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Our New Tool Recommendations Page

Posted by on March 19th, 2014

One major addition to our blog that I’ve absolutely been itching to do is add a proper Tools page.  About a month or so ago, I added in our new menu bar with some new pages and I put in a placeholder page.  Well, this week I finally got an opportunity to publish the completed Tools page.   You can check out the new content my clicking on the “Tools” link in the menu bar or by clicking on this big link here:

tool-recommendations

CLICK HERE FOR MY TOOL RECOMMENDATIONS.

My goal is to keep adding to this list all of the tools I use for my various projects.  So far, I’ve gotten a good start on some basic recommendations for woodworking tools.  In the future, I’d like to add tools for Electrical, Plumbing and HVAC work as well.

So this is what I’d like you to do.  Take a look at my list and if you think I’m missing anything, leave me a comment in this post and tell me.  Tools can be very personal items, so I do expect some people to take exception to some of my choices.  No problem.  Would love to get some feedback or start a conversation about our favorite power tools, brands, etc.

Thanks!!

Posted in Tools. Tagged in ,,
11

Tips for Passing an Electrical Inspection

Posted by on March 13th, 2014

Just this morning, my local township electrical inspector stopped by and reviewed the electrical work I had performed for our home office improvement project.  He gave us a passing grade, which means I officially have approval to cover the framing with drywall and finish the room.  He pointed out a couple changes I need to make before he returns, so I do need to take care of those issues.  This is probably the third or fourth time he’s been out to our house for an inspection so I’ve learned to prepare for the things he likes to see.

electrical-inspection

9 Tips for Passing an Electrical Inspection

If you are considering attempting your own electrical work on your next project, I implore you to apply for electrical permits from your local government.

Applying to do my own work was a simple process.  In this case, all I did was fill out a couple of simple forms where I stated my name, address, the scope of the work being performed (adding 4 recessed lights) and the estimated cost of the work related to the permit.  After about two weeks, the township called me and let me know my permit was approved and ready for pickup.  I paid a $61 fee to the township and got started on the rough-in work.  Once I complete the rough-in work, I schedule the inspector and he pays me a visit.

The most anxiety inducing part of this process is the rough-in inspection, but if you follow these general guidelines, you’ll be much more likely to pass the first time.

1.  Ask the Inspector First.  When you schedule the inspector, try to actually have a conversation with him or her about what they expect to see and what pitfalls you can avoid.  All inspectors should be looking for the same checks, but some have additional requirements or pet-peeves that can fail you.  Checking with them first is a great way to establish a name to a face and get a sense of their general requirements.

2.  Don’t Add Any Devices.  During the rough-in inspection, there can’t be any devices on the circuits you are adding. No outlets, no lights, no switches, nada, nunca.  If you are adding an outlet to an existing circuit, then the NEW outlet should also not be installed either.  The rest of the outlets on that circuit that were originally there are probably fine, but if you disturbed the wiring in any outlet, it shouldn’t have a device for the inspection.

tie grounds

3.  Tie Your Grounds Together.  In each outlet or electrical box location, the ground wires should be tied together.  This is something my inspector noted today.  Don’t tie anything else together though.  The hot and neutral leads should remain separate.

fire block

4.  Fire Block.  Any holes or penetrations from one floor to the next or from one wiring passage to the next needs to be blocked so as to prevent a fire using the hole as a breathing hole or chimney.  Typically, you can use fire block expanding foam (which is bright orange in color) or regular fiberglass insulation to fill or plug these kind of holes.

plug holes

5.  Plug Holes in Boxes.  This one was new to me and I’ll have to fix it.  The electrical box I used have these bendable tabs where the cable enters.  Well one of these tabs snapped off.  The inspector told me I need to plug it.  I’ll probably use insulation and jam it in the hole here.

proper breaker

6.  Use Correct Breaker.  Another correction I’ll have to make is the circuit breaker I installed.  The breaker in this application needs to be an 15 amp Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI) and I had installed a regular 15 amp breaker.  The AFCI’s prevent arcs and are required on all circuits that feed living spaces (I think).  You can buy AFCI’s in any hardware store and they are several times more expensive than regular breakers.

