Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Smarty Pants

One of the oddities I found when we moved in was that there were two thermostats in the house. One controlled the air conditioner (that was installed sometime in the early 2000s) and the other controlled the boiler for heat. I wanted to upgrade to a smart thermostat and the Ecobee 3 was on sale on Amazon at the time so I purchased it.

A/C thermostat in the stairwell.

Heat thermostat in the living room near the dining area.
Label the wires before removal.
I had to re-route the two conductor wire for the boiler to the same location as the A/C thermostat which proved to be more difficult than I anticipated. The split level design of the house meant I had to guess where the base of the wall framing was in the stairwell. It could be at the base of the stairs or on the same level as the upstairs floor which would put it midway in the wall. It ended up being the latter of those two scenarios and I had difficulty using my flex bit to drill a hole in the wall plate to run the wire. The bit didn't track in the plate properly and punched a hole on the other side of the wall. This was okay since it gave me an idea of how thick the wall plate was. I found it wasn't just a wall plate but the joists were there as well. That meant I would have had to drill through about 12" of material. Since I already had a hole I needed to patch I opted to cut a notch into the drywall to put the wire in and I would patch it up later. Once it was around the joists I fed it back into the wall and had a clear shot to the basement. Since it is a low voltage wire I'm not too concerned about it being in the drywall and it is in a position that will never get anything hung on the wall so no fear of nails or such puncturing it.

Notched wall.
Cable in a fastened down.
In the basement I had to cut a small hole in a wall in the closet to fish the wire down through. I also drilled a small hole through two joists to feed the wire through before turning toward the boiler. I used cable staples to keep the wire in the joist bay as I ran it to the boiler. I wired it up the same way the old wires were attached and I was all set.
Used the hole to pull wire down, then snaked it through the joists.
Once all the wires were at the thermostat I could actually install the new Ecobee. This part was super simple and the instructions were very clear on how to wire the separate systems. With the app installed on my phone I set up the configuration and installation was complete.

Ecobee 3 installed.
The Ecobee also came with one room sensor that I placed in the bedroom. This is supposed to help regulate temperatures in the most used rooms. When it is too warm there but the living area is cool the Ecobee will just run the fan to try to circulate the cold air to the bedroom. Ideally we would have a zoned cooling system but right now that isn't feasible. The last step in this project was to patch the drywall and try to match the texture. I'll be painting that stairwell and hallway at a later date.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Stair Painting

When we decided to get our wood floors put in we knew we were also upgrading our molding. In order for everything to match I would have to paint the stair risers and runners after the treads were refinished. These ended up taking quite a bit more time than I had initially thought they would.

Starting out.

Had to set a couple of nails.

Prep work makes for a great paint job.
After taping up everything I sanded the risers and runners a bit so the paint would adhere better. I only had to take off a bit of the current finish and smooth any roughness left from the carpet staple removal I did back when we moved in. After wiping everything down with a tack cloth I put on one coat of oil based primer. Next was the paint.

Some paint.

All finished up.
I ended up applying three coats of paint on top of the primer to get full coverage of the original dark wood stain. This took me longer than I expected because there are so many nooks and crannies to get when painting stairs. I also caulked along the runners and walls to fill in a few gaps that were visible, probably from the house settling over the years. They weren't huge but the stairs look much better with them filled. I followed my normal procedure of running a thin bead along the joint and smoothing it over with a damp finger. Any little errors can be cleaned up with mineral spirits.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Under Pressure

Surprise projects are always the best projects and we had a bit of a surprise on Friday: two leaks on the well pressure tank. I knew we had pinhole leaks on the old galvanized tank but there were just damp and never had dripped or anything so I figured we could hold off on a new tank for a while. I was wrong. Friday we found the holes dripping quite a bit and decided to try and patch it for the time being. I started by turning off the well pump, closing the main valves for the house, and draining the tank.

Both leaks in the front.

Draining the tank with the ShopVac hose.
As the water level lowered, I started to clean up the holes for the patching I would do. There was a lot of mineral buildup on the outside of the tank so I scrubbed it with a wire brush to give me a clean surface to work with. This was a bad idea at the time because as soon as the mineral buildup flaked off the leak got worse and water was streaming out. Oh well, the floor drain will catch it all.

Cleaned up and drained.
I had several plans for patching and the first was to use a Neoprene washer on a self tapping screw that I would drive into the holes. Both holes crumbled when I attempted to do this and the openings just got bigger. So I had to try my backup plan.

