Rewire Complete

After many hours, much help, and a few long hiatuses, I finally finished rewiring the house this weekend. The last two circuits involved moving some junction boxes left over from the kitchen remodel of 2001-ish to a place where they would remain accessible after we drywall the basement ceiling. Only half-jokingly, the genesis for this project was an order of operations problem so that we could build a bookshelf in the office.

So what was involved in the project? Well, in July, we had a professional install a new panel for 200 Amp service (from 125 Amp) and hook up new service. The guy did a brilliant job of unhooking everything, adding a new panel, and then reconnecting everything using newer breakers. However, that’s where the fun really began. After the new panel, we planned out several new branch circuits, including things like converting the fridge, radon, crawlspace, basement lights and home theater circuit in to just the home theater circuit. There were about five circuits that really seemed to be high priority to reduce load on some already overloaded and somewhat haphazardly connected circuits.

With the exception of first floor lighting, we replaced the wiring on all the older branch circuits wit the exception of some of the kitchen circuits. The first floor lighting wiring is original metal-clad, 2 conductor wiring. It was in surprisingly good shape, and rather than destroy the ceiling to replace it, we left those runs in place.

The bathrooms proved to be challenging. Part of the challenge was that they were on multi-room circuits. Part of the problem was that the circuits weren’t entirely Ground Fault Circuit Interruptor (GFCI) protected. Part of the problem was that the fans were on the same switch as the light. Part of the problem was that one of the fans vented in to the wall void. And so on. Now, the bathrooms are in a better place, though it turns out you can’t have a quiet, efficient fan with a light in a 2″ x 4″ ceiling. The replacement fan for upstairs is 80% as loud and effective as the last.

The last part was to clean up the panel itself. Harrowing work, but also kind of fun. Who doesn’t like some excitement? After seeing some instructional videos and pictures of panels that were wired as part of new construction, my rewire panel was rather ugly. I did some cleanup, but discovered that my panel was already cleaner than many. The last item of business was to then add several Arc Fault Circuit Interruptors (AFCI) to bedrooms and to the main lighting circuit (which included the oldest wiring and a few dead-in-wall runs).

All told, the project took much of July, a weekend in August before we changed gears to paint the house, a weekend in November, a couple days in December, several weekends in January and finishing in the second weekend in February. I only got shocked once (which happened while drywalling, ironically), and one arc fault on a rewire of a 3-way lighting circuit when the ground wire came in to contact with the hot terminal.

When projects take this long, you tend to forget how much work (and money) went in to them, and there’s only so much excitement that comes from new outlets, but given some of the nightmares that I found in the walls, I’m far more comfortable now with my knowledge of the new wiring and circuits.

Wiring Update

I’m approaching the halfway mark on our wiring project, but we’ve pretty much only worked with the easy branch circuits so far. The panel and service have been updated, the basement lighting and outlets have been added/changed, the overloaded fridge/crawl space/lighting/home theater/radon circuit has been broken up in to 3 separate circuits, the furnace, garage and water heater have all been updated and moved, and a whole panel surge suppressor has been added. And as of last night, the guest room has it’s own AFCI protected circuit with a ceiling fan.

But that’s the easy stuff. The remaining circuits span multiple floors, are split up with junction boxes like nobody’s business. The wiring is much harder to access without doing some damage to the plaster, and there’s just no easy access to most of the runs.

One of the more challenging aspects is trying to understand some of the exiting circuits. You pop of the lid to a junction box and the rat’s nest of old wiring and wire nuts is frightening. There’s also this old junction box in the basement stairwell which must have been the original service panel. Most of the first floor and second floor is lit and powered by the wires coming in and out of the box. I spent some time flipping breakers and labeling wires last night and I think time will be saved if I just bust open the plaster so I can see what is going on behind the walls.
An old junction box with old and older wiring. Scary.
Anyway, the project has been mostly fun, though I know I do have to go back in to the crawl space again soon, and I’m more sore than I expected, but there’s great satisfaction in making these updates. The basement, for example, is a completely different place.


Several weeks back now, a rather sudden burst of wind and rain hit our house with such force that it peeled the back side (west side) of the roof off. I was changing Madeline on the landing upstairs when I saw the trees down the street start bending and shaking, then the wind hit our house like a compact car. Immediately, bits of shingle and flashing started blowing by the window, and then I heard a sickening sound of something big sliding down the roof.

Michelle and Ella were in the basement when a 5′ by 10′ segment of shingles just slid off the roof on to the ground. We went outside to look and realized the wind had basically picked up the corner of the roof and just peeled the newest layer of shingles back for about half of the backside of the roof. Some of 50’s era shingles had been blown off to, leaving bits of the original cedar shake, and in some places, ship lath, exposed. Michelle and I looked at each other in horror as the rain continued to fall until we realized that we’d actually have to do something so the inside of our house didn’t get soaked.

