Friday, April 11, 2008

Brasil's Shock Factor

Eric and I don't always agree on everything, but when it comes to construction or home improvement projects, we generally follow the same philosophy: 1. If if is worth doing, it is worth doing right, and 2. there is our way of doing it (although sometimes it takes a while to reach a consensus on what will be "our" way...we are both usually pretty opinionated on these things) or there is the wrong way. We are both especially conscientious of electricity and wiring. And that is one area that absolutely drives us both nuts on a regular basis in Brasil!

Wire nuts, junction boxes, and sometimes even light fixtures are practically non-existent. What looks like a lamp cord is used to run electricity 75 feet or more along the wet ground and 220 volts is carried along 14 gauge or smaller wire. Surely electrical codes don't exist here (or maybe, like so many other things, they are just not enforced!) And even more surprising to us than the crazy wiring is how it doesn't seem to bother anyone else around us.

I think pictures might demonstrate our concerns more than words ever could, so take a look for yourself.

When we first moved into our apartment, several rooms had this for overhead lighting. (I'm really not a bare bulb kind of girl. I love light fixtures and believe every room deserves one!)

And still, for the life of me, I can't figure out what the heck all those wires are doing up there! And further more, once we bought light fixtures, we had no idea how we were supposed to hang them...notice there is no junction box up there to hang them from!
We were short on tools and supplies anyway since it was before our shipment arrived, so we ended up just having an electrician come and hang light fixtures for us. His 'supplies' for hanging the fixtures? A wooden broom handle cut into 8 inch pieces, zip ties, and electrical tape. I had to stay in the other room; I couldn't handle watching it. And that also totally sealed the deal on no hanging of ceiling fans here!
This is in the ceiling of our guest bathroom above the pretty wooden slats. I have not idea why there is a bundle of wire right there! And see what looks like a lamp cord? Yeah, that continues on to power several overhead lights. . .
like this. Also, notice the lack of wire nuts. Only electrical tape!
So often things just look very unfinished to us!

This was how an outlet in our master bathroom was wired up. You are looking at the inside of the cabinet; the plug-in side of the outlet is on the outside of the cabinet. The wire running straight up goes on to power the light over our sink. We made some improvements on this one ourselves, since the electrician saw absolutely no problem with it.
The cord plugged in below was the cord for the mini-fridge that was 10 feet away in our icky room on Ilha Grande. We were terrified to plug it in, but we managed to without getting shocked.
All the wiring at this pousada (which was the worst we've ever been in) was run along the wall. . .
including this outlet which was dangling outside beside the door to our room.
But you can really appreciate the wide spread use of electrical tape when you see the alternative method.
Yes, that is masking tape connecting wires. Nope, not a wire nut to be found, still. I was previously unaware of the insulating qualities of masking tape.
This was how electricity was run in one very poor area we drove through just outside of Belo Horizonte.

I'm pretty certain it is not being metered anywhere. Especially when I saw how someone had spliced this mess into a much more official looking power line. (You know, one that wasn't run with household light duty extension cords.) The picture I tried to take of the splice point didn't actually turn out, unfortunately. I wonder how many people get seriously shocked trying to do that sort of thing though!
And I think we've all been taught electricity and water don't mix, right? So now you know why I wasn't comfortable taking a shower in our master bathroom until this was resolved! (Oh and by the way, we put the volt meter on this . . . you are looking at 220 volts. For those who don't know, 220 volts is what runs electric dryers and stoves in the USA, as compared to the 110 volts that normally powers most outlets and lights. Yeah, YIKES!)

(And to explain what is going on with those wires: it is very common here not to have water heater tanks. Normally, water is heated electrically in a special shower head. We are lucky enough to have solar-heated hot water in our apartment with a gas water heater as a back-up when it is really cloudy. While I feel plenty safe with the electrical shower heads, having two bare, live, 220 volt wires that close to my naked, wet body makes me a tad nervous!)
Speaking of electricity and I the only one who worries about sitting in a bathtub full of water and then touching this switch to turn on the jets . . . especially after the wiring we've been seeing?

And just for fun, here was a most interesting plumbing job Eric came across in a restaurant restroom. You can't quite tell it from the photo, but that flexible pipe extends out about 12 inches in front of the toilet's tank.

Oh, how I do love Brasil and its people! Some of the wiring makes me totally nervous though! (And makes me want to go have a caipirinha and not think about it.)


Justin said...

Wow. You just made me feel a whole lot better about the mess I walked into when I bought my house. I thought the wiring and plumbing was bad, but that gives me a whole new perspective!

Emily said...

Yeah, tell me about it! We used to complain all the time about the wiring in our Burlington house. When we return, I'm sure we will still take issue with how the master bedroom light dims when we run the over-the-range-microwave in the kitchen (why the heck are they on the same circuit!?!), but we will generally not be quite so annoyed after this experience!

Jeremy Sarber said...

Goodness. Brazil is one big fire hazard.

wondering ego said...

Welcome to the third world! It's kind of... shocking! living here :). I hope you are only getting cultural shocks, anyway.

But seriously, it looks like we are not a people concerned with security issues, regrettably, and this cost many lives... but few statistics are available. I know one for domestic accidents (for 2005) that gives, for children 1 to 14 y.o., 27 % of deaths due to drowning, 26% car accidents, 18% other transportation accidents. Accidents causing hospitalization: 74% for falls, 8,4% hit by car, 5,7% burns. (source: São Paulo State Health secretary).

Electrical shocks seem to have a lower incidence. I'm 42 y.o. never got one!

Anonymous said...

The poor state of the electrical wiring and the plumbing is not common in brazilian houses. Well, in good brazilian houses at least.

Not all brazilian cities are 220V. Several cities are 110V.

This house of yours really looks like a disaster waiting to happen. Call as soon as you can a good electrician.

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Anonymous said...

Maybe there's something to do with the fact that when you came to this apartment the last person that lived there took off all the eletrical stuff with himself. So the "instalations" are not that permanent.