

          Yeah – that’s my hope. I’m taking down the 3 layers of drywall/plaster on the ceiling in the front hall – we might be able to run up an interior wall then across the joists. And even larger – but unavoidable – mess on that ceiling work…

  6. nateharold says:

    When these fubar’s happen, I think of 1 amazing moment when I accidentally found a hole through a header for running wire. It eliminated a whole day from my schedule. Sometimes you get lucky, but the scars are so much easier to remember.

  7. Pingback: Appetite (& Checkbook) for Destruction | Rude Mechanicals Press

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