Larger holes after attempting first fix.
Plan B was to use JB Weld to close the leaks temporarily until we could get a plumber in during the week to estimate a new tank for us (I'm not paying weekend rates!). I cleaned and dried the area for the patch and mixed up the epoxy. I applied it with an old paint stirring stick and waited for it to cure. Initial curing is supposed to take 5-6 hours so most of my day on Saturday was waiting for this step. After curing, I wrapped the area in duct tape to help hold the pressure and opened all the valves. I turned on the pump and watched as the pressure built. 10 PSI, okay. 20 PSI, okay, 30 PSI some dribbles, crap. 40 PSI a lot of steaming water. JB Weld didn't hold as well as I expected and I didn't have the 16 hours to let it cure fully. I used this time to run some water in the house that we needed to and then turned the pump back off and re-drained the tank. It was late in the day so I waited until Sunday to do the rest of the project: replacing the tank.

You've failed me for the last time, JB Weld.
Sunday I started early at 6:30am and began by removing the old tank. This meant turning off the breaker for the pump and removing the electrical connection to the pressure switch, disconnecting the pump supply line, and disconnecting the post-tank line that feeds the house. The pump line had a union joint in it that I could just undo and the house line was PEX so I simply cut that.

Removed the tank.
I was going to try to reuse much of the old fittings and valves to save cost but much of it was so corroded or unmoveable I didn't bother. The new tank is setup slightly different too, the outlet is not on the side of the tank as you can see on the old tank but rather it is on the bottom and centrally located so I needed a longer tee valve.

Old tank.
I also took this opportunity to install a new whole house filter. I attached a piece of 3/4" plywood to the wall behind the tank area which gave me a good mounting point for the new filter. I bought the Whirlpool house filter and installed shutoff valves on either side to make it easier to replace the filter. Using PEX tubing, I attached the outlet side to the main house line

New filter with shutoffs.

Outlet connected to house.
I also used PEX to run a line to where the new tank outlet would be and started assembling the tank fixtures. I bought a large tank to help reduce the amount of work the pump has to do and extend its life. With much thread tape, I attached the new 13" tee fitting and to that attached the old pressure gauge and pressure switch that controls the pump. A new drain spigot and pressure relief valve completed that assembly.

New tee. Note the different attachment point under the tank.

Gauge, drain, and relief installed. Switch attaches to the 1/4" pipe above the relief valve.
I moved the tank into position and fitted a new copper elbow to the pump side of the tee. To this I soldered on some 1" pipe and a threaded adapter. This is where a check valve goes so the pressure tank doesn't push water back into the well. I cut the old pipe just above the union joint and installed a new union. I measured the length between the new union and the check valve and cut a length of pipe to fit between them. This pipe got a threaded adapter on the check valve side and the other end of the union joint on the top. The union makes it so you can thread the check valve on after soldering your joints since you don't want to heat it and ruin the rubber gasket inside. With these all assembled I could connect the inlet from the pump to the tank.

New union and check valve.
Next was connecting the outlet from the tank to the new house filter I just installed. This was all done with PEX and was pretty straightforward. I made most of my connections before installing since there was limited room to use the crimping tool on the fittings behind the new tank. The last thing to do was to reinstall the pressure switch and connect the electrical. Unfortunately the new tank tee sits lower than the old one so the rigid conduit couldn't reach. I had to go buy new flexible conduit and run 12 gauge wires through it to support the 230v system. With the electrical run and some trial and error figuring out how the pressure switch gets wired the pump turned on and started filling the tank.

New tank and house filter.
Success! The union needed a bit of tightening but the system works and we have water in the house again. The house filter already picked out quite a bit of sediment so I'll have to keep an eye on it for replacing. Since the electrical moved I still have to reattach the pump switch to the wall but I need to drill into a solid concrete foundation block to do that. All in all it was a busy but productive Sunday.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Lag Kills

Image result for overwatch
Play of the game.

Sunday Funday isn't fun if you can't play with your friends. Once a month our group plays Overwatch together and we have a blast. That is, if we don't have connection problems. That is what I've been experiencing the past several months when I'm trying to play and Siri is watching her shows. The wireless network just can't keep up for whatever reason. I considered buying a new router but a very good one is going to be at least $150 whereas just running some wires is going to be much cheaper. Thus began my second adventure crawling around in the attic.

The attic, with stack in view.

