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!


Busy bees

We have been very busy lately, so much that I don’t have time to write about everything.  So I’m just going to throw some photos at you, and you can make some educated guesses about what we’ve been up to.  OK, I will give you some clues: soffits, entertaining 4 dogs, plumbing, drywall mudding.



I made this from the arms of a Snuggie and an old tennis ball:

It ain’t pretty, but it was well received (at first)

… and quickly forgotten

We also did this:

And in the end, it looked almost the same as before, but with slightly better walls and all new copper plumbing under the sink instead of corroded galvanized steel.

And with daily walks, trips to the dog park, and lots of playing in the yard, the dogs were content to hang out in our mini-construction zone.

Ah, for the life of a dog.  While they lounged in the shade, Matt worked long hours in the garage and under the house.  I made a few trips into the attic to run some wiring for our future back porch light and to make sure other wires were properly secured.  Whew!


Saved by the garbage disposal

Last weekend, Matt did some plumbing.  And because he had some trouble getting the solder to take (it can be difficult on an existing plumbing system because any moisture you don’t get rid of first can either keep the copper from heating properly, or can turn to steam and make pinholes in the solder connection), he had to redo it twice.  To help alleviate the moisture problem, he put some balled-up bread in the pipes.  It’s supposed to keep an water from getting to the part you’re soldering, and then break up / dissolve and be flushed out when you’re done.  You’re really supposed to use plain white bread, but we don’t have that, so he used some whole grain type bread, which doesn’t work as well.  White bread dissolves easily because it is basically just refined flour and water.  When the soldering was finished, Matt flushed out the system as well as he could. 

A few days later, clumps of bread that had apparently been stuck worked their way free and clogged the filter on the kitchen faucet.  So Matt unscrewed the part containing the filter, rinsed it off, and flushed any remaining bread bits out of the hose.  A small rubber washer went unnoticed as it fell, but it was pretty obvious when he reconnected the hose to the spout that something was missing - it was leaking like a sieve.  I checked the manual for the faucet (I keep all manuals and related info filed away for just such an occasion) and sure enough, there was supposed to be a rubber washer (part C in the diagram).

I thought finding it might entail taking apart the trap under the sink (to which Matt said he’d sooner buy a replacement washer), but when I felt around in the garbage disposal I noticed the holes in it are pretty small.  I didn’t feel the washer at first, but then I spotted it with a flashlight.  Washed it off with soap, put it back in the faucet, and no more leak.  Phew!  I think without a garbage disposal, that thing would have been a goner.  The disposal doesn’t get a ton of use at our house since we compost our food scraps, but here is one little perk I never thought of before.  Most objects, even fairly small ones, are not going to be washed away if accidentally dropped in the sink.  Of course if you run the disposal, all bets are off.


Plumbing Planning for Hot Water

A couple of weeks ago, after receiving repeated kicks in the pants from Kelly, I started actually planning our plumbing needs for replacing our water heater with a tankless water heater. The immediate goal for the plumbing plan was to make a new cold water branch in copper that the heating contractor could tie into (so that I wouldn’t have to later duplicate his work when I someday actually replace all the old galvanized plumbing).  I also wanted this new branch to (almost) concurrently get a new hose bib (outdoor faucet) back in action (b/c I removed them all during my siding project and b/c I’ll need to be able to irrigate in the near future).  The bigger goal, alluded to previously, is to replace the old galvanized plumbing with new copper. 

I drew up this schematic to show the connections between the various plumbing fixtures, what work I’ve already updated, and what new work I have to get done for the project.  The “old” (dashed lines) are galvanized steel 3/4” pipes where as the “new” is either 1/2-3/4” copper.  The blue solid rectangle at the top of the schematic is a component that I envisioned a professional plumber doing for us.  (My apologies for the low-res version, sometime soon I will complete figuring out how to add hi-res photos to our blog).  I really wavered about whether I should go for it and try to replace everything at once or continue to slowly decommission and replace segments of the old plumbing.  After getting a couple thousand dollar quote from a plumber to do the whole job, my wavering ceased immediately (at least the part that involved having a pro do it all at once). 

So I tried to get a quote from the pro to just do this part of the project:

Basically, I just wanted a “T” installed with a shutoff on the first stub of the new branch so that I could build out the rest.  Long story short, at 2 a.m. on Saturday morning, after three tries, I got the T and shutoff valve installed.  I’ll have to save the details on the nuances of what I needed to change and how I changed it for another day but the solution involved bread, plastic tubing for sucking out water from cut pipes, and abandoning simply using two couplers to cut my new T into the curved main supply copper pipe.  I was also fortunate, that at the recommendation of my “almost plumber,” I requested that the city put a new shutoff on my water main (and they did so within an hour of my request!). 

I don’t know if it’s our proclivity for DIY or if it’s just the way the world turns but I seem to have many “almost” contractors.  Shelving that rant for now.


Gas fireplace & tankless water heater

Back in the fall, the gas company came and installed the line from the street to our house and hung the meter.  We held off on installing new gas appliances because we were right in the middle of the windows and siding project at that time, and because we had a full tank of oil to burn all winter.  Now it’s finally time!  We have signed contracts to have a gas fireplace insert (which will be the heater for our house!) and tankless water heater installed.  The fireplace installation is scheduled to go down in just over a week!  The water heater will be installed at a later date (but not too much later) TBD.

