Posts Tagged Lighting

Getting A Little Wired

Although I do admit to keeping cold beer in the fridge, no, this post is not about my social drinking habits. I’m referring to the work at the house over the last few weeks. It started like this:

I have 2 great friends who had previously committed to helping with any renovation-related tasks; “just ask,” they kept saying. Up until this point, I mostly knew what I was doing or was able to watch instructional videos through YouTube or This Old House to learn what I needed. But it was getting time to wire up new light fixtures and outlets in the bathroom. So I called in the big guns, aka Paul and Dennis. Paul is a former trade electrician, and now part of the maintenance department at a local manufacturing company. Dennis has every construction tool known in the industry, along with knowing all there is to know about construction and especially electricity; he now owns a printer supply store here in town. They both showed up the Saturday before last, toolboxes in hand, and scratched their heads simultaneously at the sight of the existing electrical panel.

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The rats nest of wires was enough to make me dizzy, and they felt the same. Now here’s the interesting part: only 1 breaker in this entire panel is in the “on” position, yet throughout the entire house every outlet and light fixture is working – including the garage and outbuilding. Other than the range, dryer, and heaters, I have no idea where or what the remaining 7 breakers must serve.

So while Paul taught me how to install outlet boxes and the tricks of the trade for running Romex wire, Dennis went to town stripping out the panel box. They both agreed the 200 amp service box is in good shape and enough space to serve the house, they wanted to organize the wire maze and distribute power in the house onto multiple breakers, the way a new house would be wired.

In the bathroom, I thought I had a reasonable electrical layout planned (2 outlets near the light switch), but both of Dennis & Paul’s wives and another female friend agreed that I should plan on additional outlets for all of the crazy hair and beauty products women use everyday and apparently need a half-dozen outlets to power. I settled on a double outlet box on either side of the vanity mirror, a straight line down from where I had already planned for light sconces flanking the mirror.

3D Bath Layout

This quick 3D model was made in SketchUp, a great tool for quick rendering to plan out a space or construction detail.

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This photo shows the double sets of outlets, with the light fixture boxes above each one, and the light switches on the wall to the right. One switch will control the light sconces beside the mirror, the other is 2 small switches so I can independently turn on and off the ceiling exhaust fan & light. The bathroom did not previously have an exhaust fan. Putting one in was just a matter of finding the center of the room and then finding the nearest ceiling joist. I drilled a hole from up above so I knew where the edge of the joist was, then used that as my starting point for drawing a square on the ceiling the size of the fan housing box. A jigsaw cut the plaster and lathe, and the box dropped right into place from above the ceiling. Paul held the box flush with the plaster ceiling down below while I used drywall screws up above to secure it to the ceiling joist. Once it was wired, I left it go until just yesterday when I finally drilled a 4″ hole in the gable end of the house and vented the fan outside using a dryer vent cover and 4″ flexible dryer hose.

Opposite of the bathroom in the laundry/utility room, we wired a GFCI outlet for the washing machine, a 220 volt dryer outlet, and rewired the laundry room ceiling light using 3-way light switches. I can turn the light on from the kitchen doorway like before, but now I can also turn on the light as soon as I come into the house from the back door. In the same bay at the back door, we left space for additional switches for a new back porch light, outdoor light, and outlet for the utility room. Having all the switches in one box will look so much more organized than 1 beside the door and 2 others on the adjacent wall, all at different heights currently.

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In the process, Dennis made sure everything was split onto appropriate amount of breakers in the electrical panel, and even labeled each breaker space! And did I mention that we are using outlet boxes? As in, every outlet or switch is housed correctly in a box. Why do I emphasize that? Of the entire house, we have only found 3 or less receptacles boxes. All the other switches or outlets are simply a hole cut in the wall, bare wires touches plaster, lath, wood paneling, baseboard, etc. That’s perfectly safe, right? NO! Even our local Fire Chief remarked that he isn’t sure how the place didn’t catch fire at some point. I know why: because this house was waiting on me.

