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36 Almost Unbelievable Plumbing and Electrical Goofs

Read these DIYers' embarrassing moments stories and DIY fails from plumbing and electrical mistakes.

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A Flush to Remember

A Flush to Remember

After removing an old toilet, I did the classic handyman trick of stuffing a bunch of plastic bags into the sewer opening. This kept the stench from seeping into the bathroom while I installed the new toilet over the weekend. After setting and hooking up the new commode, I did a test flush. It was very satisfying to watch the water swirl down and the bowl fill up—and up and up! The toilet gushed water all over the floor. Turns out the other half of that trick is removing the bags from the sewer opening. Really scary stuff. - Rob Kiesling
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Free FacialFamily Handyman

Free Facial

Just days before Hurricane Sandy was to hit  New Jersey, I was helping my husband install a "water jet sump pump backup system" in my parents' basement. In the event of a power outage, it works off the water pressure of the house. My husband asked me to hold on to the PVC pipe so he could cut out a piece with his reciprocating saw. While I held it, he made the first cut. When  he made the second cut, nasty brown water started gushing out of the pipe and  hit me full in the face. Being the dutiful wife, I held on tight! It took him a few seconds to realize what was happening. He had forgotten to unplug the pump. After pulling the plug, he looked at me with a worried expression, but I began laughing hysterically. I was soaked with that disgusting water from head to toe. At least the project turned out as planned— after Sandy, they had no water in their basement. — Jill Gallery. Plus: Check out these insanely smart home improvement hacks you'll wish you knew sooner.
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Cut the LightsFamily Handyman

Cut the Lights

When I built my house, I wanted a tall garage opening to accommodate our full-size trucks. That meant I had to mount the garage door track just a few inches from the ceiling. The installation went without a hitch. The first time I hit the garage door button, the door opened perfectly, rolled smoothly along the rails—and sheared off my ceiling lights! - Ernie Smith
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The Physics of PlumbingFamily Handyman

The Physics of Plumbing

I was replacing our shower fixture, and I couldn't budge the large brass nut that was holding the two-way mixing valve in place. Using my expert knowledge of physics, I came up with the perfect solution. I packed the valve in ice to make it shrink in diameter. Then I used my blowtorch on the nut so its diameter would expand, thus freeing it. I was feeling really clever until I noticed the smoke filling the shower. It turns out two studs were on fire and the flames were moving up inside the wall! Have you ever tried to extinguish a blazing fire through a 6-in. access hole? I didn't worry about the physics at that point—I just ran for the fire extinguisher! -Dr. Kris Storm
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Use Your Head not Your HammerFamily Handyman

Use Your Head not Your Hammer

My husband is a novice handyman with a great heart. So when I asked for a new sink in our upstairs bathroom, he got to work. After two weeks of struggle and leaking pipes, it was done. Whew! But when I turned on the hot water, there was water "hammering." He said he must have loosened a pipe and that it was beating against a stud. He spent the next hour knocking holes in our nice drywall trying to trace the hammering. But he still couldn't find the problem. I then asked him if the hot water valve below the sink was fully open—problem solved. The contractor did a beautiful job of repairing our drywall.... - Mari Nelson
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Cold CommodeFamily Handyman

Cold Commode

Last winter, I brought home a new toilet. I stored the box outside on my porch along with the new wax ring, flange bolts and new water line until I got around to installing it a few days later. I mounted the wax ring and set the toilet over the flange, but the toilet would not sit flush against the floor. I tried everything I could think of, including tightening the floor bolts at the base of the toilet until I nearly cracked the toilet base, but the toilet just would not sit flush. I gave up in frustration and went to bed. The next morning, I walked outside to get the paper and saw the empty toilet box sitting on my unheated porch. As I shivered in my bare feet, the explanation suddenly hit me. I ran to the bathroom and sure enough, the toilet was sitting flush against the floor and the bolts were completely loose. Turns out the wax ring had been frozen solid. -Mike Koch
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Plumber? What plumber?Family Handyman

Plumber? What plumber?