The plan was simple: run a CAT5 cable from the office to the basement where I would put the router and modem. I could also run a cable up to the TV if needed and I could remove all of the coaxial splitters and cables snaked around the house. Plans never survive first contact with the enemy and the 'simple' act of running a cable from office to basement proved more difficult than anticipated. I thought I'd be able to run the cable down through the house next to the stack, but first I had to find access to the stack. After moving some insulation I was able to locate the stack in the far corner of the roof pitch which made it quite difficult to get to. Andy came to help with his tools and I used his fish tape to try and pull the cable up from the basement. Unfortunately it kept getting snagged on something so we had to come up with something different. We were able to shine a light down the wall next to the stack and see it in the basement so we knew there was space to run the cable. Andy suggested to use some washers tied to a bit of nylon thread and lower this down the stack. I did this from the attic and he was able to hook the line with a makeshift grabber constructed of a wire hanger and old mop stick. With the CAT5 fastened to the washers I pulled the cable up the stack and made sure I had enough to run it up the rafters and then down the wall in the office.

Stapled up.
Me stapling the cable to rafters.
Cable at the bottom of the stack in the basement.

Big spool o' cable.

Termination block.

Another new outlet.
I stapled the cable to the rafters going up to the centerline of the roof. I followed this line over to a brace that dropped down near where I planned to drill through the wall header. I stapled the cable to all of these boards to keep it out of the way for when I do more work in the attic later (yay?). After finding the studs in the interior wall of the office I measured the rough distance from the attic hatch and found the wall header. I used a spade bit to bore a hole in the wood and I also cut a hole in the wall for the box to go in. I used a low voltage old work box so that the faceplate has something substantial to be fastened to.

Low voltage box.

Outlet with cover.

Next was to terminate the basement end of the cable in a small box near where I would be placing the router and modem. Thankfully Andy left me his punch down tool which made easy work of this task. I also had to run a new outlet to this area since there wasn't one nearby. I just fed this outlet off of one from my previous lighting basement lighting project. The last cabling to be done was to move the coaxial cable that was going into what is now the woodshop. I assume the previous owners watched TV down there as there are speakers in the ceiling as well, perhaps a home theater? The coaxial cable was long enough to reach to the new modem placement and I stapled it up to the joists in the basement ceiling to keep it neat.

Router and modem in place.

With all of the cabling complete I could finally move the modem and router to their new location in the basement and test the network outlet in the office. After hooking up the coax cable and router I found I had wireless again and I found some patch cables to connect the router to the termination block and the office outlet to my PC. Success! Now I won't get disconnected during game night.

New Basement Lights

Sorry for the lack of pictures, this was a quick project and I forgot to grab the camera.

The new house has some issues that I've been meaning to get to and one such problem is the lighting in the basement. Specifically the poor condition of the lights in the laundry/utility area. The main lighting consists of a regular incandescent and 3 fluorescent work lights. Though they provide enough light they were poorly connected. The incandescent was on a switch by the door but the light socket had an adapter that split it into two 2-prong outlets in addition to the light socket. The three work lights were 3-prong connectors and so the previous owners plugged them into 3 to 2 prong adapters and left the grounds loose. These adapters were then connected to two wire extension cords that were strung through the ceiling to plug into that light socket adapter I mentioned before. This was an electrical fire waiting to happen.

Thankfully I found some new LED shop lights by helping a buddy of mine hang some up in his new garage. We went to Costco and picked up three of them for me to use in my basement. But my first step was to run proper electrical to get them powered. After determining where I would place the lights I mounted some metal outlet boxes in the joists. Metal boxes and covers are the preferred way to install exposed boxes and these will not be behind a ceiling at all. I used some Romex I had left from other projects and pulled it through existing holes in the joists being used by other wires. These outlets are wired into each other and then fed off an always on box near the back of the room.

Where the Romex comes into the boxes, I used 1/2" breakout clamps to secure the wires in the box and I also stapled the wires to the joists where necessary. With the wire properly installed and supported I wired up the outlets: hot to hot, common to common, ground to ground. Where the new wire met with the old work I didn't have a ground wire; the metal boxes and conduit acted as ground. So I tied the new ground wire to the existing box and turned the power back on. After testing all of the outlets (one had an open ground I had to correct), I installed the cover plates and proceeded to install the new lights.

The lights came with two mounting mechanisms: chain and hooks or flush mount. I chose to do the flush mount since there is limited headroom and I don't care for the look of the chains. The fixtures come with a template you use to determine where to mount the brackets. After figuring out how much clearance beyond the mounts I needed I was able to mark the bracket mounts and install them with the provided hardware. With the brackets installed I simply snapped the lights into them and plugged them in.

