Greg MacLellan

May 10, 2013

Garage Door indicator/sensor via Insteon

Filed under: Home Automation,Renovations — groogs @ 9:56 pm

I’ve started putting a bunch of Insteon stuff around my house, and one of the things I did is link the garage door to a KeypadLinc.

I found a way to set it up using a single button, which I’m posting here mostly for myself in case I ever need to do it again, but maybe it will help something else. A side note: there are many easy-to-find ways to do this with multiple buttons, and I’m sure someone else has figured out my single button way before me and posted on page 46 of some obscure forum thread, but I hate reading those threads (and generally don’t) and you probably do too.

The biggest challenge to making this work is that the KeypadLinc will always toggle its internal state when you press the button: if it’s sending an ‘on’ or ‘off’ command, it will leave the button light on or off afterwards, which means it MAY not reflect the actual state of the door. I have the keypad light on if the door is open, and the sensor only activates when the door is 100% closed. The “trick” I’m using is simple: the door takes time to close, so even though pressing the button toggles the button light to be on, when the door closes later it turns off. The keypad button always sends ‘on’.

The way it works is this:

  • If the door is closed (keypad light off), pressing the button sends an ‘on’ command and the keypad internally turns the light on. The door starts moving, and the light would come on anyway. End result is the light is now on indicating the door is open.
  • If the door is open (keypad light on): pressing the button sends an ‘on’ command, and the keypad light stays on. The door starts moving, and since it takes a few seconds to close, when it finally closes the IO Linc sends an off command and the keypad light goes out.
  • If the door is opened by non-Insteon (eg, the wireless remote or button in the garage), when it opens the IO Linc sends an on command and the keypad light turns on.
  • If the door is closed by non-Insteon, when it closes the contact closes, the IO Linc sends an off command and the keypad light goes out.

You will need

  • An Insteon IO Linc
  • An Insteon KeypadLinc (6 or 8 button doesn’t matter)
  • A normally-open magnetic door/window contact (typical of any security system)

To set it up:

Install the I/O Linc and Sensor

  • Wire the magnetic contact to the Gnd and Sense inputs of the IO Linc.
  • Wire the N/O and Com outputs of the IO Linc to the button contacts on the garage door opener. You probably already have a button in the garage – this should just be wired in parallel like another button.

When closed, the green Sensor light should be on, and when open it should turn off. Make sure you test the door a few times — the next day I found I had to move the sensor about 1/4″ closer to make it reliably detect “closed”.

Set the I/O Linc output mode to Momentary Mode A:

This is from the manual:

  • Press and hold the set button until it beeps.
  • Repeat this twice more for a total of 3 times.

Now test the door by pressing the set button – it should turn the I/O linc output on for a couple seconds and the door should start moving. Note you need to wait about two seconds between presses for it to see it.

Link the I/O Linc to the KeypadLinc button

  1. Open the door (because we want “On” to be “Open”)
  2. Press and hold the Set button on IO Linc for 3 seconds
  3. Press the KeypadLinc button you want to use once, and then press and hold the set button for 3 seconds

That’s it – the Keypad button should turn on when the door opens, and off when it closes.

Link the KeypadLinc button to the I/O Linc

  1. Press the keypad button, and then press and hold set for 3 seconds
  2. Press and hold the set button on I/O linc for 3 seconds

Set the KeypadLinc button to “Always on” mode:

  1. Press and hold set for 3 seconds, it will beep. Do this 2 more times. This will set it to ‘always off’ mode.
  2. Do the exact same thing as step 1 (3 more presses), but this time it will be set to ‘always on’ mode.

That’s it. The button should now be able to control the door, and the light should indicate the door’s status. I actually have two keypads linked in this way (one by the front door, one in the kitchen) and it’s convenient to see the garage door status. I’ve had this up and going for close to 6 months now and haven’t had any issues.

May 6, 2013

Garage Reno – Part 1

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 1:22 am

With the warm weather, I finally started a multi-faceted project that required tearing apart the garage ceiling. My original plan was to get network/cable wiring into the remaining two bedrooms, and install a central vacuum system. Late last year when I opened an exploratory hole in the garage ceiling drywall, I found the ceiling is built down about 18″ and insulated with batt insulation, so I decided I’d also improve the insulation and raise it up.

For what it’s worth, over the winter time I didn’t notice the room above the garage being noticably colder than the rest of the house, but I think that is probably because of what I found this weekend when I started tearing the ceiling open:

They installed a heating vent and an “air return” into this space. That of course means I’m directly heating this space under the floor, which likely helps to make the floor feel warm, but also wastes a lot of energy. This is a pretty common thing builders do for rooms above garages, but it is really not the best way to insulate.

What I want to do is remove the false ceiling, spray foam the floor above, and then reinstall the drywall on the joists so I can build some shelves into the garage ceiling. By spray foaming, I get a very high insulation value, but also get a vapour seal (note: there’s no vapour barrier on the ceiling now, although there is on the walls), and an air seal: this is important as if there’s a car running in the garage, I don’t really want the fumes to be sucked in and circulated around my house.

Although in this case, someone did take the time to caulk all the edges of the existing drywall, it still isn’t really a reliable seal. In fact there were numerous hockey puck-sized impact spots in the wall (some of which had broken through the drywall) from the previous occupants, and although the insulation would have slowed it down this was still a way for exhaust fumes to get circulated into the furnace return.

I wasn’t really expecting to find so much HVAC up here — the hole I made earlier was above the garage door and so I couldn’t see anything behind the beam. There’s two heating vents for the room above and an air return (all of which jog below joists) as well as two insulated 6″ ducts for the main floor bathroom and laundry room fans, plus the 5″ heating line for the ceiling space itself. As a result, I decided I will just be raising up the middle section between the two beams, which are about 8′ apart. It’s enough to get some storage.

The space is also connected to the rest of the house — I can see 10′ or so back into the rest of the house, over top of the laundry room, bathroom and hallway. Again, for exhaust fumes and heat reasons this isn’t really ideal, so I’d like to separate the spaces.