In the middle of trying to sell our house, my husband accidentally broke the hot water pipe to the washing machine while trying to unscrew the rusted connection from the wall. Hot water started gushing inside the wall, and I ran for buckets and towels as my husband raced to turn off the water main. Two hours later, as the emergency plumber was cutting into the drywall, the doorbell rang. Our real estate agent was standing outside with potential buyers! As my husband greeted them, I ran around the house and threw the towels, buckets and mops into the garage, pushed the washer back into place, and told the plumber to go wait in his truck, which was prominently sitting in our driveway. The couple toured the house while my husband and I suffered heart palpitations. They ended up buying our house. And luckily they never did ask what the plumber was doing in the driveway… -Kiersten Jarvis
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Exploding toilet trickFamily Handyman

Exploding toilet trick

Our toilet wouldn't stop running because the float wouldn’t turn the water completely off. I'd fixed the same problem in our old toilet by bending the float arm down a little to increase the pressure on the shutoff valve in the tank. But since our new toilet had a plastic arm, I decided to apply a little heat to soften it so I could bend it. First I sprayed silicone lube on everything in the tank to help things slide better. Then I leaned over the tank with my lighter, clicked it and...WHOOOOMPP! The aerosol silicone spray I had just shot into the tank exploded. Luckily, I escaped with only singed hair and eyelashes. But now my wife can't stop telling people about our exploding toilet. — Ron Woodward
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The Ever-Flowing Water HeaterFamily Handyman

The Ever-Flowing Water Heater

When the plumber replaced one of the heating elements in my electric water heater, I watched carefully, knowing that the other element would eventually need replacing too. Sure enough, a year later the other element went. I checked it with an ohmmeter, confirmed my diagnosis and headed to the plumbing supply store. When I returned home, I killed the power supply at the box and at the wall switch. Feeling proud and confident, I dragged the garden hose into the house, connected it to the heater and ran it into the floor drain to empty the heater—just like the plumber had done. Then I sat and waited for the water to stop flowing. After about an hour of a good, steady flow, it occurred to me to SHUT OFF THE WATER SUPPLY! Fifteen minutes later and hundreds of gallons of water poorer, I replaced the element. -Dianna Tucker
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Can You Hear Me Now?Family Handyman

Can You Hear Me Now?

I was going to install a faucet in our upstairs bathroom and had brought home some slick new quarter-turn ball valves to replace the old shutoffs under the sink. My wife's task was to choose and bring home the new faucet while I got started on the valves. When it was time to turn the main water line back on, I had my 15-year-old son stand in the bathroom with his cell phone to watch for leaks. Out at the street I called him on my cell phone and said, "OK, here we go" as I turned on the water. Then my phone went dead. What a time for a dropped call! I quickly redialed but the call rolled to my son's voice mail. I hung up and my phone rang immediately. "Dad, shut the water off!!!" I did and raced inside and up the stairs to find the entire bathroom and hallway carpet completely soaked. Turns out I'd left my slick new ball valves in the open position when I installed them. -Vaughn Williams
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Fourth Time's the CharmFamily Handyman

Fourth Time's the Charm

Our washing machine was on the fritz. It's a heavy stacked unit (dryer on top) that's tucked into a tight wall recess, so it's tough to maneuver. After 45 minutes of pulling and straining, I got it out from the wall and spotted the problem right away—a broken clutch. But because it was too late in the day to get the part and the unit was blocking the hallway to the kitchen, I had to push the whole thing back against the wall. The next day I did the backbreaking 45-minute thing over again and replaced the clutch. Then I reattached the supply hoses, pushed the unit back into place and started it. Oh, man—water began coming out from underneath the washer! I'd forgotten to reattach the drain hose! Once again, I pulled the whole thing out from the wall. Then I reattached the drain hose, pushed the unit back yet again, started it and Hallelujah, it seemed to work fine—no leaks. The next day my wife discovered hot water coming out during the cold cycle. I'd switched the hot and cold hoses when I reattached them! Which meant I had to.... -Vaughn Williams
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Two Times the Water DamageFamily Handyman

