Friday, December 19, 2008

The whirlwind has passed

Dad headed down to Sacremento today after a three week marathon of home projects. We did a lot of stuff that I can't remember, but here's a quick recap.

We emptied the laundry room and installed the underlayment and vinyl flooring. We also ran a 30-amp 220V circuit for the dryer and installed the dryer vent.

The washer had been shaking like crazy even after we leveled it, so we built some feet out of leftover hardboard and sheet rubber. We used a holesaw to cut the feet, then used a Forstner bit to create the pocket, and put rubber in the pocket and on the bottom of the feet. This all but eliminated the shaking and keeps the washer from walking during its spin cycle.

On the two non-rainy days we had, we finished installing the weather barrier and gable siding on the addition and shed.

We had a mysterious appearance of water above one window to the left of the slider. We couldn't figure out where it was coming from because there was no sign of water in the attic, and it appeared to be coming in from the eave (and then under the moisture barrier onto the window).

Because we've had some pretty major rain showers with no leaks since putting the roof on, I'm guessing this is just condensation. This assumption is based on:
  1. We used a 19" overlap on the roofing tarpaper, which makes it nearly impossible for water to get under the paper.
  2. The roof vent and skylights were papered, shingled, flashed and sealed pretty darn well.
  3. The water only appeared when the weather dropped below freezing this past week.
  4. Some parts of the ceiling were not insulated at all because I was waiting to finish a little electrical.
To test our theory, and to check a big task off our list, we rented an insulation blower from Home Depot and blew in 30 bags of cellulose. It's a messy job, but I liked it a lot better than dealing with fiberglass batts.

This morning, as we were packing up the blower, we noticed that the door to my Jeep was open. Apparently, some poop-butt punks tried to jack my ride last night and left me with a broken window. Just something else to fix, I guess. =)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Concrete, trim and lights

I was planning to dive this morning, but Holly bailed on me. Instead, I finished up the last chapter of Diving into Darkness and mixed up some more concrete samples.

Previously, we just used gray Portland cement and some Sakrete pigment. This time we used a 1:1:3:5 mixture of white Portland cement, quartz, sand and pea gravel. We mixed up one square with no color, then one each of brown and charcoal. The mix was much thicker than before, so I vibrated it for a lot longer to get the air out.

After making a run to Home Depot to get some underlayment for the laundry room, more trim and the remaining pendant lights, dad resumed working on the window trim.

I climbed up into the attic to cut the holes for the pendant lights above the kitchen island. After installing the ceiling boxes and poking wire into them, I went back to the kitchen and hooked everything up.

I think that might actually be the last of the electrical (besides a tiny bit in the shed). I was afraid the pendant lights might seem obtrusive with our low ceilings, but they actually look great.

Tomorrow, we'll mix up some more concrete samples using fine quartz instead of sand and install the laundry room underlayment. Then we'll hit Home Depot again for the gable siding and rent a roller for the vinyl. With any luck, we'll have the laundry room and alcove all done tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A few more tasks completed

To prepare for installing the home theater cabinet, we ran some coax, CAT5 and speaker wire into the wall behind the TV. It all terminates nicely into a configurable wall plate:

Because our TV fits so snugly into its space in the cabinet, we decided to rip open a hole in the back for air flow at the last minute:

The two supervisors assigned to coordinate the installation, Jen and Thora, kept a watchful eye on us to ensure everything went according to plan:

The new cabinet really cleans everything up, despite the junk we have all over the room. I just need to treat, stain and finish the drawer faces, and then I can install the two large drawers in the bottom of the cabinet.

