Semi-built-in entertainment unit

Some of our projects are planned for a long time, while others happen spontaneously.  We’ve been thinking about how to better store our TV- and stereo-related electronics for months if not years.  When we finally got a flat screen TV last year and mounted it above the fireplace, we freecycled our old entertainment unit and temporarily placed the various boxes on a sewing table + wooden box combo right next to it.  Not attractive at all.  

About 6 weeks ago, we were doing some wiring work.  The outlet next to the fireplace was still on an old circuit that was not grounded, so we actually had all that stuff plugged in to a heavy duty extension cord.  We were upgrading the outlet to a new circuit, and since we were already messing around in that wall it seemed like possibly the time to cut a big hole in it and put in some recessed shelves.  Matt and I discussed the possibilities for a couple of hours, and we just couldn’t agree on the design.  I wanted a floor-to-ceiling set of shelves recessed into the wall with integrated electrical outlets and ethernet jacks, all made to look seamless with the mantel.  Matt wanted sort of a nook recessed into the wall, but not floor-to-ceiling, instead it would be smaller and at the height of the TV, with all the outlets and ethernet jacks on the other side of the wall and accessible through some holes.  I hope that makes sense.  Anyway, we wanted different things, either of which would have taken a lot of work to do.  We hadn’t budgeted the time to do it, and since one of us wouldn’t have been happy with either solution, we decided to do nothing at the time.  We just put in a new double outlet.  And we felt great about our decision.  Sometimes it’s best to wait and see how we feel later than to dive in when we’re not 100% sure it’s what we want.

Then last weekend, we were trying to clear some space in our bedroom for things like a crib and large bins full of baby gear.  We had this Ikea shelving unit that I guess we originally purchased for extra clothes storage, but we had just been keeping random things on it and decided this was not a good use of space in the bedroom.  Matt had the genius idea of making it our entertainment unit.  Luckily, the dimensions were just perfect.  He cut some holes in the back for easy access to cables, attached some 2x4s to anchor it to the wall (and again, give a little room to access the cables, and had all our stuff moved in a jiffy. 

He also got the big speakers up off the floor - and attached them to their shelves with screws so they can’t fall on us in an earthquake.  Here’s the “after” shot again so you don’t have to scroll up.

Doesn’t it look great?  (Yes everything is still awaiting a coat of paint, but for now I don’t care.)  I love it.  So much easier than our various ideas for recessed shelves.  We originally thought that recessing the shelves was necessary for traffic flow to the hallway, but this doesn’t block it at all.  In fact, there is more room now than there was before with our makeshift solution.  It’s functional and looks good.  


p.s. I freecycled the old sewing table, having never used it for its intended purpose and decided that we don’t have the room for it.

“Five minute” ceiling fans: Part 2 (Success!)

In Part 1 of this story, I discuss how we ran the wires for a new circuit serving these ceiling fans and some unexpected trouble that forced us to cut a random hole in our bedroom wall.  Once the wires were all run, Matt had to add 2x6 supports between the joists in the attic and attach the new electrical boxes to them.  From underneath, it looked like this:

Then it was my turn to hit the attic and make up the remaining connections in a junction box.  Like so: (and then nail the junction box to the side of the joist, tuck all wires into the box, and put a cover on it)

I also had to install the switches, both of which presented issues.  In one bedroom, the space in the wall was shallower than normal due to a stud in the way, so I had to use a different electrical box and play around with shims to get it flush with the drywall.

In the other bedroom, the wall was deep enough but not wide enough to accommodate a double gang box (due to another stud!), so I had to use a double-rocker switch.  I actually like that better than the two separate switches.  Here’s what the switches look like in the two rooms:


The extra time it took us to decommission the old wiring, run the new wires and figure out what we were doing forced us to spread out the project over the course of more than one weekend.  And during that time, I started questioning whether those fans we had bought spontaneously were well suited for our space.  I thought that the 52” fan diameter was kind of big for our small bedrooms, but Matt was still liking them.  We inevitably needed to make a trip to Home Depot or Lowes for something or other.  I can’t remember which store it was, but at the front near the checkout lanes we spied a display of ceiling fan/light combos.  The model was not going to be carried anymore and they were on sale for $13 each.  Here is the exact model on Amazon for $80.  Score!  And most importantly, these fans met our criteria: a less huge fan blade diameter, option to install flush to the ceiling without the downrod (our ceilings are not that high), and it had reversible fan blades so we could choose light wood or dark wood color.  We scooped up two of these and later returned the $116/each “5 minute” Hunter fans which we had yet to even attempt installing aside from reading the instructions.

