Our New Old House

1918 Bungalow


Archive for the ‘electricity’ Category

Guest Blogger: Gianfranco Berardi

Today I’m handing over the posting to my dear friend, Gianfranco. “Franco” as we (I) like to call him writes his own blog, GBGames’ Blog: An Indie Game Developer’s Somewhat Interesting Thoughts. After he and Colleen visited a couple weeks back he wrote up a great account of their trip. It’s been a couple weeks since I posted about the visit, so here’s a link to mine as well. Take it away, Franco!


Wow, I’ve never written a guest blog post before! I can get used to this!

/me sips his martini and relaxes into his recliner.

Kelli had told me about a number of the tasks she was hoping to accomplish with her house, and when she mentioned the need to break about the front stairs with a sledge hammer, how could I not offer my services? Besides visiting my friends, I could destroy a house!

Colleen and I traveled on Friday night, at one point stopping at a gas station near an interesting sign.

Thuersday is before Caturday

When we arrived at the house, it was a little after midnight, but we still ended up talking for a bit. There was a futon setup for us, and Scratch even let us know he inspected it to make sure we’d be well rested for the morning.

What? It's Caturday!

I had to meet the mantis myself, and I was sorry to hear of its recent passing.

The Mantis

Kelli informed us that some cleaning product claims are bunk. After seeing all the work she had done, I am inclined to believe she knows what she’s talking about.

Cleaning Product Displeasure

We got a late start on Saturday, so we had a late breakfast before starting our work. Actually, we took a break after eating all that food first. It was a long break. Scratch helped.

Cat lap nap

Brandon was tasked with destroying part of the kitchen to make room for a dishwasher. I removed staples from the ceiling. Colleen worked on scraping paint off of the wall in the front bedroom, and Kelli scraped stuff off of the floor. I kept feeling like something was missing when I realized we didn’t have any house work music playing! Kelli fixed that problem quickly enough, and we were jamming.

Time to dance!

Some of the staples were tricky and didn’t want to leave the ceiling, but I showed them! I also found a spider and decided that its name should be Wally. I should have taken a picture of Wally, but instead I took a picture out the kitchen window into the backyard.

View out the back window

After Brandon removed the greased-up lampshade from the ceiling in the kitchen, I cut the wire that was left. It won’t be bothering anyone for a long time.

It's gone, for now

After a bit of work, we had a mostly staple-free ceiling, a hole where a cabinet used to be, and cleaner walls and floors. We went out for dinner and watched a DVD as a reward. Colleen went to sleep while Kelli, Brandon, and I walked around the town a bit. Kelli pointed out a number of the other houses in the area that either had been recently fixed-up or will be.

It rained the next day. I learned that there are plants growing in the gutters, which I think would be cool but then I don’t own a house with plants in the guttrs during a rainstorm. They’ll have to go soon, I’m sure.


The basement also had a bit of water. Kelli said that she’ll have to do something to stop the water from getting in under the foundation from the backyard.

Colleen and I had to leave for Chicago relatively early on Sunday. I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t do too much more than pull staples out of a ceiling. The front stairs will have to wait until the spring to be destroyed. I’ll be ready for them. Still, it was great to visit with Kelli and Brandon and see their new old house up close.

Some like it hot

That October chill is in the air and that means it’s time to light the furnace. When I went through the house with the home inspector, he made sure to light the furnace and check for carbon monoxide. However, when we took the thermostat off to remove the paneling around it, we disconnected the wires and haphazardly reconnected them wrong. It was August and it was hot and we didn’t think about bothering to test it. The old Honeywell thermostat looks like it’s from the 60s or 70s anyway, so today Brandon bought a new one. It’s also a Honeywell brand.

When we read the instructions and took the old thermostat off the wall, however, we ran into a problem. The instructions are written for thermostats with wires that are already labeled with letters, or are at least connected to the plate that’s labeled. Our thermostat plate and wires were not labeled. In fact, when I stripped back some of the insulation cloth to give us some more slack to work with, I discovered a third wire that had been purposely left unattached. Anyway, rather than try to hook these things up and test them the Tim the Tool Man way (flip the switch and see if it sparks) I looked around at some other people’s blogs to see what they’d encountered.

I found Kevin Freitas’ blog in which he explained that he’d had the exact same problem with the exact same old thermostat as ours! Unfortunately, our wires didn’t really look like his wires, but with the information he provided, we made an educated guess and nobody got zapped!

Here’s our old thermostat.

Here are the wires we weren’t sure how to match up. We have a red, a white, and a black.

Here’s the plate they were originally connected to. Only the red and black wires were connected. The white wire was buried inside the outer insulation.

