Greg MacLellan

March 31, 2009

Media wiring, Part 1

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 8:00 am

It’s been a while since I posted, partly because I haven’t gotten a lot done in the last few weeks until just recently. I did get all the media wiring installed, however.

image87I’ll be mounting an LCD TV to the wall, and so I put in a recessed media box to hold all the cables. There’s also a 110v plug inside this box.

I really like the idea behind this (as opposed to putting keystone jacks behind the TV) since it means one less connection for all the wires, the excess wires tuck inside the box, and it’s easy to add to later. To make sure of this, I put in two 2″ x 5′ lengths of conduit, which is actually 2″ PVC central vac piping. I like this stuff because it’s mostly rigid, but bends enough to install it in the wall, and the actual pipe is very thin – which means for a 2″ outside diameter, I have 1 7/8″ inside diameter.

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The open end is right beside the furnace, which I’ll be able to get at since I’m not drywalling the inside of the furnace room. The same wall is where the back of the jacks are, so it will be easy to add new wiring/jacks as needed in the future.

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image150To the TV, I have two HDMI cables, one component video, one composite video, and stereo RCA. I also have wiring for 5 speakers. I’m not buying into this 7/9/whatever channel stuff yet – I thought about it, but I don’t know how the room will be set up exactly, so it’s too hard to predict where speakers should go. If I do need to go that route, I can run wires since it’s a suspended ceiling, and I have drilled 1″ holes in the tops of all the headers so I can drop wires down into the wall cavity. For now I’m happy with my 5.1 channels.

There are also two Cat 5e network drops, and one RG-6 coaxial cable, which all go back to the patch panel in the crawlspace.

image89I also ran cables over to where my desk will go – one set of component video (which can also be used as composite video, stereo RCA or digital audio), and one HDMI – which terminate beside the rest of the jacks for the TV. The idea here is that I can have my computer on the TV, or play music through the main sound system, or whatever. Also at the desk is one RG-6 coaxial cable and four Cat 5e network drops (which again go back to the patch panel).

I’ve also finished up the electrical at this point. There are two separate circuits for plugs in the main rec room, one circuit for the laundry room, and one for the bathroom (which is shared with the upstairs bathroom). There is also another circuit dedicated to the lights. I personally hate when the lights in a room are on the same breaker as the plugs, as it means whenever you’re doing work on something electrical, you have to run power for lights from another room. It’s pretty trivial, but since I’m redoing all the wiring, it’s not any extra work to do it this way (besides installing maybe one more breaker).

Now that all the wiring is in place, I’m finally ready to move on to the drywall..

Update: Finishing up after drywall

February 12, 2009

Rick Mercer: Canadian government

Filed under: General — groogs @ 5:57 am

A bit of an offside from my usual topics, but Rick Mercer gave an absolutely great explanation of how Canadian government and parliament works that is worthwhile watching.

February 11, 2009

Back window

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 7:00 am

I took advantage of some nice weather a couple weeks ago to finally replace the back (laundry room) window. I replaced the front windows a couple of months ago. The back window was 40″ x 24″, and had a slider on the outside, with a hinged flip-up window on the inside.

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One issue I had was that the top of the window was actually above the gas and water lines, so once I added a ceiling to the laundry room, the window would have been above it. Since I was replacing the window anyways, the new one is shorter, at 40″ x 18″, and otherwise exactly identical to the front windows. This also meant I would be left with a 6″ gap at the top of the window, so I started by building a new frame. I used tapcons to anchor in the side pieces to the concrete, and then put a piece across connecting the two. This will also serve to anchor the new window in place.

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image326 It’s a bit hard to make out, but there is a bit of a lip (about 3/4″ wide) in the concrete, centered below the piece of 2×4 in this photo. They obviously poured the concrete with the old frame in place. I decided not to chip this out, and instead to just center the window on it and fill it with foam to insulate.

I put the new window in, and anchored it to the concrete with a couple of tapcons on each side, and a couple of wood screws to the wood above. I used a piece of 5/8″ OSB to fill in the 6″ gap on the outside. The black wire you can see in the photos is my cable line, which previously went through the window frame. I mostly kept it connected while I was working because I was listening to an online radio stream at the time. What can I say – the regular radio stations here suck.

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imgp3324 I used a piece of flashing, which pretty much fit perfectly, to cover the OSB from the outside. I just glued it on with a construction adhesive, and then went around all the edges with some caulk. I also put some low-expansion foam in both the front and back of the concrete lip, all the way around the window.

imgp3321 On the inside, I put 2″ of rigid foam board against the OSB, and then sealed the gaps all around it with foam. I should also point out that having learned what a pain it is when the foam hardens on the window surface, I used painter’s tape to protect the window frame. I highly recommend doing this, as it made cleaning up the spots where the foam expands out very simple. On the front windows, I only had a couple places where it hardened onto the front, but it took me a long time to scrape it all off.

After giving the foam a day to harden, I added some framing to the interior wall to fill in the top part of the window so I have something to attach the drywall to. I also took another can of some other foam (which was for gaps 2″ or less – I really could have used the 2″ or greater, but this was all I had on hand) and went over all the wood pieces and everything that felt cold. I likely will take another can (maybe 2) and do this again. Nothing is cold now, but there is not really that much insulation above the window compared to the rest of the basement. Also note I stapled some cardboard along the bottom, to prevent the foam from falling down into the window.

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image61 Once this was all done, I used some of the same all-PVC trim to fill in the gaps from the outside, and used some exterior caulk to seal everything up. I probably could have done a better job here, but it was very cold out and I was rushing to get it done. If it looks terrible in the spring, I’ll probably redo some of it – but for now, it keeps the cold and water out, and that’s what’s important.

February 7, 2009

New bathroom plugs

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 12:00 pm

While I’m doing the wiring in the basement, I decided to also fix something that really annoys me: my upstairs bathroom plug. As you can see, there are two sockets, and they’re connected to the light switch. This means we usually have a wire all the way across the wall/counter, and my girlfriend is always changing plugs for her hair appliances.

