The Feminist Versus the Electrician

Finally this month I called an electrician to fix a switch that’s been going out for months. I come from a long line of procrastinators, but that’s not the only reason I took so long: I don’t like letting strangers into my house.

Not strangers at one of my parties (I meet them, and then they are friends), but specifically, strangers who arrive at my door to fix things.

In this case, I was anticipating embarrassment weeks in advance, because I wanted the electrician to investigate the mysterious, intermittent noise in my master bathroom (not a noise I’m making, thank you very much). It’s rhythmic, like a drip, but when I stand in the shower, I can clearly hear it coming from the fan over my head. And I never hear it when the shower is on.

I told this to the receptionist at WireNut, and she noted it. But she also talks in the reassuring voice one uses for children. I’m pretty sure she was talking that way before I mentioned the noise and the tiny entrance to my attic…

When E stepped into my house, he put hairnets on his shoes and I led him to the bathroom, where I explained that the switch was going out and that I would like him to investigate this noise. With a straight face, he said he would listen for it and that he would check out the attic. And then he gave me an estimate of $168.

The noise chose to be silent while E was here. Nevertheless, he climbed up through the closet into the attic (What is this, Narnia?) and looked at the fan from the top and discovered all the things amiss in the attic. He even had me climb up there and see how the duct from the shower had been taped to a hole in one of the main vents leading to the roof.

Great. Something else to fix. At first he said I should call a tinner, a word I didn’t know. But later he mentioned HVAC.

E went through WireNut’s standard spiel, called a “25-Point Electrical Safety/Energy Inspection.” He informed me that aluminum wiring was used in the 1970s because copper was needed for the Vietnam War and that the main problem with aluminum is its tendency to expand and contract, which loosens the connections. That was interesting.

I also learned I could replace the entire electrical panel because it’s maxed out ($2,000) and that the EMF levels in our house were 1,200 and should be 200.

I thought of asking whether reducing the radon levels wasn’t enough. By the time he was done, I was bored. Todd and I want to sell our house. We don’t want to put any more money into it than the inspector requires.

And then E made a fatal mistake: he began musing about his wife, who in discussing the renovation of their home asked him to remove a bearing wall. I was already feeling self-conscious about the noise in the bathroom that no one else hears. I didn’t need to be reminded how sexist fix-it guys can be.

His aside came between his presentation of all the things that were wrong with my house and my writing of the check. He had just explained why he’d changed the estimate to $217 (because he made the estimate before he took the cover off the switch and saw that the entire unit needed to be replaced). I asked, “Was this a binding estimate?” (The website implies that estimates are final.)

I still can’t believe I pushed that question out of my mouth. Todd, who was sitting downstairs at his work computer, was also impressed.

I remember my tone as polite, but maybe it was mean. Maybe it was the tone that inspired a former roommate to tell me I went for the jugular.

In any case, he caved almost instantly. I didn’t expect that.

The switch works now. I might even call WireNut again, because dealing with E was better than dealing with Jared, the last electrician I let in my house (in 2002). I think he worked for Candlelight Electric, which was recommended by Tom Martino.

I wish I could find an electrician I like as much as Brothers Plumbing. Their employees are always nice.