Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Home Improvement

This past weekend we worked on the home. Minor things for most people, but I rarely do this kind of thing. The plan was to finish the study.

Mary had re-arranged the room, unpacking my books, buying me a ficus, putting up some framed pictures and all. It was looking real nice. The big project was the closet.

The closet had only one shelf (about 6' high) and one bar from which to hang clothes. It was a huge waste of space as the closet is 4 feet deep. So, we bought a closet corner organizer (C11), and some wire shelving (super slide - see this pic). Sounds easy, eh?

Before we did anything, we painted the closet and trim because they were looking ratty. And easy item.

Well, the first problem was that the cable modem installation was horrible. The Comcast dude just screwed the face-plate to the drywall, which promptly popped out (a good year and a half ago). Of course there's no power near that wall, so the coax cable is stretched across the room to the nearest power outlet. So my first task was to put in a proper outlet for the coax cable, as well as a power outlet. I did want to move the coax outlet b/c currently existed outside the location of the corner unit I was about to install.

Installing outlets in the walls (of the wood-framed walls, don't get me started on the exterior walls of our house which are poured cement) means cutting into the walls, always a scary prospect. I'd only done it once before - at the Portland house, and dad was telling me what to do each step. This time I was taking it on by myself - and I'd have to take the fall when I drilled through the bedroom wall ruining Mary's nice paint job. I measured 3 times, triple checked that the lines were all square and level, and began drilling and sawing holes in the wall. When I did the same thing in the Portland house I made the hole a little too large (the crumbly lathe & plaster contributed) and the face plate didn't quite cover the hole. Now I find out you can get oversized face plates. This time I was super careful about getting the hole just the right size, and I did. The next step was actually getting the wires up to the newly cut holes, which meant visiting the crawlspace.

I'm not a big fan of spiders, so it took me a little while to work up the nerve to crawl around under the house. Luckily, spiders weren't too keen on the crawlspace either. I crawled under the house and noticed that the cable installation dude missed drilling through the wall of the next room by about 2 inches - which just added to my annoyance at him. I wanted the power/coax on the other side of a stud in the wall - which meant I had to drill a new hole through the floor. After measuring several times, I put the drill bit to the underside of my house, and prayed I wouldn't drill up through the beautiful new hard-wood floors we'd just installed (er... had installed by someone else). After blinking the wood shavings out of my eyes (I know, I should have been wearing safety glasses) I looked up and saw daylight, daylight that was obviously coming from the two outlet holes I'd cut. yay!

Next I had to pull the coax cable out of the first hole and push it up through the new one I'd made. Of course the end connector was too large for the hole, so it got stuck and I had to cut the end off. This meant another trip to the hardware store. Do you know the difference between an RG6 and RG59 cable? Even knowing the difference, can you recognize one on sight? Me neither, but I had to choose which end connectors to buy. When in doubt, buy both. So I did. The hardware store dudes didn't know the difference, so they were no help, and my internet connection was down because I'd cut the cable myself - so the internet wasn't an option. I looked at the different connectors, they appeared the same - except for the size of the hole through which some of the cable passed. I looked at the cable and chose the smaller of the two connectors (RG59) and tried it out. It worked no problem. Turns out, the only difference between the two cable types is the amount of shielding, and the connectors can more or less be interchanged.

Now on to the electrical outlet. I just had to find an existing power cable to tap into, preferably the same one as the other outlets in the study. Of course, since this is a new-fangled house and has no basement, there were no cables to be seen in the crawlspace below the house (and it's a crawlspace - I barely fit underneath one section of pipes). What now?

The obvious choice is the attic-space, and as much as I didn't want to go under the house, I didn't want to wade through the sea of blown insulation, risking putting a foot through the ceiling in one of the rooms. So I called dad, who pointed out that I should check the electrical panel to see if the wires go up or down. Up. Damn.

So I poke my head into the space above the ceiling and look around for a while. No spiders, but lots of yellow insulation. I look right around myself and determine that I really don't want to dig through the stuff to try to find existing power lines - because I have no guarantee I'll even find them. And, even if I find one above the closet, it doesn't solve the problem of the outlet we want to put in the middle of the living room floor. I punt on the issue, figuring that the real solution is to add a new breaker or two to the panel, put in conduit outside the garage (where the panel is) leading to an opening in the foundation, to route power under the house - from which I can easily wire the closet - and the still-to-be-found-and-installed outlet in the living room floor.

Whew, lots of work for just two little holes, and only one is finished.

I patch up the old hole, assemble the corner unit, put it against the wall and find out the walls aren't square. Damn-it! The unit needs to be anchored to the wall (preferably a stud), so I figure I'll just add some shims to fill the gap so I have a nice strong connection. Of course the unit is in two pieces (top and bottom). I get the bottom all anchored in the wall, shims and everything. I then put the top half on, and it doesn't fit. One of the (three) supports is about half an inch out of alignment. son-of-a-bianchi! Long story short, I screwed in one of the shelves on the bottom half 1/2 inch off of where it's supposed to be done. I fix that and voila - the wall is suddenly square. The rest of the shelving goes up quickly. I seem to make more work for myself than I accomplish sometimes.

In the middle of all of this, our kitchen sink decides to no longer let water flow at more than a trickle. Huh? I begin to dismantle the entire sink - when Mary points out some easier places to start. We take the spout and knobs off and find a bunch of light turquoise sediment floating in the fixture. The sediment has the texture and look of the light green necco wafers I used to eat as a kid. I have no idea where it comes from, but after cleaning the stuff out, the water flows normally. whew.

On to the wire shelving (this is actually Tuesday b/c I'm too slow to do everything on a weekend). The wire shelving is actually pretty trick. You install the hang track across the top, and from that you just hang the standards, and hook in the shelf tracks and shelves. Installing the hang track was a little bit of a pain because I had to cut the track so that the pre-drilled holes could be lined up with the studs. And, of course, my stud finder was telling me the studs were 3.5 inches wide, so I worried about getting that all dialed in. You're supposed to secure the standards with a single screw - but it feels solid without that, and I'd like to have the option of easily moving the standards if I don't like the initial setup.

Now I've got a new closet. One with nearly 5 feet of hanging space (both shirt length and pant length) and at least triple the shelf space (21 feet) I originally had. I can easily add another 9 feet of shelf space. Hurrah!

The next task is actually putting my stuff away.

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