We ran into a few more issues along the way.  One was that we messed up the drywall when we pulled out the old electrical boxes, so we at first had to use some shims to make an even surface for the fan’s mounting brackets to push against.

We have been using the fans with these ugly shims sticking out the top for the past year and a half.  

Fast forward to now, we removed the entire fixture in one bedroom so we could paint the ceiling.  Now that the room is painted, we decided to use the opportunity to make some improvements to the fan.  One thing we did was upgrade the mounting situation.  The fan came with short screws that connected the mounting bracket to the metal electrical box, but we never really thought that was a great way to support it.  We had originally mounted it instead with longer screws that went all the way up into the 2x6 in the attic, but I still never felt 100% satisfied with that solution.  This time we replaced the screws with bolts that go all the way through the 2x6 so there is no way it can come loose over time.

We also purchased a ceiling medallion ($9 at Home Depot) to cover up the broken drywall and provide a flat surface for the mounting bracket and fan canopy to rest against.  The medallion was white, and we decide to try spray painting it to match the fan.

Installation of the canopy involves pushing it up against the ceiling and twisting it to catch on the screws sticking out of the mounting bracket.  We had a little trouble with that part, which we later fixed by adding a large washer and a small washer to the bolts above the mounting bracket.  It’s hard to explain, but it worked.  Unfortunately, we had completely destroyed the paint job on the medallion by then.

Matt was pretty sad.  Not about the medallion so much as just the installation not going well at this stage.  We had really hoped to be finished by this time.  We also realized there were two other problems with the medallion: the silver paint did not match as well as we’d hoped, and the small diameter (10”) was making things more difficult by not allowing enough room to get a screwdriver to the screws sticking out the sides of the mounting bracket.

So we stopped by HD and picked up this 16” medallion instead.  We did not attempt to paint it.  We just slapped it up on the ceiling, and with the help of those extra washers on the bolt, the rest of the installation went smoothly.

We had also recently purchased some new glass shades to replace the ones that came with the fans.  One of the original shades was broken right out of the box, and we’d been living with one exposed bulb on that fan.  Instead of replacing it with the same generic shade, we’ve been casually looking for a set of fancier ones for a long time.  A few weeks ago, we finally found one we love, and that there were actually 6 of them in stock!  Aren’t they gorgeous?

Finally, a happy end to the saga.  We are very happy with the way it turned out, despite all the trouble along the way.


Paint is finally being applied

We’ve only lived in the house 2 years + 9 months, and this is the first time any paint has been applied to a surface in the house.  Sure, we’ve cut a lot of holes in the walls, ripped out windows and removed sills and a mantel, but this is the first time we’re attempting to make the walls look better.  Ok, technically Matt did already put trim on all the new windows and the front door, but it’s only primed and not painted.  

Turns out things get a little tricky when there’s a funky texture on the wall and you have to patch a big hole in the drywall.  We think we found a good solution to that, which we’ll share when we can show the final result.  Stay tuned!


My carpenter

This was the scene I came home to one evening last week.  When I called home from work toward the end of that day, Matt told me “you don’t need to rush home anytime soon.”  I responded with a sarcastic thanks.  Of course it wasn’t because he didn’t want to see me, it was because all this was going on.  Please note that there are FOUR nail guns on the living room floor.  It was no problem for me to stay away longer because 1) I had plenty of food at work, 2) I had plenty of work to do, and 3) I needed to stop by Lowe’s on the way home to buy paint for the bathroom and one of the bedrooms.  Colors to be revealed when we get the painting done, which should be within the next week or two.  When I walked in the front door, Matt was literally holding up the TV trying (and failing) to get it clipped on to the wall mount bracket.  My timing was lucky; it’s a two person job.  But just look how proud he was:

And I’m proud too.  I love it that my hubby does things like this.  See Matt’s posts about how he did it and his SketchUp drawing of how it will look once the last bits of trim are added.


