Sunday, September 23, 2007

More Electrical "Fun"

It's Sunday morning and I've been awake since 5:30. Once my brain slips into gear in the morning, there is no going back to sleep for me. To avoid waking anybody else up I decided to spend some quality time in the basement doing some more electrical work. The main task was to replace the old worn-out outlet which the washer & dryer plug into. I assume it was original to the house. It was worn to the point where the plugs wiggle easily and could fall out - an easy problem to fix with a new $.79 outlet. It was mounted in a shallow double-gang metal box with metal lid - nothing out of the ordinary. I trip the breaker and check to make sure there is no power before I start this time. The circuit tester confirms the outlet is dead, so I start to remove the two screws holding the cover plate in place. First one is fine, but the second screw is a fucking wood screw. Yeah, a screw with a sharp point and sharp coarse threads is the perfect choice for electrical work, especially if you want to pierce the wire's jacket and short the whole damn thing out.

In the conduit and box are two red and one white. The red are hot lines and the white is the neutral. The washer/dryer are on their own circuit which is exactly what I wanted to see - that accounts for one of the red/hot lines and the white/neutral. The white/neutral runs from the fusebox to this outlet where it then follows the other red/hot. Basically, I've got one neutral for two circuits. As I posted yesterday, I'm not an electrician and don't know if this is common or not, but the plug I'm replacing is less than 5 feet from the fusebox. Just run the neutral the full length with the fucking hot you moron! Why tie it into an outlet and create another splice in the process? Since there is another hot in the conduit, I kill that line at the breaker before I switch out the outlet since both circuits share a neutral and I really don't want to wake up the family by screaming like a girl and pissing my pants while I get electrocuted.

So getting back to how it's laid out, the washer/dryer are good to go with a new outlet. The wood screw has f'd up the screw hole on the box, so I either have to replace the box or make it safer. "Safer" it is since I don't want to have to re-wire the whole thing. I blunted the point on the screw and pushed all the wires to the other side of the box. It's a double-gang box with a single outlet, so there is plenty of room. The cover is replaced and all is well.

Oh, did I mention that the other red/hot wire supplies power for the lights in the laundry area, the water softener, the sump pump, and the furnace? Not to mention an extra pair of outlets which aren't in use right now because they are old-school ungrounded outlets. Whoever the genius is that did this deserves a punch in the throat. When we replace the service panel and upgrade to 200 Amp I'm moving the furnace to it's own circuit and doing the same with the sump pump.

Update from yesterday's rant: Here's a picture of that cool (crappy) light I removed which was hard-wired and had the electrical box secured only to the fixture and not to a stud. I'm 95% sure it was originally a light over a pool table, and I'm 100% sure the installation sucked copious amounts of ass.

This joke of a wiring job is how the P.O. connected an electric stove when the place originally was set up for gas. I don't know what else is run inside the line supplying the stove, but the conduit runs towards the far end of the house where there is a fake fire-place with heat-o-lator (which will be removed with extreme-prejudice in the near future). Let's see just how fucked up this is... The power cord is hard-wired into this box, which is mounted in a half-ass manner to the double-gang box. The other end of the plug is hard-wired to the stove. The end in this picture used to be the plug, which would allow you to unplug the stove to move it. That wouldn't work here, because the plug won't fit through the hole in the floor which used to be for the gas supply. Basically, the stove isn't going anywhere without tripping the breaker and unhooking the wires at one end or the other. I guarantee this is not up to code without even looking it up. Oh, did I mention that where the plug goes through the box was just wrapped with electrical tape instead of something a little more safe? Yeah, that tape is good for 50+ years of protection from chafing of the wire. Jackass... The most worrisome item for me is that if there is a big water spill in the kitchen and the water gets behind the stove, it's going to go right through the hole and follow the wires down to the box. There isn't enough of a drip-loop in the wire to keep it from shorting out. Somehow the city electrical inspector didn't notice this although my home-inspector got a laugh out of it. Since we're changing back to gas, I didn't make the P.O. pay to fix it. Assuming it was her husband who did it and he's long since dead I didn't see any reason in letting her know how lucky she is that he didn't burn the place down. Damn I'm a nice guy.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Our House's Previous Owner was NOT an Electrician

Preliminary note: if you're not sure about a circuit, be safe and turn off power by tripping the breaker.

