Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Time To Wake Up And Smell The Fabric Softener

Before we could start painting the house, we had a couple of other emergency tasks that arose: the water heater stopped working, the dryer stopped working, and water from the bath tub supply line in the upstairs bath began to leak about a bucket a day of water through the ceiling into the living room. Last weekend, we tackled fixing the dryer, and got started fixing the leak in the ceiling. But today I am just going to talk about the dryer.

We have a 10-year-old Kenmore Elite HE3 front-loading washer and matching dryer.

Last November, we put in a load of clothes, pressed the button, and nothing happened. The display panel at the top lit, but the dryer would not start turning or drying. The interior light came on, but that was it. We did a little research on the internet and found that this "symptom" is generally caused by a burnt-out thermal fuse. A little more research was required to track down the right part number for our dryer model. Luckily, there are lots of these dryers still around. In our case, the part number was 3392519. We found the fuses on Amazon from McCombs Supply Company in Lancaster, PA. The fuses run about $2.75 a piece, and McCombs provided free, quick shipping. When the fuse installed in November blew a couple of weeks ago, we ordered two more of the same fuse. Side note: I think that the first fuse that we installed blew due to the fact that the dryer vent needed to be cleaned, which has been rectified.

The first thing that we did was unplug the dryer.

Next, we propped the front of the dryer up with a 3" X 3" fence post remnant, so we could better reach the access panel.

Then we removed the two screws on lower corners of the access panel.

We slid the outer access panel off to reveal the blower wheel housing.

There are three screws that hold the blower wheel housing cover in place - one on the left, seen below at the top:

one on the right:

and one underneath that secures a clip:

We slipped the blower wheel housing off, and cleaned the blower wheel with the vacuum.

The fuse is located above and to the right of the blower wheel.

We loosened the screw that held the fuse in place and slipped it backwards out of the slot.

Then, we slipped the two connectors off the fuse.

We got the new fuse from the package.

We connected the connectors to the new fuse and installed it in the slot.

Then, we tightened the screw that holds the fuse back into place.

We replaced the blower wheel housing, and the access panel, and removed the fence post used to prop up the dryer. Then we plugged the dryer back in and - TADA - it works!

The whole process only took about 45 minutes, and most of that was spent looking for the right size hex wrench.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

You Know What They Say About The Best Laid Plans ...

As I mentioned in my very first post, we need to paint our house. Once upon a time, it was a lovely dark teal blue. It has since faded to a sort of teal-ish pea green color. Additionally, at some time in the past, before we owned the house, it was barn red. When it was painted teal (a couple of years before we bought it), the painters did not remove shutters. Therefore, the house is still red under the shutters! We had a storm this winter that knocked some slats out the shutters, and there was the red, shining happily through.

We decided that Memorial Day weekend, I would take an extra day off work and we would paint the front of the house. The plan was to do one side every two or three weeks and be done by the end of the summer. Then, we would come back next year and do all the trim. Some of the trim is damaged and needs to be replaced, and the parts that are not damaged are going to require some serious scraping and sanding. Like all the plans that I make regarding the house, this one was WILDLY optimistic.

The entire process involved five steps: 1. Wash the house with "house wash" to create a clean painting surface. 2. Caulk any cracked shingles, gaps around windows, etc. (our house is made of either asbestos cement shingles or Hardie shingles, depending on who you ask). 3. Paint first coat. 4. Paint second coat. 5. High five one another and relax with a beer.

So Saturday morning, Day 1, we hit Home Depot to pick up 2 gallons of Behr Premium Plus Exterior Flat paint in Glacier Lake, paint brushes, drop cloths, house wash, and scrub brushes.

To clean the house, we had originally selected the Simple Green siding wash, but then of course couldn't find it anywhere. So we went with Jomax, which did a good job, but the smell was migraine-inducing. Really. I got a migraine. The house was really dirty so we wanted to actually scrub it, not just spray something on and then rinse it off. The first floor went great. Then we got to the second floor.

Because we have a porch across the entire front of the house, it was necessary to get on the roof of the porch to reach the second story. It quickly became apparent that the pitch of the roof was too much to just set up a ladder and scrub, which was pretty much my plan for that step. Furthermore, the very nice Little Giant ladder that we own was much too heavy and unwieldy for dealing with on a roof. We scratched our head for a while and decided to just scrub the parts that we could reach and mull over the remainder. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

Day 2 arrived. How to reach the top of the second story siding really had us stumped. There was discussion of extensions for cleaning and painting, but standing on the roof, we were still a good 10-12 feet from the the top of the siding. Working at that distance with extensions would be extremely difficult. Plus dealing with the ladder was seriously exhausting for my husband. So at that point, we chose instead to engage in an extensive argument which pretty much killed the rest of the day. We did get around to caulking the first floor at least. Luckily, it was four-day weekend, and we had two days left. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

