Cats just might be smarter than people. I say this because cats cover up only the things that need to be covered up. When a cat finishes her business in the catbox, she thinks something like, “That’s nasty. I’ll kick some sand up on it.” I call that pretty good thinking, given what little brain a cat has to work with. Some people, however, like to cover up things that should never be covered up. For instance, a whole lot of homeowners look at their electrical panel (also called a breaker box or fuse box) and think something like, “That thing’s ugly. It offends my eyes and the eyes of all who see it. I must cover it up.”
In the nearly 20 years I’ve been looking at other people’s houses, I’ve run across hundreds of electrical panels that have been covered up with wallpaper, or plastered over and painted, so they’ll look like part of the wall. I’ve found thousands of panels with pictures hung over them. Every dang time, the picture is a booby trap. Touch it, and the picture or something near it is sure to get chipped, gouged, smudged or broken all to pieces.
Every now and then, in a house that’s home to a handy-crafty person, I’ll find an electrical panel with a fancy mitered wood frame around it. I’ve even seen a few panels with ornate wood cabinets built around them, like old German cuckoo clocks. One handyman built a fireplace, and in doing so bricked right over his electrical panel. The next person who touches that panel will need a sledgehammer to get to it.
You panel-covering people, listen to me: an electrical panel is a piece of mechanical equipment, not an arts-and-crafts project. It’s not supposed to be fancied up, decorated or otherwise monkeyed with. It’s meant to be left out in the open, so an electrician can walk right up to it, take out a few screws, pop off the cover and work on the stuff inside. The electrician should not have to peel off wallpaper, chip through plaster or destroy a cabinet just to get to your electrical panel. And you shouldn’t have to patch and paint your wall after the electrician is gone.
As for electrical panel aesthetics: learn to love your panel just the way it is. It’s plain and simple because it’s supposed to be, and it contains all natural ingredients. You and your panel have nothing to be ashamed of.
The same goes for heat-and-air equipment. I’m talking about the outside parts—the combination heat-and-air units, and the air conditioner’s condensers. For some reason, a whole lot of people get an irresistible urge to build a fence or wall around their heat-and-air equipment. Worse yet, some people plant bushes or shrubs right up against the units. I can’t understand why some folks think a heat-and-air corral is prettier, or more dignified, than heat-and-air equipment. Every unit comes from the factory wearing a painted metal jacket. Heat-and-air equipment is about as pretty as an average car, and better-looking than a lot of painted-metal status symbols, such as riding mowers, automatic garage doors and those hideous fake Victorian mailboxes.
But never mind the abnormal psychology that makes some people hide their heat-and-air stuff. There are real-world problems that come with imprisoning this equipment. One is that heat-and-air units need lots of room, so air can move around them. Most of the heat-and-air corrals I see are way too small. The A/C units are too close to each other, and too close to the house and the corral. That means the equipment won’t operate efficiently and it’ll probably wear out sooner than it should. Worse yet, the silly little corrals don’t leave enough room for the heat-and-air man to do his work. Some of them don’t even have gates; nobody can get in.
The heat-and-air man should be able to walk right up to the equipment and move around it comfortably. Just yesterday, my heat-and-air man told me that as often as not, he can’t fit his body and his tools into a lot of these corrals, and he can’t do a proper cleaning job on the A/C units.
In just a few weeks, a new generation of A/C equipment will appear. The exterior parts will be bigger than the ones that are in place now. So, a lot of heat-and-air corrals are about to get even more crowded.
You corral builders: tear those things down. Give your heat-and-air equipment room to breathe, and give your heat-and-air man room to work. And whatever you do, don’t put any heat-and-air equipment under a deck that’s less than eight feet high. That’s just crazy. Your repairman needs to be able to stand up when he’s working. I’m amazed that I have to explain this.
Finally, let me share this with folks who dream of finishing out their basements: sooner or later, water will get into your basement. Given the local soil, rainfall and construction practices, a basement flood is a sure thing. But if you’re determined to finish your basement anyway, do not entomb your plumbing behind your new walls. Sooner or later, those pipes are going to leak, and a plumber will need to get to them.