I cut a hole for a 2-gang box in the wall, and ran a wire down there, beside the central vac pipe, and down through the floor into the basement. This was actually pretty simple since there is a return air vent on the other side of the bathroom wall. You can see the picture below, looking down from the hole I cut in the wall at the central vac pipe. On a side note, I’ve found this to be a very effective way of figuring out where to run wires (or just generally see in tight places) while I’m working. I may change my mind if I ever drop the camera into the wall cavity, but until then it’s been very helpful and saved a lot of guessing and extra work.

I replaced the light switch with a dimmer, and replaced the old plug with a timer which will eventually be used to control an exhaust fan. The plugs are both GFCI-protected, and are now on a dedicated circuit along with the downstairs bathroom plug. Being a 33-year old house, the old plug was on the same circuit as the bathroom light, hallway, and most of the plugs in two bedrooms. I also ended up adding a plug in the hallway (probably the only real use will be the power brush for the vacuum cleaner).

February 5, 2009

UPS Inefficiencies

Filed under: Rants — groogs @ 10:16 pm

I just wanted to make a small rant against UPS. Generally, UPS and most of the big shipping companies are known for their innovation and ever-lasting pursuit of efficiency. They have large computer networks to track shipments and deliveries and optimize routes.. fleets of hundreds of planes and thousands of trucks.. and can manage to get a box from one side of the continent to your front door on the other side in a day for less than the cost of fuel to drive a couple hours out of town.

And yet, even though I am basically never home during the day, I cannot get them to not try to deliver a package to my front door. They put my package on their truck, drive it to my house, and then drive around with it all day, before bringing it back to their warehouse, where they repeat the same process for the next two days. Finally, they leave it in their warehouse, and I can finally stop by after work to pick up the package.

I’ve previously emailed their customer center, and asked them if there is a way to set up my address so the package is always held. Apparently, this is not possible – the best I can do is open an account at a UPS Store, and then have it delivered there (which also means registering the UPS store as a valid shipping address on my credit card). I’m also assuming that opening the account is not free.. so I have to pay them for the privilege of not wasting their drivers time and gas attempting deliveries. That’s innovative.

To send it to my office, I have to add my work address as a shipping address on my credit card, and waste my co-workers time dealing with my personal shipments. This doesn’t really seem like the best way to handle this, although this is probably what I will do from now on.

Today, they’ve only tried to deliver my package once so far. I tried to request my package be held via their website (which both their website and phone system say is possible), but I simply cannot figure it out. I can track the package.. but even after creating an account, I see no way to modify anything about this shipment. So I gave up, and called the number on the notice they left me, again, and this time pressed 0 until it let me speak to a real person. (And then said yes about 8 times, because yes, I really do want to speak to a person.)

Finally the agent was able to stop them from trying to deliver.. maybe. It might have been too late, so they may try tomorrow again anyways. I asked if in the future, I could just call as soon as I got my tracking number. She admitted it would sound strange, but apparently, no. I can’t do this. They have to try to deliver it at least once first.

So even though this package gets from the other corner of the continent and across an international border in just over a day, it is doomed to be driven around in a truck pointlessly for at least two days, and stored in a warehouse over the weekend.

I must have a different definition of “efficient” than UPS does.

February 4, 2009

Dryer vent

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 11:02 pm

image232While I was getting ready for the insulation, I disconnected the dryer and noticed basically a very cold wind coming out of the end of the pipe. Upon closer inspection, there was actually frost on the pipe inside of the house, and when I took it apart, there was actual snow in the outside vent (the picture is hard to make out, but most of that is snow, except for at the very end, which is just dryer lint).

The outside vent was fairly cheap, and although it had a damper, it was stuck open due to the cold and the warped plastic shell. This mean that basically, cold air and snow could blow into the house through the vent, effectively into the back of my dryer.

I pulled the old vent out, which basically broke into pieces while I was removing it. In case you were wondering. chipping tiny pieces of plastic stuck to 30-year-old caulk in -15°C weather is not fun.

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It took a bit of cutting and caulk to get the new vent to fit nicely with the siding, but it works.

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I built a small box in the corner for the vent to go through, but then ended up rebuilding after the insulation was in because I realized the vent was sticking out the wrong way, and the dryer would have had to be too far from the wall to connect to it.

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I used a piece of semi-rigid 4″ pipe to make the connection from the outside vent into the box, and then a 5′ section of straight 4″ vent, into an elbow to come out of the wall. At the very bottom, I added a 4″ damper as well, to provide some extra protection in case the outside damper gets stuck or clogged with dryer lint, etc. This is pretty cheap, and it will still be accessible to clean once the drywall is up.

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When done, the dryer will be about 6″ from the wall.

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January 31, 2009

Basement insulation

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 8:28 pm

The insulation was finally done, and it couldn’t have been soon enough. It’s amazing how expensive it is to heat a house with no insulation in the basement..

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m using a spray-in foam insulation (HeatLok, though I wasn’t looking for a particular brand when finding a contractor to do it, it’s just the one mine – Frontenac Foam Insulation – used). There are some great benefits to this stuff:

  • High R-value per inch (this stuff is around R-7 per inch – compare to fibre-glass batt insulation, at about R-2.5 per inch);
  • Doesn’t take up much space. I was able to use 2×4 framing, and only put the frame out about an inch from the cement wall. With fibre-glass or rigid insulation, I’d have to build out a thicker wall, possibly using 2×6’s, and effectively make the room a tiny bit smaller. When you don’t have a ton of space to begin with, losing 20 sqft is significant.
  • No vapour barrier required.
  • Easy to install. Well, aside from the fact I had a contractor do it for me, it’s easy to install on uneven walls because it just conforms to the wall shape. Since I had some parts of the cement sticking out farther from the frames when they poured it, as well as a brick/wood framed half wall at the front of the house (see pics below), it would have been very difficult to install rigid insulation, since if you leave air gaps between the insulation and the concrete, you can have moisture problems.