Today we bought a whole bunch of trim, then came home to run the 30-amp 220V circuit to the new clothes dryer location. After that, we installed the shower door in the new bathroom:

We hung a chandelier over the dining room table last night, but I don't have a photo of that yet. Our next big task is to build the concrete countertops. We're quickly running out of time, so we need to decide on the type of aggregate to use and then build some more samples.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The dovetail jig

I've always wanted to get a dovetail jig because I love the way dovetail joints look on drawers and boxes. I finally had a reason to buy one yesterday, and Rockler just happened to have a Christmas sale on theirs for $99.
Warning: This post is really more for my benefit than yours. The instructions for the jig were sort of cryptic, and it took a while to figure out what I was doing. This is my attempt at creating something I can refer to later. =)
I decided to use through dovetail joints because the front of the drawer box will be covered by a framed face. Otherwise, a half-blind dovetail joint would be preferable to hide the ends of the tails. Illustrations can be found on Wikipedia.

The first step was to create a "clamping shim." This is basically a piece of material about 1/4" thicker than the stock you're cutting, and its purpose is to raise the template high enough so your router bit doesn't cut into the metal jig. The manual greatly overexplained this step and caused a lot of confusion.

Next, center your stock in the template, ensuring that the outer tails (i.e. the top- and bottom-most tails on the drawer side) are far enough from the edge of the stock to allow room for the pins. Adjust the side stop to mark this position for the other sides.

Now hold a piece of the front/back stock perpendicular to your drawer side, up against the template, and make a scribe line on the piece to be cut. Set the router on the template and adjust the depth so that you will remove the scribe line. I used the 8ยบ bit and brass guide bushing included with the jig.

Cut all the drawer sides first. The manual stated that the outside of the drawer sides should be facing the jig, but I couldn't figure out how this would make any difference.

The only thing being cut in this photo is the vertical piece.

The tails cut into a drawer side.

When all the sides have been cut, switch to the straight router bit and replace the tail template with the pin template. Mount your stock vertically in exactly the same position as the drawer sides -- do not adjust the side stop.

Adjust the template to position "F" for the first cut. This will almost certainly create a fit that is too tight, and you will need to adjust the template backwards, one mark at a time, until the fit is perfect. Then you can make all other cuts without further adjustment.

Cut the fronts and backs with the inside of the drawer facing the jig. Unlike the sides, this cut is not symmetrical, so the position is critical if you have routed a channel for the drawer bottom.

Here's a shot of the assembled joint, prior to any gluing or sanding:

We didn't want the drawer bottom channel to be visible from the sides of the drawer, so we routed a channel in all the drawer pieces prior to cutting the dovetails. Using the router allowed us to stop the channel about 1/4" short of the ends of the drawer pieces.

Here's a shot showing the router set up in the plunge base with a 3/8" straight bit and fence adjusted to put the channel about 1/2" from the bottom of the drawer sides.

When assembled, the channel on all drawer pieces aligns and is ready to accept the 3/8" bottom piece.

Custom home theater cabinet

We started work on the cabinet to hold all the home theater stuff the other day. It has two upper spaces to hold the front speakers, two side spaces below that to hold the stereo equipment, two large spaces for drawers, and two center spaces for the center speaker and Xbox. We used 3/4" birch veneered plywood and birch edge tape.

First, we made the outer box:

Then we built all the inner pieces and glued/nailed them in place:

Here's a shot of the cabinet with a couple coats of ebony stain. Later that day we added a coat of satin polyurethane.

Then we headed to Rockler to get a dovetail jig. More about that in the next post.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A day of distractions

We were planning to grout the bathroom tile first thing in the morning, but we decided to get a second grout float so the two of us could work at the same time. So, after taking care of a few hours of business, we headed to Home Depot to get the float and the materials for our TV wall unit.

When we got back, we decided to clean up the garage to make room for the plywood and tools. The plywood was going to temporarily lean up against the garage wall where the hot water recycling pump was plugged in. To get the outlet closer to the pump, I reconnected the circuit for the old electric water heater that the previous owner must have removed.

To make room for the plywood, we had to move all the scuba gear and remaining pile of flooring inside. After that, we were finally ready to start mixing grout. Neither one of us had ever grouted this kind of tile before, but it went fairly well.