I'm not an electrician either, but I do know how to do things in a manner which won't kill me or the next guy. The P.O. in our case wasn't an electrician, and he sure as hell didn't know how to do electrical work properly (my first clue was the half-ass wiring for the ceiling fan/light in the kitchen). This time, it's the basement wiring which was added at least 20 years ago to provide additional light to the basement, back when they used to have a bar down there. It was done with a combination of rigid and flexible conduit, and on the surface it looked OK - no visible wires, conduit clamped to the plug boxes, etc. Both lights I was changing out were old, crappy, and hardwired so they needed to be removed and replaced with grounded outlets so I could plug in some generic fluorescent tube fixtures. The basement is only used for storage and laundry, so fluorescent tubes are good enough for now.

Once I started taking things apart is when I found what kind of half-ass job was done. Typically on a switched outlet, if you flip the switch to the "off" position it breaks the circuit's black/hot wire and the fixture is dead because power can't get to the fixture. I'll usually work down-stream from the switch like this in relative safety (I'm dealing mainly with very simple circuits in this case, and if I'm in doubt or if I'm replacing the switch itself I kill power at the breaker). In this case, the P.O. put the switch controlling the light on the white/neutral line instead of the black/hot, so even with the switch off live power was still going to the crappy old hardwired light I was removing. Normally this is easily found ahead of time, but the light fixture I was removing was a 1' x 2' pool table light which was screwed directly to the floor joists with an electrical box screwed to it's top. I removed the screws holding the light to the joists and as I was lowering the light I decided to pull the circuit tester from my back pocket to check things out, since I didn't know what was hiding in the conduit (my circuit tester doesn't read power if the wires are in the conduit - it only registers power when the wires are exposed). Lucky for me I did check it before starting to remove the electrical box screwed to the light and found out it was live, or I could have easily become the circuit's ground. To make it more fun, the P.O. did a crappy job using flexible conduit for this run. There was not a solid ground from the flexible conduit to the electrical box, so he wrapped a length of copper wire around the conduit and ran it through the screw holes on the box. Yeah, that'll work.

The last fcuk-up in wiring by the P.O. was that he used way too much flexible conduit. I've got about 2' too much line flopping around between the open studs. Oh yeah, it's not secured to the studs either, or I wouldn't care quite as much about having too much conduit. Tomorrow I'll have to stop out and get some clamps to secure the conduit to the studs.

Holy Half-Ass Wiring Job, Batman!

Long story short, I killed power at the breaker and replaced the old switch and re-wired the circuit so that power is cut on the black/hot instead of the white/neutral. The fixture was replaced with a new single-gang box and grounded plug, properly set up to connect to the flexible conduit. As much excess conduit as possible was removed from the line to clean things up. I went from having three small light fixtures in the basement to having five generic shop-type dual-bulb fluorescent tubes. Now that I've got good lighting I have noticed a number of other "interesting" electrical adventures in my future. Since the old bar was ripped out long ago I am guessing a number of the old circuits down there could be removed to clean things up a bit. I haven't checked code, but I would think that the water pump should be on a dedicated circuit and not have three other outlets on the line with it...

The funny thing is that our house passed an electrical inspection done by the city before we could take ownership. These problems weren't super obvious (like the hardwired 220 line for the stove done in an even more half-ass manner - more on that when I get to that part of the kitchen renovation) but should have been noticed if they were serious about the inspection.