Brandon hooked up the red one to the screw labeled “R” and the black one to “W.”

Zoot looked on, secretly hoping Brandon would get zapped.

We kept Kevin’s blog close at hand to refer to (it’s up on the screen of Brandon’s laptop.)

Getting the screws nice and tight:

When it was all hooked up, we set the temperature, flipped the circuit back on, and turned the thermostat on to “heat” and guess what? It did!!! The lovely blue glow you see in this picture is the furnace flame!

Now we can be toasty warm.

Pictures from the weekend… and beyond!

I told you about scraping the wallpaper in the front bedroom. Here’s a picture of my progress so far:

I also told you about Grandma persevering at scraping the wallpaper in the living room and dining room:

Yesterday and today she worked on that and now she’s only got one little section left before she’s all done. Unbelievable!

Yesterday I sallied forth to Menards to find the coupling I needed to hook the shower extension onto my tub. Silly me, I thought I could measure both ends, walk in, find the piece I needed, and have made a successful trip. Not so. Trouble is I suck at measuring, so I bought the wrong size coupling. I had one coupling that had been used to attach a hand held spray nozzle and I knew that one end of that fit into the faucet. So when I went back I took that coupling with me. I also took the shower extension with me since I didn’t trust myself to eyeball it any better. I couldn’t get the threaded end of the shower extension to fit any of the couplings they had! So I asked a trusty Menards associate. He scratched his head, tried to fit the threaded end into a few more couplings, had no success, scratched his head some more, and consulted with his youthful protege. “Looks like garden hose thread, not pipe thread,” the lad said. “Maybe it’s metric,” the elder pondered. I took back my shower extender and took another close look at it. I scraped away some of the pipe tape that had crustified around the joint and discovered that the oddly threaded coupling was actually screwed into what appeared to be 1/2″ pipe thread! “Have either of you got a wrench handy?” I asked. We found a wrench and the stronger of the two associates gave it a few good turns and sure enough, the odd coupling (sorry for the bad pun) came out and I was left with a perfectly standard 1/2″ pipe thread which would fit perfectly onto the coupling I started with in the first place!

So here it is connected:

As swimmingly as that all worked out, it is actually a little too short for my tallish husband so I’ll be looking for another section of pipe to extend it a bit, but for now, he’ll just have to stoop a little.

So now on to more recent developments:
It rained in Des Moines today. A lot. When I got home one of the downspouts had come detached from the gutter and was streaming water straight down at my foundation! I got up on the ladder and hammered a nail into it as a temporary fix, only to find that the downspout was leaking a stream of water from the elbow. I took the elbow apart and surprise surprise, it was totally clogged with years of composted leaves. Yummy. In the process I re-sliced open the cut on my hand from the razor blade, so I’m putting that wound on infection-watch. Don’t worry, I’m current on my tetanus shot. After I got that whole contraption put back together I still had a big pool of water threatening to seep down into the foundation, so I took the bricks the chimney sweeps had removed from our chimney and used them to displace some of the water. I don’t think it really did all that much, but it was a way for me to at least feel like I was trying in a futile situation. When I got back inside I looked like a soggy sewer rat. BUT! I noticed when I was changing into dry clothes that a mud splatter had landed on my face and looked JUST LIKE Marilyn Monroe’s beauty mark. My grandma said I should leave it on, but I had to wipe my face.

The good news is that there wasn’t much water in the basement at all. Just a couple damp spots on the inner foundation wall where water was starting to seep in, but nothing like the puddles we found when we first bought the place.

While Grandma worked away upstairs I went down to the basement to start picking out the recyclable copper wire from the pile the electricians left me.
That was a dirty job because the cloth covered wires were all coated with several decades’ worth of coal dust.

Mmm sooty:

Here’s a really scary connection I found in the wire I was untangling. Remind me again why my house didn’t burn down long before I ever had a chance to buy it…

My bucket o’wire for Craig. He’s going to burn off the insulation and take the remaining copper to a metal recycle shop and they’ll apparently give him money for it. Can’t be that much, but hey, recycling rocks in all its forms. I admire his motivation.

Since I was already in the basement with my camera I thought I’d poke around some of the nooks and crannies that having a digital camera makes it so much easier to explore. Most of the original foundation of our house was built of these hollow cinder blocks. Where they come together at a corner or at the end of a wall, they often open sideways into a series of little pigeon holes. My grandfather used to store tools and owners manuals and things in the ones in his house on E. 14th St., so I thought I’d see if there were any little treasures left behind in my walls.

