Building My House

I have always wanted to build my own house. I am retired now, so I have the time. I found some land, designed a house that would fit the land and my needs and got started. I am doing all the work myself, so progress will be fairly slow. To read this blog from the beginning, start with the oldest archive and read posts from last to first.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Another Detour

Back in mid-June, after we finished installing ceramic tile in the girlfriend’s house I got some worrisome news. I would have to vacate the apartment that sat next to the building site. While losing the apartment wasn’t such a big deal, the fact that I had drawn all my electricity from that apartment was a problem for me. So, I had to do two things fairly quickly; 1. get electric service to the workshop and 2. build some kind of a room inside the workshop that could be air-conditioned and heated and could provide me a place to escape the summer heat and winter cold.

So, building the actual house has been put on hold until these two other tasks are complete. That has been the reason why there have been no posts to this blog during the interim. But now things are coming to a finish and I can take a break to write.

The room inside the workshop is just an 8x10 room with insulated walls. I guess the hardest thing about building the room was rearranging all the contents of the workshop to carve out enough space to build it. As I am building this house by myself and I can’t both pick up and install 4x8 pieces of sheetrock alone, so I decided to do the interior in masonite (also called hardboard).

Now, as for the electricity, I had to get busy and finish a preliminary electrical plan for the house and workshop. Yes, I could have brought in a temporary electric service pole fairly easily, but then everything in my workshop would be running off extension cords for a long time. I didn’t particularly like that idea. Something more permanent appealed to me.

So, I checked out a couple of books from the local library on residential wiring and started reading. I also visited with an electrician who said he would be willing to work with me as an inspector to see that I wasn’t doing anything dangerous. The particular book I read talked about the electrical code (as in the NEC) being just a minimum set of standards and that in some cases going “above code” was not only smart, but that it didn’t have to be overly expensive either. My electrician also had a few suggestions along those lines, such as pulling two extra 12-2 with ground cables up into the attic as well as two extra 10-3 cables; those to be there for future additions if needed. Run them back to circuit breakers that would be taped to the off position and marked for future use. Another one was how to do GFCI breaker coverage in kitchens and bathrooms less expensively. So that everyone understands this that reads it, a little background is in order. For GFCI protection you can either install a GFCI breaker in the panel (about $35 each) or you can install individual GFCI protected plugs in all locations needing one (about $10 each). They are usually recognized by the push to test and push to reset buttons located on the face of the receptacles (plugs). There is yet another way to do it that is code accepted and that is to use a standard breaker in the panel and a GFCI plug at the first box in the circuit. There are two screws on the back of the GFCI plug that you can attach to plugs further downline in the circuit. Using them makes all the plugs on that circuit GFCI protected.

I asked him about doing the same type idea in the bedrooms which must be AFCI protected, but he didn’t have a cheaper way of doing those.

My electrician listed everything I would need and I got it all for about $300. We went with a 200 amp exterior combination main service panel that contains both a meter can as well as a main service disconnect and slots for 8 circuit breakers. All the workshop circuits will be run off this panel. Also located in the panel are three lugs (attachment points) that I can use when I want to run my big wire to the auxiliary main panel that I will mount in the utility room of my finished house. At first I thought I would not use an auxiliary panel, but my electrician straightened me out on that too. His logic, you have to use big expensive cable (wire) for certain things like ranges, air conditioners, water heaters, etc. If the panel is far away from these things the wire runs will be long AND expensive. If the panel is close to these things; short and less expensive. So, I will go with an auxiliary main panel in the finished house. It also gives us the benefit of not having to go all the way out into the workshop to reset a popped circuit breaker. As an example of this I saw a guy in the checkout line ahead of me buying a whole bunch of electrical stuff for a remodel. One item was an 80 foot length of big conductor three wire (with ground) cable. This stuff was as big around as a quarter coin. The guy said it was for the air conditioner. That cable alone cost $240. There were several other big rolls of wire in his basket, and all because all his loads were quite far from his service panel.