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And here is how the breaker panel looks now – complete with hand-drawn breaker diagram on the plaster wall to the right. Each wire has a purpose and a home. Don’t ask me where those additional wires at the bottom must lead, because the whole house still has power even though those have been pulled out of the box. They are probably individual baseboard heaters, but I still need to trace each one. Eventually, Paul and Dennis assure me they are going to help me get the entire house re-wired. From what they’ve taught me so far, it shouldn’t be too bad; the majority of it seems finished with the bathroom and laundry out of the way. The rest of the rooms will just have regular outlets, light switches, and ceiling lights – replacing what’s already there – and adding all necessary receptacle boxes!

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Magic Playdough and All Lit Up

Ok, so it wasn’t actually playdough. But it looked just like it, felt just like it, and I may have sculpted a dinosaur before using it for its intended use. So what in the world am I talking about?

It all began when I removed an old exterior floodlight. The light was intended to illuminate the walk between the house and the detached garage. It was attached to the end of a length of fascia board in the back of the house. The light was also ancient; it was heavy, had 3 heads, exposed wire connections, and didn’t even work. One bulb was missing, one was broken, and the other didn’t work. It was an eyesore. And I am embarrassed to say that I didn’t do anything about it for the past 2 years.

Well, this past weekend I went about scraping the trim and gable on the back side of the house. This meant finally removing this dark (pun intended) blemish once and for all. I just capped the wires once I detached them from the light, and began to unscrew the fixture from the fascia board. I should have been wary as the screws came out of the fascia board a bit too easily. Sure enough, the old light fixture was a water trap and the end of the fascia board was badly rotten. Far to rotten to just paint over. But that one board was almost 18′ long along the length of the gable, from the end where the light was attached up to the peek. And there was no way I wanted to remove and replace that entire 8″ wide board.

Confession: I failed again at the idea of taking a “before” picture. I am too much of a doer that I often forget to document each step. So this photo of some other home’s damaged fascia board will have to serve as a “before” picture. Just ignore the brick.

After consulting with an expert carpenter, aka my grandfather, I went in search of a product he knew existed but had never used himself before. Some sort of super hard-drying wood putty made just for repairing rotted wood. Sure enough, the home store had it! I bought a large enough kit to repair not only this area, but any others I might find before this painting (scraping, sanding, washing, brushing, priming, ladder-climbing) project is over.

It turns out it is an epoxy hardener. The kit I bought had two ingredients and came with plastic gloves and a plastic scraper. The instructions said to mix an equal 1:1 ratio of the filler putty and hardener putty in your hands (while wearing gloves), or knead together on a non-stick surface. I used a small putty knife to spoon out equal amounts of each putty, about a golf ball size of each, and began mixing them like playdough in my hands. I wore latex gloves like the instuctions said, but I could still see the two different colors weren’t entirely mixed yet. So I began to knead the putty on a piece of glass, almost the way a baker would knead bread dough. This seemed to mix the putty quite well, as it became a solid yellow/beige color. The instructions said your working time with the putty after mixing is only about 10 minutes, so I began right away. I had already used a wire brush on the rotted fascia end to remove all the loose wood chips, peeling paint, and earlier attempts at repair with silicone. I applied the epoxy mixture first with a putty knife, but it was too difficult to smooth out. The box said you could increase the working time by lightly dampening with water. So I filled a plastic pail and dipped my fingers in water to smooth out the epoxy on the end of the board. I got the putty as smooth as I could, and used the putty knife to create a sharp corner and end to resemble as closely as possible the original shape of the board. Then I waited.

The box said ready to sand in 60 minutes. I got busy painting some other area and forgot about the putty for a few hours. When I returned to the spot, it was hard as rock! I broke out my old school sanding block and tried to get the spot perfectly smooth, but it was tough to sand. It actually started to shred my sandpaper before it created any dust. Good thing I mostly got it smooth before it was dry.

For this step I did snap a photo. The yellow patches near the gutter are the epoxy putty drying. Just like the box promised, the putty did not shrink or crack while it dried. Those two capped wires are the house wires which originally powered the old fixture, probably 50 years ago.

I primed the spot, and brushed on 2 coats of super brilliant white paint. The next day I went about putting up the new light fixture.

This is the light fixture we chose from the home store. I wanted something white to blend in with the white trim board, but something fairly petit looking. Security floodlights often look huge and alien in shape with their multi-directional cone heads. I liked this one because it felt simple and compact, but would still be powerful enough to light the small space between the house and garage. It’s 150 watts and an Energy Star Qualified product; it’s motion sensor doesn’t turn the light on during the daylight hours.