Hopefully next weekend I’ll finish the vacuum piping and network cables, but I still have many things to do after this:

  • Install a new subpanel. I only have one breaker space left, and aside from adding another circuit or two in the garage I will eventually be finishing the basement, which will need several new circuits.
  • Figure out a new way to attach the door tracks and opener so I can take down the false ceiling joists they’re attached to
  • Brace all the existing false ceiling joists so I can cut them off at the beam
  • Add blocking between the real joists to separate the rest of the house
  • Install new lighting
  • Get spray foam installed
  • Reinstall drywall
  • Paint

It’s a bit more work than I originally intended, but that is the way these things go.

August 29, 2012

Front Entrance, Part 2

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 11:40 pm

In my last post, I finished the upstairs electrical work, so next I could put up new vapour barrier. Since the old stuff is kraft paper-faced insulation, I really don’t think it’s a great vapour barrier as it’s not even sealed well. I put in new 6mil barrier, and used acoustic caulk to seal it around the edges. At least in the part I’ve opened up I have not introduced any new leaks. I am not sure if this was really necessary, but I sliced slits in the kraft paper, because I actually don’t want any moisture to be trapped in between. Any moisture needs to be able to dry outwards from the new plastic vapour barrier.

Next thing I tackled was tearing out the old carpet. Here you can see the terrible linoleum peel-and-stick tiles that were once covering the entire first floor, and which I also found in the upstairs bathroom. I measured out the exact placement of the wall and marked it with painters tape, and then just used a knife and my level as a straight-edge to cut out the section. I also had to pull out the old carpet tacks along the edges.

I also cut the underpadding back about 1″ beyond where I cut the carpet, and installed new tack strips. As best as I could manage, I pulled the carpet back and hooked it on. I used a metal threshold strip that had tacks attached for the doorway.

In the above picture, you can also see the framing for the new wall ready to go in. I didn’t end up taking many pictures of this unfortunately, but I installed it by using several #10 3.5″ screws into the floor below. I added an extra piece of 2×10 blocking between the joists underneath near the end, and screwed into that as well to give it even greater support. Because it’s positioned in between two studs, to secure it to the existing exterior wall I used 6 large zinc self-tapping wall anchors which combined should have a sheer strength rating of around 500 lbs. In retrospect, if I was doing this again I would have just opened up even more of the drywall and installed a piece of 2×4 between two studs to give it something solid to connect to, but even as is I’m fairly certain this isn’t going to move easily.

The subfloor is 1/2″ plywood with another 1/4″ layer on top, with the old linoleum tiles stuck to that. I ripped the 1/4″ plywood out, and then put down a couple new sheets of 5/8″ OSB to bring up the floor to the height I wanted.

Next up was drywall. This was pretty straight-forward. A couple sheets for the new half-wall, and a 2×7.5′ piece for the exterior wall. Since I cut to the edge of the stud, I had a decent nailing surface. I did have to adjust it a bit, as the old chunk I cut out of the wall was not perfectly straight, but using a drywall rasp made this very easy.

I also put in a new electrical outlet on the inside of of the wall, and replaced the the speaker and network/coax connections I previously had in that corner.

I was originally going to just have the box near the top of the doorway as a junction box (it’s where I have the transition from the 12/3 aluminum from the foyer light to the 14/3 copper going to the switch and outside light), but instead decided to make it an outlet, so I could plug in our wireless doorbell.

Everything sat this way for about a week, before I was finally motivated to get the first coat of mud on, marking my least favourite part of these jobs.

We didn’t have enough paint left and had to get some more mixed, but just to make things fun the base and color we used are no longer available. We got one color-matched, but ended up having to paint the entire front wall because the color was not 100% perfect and you could see the difference. It’s not noticeable compared to the other walls though.

I used the same vinyl plank tiles I have in the upstairs bathroom to finish this floor. I was a bit concerned about the height compared to the trim, so I used some foam underlay I had left over from laminate I installed in the basement. The foam actually works very well, and the floor as a very subtle ‘squishy’ feel to it that is quite comfortable to walk on, especially barefoot.

This stuff goes down very quickly, and I had it done in under two hours. In the meantime, my wife was outside painting the trim, and as soon as the floor was done I installed all the trim. Finally, installed the new closet doors, which are mirrored versions of the same doors I installed in the bedrooms last year.

I also used some trim to cap off the top of the half-wall and provide a bit of ledge. The top piece is a piece of pre-primed MDF, and for the finished end I used a couple coats of spray paint primer and sanded it with fine-grit sand paper to get it smooth, and used my belt sander to round off the corners. There’s another piece of trim around the bottom to finish it off.

August 26, 2012

New House!

Filed under: General — groogs @ 11:56 pm

While I was in the process of updating the front entrance, my wife and I started talking about if it made sense to do another job we had been thinking of – tearing down the wall between the kitchen and dining room, and putting in some new cabinets and a breakfast bar. My reasoning was if I was doing this at the same time, it would be enough work at once that I could justify bringing in a pro to finish the drywall for me (yes, I hate it that much). This started us into another conversation about how much more work and money we wanted to put into this house, and how much longer we’d stay. When we bought the house, we had originally figured it would be about 5 years, and now it’s been 4, and we were feeling this might be a good time to move.

We started looking around to see what was on the market, going to a couple open houses, and even looking at building a new house. We had our real estate agent take us out and show us a few houses, and actually saw one that we really liked. We decided to make a conditional offer on it.. and it was accepted! This was great – although as part of the conditions we had 2 weeks to sell our house, and our front entrance was still a construction zone. When our agents came over on that Friday, I had a plastic sheet up around the front as I had only just put on the first coat of mud and was getting ready to sand.

Luckily this was a long weekend, so we went into high-gear, and by Monday night I managed to finish the entrance, as well as we got the rest of the house in a respectable state and ready to be photographed and have people walking through. The next day, we had multiple offers competing, and accepted one that night. We had the deal finalized less than 48 hours after putting the house on the market, and so huge thanks to our agents Della and Dave Cook for that!