On the downside, it is quite a bit more expensive than other types of insulation, however, I hope to offset this with a grant from the eco-Energy Retrofit Program. Unfortunately, I had this done just days before the recently-announced federal renovation tax credit, so I can’t qualify for that.

It took them about 40 minutes to warm up the foam in the truck before starting (it was about -15°C out), and about 2.5 hours to install it all. They basically have a big truck with a tank full of foam in it, and a pump, and then a long hose coming inside to a spray gun, which mixes the components of the foam and I think uses compressed air to spray the foam onto the wall, where it then expands.

Here are some before/after pictures:

The front of my house has an overhang, and so they put foam all inside that as well.

Unfortunately, there was a bit of a draft in the far corner, where it was hard to get the nozzle in (they actually had to notch out a piece of the frame to get inside, which you can see in the pic below). Before they left, they mentioned that it might not have gotten all the way back, so they came back a few days later with a type of foam that expands more and actually filled all the headers in, and now there are no drafts and it is very warm.

The first foam they put in (blue) feels like hard styrofoam. The higher-expanding stuff (yellow) feels a lot squishier. As to be expected, this made a huge improvement in not only the basement temperature but in the overall house temperature, and my furnace runs a lot less often now. A bit unexpected, the basement is actually warmer than the main floor of the house now!

You can also see why I was trying to get anything that needed a hole outside done before the insulation (like the bathroom vent – compare to this picture); not that it is impossible now, it just means I would have to drill through an extra few inches of foam, and then seal it all back up again when I’m done.

January 29, 2009

Wiring, and the mysterious black tape

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 7:00 am

I have most of the wiring run, concentrating on the outside walls since it needs to be done before insulation. The laundry room has its own circuit (GFCI-protected), and there is also a light in the furnace room/closet. There are 8 plugs in the rec-room area (since I’ll be using it as my office space, I wanted lots of plugs), on two separate circuits. There is also another separate circuit for all the lights.

I also ran a new plug outside, as I did not have a plug in the back yard, and a new wire to the plug beside my driveway. The driveway plug has been unhooked since shortly after I moved in and found a scary/confusing contraption involving old NM wire, extension cord plugs, and a switch, branched off from another random circuit. I unfortunately didn’t take a picture of this, but I didn’t really want it hooked up (especially not when I had to get an electrical inspection done for insurance). The outside plugs are on their own dedicated circuit.

I have another outside plug on the front of the house which is tied into a circuit shared with a bedroom and some lights. I was going to run a new circuit for it, but the wires were routed in a way that made it impossible to fish a new wire through, and there was no way to legally put in a junction box to use the existing wires. In the end I decided it was not a big deal, so I just left it.

One of the last things I had to remove from the original basement were the plugs for the washer and dryer. Both of them were mounted on a piece of wood, directly on the cement foundation, so of course they had to be moved before the insulation could be sprayed in.

The wires for both of these old circuits were aluminum. I kept the dryer wire, and just ran it to a new insulated box, mounted lower down the wall (luckily there was a few extra feet up in the header area, for some reason). Aluminum is really not too bad to work with. The biggest thing is that all connections need to have an anti-oxidant paste applied to them, and they need to be connected using aluminum-rated parts. In this case I’m just using the old dryer plug, which is CO/ALR-rated. The picture here is me applying the paste before connecting the wires.

Once finished, I pulled the mounting boards off the wall and removed the old wire.


While I was removing the old washing machine wire, I came across a part of it that was covered by black tape, tucked up in the header above the window. I took the tape off, and found a cut with some exposed wiring (it’s just the ground, but even so..). You never know what you’re going to find, and had I never replaced this wire, I probably never would have noticed.

January 27, 2009

Bathroom vent

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 12:43 am

Since there is no window in the basement bathroom, I’m adding an exhaust vent to it. I’m using a 90 CFM fan which is rated at 0.5 somes (which is almost silent) – although I’m putting it through 3″ duct instead of 4″, which I believe drops the rating to 80 CFM (still more than enough) and makes it slightly louder.

Of course the exhaust air needs a place to go, so that meant adding a new vent. One thing I learned: big drill + putting a hole in the side of the house = extremely nervous girlfriend. I used a 3.25″ hole saw, which did the job nicely.

I used flexible duct, and some foil tape and clamps to keep everything together. It’s starting to get crowded in the electrical closet as you can see.

The outside vent and the fan itself both have dampers built-in, so I’m hoping I won’t have any issues with cold air coming down. I’ve checked on a couple of cold, windy day’s we’ve had lately, and can’t feel anything so it looks promising. In my old apartment, the exhaust fan either had no damper (or it was broken), and it was very awful during the winter to feel the -20 degree air blowing on you (right above the toilet) first thing in the morning.

January 26, 2009

Interior framing

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 12:42 am

I’ve been getting behind with my blogging, so I’m going to try and post a few entries to catch up to where I actually am with the renovations process. I didn’t get too much done over the holidays, but I am still making decent progress. It’s a bit sad to think that I could probably do what I’ve done in two or three weeks working full-time, but such is life, and having a full-time job that allows me to pay for all of this.

The next step after the exterior framing and sub-floor is doing the interior walls. I built these walls on top of the sub-floor for a couple of reasons: the main being that I don’t have to worry about moisture issues, and the other being that it’s easier to anchor them to the sub-floor than the concrete (and the subfloor is well anchored, to prevent any bouncy/uneven spots – I used about 8 tapcons per 4×8 sheet).

The wall running down the center has a jack post in the middle of it, and this posed a minor issue as the post isn’t quite centered with the wall. As you can see in this photo (showing from the front/rec-room side), the wall is flush with the beam above, and the post is recessed in the wall (though centered in the actual beam).

The post is actually sticking out of the wall on the back (laundry room) side, so to deal with this, I added some left over pieces of 2×4’s flat on their side, which will bring the drywall out over top of the post. The part of the wall directly between the laundry room and rec-room will end up being a bit thicker (4.5″, or 5.5″ with drywall) than normal, but the jack post will be completely hidden. The overhang from the main beam above is hidden beside the main HVAC ducts, which are all boxed in together.


