the pendant light saga

light interruptedAt the beginning of the month, I ordered a single pendant light from West Elm for the kitchen. The current light is one of those flushmounts you can buy at Home Depot for $40–fine, whatever, but there are a little more interesting light choices to be had, even in the $100 range. So I ordered a globe pendant, expecting a simple swap.

Is it ever simple? Easy? Straight forward? No. No, ma’am.

My husband took down the old light and started to unscrew a piece that the light was anchored to. There was hissing. And the unmistakeable smell of gas.

Folks, we have a live gas line in our ceiling. For old-timey gas lights. Because of course that is a thing. Not only that, but someone thought it was a dynamite idea to anchor a light from it.

We called the gas company. They turned off the gas, and slapped us with a hazardous condition sticker. A pipe fitter came out to seal the line but wouldn’t touch it because of the electrical. Then the electricians couldn’t come for a week. This is the saga.

Yesterday the electricians finally came to move the junction box, and since we were already paying them gobs of money to do that, we had another light put in. I think we did that to feel like we had some semblance of control over this situation, and not spending a considerable amount of money on baseline very-important-but-boring safety stuff because I wanted to get rid of a $40 Home Depot light.

The sad thing is my dad’s an electrician. Not an electrician in the typical sense–he used to head a crew that maintained the electrical systems of a functioning steel plant and now controls and purchases the power used by said steel plant. He is a fancy electrician who we refer to as “Mr. Fun.” So christened because of his penchant to suck the life out of everything by insisting on every safety precaution possible, no doubt the effect of working in an extremely dangerous work environment his whole life. So I have the benefit of being instilled with a healthy fear of questionable electrical work without the benefit of my father’s proximity to do this work for free. It’s an expensive affliction.

The Saga Continues

Once the electrical work was done, we again called back the pipe fitter to get the gas line sealed. But he was being a little shifty about providing a quote, so we called another one. This one started asking us about the permit, mentioning the Department of Buildings. Uh, what permit?

We’re told that someone will call us back. The phone rings and my husband takes the call. In the span of a few minutes the color drains from his face. He puts the call on speaker.

“I can bring a crew of two out to do the pressure test for $700, but never in my career has anyone with 1920 pipes passed it. You should get an electric stove. They’re nice now.”

We live on the fourth floor. Our risers go through three other apartments. They cannot be brought up to code without accessing those pipes through our neighbor’s walls. In short, it is an expensive, impossible job. And our utility won’t certify the work and turn on our gas without this job.

And Gets Worse

Have I mentioned the shoddy electrical in our apartment? Everything in our kitchen shares a single breaker. An electric stove needs a dedicated line. So we can’t simply swap out a stove (as if that is an inexpensive fix), we have to redo the electrical. Which means doing a fair amount of demo to the kitchen.

We have essentially been backed into a kitchen renovation we aren’t ready to do yet. All because I wanted a slightly nicer light.

What’s your favorite initially-inexpensive home improvement project that hemorrhaged a lot of cash?

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14 thoughts on “the pendant light saga

  1. Annie Thompson

    Oh no! I am so sorry to hear that. How incredibly frustrating! We are in the process of buying our new home and that is our fear! Luckily it is 1 1988 build so there shouldn’t be any gas lines but I am sure it will get expensive. God knows we have plenty of $40 Home Depot lights all over the place. Why do builders still put in the same light fixtures and finishes that were in trend 15 years ago?! Good luck with your kitchen reno please keep all us readers posted!

    Reply
    1. colleen Post author

      I think part of the trouble with our apartment is that it was “renovated.” We were told the electrical had been updated, the kitchen had been done recently and so had the bath. But it’s become clear the previous owners did not use a single professional. The electrical is a complete mess (there were exposed live wires in the cavity next to the gas line), so it begs the question: what else is wrong with this place?

      If we ever bought another house, I think I’d rather buy something that was painfully dated/original, because probably the builder did things correctly. These renovations were obviously done just to resell the house, with no regard for safety or longevity. Can’t trust people!

      I will definitely give updates! We’re getting a second opinion to be sure this is the situation, but since we can’t cook this process should start soon.

      Reply
      1. Anna

        This is horrible!!
        If you purchased a place, is it worthwhile to call your agent and the previous owner and get a refund for false claims? I don’t know if there is a time limit to this (I just checked out this post from a Making it Lovely reference), but maybe this could be worthwhile…though perhaps would only bring you more angst and worries in suing the previous icky owners..

        Reply
        1. colleen Post author

          There was a red flag during our inspection–the inspector couldn’t find a single outlet that was actually grounded. That should’ve been indication that the electrical updates were all done improperly, but we felt like grounding the outlets was a relatively small job my dad could do.

          I think this is just one of those instances of buyer beware. But we aren’t quite hopeless yet: someone is coming to attempt to seal the line and then the utility will check the pressure themselves (with air, not gas). If it doesn’t work, we can probably run the electrical line we need for an electric stove without too much demolition, just a few strategic holes. So I think we’ll be able to avoid a full kitchen renovation for now, regardless of the outcome!

          Reply
      2. susan

        Things in the city are tricky – it is SO important to have a good home inspector when buying – one that will look where no one else would. I feel your pain with DOB, but it will be so worth it to have things done right and that are safe for you and your family!

        We looked at two 4th floor walk ups next to each other in BK. The one was owned by a ‘tinkerer’ who had made some mistakes (unsafe electrical, holes in the kitchen floor…) and the other was owned by someone who had no money to mess things up, so the bones were still good (other than the dead animal in the wall). Thankfully we got the latter apartment and the renovation was pretty straight forward. We are friends with the neighbors who bought the other apartment, which unfortunately has had a lot of expensive ‘what was he thinking?’ moments.

        best of luck.

        Reply
  2. Emily

    Oh my goodness, what a nightmare, I totally feel your pain. I wanted to paint our spare room…turned out there was a damp patch, which meant that we had to repair the leak from the roof…then cut out the damp patch and re-plaster. I am now heading upstairs to sand the plaster smooth and paint a base coat so that it can finally be painted a different colour. Sometimes it’s not so great being a homeowner! Good luck with the re-do. At least you’ll have a lovely, safe kitchen.

    Reply
  3. Bailie @ The Hemborg Wife

    O dear I am sorry that is horrible! We wanted to put a light fixture in our bedroom but could not figure it out and then shorted the apartment and had to go by things I have never seen in America so now two years on we still have no ceiling light fixture.

    Reply
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  5. Gina

    You have officially made me afraid to change out a light fixture! This is absolutely the worst thing I’ve heard. I hope it all gets worked out.

    Reply
  6. Mary

    I now have a HELOC and an Architect, since my husband was electrocuted (he’s fine) in our garage while trying to plug in the weedwacker. Our electrician said he made the place “safer” but not exactly “safe” and that we really need to upgrade the electrical service. Which is housed in our playroom. Which is an illegally enclosed patio. Which we now have to tear down. Also, since the laundry area gets demolished in this process we are remodeling our master bathroom/closet in order to make room for that. So…yeah. I feel ya.

    Reply
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