Two Times the Water Damage

The toilet in the upstairs bathroom had been leaking for some time, which had rotted the floor. I removed the toilet, vanity and sink to replace the plywood. Once the new vinyl floor in and the vanity were reinstalled, I left off the sink to make it easier to solder on new shutoff valves. With the main water supply to the house turned off, I installed the shutoff valves. Then I went downstairs to turn on the water supply so I could check the joints for leaks. As I walked back upstairs, fancying myself a master plumber, I heard the sound of gushing water. I had forgotten to turn off the shutoff valves! The bathroom was flooded and the ceiling below was ruined. But my soldering job held up perfectly. -Glenn McComas
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A New Toilet to Go with that SeatFamily Handyman

A New Toilet to Go with that Seat

My dad waited until I came home from college to ask me to install the soft-cushion toilet seat he'd just bought. I sprayed the old, rusty toilet seat bolts with a heavy dose of lubricant and then got out the wrench and went to work on them. Unfortunately, the wrench slipped off the lubricated bolt and the handle busted a nice hole in the toilet, sending water all over the floor. With my tail between my legs, I had to tell my dad that he needed a new toilet to go with his new seat. I replaced the toilet, but haven't had my dad ask me to do anything around the house since. (I guess that means it worked out for the best after all!) -Martin Todd Dorris
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Lesson Learned the Slimy WayFamily Handyman

Lesson Learned the Slimy Way

My wife was complaining about the slow-draining sink in our kitchen, so I put my handyman prowess to work. I planned to use the blow feature on my shop vacuum to push the clog through the drain line. As I inserted the hose into the drain, my wife asked, "Don’t you think we should cover the other drain?" But it was too late. I'd already flipped on the vacuum, causing stinky, slimy water to shoot out of the other drain and drench us. Next time I'll let her finish talking before I start working. -Steve Fears
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F is for Flub—and FloodFamily Handyman

F is for Flub—and Flood

I couldn't get the valves that fed my washing machine to stop leaking, so I replaced the entire faucet assembly. The installation went fine. I reconnected the washer hoses, double-checked for leaks and washed my first load of clothes. Satisfied with my leak free connections, I went upstairs. Everything worked perfectly—until I returned to the laundry room and found myself standing in a pool of soapy water. Unfortunately, I'd forgotten to put the drain line back into the laundry tub and an entire washer's worth of dirty water had poured onto my floor. Talk about washed up! -William C. Sinclair
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Toilet BluesFamily Handyman

Toilet Blues

My wife came home with one of those $10 chlorination gadgets for the toilet that "self-cleans" the bowl after flushing. Installation seemed simple enough, but within minutes I had broken the fill valve assembly at the base. I quickly turned off the water supply at the wall and tried to loosen the coupling nut that secures the valve so I could replace the part. It was corroded and wouldn't budge. I decided to pull the toilet for better access to the stuck nut. I removed the flange nuts and lifted the toilet with all my might…and learned that the caulking bead around the toilet base can be exceptionally strong. The bowl base broke into three pieces and water spilled everywhere. My wife and I decided that I should quit while I was behind and call a real plumber. The $350 bill was an expensive end to a simple task, but there is no cleaner toilet than a brand new one. -Marcus Cherlin
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Commode Flambeau

Commode Flambeau

A part from my young son's plastic potty had somehow gotten stuck in the toilet trap. I couldn't snake it out, nor could the plumber, who left saying, "Buy a new toilet." But I had a brilliant idea: I'd burn it out! I pulled the toilet and dragged it outside. There I poured charcoal lighter fluid down the trap and lit it up. Standing back, I basked in the glory of the geyser flames and my phenomenal ingenuity... until the bang. The commode literally cracked from the heat. I bought a new toilet. -Gordy Gladman
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"I Did What You Said, Dad"Family Handyman

"I Did What You Said, Dad"