So while I’m happy to have the entrance done, we’ve only had a bit over a month to enjoy it — we’re actually moving in a couple days from now. There are already a few things I want to do on the new place, and the basement is unfinished a blank slate, so expect more posts in the next few months!

Old House

For now, we’ve put a lot of work into this house and it’s sad to say goodbye, but also exciting to start fresh. Hopefully the new owners will enjoy this house as much as we have.

August 10, 2012

Front Entrance, Part 1

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 8:40 am

One thing that has always been awkward about our house is the front entrance. It is about 7′ long by 3.5′ wide with a wall that means even two people trying to get coats/shoes on are in each other’s way. My plan is to knock the wall down and put a half-wall about 3.5′ over to act as a separator but keep the space open.

Nearly 4 years ago (yikes), I tore out the carpet in the entrance, but then we couldn’t really decide exactly what to do, other projects got in the way, and so for the last 4 years we’ve lived with just a runner on top of the subfloor and no closet doors.

Not exactly the most welcoming view when you first come in. This picture illustrates how tight the space is though. In the living room, we basically use the space behind the couch as the overflow for the front entrance — this is where we put stuff down, and try not to step on the carpet with wet shoes (which is very difficult when you have someone behind you trying to get inside out of the rain/snow). (Note: not present in this photo is a cabinet we had in the corner and a small table that sat behind the couch).

The new wall is going to go roughly where the back of the couch is, and the couch will actually barely move at all. Nothing like knocking a big hole in the wall to get committed..

As soon as I had the wall down, it was clear how much nicer this was going to be. When you first walk in the house, it’s spacious and you can actually see the whole living room and dining room right away.

Next, I had to reroute all the electrical. There is a line from the ceiling that is the incoming power as well as switched power to the overhead light, a line to the light outside the front door, and a line to the rest of the plugs in the living room which includes a switched outlet. There were, accordingly, 3 switches in the wall — overhead light, front entrance, and living room lights (via switched outlet). I should also mention that all the original wiring is aluminum, and being a 35 year old house, there are many shared circuits, and this is no exception — this circuit is connected to one of the bedrooms plus another outlet in the master bedroom. I decided that I’d take advantage of the situation to run a new circuit for the living room. I’m going to put two switches beside the front door: for the front porch light and the overhead foyer light, and I’ll put the switch for the living room outlet on the wall connected to the closet (which is between the stairs and the foyer).

Step one is opening the wall. Because there is a vapour barrier behind exterior walls (well, kraft paper in my case) I did not want to cut it. I also do not have a tool for this, as I actually try to avoid doing drywall work as much as I can. I bought one of the rotozip bits, and put it in my Dremel, and then taped a piece of scrap wood to the side to use as a depth gauge to give me 1/2″. This was actually really effective and I had the wall opened pretty quickly, and there is only one spot I broke the kraft paper, which will be easy to repair with acoustic caulk later.

The studs are 24″ O.C. so I cut over top of the middle of the stud so that I’d have something to secure the new drywall to when I was done.

Getting the wire from the ceiling light into the new wall proved to be a fairly big pain. On the door-side of the wall, there is a ceiling joist over top, which that part of the drywall is attached to. On the room side however, a nailing edge was added which was nailed into the top plate from above. A wrecking bar, hammer, and saw eventually got it out, and then I used a cut-off wheel to cut off the nails sticking down.

Next, I pushed the wire up between the joist and nailing edge, and sat it up on top of the joist. I drilled a hole on an angle from the wall cavity up to where the old wall used to be, and started trying to fish the wire down. Cutting more of the wall open or finding someone with small hands probably would have made this go much faster, but I got it through.. eventually.

I also ran the wire that goes to the receptacles down into the basement. Since I did spray foam, this meant drilling down would go into the foam. I carefully measured and drilled a hole down into the foam, making sure it wasn’t lined up with a joist below. I then took a coat hanger and made it into a “J” shape, with the bottom cut at an angle so it was somewhat sharp. I pushed this down and out through the foam in order to exactly locate my hole, and then from in the basement used a spade bit to widen the area around it so I could push the wire through. I’ll hook this in later, and foam the in around the hole.

Because the wire from the ceiling light was short (and I didn’t want to go into the attic to rewire this), I added a junction box high up on the wall. I ran a new copper 14/3 wire from that to the switch box – this carries the power from the panel, and the red wire is switched to control the foyer light. The outside front light also comes into this box. Many people are afraid of aluminum wiring, but really you just need to follow the correct procedures, which I’ve learned from living in this house: make sure all the fixtures and wire nuts being connected are rated CO/ALR (#63 wire nuts), and of course ensure everything is coated in anti-oxidant goop (“Noalox” is one brand name). Since this is an exterior wall, I’m using gasketed exterior boxes that are air-sealed and made of PVC. The drywall compresses the vapour barrier onto the gasket, and there is also a foam gasket you poke the wires through that keeps them sealed up.

In the next post, there’s a lot to do but I’ll finish everything up.

August 7, 2012

Upstairs Bathroom Refresh, Part 2

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 10:00 pm

In Part 1, I removed everything in the bathroom. Once the drywall patches were dried up, the first thing I did was paint.

Next up was flooring. I chose to go with Allure vinyl plank flooring, which is relatively inexpensive but looks nice and has a nice textured feel to it. This is a floating floor, each piece is 1×3′ (three “tiles”) and has opposing adhesive lips on opposite sides that stick to each other. You can pull them apart and restick them a couple times for several minutes after you first put them together, but they eventually harden up quite a bit and form a very solid (and waterproof) seal.

The floor is easy to cut with a knife (score and snap), and I used a pair of tin snips to cut around the vent and toilet flange. This was my first time using this product, and it took a little over two hours to complete on my own.

I unfortunately didn’t take too many pictures of installing the vanity, but what I went with was some stock cabinets with two 12″ drawer units and a 24″ sink base. Because the drawers would otherwise hit the trim around the door and not open all the way, I had to trim it out. I used a piece of 1×3″ with a piece of black veneer edging for finish. Because (of course) the walls are not true, I also used a belt sander to take nearly 1/4″ off down to the bottom so my vanity is plumb with no gaps.

