Forests and Trees

This past Christmas, my wife, Tracey, got me a Ring doorbell. It’s more useful than I expected. It has a camera, a speaker, and a microphone. It’s connected to our Wi-Fi. We can see who’s at the door and even converse with visitors remotely using our smartphones. Since we already had a doorbell, the installation was simple. The doorbell has a rechargeable battery, so I configured it to connect to our home network first. Then, I removed the old doorbell button, connected the Ring doorbell to the existing wiring and it was working. It took 15 minutes and one Philips head screwdriver.

We enjoyed the doorbell so much, we decided to get one for our lake house. Since there’s no existing doorbell at the lake, I knew it would be a bigger job but not beyond my capabilities. I got another doorbell, 20’ of 18-gauge wire, and a 16-volt DC transformer. I figured I’d need to drill a hole through the side of the house where the doorbell would be installed behind the inside door molding to get the wire through the wall. Once inside, I expected to drill another hole through the floor (also behind the inside molding) to the basement so I could install the transformer at an electrical junction box.


When we inspected the door and surrounding area, Tracey found an electrical junction box hidden above the kitchen cabinets. Perfect! I could install the transformer there and run the doorbell wire behind the cabinet and the door molding. That would be much easier than drilling a hole in the floor and finding the hole from the basement, near the house sill. With this new easier plan, I excitedly got started. As I was working, I shared with Tracey how much easier this was going to be than I thought. Careful not to dampen my enthusiasm, Tracey gave me a measured, “That’s good.” She’d seen this movie before.

Undaunted, I drilled the hole through the wall, while Tracey configured the doorbell, connecting it to our Wi-Fi. Drilling the wall hole required an educated guess. I could see where I needed the hole on either side, and I could guess approximately where the drill bit would exit the interior wall. I removed the inside door molding and began drilling from the outside. I wasn’t exactly right, and I needed to locate the hole by drilling from the inside, too. But it all worked out. Everything would be hidden behind the door molding. I Installed the transformer, ran and hid the wires, and installed the doorbell. It worked!

Score for the day:

Don                              1
Local Electrician      0

I cut the celebration short because the job isn’t finished until the tools are put away and the worksite is cleaned up. Nothing is more satisfying than a job well done.

But wait!

After cleaning up, and while basking in satisfaction, I reviewed the Ring app on my phone. I found the app reporting that the doorbell was running on battery, not being charged by the house wiring. Nothing is more disheartening than finding the job may be flawed. So, armed with my voltmeter, I checked the output voltage of the transformer. It looked like 0, but it was dark above the cabinets. So, I turned on the kitchen light and checked again. 16.4 volts. Odd. I checked the app again. The doorbell was charging. Then it dawned on me: There was a small voice in my head that had been ignored in favor of enthusiasm. I wasn’t sure what it was, but in retrospect I think the voice was saying something like, “Let’s step back for a minute to be sure this new plan makes sense.” I’m far too competent to listen to nonsense like that.

To satisfy the little voice, I turned off the kitchen light and used my cell phone light to read the voltmeter. 0.0 volts. I had wired the transformer to a switched electrical junction. My little voice doesn’t like to say, “I told you so.” Instead, my little voice said, “Dumbass!” Tracey is very kind when I bring my home improvement confessions to her. But not surprisingly, she wasn’t interested in a doorbell that only works when the kitchen light is on.

New score for the day:

Enthusiasm               1
Don                              0

I surveyed the scene again and found an outlet behind the refrigerator (that’s not on a switch), and I could still hide the doorbell wiring behind the cabinet molding. I went about the re-do in a much more stepwise manner. No fanfare, just humility. The doorbell works, and that’s good.

I’m out of the woods.

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