Another thing I had to deal with was the placement of the central vacuum cleaner. Below you can see the diagram of the approximate layout at this point, and an older picture (from before the sub-floor) which shows the existing central vac location (in the floor plan, the vac is the red circle).

In case it’s not clear, the central vac is basically directly in front of where the toilet will go, which would make things quite crowded in the bathroom. I re-routed all the pipes going to the vacuum, and actually made things simpler because there are not pipes going all over the place now (the pictures were too hard to comprehend, so I didn’t bother posting them). I know it looks a bit crazy here, but trust me, this is much neater than it was before.

While I was messing with vacuum pipes and had the PVC glue out, I also added another hookup in the basement.

Below is the final layout, showing the new location of the vacuum, and all the interior walls framed and complete.

January 9, 2009

New Windows

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 10:07 pm

One of the reasons we bought this house (as opposed to some of the other similar places in the area) was because most of the windows had been replaced within the last few years. There are 4 windows that haven’t been replaced: 3 in the basement, and one in the upstairs bathroom.

The old windows were fairly typical of 1970’s construction, by which I mean, pretty horrible. Basically they’re just two panes of glass that slide up against each other, and two layers of these so there is an air space in between. When I had a blower door test (basically causes negative pressure in the house) done as part of my energy audit, the draft coming through the basement windows felt like a fan.

I’m just replacing the basement windows for now, and I’ll wait until the spring (and I’m done renovating the basement) before I do the upstairs bathroom window. There are two fairly large windows on the front (50″ x 24″), and a 40″ x 24″ window in the laundry room area (which I haven’t actually replaced yet). I took advantage of a relatively warm weekend to do the front windows, but now it’s bitterly cold again, so I’ll wait for a while to replace the back window. The new windows are Energy Star PVC windows I ordered from Rona.

I basically had to destory the old frames to get them out – there were about 8 4″-long nails holding each one in, and they were pretty solid. This made a bit of a mess on the outside house wrap (I’m not sure if it’s considered a vapour barrier or not?).

I decided it seemed a bit weird to just leave the windows sitting directly on the 2×4 framing, and a vapour/air gap in between, so I took some 12″ wide vapour barrier and used it around the frame, sealing it to the outside house wrap as best as I could. I should probably mention I have never installed windows before, so I’m not really sure if that’s a normal thing to do or not, but it seemed logical.

I put a bead of silicon caulking down along the bottom edge (on top of the vapour barrier, and placed the window on top of it, and then used some long screws to fasten the window in. I should mention, the window came with its own screws, which ended up being completely terrible. They were philips head, and not a very good grip. After trying to put the 3rd one in, and stripping the heads on all of them, I gave up, and used some long robertson deck screws I had instead, which also ended up sinking into the frame better. They had supplied some caps to cover the screw heads with, and aside from the fact they didn’t actually fit their screws very well, the screws wouldn’t sink all the way in (at least not without stripping the heads), so the cap would float above and look very dumb. I got all but one of the original screws back out again, but I think it will work OK (I just hope I never have to remove it for any reason!).

On the outside, I used some solid PVC trim from Home Depot. I have some 1.75″ x 1″ rectangular stuff to cover the big gaps, and 3/4″ inside round to trim out the edges. I highly recommend going this route – it’s ready to install, white (but paintable), and very easy to work with. I used a couple of screws to hold the big pieces in, and then put the inside round around the edges (covering the screw holes), and used some white exterior caulk to seal everything. In person, it looks better than the camera makes it look in these pictures.

I used some expanding foam to seal up the gap on the inside, and that’s it. There is absolutely no draft from the windows now at all, and they look much better – from both the inside and the outside.

The back window is going to be a bit different. For one, I’m replacing it with a shorter window (18″ instead of 24″, to allow room for the ceiling in the laundry room) so I’ll have to fill out the extra 6″. It’s also mounted in the poured concrete foundation, so 3 sides of the window are going to be touching the concrete. My plan is basically just to use tapcons to mount it, trim the outside, and then fill it up with foam. I’ll do a post on it later once I’m finished.

December 7, 2008

Basement sub-floor

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 5:22 pm

To do the basement sub-floor, I’m using a product called Delta-FL, which I picked up at Rona. It’s basically a big roll of dimpled plastic, which sits on top of the basement slab and acts as a vapour barrier, adds an air gap that helps insulate the floor, and also raises the floor up off the ground to avoid water damage in case there is a tiny amount of water. On top of this, I’m putting 5/8″ OSB, and then using tap-cons to secure the OSB to the floor. Although you can put some flooring (eg, laminate) directly on top of the Delta-FL, I was a bit worried about doing that since there are a couple places that aren’t totally level – the OSB lets me even them out and get very close to perfectly level.

Once very nice thing about this flooring system is the minimal height it requires. Since my basement is a bit short (7′ 3″ unfinished floor to joists, 6′ 6″ unfinished floor to heating ducts), I wanted to keep as much of that as possible. The total height is just over 1″, so it really isn’t bad.

I have a 12″ piece of vapour barrier plastic underneath all the exterior framed walls. I called the manufacturer of Delta-FL to check what the best way of dealing with that was, and they advised me to tape the barrier directly to the Delta-FL, forming basically a complete seal around the walls. I used tuck tape to do this, and tape all the pieces together. I had to cut a couple holes out to fit the floor drain, toilet drain, and a jack post in the middle of the basement.

I worked in sections, putting a couple strips of Delta-FL down, and then laying the OSB on top of it, and connecting the grooves up. Once I had a couple pieces of OSB down, I would take some tap-cons and secure down the first row – I found it was much harder to get the tongue and groves of the OSB to connect up, if one of the pieces was already screwed down. I left 1/8″ gap between all the pieces of OSB, and the exterior framing. I was also careful to stagger all the sheets of OSB, so all of the ends are offset, forming stronger joints.

For the floor drain, I just made some careful measurements and then used my jigsaw to cut out a hole.