There was a 1 1/4″ chrome trap from the old sink, which I did not want to re-use.

There was no play at all in the pipe coming out of the wall, and I didn’t want to cut any more drywall open, so I had a bit of a tough time figuring out how to connect to this until I realized a 1 1/2″ female hub adapter would work, and results in no change in the inside diameter. It screws onto where the white compression fitting is in the above picture.

After that it was no problem to connect the rest of the drain using 1 1/4″ ABs. I have since heard the traps that have a union at one end are easier to clean if needed than the ones with just a drain in the bottom, but in this case you could disconnect the sink tail piece and unscrew the whole drain from the hub fitting on the wall, if needed.

I re-used the old cultured marble counter-top, putting it in place using silicone caulk underneath on the cabinets and around the edges against the wall. I also put in a new faucet that my wife picked out which I think also really helped update the look.

The new vanity is 35″ to the top of the counter, which for me as a 6′ tall person, is so amazingly better than the 32″ or whatever it was before. After putting up the new mirror, the transition is complete, and both my wife and I are very pleased with the way it turned out. Not too bad for a long weekend’s work (protip: minimizing the time you have your wife’s main bathroom torn apart for is one of the keys to a happy marriage).

August 2, 2012

Upstairs Bathroom Refresh, Part 1

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 11:27 pm

When we bought the house, the two most recent updates the previous owners had done were the kitchen and bathroom. We’ve touched every other part of the rest of the house — from painting every square inch (except kitchen and bath) to the complete reno of the basement. The bathroom had a new toilet, tub and surround, faucet, cultured marble counter-top/sink, and presumably vinyl floor. The tub surround is a very simple, just some Solid Surface around the outside, but it’s actually nice. However, the vanity was terrible, the floor was not really our taste, and it needed some paint. Up to this point really the only work I’ve done on the bathroom is not very visual: adding a new electrical circuit and plugs, and adding an exhaust vent.

It’s quite an old vanity, and built reasonably well with solid wood, but the style was really dated, and the drawers were tiny — probably 7″ wide — which meant my stuff was confined to one small top drawer while my wife used the rest to not-quite-fit all of her stuff.

I think this bathroom has actually undergone a couple of renos in its lifetime. Underneath is the original linoleum stick-down tile that was at one point covering the entire first floor. From previous experience one of my wrecking bars was able to slide underneath and make quick work getting rid of them.

It’s interesting to see that at one point there was a wall-mounted sink in here, which seems like a terrible waste of space (the vanity in its place was 48″ wide).

You can also see the old chrome drain pipes were still in use. Some of the old plumbing fixtures really make me wonder though, like the toilet shut-off that requires a flat-head screwdriver to operate. (Panicking wife frantically trying to figure out how to turn off the water would be somewhat funny to watch were it not for the toilet water is spilling onto the floor.) A while ago I added a retro-fit shut-off 1/4 turn valve which just screws onto where the supply line would normally go, and of course that came in handy to disconnect the toilet.

I pulled the rest of the floor out, patched up the holes in the drywall (several more are not pictured) and cleaned up the mess, and now I have a blank canvas to work with.

Update: Part 2 here

August 1, 2012

New Bathroom Vent

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 1:05 am

One of the things the upstairs bathroom is lacking is an exhaust vent. Vents are important to keep the humidity from getting too high, and are especially great compared to opening a window while you’re running your heating or air conditioning.

You can see the old slider window here, which is the only one left in the house. I’ve sealed it with silicone caulking on one side, and weather stripping on the other, and we pretty much leave it shut. In the ceiling above is where I’ll be locating the new vent.

I started by adding the vent outside. This is pretty straight-forward: cut a hole, and install and seal the vent. I used a generous amount of silicone caulking to seal it in and screwed it into place.

Because the house is a side-split, next to the bathroom are the stairs going to the basement, and above that is a void with attic access, which starts around 4′ up the wall. This is why the vent is located next to the window – rather than go through the roof, because I had access to the wall it was easier to run the pipe here. As a bonus, this hole is partially protected by the roof. I used insulated 4″ vent pipe to connect up to the exhaust fan itself.

After cutting a hole in the ceiling, I mounted the fan, connected the vent pipe, and sealed around the unit with vapour barrier. I had a tough time finding if this was the correct way to seal it, but it makes the most sense to me and it seems to be effective so far.

Last step was running the power. I had previously replaced an old receptacle with a fan timer switch, so I just had to run power down from that to the fan. I had to cut a new access hole, and then used a 54″ long flexible bit to drill up into the attic space, and fish the wire through. You can see the punch-out in the top of the junction box where I ran the wire into.

The timer is a great way to run exhaust fans, as you can easily turn it on for 5/10/15/30 minutes (the basement powder room has one with 2/5/10/15 minute options), which is enough time to have a shower and let it exhaust out afterwards, without having to think about it.

I used a nice fairly quiet Broan model, same as I used in the basement. This one is actually a bit louder (though still not bad), and I’m assuming it’s because I have a longer run with a couple curves, while the basement is short and almost perfectly straight, despite the fact the basement is only a 3″ line while this one is 4″.

It looks nice and has been working well for the past year, not much I can complain about.

July 5, 2010

Basement Reno – Before and After

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 12:36 am

My fiance and I moved into our first house in August 2008. The house was built in 1974, and we bought it from the original owners, so everything was in fairly decent shape. The basement was partially finished, with cement floors, wood paneling, and the old upstairs kitchen cabinets (a reno they did at some point) hung everywhere. The wood paneled half of the basement was insulated, but the laundry room side was not. The crawlspace was also only half insulated – I’m not sure why.


I started by ripping everything out, right down to the cement walls, and then re-framed the whole basement.

I also added a bathroom, including doing the rough-in to the sewer line (I hired a pro to do the tie-in).