It took about a day to install everything; the panel, the 8’ ground rod (which was quite difficult to drive into the ground - remember I have a shale layer that starts two feet down), the rigid conduit “mast”, the weather head and then get all the 4/0 aluminum cable thread thru it and down into the service panel. Since aluminum corrodes (oxidizes) in air I used anti-corrosion paste on all the connections. That being done I had the electrician come out and inspect everything. He liked what he saw, so the next morning I called the electrical utility company and wonder of wonders, they said I was first on their list, so I would get power that afternoon. The truck showed up at 1 pm and by 2 he was through and gone. So, now I have power.

All my workshop circuits are installed now and I even put in two extra circuits for future use. I did all this because the panel is on one of the walls that will be insulated and covered over with masonite.

If any of you readers have suggestions, I’m all ears.

Something Different

I was in Lowes one day awhile back and found some really cheap ceramic floor tile. I liked the pattern and bought a bunch of it; like 24 cases of the stuff (16 pieces per case). The girlfriend got one look at it, and she wanted it too, buying 16 cases of it for her kitchen and laundry room. I had done a little research on “cheap tile” in a couple of forums and got opinions all the way from avoid it like the plague to go on and give it a try. We unpacked and inspected every piece after getting it home, and returned about 40 broken, chipped or otherwise unacceptable tiles, which Lowes replaced with no questions. Forty bad out of 640 wasn’t bad, and now that they had all been inspected, we knew we would have enough tile to finish the job. We bought 10% extra, but didn’t need anywhere near that much (at least on this project).

So, over the Memorial Day weekend we put down ceramic tile in girlfriend’s kitchen and utility room. We had bought the tile installation book written for Lowes, but in all honesty, all we needed was the instructions on the mortar and grout bags. In retrospect though, the book did tell us that if the vinyl flooring was stuck down well and that it wasn’t the “resilient” type vinyl we could put the tile down directly over the vinyl (which we did). So, from a time savings viewpoint the book was probably worth the bucks.

Her vinyl was a wood pattern, and according to my measurements had been layed square, so I used her pattern as my layout lines. That helped speed the project along too.

On the first day we got about 80 full sized tiles layed in the center of the room. We probably could have done more, but we “back buttered” every tile before laying them. On the second day we got the rest of the full sized tiles down. So, now we had about 60 edge pieces to cut, some of which were going to be complex cuts as they had to fit around door frames. I asked around and several people told me I could use the diamond blade (see previous posts) that I had used to cut all my concrete block. I chucked it up in the table saw and it cut very well, but it did leave the edges a little ratty. Still, it worked more than well enough as all the ratty edges would be covered by wood floor trim anyway. I still can’t believe it, but we didn’t break a single tile, nor did we miscut a single tile in the whole job. So, all our extra tiles were left over when the job was complete. On the third day, we layed all the edge pieces except the complex pieces that went around the door frames and under the stove and dishwasher, and we grouted all the fullsize tiles .

We chose a bone color grout, which should have come out a shade darker than the tile. Well, it was exactly the color we wanted, when it was wet, but after it dryed, it was the same color as the tile. It doesn’t look bad, but it also isn’t exactly what she wanted either. Still though she is pretty happy.

On the fourth day or so a friend loaned me his Harbor Freight tile saw which I used to cut the pieces that go around the doors. I think my diamond blade in the table saw method worked just as well as his tile saw and it had the added advantage of not spraying and dripping water all over everywhere when in use. Still though, I can’t complain. The job went well.

We had to run six tiles up under the range and dishwasher and in the process found a plumbing leak which shut us down during the middle of the project. I isolated the problem to a leaking water valve on the dishwasher and ordered a part over the internet. It came in four days later and the change-out took about an hour. Now, keeping fingers crossed, we had no more leaks, so the next day the remaining tiles went in under the stove and dishwasher.

As we had never installed ceramic tile before, we are very pleased with the installation. From start to finish, it took about 8-10 days, but a lot of that time was waiting on a plumbing part.

We debated whether to seal the grout or not. Then something spilled and discolored the grout in one spot. Next morning we sealed all the grout. It took about an hour. Here’s a tip for you: If your grout is light in color, it stains very easily.
So now we have some experience in laying tile. And we get to see what the tile will look like in my house when it’s finished.
Update - a month or two later. The tile has performed well. Though we have dropped one or two heavy things on it, none of the tiles have broken. I can't say the same thing for the pyrex dish that we dropped on it.