The toilet drain happened to line up with the edge of a piece of OSB, which made cutting the hole much easier. As you can see above, I also made sure the jack post was on an edge, so I only had to cut a U shape out of one piece – the other just butts up against the edge.

Though I don’t plan on doing anything with the crawlspace floor, I did put the sub-floor into the door opening, to make it easier to put the door on, as well as to hide the edge of the floor from the finished basement.

Today it is -10° Celsius out, and the surface temperature of the unfinished floor in the crawlspace is 9°, while the surface temperature of the OSB is 14°. The basement walls are still uninsulated, so this may not be overly conclusive, but it does show that it makes a difference.

Update: My girlfriend says “the basement floor feels much warmer now”. I guess that’s conclusive.

December 2, 2008

Upgrading electical panel

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 11:59 am

The house was built in 1974, so there are two implications as far as electrical goes: there is aluminum wiring, and there is a fuse box.

Not too much I can do about the aluminum, and in fact, so long as it’s done properly, aluminum is quite safe. It’s still often used for service entrance wiring (eg, from the pole to your panel), and it’s still used extensively throughout the electricity distribution system. The only real problem happens when you connect devices (switches, receptacles) that aren’t rated for aluminum. There are special wire connectors to use (#63) when connecting aluminum wires, so that is something else to pay attention to.

As far as the fuse panel, there were a few reasons I wanted to replace it, even though it wasn’t absolutely essential. I wanted to insulate behind it, and it was mounted on a piece of plywood, directly on the cement wall. This meant that I’d have to completely take it off anyways to insulate, or just deal with a big uninsulated portion of the wall (seemed dumb, when I’m putting a lot of effort into insulating). I also don’t really like working with old boxes, and I do need to add a few circuits. Thought I had some space to expand, starting from scratch is easier. There is also the convenience factor, as breakers are simple easier to deal with than fuses.

I had an electrician do the upgrade, since to move the panel out from the wall, the wires coming from the meter needed to be extended a few inches. I didn’t really want to do that myself, or have to deal with Hydro One and the inspectors, so it was just simpler to pay someone else to do it.

Before the electrician showed up, I framed around the panel, and built a piece that would fit in easily.

If you look closely in the first picture below, you can see the gray conduit sticking out of the header, which goes directly to the gray pull box on the outside of the house in the next picture.

I put in the framing, and filled it with fiberglass insulation, 1 1/2 pieces thick, so it should be rated about R-20. A few hours after installation, I took some temperature readings: the outside temperature was ~1° Celsius; the cement wall right beside the panel was ~2° Celsius; and the plywood the panel is mounted on was ~18° Celsius.

November 30, 2008

Tear-down and framing exterior walls

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 5:01 pm

I’m going to be putting in closed-cell spray foam insulation. The big advantage here is the minimal space required – 3″ is over R-20, and it can fit in a 2×4 framed wall.

To start with , here’s a couple shots of what I ripped out.

Half of the basement had some old insulation that had an R-value of maybe R-7. It also had an integrated paper vapour barrier, which is not very effective. Not that it really mattered, the other half of the basement had no insulation at all, as you can see here.

I took out all the old insulation, and disassembled the framing, which was made of 2×3’s with 1x2s in a grid pattern. This took an amazingly long time to take apart, since it was comprised of so many separate pieces of wood.

I left a ~1″ gap between the new framing and the cement wall, which will get filled with insulation. This minimizes the amount of heat transferred through the studs themselves. All the walls are anchored into the ground with concrete nails and/or tapcons, and anchored to the joists above using extra sections. I had to leave a gap at the top of some of the walls to allow access to the headers for spraying insulation, but it’s high enough that when I put the suspended ceiling in, it will not be visible.

There were a couple of annoyances during this process. The hot water heater was only about 2″ away from the cement wall. This meant I couldn’t frame or insulate behind it, which of course would be bad. I cut the pipes above it, drained it about half way, and moved it over so it’s now about 5″ from the wall. I also moved it back towards the furnace more, which allows me to move a 5′ wall about 6″ back in the laundry room.

Luckily, the tank is connected via a flexible copper gas line, so I was able to safely move it by myself. Note that I did turn the gas off to this line just to be safe.


I also noticed that the furnace filter was on the back of the furnace, where I was going to be putting a wall. I didn’t really want to put a dumb-looking access door on the wall, so I figured I’d give turning it around a shot. I was able to pull the return vent off, and then remove a couple of screws inside and turn the filter housing around. It now is accessible from the front of the furnace, which will be inside a utility closet in the laundry room.


I also put framing up in the crawlspace, so that if I want to put shelves up or whatever, it will be easy. Once the insulation is on the walls, it’s hard to build anything in front of it, since the surface is fairly uneven. Having the framing up now gives a nice flat surface to work with later. While most of the basement is 16″ studs, the crawlspace is 24″, which makes it a bit cheaper to build. Since it’s only a 4′ high wall, there probably won’t be any reduction in the strength of the drywall, not that it needs it there anyways.

November 27, 2008

Bathroom rough-in

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 5:56 pm

Since the house has only one bathroom, we decided adding a second half-bath to the basement would be a good investment, as well as a useful addition to us right now.

When we moved in, there was an existing sink in the laundry room, which I’m pretty sure was the old kitchen sink and cabinets. I took this picture after I had taken down several cabinets (I unfortunately did not take very many ‘before’ photos), but there were two big cabinets mounted right above the sink before.


Underneath, the drain line branches towards the wall as you can see, then went out on an angle, for some reason, over to the laundry sink (which is just to the left of the countertop – don’t ask me!), so that by the time it got there, it was probably 6″ away from the wall.

I cut both the drain line and vent line off, leaving enough room to hook into later.

In preparation, I framed in the bathroom wall that will be used for plumbing, as well as the front wall with the door (partly because it was convenient to do at the time, partly because it adds some support). So how do you put a drain for a toilet in a floor that has no drain for a toilet? Make a hole.