7.  Don’t Power the Circuit.  Although the wires for the new circuit can be tied into the new breaker, the breaker needs to remain off or unpowered.  It shouldn’t be powered up until all the devices are installed.

wire nuts

8.  Cover the Wires with Wire Nuts.  All the wire ends need to have wire nuts on them even if they don’t have any exposed conductor.  Same goes for the ground wires.

9.  Secure Cables with Staples.  Cable runs need to be secured to framing every so many feet with cable staples.

That’s pretty much all I have for the rough-in inspection.  If you have any others, please leave them in the comments.  If you’ve never done your own electrical work, then I suggest you work with someone more experienced before you attempt it yourself.  Be safe and good luck.

If you enjoyed this post, please share it. 

Have any inspection horror stories?  I’d love to hear those too, so leave them in the comments section.

Posted in DIY Projects,Electrical. Tagged in ,, ,
4

Wiring for the Office Lights

Posted by on March 10th, 2014

In this post, you’ll learn 

- How to use chalk lines to mark for center

- How a compass and a drywall saw are used for ceiling light holes

Late last week, I got a call from our local township that our electrical permit was approved.  Right after I picked it up, I got started.   When I last left off, the coffered ceiling was all framed out.  We decided to go with four lights in the room: three in the center section and one over where the desk will be located.  Let me start by showing you how I marked and cut the locations for the lights, since it’s a fairly useful trick to learn.

Wiring for the Office Lights

The three lights that would be in the coffered ceiling section of the office would be centered in the middle of a few of those ceiling squares.  To make marking the center of the squares easier, I snapped a chalk line from opposing corners.

marking the center

Where the two lines intersected is the center of the box.  Next, I used a compass and drew a circle 4″ in diameter, which is what was required for the lighting fixtures we bought.

can light circle

After the circle was drawn out, I used a hand held drywall saw to cut the hole out.

cutting circle

With all the holes cut out in the ceiling, I proceeded to run some Romex cable in the tracks created by the coffered ceiling I-beams to each hole location.  As required by code, I also stapled the cables to the structure every few feet.  Later on, before the rough-in inspection, I’ll fill in those holes in the framing with fire block foam.

wires run

Just to give you a little more details on the wiring… I used 14-2 sized Romex.  That means it’s 14 gauge wire with 2 conductors.  14 gauge is used for 15 amp circuits and therefore needs to be tied into a 15 amp breaker.  This lighting is going on it’s own circuit, which is created when I add a new breaker in the breaker box.  The breaker box I own is a Square D brand box and the 15 amp breaker I buy needs to be a Square D breaker in order to install properly.  It’s kind of a waste to be adding an entire circuit just for four lights, so I’ll probably tie in additional basement lights into this same circuit whenever we get around to finishing the basement.

As I mentioned, the office will have four lights, with three being controlled by one switch and the fourth light getting its own dedicated switch.  I’m locating those switches in a place where I previously had a switched outlet for the office.  I’m removing the switched outlet setup and just adding these two new switches for the overhead light.

Because I’m adding this coffered ceiling framing, it made running the wires to these lights considerably easier than if I didn’t have the framing.  Without the framing, the wires would need to come up inside the walls and into the joist space.  To pull that wire through, I’d have to cut holes in the drywall and the ceiling in multiple locations.  Overall, it’s be easier NOT to do the coffered ceiling, but since I’m already doing it, the wiring is made easier.

At this point, I’m ready for my rough-in inspection.  Once the inspector passes the work, I’ll be given the go-ahead to start drywalling the bare wood.  He won’t need to come back until the room is completely finished.

This isn’t the first time I used a chalk line to help me with my electrical work.  I also used in when we installed an additional outlet in the dining room.  If you’re interested in how I ran cables, definitely check that post out as it goes into more depth than this post.

Thanks for reading.  If you enjoyed this post, please share it. 

Posted in DIY Projects,Electrical,Lighting. Tagged in ,, ,
6

6 Things to Consider Before you Buy a Home

Posted by on March 7th, 2014

One thing I’d like to do more often on our blog is general home improvement discussions.  They can be a little less exciting than some project posts, but they can end up providing WAY more value to casual readers and our newsletter subscribers alike.

In today’s post, I want to share with you some of my advice as it pertains to purchasing a home.  How old?  Well, generally a home of any age including new construction, but it applies especially well to older homes.

