My Brilliant Wife vs. The Mysterious Power Outage

So, after returning from my morning jog yesterday morning, I noticed something odd when I went to the kitchen.  The clock on the stove was out, even though the clock on the microwave was on.  I was instantly wary and on alert.  Something about this problem seemed familiar: this was not the first time I’d seen this sort of selective power-outage in our home.  So, I immediately checked the fridge.  No fridge light.  No comforting chilling whir.

I finished my morning chores without opening the fridge again.  I’ve learned from power outages in the past to keep the fridge closed tight, and if the outage doesn’t last long, you can often save the food.  We’d just had a great weekend of cooking at home, and the fridge was well-stocked.  It was not an opportune time for us to lose all that.

When Dear Wife awoke, I told her what I’d discovered.  Obviously she was  unhappy, but we went about trying to see if we could figure out what was wrong.  First thing, we did a preliminary check of all the outlets in the kitchen.  All the outlets in the kitchen are “GFCI”-enabled outlets.  That stands for “Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter”, and it means that kind of power outlet that has two little buttons, one labeled “Test” and the other “Reset”.  So we hit the “Test” and “Reset” button on all of them, to see if that fixed the problem.  No dice.  Next we checked all the circuit breakers, throwing each one-by-one and restarting it.  That did nothing for our problem, either.

Then we decided to test whether there was power flowing to each of the outlets.  Now, as you recall, I mentioned this is not the first time we’ve had some weirdness like this.  When something weird happened before, I was at home while Dear Wife was out.  Dear Wife stopped at Lowes’ or something like that and picked up an outlet tester, but by the time she got home the problem had strangely gone away.  We decided to keep the outlet tester, just in case.  It came in handy today.

I tested all the outlets in the kitchen with the outlet tester.  They all came up okay.  Then I tested the outlet just outside the kitchen door on the deck: our only external outlet.  It has also been the only one in the earlier “test/reset” game for which the “test” button wasn’t working.  That outlet came up with a problem: it read “Hot Ground Reverse”.  Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve no idea what a “Hot Ground Reverse” meant.  So, I pulled the stove away from the wall to reach back and test the outlet there while Dear Wife Googled it.

Except, our internet was out.  Then it hit us: this had been the problem before.  Somehow the outlet in the Living Room in which our modem and router were plugged in had been dead once before, also at the same time as the Stove and Fridge in the kitchen.  Rather than wriggling back to test the stove (it’s yucky behind the stove), I rushed out to the living room to test the outlet there, while my wife surfed for a friendly neighbor’s unprotected wi fi network.  She got on and looked up “Hot Ground Reverse” while I confirmed that the living room outlet was suffering the same problem.  After checking several online forums, Dear Wife found that this kind of problem was experienced by a good number of people with the exact same symptoms: they get a “hot ground reverse” signal on their outlet testing devices, but then sometimes the problem mysteriously goes away, only to resurface again later.  The problem seemed to usually be the result of a “loose neutral” wire somewhere in the circuit.

Which means very little to us, we not being electricians.  So, we called an electrician.  He confirmed that sounded like the likely culprit, and could come out today (which at the time we called was tomorrow).

But that left one tiny little problem: the fridge.  We had no idea how long the problem would last.  We had a fridge freshly stocked with food for the week.  We were not prepared to lose it all.

And so: Dear Wife to the rescue!  In a flash of brilliance and inspiration she suggests: why don’t we unplug the fridge and plug it into one of the other outlets in the kitchen that we know is working?  And, what do you know: one such outlet is on the wall right next to the refrigerator!  And so we did just that.  We pulled the fridge away from the wall, unplugged it, and stretched the cord over to the nearby outlet.  And Hark!  The comforting whir of whatever it is in the fridge that makes it go all cold inside.

Thus, the day was saved.