Thursday, May 31, 2012

Occupy Javascript

Whats does this have to do with the house? Nothing. Well, there is a bit of a connection.

I have always secretly dreamed of codifying all my building calculators that I have made to help me as a carpenter.  Specifically, I have an irregular hip/valley calculator and a few things to help with sizing beams/joists, appropriate spans and spacing, etc.

Most of these things I have created from excel spreadsheets, notebooks from past jobs, and a library of wood engineering books.  Javascript will get my foot in the door, but I will need a decent SQL back end in order to database some of these large tables of wood species. The cool thing about Javascript is that its down and dirty, and can be dumped into any html body tag.  If you are reading this post, you probably know that this thing called the internet, and the language that is displaying this text, probably isn't going away.

The cool thing about computer programming is that once a script is stable, it just works. For eternity.  I figure the only way to make some of this knowledge timeless, is to code it and make it available.

Will I ever really have time to do these things? Probably not. But I really like the idea.  Mostly, I like to help my peers who have come to me for this type of advice.

Below is my first attempt with Javascript. The calculator below attempts to convert some units for HVAC efficiency.  You can read about the definitions of some of these terms here.  It converts between EER, COP, and kW/Ton.  Its crude, I know.

Units Converter



Please copy this code pass it along.  Knowledge is not proprietary.

I deal with this stuff at work.  Its not really that complicated, but I took this pet project on to force myself to learn a new skill.  Stay tuned as I build some new calculators sometime before I turn 50.

Please give me feedback if you can't get it to work!  

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wiring inspection

Looks like those live wires are safe enough to sleep next to

I can't believe I let this dirtball sleep in our bed

Master bedroom baseboard

Three weblog posts in one day? Really??


The bad news: I have been sick for the past few days, not well enough to do my day job or my night job(s). 
The good news: the sickness gave me some forced downtime so that I can bring some new information to my readers.  All three of them.

Friday afternoon I biked over to C&R lumber after work to pick up some material for the weekend.  Unfortunately, living life and getting sick both got in the way of some serious progress on the occupy site.  Anyway, trying to match existing moldings and trim is next to impossible. Unless you mill the stuff yourself, your best bet is just to get something close that they have in stock.

Take a peak at the existing conditions:

Yes, the house is really this dusty.  How did I get sick again?

True 1x6, with a pretty beefy, overlapping top cap.  Following by a 2" bottom piece of trim, which  in  most places of the house has a piece of stained oak quarter round in front of it (not pictured above)

First of all, I'm not even going to try to get that bottom piece of moulding.  I think a standard quarter round at the bottom will be sufficient enough.  The real showpiece in this baseboard configuration is the top cap.

The only thing that my yard has that is even close to this beefy 2" top cap is this number below, which is part of their "legacy series"

The real legacy of this piece is the  void  it leaves in  your wallet

Here's how it stacks up in the lumber storage area

Lumber storage area. AKA: our living rom

I actually really love this profile (In fact, its what I wanted to use as the base piece of my three piece crown except they were out).  I think I will definitely use this profile as the bottom piece of the crown in the living area.

How will it look when I put it all together? I have no idea.  As you can see from the photo near the top of this post (with black framing square to the left), the resultant height of the existing baseboard is around 7 1/4"; whereas, this new one will be more like 7 1/2".  Close enough, but I think this top cap will be a lot chunkier and more ornate.  We will see.  Please stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Existing Electric Plans

When dealing with electricity, its always good to chart things out.  It gives a bit a piece of mind, while simultaneously creating the illusion that you actually know what you are doing.

A few months ago, I went around the house and tested every light and every outlet to make sure I knew which circuit serviced where.

Professional survey of existing conditions:

1st Floor

2nd Floor
This way, its clear that when someone cuts the power on circuit #1 then there will be no power for any overhead lights on the 2nd floor.

In the old days, there were no codes for wiring a house.  The evidence suggests that the wiring in this house has worked fine for the last one hundred years.  However, the entire house was on a 60-amp breaker and some of the rooms are very under-serviced (middle bedroom has one duplex outlet).  In addition, there is no way to upgrade it easily, as many splices are in the wall.