So, let’s assume you’re in the market for a home.  You know your budget.  You know the neighborhood and school system you want to live in.  You found a few homes you want to view.  Maybe you are trying to decide if the home you really like at the moment is worth the investment.  Is it a money pit?  Are there hidden costs down the road?  What do you absolutely need to know about the house before you make an offer?

Here are 6 Things to Consider BEFORE you Buy a Home.  They largely pertain to the material condition of the house and can help you make a more informed decision about a potential purchase.

before you buy a home

1. The Roof.  Not necessarily the biggest expense, but a costly one nonetheless.  When we are talking about roofs, we’re generally talking about the shingles, especially if it’s an angled, single home roof.  Flat roofs also have a similar covering and also suffer from the same type of wear over time.  Shingles range in quality and expected lifetime, but you can expect to see a manufacturer offer warranties in the 30 to 50 year range.  If the home you’re looking doesn’t have a new roof and it’s near the end of the warranty, then you can expect to have to replace it while you own the home.  You may want to have a roofer give you a rough estimate to see what the costs would be even if you don’t have to replace it for several years.

You also definitely want to take a hard look at all the ceilings in the house.  If there is discoloration on any ceiling, it can be a result of a roof leak.  It’s either that or a leak from a bathroom.  If the leak is terrible, or if the house is older than 30-50 years, there may be multiple layers of shingles and damage to the plywood beneath the shingles.  That sort of repair is more costly, but not necessarily a deal-breaker.

2. The Furnace.  This one is a biggie.  There are oil furnaces, gas furnaces, propane furnaces, hot water baseboard, steam radiators, electric baseboards.  Age is not necessarily a factor quite as much with furnaces.  Functionality and maintainability are more the concern with heaters.  Get the manufacturer’s name and the part number during your walk thru and then you can Google it to determine how much it costs on average to maintain.  You may want to call an HVAC contractor to determine both how often they need to repair those units and a rough replacement cost.  Also take a look at whether or not the unit has an air conditioner attached to the heater, especially if it’s forced air heat or “central air”.  Often times, the forced air heat furnaces can be upgraded to a full heat/AC system.  If you do need to replace the furnace, depending upon the configuration, it can set you back anywhere from $5k-$15k on average.

3. The Foundation.  The foundation is not one of those areas where you want to take risks, in my opinion.  If the home has a basement, especially if it’s unfinished, you should check for deep cracks in the wall and water intrusion issues.  Most water intrusion issues can be fixed fairly reasonably with caulk or hydraulic cement.  Some settling will occur over time, so it’s not unusual to see cracks in drywall a few years after the house was built.  You want to look for the big things, like an addition pulling away from the main house or loose and crumbling foundation stone or concrete.  If you have major reservations, have a concrete contractor that specializes in pouring foundations come take a look at it.  To keep the contractor honest, you can pay him a flat fee just to inspect it and let him know upfront that if any major work is indeed required, that you’ll be hiring someone else.  That way there is no motivation for the contractor to embellish the required repair to get more work.

4. The Utilities.  This one is enormously important.  When we prepared to start looking at houses, we were very fixated on monthly mortgages, interest rates and taxes.  When it comes to utilities though, we just assumed that the heat and electric would be $200-$300 a month on average.  That was because we based our assumptions on using natural gas and keeping the house at a certain temperature throughout the year.  If we looked at a home that used propane instead, that monthly heating bill could go up to $1000 a month, not including electric.  Before you decide to purchase a home, make sure you have a clear understanding of what the utility bills will be like each month and include a warm and cold weather average.

5. The Septic or Sewer.  Our first home had access to the city sewer and our current home has a septic tank.  We haven’t noticed much difference between either yet in terms of performance.  The only day to day concern is the garbage disposal and the toilet paper.  You’re not supposed to use a garbage disposal with a septic tank system.  Not exactly sure why, but something about it affecting the bacteria balance within the tank.  It could cause it to back up or fail if you use it too frequently.  We’ll be composting soon enough though, so we should be cutting down on our trash.  So just be aware of that requirement.  Some people have said you can use certain disposals, but in my opinion, its better not to risk it.  You also can’t clean out paint brushes or roller trays.  Latex paint forms a film that if passed through your septic system can clog your leech field requiring an enormously expensive repair.  So wash your brushes out in a bucket and don’t flush the water down the drain.  You also need to use toilet paper that is septic safe.  Not a big increase in price or aggravation, but you do need to be aware of it.  This change may no be a big deal to you, but for some people it’s a deal breaker.