I actually had a plumber do this part. I’m sure I could have done it myself, and smashing up my floor would have been fun, but my thought was smashing a hole through my main sewer line would have been the exact opposite of fun. You can see the main sewer line running at a 45-degree angle off to the corner of the house, and you can also see a smaller branch line which goes to a floor drain in the laundry room. The top left arm of the hole is for the sink drain. Fortunately there was just enough room above the small line in the picture that the new drain can go over top, and still be a bit more than 1″ below the floor.

The next day, the plumber came back and finished running all the pipes. I was actually going to do the supply lines myself (in PEX) but since I don’t own a PEX crimper, I figured it was easier to have the plumber do those lines as well, and it really didn’t cost that much more. My cousin came over a few days later to help cement in the hole. I forgot to take a picture, but we added in a couple ~3′ pieces of rebar to add some strength to the cement and help prevent it from cracking. It’s not the prettiest thing ever, but it is quite flat, and that’s what’s important, since I’m putting a subfloor over it later.

You can also see the new plumbing for the laundry room, including the washer box which is recessed inside the wall, and the hookup for a sink in the laundry room. I’m actually going to be putting in a cabinet and counter-top with a drop-in sink — sort of like what was there before, but.. less ugly. The laundry room is a bit of a weird shape, but the main area is about 10′ x 7′, so space is at a premium and the cabinet/sink combo seems to make more sense than a regular laundry tub.

November 20, 2008

New Kitchen Faucet

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 11:46 am

A relatively simple thing we did was replace the kitchen faucet. The kitchen was renovated fairly recently (within the last 10 years), so there is not a lot we were planning on doing with it. The old faucet was leaking from the handle a bit when turned on, and a bit ugly. It was also a bit short for the sink, making it hard to fill up pots etc sometimes.

Under the sink, the lines from the faucet were soldered to the supply lines, and only the cold side had a shut-off valve.



For the new faucet, I used flexible lines to make the connection and added new quarter-turn shut-off valves.


The faucet itself we got on sale at Canadian Tire, and it has the pull-out handle with the sprayer, and works quite well. This was a quick, relatively easy project and it made surprisingly big improvement to the overall look of the kitchen.

November 19, 2008

Updating front entrance

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 10:39 am

I haven’t been posting updates very regularly, but I have been quite busy working on my house.

One of the non-basement projects I’ve (half) completed is the front hall closet. For some reason, I didn’t take a before photo, but basically it had a bi-fold door that went all the way to the ceiling, 8′ high, with no header. It also didn’t open very smoothly, which I later figured out was because it was mounted to an old floor underneath the carpet, so it didn’t really have room for the carpet at the bottom. Needless to say, it looked quite dated. The picture to the right is the closet in my bedroom, which is the same style (and also will eventually be changed, once we get to that room).


I cut off the carpet in the main entrance (which my cat found very intriguing), and pulled it all up, revealing the 70’s stick-on tiles in all their glory. Looking underneath the heat vents in my living and dining rooms, the whole area was done in these tiles at one point. I can’t tell if the kitchen was or not – it was re-done with laminate a few years ago.

The only real way to take them out was to pull up the 1/4″ plywood they were glued to, which was overlaid on the plywood subfloor. So, that is exactly what I did. What we are planning on doing is putting down another layer of plywood or cement board, and then putting ceramic tiles on that.

Now, back to the closet itself. We decided that what we’d like is to put a sliding (bypass) mirror door. It’s only 36″ wide, so it requires a special order, but it is still big enough to be useful. The sliding door seems like the best option here – the front entrance is small, so it doesn’t take up precious extra space to swing out, and the mirror will both make the area seem a bit bigger, and make my girlfriend happy that there is one last place to check her hair etc before leaving the house.

Standard closet doors are 80″, so I filled in the space above that. I’ve hung drywall before, but I’ve never tried mudding and taping anything bigger than a light switch-sized hole. Overall, I’m fairly happy with it, but I am definitely not going to try and be a professional drywaller anytime soon.

What’s actually kind of annoying is the existing wall on the right is not straight. On such a short wall, it didn’t really matter, but now that I’m extending it, it does. If I were to make my new header follow the same angle, it would be clearly and terribly crooked looking. Instead, I opted to make my new header straight, and so when you look at it from the side the other wall is clearly a bit crooked. Hopefully it’s just something I notice (and now anyone that reads this), but it is glaringly obvious to me.

The finished header, painted. The ceiling still needs to be touched up again, but without the camera flash you actually can’t really notice the drywall mud along the ceiling.

September 23, 2008

Google Charts

Filed under: Asides,Code — groogs @ 9:17 pm

I just came across Google Charts API. This is basically a chart rendering engine that lives at Google, that you can use to render any piece of arbitrary data and display it. Very cool, and a quick and easy way to make nice looking charts, without having to install/buy a charting library.

September 1, 2008

Moving heating duct

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 10:53 pm

The main heating duct for the house entered the crawlspace by running down the side of the wall directly in front of the stairs. This meant there was a large protrusion into the room in front of the stairs, which just kind of annoyed me because it just seemed in the way, and contributed a bit to the basement feeling smaller. It also annoyed me because it looked to me like it would be easy to run the duct underneath a space in the stairs directly ahead of where it currently ran down the wall — which is exactly what I did.

The process wasn’t overly difficult or expensive. I had two 45-degree angle pieces made up at a local sheet metal shop ($66 with tax). I got a straight piece of vent and some assorted connectors and clamps at Home Depot (~$15). I also ended up buying a jigsaw — but hey, I needed one of those anyways.

Basically, I just removed the old vent that ran down the wall, and then cut the old vent back to line up with one of the joists under the stairs. I then cut out a hole in the plywood under the stairs, and started running the duct. One of the old 90-degree pieces feeds up into the a new 45-degree piece, then a small section runs with the angle of the stairway into the other 45-degree piece, which then completes the run back into the main duct.