Day 3. The internet is our friend! We trotted back to Home Depot for some roof brackets, roofing nails, and a couple of 2 x 10s. Then across the street to Lowe's for a Werner Upgear Roofing Safety System. This thing is awesome! The kit includes a safety harness, a rope lifeline, a safety tether, a roof anchor, and the screws to attach the roof anchor. Then off to Sherwin-Williams for the coolest telescoping ladder ever by Xtend & Climb! It extends to 20 ft, but collapses to about 30 inches, and is light enough that even I can lift it. My husband attached the roof anchor to a rafter in the attic and we ran the lifeline through the attic vent down the front of the house. We installed the roof brackets and laid a 2 X 10 across it. The board was slightly tilted towards the house, so it would push on the legs of the ladder, directing it towards the house, substantially reducing the chance of slippage.

You can get an idea of the height from this picture, and it was taken from the window. The board in the picture is an 2 X 8 - we actually used a 2 X 10 as it fit better in the brackets. With everything in place, we were ready to get on the ladder and clean.

I suited up in the safety harness and adjusted all the straps. We climbed out on the roof, I clipped on the safety tether, my husband held the ladder, and up I went.

The trick is to not look down. We rigged up a rope to use as a pulley, so I could pull up the hose for rinsing, as well as change out scrub brushes. Two hours later, the house was all clean. Isabella, sitting on the front porch, approves.

I told you the house was red under the shutters. Hey, at least it kind of matches the door! After scrubbing the house 30 ft up, my legs were pretty Jell-o-y, so we called it a day. And the evening and the morning were the third day.

Day 4. I went to bed with a migraine which didn't go away until about 3 a.m. Completely exhausted, I slept until 11 o'clock. My husband let me sleep, because, as he said, I looked like I was in pain and I needed it. After a late breakfast, we headed out to the front porch, and were able to get the first coat of paint on before picking up our daughter at school. Hurray!

It looks even better in real life. We hope to get the rest done next weekend. It's going to be stunning when the whole house is done.

Friday, May 16, 2014

We Interrupt Our Regularly Schedule Renovations To Bring You ...

Our new garden beds!

We decided to expand our garden beds this year. Here are last year's garden beds as they looked this past winter:

We built these beds three years ago. The boards had deteriorated to the point that they had to be replaced anyway, so we decided to expand.

We created two beds, each 8 ft by 2 ft and 12 inches deep. They are narrow, so we don't have to reach over too far to harvest the vegetables. And we created a third bed, 6 ft by 2 ft by 6 inches deep. This bed is for our kitty, Simon. You remember Simon, right?

Simon is a very large kitty. His head comes up to my knee, and he weighs about 25 lbs. Over the winter, Simon got into the habit of using the empty garden beds as his own private potty patch. We added the third bed, so he would still have a place to ... um ... go, a place not in the vegetable garden. We have taken the additional precaution of putting fence around the veggie gardens. Here is how it looked when we finished up last weekend. My new Ryobi right-angle drill came in very handy while constructing the beds!

We planted tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, spinach, summer squash, zucchini, carrots, cucumbers, onions, pumpkins, and watermelon. And in Simon's Garden, we planted lots of annual seeds, like sunflowers and zinnias. I can't wait until the veggies start coming in, and with the flowers nearby, it will be lovely. I'll post updates throughout the season.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Thinking Outside the Box

If you have been following my story, you know that my new mantra is "Identify issues and find ways to address them". With this in mind, I decided that I would start with a small, simple job to kick off the bathroom renovation - I would install an additional receptacle.

We have one receptacle currently in the bathroom. A nightlight occupies the top outlet and the towel warmer occupies the bottom outlet. If someone wants to use a hair dryer or curling iron, one of those devices must be unplugged. Of course, that means remembering to plug in back in when you're done too, so you don't have to listen to some people (me) complain about cold towels. Also, since there are no outlets in the hallway (I plan to rectify that in the future), we use this outlet when we vacuum the bathroom, the hallway, and the stairs.

The outlet is installed near the sink about 5 feet from the floor. (pic) After consulting the map in the circuit box, it appeared that the bathroom outlet was the only thing installed on that circuit. I figured I would pull the old box and drop a length of 14 gauge Romex straight down to a point about 6 inches from the floor where the new box would be installed. Since the receptacle was the only thing on the circuit, there would be only one line coming into the box.

I turned off the power at the breaker panel and removed the face plate from the existing receptacle.