Kitchen ceiling

Without even taking down the ceilings, you can easily tell that there are many junctions in unattainable areas, as every single floor receptical is wired as an end of run.  This implies either a) every single outlet is a home run back to the panel or b) there are splices in the wall.  Since we only had nine (9) circuits on service panel, its obvious that we have some hidden splices somewhere.

Splice, to service what appears to be a typical "end of run" receptical.  Surrounded by knob and tube rats' nest. I still use this outlet every day.

I've noticed that occupy site seems to resemble our city's baseball club, in a more ways than one:

1) On the surface, both seem like they would have a lot of home runs, but its actuality quite the opposite
2) Both have lots of injuries
3) Both are suffering from old age
4) Both managers are paying way to much for what they are actually getting

Regardless, Team Occupy is just focusing on getting back on playing field (re: having electricity, having a place to sit down, or simply having place one might actually want to go home to after work), not winning a world series.

A big part of achieving this goal is the reworking the electric plans completely. Below is a close up of what is existing on the 2nd floor:

Only circuit three (3) is still live
Now, let's look at the current success story.  Circuits nine (9) and eleven (11) are live, and circuit twelve is live but deactivated.

This drawing actually quantifies the work, and helps make me feel better
Although of rewiring is now completed, there is still a ton of work to be done upstairs.  I do hopethat some day we will be able to take a shower without using a flashlight (however, daylight savings time has helped). For the next phase of this renovation, I will begin installing the baseboard trim and complete the wiring in the master bedroom (since the east wall (top wall in above drawing) is actually a party wall; I have to install the receptical in the baseboard.  This allows me to both use an existing opening in the party wall, and saves me from chipping the brick and plaster and re-patching later.

Miraculously, when the baseboard is complete, I will be picking out paint and picking out a ceiling fan for this space.  I know, ceiling fans are the worst.  But, have you ever tried to occupy Wolf Street in the summer?  Its the lesser of two evils, trust me.

Philadelphia Rowhouse Manual

Philadelphia Rowhouse Manual: A Practical Guide for Homeowners

For those that don't know, this is a must read and good reference book for anyone with a philly row home. Great info about standard sizes, insulation and vapor barriers, mechanical ventilation, and served with a decent slice of history for context.  Tired of seeing those books online and in stores about these 3000 sqft standalone mansions in the burbs?  You will not find another book that is even close to being this relevant. 

Thank you, Philadelphia City Planning Commission, et al.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Downstairs - Room Divider

Owning a crappy old house will often transform you from an average construction dude to a sort of ad-hoc detective.

Many times, as I am dismantling something and trying to figure out its purpose or intended use, I find myself scratching my head wondering 'why did they do this?'  And, I mean that beyond 'why are these yellow tiles in the kitchen?'  The questions are more like:

Why is there a gas line in the front wall of the master bedroom?
Why is there a different subfloor under the top of the basement stair landing?
Why was there sewage intentionally being diverted into my walls?
Why are their live wires dangling from the ceiling about 1/4 of  the way off wall, in the middle of the living area?

I unveiled the last question as I took down the drop ceiling in the downstairs

It was painful taking down this glorious ceiling, I had to dig deep for some inner strength [Side note: if you think that looks bad above, you should see it now!]

What I found was some badly damaged plaster, with some hot wires dangling out about midway through the room.  This confirmed my suspicions since flooring cut outs at either side of the room.  There was definitely a room divider in the downstairs space at one time.

Notice the spliced in piece of baseboard as well, which is odd.  That would suggest that the room divider was removed after the replacement of the original baseboard. 

Let's cut to the chase here: I'd like to do a wall of built ins downstairs, and I'm thinking about re-incorporating a room divider to give the feel of a room transition, which out actually building wall that physically close of the space.  In a row home, light is crucial and in limited supply.  Since the back of our house faces south, I do not want to limit any light migration toward the front of our cave house.

