home repair

DIY Home Weatherization Workshop @ Tum-A-Lum Lumber

Today we offered our 5th workshop in partnership with Tum-A-Lum Lumber. This time we discussed materials and methods for weatherizing your home! We talked about DIY air sealing, door weather-stripping and sweeps, insulation types, R-value, building science and more. Participants left with a better understanding of how to increase their home's comport and energy efficiency as well as a coupon good towards their next purchase of weatherization materials from Tum-A-Lum.
home weatherizaion workshop
home weatherization workshop
home weatherization workshop donuts

Workshop Kick-Off @ Tum-A-Lum Lumber

Hey everyone, sorry it's been a while since my last post. I've been busy working on starting my own business, enerstructa llc, which offers EPS home verifications, energy consulting and carpentry & home repair workshops. I am partnering with a local business, Tum-A-Lum Lumber in Hood River, OR, to offer monthly workshops which will be held on the last Saturday of each month from 9-11am. Today was their Founders Day event so I was there tabling to kick-off the workshop series. Participants were able to learn more about upcoming workshops as well as build and take home a hanging planter box. It was so much fun teaching people to build, especially the kids as they caught on so quickly! Check out the photos below. I'm excited for the first official workshop in 2 weeks, on July 29th, where parents can bring their kids to build bird houses. Space is limited and sign-ups will be managed by Tum-A-Lum. Once the event is created, I will post a link here to register!
enerstructa llc
enerstructa llc
enerstructa llc
enerstructa llc

Support Women Building Workshops!

Hello! I am starting my own business with a focus on empowering women through building workshops. Through the workshops, women will learn how to use tools and choose materials to successfully build a variety of DIY projects as well as hone home repair skills. To get these workshops going, I started a gofundme campaign which you can check out, share and donate here. The money from this fundraiser will go toward workshop development, space rental, tool and material acquisition. If enough funds are raised, I will also be able to offer a scholarship program to ensure equitable access for all. I greatly appreciate all of your support!
*Follow along on Facebook and Instagram @SheStructs!

Swapping Switches & Outlets

Disclaimer: I am not an electrician. (Though I have considered it as a potential career.) I have learned wiring from friends and books and the following is my knowledge of how to replace old switches and outlets with new ones. If you need to do electrical work, I highly recommend doing your research or having a professional help you.

Ok, that said, today I swapped out the switches and outlets in the three upstairs bedrooms in the house where I am living. One thing I learned is that it takes a lot of patience to work with wiring, especially when you have to work with a decades old system. Having the right tools helps. I used a voltage tester, drill, screwdriver, needle nose pliers, wire stripper, and utility knife (for cutting off old plaster chunks). I gathered these tools along with the new outlets, switches and plates in a box. Then I switched off the breakers corresponding to the bedroom outlets and switches. Luckily everything is well labeled so I didn't have to do any back and forth testing.

New (left) and old (right) dimmer switches

In the first bedroom, I started with the switch. With the voltage tester, I checked to ensure there was no incoming power. With that confirmed, I unscrewed the cover plate and then the switch plate. I pulled the switch out from the wall box with the attached wires, one hot and one neutral. The ground was connected to the switch box since the existing switch lacked a place to secure it. I unscrewed the black (hot) wire first, then the white (neutral), then I freed the ground wire with the pliers so all wires were ready to be attached to the new switch. 

I learned to connect the ground first so I began with the ground wire which I shaped with the pliers to have a small curved hook at the end. I hooked the end of the wire around the green screw so that the wire curved clockwise. I did it this way so when I tightened the screw, the clockwise direction of the tightening of the screw would match the wrapping of the wire for a more secure attachment. Then I attached the neutral wire to the silver screw and hot wire to the gold screw. (The gold screws were labeled at hot on the back of the switch which was helpful to reaffirm what I thought to be true.) 
Old dimmer switch wiring
New dimmer switch wiring
After all three wires were tightened to the screws, I pushed the switch back into the receptacle, screwed in the screws with the dill (since they are longer screws). Then I used the screwdriver to attach the new metal cover plate. I like to use a screwdriver for this since the screws are usually short and it reduces the chance that I will accidentally scratch the plate with the tip.

Then, I started on the outlets in the room. I used the same process as for the switch except some of the outlets had two hot wires and two neutral wires depending on their original wire run sequencing. The outlets with more wires were a little more complicated, so I made sure to keep track of which wire was attached to where on the old outlet so I would reattach it to the same spot on the new outlet.

I repeated this process in the other two bedrooms. My room has a dimmer switch which was actually no more complicated than the other switches. In four hours, I had rewired 3 switches and 7 outlets! Then I just had to check to see if they all worked. I went back to the basement to switch on the breakers I had switched off and then used the voltage tester along with a lamp, outlet strip, phone charger, etc. to check the outlets. I flipped on all of the light switches and they all turned on, even mine with the dimmer. Success!

