Saturday, 8 October 2016

the electrification of the conservatory

There is a limit beyond which safety features engineered into products can themselves become sources of hazard, as they make the product so inconvenient to use that the user will bodge up all sorts of unsafe shortcuts around the feature.  Lawnmowers that turn themselves off as soon as you release your grip on the dead man's handle, for example.  If you have a large area to cut and especially if the mower is difficult to start, the temptation to lash some string around the safety catch is pretty much irresistible.  Or heavily sprung fire resistant doors that start shutting themselves on you when you are only half way through and carrying a tray.  Stuff the fire safety, just put a stop in front of the door before somebody breaks their wrist or scalds themselves.  And in my case the water resistant sockets in the conservatory.

There are two sockets on the back wall of the conservatory, one either side of the central water feature.  That's handy, as I would like to plug in the water pump, and the electric heater on cold winter's nights, and the fairy lights around the windows for autumn evenings when we're having tea down there as dusk is falling.  Three appliances, two sockets.  That's all fine and dandy, I don't normally want to run the heater and the lights at the same time so I can unplug one and plug in the other.  Getting to the wall sockets isn't as easy as it was, since the plants have grown up, but that isn't the socket designer's fault.

The sockets are pigs to use, though.  The waterproof covers are incredibly stiff once clipped down shut, and it takes real effort to open them again, not the easiest thing especially when trying to do it in semi darkness and with branches of fuschsia and Canary island palm sticking in your face, because you've decided half way through the evening that the thermometer is plummeting and you'd better plug the heater in.  And it is not possible to plug the fairy lights in at all, because the transformer is integrated into the plug and the whole thing is too big to fit in the waterproof box.  I ended up doing what most people would do, and buying a normal three point trailing socket which I could leave permanently plugged in at the wall.  I put it right at the back in the corner so that it wouldn't get watered, and clambered laboriously past the palm each time I wanted to plug the lights in.

And of course the trailing socket got damp, even though it hadn't taken a direct hit from the watering, and one day when I was unplugging the fairy lights there was a bang and everything stopped working.  I couldn't tell without further investigation whether it was the trailing socket that had gone, or the wall plug, or if the switch had tripped on the fuse box in the garage, and the whole problem of the electricity supply to the conservatory along with the fact that the pump for the water feature had already stopped working got added to the list of Things To Do but never rose to the top of it.  With hindsight that was an error, as red spider mite was a real nuisance this year and running the water feature to raise the humidity would probably have helped.

Finally the conservatory electricity problem rose to the top of the Systems Administrator's list.  The SA tested things methodically and announced that the fuse had tripped but the wall socket was fine.  The trailing socket, however, was verboten, and the SA promised to buy a new waterproof one and did.  This has the triple advantages of a lid that opens without requiring the application of brute force, a long enough lead that it can sit where I can reach it without scrambling through the palm and the fuchsia, and individual switches for each socket so things can stay plugged in under the waterproof cover even when not in use.  Unfortunately, the fairy light plug still won't fit inside, so the SA will have to fix the lights into a short lead with a conventional plug, bag up the join in waterproof fashion and put the bag at the back in the corner where it won't get watered.  (And the trailing socket only takes two plugs when I have three electrical appliances).

Meanwhile I was galvanised by the SA's progress into investigating the small pump I found sitting in its original box down in the garage the last time I tidied up, instructions only slightly eaten by snails.  I think I originally bought it for the pond in the front garden and then never installed it.  I even managed to find a spare plug with a thirteen amp fuse and wire it in, blue to neutral and brown to live, but when I tested it in a bowl of water in the kitchen while the engine made a whirring noise no water came out of the exit pipe.  The Systems Administrator came and looked at it too but there was no magic solution that I'd failed to spot, it simply didn't work.  It must have been very old so maybe some part had crumbled away in storage.

Small straightforward pond pumps are not too expensive and I have ordered another one from a Google Certified Shop.  All I need now is for it to arrive, and me to work out how to plumb it in, and the SA to fix up the waterproof connection for the fairy lights, and I shall be able to strike Sort out conservatory electrics off the list of Things To Do, a mere six months or so after adding it to the list.

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