Scanned from my book "My big fat Greek-inspired room divider"

Something like the above photo might be sufficient  enough.  Perhaps without the circular columns.

From our summer home

Maybe something a little more square and stately like the above photo.  Its tough to say.  I've been delaying moving on destroying the living room
1) because we have no where else to go in the house and
2) I wanted to get a sense of how we would physically use the space before committing to a major renovation.

Now that we're about 1.5 years in, I've learned that we use the space to:
1) Store my tools
2) Store a bunch of bikes and components
3) Store an enormous couch that we got for free
4) Store some other junk that we will probably never use

Perfect right? No conclusions to help drive my decision. In fact, I can't even envision living life "normally" because I can't even remember the last time we did!  We certainly haven't in this house!

Floor plan drawing of the downstairs, notice the two rectangles midway down the party walls.  This is  the floor markings of the old room divider . The top of the drawing faces the street.

Even without a solid game plan yet, I still think built in shelves would be a fabulous show piece for the house.  I plan to build the built-ins just above the old room divider, along the left wall toward the street.  I have already re-framed and sheetrocked the front wall.  Foyer wall is still open (top right) while I am re-wiring the house.

Anyway, stay tuned as I begin to post some drawings of this area as I design it. This is just the preliminary brainstorming.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

On Crown Moldings (Part Deux)

Let's dig into ye olde mail bag and see what else we have here.

*sounds of rummaging*

Ah, here's something worthwhile from one of my friends around the North Pole:

Mr. Admin,

Whats with those funny cuts? Can't I just cut 45s on the edges of all four pieces of crown and just slap them up there?

LP, North of Tasker

Hi LP, thanks for listening.  Sure you can cut 45s. You could also fire up your chainsaw, spin around ten times, then run in circles while you cut your house to pieces.  The results would be strikingly similar.

Cutting 45s everywhere will leave big gaps at intersections (rarely is there ever a true 90 degrees in a corner).  Crown profiles are complex, which creates all sorts of opportunities for ugly gaps.  On the other hand, there is a methodology to minimize angle cuts while simultaneously using a person's line of site to minimize the exposure of gaps.  Sounds confusing right? Bear with me.

Cutting crown molding will cause even the most seasoned journeyman a minute of pause.  Its always upsidedown in your saw, the cuts require some scribing or handcutting, and on the last piece in the room... you gotta hit it dead nuts.

So what do I mean "last piece in the room"?  Well, the best way to install crown molding is by the method described here from Fine Homebuilding and describes appropriate usage of three types of cuts: 1) butt 2) Miter and 3) Cope. 

Trimming a room with baseboard and a minimum of perfect cuts. By following the numerical sequence, only pieces 2 and 3 require perfect cuts on both ends. The chance of error is reduced by first coping them and then holding them in place to mark their lengths. The copes are planned so that any cracks will be less obvious to people entering the room.
Line of Sight w/ cutting sequence

Now the above sketch shows baseboard cutting sequence, where the entry door to the room breaks up our last cuts (#8 and #9) above.  When dealing with trim at the ceiling level, you don't have this added luxury of the door breaking your piece.  This means you must cut this thing in one shot:

The last cut for an interior of a small dog house.

Every time you end a piece with Butt joint, you must next do a cope cut to close that intersection.
Now that's a clean line
What's a cope cut? Well you can start the cut a number of different ways.  I prefer setting a fence on  my miter saw and putting me piece of crown upside down in the saw, at the appropriate angle of installation.  In my case, i know the horizontal depth of my crown was 2 1/8", so I set a fence there, and rough cut my piece at 45.

Once my piece is cut to length, I then handsaw with a coping saw to waste the wood behind it.

Back cut with coping saw

I know what you're thinking... that looks like s---, dude.  Well, it doesn't matter.  The goal here is to waste the wood behind it, while keeping the show side impeccable (you will notice a trend with this in carpentry).  That way, the complex contours of your elegant piece of crown behind it can pass through smoothly.  If there's one thing I've learned over the years: good builders know when to be clean, and where to be dirty.