Using the floats, we worked the grout down into all the nooks and crannies of the tile stones, trying to remove as much off the top as possible.

After finishing the grout, we let it sit for about 20 minutes and then started sponging the excess off the top. Two hours later, we used cheesecloth to scrub each stone to remove the grout haze.

Here's a close-up shot of what the tile looks like:

The grout is supposed to sit for three days, and then we need to seal it again. In the meantime, we'll be working on building that TV wall unit.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Rolling right along

Today was pretty productive, and things went fairly smoothly. We started by hanging the final cabinet above the fridge. This one was tricky because it had to line up with the utility cabinet on the left and a full-height panel on the right. However, we had a 1/2" gap to fill, so we added some spacers to both sides of the cabinet.

When we pushed the fridge back in, the dang water line coil got wedged. Fortunately, I'm well practiced at cramming myself into small spaces.

We used the fridge to help support the cabinet while installing it. With all our spacers in place, we screwed it all together.

Then we took a lunch break and dropped off the Humane Society "Donate Some Pet Food" barrel over in the Highlands. When we got back (and before I slipped into a yakisoba-induced coma), we decided to install the end panels on the island.

That may sound very simple, but it also required installing an electrical outlet at each end of the island. Which required me to finish running the wire inside the cabinets. Which is something I've been quietly avoiding for some time.

At any rate, we got the end panels installed, and even slapped in some toe-kick veneer. We'll probably run to Home Depot in the morning to get some black 20-amp outlets and covers to finish up the island.

Here's how the kitchen is looking tonight:

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Progress resumes

I don't know if I'm ready for it, but we're stoking the coals for a final three week push to complete the house. It started last night when my dad arrived from California around 7:30 pm, and he jumped in to help me lay the last few boards of flooring in the master closet. I think he only did it because he knew we weren't setting up the guest bed until it was done. =)

This morning, we turned our attention to the 2nd bathroom. We discovered we never bought the 1/4" trowel way back when, so our day started with a trip to Ace (and the obligatory Starbucks stop). Then we determined our layout, mixed up some thinset and installed the cement board.

The cement board is very difficult to cut. It's not too bad if you're just cutting it to length because it snaps like sheetrock, but making cutouts (especially round ones) is a pain. Screwing it down takes forever, too, because it calls for perimeter screws every 3 inches. We had to recharge the hammer drill battery twice, and I mostly used the powered drill.

Once the cement board was down, we immediately started laying the tiles. Actually, it's not really tile, but rather stones glued to a mesh. The "tiles" are designed to fit together so that you don't notice a pattern after the grout is applied. We'll let everything set up for 24 hours, and probably grout the tiles Tuesday.

Here's a shot I found on one of our cameras. I guess Jen was snapping photos of me shoehorned into the addition attic installing the kitchen can lights. It's a little tight up there.

Friday, November 28, 2008

The kitchen is officially functional

Our stainless hood duct cover is designed in two halves, one inside the other, so that it can telescope to the correct length. However, both halves were too long for our ceiling, so we decided to cut one of them down (and not use the other one).

One place wanted $150 to make the cut, which I considered totally ridiculous. We located a second place much closer to us (Starman Metal Fab), and they cut it down for $45 (1/2-hour labor minimum charge). We cheerfully went home to install the cover and finish up one more job.

Not surprisingly, this seemingly simple task managed to complicate itself. Despite the installation guide's vague assertion that you don't have to use both halves of the cover, it became immediately apparent that you cannot install it in a single piece. So, back to Starman we went (albeit a few weeks later).

This time we had both halves cut down, and installation was a snap.

We also finally ran the electrical to the island and plumbed the dishwasher. There was an existing 12/4 cable under the house that carried two circuits for the disposal and dishwasher. I ran this to a j-box in the crawlspace and connected it to two 12/2 cables in metal conduit running up to a j-box below the sink.

