Visiting electricians frequently are in awe of the creative methods used here to bring power into homes.
The electric company, mostly the Compañía Nacional de Fuerza y Luz in the Central Valley, specifies where the meter goes. Anything beyond that is the domain of the homeowner and those who are hired.
Costa Rica does not have an effective certification program for electricians, so anyone with a pair of pliers can work inside the home.
Typically the ground wire is green, the neutral wire is white and the hot wire is red or black, that is if there is any red or black wire left. Sometimes all the wires are black. Or red. Or green. Or maybe bell wire is used instead of electrical cable.
Sometimes there are no wires. In one installation for A.M. Costa Rica some faux electricians installed a green wire as a ground because the new circuit was to be connected to computers. But they forgot a neutral wire to return current to the circuit breakers. So they hooked the neutral posts on the electrical outlets to the ground wire. That created a continual hot line from the circuit box, down the wall, out the window and down to the copper ground stake in the lawn where children played.
They reacted with surprise when the suggestion was made that a white wire should be installed to provide a continuous circuit that could be turned off. They are now working as automobile brake mechanics.
The lack of oversight in electrical installations can be dangerous. Homeowners installing television antennas sometimes die when they accidentally touch a hot wire dangling too close to the roof.
Then there is the fire hazard. A high percentage of home fires are blamed on short circuits.
The incidence is higher in low-income homes where wires are not placed in conduits and the occupant or a buddy does the job.
That was the case Monday when fire tore through four homes in Loma Linda de Desamparados. Three were destroyed, and 11 adults and six children had to find new homes.
The fire call came in about 11:28 p.m., and firemen managed to save more square footage than the fire consumed. When the blaze was out they found a toasted electrical wire wrapped around a nail, the work of some less than master electrician.