6. Any HAZMAT.  Particularly of concern in older homes, there can be a lot of hazardous materials present in older homes.  There can be asbestos in siding shingles, furnace or pipe insulation, flooring glue and flooring materials as well as some types of plaster.  You may find lead paint on older trim work.  If you have grand visions of buying an older home, gutting it and then refinishing it for a reasonable price, those dreams become significantly more expensive if the plaster you wanted to demo contain asbestos, or if the siding or flooring contain asbestos.  You need professional service teams to do that removal for you and it’s not cheap.  It’s also not worth the risk to your health that removing it yourself will cause.  You may be able to get a small sample of the plaster or vinyl flooring tested at a local lab for asbestos before you purchase the home or ask the current owner or seller to perform that test for you.

I hope you found this list both helpful and insightful.  If you enjoyed it, please share it.  Also, please consider signing up for our free e-newsletter so you can be the first to know when content like this is available.

Posted in House Knowledge. Tagged in ,,
10

Coffered Ceiling Framing

Posted by on February 27th, 2014

In this post you will learn

-A unique approach to framing out a coffered ceiling

Over the last few evenings, I’ve managed to squeeze in some office work.  Not the typical office work one would expect, but the kind where I’m screwing 2×6′s to my ceiling.  THAT sort of office work.   As of today, the coffered ceiling framing is in place.  Once I get the go-ahead from my local township to start the electrical work, I’ll be pulling cable through the walls.

Here’s how the office looks right now.

coffered ceiling framed out

When the wiring is done, all of that wood will get covered in drywall and then wrapped in crown molding.  If you’re new to our site, we’re going for a unique, drywalled coffered ceiling instead of one made from all hardwood.  The framing wood method SHOULD end up being cheaper than an all-hardwood approach, but I’ll let you know once the room is all wrapped up.

Ultimately, depending on how this ceiling turns out, we’re looking to add a coffered ceiling in our family room and kitchen space.  This is a warm-up of sorts for us.  The family room and kitchen ceiling is about four times as large.

So let me rewind this project a bit and show you how this ceiling took shape.

We started with the soffit we’re installing above the built-ins.  Aren’t soffits old fashioned?  They certainly can be, but we’re hoping it gives our built-ins a bigger look.  TBD.  The soffits are just two 2×4 frames that we fastened to the wall.  They extend out as far as the future cabinets taking into account that they’ll get covered in drywall.

office before

soffit frame

So the soffits are JUST for the cabinets.  With the framing for that completed, it was time to turn our attention to the coffered ceiling frame.  I started by fastening a 2×6 at the top of the wall all the way around the room.  The 2×6 was butted up against the ceiling.

channel

To the 2×6, I nailed a 2″ wide strip of 2x wood to the very top and very bottom of the 2×6.  This left a middle channel on the 2×6 that was 2.5″ wide.  That’s the same width as a 2×3.

coffered ceiling frame

With this channel in place all the way around the room, I then used a chalk string to snap chalk lines to mark where the ceiling joists were located.

coffered ceiling channel

Knowing exactly where the joists are located makes fastening the longer beams to them much, MUCH easier than trying to guess or use a stud finder at a later point.

Next, I built two long “I-beams” that consisted of a 2×6 on the top and bottom with a 2×3 on edge sandwiched in the middle.  I used construction adhesive (aka liquid nail) and my pneumatic nail gun to build them.  These two long beams spanned the length of the entire room and were intentionally run perpendicular to the ceiling joists.  I made the middle 2×3 section longer by a couple inches so it could be inserted into the channel that went around the room.  It made installing these beams crazy easy.  The beams just rested in the channel until I screwed them into the ceiling joists.

frame close up

This whole channel system made the work a little heavier than I’d like, but it enabled me to put all that wood up by myself.  I also used my SketchUp drawing to mark exactly where the beams needed to be located.  Considering how hard it looks, this was surprisingly simple to do.

So what are the key takeaways from this post that you can use on your own project?

- Chalk lines are your friend

- Don’t be afraid to try a different approach to a common project

What home improvement project is next on your radar?  Are you thinking about taking a different approach with a certain aspect of it?

Posted in DIY Projects. Tagged in ,, ,
10

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