So, we called my parents to see if they could watch the girls, Michelle ran down to harbor freight to get a big-ass tarp, and I read about how to tarp a roof on the internet. I know – pretty obvious stuff right?

My dad brought over the truck and ladders, I got out my climbing rope and harness, and we set about removing as much extra loose roof as possible before unfurling the massive tarp and nailing it to the roof. We rolled one end of the tarp in 2x2s for a nailing surface, then used other strips to hold the tarp’s edge to the side of the house and roof so it wouldn’t just blow away. We got the roof water-tight, called the insurance company, then barely slept that night listening as gusts of wind rippled over the giant sheet of blue plastic.

We got a few bids on the roof, and by the start of the following week, a dumpster and materials were dropped off. Then the roof came off on one side and was replaced by a new roof. The front side was more complex and took two days. I felt so bad for the roofers as it started to rain at the end of the second day. By the time they finished on the 3rd day, it was pouring. By mid-day on the 4th day, the whole thing was done – and it looked fantastic.

Then yesterday, minutes after paying the roofers, we heard a storm alert on the radio, specifically cautioning about high-winds that can do property damage. Luckily, none was done.

Electrostatic precipitator

When we purchased our current home, the furnace situation was a bit of a mess. The furnace was an old oil-burning monster that had been converted to burn natural gas. The exhaust running through the crawl space was full of holes, and instead of a fabric air filter, it had an electrostatic precipitator. In theory, this was cool – precipitators use a negative charge on large plates to effectively remove particles from the air.

However, the precipitator didn’t work, and when we replaced the furnace with a much newer gas furnace, we asked the installer to remove the precipitator. He didn’t, saying it still worked and was good thing to have. Sadly, he was wrong about it working. So air just passed through it to a reusable filter below.

Then, when we remodled the basement, we built a wall around the entire unit to quiet the whole operation down. I left access panels on both sides for the filter and to access the furnace proper. It really quieted things down, which made the basement a much more pleasant place to be. Then, last winter, the furnace started acting up. Twice, the unit died. Once, the ignition element cracked, and the second time, the board died. On the service visit, Todd Morrison (who is awesome) recommended removing the precipitator because he felt there was some restriction on the airflow. I cleaned out what I could in the precipitator from below, but the top portion was now closed in by the wall. (whoops)

Yesterday I pulled out the fabric filter, grabbed the sawzall, a drill, and some tin snips and started taking apart the precipitator plates. It was dirty and slow. But then I hit the motherload. Atop the two metal plates (the positive then the negatively charged panels), I found a screen mesh that was clogged with suety, gross lint and nastiness. See.

I fired up the furnace, and the airflow was immediately improved. The air stunk of burnt oil, so I ran the unit for a while while everyone was gone with all the windows open. Now we should be in for a cheaper, warmer winter.

Chicken Experiment ends

Hens in a pen
Hens in a pen

On the afternoon of September 6th we disassembled the chicken coop (don’t build a coop with a green roof if you need to move it) and helped move it to it’s new home with a nice lady who love animals and wants to stop participating in the chicken-machine. I followed the new owner of the hens and coop to her house and watched the heads of the nervous (and panting) chickens in the back of her wagon. The comical lift of the head, quick turn, and slight movement of the comb as it catches up was always one of my favorite things about the animals. Besides the eggs of course.

Over the summer, we had been compiling a list of pros and cons, mostly around 5am when I was going outside to throw them some scratch to keep them quiet. I had tremendous guilt about the noise they made, mostly because they were so close to the neighbor’s bedroom window. And the neighbor liked to keep late hours.

Anyway, here’s a list of the pros and cons, possibly for consideration for other folks:


  • Funny pets
  • Wonderful, wonderful eggs
  • Eat kitchen scraps
  • The funny cocked-head look through the basement window at the TV
  • Emergency food source
  • I’m sure there’s more


  • Messy
  • The ecosystem that develops around the mess (flies, mice, rats, possums
  • Predators
  • Getting woken up during the night by attempts made by predators
  • The noise
  • Guilt associated with the noise (Andy only)
  • Getting up at 5am to feed them to keep them quiet, because the neighbors just went to bed an hour ago
  • Occasional escapes meant a back yard disaster
  • Loss of yard space and vegetation
  • I’m not sure the whole fertilizer thing actually ever works

The funny thing is that Michelle had been listening to me complain about them all summer (literally bolting out of bed at 5am, cursing them) so she was certain I’d want rid of them. Unbeknownst to her, I’d actually decided to try an make it another year with them at the same time she’d put them on craigslist. The coop of course is so self-evidently awesome that they got snatched up immediately. I was kind of shocked by the whole thing and was kind of moody for a day or two, though Michelle is the one who actually cried when they drove away.

Now, a couple weeks later, I don’t think either of us regrets the decision much. Michelle found a source for eggs, and I’m less irritable at 5am, though with the darkening sky, it’s been more like 6am. We’re still not entirely certain what we’re going to do with the surprisingly large area they’d taken over, but come next year, the soil will probably be ready to go.