Moral of the story: just because the P.O.'s work looks OK, don't trust it until you check it yourself. You're P.O. might have flunked Electrical 101.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Kitchen Wiring

I've been lazy for the last week and haven't replaced the old switches and outlets. Until today. I scraped a dozen old layers of paint off the screws and removed the switches from the boxes. One thing which has bugged me since we moved in is that the previous owners did a little custom wiring of their own. When you walk into the kitchen, the light over the table should be able to be turned on from the hallway entrance or the back door. However, after the house was built a ceiling fan with light was added and they decided to f' up the wiring so they could have one switch for the light and one for the fan. The problem? One switch was at the hallway and the other switch at the back door. These used to be 3-way switches and now they're 2-way. At the hallway, they just removed the third wire. They did have sense enough to wrap the cut wire with electrical tape at least. Note all the grunge on the switches - yum!

At the back door I have no idea what they did, as the wires aren't marked and there is no obviously disconnected wire(s). I'll need to pull the ceiling fan from the ceiling to see what kind of mess I've got there, and once that is done I should be able to get things back in order. We're removing the fan from over the table and will go with a regular light fixture on 3-way switches. The switches here (and in most of the house) are wired utilizing those damn push-in connections. Half of them are loose enough to slide a bit as I pull the switches from the boxes. They're easy and fast, but I don't trust them.

Here's one thing I don't trust about them. One switch had some electrical tape wrapped around one side. At first, I thought it was to cover a side terminal - it wasn't. As I peeled the tape off, a chunk of the old switch came off with it. Yay for quality original switches!

Am I the only one who installs all new cover plates with the screws all lined up vertically? It may be over-the-top when it comes to worrying about detail, but I think it makes it look more professional. I have no life....

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Cleaning Product Round-Up

I'm home sick today. Not because I feel like death-warmed-over, but because I have to interact with a lot of people during the day and don't want to take the blame for getting my co-workers sick. I've got plenty of sick-days left for the year, so I may as well relax at home. Well, there isn't much relaxing since I can't just sit around. I took a drive to Menards to get a spare filter cartridge for the water filter and figured since I'm there, I might as well grab some more cleaners. All the stuff we used to use at our old house is useless here, due to the iron/rust in our water, so when we find something which works we stock up.

My definition of a "successful" cleaner is one which works with minimal scrubbing. Why work harder than we have to?? I've previously posted about my love for Super Iron Out, and since that time we've found a couple of other cleaners which also work wonders with our crappy water. Summit Brands is first on my Christmas list this year. I loved how fast and easy Super Iron Out works, so when I saw Instant Rust Out from the same company I figured it was a safe bet for $2.00. I tried it in the two worst areas for rust - under the toilet rim and in the bathtub. The rust in the tub dissolved quickly and with no scrubbing so I gave it a shot on the toilet. The problem we've had in cleaning the toilets is that the rust is up under the rim where it's hard to get cleaners on it long enough for them to work. The Instant Iron Out spray bottle is small enough to fit into the toilet far enough to spray on the rust. 20 seconds later and the rust is almost completely gone. No scrubbing or other effort other than applying a second spray to finish the job. This stuff is cheap and easy (like me) and works great.

I also tried Lime Out Extra from Summit Brands, but since we didn't have much of a problem with lime it wasn't too successful for us. It did seem to put a big dent in the toilet rim rust, but not without a lot of scrubbing and re-applying. I won't bother buying this one again. I would like to try their White Brite if I find it locally and I assume it works like Super Iron Out on laundry. One of the larger Super Iron Out bottles I bought a month ago came with their toilet tank tablet. I tried it and it seems to slow down the rust, but I still get rust build-up in a few days time. In the interest of saving money and using fewer chemicals, I'll probably not buy these again and just pour a little Super Iron Out in the tank every week or so. If I ever get smart, I'll put one of the tablets in one toilet tank and leave the other empty to see how much of a difference it really makes.

Sloppy kisses are also being sent out to HomeCare Labs, makers of "the Works" cleaners. Our neighbors have told us about the Works spray cleaner, and we agree that it works great for cleaning the bathtub and surround. It does require a light wipe-down with water to finish the cleaning process or you end up with streaks. It has worked well enough for us that we decided to give their toilet bowl cleaner a shot. Just like Instant Rust Out, this stuff made the rust disappear in quick order. It's shaped to allow you to shoot it under the rim, which is handy, plus it's designed for regular cleaning of the toilet so it's a one-chemical solution for the bowl.

