Friday, April 24, 2015


I was confused the other day (what else is new?) because someone told me I’d had good luck when I was pretty certain I’d had bad luck.  But let me start at the beginning.

Two years ago, I finally invested in something I felt was a necessity where I currently live – an automatic built-in generator system.  I made the decision after suffering through seemingly endless power failures and spending the price of a new car on candles, flashlights, battery-operated lanterns and oil lamps. I also bought so many batteries, I owned stock in the Energizer Bunny.

The most difficult part about setting up the generator was choosing which 12 things in my house I wanted to hook up to it. The first few were pretty easy: the refrigerator, furnace, well pump, stove, TV, water heater and a couple overhead lights. The remaining choices were more difficult. Did I want to hook up the automatic garage-door openers or the porch light?  Was the washing machine more important than the dishwasher? Would I rather have clean underwear than sparkling clean dishes? Should I connect a light in the basement so in case I had to go down there, I wouldn’t trip on the stairs and land on my head on the concrete? I spent days deliberating until I finally was satisfied with my choices.

The first year I had the generator, there were at least four power failures. If someone walked by the power lines and coughed, the power went out. If a bird flapped its wings too hard near the lines, the power went out. And every time it did, my generator kicked right on and kept everything running smoothly. I was thrilled.

Less than a year later, however, I received a call from an electrical service in Manchester telling me the manufacturer of my generator had issued a recall on the transfer switch and it had to be replaced. They said it wouldn’t cost me anything and they even would extend the warranty on my generator for an additional year.

So I had the part replaced and continued to enjoy the generator…until two weeks ago.

The wind was so bad that day, when I walked my dog, I had to hold her leash with both hands or risk having her turn into a kite and go airborne.  When I came home from my walk and was heading up the driveway, I could hear the generator running, so I knew I’d lost power.  But it didn’t concern me, not with my trusty system taking care of everything. The moment I entered the house, however, I immediately sensed something wasn’t right.

For some reason, the generator was powering only a fraction of what it was supposed to. Even worse, it was powering things that were the lowest on my priority list – the basement light, the bathroom light and the laundry room. No refrigerator, no stove, no well pump, no TV.  Just as I was trying to remember where I’d stored the extension cords so I at least could run one from a room that did have power and plug in the refrigerator, the power came back on.

The next day, I contacted an electrician. He came right over and spent a few minutes testing the generator.  He then told me the transfer switch had to be replaced.  He explained that 240 volts were coming out of the generator, but the contactor mechanism in the transfer switch was outputting only 120, which was too weak to run everything.

“You mean the part that was recalled last year and replaced with a new one has to be replaced?” I asked, shocked. “They removed a supposedly defective part and gave me one that was even worse? I sure hope it’s still under warranty!”

The electrician decided to check, and then spent the next hour on the phone, making calls about my warranty.

“Yep, the part is covered,” he finally said. “But I’ll have to order it from the manufacturer.  I’ll let you know when it comes in.”

He left and went out to truck, but he didn’t drive away. A few minutes later, he came back inside and handed me a bill. “So for today, that will be $187 for labor,” he said.

I just stared at the bill. Labor?  If he considered talking on the phone to be labor, then I figured I’d spent most of my life working as hard as a lumberjack.

After he left, I decided to call the generator manufacturer to double check on the warranty.

“We won’t honor the warranty unless one of our authorized technicians determines that a part is defective,” the woman who answered explained.

When I told her what the electrician had said, she asked for the name of his company.

“Well, he’s not one of our authorized technicians,” she said. “So it doesn’t matter what he said. One of our technicians will have to check your system. It won’t cost you anything, and if he does determine that a part is defective, you’re covered for both the replacement and labor.”

The next day, the manufacturer’s authorized technician arrived to examine my generator.

“Everything looks fine to me,” he said after he did a thorough check. “I didn’t find anything wrong with it.”

To prove his point, he shut off the power. The generator sprang into action and ran everything it was supposed to run. I felt like giving it a kick. It reminded me of all the times my car had made terrible noises, but the minute my husband took it for a drive to listen to what I was complaining about, it purred like a kitten and he’d accuse me of hallucinating.

“Can you try the generator just one more time?” I asked the technician. “I swear, it hasn’t been working right.”

“Well, maybe the electrician who checked it over managed to fix it by jiggling something, and he didn’t even realize it,” he said.

“I doubt it,” I said, frowning. “Not unless he did it by phone.”

So the technician shut off the power once again. The generator popped on and this time, powered only a portion of the house. 

“Hmmm, that’s weird,” he said, checking out the electrical panel once again with some kind of testing device. Looking surprised, he finally said, “He was right – it’s the transfer switch. It’s burned out. I have one out in the truck. I’ll go get it.”

I wasn’t about to argue with him, even though I found myself wondering how I was going to gently break the news to the electrician who’d already ordered the same part for me.

Once the repairs were finished, the technician looked at me and said, “You know, during the recall last year, we replaced about a thousand of these switches and yours is the only one that’s had a problem. I think you should go buy a lottery ticket.”

I frowned at him. “Why? Doesn’t this prove I’m really unlucky?”

“No, it proves you beat the odds.”

I shook my head, not understanding his perception of good luck. “No,” I said. “All it proves is that if only 500 tickets were being sold at a raffle and I bought 499 tickets, the guy who bought the other ticket would win!”

He laughed. “I still think you should go buy a lottery ticket.”

Well, I didn’t buy one, mainly because I was too broke after paying $187 to the first electrician for his labor.

Now I’ll just have to wait until the next power failure to find out if my generator truly is working at 100-percent capacity again.

I shouldn’t have to wait too long. I think I saw a chickadee flying around near the power lines yesterday.
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