I measured straight down from the box to the point where I wanted to install the second receptacle, and marked the location for the new box. Using a drywall saw, I cut a hole for the new receptacle box.

At this point, I was ready to removed the line cable from the existing outlet, so that I could add a load branch for the downstream receptacle. When I removed the outlet from the box, I discovered that there was already a load wire leaving the box! Since my husband and I had mapped all the circuits in the house, and determined that this was the only device on the circuit, we were, needless to say, rather confused.

There were only two knockouts in the existing box. One was occupied by the line cable and one by by the mystery load cable. I sighed heavily (i.e., swore loudly), and determined that I would have to replace the existing box with one that had more knockouts, since I needed to add a second load branch. Of course, this was a "new work" box, which means it was nailed to the stub behind the drywall. Though I have since learned that you can use a reciprocating saw to cut through the nails and release the box, I didn't know that at the time, and set to work trying to carefully pry the box out. I was as careful as I could be, yet I still damaged the drywall below the box. However, once the box was out, I could at least examine the mystery cable.

The line cable dropped in from the attic and was connected to the outlet at the line terminal. The load terminal also had Romex connected which exited the box and traveled back up into the attic. After a couple of hours of trying to figure out where the wire went, and what it powered, we gave up. I decided just to splice the new branch to the line, along with a pigtail to the existing receptacle. The new branch would then continue on to the new outlet, and the old branch would continue to wherever it had been going before we started.

I ran a length of 14 gauge Romex from the opening of the old receptacle to the opening for the new receptacle (pic). I started pulling the three lengths of Romex into one of those blue "old work" boxes, and very quickly began to get frustrated. First of all, the tabs in the box were to tight and inflexible. I understand that these tabs are supposed to hold the cable in place, but instead they stripped the covering off the cable. Once I got the cables pulled into the box, I tried to install the box in the wall and found that, due to the drywall damage, the box would not stay in the wall securely. The lower ear did not extend down far enough to hold the box in place. Since I was working right next to a stud, I assumed that I just needed some sort of "old work" box that could be attached to the stud.

I started pulling the three lengths of Romex into one of those blue "old work" boxes, and very quickly began to get frustrated. First of all, the tabs in the box were to tight and inflexible. I understand that these tabs are supposed to hold the cable in place, but instead they stripped the covering off the cable. Once I got the cables pulled into the box, I tried to install the box in the wall and found that, due to the drywall damage, the box would not stay in the wall securely. The lower ear did not extend down far enough to hold the box in place. Since I was working right next to a stud, I assumed that I just needed some sort of "old work" box that could be attached to the stud.

After a trip to both Home Depot and Lowe's, I discovered that "old work" boxes that attached to the stud are not really a "thing". One of my friends recommended a small hardware store in town that caters to historic homes. We stopped by and were told by the 13-year-old sales clerk (okay, maybe he was 17), that nothing like that exists. He suggested we just drill some holes through the side of one of the blue plastic "old work" boxes and attach it with screws to the stud. I pointed out that having exposed metal screw heads inside the receptacle box violated all kinds of codes. He then looked me up and down, like I hadn't spoken, and asked me if I owned a drill. At that point, my husband dragged me out of the store.

For anyone who knows me, the surest way to light a fire under me is to tell me that something can't be done or does not exist. So I hit the internet, and guess what I found?

Allied Moulding Slider Box

(Arlington makes a similar model called One Box.) The screws can be loosened to slide the box forward or backward to adjust the installation depth, then tightened to anchor the box into the stud. The screws recess into the "slider" plate, so they will not abrade the wires within the box.

So I headed to a local electrical supply store called Harris Electric, which is a branch of Border States. They were able to order a half dozen of the Slider boxes for me. The boxes arrived within a couple of days and I was able to continue with the receptacle installation.

I stripped the outer sheath off the Romex, then stripped about an inch of the black and white wires. I pulled the old and new wires into the Slider Box. The tabs securely held the Romex but were flexible enough to allow it to be easily pulled into the box and manipulated as needed.

With the wiring and a replacement box in place, I wired a new GFCI receptacle into the first box. I then installed a second box in the new position, and wired a second GFCI receptacle. We selected very nice oil-rubbed bronze face plates to use throughout the bathroom. I installed one on the new receptacle. However, I have to repair some of the drywall around the old receptacle, so I temporarily installed a large face plate to cover the damage and protect the wall.

With two receptacles in place, we have doubled our "plugging in" ability in the bathroom. Now, we can plug the nightlight into the upper outlet, the towel warmer into the lower outlet, and there are two free outlets for anything that might be needed. Looking at the bathroom, it doesn't look much different, but we enjoy the improvement that has been made every time we plug in a curling iron or a vacuum cleaner.