Weekend in photos

Organizing baby gear (before/during chaos shot).  [Also sneak preview of the re-do of our smaller bedroom… Matt just built that desk to go between the wardrobes.  We will share details later.]  We have so much!  Generous gifts and hand-me-downs from friends and family put us a long way toward being prepared.  For the rest, can I mention again how much I love freecycle?  I’ve gotten a bunch of baby clothes, a glider-style rocking chair, crib (which we then re-freecycled after deciding to use a hand-me-down from our friends), and some baby toys and accessories.  And whenever we don’t need something anymore, someone who will use it whisks it away within a few days!  We don’t even have to leave the house.  So great.

Baby laundry.  This kid has more laundry than I do and he’s not even born yet!  I saw a glimpse of my future and it looks like laundry is going to be a major activity.

Dog park.  Sorry it’s blurry, but it was almost dusk.  On the plus side, we practically had the whole place to ourselves.  With fewer distractions, the dogs got a chance to run really fast.

Sonny’s circus dog impression.

Ball fetching time!

Matt cuts a hole for a new light switch.  Safety first!  Glasses, earplugs, gloves, dust mask, and vacuuming up the dust with one hand while using the Fein tool to cut with the other.

Consulting my go-to book on wiring and starting to plan out the new lighting circuit.  With huge belly and Maxy-dog companion.

Matt turning an Ikea shelving unit that used to live in our bedroom into an entertainment unit for the living room.  Sneak preview - more details on this spontaneous project to come.

And that’s a peek into our weekend.  The weather was great most of the time, so we enjoyed some meals cooked on the grill and eaten in the back yard.  We also watched Superbad after I discovered that our local library branch actually has some movies I’d like to watch.  I will be checking out some more.

-Kelly

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.

-Kelly

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.

-Kelly

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.

-Kelly

Simple electrical junction box (and that spider)

Well I did it.  I knew I would have to go back into the crawl space to put in that junction box, as mentioned in my last post.  I had hoped that after a week the spider might be gone, but alas it was still there.  And definitely not dead.  Frisky, even.  Here it is, annoyingly close to the wire I needed to work with.  

Fortunately, I had my full Tyvek suit on including hood and booties, plus knee pads, dust mask, and work gloves - as shown here.  The area around my eyes was exposed because my safety glasses tend to fog up when I wear them with my dust mask.  I might be able to rectify that in the future by getting the type of mask that directs the air through a vent in front.  I should be wearing eye protection to keep bits of wire from flying into my eyes when I cut them.  That is a more sensible reason than fear of a large spider jumping into my eye.  

To install a junction box, first of course make sure the electricity is turned off to the circuit.  Then knock out or pry open two openings to the junction box.  Feed in the wire, then fasten the box to the joist.  Staple the wires within 12 inches of the box, and at least 1.25 inches from the edge of the joist (if stapling to the side of the joist - check local code for more info about how and where to fasten wires).  Strip the outer insulation from the wire starting an inch inside the junction box.  Cut the individual wires to 6-8 inches: enough wire to work with but not too much that it will crowd the box when you put them inside.  I like to match up the wire before cutting it so it will go into the box nicely.  Strip 3/4 inch of insulation off the ends of the individual wires.  Match black to black (hot), white to white (neutral), and bare to bare (ground).  Use linesman pliers to twist the ends of the wires clockwise a few half-turns.  Trust me, other tools or hands do not do this job very well on thicker wire (I use 12 gauge for our general house wiring) - just go buy a pair of linesman pliers if you’re going to do this.  I have this pair of linesman pliers from Ace and I like them a lot.  The connection should be solid and not come apart when you tug on either one.  If the connection is loose, cut off the ends of the wires and redo it.  It should look like this photo (from a different project).  

Twisting clockwise is important because the wire nut screws on clockwise (i.e., righty-tighty), and if you twist the wires counterclockwise, the wire nut will untwist them.  A loose connection could generate heat and possibly start a fire as the electricity attempts to cross the gap between the wires, so make sure the connection is solid.  Next screw on a wire nut of appropriate size for the number and gauge of wires.  The wire nut should completely cover the stripped end of the wire.  Once all the connections are made, tuck the wire into the box without making any tight bends.  Then securely attach an appropriate cover to the box (not shown) and it’s done.

It was an incredibly simple task, about as simple as it gets in electrical wiring, but everything becomes more difficult in a cramped space.  Actually, I’m grateful that our crawl space is incredibly roomy compared to many.  There is enough room to sit on a very short stool or kneel while working.  I don’t think we would have done much work down there if we had to literally crawl to move around and attempt working while lying down.  We had no idea this would be important when we bought our house; we just got lucky.  Now I would put “ample headroom in crawl space” (or even a full basement - a girl can dream) on my list of must-haves for a future house.