From there, I ran some stranded appliance cable to the disposal (switched) and to the dishwasher (not switched). Generally, you'd put the dishwasher on its own circuit, but I read that it's okay to put the disposal on that circuit, too. It's a 20-amp circuit, and the total load doesn't exceed that. I hope the inspector agrees because I'm reserving the other circuit for the island outlets. Running three circuits to the island just seems excessive, but, then again, so do a lot of the code requirements.

The dishwasher is just sitting in position right now. There's no point in attaching it to the temporary plywood countertops since we'll be building the concrete countertops in the next couple weeks. We've run several loads, though, and everything's working just fine (no leaks!).

My dad is coming back tomorrow for a final three week push to finish everything up. On the one hand, I get satisfaction from doing this stuff myself, but, on the other hand, it takes forever when I can only devote a couple hours a day on it. At this point, we both just want everything done so we can have the house back together.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Our movie experience just got better

I went into Fry's last night to get a pack of rechargeable AAA's for my head lamp, and somehow came out with almost $1800 in home theater equipment. Most of my friends know I don't waste a lot of money on material things, but when I want something, I usually don't waste much time before getting it. =)

We watch a lot of movies, so I splurged about six months ago and bought a 52" Sony Bravia XBR LCD TV to replace our projector. I'm super glad I did, too, because that TV is awesome! However, we never made an investment in audio equipment to complement it.

Our biggest problem is that we don't really have a TV "room." Instead, we have a TV "nook." It's a fairly decent area (about 15' square), but it's wide open on the right side, and the ceiling is vaulted towards the right. Not only does this make it a not-so-optimal listening environment, but there's no obvious place for the surround speakers.

I thought I might get one of the Yamaha sound projectors that try to give you "virtual" 5.1 sound using a bunch of speakers in a single box that goes under or over your TV. There were several drawbacks with this setup, the major showstopper being that it didn't support Dolby TrueHD, one of the new surround standards for HD video. Plus, they cost about $1500, and that's without the subwoofer you'd have to add. On the upside, they get an A+ on the "spouse acceptance factor" because you don't have speakers all over the room.

So, with all this in mind, I visited the Fry's listening room. They had a Polk Audio sound bar there, and the sales guy gladly ran through the demo for us. I knew immediately I wasn't going to buy it because it just didn't sound right. It sounded as though it was using volume to compensate for the lack of rear speakers, and it didn't have the natural spread or timber I was looking for. Even Jen could tell the difference, and she usually only cares what the stuff looks like. =)

Next, we listened to some Polk Audio bookshelf speakers, with some JBL rears. Now we're talking! The fronts had a 5.25" cone, so there was plenty of mid-range to make things sound natural, and the spread was very realistic.

Allow me to digress for a moment...

There has been an unfortunate trend towards HTIB lately (Home Theater in a Box), and these systems typically come with a subwoofer and five speakers (two front, two rear and one center). More often than not, the five speakers are very small, which means their speaker cones are small -- typically 3" or less.

It's pretty much impossible to get natural sound from a setup like this because you have no mid-sized speaker cones to produce mid-range frequencies. Instead, you get a lot of low end (boomy) with a lot of high-end. It's important to have small cones in your setup because they add sparkle, but without any mid-range drivers, you end up with an overall sound that is "tinny" and hard on the ears. I've heard several people's Bose systems, and they all sound very tinny to me.

Okay, so I was pretty happy with the Polks we were listening to, but the sales guy decided to put on some Infinity's, too. These speakers were smaller and, sure enough, the demo soundtrack became noticeably more tinny. "Can I hear the Polks again?" I kindly asked.

You're probably getting tired of this story by now, so I'll cut to the chase. Here's what I bought (and why):

Onkyo TX-SR606 7.1 Receiver
Lots of HDMI, S-Video and composite ins/outs, two optical digital audio ins, and HDMI upscaling. Also, the cheaper models didn't have Dolby TrueHD support.