I also replaced the three basement windows, had the electrical panel upgraded from fuses to breakers, installed a sub-floor, added several new circuits and wiring, had closed-cell spray insulation installed, did the framing and drywall (though I did end up paying a pro to finish mudding).

Then new ceiling, lights, paint, flooring (laminate in laundry/bath, and had the pro’s do carpet elsewhere), plumbing fixtures and cabinets, doors, trim, media wiring, and just like that…

…I have a new basement.


If you want to follow along and see details of this project along the way, check out the list of all the renovation posts.

Be sure to check out the One Project Closer blog, which regularly has some great articles on DIY projects, as well as their annual Before & After contest.

May 31, 2010

Completed Basement Reno

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 10:00 pm

So of course it’s been a long time since I posted, but I figured I’d finally put up the pictures of the completed basement. Even these are now a few months old, but all that’s really changed is my desk isn’t quite as neat. All in all, it’s worked out great, and we spend a good deal of time here. With just the two of us living here, it’s very functional as an office / TV room. Our cat also spends a lot of time sleeping on the couch, sitting in the windows, or otherwise running around causing mayhem.

The laundry room is also quite functional, and provides enough space to dry clothes, have a few laundry baskets, and still have lots of room to move around.

Update: Before/after pics.

November 15, 2009

Carpet Installation

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 8:13 pm

So as usual I’m a bit behind blogging, but a couple weeks ago I finally had the carpet installed. This is pretty much the end of the construction phase.

imgp4245 The carpet was one of the few things I was wise enough not to do myself, so I don’t have a ton of pictures of the progress (also I was on a conference call most of the morning while it was being put in). Here’s the underpad installed, ready for the carpet.

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It’s very nice to finally have this part done. It’s been a long time coming. We moved in last August, and I started ripping stuff out pretty much right away. So total time taken: about 15 months. Now, to put it in perspective, this was entirely done on nights and weekends, and like any project like this there were weekends where I was away and other weeks where I just got nothing done. I also wasted about 3 months slowly starting to do some of the drywall mudding and taping, before finally wising up and paying a pro to do it.

I will follow up with some before/after photos. I’m also going to try and document some of the other things I’m doing related to the basement (though not directly renovation), like my scene-capable lighting and networked media system. Also, although the renovation part of this blog is probably going to be quiet for a while, I do have some more major reno projects planned for next year, so stay tuned.

October 29, 2009

Media Wiring, Part 2

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 10:00 pm

I finished up all the jacks for the media wiring – the cables for which I ran back in March (see Media Wiring, Part 1.

imgp4197 imgp4198

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imgp4204I also finished terminating the network cables for the basement (10 drops). Since I was rushing to get them in before the insulation was done, I didn’t actually label any of the wires. Luckily, I have a wire tracer, which is an extremely handy tool for these sorts of situations. Plug in the base unit to the jack you want to find..

imgp4207.. and then the indicator will make noise when you find the corresponding cable in your bundle.

I punched these cables down to the patch panel in the makeshift relay rack in my crawlspace.

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It’s almost a shame I’ll have furniture hiding everything from view..
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October 28, 2009

Finshing baseboard

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 9:00 pm

imgp4141 Back to something I hate doing: trim.

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imgp4193I spent some time trying to decide how to finish the fridge cubby hole, then ended up using some stop molding for the edges (the baseboard I had was too thick, and too large for a tiny space you shouldn’t really notice), and some corner guard for the end. I sanded it down so the edges extend out a bit and are rounded down.

imgp4079 I also installed the plinth in the laundry room, which is just a piece of 1″ pine (same as I used for the window sills) painted white. I had to notch out space to make room for the cabinet legs, and then mitered the two pieces together.

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imgp4273In the bathroom, I had one small challenge, which was a bit of an oversight on my part many months ago, during the plumbing rough-in phase: the toilet supply valve is below the top of the baseboard. I debated what to do with this for a while, and ended up cutting a notch into the baseboard, filling it with putty (to avoid seeing the ugly MDF “grain”), sanding and painting it. It turned out reasonably nicely, even if it does look a bit weird.

With this, both the laundry room and bathroom are now complete!

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October 27, 2009

Laundry room bulkhead

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 11:03 pm

Once again, I am quite far behind in blogging my progress, so I’ll try to create some posts to catch up. For this one, I figured it would make more sense to show it through several stages over time, to explain why things were done the way they were.

imgp3516 In the corner of the laundry room, I have a bulkhead that runs a 4″ dryer vent up and outside. I also have an air conditioning line that runs outside, and happens to drop down lower than my ceiling will be. It extends out close to a foot into the room before it gets high enough to not be a problem.

imgp3530I ended up finding a cabinet that would fit above the washer/dryer, and built a bulkhead to fit around the A/C line, but that would fit with the cabinet so I didn’t have a strange bulkhead sticking down. This was big enough to cover the line, but also not look too unnatural. I built a frame from some spare pieces I had left over, and screwed it into the wall. Note, this does go over part of the drywall.. but unfortunately I didn’t have a solution to this when I put the drywall up, so that’s the way it goes.

After some drywall and mudding..

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imgp3734 ..I have a finished cabinet, and bulkhead covering the tiny, unfortunately placed A/C line.

September 22, 2009

Presario Power Button Hack

Filed under: Technology — groogs @ 10:10 pm

A friend brought over a Compaq Presario x1000 with a temperamental power button (which took many many presses to turn on), so I agreed to have a look.

First thing I did was disassemble it, which I didn’t really document. I took the back (partially) off, which I don’t think helped – really, the bezel above the keyboard (where the power button is) is important, and a couple screws in the back to take the keyboard off are probably all you need. This part by far took the longest.

imgp4148 Next thing I did was verify it was in fact the power button at fault. Pressing it manually did the same as the plastic button above (which just pushed down on this) – which is to say, nothing. Using a probe to manually connect the pins instantly turned it on every time, and there was nothing visibly wrong with the solder connections, confirming it really was the switch that was defective.

imgp4150I looked around for a similar button to use, or something I could jam in that would work, but didn’t really have anything suitable. I decided instead to re-purpose the mute button (hopefully he will at least change the power settings to put it in suspend, rather than turn off.. I probably should have suggested that in retrospect). It had a ribbon cable connecting it to the motherboard, and shared a common ground with the power button, so I just had to route it over to the power button. After finding the correct wire with an ohm meter, I pulled it out from the ribbon.

imgp4154 Finally, some soldering and that’s it. The mute button now functions as power, and the old power button does nothing. I haven’t yet heard how many times he’s accidentally turned off the system..

