Forward to the Past

Posted by Steve on Sun, 10/13/2013 - 2:31pm

My very first DIY project at Brooklyn Row House was wiring the place for CAT5 ethernet. I decided to do this even before I had an inkling of what I intended to do with the place, or even where my office, bedroom and computers would eventually be located. In retrospect, if I'd guessed back then I would have been dead wrong.

Streaming media was still pretty much of a pipe dream in 1999 but I knew it was coming Real Soon and I wanted to be ready for it. I needed a wire soffit between the three floors for cables so I installed fourteen feet of 3" EMT tubing between the basement ceiling and a second floor closet. Through this I pulled six sixty-foot CAT5 cables, four lengths of four-pair phone wire, a pair of coax cables (my satellite TV at the time required one for each LUN) and a bunch of twisted-pair bell wire for a future wired alarm system. It fit but, suffice to say, I probably should have gone with 4" EMT.

The coax, phone and alarm wires were eventually enabled but a funny thing happened with the CAT5. I never used it. Their tails remain coiled, labeled and attached to nothing. What happened? Wireless got better. While wifi was definitely slower than wired ethernet, it served my needs so I tacitly abandoned my plans for ethernet ports in every room (along with beer taps and air compressor ports on every floor... seriously, I half considered those as well).

Con Ed resolution

Posted by Steve on Fri, 04/13/2007 - 10:16am

Catching up on the recent fun at BrooklynRowHouse, I've finally got my electrical back. My electrician strapped the panel so I didn't have a half-dark house but I couldn't run any 220v appliances, including my Delta table saw. That brought the woodworking in the bedroom reno to a dead stop.


Posted by Steve on Mon, 03/19/2007 - 12:33pm

I was surprised at 8:45am this morning when the Con Ed truck pulled up just as I was walking out the door with the pooches.

If you read my last post, I lost one leg of power to my house yesterday. The electrician I called pronounced one of the feed cables from the street DOA. He called Con Ed to report it. He also left me with a number to call if I didn't hear from Con Ed soon "in the next two weeks".


Posted by Steve on Sun, 03/18/2007 - 8:40pm

I was checking my email today when my computers and monitor suddenly shut down. The music went quiet in the living room downstairs as well. But I could hear the radio playing in the shop downstairs. It took me five seconds to figure out what happened. People a block away probably heard me yell, "NOOOOoooo!!"

This has happened to other houses on the block. The underground feeder cables into these houses are old. Add a bunch of melting snow and road salt like we've had the past couple of weeks, throw in some leaky manhole covers and these cables can fry.

A typical home has two legs of power coming into the breaker box, 180 degrees out of phase. If you lose one of them you typically lose power to half the breakers.

The Mystery of the Ducts To Nowhere

Posted by Steve on Sat, 01/20/2007 - 12:21pm

(Or "Why A Duct?", with a tip o' the hat to the Marx Bros)

This house has ancient, single-pipe steam heating. From what I've been able to determine from digging in these walls over the past seven years is that it's always had steam heating. Nothing interesting there.

What's baffling is why the house also has ancient metal air ducting buried inside the walls. I discovered this shortly after I moved here when I ripped down the basement ceiling and found three vertical ducts to nowhere. Over the past hundred years, various plumbers and electricians had used them for service pulls. So did I when I ran 3/4" copper to the second floor bath, the central vac piping and various electrical branches from the basement panel.

I moved the renovation activity into the upstairs hall two weeks ago. After ripping off an old baseboard for replacement, you can see one of those ducts here.

Here's a closer look. The ducts are a fairly heavy gauge steel wrapped in another layer of corrugated steel, which functions as plaster lathing. It's real nasty to work with. It takes quite a bit of effort to knock a hole in this stuff. Because the ducts aren't anchored to anything, you can't use a saw on them. They just flap around, loosening the surrounding plaster. And after you succeed with tin snips you're left with metal edges as lethal as a machete blade.

There used to be an old baseboard outlet here. I hate baseboard outlets. They're inconvenient and a trip hazard when anything is plugged into them. My intent was to move that outlet up the wall. But once I removed the baseboard and saw the ducting (which I'd forgotten about) I decided I liked my unlacerated flesh more than I hated baseboard outlets.

Al Bundy, Home Renovation

Posted by Steve on Mon, 11/13/2006 - 10:09am

A few days ago, Jeannie from House In Progress referred a woman from a new ABC reality show to me. From the email it sounded like she was looking for folks who had gone way over their heads on a home improvement project and needed 911 from the professionals to bail them out.

I told her that this was my fourth major construction project in 25 years and that I wasn't (*harumph*) a rookie at this stuff. I politely declined. But the next day I wondered if I wasn't exactly the sort of Al Bundy cartoon character she wanted. After all, I was three weeks behind where I wanted to be on the master bedroom renovation. That's a Bundy point right there: unrealistic expectations.

Labor Day Snoozer

Posted by Steve on Mon, 09/04/2006 - 1:11am

This was the first Labor Day weekend since I got this place that I wasn't knee deep in some h/i project. Last year I was in the middle of the guest room renovation. Now, I'm waiting for lumber estimates so I can start on the master bedroom rehab. I took the opportunity to hack on my Drupal software here and to play with the Categories and Views modules on a private Drupal instance. Nice software but, man, does it need a coherent manual.

We got some of Ernesto on Friday/Saturday. The wind down here on NY Harbor was pretty fierce so there was clean up to do, which is about as clumsy a segue as I can make to my house topic o' the day: compressors.

I've got a 20-gallon compressor. It's one of my favorite tools in the shop -- not just for what it typically does but for some of the oddball uses you can put it to, like drying off a washed car and blowing out the shop after a sanding marathon. It can even take out a mosquito at six feet. Today it was my broom.

Electrical Gremlins

Posted by Steve on Sun, 09/03/2006 - 2:09am

Just when I think I've got this electrical stuff all figured out, something tosses me in the weeds. This morning I noticed that the clock on my four-year old Frigidaire stove wasn't working. Neither were the buttons. Great, the computer's shot. Of course, it's got an electronic starter that depends on the computer so the oven's not working either.

Well, I guess it's about time. The Frigidaire microwave I bought at the same time had to be replaced last fall. Nice quality control, guys. I remember when companies like Frigidaire and Maytag had good reputations for durability.

But that wasn't the end of it.

Those of you who have followed my X10 home automation articles know that I have a love/hate thing going for these devices. Or rather, like Frigidaire, I'm annoyed by the sub-standard quality of X10 hardware in general.


The bathroom project started in May 2004, five years after I bought the place. This is Stage One in the second floor renovation. That's how long it's taken me to finish more pressing projects elsewhere in the house.

Click on any picture to expand it.


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