It was super easy to put up. I marked the spot for the outside junction box with a light pencil line and drilled two pilot holes for the screws. I ran a thick bead of paintable caulking in a circle behind the junction box and screwed it tightly into place. After wiping away the excess squeeze out of caulking, I plugged all but one of the outlets with the included plastic plugs. I ran the electrical wires from the house through the remaining outlet opening and began to twist them together with the wires from the new light fixture. Twist black wire with black wire, white wire with white wire, and attach the ground wire from the new light around the green screw of the junction box. Put the foam seal in place between the new fixture and the junction box and tighten into place.

How does it look? Compact and simple, not too flashy (once again, pun intended). Pay no attention to that new paint color on the house shingles… post coming soon about that!

When I turned the power on, bing! The new halogen light came on super bright, all 150 watts. It can be set for 4 minutes, 12 minutes, all night, or all day and night. We are going to use the 4 minute setting. That way if I pull into the driveway at night, I have plenty of light to find my way to the back door, balancing the bag of groceries and gallon of milk, dig the keys out of my pocket and get into the house safely. And then the light turns itself off automatically. Not that we live in sketchy neighborhood (actually, its a very quiet and safe neighborhood comprised mostly of senior citizen homeowners), but I definitely prefer to walk from my car to the house at night with a light on. Here is a photo of it at night, plenty bright enough!

So the first night. The roaming cats must have been having a dance party in the backyard. Pretty sure that light was blinking on and off all night. Hopefully the neighbors will understand we are adjusting the sensitivity of the motion detector… I didn’t realize I had it on high sensitivity the first night. After that, I turned it down to about half way and it seems to be working all right. The squirrels and other suburban backyard creatures don’t trip the sensor, but if I walk to the garage after dark, I have plenty of light to find my way (a whopping 20 steps) without having to worry about turning a light on or off. Success.

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Not My Style

My grandfather was a farmer. A large farmer, who farmed over 1000 acres with his children before he passed away. I was only 7 when he died and I don’t remember him extremely well, but there are certain things about him and his house that I will never forget. Like how his kitchen cabinets had hammered copper knobs and spade handles. Or how the bottom drawer to the right of the sink always hid Oreos or mini doughnuts (treats my parents sparingly would keep in our own house). He had a large collection of those now-retro Avon cologne bottles shaped like cars or trains (I have a green Jaguar bottle that belonged to him). His living room had the oldest oak floor television I had ever seen in my life with a remote control that explains why some people still call them clickers; each button was as loud as a dog training clicker.

And I will never forget his living room lamp shades. I don’t remember what the lamps looked like, but I will never forget the two lamp shades.  They were made from Styrofoam egg cartons arranged in a drum shape, one pale green and one pale pink. On each of the tall “points” that seperate the eggs, a hole was punched and a colored glass marble was glued over the hole. When the light was on, the glass marbles would glow.

I had never seen anything else like it in my life. Until I Google searched for them. And sure enough, apparently someone else had some. This photograph is similar, only Grandpa’s had marbles on each of the points, not in the actual egg wells, and his two were on table lamps, not hanging.

Not my style at all. But nonetheless, I will never forget them and how much of a statement they were in his living room. I wonder who it was that actually made them and where they ended up after his estate was divided. Not that I necessarily want them, but they would be fun to photograph.

Check out these other egg crate lamp shades that are probably more likely to end up in a high end design magazine.

This first pendant lamp was featured on a great sustainability and design blog, Inhabitat, back in 2009. Very pure looking, this would probably be an easy DIY project. Check out the full post at this link, or click on the photo.

I could easily see these more colorful lamps in a child’s room, glam bathroom, or chic home office. The shades are basically paper egg crates that were spray painted a bold color and folded into a drum shape. Photographed in a display by Recolector Disesno, they have been featured on the blogs DIY Gadgets and Apartment Therapy.

I do like the white version, and it would be fun to make; but would I actually hang it somewhere? What do you think, are you inspired enough to start saving egg cartons? What other egg crate crafts have you seen or made?

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