I consider myself an expert handyman. If there is something broken, stuck, loose or making a sound it’s not supposed to be making, I possess an innate ability to quickly identify the problem – and within minutes make that problem significantly worse than it was before I began fiddling with it. There are three things every homeowner should instinctively know:

  • #1: The location of your main circuit breaker box: In most homes, this is conveniently located in the garage behind a clearly displayed grey metal panel. In our house, it’s conveniently located behind three boxes of stuffed animals, four crates of ancient photo albums, and nine cans of 14-year old dried house paint. Our circuit breaker was last seen in spring, 2003.
  • #2: The location of your main water shut-off valve: This could save you thousands of dollars if ever your pipes burst. This valve is typically found somewhere inside the house on the first floor, either in your laundry room or front hall closet. In our case, it’s conveniently located nine feet up our fireplace. Apparently I must have pissed off some plumber as our house was being built.
  • #3: Righty-Tighty, Lefty-Loosy. That little lesson sure could have come in handy had I known about it before my gas grill’s propane tank gas leak and subsequent explosion during the surprise party we threw in the kitchen of our former friend, Agnes Turlington in 1995.

After a recent holiday season, I had planned to return our Christmas decorations to the garage shelves they call home 361 days a year. I entered the pitch black garage and flipped on the light switch. Within seconds, as I continued to be engulfed by darkness, I deduced that the ceiling light had not turned on. As an experienced home repair do-it-yourselfer, I knew there had to be a simple explanation for why the garage ceiling bulb wouldn’t light.

Using my in-depth knowledge of electrical circuitry, I have compiled this handy 22-STEP TROUBLESHOOTING GUIDE to follow the next time your ceiling light fails to turn on when you flip the switch. [Author’s note: The account that follows is an accurate retelling of actual events.]

Step 1: Once you notice that the light bulb fails to light, continue to turn the light switch on and off repeatedly, in the off chance the light switch was momentarily distracted the first few times you flipped it.

Step 2: If step 1 does not solve the problem, there is a good chance your light bulb has burned out. Grab a flashlight and replace the bulb.

Step 3: If the new bulb does not light, consider the possibility that the new bulb may be defective.

Steps 4 through 7: Continue trying new light bulbs. If you have tried five or more new light bulbs, you should consider the possibility that the problem might not be the light bulb. Continue on to step 8.

Step 8: You probably have a broken circuit somewhere. Locate the nearest electrical outlet with a GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) switch. Press the black OFF button and then press the red ON button to restore the broken circuit. That should solve the problem.

Step 9: That doesn’t solve the problem. Go around the house and locate other outlets with GFCI switches and test them out one at a time. Do this several times for no particular reason. Make a mental note how this does absolutely nothing to solve the problem. Bang your head on the garage furnace in frustration. Get a band aid for the cut on your forehead. You might want to have a doctor look at it – the cut, not the furnace.

Step 10: Find your main circuit breaker box and locate the circuit breaker switch that reads “garage”. Turn it OFF and then ON.

Step 11: Notice that step 10 accomplishes absolutely nothing. Proceed to the following time-tested troubleshooting step: Scream random coarse expletives at the $%*&!$#!! light bulb. Repeat as needed.

Step 11A (optional): Avoid the impulse to punch the furnace. Punch the wall instead. Get another band aid; you’re bleeding.

Step 12: Methodically turn OFF and then ON other switches on the main circuit breaker which sound like possible circuits on which the garage ceiling light could be found. Follow this sequence precisely: “first floor lights” >> “dishwasher” >> “unused switch” >> “not the garage”. Forget to tell your spouse beforehand that you’re shutting off the power. Listen patiently as she colorfully describes her rage over your having shut down her computer in the middle of an important word document she had not yet saved. Proceed to step 13.

Step 13: Blame your spouse (unless you have teenagers at home, in which case blame them) for this problem. God knows HOW she did it, but the odds are she did it deliberately to ruin your afternoon plans to watch the Packers game.

Step 14: Ask your next-door neighbor Dean Flinderson whether he has any idea what to do. Repeat steps 1 through 12 with him.  Apologize to Dean for causing him to miss the end of the Packers game, which went into double overtime.

Step 15: Call your handyman. Ask him if he can come out and fix the problem. I suggest using a handyman named Mike or Bob. 

Step 16: Repeat steps 1 through 12 with your handyman. Be sure to allow at least 45 minutes for this pointless exercise in futility.

Step 17: When step 16 fails to solve the problem, observe as your handyman carefully disassembles the light switch casing to check for loose wires or a faulty switch.

Step 18: Notice how the light switch housing is perfectly fine, Observe as your handyman proceeds to meticulously disassemble the garage ceiling light bulb casing to see if there is a loose wire at the base of the socket. Look at your watch. Start calculating how much this is going to cost you. Let out an exasperated sigh right about now.

Step 19: When step 18 reaches yet another dead-end, your handyman, rapidly running out of theories, speculates you may have a mice infestation problem. Mice probably chewed through the wiring. You will need to call an exterminator for the mice and an experienced electrician to replace all the wiring. This is going to cost you a small fortune. Repeat step 11 as needed.

Step 20: While your handyman begins searching the garage rafters for signs of mouse droppings, look over to your left and suddenly notice another garage light switch about eight feet from the main garage light switch you totally forgot about – one you almost never use.

Notice how that switch is dangling midway between the ON and OFF positions, thereby cutting off the circuit for whatever light bulb it works. Click it to the ON position. Notice how the garage light bulb immediately lights up. Quietly mutter to yourself, “You’re an idiot.” Turn beet red.

Step 21: Apologize profusely to your handyman for making him drive 20 miles to fix your light switch problem which turns out to have been caused by the fact that you are without a doubt a moron. Offer to pay him whatever he wants if he’ll promise never to tell your wife that if you’d only looked eight feet to your left, this perplexing problem could have been solved in roughly the time it takes to sneeze.

Step 22: Make up a plausible story for your wife about the cause of the problem. Tell her it was due to a corroded copper grounding plate or perhaps a blown parallel altimeter node or maybe a mis-calibrated circuit defractor. Trust me. She won’t ask any questions. She’ll be thankful you got the pesky problem fixed in only five hours.

I hope you find this 22-step guide helpful. And I can’t overstate the importance of step 11.

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base. Hey, who turned off the light? A little help? Please??

© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2012

Share This