The LEDs are significantly brighter than the old fluorescent lights. They also have several configurable settings to change the brightness, ambient light sensors, auto off functionality, and motion sensors. The last one is important because that is why I didn't wire them up to a switch, the lights turn on when motion is detected. Very useful for when you walk downstairs with a full laundry basket.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Bedroom Update

Before moving in to the master bedroom I wanted to update it so we wouldn't have to move out of it again later. This meant updating the trim, doors, paint, and fixtures. I started by painting a corner of the room with some sample colors from Sherwin Williams.
Poised taupe and linen.
With the colors agreed upon I started to remove all of the moulding. This meant pulling the baseboard, shoe moulding, door trim, and window trim. We'll be putting up a new trim that will have a more detailed profile than the simple curved design that was installed. By removing the moulding before painting I won't have to be as precise when I cover the walls since the trim will cover and bad lines around the windows and doors and floor. We will be changing out the ceiling fan as well so I will be painting the ceiling later, too.
Bare window. 
Door trim gone, baseboard is next.
I just started removing moulding in a corner and worked my way around the room, working on the windows as I got to them. The work went quickly but now I'm left with a lot of trim full of nails that is stacked in the basement. I'll address that later since my workshop isn't put together yet and I will have to chop that debris up and bend in all the nails before discarding. I started putting up the trim I built from flat stock I picked up at Lowe's. Some 1x2 and 1x3 lumber is all it took.

Removed moulding.
New moulding style.
The new moulding is a craftsman style and will be painted white when it is all installed. I also caulked any gaps and where the moulding met the wall giving a nice clean finish.
Painted and caulked.
As part of this update I also changed all of the almond colored outlets and switches to white which helps clean up the look of the room and makes it all match. The doors are still the hollow core oak but will be replaced with white three panel doors in the future. Despite the darker accent wall, the overall look is much brighter than it was before we moved in. The refinished floors certain help and are a welcome change from the dark maroon carpets that were there.

Proper Poopers

One of the things that has bothered me since we got the house has been the very old toilets that don't quite flush right. They are also quite low for someone of my height so I wanted to upgrade them. The one in the lower bath also had a crack in the wooden seat and this finally gave way during our holiday party. The seat split totally in half and I decided it was time to just swap out both commodes. The downstairs bath was much easier than the upstairs and you'll see why below. But let's start with the simpler replacement first. It starts by turning of the supply and draining the tank and bowl then removing the supply connection and closet bolts holding the bowl to the floor.

The original pooper with tank top removed.
Using a small putty knife I removed the old wax ring from the closet flange and removed the old closet bolts. I also scraped off the caulking that was around the base of the old toilet. Then I installed the new bolts and applied the new wax ring to the bottom of the new bowl. When installing the new bowl you need to set it down flat using even pressure to ensure the wax ring makes a proper seal. Align the closet bolts and set the bowl down over the flange. Using the provided washers and nuts I tightened down the bowl snugly but not too tight as the porcelain can easily crack. Then it was just a matter of attaching the tank and new supply and filling it up.

New toilet installed.
The upstairs toilet wasn't quite so straightforward. Unfortunately the base of the new toilet is much larger which interfered with the existing supply line that come up through the floor. So in order to install the new toilet I had to move the supply line and I started by using my oscillating tool to cut the floor open. There were several layers to cut through: top vinyl, 1/4" plywood, more vinyl, 3/4" plywood, and then the 2x6 flooring over the joists.

Notice the supply location and starting cutout.

More flooring removed down to the 2x6 base layer.
After removing all of the flooring I cut the pipe below the floor and removed the above floor portion. I dry fit a length of pipe with a straight joint to get the length I need the supply moved over. I also capped a straight bit of pipe and attached an elbow for that will turn the pipe to come above the floor. This section I soldered separately since the elbow is very close to a joist in the floor and I wouldn't have enough room to solder when in the joist cavity. The only joint I needed to solder in the floor was the straight joint and I used a piece of fire cloth to protect the wood in the floor from catching fire from the plumber's torch.
Moved supply.
After all of the connections were made I turned the water back on to test the joints and everything held strong. I then proceeded to rebuild the floor back to the height of the rest of the bathroom with the pieces I removed. I bored a new hole for the moved supply line with a 3/4" paddle bit in my drill. I fastened the flooring down with some 1 5/8" screws. After the flooring was put back in place I turned the water back off so I could install the new valve for the supply line. I used a compression fitting so I wouldn't have to solder any more.
Flooring replaced.
I didn't bother gluing down the vinyl since we will replace all of the flooring when the bathroom remodel happens. The toilet covers most of the cuts anyway so nobody will really notice it.

After all that was done I could actually install the toilet like I did downstairs. This went very smoothly from this point forward and only took a few minutes to do. If you don't have to move a water line, a toilet upgrade is actually very simple.