My bathroom sink stopped up and I had to take off the trap to pull out a clog of gunk. I removed the trap and caught the water in a bucket—scummy, soapy, toothpaste goobery, hairy water. I then positioned myself under the pipe to look up and make sure that all the gunk was out of the drain. I handed the bucket of water up to my 4-year-old son and asked him to get rid of it. He did what seemed perfectly natural to him—he poured it down the sink! All of the slimy water came right back in my face with a vengeance. -Lindsay Gerard
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Unplanned ShowerFamily Handyman

Unplanned Shower

Last year my fiancée and I started our first home improvement project together, aptly, a shower. We installed a new control valve along with new tile. Although my fiancée was still grouting the tile, I decided it was safe to turn on the main water supply valve because we'd finished the plumbing. A second later, a scream echoed through the house. I ran to the bathroom and saw that the shower was blasting on my fiancée. We'd left the valve in the open position and she couldn't turn it off because we hadn't installed the handles. Anyway, a year after this first shower, we're happily married! -Adam Halverson
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Glue GoofFamily Handyman

Glue Goof

My brother-in-law and I decided to help his father remodel his bathroom. Being pretty handy, we thought it would be a snap. When it came time to set the tub, we hooked up the water supply and the PVC waste lines, then took a break for dinner to let the glue dry. When we finished eating, we turned on the water to try it out. After a few seconds, my brother-in-law said he could hear water dripping. Then it turned into a gusher. After investigating the problem, we found we'd used rubber cement instead of PVC glue. The containers were similar and were right next to each other on the shelf. After a couple of hours of redoing our mistake, we were ready for a hot shower! -Ken Fees
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Saddle SoreFamily Handyman

Saddle Sore

When we moved into our new home, we brought our refrigerator with us. When we tried to hook up the icemaker, we discovered there wasn’t a water line in the kitchen to tap into. I located a spot behind the refrigerator, drilled a hole in the floor and ran the tubing to the basement. The water heater was close, so I thought I’d tap into the water line there. I noticed three copper lines running to the water heater: two at the top and one near the bottom. I felt the lines to make sure I wouldn’t tap into the hot water and decided to use the one at the bottom, since it felt cold. I attached the saddle clamp to the line and screwed down the needle until it pierced the pipe. No water came through the line, so I went upstairs to make sure the icemaker was turned on. After a few trips up and down the stairs, I smelled gas and realized that I’d tapped into the gas line. I told my wife and kids to get out of the house while I closed the saddle clamp, stopping the flow of gas. I called the gas company from the neighbor’s house. This goof was too close for comfort. — Cameron LiDestri.
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A Quick ShowerFamily Handyman

A Quick Shower

Last spring, I added a breezeway between my house and the garage. The garage had 1/2-in. sheathing over the studs on the adjoining wall, so I decided to use 2-in. nails in my nail gun to attach the grooved plywood. The nail gun really made the job go fast, and it wasn't long before the inside of the breezeway was finished. The job looked fantastic. Well, a couple of weeks later when the job was completed, we decided to take a fishing trip. I went out to the garage to grab my fishing rod that I store in a stud space there. I pulled and pulled, but it wouldn't budge. Finally I realized that one of those 2-in. nails had found its way dead center into my fishing rod. I was able to pry it loose and salvage it. Now every time I cast, I see light through a small hole in the rod and think not of the fish I'll catch but of power nailing. — Norm Holcomb
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A soaking surpriseFamily Handyman

A soaking surprise

Last summer I had to move the outdoor water spigot several feet to accommodate our new deck. I got all my plumbing parts ready, shut off the water supply inside and then opened the outdoor spigot to drain any remaining water. Just as I put the wrench on the spigot, water came gushing right in my face! My wife had turned on a faucet upstairs to wash her hands and released the vacuum pressure holding the remaining water in that pipe. — Michael Totoro
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Sparks in the darkFamily Handyman