Mock up of the pass through

Here's where that sequence of installation (first picture in post) really comes into play.  With the butt piece on the back wall, look at how the finish is along the appropriate line of site:
Piece #2 intersecting with Piece #1, from "Line of Sight" drawing earlier

When looking along Piece #2, you can see almost no gap at all.  If you install your pieces in the correct order, then people who enter the room will see the exact same thing.

If a coped joint opens up, the crack will be obvious when viewed parallel to the uncoped piece and nearly invisible viewed parallel to the coped piece.
Cartoon depiction of same scenario above

Lets reorient ourselves to the back of the room and take a 90 degree turn and crane our necks upwards:

Not *so* bad
Zooming in:
Oh boy
Coped joints: The first piece is butted to the wall. The second piece is mitered as for an inside corner, but the mitered end is cut off where it meets the molding face, leaving a negative of the profile that fits perfectly over the butted piece.
Cartoon depiction of this scenario

But notice, we really had to move up on this thing and take one very specific look at the piece.  Its very unlikely that a person in your room will ever get this specific angle on your crown molding.  And keep in mind, this is also 9 feet up in the air!!

Going back to the typical line of site, you simply cannot see the gap this way
Ahhh. That's better.

LP, I hope this explains how not cutting 45s will actually be easier, and works in your favor to hide any gaps that may arise.  Use these methods described above to get down with the crown!


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

On Crown Moldings

I love starting a topic with the word "on"... it makes me feel like I'm writing some sort of academic paper.

As a self professed "crown master" (this is actually my first time ever doing crown), I thought it would be a good idea to share my thoughts on crown molding with all two of my readers.

Let's open this one up to some of my weblog followers:

Dear Admin, 
Why did you decide to do a three piece crown in your bedroom?
--Insane Crown Posse


Crown molding is an elegant way to soften the transition between your walls and ceilings.  The really neat thing about crown is that you can stack it up in a number of ways to create a custom profile. 
sketch of a two-piece built up crown

I actually went with a three-piece set up, which took a nominal 3" vertical crown and pushed it to almost 6" of depth!
A sample of our three-piece crown, laying on my desk

Now, I know it doesn't look so hot laying on my desk, but the effect is much more glamorous and dramatic when installed in the room.

Cartoon house

Real House: Can't you just feel the glamor radiating out from these beautiful walls?
I'm going to come clean with you: the dramatic appeal was not my primary goal in putting this crown up.  In reality, two of the walls in this bedroom are party walls which, in our case, means the plaster is put right on the brick.  In terms of nailing wood to brick, sometimes this can be challenging.  And with all the fine woodworking that goes into cutting crown molding, you don't want to be up there trying to smash nails through your finish piece that just won't take.  You will be left with a dinged up piece of crown with about 50 nails through it, laying on the floor.

So, in attempt to make my life easier and simultaneously obtain a dramatic effect, I first nail up a 1x4 as the backing piece.

1x4 going up. I know, I'm not afraid to recycle pictures
Now, with this 1x going up, I'm able to take my time with fastening this piece to the wall.  And, the good news is: I can use tapcons if I need to, or turn my piece to Swiss cheese by firing in 100+ nails into it, as the entire upper half of this 1x will be hidden by the crown once it is installed!  Hell, I can even throw this up there with construction adhesive if I want to.  Genius, right?

Truth be told: this went up pretty easily, and it sets the tone with a nice level line across the top of your room.  The human eye can pick up subtle things like that.  But, as you will see in the next post, installing this 1x potentially saved us a ton of time, material, and energy (and I have none of the above).  And by using a more flexible piece of Ogee on the bottom, we are able to hide any inconsistencies we have on our walls.  Ours have plenty.  

Hopefully this synopsis explains why we went with a three-piece crown. Please stay tuned as I continue to answer these thought provoking crown molding questions from our readers!

Do you have any crown war stories or pictures? Please share your thoughts in the comments!