Having never worked with duct work before, it definitely was more of a pain than I suspected it would be. There are basically two different types of connectors that connect sections together – an “S” connector that goes along the top and bottom, and a “D” connector that slides over groves on the sides and actually holds the sections together. My connections worked fine mechanically – it is very solid – but not so well with regards to leaks. I had to use a bit of foil tape to tape up the corners to avoid leaks when it was on. The existing vents do not have any tape — they just have very well done connections between duct work. I’m not sure if it is just the experience, or if there is some sort of special tool that helps (perhaps a bit of both..).

Anyways, I’m pretty pleased with the results, and the duct does not protrude from the wall at all now. This means three things: I don’t have a big thing sticking out of the wall unnaturally; I have to do a little bit less drywall work later on; and I now have a place that I can build a bar fridge into the wall (more on that later!).

August 18, 2008

Basement Layout Ideas

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 10:55 pm

I’ve spent the last few days (well, longer than that, really) pondering what the exact layout will be for the basement. So here is what it was when I first bought the house:

You can see some pictures of it in this post

The old kitchen cabinets, including the old sink, was moved into the laundry room at some point, in addition to the laundry sink already there. Behind the cabinet, a few inches away from the wall, is the main waste water pipe for the house.

Beside the stairs there is a central vacuum unit (marked CV). The fuse panel (ELEC) is on the wall behind that, and between the two (not shown) is a vent that comes down and goes under the stairs. At the bottom of the stairs, there is another vent that comes down and was boxed in by wood paneling (That is shown).

The water heater is offset from the furnace because the furnace filter access is on that side, and if the water heater is right beside the furnace the filter doesn’t come out (apparently it was installed that way initially, and then later the hot water tank was moved). In the middle of the basement is a support post.

I should also point out that there are two ducts running down the middle of the basement (about 6.5′ high) from post, to about 1′ from the bottom of the stairs. Because of the post and low ceiling, I didn’t really think the middle area would be useful to be part of the rec room, so that is why in all designs it is part of the laundry room.

So far I have taken down the all the paneling, the wall and all the cabinets that were in the center of the basement, and moved the duct that comes down at the bottom of the stairs.

My objectives for the basement are to have a laundry room, and a rec room area that I can put my desk in and use as an office, and also put a couch and TV in to use as a place to watch movies/TV. So my first design:

In this (and all designs), I am adding 2″ of rigid foam insulation around the whole basement, and then a 2×4 insulated frame on top of that. This means redoing most of the laundry room plumbing to bring it out from the wall, so moving things around is not a big deal. It also means moving the fuse panel for the same reason, which I don’t mind since I wanted to upgrade it to a breaker panel anyways, and add several new circuits for the basement.

I got thinking about it, and started wondering if I could add a bathroom. The house only has a single bathroom (3 bedrooms) so a second half bath could be quite appealing. I came up with a couple of designs, but I don’t know which I like better yet:

The first design moves the central vac from beside the stairs to beside the electrical panel. This shouldn’t be a big deal, and I was going to cut into the central vac lines anyways to add another outlet downstairs.

The second design involves moving the electrical panel about 8′ into the laundry room. I still need to check if this passes building code, and also what exactly I am allowed to do with the mains wiring (eg, do I need to get Hydro to come in and run new mains wires from the meter?). It would of course get boxed in.

Both designs also show an on-demand tankless hot water heater (which can be mounted on the wall, out of the way of the furnace filter door). This lets me move the wall about 2′ closer to the furnace, but I haven’t decided if it makes sense to switch to the on-demand heater yet, due to the high cost (I’m guessing ~$1200-$1500 installed). I probably wouldn’t see the energy savings but I may recoup the costs when I sell the house anyways – maybe tankless systems will be in high demand in 5 years. They’re certainly going in almost every house I’ve seen that was built in the last year or so.

In both designs, the toilet is also relatively close to the main waste line, which means minimal cutting into the concrete to run the waste line. There is also a vent line next to the waste line, which hopefully I can use for the bathroom as well (still need to check code on that).

So I’d love to hear feedback on which design is better (or if anyone has any other ideas).

Terminating Network Cables

Filed under: Renovations,Telephony — groogs @ 9:59 pm

After running network cables the next step, of course, is to terminate them.

Using one of the old cabinets that happened to be close to the right size, I built a rudimentary 19″ rack. It’s not too bad for a DIY rack, especially considering a small swing-out metal rack costs around $250.

I basically took an old cabinet, cut the middle shelf out and turned the whole thing on its side. I added another piece of wood from another cabinet on the other end as a mounting location for the rack-mount gear, and I pre-drilled several pilot holes at 1U spacing (to prevent the wood from cracking when putting in screws). I used part of the old middle shelf to build a new shelf to hold my modem, router, VoIP adapter, etc.

I terminated all the cables from the jacks throughout the house onto the back of a 1U 24-port patch panel.

On the main floor I have 12 jacks so far – 2 network + 1 cable in each of 3 bedrooms; 2 network + 1 cable in two separate locations in the living room; 2 network on a wall shared by kitchen/dining room. I probably would have put another jack (and a cable hookup) in the kitchen, except that I plan on doing some major renovations there in the next couple of years, so I’ll just wait, since I don’t need them now anyways.

There are a couple of benefits to using a patch panel for this job. Any “network” jack in the house can be made into either an Ethernet jack, or an analog phone line. Since I use a VoIP PBX at home, I can actually put analog extensions anywhere I’d like, and keep the VoIP adapter in the rack (like the Linksys PAP2 you see on the right). Additionally, I can use PoE injectors (or a PoE switch) and selectively send PoE to ports that need it (eg, have a VoIP phone plugged in).

I can also run different networks to different spots in the house. Most people probably wouldn’t use this, but my main MythTV server (currently in my living room) is also my PBX server, and it has a public IP (VoIP traffic on its own IP avoids QoS issues). I have a hub on my cable modem that splits the connection to the router, and sends another “raw internet” line up to the PBX server (red cable going into the patch panel).

The other end of every connection is pretty simple. I ordered all the keystone jacks, wall plates and patch cables from monoprice.com. The jacks are 1/5 the price Home Depot sells them for, and the patch cables are sold for cheaper than I can buy the parts to make them myself.