Polk Audio DSW Pro500 Subwoofer
Polk was running a special that gave us $200 off, so we splurged with a better sub. It ranks high on the spouse-acceptance factor because it fires down, which means you don't see any speakers. It's just a black box in the corner of the room. The bass is quite impressive without sounding boomy.

Polk Audio CS10 Center Channel Speaker
I think this was actually the only center speaker we listened to. It sounded great, and the price wasn't outrageous. I guess I got a little lazy with this speaker.

Polk Audio TSi200 Front Channel Speakers
We were actually sold on the smaller TSi100's, but the only pair they had left were "open box" (i.e. had been returned by someone). You know how I feel about having mid-sized speakers in my system, and the TSi200's have an extra 5.25" cone.

Polk Audio OWM3 Rear Speakers
The JBL's we listened to sounded okay, but the form factor was a little odd. They tapered slightly at the top and bottom, and just looked too tall and skinny. These OWM3's can be mounted in seven different ways, and they look pretty decent.

Here's a shot of everything but the rear speakers. This setup is temporary -- we'll be building a custom wall unit to house everything, so it'll look nice and tidy, eventually (I'm almost embarrassed to post this photo):

Here's a shot of the surrounds. They're sitting on some super stout stands my dad made for me about 15 years ago when I had a small recording studio. We'll most likely mount a couple small shelves on the wall for the surrounds so there's a minimum of clutter (and nothing on the floor to get in the way of vacuuming, according to Jen).

After setting everything up and running the Onkyo through its room calculation routine, we tested the system out by watching The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. This isn't the typical extreme audio movie you'd normally test an audio system with, but it's more like the movies we usually watch. It was also recently recommended to me because of the cinematography.

The bottom-line: I was totally happy with the sound quality. Everything sounded very natural, and I could turn the volume up quite loud without a particular frequency becoming hard on the ears. I pretty much forgot there was an audio system in the room, which I think is the best way to gauge success.

Now, onto that custom wall unit...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Let there be light!

I've gotten a lot of complaints about not updating the blog. Sadly, that's because progress has been painfully slow between doing my "real" job and finding time to dive. We have been working, though, and we finally finished installing the main kitchen lighting.

As is usually the case, I ran into some things that made what should have been a relatively simple job a major pain in the hinder. There was some 2x4 blocking between the trusses that was right where I wanted to put one of the cans, and I ended up having to notch it out without disturbing the sheetrock screwed into it.

When I finally wiggled myself out of the attic, covered in sweat and insulation, I noticed that my two helpers were on break (again):

We were going to put the final ceiling coats on the bedroom and 2nd bathroom last night, but I decided to keep going on the lights and get them done. Here's a shot of the kitchen as it stands:

To finish off the kitchen, we need to:

1) Build the concrete countertops
2) Install the last cabinet over the fridge
3) Get the stainless hood cover cut down and installed
4) Build the wine rack that goes to the left of the oven
5) Install a tile backsplash behind the cooktop
6) Install some island lighting
7) Wire up the island and install the dishwasher

Hmmm, that turned out to be a bigger list than I was expecting, so I better get to work!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Cabinet underlighting

Last night, we finished installing the lighting under our wall cabinets. We also ran a new 15A circuit for all the kitchen lighting, including the cabinet lights, main cans and island lighting.

First, we prepared the cabinets. This involved mounting the light pucks and j-box, and then securing the wires:

Then we ran the wires from the attic to the cabinets. We got by with a small hole in the wall behind the right cabinet, but I needed to open the wall up more for the other side. It gets covered by the cabinet, anyhow:

Next, we wired up the switches. Here we have a 3-way dimmer for the main lights and 2 dimmers for the cabinet and island lighting. The push-in connectors make the job a lot easier when you have a ton of wires to connect:

Et voila! We now have dimmable lighting under our cabinets!

Today, we're planning to finish the duct work for the cooktop hood, install some of the main kitchen lighting cans, and probably run the island electrical (since the parts have been sitting on the island for about a week now).