Mantel SketchUp Drawing.  Today I threw myself into actually building it.  There’s a few more details yet to be added (in real life) but it’s 75% done.  I need someone to be my 25% person so I can start painting the small bedroom.  Kelly pushed me to hand draw a few versions, I lost the best drawing during my “Home Depot closing in 10 minutes frenzied state” a week ago, and I finally decided I should really cut my teeth on SketchUp to really get it right.  A lot of fun creating the drawings and even more fun finally building it.  More details and pictures soon.

Mantel SketchUp Drawing.  Today I threw myself into actually building it.  There’s a few more details yet to be added (in real life) but it’s 75% done.  I need someone to be my 25% person so I can start painting the small bedroom.  Kelly pushed me to hand draw a few versions, I lost the best drawing during my “Home Depot closing in 10 minutes frenzied state” a week ago, and I finally decided I should really cut my teeth on SketchUp to really get it right.  A lot of fun creating the drawings and even more fun finally building it.  More details and pictures soon.


Shimmage (Shims the easy way)

Installing the trim is way easier if I staple the shims into place before hand.  In the picture, the shims don’t support the window (there are ones that do this but are mostly cut off), they just create a plane that will keep the sill and casings flat/vertical (or at least nearly so).

When I first started shimming the trim I just used a razor blade to cut the shims to the length I wanted.  But this proved to be a pain because I not only needed to combine multiple shims together but they all had to be less than several inches long.  By clamping a block to my miter saw fence 2.5” away from the blade I made 20 large shims into 100 or so 2.5” shims — with very little effort.

Just before I place the shims in the window opening, I grab a handful and arrange them from thin to thick.  That way I can quickly grab several different thicknesses to create a combination that is the total thickness that I want.

Another gem I found along the journey…


PS.  I would love to model this post after an infomercial— if only there was enough time in the day.  At first, black and white.  You see me attempting to cut a shim with a razor blade and making one of several embarrassing or dangerous cutting slips: nearly stabbing myself as I try to cut the shim on my leg; gouging the wall accidentally; Gintzuing off the bottom of the curtains.  Then you would see a close-up of me cutting the shim and it falling to pieces (POOF and I’m left with a handful of toothpicks).  Or maybe I successfully incised the shim but then it won’t break off— I’m left toiling, trying and trying to break the shim along my cut but to no avail; surrendering with my head shaking and hands raised in frustration.  Then, POOF #2: from a cloud of glittery smoke my blog post appears in technicolor, light shining upon it, and you totally understand that how you used to use shims is like proto-man pushing a cart with square wheels!  All of a sudden I want to work for a marketing firm or start a comic strip ;-)

Insulating electrical boxes

It’s winter.  Put your hand up to an electrical outlet or light switch in an exterior wall.  Do you feel some cold air coming in?  If so, there is a quick and easy solution.  Pick up a pack of foam outlet and switch covers from a home store and put them behind the plates.  No more air infiltration.  If your electrical boxes are set behind the drywall, it is really that easy.  If you have remodel boxes that sit just proud of the drywall like the one shown above, I find it helps to trim the foam down to size so the plate can fit snugly against the wall.

I put the foam onto the receptacle, press on it to make an imprint of the box on the foam, and then cut around that imprint line.  I leave about an extra millimeter or two around the line to make sure it’s a snug fit and no air can get through.  The edges can be tucked into the box.  If you haven’t turned the power off to the circuit, just be careful not to touch the sides of the receptacle so you don’t get a shock.

Once the plate is back on, it looks just the same as it did before, but no cold air comes through.  It’s a simple and inexpensive way to save a little on heating costs.