Sparks in the dark

Recently I decided to replace a ceiling light fixture with a ceiling fan in my computer room. Instead of turning off the power at the breaker, I just shut off the light switch and got to work. I changed the box and was finishing up the electrical work when a storm passed over outside. The storm darkened the room a bit, but I could still see fine to complete the job. Just then, my wife came into the room to help out. I asked her to hand me some parts and then she said, “Why are you working in the dark?” Taking matters into her own hands, she instinctively turned on the light switch and sparks flew from my screwdriver. Thank goodness my hands weren’t touching the wires. Next time I’ll turn off the power at the breaker! — Pedro Espada
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Wake up ShockFamily Handyman

Wake up Shock

Several years ago, I decided to replace the vanity lights in my small bathroom. Because my dad had been an electrician, I asked if he could stop by to help. After he made sure the light switch was off, he walked me through removing the old light fixture and explained the wire colors and their gauges. He also brought along the new fixture and explained how to twist the bare wires and install the wire nuts. Since the room was dim, I was having trouble seeing which wires to connect. Ever helpful, my dad flipped on the light switch. Yikes! I received a nice “wake-up” jolt of electricity. After apologizing profusely, my dad then showed me how to turn off the breakers in the breaker panel. Luckily I was unhurt and we shared a good chuckle over the incident. -Marci Henscheid
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Smokin' New Man CaveFamily Handyman

Smokin' New Man Cave

After hours of meticulous, testosterone-enriched planning, I began building my garage “man cave.” I installed cabinets with workbenches, storage units, a dust collection system, air filtration and even a heater. Because of the low ceiling, I carefully installed recessed lighting so that my custom hand-carved garage door would roll up unobstructed once it was installed. On the first warm day of spring, I rolled up my old garage door (the new one hadn’t arrived yet) and started working in my new man cave. After about 15 minutes, I smelled smoke and realized my garage door was smoldering! I rolled it down and found three scorched spots where my recessed lights were burning into the door. I’m just glad my custom door hadn’t been installed yet! -Wade Clary
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That is One Mighty FanFamily Handyman

That is One Mighty Fan

I helped my son-in-law install a new ceiling fan and light in their kitchen. The wiring in the house was pretty old, but we’d figured it out—or at least we hoped so. That evening, my son-in-law called to say that when he flipped the switch to show my daughter the new fan, all the power in the house went out! I told him to turn off the switch and reset any breakers. He did as I said, but nothing changed. Anticipating a total project redo, I told him I’d be over shortly. A few minutes later, he called back to say there was a neighborhood power outage. It turned out this was a major outage affecting 42,000 homes. When my daughter put two and two together, she said, “Wow, from one little fan?” -Louis DeSanzo
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Attention-Getting Dryer

Attention-Getting Dryer

I was installing a new, quieter dryer in a client’s high-end house. The power cord was unattached and had exposed connectors at one end. Like an idiot, I pushed the plug into the 240-volt outlet to see if the prongs fit. Well, the connectors at the other end were all touching one another and—WHAM! The loose ends shorted out and knocked me clear over. This in turn set off the house alarm system, alerted the police and set every dog in the neighborhood barking. It’s bad enough to goof—it’s far worse to have to explain your screwup to your client and your boss, a crowd of curious onlookers and the police. — Ben Rall
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Hot Closet

Hot Closet

After framing in a new closet with metal studs, I was ready to take a break. I had been working around an old electrical panel in our old house. As I sat down on the radiator, I grabbed hold of one of the studs to support myself and was greeted with a powerful shock. Upon investigating, I found that one of my screws had penetrated a wire inside an existing wall and had energized the new metal wall framing. What a wild ride 120 volts gives you! How lucky I wasn’t hurt. — Ted Labatte Plus: How to build a wall-to-wall closet
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Real Men Don't Use IronsFamily Handyman