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September 21, 2009

Cat litter room/door

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 8:45 pm

As I mentioned yesterday, there is another door which is access to a little room built for cat litter. This basically came about because we were trying to figure out where to store the cat litter (right now it’s in the kitchen, which is terrible). The laundry room is an obvious choice, but it’s not really that big, so having cat litter would be a bit inconvenient there. My girlfriend also wants to be able to hang black clothes in there to dry without them getting white cat hair all over them (eg, shut the door).

I basically used the area inside the crawlspace to build a 2′ x 3′ room, and then provided access to it in the lower half of the wall joining the crawlspace. Here’s a couple pictures from earlier in construction to give you a better idea:

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It’s hard to see, but it’s actually elevated a bit because there is a row of cinder blocks separating the main basement from the crawlspace, so I just built the floor of the cubby hole to the same height as the top of the blocks. The second cubby hole you see is for a bar fridge (there is a power outlet inside that one, which is not visible in this picture) – the fridge will basically just be flush with the wall. Again, this was just a way to get more out of the space I had – it adds a fridge into what would otherwise just be a plain wall.

imgp4134 I also installed a vent in the top to try and keep it not overly stinky and allow some air circulation (I may put a small fan in the vent, if necessary). There’s another vent in the fridge area to allow heat to escape out the top.

imgp4137 After cutting down the door to fit, I also installed an actual cat door (one of those flapping ones). I basically just took my jigsaw and cut out the trace of the door.

imgp4139 I had trouble finding a pet door actually, I had to go to a pet store and they only had this one and a really fancy one which used RFID tags to only allow in your pet (which is a great idea, if you are installing this on an exterior door). The problem with this is that it looks like it’s designed for either a solid core door, or a 1/4″ thick door. When you put the two pieces on, they do not connect – so with my hollow core doors, there would otherwise be a giant gap between them. I ended up using some 1 1/8″ pine to fill in around the hole, and then painted it to match the door.

imgp4142 The end result looks pretty good (considering what it is). Obviously I’d rather not have this at all, but the weird door with the cat door in it looks better (in my opinion) than a litter box sitting in the open. I’m not going to actually install the pet door yet though – I want to make sure my cat learns she has to go in there to do her business before also having to learn how the flap works. The consequences to the new carpet are just not worth risking it..

September 20, 2009

Installing Doors

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 9:10 pm

imgp4076 I’ve been busy getting all the doors painted, hung, and finished. There are two almost regular size doors: one for the bathroom, and one for the laundry room. There is also a bi-fold closet door in both the bathroom (leading to electrical panel, central vac and under-stairs storage) and another in the laundry room going into the furnace and hot water tank area. There’s also a couple smaller doors that I had to cut down.

imgp4092 The bi-fold doors were pretty straight-forward. One was actually one left over from the previous owners, in the crawl space, which just happened to be the right size. I cleaned and painted it, and replaced all the track hardware in it.

The bi-fold in the laundry room was a bit too big – I had a 34″ opening, but all you can get are 32″ or 36″ doors (off the shelf at box stores, at least). I bought a 36″, and cut an inch off each side. There was enough wood in the edge that I didn’t have to do anything extra to it.

imgp4095 Having installed several door knobs before, I decided to buy a kit for it. It’s basically a plastic template that guides a hole saw to drill the right places. This thing was $20, and included the template, two hole saws, a hinge template, and a router template for the strike plate. The hole saws that come with it definitely aren’t the best quality – one had a couple teeth noticeably longer than the rest – but they do work, and you could always use your own, if you have the right size.

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imgp4105 It made quick work of the door. The router bit definitely made the strike plate easy – you just follow the template, and then chisel out what is missing.

The hinge template was utterly useless for me. It was 4″ high, but 1″ deep – a standard 3.5″ hinge is 1″ deep, but a 4″ hinge is 1.25″ deep. This means using a 4″ hinge would have more of the hinge sticking out the back, and a wider swing to the door (meaning you need greater space between the door and the jamb, to make sure it doesn’t stick). I didn’t even try to use it at all, and just chiseled out the hinges by hand, after tracing them with a pencil.

imgp4144 I have a short door for access to the crawl space. This was just a standard hollow door that I cut down. I set up my table saw for 1 1/8″, and cut a few strips of pine board to fill in the gap left at the cut. It’s possible to use the piece you cut off, but I found it was glued so well to the hardboard of the door, that it wasn’t worth the effort. Since it’s also on the bottom of the doors, it’s not visible at all so the fact that it looks slightly different doesn’t really matter. I used some glue and a couple brad nails to hold the piece in place.

There’s also another little door which I’ll cover in tomorrow’s post.

imgp4143 I also had to cut down both the laundry room and bathroom doors, as they are ~74″ (instead of standard 80″) because they’re under the vent and beams for the house. I used the same technique as before and just used the 1 1/8″ pine board to fill in the bottom from where I cut.

I should also mention, I was originally going to use panel doors (the ones with the bevels you see everywhere), but quickly discovered that because of my sizing, it really made cutting the doors much more difficult, since you have to worry about keeping the pieces of panels centered. For my short doors, they didn’t work out at all, and basically there was no way to cut them without cutting at the bevel marker. Since my upstairs interior doors are also all the plain flat ones, it wasn’t that big a decision to keep the downstairs ones the same, and simplify cutting at the same time. If you have non-standard door sizes, really be aware of that before hand, especially if you are building new doors like I was (not that I had that much choice in door sizes, without radically changing the overall layout). You may end up being forced to order custom doors or change styles.