Besides working well, all of these products are reasonably priced, something which is important for us since we need to use 'em so often. If you've got rusty water, give these a try.

Since I'm on a roll complaining about my water, I found a test-strip to check my water hardness. I ran a hose for a few minutes (since the hose bibs outside are the only water sources I have which don't go through the water softener). This picture was taken an hour or so after I did the test, and the test strip faded a little in that time. Basically, I don't have hard water. I have Sweet-Jebus-That-Water-is-so-Hard-You're-Off-the-Charts water. I'll have to "borrow" a couple more free pamphlets (which include a test strip in each) from Morton's when I go back to Menards to see how the water rates after it goes through the old softener. I think I've got it set properly for daily use, but it doesn't hurt to check.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Kitchen Takes a Big Step Towards Non-Crappiness

When we moved into the house in March, here's what the main wall of our kitchen looked like - wood paneling and linoleum flooring. The walls hadn't been painted in at least a decade and were very grungy. Soon after this picture was taken, the paneling was removed and the back door in was replaced.

For the past month, we've had a very colorful kitchen to look at as we tried to decide which colors to go with. We decided on the far right dark beige (Sherwin William's Wheatfield) for that main wall, and the lightest beige on that same wall (Kilim Beige) for the other walls. Today was the day I finally had enough of looking at the walls painted like this. Off came the outlet covers and the trim and flooring was covered. Unlike most of the other floors in the house, I actually care about the kitchen floor because it's the travertine tile I installed a few months back.

Like the living room and hallway, I primed the walls and added some new texture to make the walls look like they aren't covered with a dozen layers of paint. Even with the primer you can still see the test colors peeking through. Nate: Want a ceiling fan/light?

We (I) painted the accent wall first and as soon as I started, we decided that the color looks like something you'd find in a baby's diaper. The lighter beige really made it look bad, but by itself it looks great. I broke out a sample of the darker color we had from the 1/2 bath renovation and tried it (as shown in the pic below), and we liked how that looked so we picked up a quart of that to repaint the wall.

It's not obvious in this picture, but the accent wall is now painted the darker color (Sherwin William's Tamarind) and the other walls are painted Kilim Beige. The colors go well with the flooring, but we really need to get some additional color in the kitchen now. The ceiling has yet to be painted, as I didn't have enough ceiling white to do that today. Well, I have enough, but it's flat paint and not suited for a kitchen ceiling. Plus I need to relocate the ceiling fan so it's centered over the kitchen table which means I'll have a little patch-work to do before it gets painted. Tomorrow I'll replace the outlets and switches. Overall, it looks a LOT better than it did yesterday and a metric ass-load* better than it did when we moved in.

* "metric ass-load" is a unit of measure invented in the early 40's by the Royal Navy. It's about 30% heavier than a U.S. ass-load.

Water Pressure

Over the past few weeks, I've been noticing that our water pressure has been lower than I had remembered it being. It wasn't a major difference, but it was something that I planned on looking into at some time. Well, yesterday it really started bugging me as I noticed that water pressure dropped severely when I flushed a toilet or ran water from the tap. I checked the pressure tank and it read the same 60 pounds that it has had since we bought the place, so I figured that wasn't the problem. The next thought was that it was an issue with a clogged line somewhere, but since the copper supply lines are large enough, I figured that wasn't it either. Tracing the supply lines and checking faucets upstairs and in the basement found that all were low on pressure, so there was definitely an issue somewhere. The only thing I could find which could be the culprit was the water filter I installed. In an earlier post, I droned on and on about the water filter I installed to help combat the rust we get from our water well. About a month and a half ago I pulled the filter and cleaned it in some Super Iron Out to get rid of the excess rust. I never thought that there was other stuff clogging it, and that's what was causing my low pressure problem. A new filter was installed and we're back to normal. Some people install pressure gauges before and after their water filters which give them a visual notification as to when their filters are getting clogged. When I eventually re-plumb the supply lines for a new water softener I'll probably install a larger filter and put the gauges in. Until then, I'll just change the filter every few months and be done with it.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Mmmmm, Paint Fumes Smells Gooooods

Are you done yet? Watching paint dry sucks.