A Little Bit of Door Magic

One of the things about 100 year old homes is that most things are no longer plumb, level or square (if they even were to begin with in the first place). After readjusting the front door strike plate shortly after moving in so I wouldn't be frustrated with the latching and locking mechanisms every time I moved in and out, I recently decided to fix the side door as well. The owner and contractors working on the house said it was difficult to open and that special tricks including pliers and pulling up on the door were necessary to unlock and open it. Many people assume that old doors just get that way over time and nothing can be done to fix them. But you interact with door hardware every day so why not find a way to improve the functionality?

Luckily, the work at a previous job gave me plenty of experience with the quirks of old doors, most of which can be fixed. Sometimes there is a limit to the amount of fixing you can do, like tightening wobbly old door knobs, and you need to choose between living with these imperfections or finding another solution, which may be a new door knob or even a whole new door and jamb.

Many door problems can be fixed by "just" adjusting the strike plates of the latch, deadbolt or both. I say "just" because the solution to every door problem varies in difficulty with some requiring more skill and patience than others. The details and variations of which would lengthen this post greatly so I will just write about the door in my house specifically.

I began by gathering up the tools I would likely need: drill, drill and drive bits, hammer, chisel, tape and pencil. Next, I tried opening and closing and locking the door to gain an understanding of the door in its existing condition. I checked the hinge screws to ensure they were tight. I looked at the strike plates to see if there were any marks where the latch and deadbolt were hitting when the door would close. Sure enough, the marks were visible on both strike plates. I was lucky in this situation since part of the plates had been painted so the marks were obvious. That is not always the case.

The marks were at the lower edges of the openings in the strike plates which means that they needed to be re-positioned lower. I used my drill to remove the screws from each plate (you can also use a screwdriver) and then set the screws and plates aside while I began chiseling out wood at the bottom of the holes. I also chiseled out the wood the strike plates rest on at the bottom so they would remain flush with the rest of the door jamb. The trick with chisels is that you want to keep them sharp as it is much easier to do clean chiseling that way.

Then I temporary positioned the strike plates into their new positions with tape to check their locations before screwing them in place. I tested them by closing the door, making sure the latch and deadbolt easily slid into the holes.

When I got them where I wanted, I pre-drilled holes through the two small holes in each strike plate, making sure that my holes were not as deep as my screw length so the tip of the screws would tie into the wood without spinning. I was again lucky that I had existing wood in the door jamb to drill into for the new holes (sometimes you have to patch a new piece of wood in and then drill new screws into that) and that I could use the existing screws (sometimes you have to find new ones since the old ones may be stripped or too short). I kept the tape in place while doing this which is like having an extra hand.

Then I swapped my drill bit with my Phillips drive bit and drove in the screws. I did a final close and lock check and found success. The door is now much easier to open and close and does not require any special techniques or extra frustrations.

If you are in need of a little door magic, you know who to call!

Patching Register Holes

As a result of the heating system upgrade, the ducts from the old system were removed, leaving holes in the wood floor in the previous supply and return register grille locations. The owner wanted to patch these holes with wood to match the existing floor which was not an easy task given that the original floor is over 100 years old, has been refinished several times and not perfectly level. He originally wanted a 45 degree bevel routered along the edge of the hole opening and then wanted the patch piece to have a matching 45 degree bevel so that it would be supported by the floor without any fasteners, just glue between the bevels. In a perfect situation this may have been possible, but the existing conditions precluded that from working. The existing holes had not been cut straight or square and the floor varied in level even over only three inches!

I used a circular saw, jigsaw and chisel to make the openings closer to square but perfection is beyond my current skillset. Even so, I would have had to make some sort of jig for the router that would have had to somehow been clamped or tack nailed or taped to the floor. I suggested to just use wood pieces with 90 degree edges that would be supported from below by ledger pieces screwed into the subfloor. That was deemed an inelegant solution since the patch pieces would not look great with the imperfections of the hole perimeter. More thought was put into other solutions including solid metal plate patches, new antique looking register grilles, wood register grilles, painting the old register grilles and hiring professional help.

The owner was unsatisfied with all of these options for various reasons. He wanted a solution that would be flush with the existing floor and not allow a collection of dirt to accumulate inside of or around the hole. When he wanted to insulate the floor (which is also the basement ceiling with the radiant system installed underneath), I told him that he needed to decide on a register solution first because it would be much more difficult to work with the floor once the insulation was installed. Under this pressure, he finally decided to go back to the idea of the wood floor pieces with 90 degree edges supported by ledger pieces. The wood he found matches that of the stairs they rebuilt which will darken over time and hopefully be a closer match to the old floor. I also suggested wood putty or caulk to fill the small gap between patch piece and existing floor to prevent dirt from entering that crack.