August 29, 2009

Plumbing fixtures installed

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 8:18 pm

In the laundry room, I used some ready-to-assemble cabinets from Home Depot, and some off-the-shelf laminate counter top from Rona that I had them cut at the store.

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The sink came with a template, so I traced that onto the countertop with a sharpie, use a hole saw on the edge to start it off, and then cut out the shape with a jigsaw.

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imgp3741 Almost constantly, the box stores have different promotions going on (eg, I bought the cabinets during a 10% off all kitchen cabinets sale), and I’ve tried to take advantage of these as much as I can. I went to get a sink during one such event, but it was out of stock, and I was at the point I actually needed one, so I ended up buying a much more expensive 10″ deep sink (most are 7″), but in hindsight this is a much better sink to use for the laundry room so I’m actually glad it worked out this way.

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imgp4121While doing the final hookups, I was again reminded why I like PEX so much. It took me maybe a bit more thna 5 minutes to crimp on all the valves, and probably 45 minutes driving time for the $8 tool rental (ok that slightly annoys me, but it likely would have taken longer to it with copper, especially when you factor in draining basically the entire house, which is unnecessary with PEX). All the vales are PEX 1/4 turn stainless ball vales, except the toilet which is a more traditional valve which looks a bit nicer.

imgp4115 On the laundry room, it’s probably worth showing the in-wall washing machine hookup, which worked out quite nicely. Now that I have the flooring in, I replaced the old rubber hoses with some stainless braided hoses. You can see an old photo with the plumbing exposed here.

I bought everything for the bathroom on sale almost a year ago, and have been storing it in the crawlspace since then. As it turns out I’ve seen the cabinet on sale since, but it was still more expensive than what I paid. The toilet is a dual-flush, and otherwise your typical round toilet. imgp4108

Having the small cabinet (24″ x 12″) works well – the sink is large enough, but with the cabinet itself being smaller, it gives a bit more floor space, and makes the room feel a bit bigger. Since the bathroom is only 5×5′, this is important. I should also mention that Jocelyn has helped with the bathroom a lot: picking out and installing the toilet paper roll, mirror, and toilet seat.

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Check out an old post on doing the bathroom rough-in for details of all the plumbing.

August 27, 2009

Installing Casing

Filed under: Renovations,Reviews — groogs @ 8:00 pm

imgp4068 Lately, I’ve spent a lot of boring time painting (though Jocelyn has helped me a lot with painting), cutting, installing, and wood filling trim (and still have some more to go). I’ve been coming to the conclusion that I am not a fan of finishing work.

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imgp4064 I’ve been borrowing Jocelyn’s dad’s mitre saw almost since I started this project, but I’ve used it so much that I decided it was time to buy my own. After looking at several, I settled on a Craftsman 10″ sliding compound mitre saw. There were three of these that almost looked identical, but differed in price by about $130. The people at Sears could not tell me the difference, other than one, which was ~$250 CDN, has arms that extend out from the base, so that’s what I ended up buying. So far, I’ve been quite happy with it and would recommend it without hesitation. The laser is pretty accurate, and the positive miter stops make doing the different angles for trim very easy.

Update: Part 2 – Finishing baseboard.

August 25, 2009

Laminate Flooring

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 11:55 pm

imgp3716 I put laminate flooring in the laundry and bathrooms, because it’s relatively inexpensive and easy to maintain. Though I’ve never installed it before, it’s pretty straight-forward (and as such, I didn’t take very many pictures, I’m realizing now).

imgp3731 I put a basic foam underlay in first. Even though this is a basement, I already have a sub-floor that acts as a vapour/moisture-barrier, so I didn’t need the fancier (and more expensive) underlay that also does those jobs. If you are installing laminate floor directly on the slab, there are some neat products out there.

I started on one side of the room, and used a compound miter saw to cut the boards to length. With only a 10″ non-sliding saw, I could only cut about 75% of the way through a board, and then had to turn it around to make the rest of the cut, but this was not a big deal at all. I used a table saw I’m borrowing from a friend to cut the final pieces length-wise on the opposite wall from where I started.

imgp4130 For the closet in the bathroom, I used an 8mm tile edge strip. This gives a nice metal edge, which just slightly overlaps the laminate and protects the edge of the laminate.

imgp4126 The laminate ended about halfway through the laundry room closet door, which wasn’t quite enough. I only needed another inch or so, which wouldn’t have been very strong with laminate. I used a special transition strip to end it, which matches almost perfectly, and made up the extra distance.

For the transition from the laundry room and bathrooms to the rest of the basement (which will be carpet) I’ll likely be using a vinyl strip that snaps into a metal track attached to the floor (I can’t remember the name, but it’s very common). The strips have metal teeth that the carpet attaches to, and don’t go underneath the laminate at all, so I’ll install them later with the carpet, when I know what color it will be.

imgp3729 There is a floor drain in the laundry room, which I wanted to provide access to. I used a 3″ holesaw and some careful measurements to cut a hole for it, and right now I’m just using a standard floor drain cover. It doesn’t look bad, but I’d have no problems using something else for the cover if I can find something that would work.

imgp3727 It’s definitely starting to look closed to finished now.

August 11, 2009

Heating Vents

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 8:10 pm

I used circular vents for the ceilings, simply because I thought they were nicer looking than the square floor-style vents mounted upside down. There are two 5″ vents in the main room, one 5″ vent in the laundry room, and a smaller 3″ vent in the bathroom. imgp3698 For all but the bathroom, I just used the previously existing vent lines, but cut them shorter and used 5″ flexible duct to connect them to the vent in the ceiling tiles. This made it easier to hook up, and possible to move the tiles later without having to disconnect everything.

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You can see the completed vents in yesterday’s post.

Since the bathroom didn’t exist as a separate room before I started, I had to add a new vent line for it. I thought this was necessary, just because of the way I split up the rooms – the only remotely close vent to the bathroom is around the corner in the laundry room, and if the door is closed then there is nothing.