Real Men Don't Use Irons

My friend had installed a kitchen backsplash and asked me to help him change the wall outlets to match the new décor. Since I didn’t have my voltage sniffer with me, I needed something to plug into the outlet so I’d know when the power was off. I plugged in a clothes iron, and my friend flipped the circuit breakers until the iron light went off. I changed the first two outlets and started on the third. Plugged in the iron—yup, the light was off. When I touched the wire, there was a flash of sparks and my entire arm went numb. I was floored—how could I get a shock when the iron showed the power was off? I learned the hard way that the light goes off when the iron reaches the right temperature. I think I’ll stick with my voltage sniffer from now on. — Shawn Tombolini
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Electric Cake BatterFamily Handyman

Electric Cake Batter

When I was a teenager, I came home from school to find my mother making a cake. She was using her favorite electric mixer. The double-ended electric cord was plugged into the mixer at one end and into the wall outlet at the other. As she happily mixed away, she inadvertently knocked the cord out of the mixer, and it fell into the cake batter. So she fished it out and, not thinking, licked it off. The live cord shocked her tongue, making her jump about 3 ft. in the air. After the initial shock, she was fine, and now we laugh about it. — Mary-Kay Reno
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Night Light NightmareFamily Handyman

Night Light Nightmare

I installed a motion sensor switch in our laundry room, and my wife loves it. Every time she walks in carrying a load of laundry, the light automatically comes on, and then it turns off soon after she leaves. So I decided to put one in our kids’ bedroom since they’re always leaving the light on. Big mistake. Sure, the light turned off when there wasn’t anyone in the room. But it also turned on when we didn’t want it to—like when the kids rolled over in their sleep or the cat entered the room on its nightly patrol and jumped up on their beds. The instant-on light woke up the kids, who in turn woke me up with their yelling. I swapped it with the old switch the next morning. Now if I can just get my dear wife to stop snoring, I’ll be able to get a peaceful night’s sleep. — Dave Ahrendt
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Short-Circuit ShortcutFamily Handyman

Short-Circuit Shortcut

Mike, a carpenter buddy of mine, shared one of his cool remodeling tricks with me. When he comes across a hump in a wall caused by a badly bowed stud, he cuts right through the drywall and the stud with a long reciprocating saw blade. The cut relieves the stress and the stud straightens itself. Just a little patching to fix the saw kerf and you’re done. Brilliant! I had that exact problem in my downstairs bedroom— that hump had always driven me nuts. I stuck the saw blade into the drywall and started hacking away. All of a sudden, the room went black and the saw stopped. The bad stud happened to be the one with electrical cable stapled to the side to feed the overhead light. I had cut through the cable and blown the circuit breaker. Needless to say, there was a lot more electrical work, drywall patching and painting ahead of me. But at least the wall was flat—mission accomplished! — Milo Amundsen
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A Shocking EmailFamily Handyman

A Shocking Email

I’ll tell you right off that I hate working with electricity because it scares the heck out of me. But I had to replace an outlet, so I shut off the proper circuit breaker and checked the outlet with a voltage tester. The power was off. OK, no big deal. I started unscrewing the wire from the outlet, and just as the screwdriver touched the head of the terminal screw, someone sent me an e-mail, which caused the BlackBerry phone hanging at my hip to vibrate. Thinking I was being electrocuted, I threw the screwdriver across the room, where it crashed right through the window. This is one time that hiring an electrician might have been cheaper. - -Jerry Dolak
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A Bit of A ProblemFamily Handyman

A Bit of A Problem

I was on the couch knitting while my husband was downstairs working on our basement. He was using a 6-ft. flexible drill bit to drill holes through the floor joists in the finished ceiling so he could fish wire through them and install new recessed lights. All of a sudden, I felt the couch vibrate. This went on for about 10 seconds and then stopped. I was totally confused until my husband ran into the room, looked at the couch and in a very quiet voice said, “Oooops, there’s the problem.” I peeked over the side of the couch and saw that the drill bit had come up through the floor, through the wall-to-wall carpeting, through the bottom corner of our leather couch and was sticking out the side. Apparently the drill bit had hit a vent and was driven off course. My husband finished the job and the new lights look great. And so does our new couch. -Charla Schafer