We decided not to do the full installation of these ourselves.  We are confident that we are capable of installing both, but here are the reasons we’re not going to:

  • We both have full time jobs these days, and we just do not have the time to invest in learning the intricacies of two complex appliances, doing a ton of research, and then doing the actual work of installing them.  The installation will require permitting, electrical connections, gas lines, gas hookups, venting, water connections, testing, and probably some other stuff I don’t even want to think about.
  • This is gas, yo.  It’s flammable and dangerous.  Having pros handle it will put my mind at ease.
  • It will get done fast, like in one day as compared to the X? number of days it would take us.  I skimmed the installation instructions for both appliances, and I am glad to not be in charge of installing them.  There are a lot of parts and steps involved. 
  • Warranties.  The company we hired to install our appliances warrants their own work, plus the manufacturer of the fireplace at least (not sure about the water heater) gives us a better warranty on the unit when it’s been professionally installed.  Maybe that is not fair to DIYers, but that’s how it is.

However, we are taking on some small parts of these projects:

  • Electrical wiring.  We’ll put in a new circuit for the water heater and run the wire to service it.  We’ll also put in a new circuit for the fireplace insert and install an outlet box in the back of the fireplace box so the insert can plug in (it needs power just to light the flame I think).  We decided to move our thermostat to a different location in our house, and while we’re at it we’ll put in a new transformer for it and put it on the circuit serving the fireplace outlet.  I spent a while in Lowe’s over the weekend pondering and gathering supplies like conduit (to protect the wire as it enters the fireplace from the crawl space via the ash cleanout), special outlet boxes, and low voltage wire (for the thermostat).  
  • Plumbing.  Matt will tell you about his plans later.
  • Permits for electrical and plumbing work.  That means we’ll also have to schedule inspections with the city.

We’re very excited.


The simplest of tasks

Sometimes when you’re working with an older home, tasks that on first thought seem simple and straightforward turn out to be kinda complicated.  Replacement parts never seem to quite fit.  Case in point: replacing the overflow plate on the bathtub.  The old one had a lever on it which worked the tub stopper. 

We don’t take baths, so I took out the stopper and replaced it with one of those mesh covers that keeps hair from going down the drain and clogging it.  The old plate was pretty clunky looking and was now unnecessary, so after we replaced all the other tub fixtures (more on that later), I wanted to finish off the new look by switching out that one last vestige.  I thought it would take 5 minutes.  It turned into an hour because there was some kind of flange that sits proud of the tub surface, so the new plate was not sitting flush against the tub wall. 

So my options were to find a deeper overflow cover, put the old one back on, or work with what I had.  The old one attached by two screws on the sides (since the center was occupied by the drain-stopper-flippy-switch) while new one attaches by one screw in the center.  It came with a piece of metal that spans the hole and gives you a way to attach the new plate in the center.  It was flat.  I decided to bend it with pliers. 

For a while I wasn’t sure I’d get it to fit, but then I bent it even more, and somehow it worked. 

Add plenty of plumber’s putty around the top like I learned from Rich Trethewey and… 

…done.  The only problem with this solution is that with the shallower plate there’s not as much room for the water to flow through.  I guess we’ll just have to refrain from leaving the water running unattended with the drain stopped (who would do that anyway?)  Or maybe if I see a deeper overflow plate at a hardware store, I’ll replace it.  Whatever, it’s fine.  That’s usually how projects end around here — “Good enough, I’m tired and hungry and it works so I’m calling it done.”

Now that I’ve proclaimed the tub/shower fixtures finally done, I must admit that’s not 100% accurate.  Soon, I will tell the story of how we installed the new fixtures, and the story of a small remaining problem or two, and the plan to fix it.  The excitement never ends.  Ever.


Fixing faucets

Yesterday we got to put some of our hard learned plumbing knowledge to use while visiting family for the holidays.  Matt noticed that the kitchen faucet’s pullout hose doesn’t retract very well.  From installing our own, we knew that there’s a weighted collar on the part of the hose that hangs down below the sink.  We took a peek and saw that it had slid beyond the lowest point on the loop, so we slid it back to the side closer to the faucet.  It worked.  On to the guest bathroom, where the faucet lever was a little loose.  Under the weight of the lever, it would fall a little during use, turning down the flow of water.  To fix an issue with our kitchen faucet, I had taken it apart and discovered how to adjust that kind of faucet.  An allen wrench, a screwdriver, and five minutes later, the problem was solved.  The in-laws were thrilled, as their plumber had told them it was a defect in the faucet and couldn’t be fixed.  They think we’re plumbing geniuses!  We were glad to be able to help.


Escutcheon lesson

The other day, we spent about an hour wrestling with the thing pictured above.  The bathtub faucet drips and is pretty outdated, so we’re going to replace the whole kit and caboodle.  We needed to see what was under there, so after removing the faucet handle ($6 is totally worth it for a handle puller, BTW), we tried in vain to pry it off the wall.  Fortunately, we knew it would be a major bummer if we broke the tile in the process, so we were careful and didn’t.  Finally, I looked at our plumbing book, which promptly informed me that this thing is called an escutcheon (pronounced ih-SKUSH-un) and that it is threaded.  We had tried twisting, but it makes a huge difference knowing that it’s supposed to unscrew.  It gives you the confidence to apply the extra force needed to get the job done.  A minute later, it was off.  My motto, “read the book,” proves once again to be the best advice.  Too bad I didn’t follow it sooner!  But hey, we learned something and didn’t do any serious damage, so I’ll call it a success.