The main ducts run just outside the bathroom door, so it was relatively easy to add a new line for the bathroom. I just added a 4″ collar into the side of the duct, and then used a reducer and flexible 3″ vent tube to bring it into the bathroom. I’m using relatively rigid pipe for this, not the thin flimsy stuff you’d find on the back of a dryer. The below pictures are older, obviously, and are from in the bathroom, looking out at the top of the doorway.

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August 10, 2009

Paint, Ceiling, Lights

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 9:10 pm

imgp3703 Continuing to move along, with painting complete, suspended ceiling finished, and lights installed. Still need to make a couple touchups on paint in some spots where the tape pulled it off, and a couple dings I made moving things around. It’s hard to tell from the pictures, the main area is painted dark grayish-brown (though it took Joce a good week or two to acknowledge it even had brown in it, to me that was the first color I saw..), the laundry and bathrooms are a light gray.

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imgp3701 Here you can see the bathroom ceiling, with the completed bathroom vent visible. The light in here is a vanity light on the wall, I don’t think it was mounted yet when I took this picture.

imgp3717 I used low-profile “circ-line” fluorescent fixtures in the laundry room. These fixtures take two bulbs each (a 32W and a 22W) but I just used the one 32W in both which provides plenty of light. They’re very nice, only extending a couple inches down.

For the main area, I have 3 independent sets of lights: 4 wall sconces (dimmable); 8 halogen pot lights (dimmable); and 1 halogen pot light mounted for a dart board, controlled by a switch on the wall next to it. Since one of the major uses of this room is a home theater, that was my main concern with lighting. I initially spent a lot of time researching dimmable CFL and LED technology, only to come to the conclusion that right now, even if I were to spend a ton of money (eg, even more than I would paying for electricity for these bulbs for a few years), it simply wouldn’t be as good as halogen/incandescent for dimming and warmth/color.

Mounting the pot lights was a bit of a challenge – I spent a couple hours trying to figure out the best number of pots and layout, which would provide adequate light when needed, but also physically fit the lights (eg, not have vents/joists in the way). Ultimately, I had to cut out notches in a couple joists to make it work. I used some reflective tape to try and reduce some heat, not sure how well it will work yet. I may ultimately end up cutting another inch or two out.

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July 15, 2009

Window sills, Suspended Ceiling

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 11:07 pm

imgp3684 Now that the drywall is finished, I installed the window sills. I’m just using 1×8 pine board, trimmed to size on a table saw. I’ll later add trim around the outside. I ended up deciding that it was worth finally buying a brad nailer (and hey, I needed a compressor anyways) – definitely ranks up there among my most fun-to-use tools. It made quick work of putting the sills in place.

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I also installed the beams for the suspended ceiling, which was more expensive than I thought it would be. I think I’ve spent around $500 on materials, and still need to get another box or two of tiles.

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I’m definitely getting closer to completion, though there’s still quite a few tasks left (paint, trim, more paint, flooring, lighting, outlets and switches, doors, cabinets, plumbing hook-up..). I was really hoping to be done August 1st (our 1-year anniversary of moving in), but there’s no way that will happen now – though it will definitely be more on the side of “not quite finished, but livable space” than “construction zone”.

July 12, 2009

Drywall, Part 2

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 1:23 am

imgp3519 Okay, so I’ve been a bit lazy with the blog lately. Things have only been happening in the last few weeks though, but I’ll make posts to work through it all. I finished putting the rest of the drywall up (which I started in April, wow..). Nothing special, a bunch of cutting and screwing involved..


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After this, I started taping, with the help of my Dad. Now, this is where the big delay comes in, and why not a lot was accomplished since April. Attempting to tape was a bad idea. While I don’t mind doing small amounts of mudding/taping, I learned that 1) I really do not like doing large amouts of it, and 2) I’m realy bad at it. We did actually get it all taped (although my dad got sick part way through so I ended up finishing it on my own a few days after we started), but then came time to sand. I hate sanding, much much more than taping. This meant, after about a bit over 2 hours of sanding (a couple sessions, sread over a week), and realizing at my pace and with the amount of mud on the wall (Did I mention I’m bad at taping?) I figured it would take me at least 5 more hours – and this was just the first coat.

So I did what I should have done at the start, and I called in a pro. He cleaned up my mess and had a new coat on in about 4 hours, and then came back and did a couple more coats. Each time, it took him about 3-4 hours to sand and put a new coat on. I will not show you pictures of my job, but here’s the final product:
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April 8, 2009

Drywall, part 1

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 10:40 pm

image1321 With the help of my friend Matt, I finally started getting the drywall up. It’s a nice change, things are actually starting to look like real rooms now, instead of just framing, wood and wires everywhere.

image136 I haven’t done a lot of drywall (a couple of wall sections, and more recently the headers for the upstairs closets), but I think we did pretty well. There were some complicated cuts to do. You can also see in this picture how the drywall is covering the window completely, and I started to cut it out. This method is supposed to make a stronger wall around the window (as opposed to having seams at the corners), even though it does mean there is quite a bit of waste.

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One other thing I did was insulate the wall between the main room, and the laundry and furnace rooms, to try and reduce noise. Since I’m not drywalling the interior walls in the furnace room, I put up some plastic sheets to cover the insulation. The media wiring going to the TV is behind this, so if I do need to change wiring it’s just a matter of pulling the plastic back, and then stapling it back down when I’m done. The plastic is the same stuff I used under the footers of the exterior walls, made into a larger sheet with tuck tape.

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I’m not drywalling the ceiling, as I’ll be putting in a suspended ceiling instead. I’m hoping the acoustic tiles will be okay for damping noise from upstairs, but worst case I can take tiles out, and put insulation above it.

One other thing I’ll note – I was originally going to use Roxul insulation instead of fiberglass, but when I bought this insulation to put behind the electrical box (before the real insulation was put in), there was no Roxul in stock, so I had to go this way. This insulation is just the left over stuff from that project (which is like 80% of the bag) so it didn’t make sense to trash it and buy new stuff.

Update: Part 2 is here.

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