I found a spool, or something resembling one:

I found a ginormous rusty nail:

And I found several pockets of coal left behind in the furnace room:

Once I’d grown tired of spelunking in my basement I went back upstairs to clean up a bit and feed the cats before fleeing to my mom’s house to take a shower. I actually found a pre-made shower curtain rail that is big enough to encircle my WHOLE tub, but I need help installing it so until that’s up, no showers at my own house yet.

Phew! This post has been a doozy. I’m ready for bed.

P.S. Happy International Talk Like a Pirate Day! I wonder how many people will blog in pirate-speak today.

Progress… in progress

The electricians are probably going to wrap up today. We stopped by the house to drop of a light fixture for the kitchen and we took a look around. Here are pictures!

The house is in various stages of disarray, but no worries!

This is the light fixture that was removed from the basement hallway. Pretty gross huh?

The ceiling fan we picked out for the living room:

The light in the dining room that compliments the ceiling fan in the living room:

New light fixtures in the bathroom. We’re going for a chrome and white look for all the bathroom fixtures. These lights look a little out of place amongst the 70s wallpaper and dingy yellow paint. Just wait until everything is crisp and white! (Additionally, we have had them install a ceiling fan + light, but since that wasn’t fully installed yet I didn’t take a picture.)

The wood burning stove insert is all done, the chimney is re-lined, and the part above the roof has been rebuilt completely. It all looks GREAT and I’ve never been so excited for cold weather to arrive so I can try this out!

Just a quick plug for a really great business here: The company we hired for this, Alpine Chimney Sweep, was simply awesome! If you have any chimney or fireplace or wood burning stove issues at your house and you’re anywhere near Des Moines, I really recommend looking them up. They’re friendly, efficient, clean, and even bumped up our installation day because they had an unexpected opening in their schedule.

Here’s the stove unit ready to install:

While they had the chimney and firebox all cleared out, I took the opportunity to take a few pictures of an area most homeowners never really get a good look at: the inside of the chimney and ash dump.

Here’s the firebox all cleaned out:

The damper had rusted shut and debris from the crumbling chimney had fallen on top of it. It had to be removed anyway, so here’s what’s left of the broken pieces, leaving room for the new liner and stove pipe:

The view up the chimney:

I put my camera in great peril to get this shot looking down into the ash dump:

The front of our new wood burning stove:

A wider view:

I’m really glad they put the original flue damper handle back in its place. It’s not needed anymore, but it’s better than having a big hole in the brick where it should go. I can’t wait to clean up the area around the hearth and maybe paint the brick a different color. I have big plans for this fireplace area of the house! Big plans, I say!

Sadly, by the time we got around to looking at the chimney outside we’d lost too much light for me to take a picture. You’ll get your picture though, never fear!

I am absolutely thrilled at how much progress was made this week. I never imagined everything would go so smoothly and so fast. Here’s hoping for continued good fortune in the rest of our projects to come.

Oh! And another quick shout out to a damned decent guy, Matt, who works with Brandon, at least for the time being. Matt is headed back to Omaha to rejoin his lovely wife there and since he’s moving, he graciously offered us his futon, no charge! That’s great because we can use all the free furniture we can get! 😉 Thanks again, Matt!

[tags]bathroom, ceiling fan, chimney, contractors, dining room, electricity, fireplace, light fixtures, living room, photos, wood burning stove[/tags]

Lights, camera, action!

On Saturday we went to Home Depot and Menards to buy light fixures for the whole house. That was fun, but it’s not getting any easier to drop that much money in a single trip to the hardware store. Mom and Brandon talked me into buying a ceiling fan/light for the living room. I’d always hated these because all the ones I’d seen in people’s houses were either really old and outdated, or were just cheap and ugly to begin with, with the exception of my in-laws’ house. The only ceiling fan I’ve ever liked was in Brandon’s old room in his parents’ house. So anyway, we got one that has a nice hammered bronze look with dark teak blades. We got a flush mount fixture for the dining room that also has a hammered bronze finish. My plan is to make those two rooms very similar, but decorate them differently enough that they each have their own distinct space. More details on that when it comes time to choose paint colors.

Here’s the ceiling fan we picked out:

And the light for the dining room that compliments the ceiling fan (the bowl on this one isn’t as yellow as it came out in my picture):


I LOVE the overhead light/fan fixture we bought for the bathroom. It’s a little more contemporary, but very simple and I like to think timeless. (Again, not as yellow in real life.)

For the lights on either side of the mirror, we went with a bolder, and more expensive choice, but I think it will work really well.

So here’s our pile of light fixtures in our house. I told Brandon it feels like Christmas!

[tags]bathroom, ceiling fan, dining room, electricity, light fixtures, living room, photos[/tags]

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