The walls are painted and now it's time to replace the grungy old switches, outlets, and cover plates. The switches here are the original 30+ year old ones, with a new white cover plate sitting in place. The paint is getting a couple of days to fully dry/cure before I put the plates in place. Since you're wondering, the pieces of blue tape are areas which need a small touch-up of paint. It was darn near impossible to see the spots like this when the paint was wet.

The urine-yellow closet is no more, replaced by a boring/neutral light-beige. The wood flooring is original to the house and still in really good shape. It's probably never been refinished, since it can't get a whole lot of wear in such a small closet.

If a gimmick tool works, is it still a gimmick? The dark paint strip was done with a paint edging tool shown in the pics below. You just dip the pad in paint and run it along the edge between the wall and ceiling. It's got guide wheels which keep it from hitting the adjacent wall. It's MUCH faster than cutting in by hand, and it does a LOT better job than I could do without it. To edge the whole room at the ceiling, baseboard, and around doors took about 45 minutes total. Since I'm tall, I didn't even need to use a ladder. I rule.

This is the paint edging tool. Very simple - a handle, a pad, and two wheels. I got this one years ago, and think HD still sells them. You can see the little guide wheels to the right side of the tool.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Bye Bye Dirty Ugly Walls

It's been a long time coming, but the painting is well underway, even with a slightly hurting back. 1-1/2 gallons of primer and a gallon of ceiling white later and the living room and hallway are looking a LOT better. The walls are only primed, but not seeing the old nail holes or marks where shelving was really has the room looking good. After the walls get a night to dry, I'll put the paint on the walls. I'm going with Killem Beige by Sherwin Williams, and we'll have an accent wall in the kitchen of a darker shade.

The front entrance patch blends in nicely with the old wall, too. I still have to patch in the base molding. When the carpet is replaced, it'll cover the flooring patch I put in after the demolition.

The front closet is no longer urine-yellow in color. Well, it partially is in this picture, but it's done now in reality. A bare white closet doesn't make for a good picture, though. That back wall was really torn up from the past few decades of use. I have some leftover light beige from the 1/2 bathroom which I may use on this closet instead of using the Killem Beige. Might as well find a use for the remaining 2/3 gallon I have left over, since it won't be used anywhere else in the house.

Attn: Murphy. Your Laws Suck!

Ok, so the other day when I gave myself the pop-quiz as to what the long weekend had in store I said I was going to get rolling on the living room work (yeah, and also check out what those wacky Germans do for fun). The answer I gave for the quiz was off - it should have been "F: Pull a back muscle moving furniture and lay on the floor for an hour by myself in the house hoping I don't suddenly have to take a wicked leak cause there was no way I'd make it to the bathroom in less than 20 minutes."

Luckily (?) I've been through this before and knew this one wasn't too bad, but it did force me to put the bulk of the work on hold for most of the day. Towards the end of the day I was able to move around enough to get the lighter furniture moved and all the trim taped. Today I got rolling on the rolling, and am putting down a coat of primer with some sand texture added to make the texture look new. I was going to spray new knock-down texture, but the more I look at it, the more I'm happy with the sand texture. Plus, it's a hell of a lot less messy and time-consuming. Once I put down the final coat of paint, the sharp texture of the new sand should blend in nicely with the old sand.

What's really taking a metric ass-load of time is actually rolling the paint instead of spraying. I love how fast and easy it is to spray, but the overspray and having to cover EVERYTHING sucks when the house is full of stuff. Doing bedrooms isn't bad since those can easily be emptied of everything, but the living room has couches, TV, etc., which I don't want to mess with. Before & after pics will be posted when I get around to it. But first, it's time to head to HD to use a gift-card I got from my Realtor. It's out of the way and I don't like spending money there, but free is free and I need new paintbrushes.