No tampering


Can you see the difference between these two receptacles?  The one on the right is tamper resistant.  If you look closely, you can see the two slots look white.  There is a plastic shield behind the slots, and it only moves aside when something pushes evenly into both slots, such as your standard electrical plug.  This prevents children (or anyone really) from sticking something into one of the slots and getting shocked.

When we got our cover inspection for the kitchen circuits, I learned that TR receptacles are required by code for all new installations.  I had to change them all and ended up with this gallon sized bag of replaced receptacles.

After replacing the receptacles, I called called for another inspection.  I almost passed, but not quite.  The inspector didn’t like our random wires sticking out of the walls.  Although they’re not connected to any power source, the wires were a deal breaker.  They had to be terminated in boxes with plates.  So we went from this in the kitchen:


to this:

And in the living room, from this:


to this:

Ok, so we still have some work to do on the drywall, but the point is that we tucked all those wires into the wall and appropriate boxes with covers, called the inspector back, and passed the final inspection.  I guess it’s nice not to have wires sticking out of the wall too.  We had run those wires for future installation of porch lights outside the front door and back door, only because the inside of the wall was accessible back when Matt was replacing all the siding and putting insulation in the walls.  We’ll finish wiring those porch lights eventually.

The kitchen wiring (except lighting and associated switches) is all finally final.  With the cover plates on, they look so official.  If you ignore the obvious need for drywall mud and window trim.  We have learned to look past those things for now.

I’m a little proud.  And now we’ve moved on to the next electrical project: the bathroom.  We’re installing a ventilation fan/light, a new vanity light, switches of course, and two outlets.  Until now, we’ve had zero outlets in the bathroom and no fan.  This will be a huge improvement.  I’ll provide an update on that project soon.  It feels great to get stuff done even though there’s still so much to do.  Progress is progress.


What a difference a switch makes

Our living room was kinda dark in the corner where our new corner sofa lives.  

We bought this lamp from Ikea because we liked it, it would require no wiring to install, and the price was right at $5 for the Regolit shade and $4 for the Hemma cord. It was easy to put together, and I hung it from a hook that was already in the ceiling.  We’ve left that hook there because it seems to be supported from above by some bracket, and we never felt like going into the attic to deal with it. Throw in a CFL bulb we already had, and it was ready to go.  The only problem is that the $4 Hemma cord doesn’t have a switch.  That means you either have to plug it in to an outlet that is controlled by a wall switch, or if you’re not lucky enough to have such an outlet, you just have to plug it in every time you want to turn it on and unplug it every time you want to turn it off.  That is not convenient.  Matt attempted to rectify that situation by plugging the cord into a timer, but I can’t be held to a schedule when it comes to lighting.  

Matt was hitting Home Depot for some lumber for his mantel project, and I asked him to pick me up a switch.  When he got home with this

I was excited, but Matt complained that at almost $4, the switch had increased the cost of the light fixture by almost 50%.  It was worth it though.  I spliced it into the Hemma cord according to the directions.  It was about the easiest wiring job I’ve met so far, though not the quickest.  I wrapped some white electric tape around the neutral wire to make up for having just slightly nicked its insulation when I removed the outer insulation from the cord using a utility knife.  

Once the screws were tight and secure, I put the cover on the switch.  Now the light is hanging again and plugged in, the switch works perfectly, and I am very pleased with this mini electrical project.  The convenience is well worth the extra $4 and a little bit of my time.


How do you like them apples?

Remember last summer when I put socks on our apples?  No?  Maybe you’ll remember how I modeled them after Bodie’s do rags


Anyway, I liked that solution so much that I did it again this year.  We ended up with a few good sized apples from the columnar apple tree in the back yard.  The socks did a great job of protecting them from insects; they didn’t have any blemishes or bugs inside (always appreciated).  They were crisp and delicious too.

The socks also created interesting patterns on the apple skins.  It appears that areas exposed to some sunlight turned red, while shaded areas stayed green.  The star burst pattern is from where the stocking was gathered into a knot.  You can even see the weave of the nylon!

I like them apples a lot.  Maybe next year we’ll have a few more.