While I worked, the spider retreated to a corner, and I opted to put my junction box a few joists away from it.  I periodically checked to make sure the spider was still in its corner.  I laugh in the face of electricity, but large spiders freak me out.  Go figure.  Actually, I have a healthy fear of electricity, which is much more likely to hurt me than a spider, and that’s why I’m super careful when I work on the wiring.

Matt was thrilled when he came home and I told him that both of our kitchen circuits were now on.  We celebrated by microwaving some leftovers.

-Kelly

p.s. You can check out my other adventures in electrical wiring here.

Electrical work means encountering spiders

We’ve sort of been on hiatus for a few weeks, cozying up in our living room with the snuggle dogs.  Matt’s been busy at work.  We haven’t had a lot to report lately.  This weekend I did get a little bit back into the home improvement game.

I’ve been starting to change out our electrical outlets for tamper resistant ones as required by recently-updated code, as I was informed at our electrical inspection.  There was one particular outlet in the kitchen where I’d had to remove and replace the receptacle a couple of times already due to construction in the kitchen, and now I was going to have to do it again.  I get a little paranoid about the integrity of the wires after they’ve been bent a number of times.  Bending back and forth makes metal harder and more brittle, like when you bend a paperclip a few times and then it breaks.  The electrical wire is copper and much thicker, so doesn’t break easily like a paperclip, and the wire was probably just fine, but I don’t like to take any chances.  To be safe, I wanted to just go ahead and run some brand new wire from the outlet.  That means putting in a junction box in the crawl space.  As I was getting ready to go down there, I mentioned something about spiders to Matt.  He tried to reassure me by saying they’re all dead by this time of year (after having laid millions of eggs that will hatch into spider babies come spring).  Well, I go into the crawl space, and wouldn’t you know it, right next to the wire in question was one of the biggest spiders I’ve ever seen.  Ugh.  I decided that the junction box could wait until later, but the dogs really needed to go to the dog park.  I’ll do the work in the crawl space later…  One of our two main circuits in the kitchen is off right now, so I’ll have to do it soon.  Maybe the spider will relocate by the time I go back into the crawl space.  If not, I’ll just have to suck it up and rub elbows with him while I put in that junction box.

-Kelly

Plumbing, panel, paint

We are all over the map right now.  Today the tankless water heater AND the Mantis fireplace insert were installed.  Actually, finally, completely installed and in operation!  Well, the fireplace isn’t much in operation because it’s summer, but it could be.  We had to check a whole bunch of things off our list before that could happen.  It took a while to get it all done, but we did it!  Since the old water heater is inside our house and the new one will be attached to an outside wall, Matt had to reroute some plumbing underneath the house.  Then we had the county inspector come by to check out the new water piping along with the gas piping put in by our heating contractor a while back.  Everything passed with flying colors. 

We also passed the city “cover inspection” for the new electrical circuits, but I learned of a couple of things I have to do before the final inspection: add a whole new circuit for the washing machine (thought I could get away with it since the circuit it’s on has almost nothing else) and replace ALL my receptacles (AKA outlets, or "holes" according to Slippery Pete) with tamper resistant ones.  Seattle adopted this code change right after I started doing electrical work in our house.  My previous permit was subject to the old code, but my current permit is subject to the new code.  Go figure. 

Meanwhile, the inspector only looked at the panel for a brief moment.  I guess she found the rest of my work so stellar (aside from that tamper resistant outlet oversight) that she trusted it would be good, and a quick look was sufficient to confirm?  Well, I gotta show it to someone besides Matt.  I spent a lot of time working on the electrical wiring and whatnot.  I have a total of 7 new circuits in effect, and I hope to have replaced virtually all of the wiring in the house by next year.

Over the weekend, we also did the following random things:

  • Matt assembled our new Manstad sofa which we ordered and had delivered because they didn’t have it in stock when we were at the store the previous weekend.  This required us to rearrange our entire living room, something we’d been planning to do for a very long time.  We are extremely pleased with the new arrangement.  Photos coming soon.
  • I finished setting the tile around the window in the shower.  The window has been there for something like 10 months with a sheet of plastic covering most of the wall because I kept procrastinating finding more important things to do.  Now all I have to do is grout and caulk.  I will tell you all about it later.  With photos. 
  • Tried unsuccessfully to make a final decision on a paint color for the outside of our house.  In fact, today I went in the opposite direction and purchased three new paint samples to consider in addition to the ones already on the house:

They’re just not doing it for me.  Here are a few pics I snapped around the neighborhood for inspiration:

Maybe one of the new samples will be the one.  If we can get our house painted soon, we will be ready for fall/winter!

-Kelly

Soffits and electric outlets

Over the weekend, Matt was building our new soffits.  After several redesigns (on paper), he eventually decided to go with a simple design.  We’ll provide an update soon to show the completed result.  Or at least what we pass off as complete around here, which means fully functional but lacking finishing touches.  In the meantime, here are a few progress shots.

