What is this electrical panel thing in my kitchen wall?
June 22, 2006 12:54 PM   Subscribe

ElectricalFilter -- please help me identify this mystery panel in the wall of my old apartment!

Background: I live in an old apartment -- I think it was built in the twenties. I've been having random power cuts -- the refrigerator stays on, but no other power is available.

I replaced the fuses, and that helped for about a week, but now I'm back to a working refrigerator and no lights, TV, etc. Grr.

Underneath the fuse box, in the kitchen wall next to the refrigerator, is this metal box set into the wall. It has a cover.

When I open the cover, I see the following (and please forgive the bad photography -- it's hard to take a pic leaning over the top of the refrigerator, and the only light I had was a flashlight):

interior of mystery box

top portion of interior of box

detail of top portion of mystery box

Detail of bottom portion of mystery box inverted

What I can read in the top portion pic is
"SWITCH O(illegible)" and then

and in the inverted detail pic

(illegible)LY AND P(illegible)

wtf is this thing, and is it causing my power to go out randomly? (The apartment next to me has a similar "mystery panel" but no fuse box.)
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord to Home & Garden (15 answers total)
My guess is that it's some kind of knife switch. But it's turned off so is unlikely to be doing anything
posted by zeoslap at 1:04 PM on June 22, 2006

(I'm thinking you pull out the ring and flip it to the up spot to make the connection and that it says do it quickly so it doesn't arc and start sparking inside)
posted by zeoslap at 1:07 PM on June 22, 2006

Maybe it's just me, but I would avoid any life-or-death excitement caused by randomly tinkering with possible electrocution and call an experienced electrician!
posted by Bobtheordinary at 1:44 PM on June 22, 2006

Does the ring move up and down freely? That looks like your mains fuse block. Under the square bakelight with the handle are two cartridge fuses. If one is blown you may have fridge but no lights depending on how things are wired.

You should call your landlord. Unless you are running a grow-op or something that kind of thing isn't your responsibility.
posted by Mitheral at 1:48 PM on June 22, 2006

zeoslap: knife switch! I've never heard of such a thing. I did some quick googling and "Frankenstein" came up too often for my tastes!

Bobtheordinary: Thanks for the concern! I'm not tinkering -- just looking and scratching my head. (I turned off the power to my unit before I replaced the fuses, and that mystery box is just too damn scary for me to touch).

Mitheral: Yeah, it may be time to make the landlord do some work for once. If only she wasn't such a witch... :/

I am puzzled why I have a fuse box and my neighbors don't....
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 2:04 PM on June 22, 2006

might be an extra fuse box just for an electric stove or oven. it'sprobably not even connected anymore.
posted by lester at 2:29 PM on June 22, 2006

potsmokinghippieoverlord writes "I am puzzled why I have a fuse box and my neighbors don't...."

Electrical codes were fast and loose until after the war. Complance has always been weak when people split houses into multiple dwellings.
posted by Mitheral at 2:58 PM on June 22, 2006

It's a pull out fuse block. There are one or more fuses inside the block. Pull the block out to cut the power, push it in to restore power. When it's out you can change the fuses within. The instructions tell you to do it quickly because while you have a partial connection, it's a high-resistance connection that might blow your fuses.

Pulling that block out should be safe, if you want to see what it is being a fuse for.. Save your thesis paper first.

Since you say that you have another additional fuse box, and that replacing the fuses there helped you the last time this happened, I'd say this mystery box is the fuse for the refrigerator. No one ever bothered rewiring it.

Probably the fuses in your other box are out (again), and you need to replace one or more of them (again). There are two things you can do:

1) Cut your power usage as much as possible. Don't turn on microwave and hair dryer at same time.

2) Buy a big box of fuses, and put them next to the fuse box.
posted by jellicle at 3:20 PM on June 22, 2006

thanks for all the comments!

The odd thing is that I don't (or didn't) have a lot of things going at the same time to make the power go out. This last time, I walked into my apartment without turning on the lights to turn on my (20-year-old) TV -- and that did it.

And the fuses themselves aren't blown. The old ones I took out were corroded and funky -- yet unblown. I replaced them anyway, and it was smooth sailing for about a week.

I'll post a pic of the funky old fuses.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 4:49 PM on June 22, 2006

Your electrical system sounds very odd in general. I would bring in (or have your landlord bring in) an electrician who would straighten things out for you.
posted by Suparnova at 4:57 PM on June 22, 2006

What amperage are the fuses? You could probably safely install up to 15A or 20A fuses without worrying too much about a house fire...

On second thought, call an electrician. It's possible your neighbors are sharing your circuits or something. And no one wants a house fire.
posted by noble_rot at 5:05 PM on June 22, 2006

Ye Olde Funky Fuses

The amperages of the fuses I replaced are (one) 30, (one) 15, and (three) 25. I was very careful to make sure that the amps were correct.

I think a visit from an electrician (via the witchy landlady) is in order. Sigh.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 5:13 PM on June 22, 2006

My old apartment was a building from the 20s. The sets of fuses in the basement divided my apartment into left side-right side. Sometimes they needed to be replaced, no big deal. After a mysterious power outage not along that dividing line, we determined that the second fuse box, in the kitchen, was indeed still live, and divided the apartment into most of the front vs most of the back. Yes, there was overlap. No, I don't even want to know how the wiring was strung up. But aside from this oddness, eh, the psycho wiring didn't give us any hassle. (It did make my father, an electrical engineer, nearly go insane every time he visited, though.)
posted by desuetude at 6:32 PM on June 22, 2006

I bought a 100 year old house once, and had to hunt for insurance because "you only have 4 circuits". According to the old electrician guy, it was the quaint custom once to put fuses on the in and out sides, on hot and cold. So 4 fuses = 1 circuit. We think it started out in life as a 15 amp circuit, and people kept putting in bigger fuses to keep them from blowing, and they were up to 30's when I bought the place. Point being, don't necessarily regard the size fuse you find in the box as the right size for the circuits, it might just be the size the last guy found lying around.
Yes, I rewired it. I have trouble sleeping in the same house with knob and tube wiring.
It sounds like the landlady needs to spring for an electron expert to come in and sort out the mess, at least enough to make it safe. Whatever the mystery box is, he can probably replace it or wire around it if no longer needed, and take a look at the rest of the mess and see if it's safe.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 7:03 AM on June 23, 2006

Fused neutrals (what unrepentanthippie's electrician was talking about) are really, really, dangerous. If the neutral side blows before the hot side you become the potential neutral path of any non double insulated item you plug in.

I'd move if the landlord refused to remove them.

PS: holy crap are those some old fuses. You should try ebaying them as collector items.
posted by Mitheral at 7:29 AM on June 23, 2006

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