Five dishwashers, four microwaves and several other fried appliances later, Kym and Bill Bunnell have had enough of the electrical problems that have plagued their northeast Modesto house since they bought it in 2006.
The Bunnells claim the Modesto Irrigation District hooked up their power lines improperly.
The result, they say, has been excessive currents that have damaged or destroyed a few dozen appliances and electronic devices -- everything from a baby monitor to a trash compactor to computers. They have seen sparks in wall outlets, had problems with lighting and worry that a fire will break out.
"Somebody's mistakes, somebody's laziness has caused this house to be a nightmare for our family," Kym Bunnell said Wednesday outside the Ventana View Way house she shares with husband Bill and their four children, ages 1 to 7.
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Although worried that the problems could trigger an electrical fire and threaten her young family, Bunnell said moving out isn't an option. Paying rent for temporary housing and paying a mortgage on the Ventana home while waiting for the problem to be fixed would be too costly.
"We don't know where to go, and we can't afford to go anywhere else," she said. "Believe me, we've tried to figure how we could get out of this house, but with today's real estate market, that's not going to happen. We just want our house fixed."
The family is seeking at least $61,000 from the MID as compensation for the damaged property and for the time Bill Bunnell has taken from his job to deal with the problems.
MID reviewing damage claim
MID spokeswoman Melissa Williams said Thursday that a recent inspection by the district staff found that the connection is proper. The staff is reviewing the damage claim and will provide a report at the April 8 meeting of the district board, she said.
"We're trying to work with the Bunnells," she said. "We've done a few walk-throughs at their home, and we're in constant contact."
Williams said problems with this kind of connection are rare.
The Bunnells, who said none of their neighbors is experiencing similar problems, rely on electricity as they lead their busy lives. It powers a home office in which Bill Bunnell works as a self-employed computer network engineer. Kym Bunnell, a homemaker, said she needs a dishwasher to handle the constant stream of baby bottles and sippy cups.
The house, just north of Floyd Avenue and east of Oakdale Road, was new when the family moved into it in August 2006. Within a week or two, appliances started to falter or fail.
The Bunnells said Centex Homes, which built their 100-plus unit subdivision, replaced the microwaves and dishwashers several times as it tried to find the source of the malfunction.
Centex was very helpful during the first year, when all the problems surfaced, Kym Bunnell said, repeatedly sending out electricians. She said Centex finally decided the problem wasn't with the appliances or the construction of the house, which is still under warranty, and recommended the MID be contacted.
Loose cable found in box
In August 2007, they said, an MID employee looked in the underground box in the front yard where the three main cables from the house connect to three district lines in the street. He found that one of the cables was loose and told them that this would cause too much electricity to flow through the house, they said.
The loose cable supposedly was fixed at that time, Kym Bunnell said, and the problems subsided for a while. But just as they were feeling safe in the home, she said, electrical malfunctions began recurring.
The Bunnells claim the MID did not follow the standard procedure for securing the cable to a metal bar in the box -- using a torque wrench that registers how much pressure is being applied.
Williams, the MID spokeswoman, said the technique was in fact proper.
"There was a valid connection and it was tight," she said.
The Bunnells said they have done plenty of research on electricity and have contacted an attorney and the media to press their case. They said they have spent upward of 120 hours dealing with the MID, Centex, appliance repairmen and other people. They even have talked to city building inspectors and union electricians, but the electrical problems persist.
Even if the hookup is fixed, they said, the power surges of the past year and a half might have "compromised" appliances that seem fine now but might fail later.
Already, the damage includes cell phones, an intercom, an answering machine, a hair dryer, an iron, a clothes dryer and a garage refrigerator in which more than $300 worth of meat spoiled.
"This trash compactor has smoked on three occasions," Kym Bunnell said during a kitchen tour Wednesday. "Smoke was coming out the front and the back side."
They said one of their sons won't sleep in his bedroom because of a flickering light, and another wonders if the home is safe.
"We're just sitting here waiting for the next thing to happen," Bill Bunnell said.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2385.