The plastic sheeting that has been serving as our temporary soffits (and seems to have done its main job of keeping animals from making their home in our attic) is finally gone!

Matt is pretty good about protecting himself from the sun when working outside.  He has been known to go shirtless once the sun is lower in the sky, but in the hours around noon, it’s long sleeves, a hat, and maybe even a t-shirt to protect his neck.

Meanwhile, I did a little bit of electrical work.  We had already run wire for a new circuit to our future tankless water heater, which will be installed on the south exterior wall of the house.  I decided to install an outlet on the inside of that wall to give the water heater ground fault protection.  I’m not sure whether it needs to be GFCI protected, but it seemed like a good idea since the water heater will be outside, and if it turns out to be a requirement, I don’t want to have not done it and find out when the inspector comes.  I looked at GFCI circuit breakers, but those things are about $50.  A regular breaker is only a few dollars, and a GFCI outlet is under $10, so I just couldn’t see spending that much money when I could get the same effect for so much cheaper.  A GFCI outlet protects the rest of the circuit that is downstream from it.  That’s why your kitchen might have a couple of GFCI outlets and the rest are regular.  Press the test button, and the rest of that circuit will turn off.  Kitchens have to have at least two circuits serving the outlets, so it probably will only turn off half the outlets, most likely along the same wall. 

I ended up installing a double outlet, mainly because I didn’t have on hand a single box that would attach to the side of a stud.  And can you really have too many outlets?  There is nothing else in this circuit.  Matt had already opened up the whole wall because some plumbing will need to be done in there for the water heater.  The inspector will want to see the connections in the box; the receptacles will be pushed into the box and covered with a plate later.

 

Then I covered it all up with copious amounts of painter’s tape, which I always do conscientiously ever since I once witnessed a spider come out of a hole we had cut in the wall.  Never again!  I also finally put a plate on the Cat-5 (ethernet) outlet we’d put in, oh almost two years ago and left hanging out of the wall with some more blue tape over it.  It took about one minute to put that plate on.  For shame.

I also replaced an old two-pronged outlet with a new three-pronged one, even though we haven’t upgrade the wiring to it yet, which means it is not grounded.  The old outlet was just loose and ugly.  The most annoying thing I’ve had to deal with in upgrading the electrical in this house is that someone painted over all the screws holding the outlets and switches to their boxes. 

Every time I need to remove one, it is really hard to get the screwdriver to bite on the screw.  I have tried scraping the paint out of the screw head with a razor blade, using an old chisel as a flathead screwdriver, and if I still can’t get a grip, sometimes I turn the screw with needle nosed pliers.  I don’t know where this tool came from or what its intended purpose is, but it worked pretty well for me this time.  If anyone knows what this is, please tell me.

I always label outlets as “not grounded” if they look grounded but aren’t - for safety and also to remind myself that a particular outlet still needs to be upgraded to new wiring.

We are making progress!  I am almost ready to have my electrical work inspected, and once that is done, we can have the water heater installed and finalize the installation of the fireplace insert.

-Kelly

Fireplace installed! Mostly!

Our new Mantis fireplace insert is mostly installed (by pros -see why here) and has passed the mechanical inspection.  They’ll finish it up when they come back to install the tankless water heater.  Next week we’ll have our DIY electrical work for the fireplace and water heater inspected.  Once our water heater is installed, we’ll have to have the plumbing and gas piping inspected (for some reason this is at the county level, while electrical and mechanical are at the city level) and then have the gas company unlock our meter so we can start using our new appliances.  Exciting!

Matt has already given some info on the plumbing updates he’s doing

I will fill in some more info about the electrical work later, but here’s a little preview of the process to put in an electrical outlet in the fireplace:

See that generic tile hearth that so common in houses of the 1950’s?  I really do not care for it.  It’s so blah.  We were planning to replace the hearth someday.  Like, not right now, because there’s a ton of other stuff we’re trying to get done.  Apparently due to our fireplace’s geometry and the shape of the insert, it has to stick out somewhat and sit on the hearth (as seen in the top photo).  That means we either need to replace the hearth now (i.e., before the fireplace installation is finalized), or wait and do it later but pull out the insert which would mean disconnecting the gas and vent pipes and then having to reconnect them (ourselves or bring our installers back?), which would be kind of a pain and just not ideal.  So we need to think about that.  I’ve already mostly settled on using slate tile, but color/pattern/sizing would still need to be picked out not to mention doing the work.  Ack.  These projects are like dominoes.  We start one, and that one forces us to do three related projects… 

-Kelly

p.s. See previous posts in the fireplace saga: I first floated the idea of replacing our furnace with a fireplace almost a year ago, convinced others the idea could work, discovered we’d have to wait out the winter, and finally took the plunge.