Freezer Jam

Back in July, Michelle, the girls and I went out to Sauvie Island to pick berries. The trip was a blast, and the girls came home a mess. We picked way more berries than we could possibly eat fresh, but we did this with the intention of making freezer jam. It’s a method of preserving that seems to rely on there being way too much sugar in the jam to allow bad microbes from developing (I’m sure we all heard the osmotic pressure stories in biology). Also, being stored frozen helps. As a brewer, the lack of sanitary steps was somewhat alarming, but I suppose this isn’t anything new.

Anyway, we made Strawberry, Strawberry-Blueberry, and Raspberry. All three turned out quite well, though the Strawberry may have suffered slightly due to a lack of truly firm berries (they were definitely ripe). The Raspberry on the otherhand turned out most delicious, possibly owing to the opposite; the berries had literally just come on and were ripe enough but also still solid fruit.

All three jams are delicious though, and we’ve already managed to finish off two or three jars. It has been enjoyable to have our own stash of jam without the seeming complexity (read: a whole bunch of stuff) of canning.


I don’t think using the internet to help me fix a chainsaw is emasculating. And even if it was, standing at the top of a ladder cutting logs out of the crown of a birch tree with the saw over my head made up for it. Wait, maybe I’m confusing stupidity and masculinity. Either way, the tree is gone. And by “tree,” I mean the fun part – you know, the part above the ground that you get to use the chainsaw for. I’m saving the stump and roots for Michelle.

More Windows

After two winters with the horrible windows upstairs, we finally decided to replace the windows in ours and Ella’s bedrooms. We decided to use vinyl windows upstairs because they aren’t as visible from the street, because the one functioning window upstairs is already vinyl, because they were cheaper, and lastly, and possibly most importantly, we couldn’t get a wooden double-hung window big enough for our room nor an wooden arch top small enough for Ella’s. We bought our windows from Parr again (making it the 13th, 14th and 15th from them) but didn’t have quite the same service as usual. The big window was over 2 weeks late, and several times when it was supposed to be available or delivered, it wasn’t. Makes it difficult to shop local.

The window in her room was an old wood-frame, round-top, single-pane thing that was both drafty and let a generous amount of condensation form on the inside during the winter. The condensation also promoted mildew growth, so we had to clean her window and sill with some frequency. Replacing it was easy enough, though it exposed how poorly done the exterior trim around the windows was. None of the newer trim had been primed, so the latex paint was peeling like mad. The calking around the windows had failed as well because the paint it was adhered to lost it’s integrity. So half the time was spent installing the window, and half sanding, priming, sealing the old woodwork.

Yesterday afternoon the big window (a birthday present) finally arrived (and was delivered by the repentant sales guy, no less) and I tore out the old aluminum frame window. It looks like it was designed to be used in an RV. The quality was so poor and the window didn’t ever seat right, so during the winter, you could stand anywhere in our bedroom and feel a breeze. A cold breeze. So it was mildly satisfying to remove it and clean up the frame for the new window. I had to cut a small shim to put on one side because the opening turned out to be 1/4″ too large, but a really quick trip over to my dad’s shop solved that. Just putting the window up into the opening, even without being sealed was as good as the previous window as far as draft and noise. After installing it and caulking the outside, it was draftless, quiet, and really nice looking.

Immediately after installing it, the ambient outside noise was suddenly coming from the remaining front window. It’s next, and I may try to tackle it tonight after work since it’s a relatively simple install and will make the project be mostly over. Except for replacing the trim with matching wood rather than gauche fiberglass molding. And going back to paint the woodwork around the windows.


My former vegetarian of a wife recently purchased half of a half beef from a local farmer, which she split with a co-worker. The two of them compared multiple local farmers/ranchers and ultimately decided on this farm. I imagine the farmer’s blog explains why they chose the farm, but I think economy also factored in. Which is why we weighed and calculated it all as we crammed our freezer full of meat.

Over the last few years, we’ve slowly increased our consumption of meat (not hard for a vegetarian), though we’re still way under the average for Americans, which I suspect is partly due to the cost of the meat we buy, our enjoyment of alternative protein sources (I actually like fake sausage better than some of the cheap pork varieties), and because of the litany of health and environmental reasons for doing so. These are among the reasons we have 3 noisy chickens in our back yard – we know they’re treated well, we know their diet, and we know what was involved in the lifespan of the “product”. Oh, and the eggs are really good.

I’m not going to get in to all the stuff about the state of commercial feedlot operations, the treatment of cattle or anything because it seems like there’s so much already written about it. Suffice to say we’ve managed to get a cow who’s trip through the food system is one that we can get behind while at the same time supporting local businesses, reducing the amount of oil used in the production of our beef, and lastly, but not insignificantly, saved some money.

The initial judgement of the product will likely begin tonight.