August 15, 2008

The power of jQuery

Filed under: Asides,Code — groogs @ 8:22 am

Jeff Atwood made a post today talking about the benefits of coding using Javascript frameworks. It totally echos my own thoughts and experiences on it, namely that I used to hate writing client-side code because javascript was so terrible. After discovering first Prototype + Script.aculo.us, and then completely moving to jQuery, my outlook has completely changed. I really do enjoy writing client-side code now. It’s easy, and the results are among the most immediate real programming results you can get, because it runs right there in your browser. Using Firebug, you can even test code interactively while you write it.

August 13, 2008

Inheriting constructors in C#, VB.NET

Filed under: Code,Rants — groogs @ 9:24 am

Several times, I’ve come across the need for inheriting constructors in .NET, and I am constantly annoyed that it does not work. I’m writing a business objects layer, and what I’m trying to do is create some constructors in the base class that can initialize the objects in many different ways, eg:


Public Sub New() ' Create new object using default storage
Public Sub New(ByVal storage as Storage) ' Create new object using specified storage
Public Sub New(ByVal conditions as String, ByVal parameters() as Object) ' Load an object by the specified query, using default storage
Public Sub New(ByVal storage as Storage, ByVal conditions as String, ByVal parameters() as Object) ' Load an object by the specified query
Public Sub New(ByVal id as Object) ' Load an object by the specified primary key, using default storage

And so on. I like to provide many different ways in the base classes, to 1) make writing the objects that inherit from this as easy as possible, and 2) make writing client code as easy and flexible as possible.

Unfortunately, since you cannot inherit constructors (except for the default New() constructor, if that is specified in the parent..), you cannot do this. You have to define stub constructors in each inherited object which call the parent constructor, which ends up being a whole bunch of copying and pasting, and even more work if you ever change/add a constructor.

Eric Gunnerson posted a blog entry about inheriting constructors, and there is a good discussion on it in the comments. I completely agree with Darren Oakey who suggests that constructors should be inherited if and only if no constructors are defined.

This fits in with the default behaviour of inheriting the empty constructor, and generally is compatible with existing code. The only time it would break existing code is if you have an object with no constructors that inherits from another with a non-default constructor, and you specifically want your inherited object to have the default constructor.


Public Class A
Public Sub New(ByVal value as Integer)
End Class

Public Class B
Inherits A
End Class

In the implementation right now, B only has the default (no parameters) constructor. If this change is made, B will have New(ByVal value as Integer), so existing code that assumes it has no parameters will fail. The fix for this is to explicitly define a constructor for B as:


Public Class B
Inherits A

Public Sub New()
End Sub
End Class

One of the arguments against inheriting constructors seem to be that implicit operations are bad and confusing – however, in my view, having the default constructor implicitly added in the above case is exactly the same thing. Additionally, as is pointed out in the comment thread in Eric’s post, this is also how methods behave. Why should constructors be different?

Another option is to add a class attribute that would allow constructors to be inherited, eg:


<InheritConstructors(true)> _
Class B
Inherits A
End Class

It would really make the language more powerful, and allow writing simpler and nicer code. In a simple example:


Dim cust as Customer = Customer.Load("id = {0}", 123)

becomes:


Dim cust as New Customer("id = {0}", 123)

August 10, 2008

Running network cables

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 1:44 am

With the basement torn out, and access to all of the main floor, I started running wiring for network and video. I’m running two network cables and one cable to each of the bedrooms, two spots in the family room, and one spot in the dining room.

Since the upstairs is finished, I wanted to disrupt it the least amount possible, so I purchased a 54″ flexible installer’s drill bit. It’s 9/16″ which is big enough for all the cables I’m running. The basic process is to cut out the hole in the wall where the wall plate will go, stick the bit in and drill a hole from inside the wall to the floor below, and then pull the wires back up through.

Picture of drill from inside the wall

The bit came with a special tool that goes inside the wall and directs the bit straight down. I had to use this a couple of times when a joist was directly below part of the wall. It also came with a special sleeve that clips onto a hole in the drill bit, grabs the wire, and lets the drill bit act like a fish to pull the wires back up through – very convenient.

I used a low-voltage plastic retrofit box to finish it off. This is easier than a metal retrofit box simply because I’m using keystone jacks and quite a few wires. The retrofit boxes are typically not that big, so trying to terminate several wires, including RG6 coaxial (which is not really that flexible), is easier.

I’m still waiting for all the plates and keystone jacks to arrive, so I haven’t terminated too many of these yet (just a couple to get phones and my media server going). I’ll follow up with a post about the termination later.

August 7, 2008

Starting to renovate the basement

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 9:49 pm

My girlfriend and I just bought a house. It’s a bit older – 32 years old, to be exact – and it shows, in a few places. My first big project is to renovate the basement and turn it into an office / rec-room area, and a laundry room. I figured it would be interesting to some people if I blogged, plus it is some extra motivation for me to get it done in a timely basis.

The basement is not really finished. In the main area, there is wood paneling, acoustic tile ceiling, and painted cement floor. The laundry area is just bare concrete walls, and has all the old cabinets from the original kitchen.

So the first thing I did was rip the ceiling, panels and most of the old cabinets down.

There is a crawlspace under half of the house, and the only paneling I left was for the door to the crawlspace, as I believe the door will fall apart without it. I will eventually figure out something better.

There was some kind of flower wallpaper paneling around the stairs (think wood paneling, but flower wallpaper instead of the faux-wood). This was glued to the drywall, so removing it left chunks of glue, and missing sections of drywall. There’s probably a way to remove it that wouldn’t have done this, but too late now. I just have to decide if it’s easier to sand and plaster, or just put up new drywall..

I also started taking down the wall between the main area and the laundry room, but ran into a bit of an issue with a cold-air return vent. It goes up beside the main beam, runs through the joists over top of the main air duct, and then down into the main cold air return duct. I think I’m just going to try capping it off, and then adding a new cold-air return on the other side of the basement.

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