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Issue number 1, wherein I introduce myself and a topic that, while it might not elect Democrats in the Fall, might help the at-home lives of those who WILL work for and elect Democrats in the Fall.  Thus, obliquely, germane to the interests of the Kossak Kommunity.

I'm now over 60, and I've been building things all my life. I am a licensed General Contractor.   I grew up in a house that was being rebuilt around us, and I learned a simple lesson. People can do things. Most people,  especially those who think of themselves as total idiots in this regard, in my experience, are surprised to find out how much they can do, once they are shown how.  It ain't  rocket science.  I watched as my step-father converted our coal burning furnace to a oil burning furnace, using a Sears, Roebuck kit, over fifty years ago.

I'll be here this morning until 11AM MDT and I'll try to answer questions, if I can type fast enough to keep up.

Follow me over the fold, and we'll begin...

Lesson 1- Changing a light bulb.

You will need four friends and a chair.  Place chair beneath lightbulb. Stand on chair and grasp bulb securely. Direct four friends to lift up chair and walk in a circle until bulb is free from fixture. Reverse this procedure to install new bulb.  If this is unclear, email me, and I'll send you a detailed diagram.
<cue laugh track>

I'll try to keep things simple.  Today's topic will be electricity in your home, specifically the GFCI safety device.

The first thing anybody needs to know about electricity in their home is that what we all take for granted is an amazing high energy event, every time we use it.  Take ten seconds and imagine your life without electricity. .............

OK, got that?  Armies of technicians work day and night to make that happen, irregardless of the economics involved, which is a whole other topic I'll be glad to engage with you on in another location. Respect and cherish those people who harness the magic of the electricity genie.

Here is the other side. Take only a second or two and imagine that energy in that wall receptacle (what you "plug into")  moving through you, rather than a wire.  .......

Got that one? It can kill you, or your kid. Respect it.

OK. In that realm, we all have those funny plugs, what are called "GFCI receptacles", somewhere in the pad: the bathroom, the kitchen, or outside, or all three.  There also exist "GFCI circuit breakers" which do the same thing but do it from the circuit breaker box  rather than at the receptacle itself. GFCI means Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter and what it does is constantly monitor it's circuit and, if it detects a problem in the ground, interrupts the circuit, stopping the energy flow and maybe saving your life.  This is the one about the radio or the hair dryer falling into the bathtub and zapping you. The GFCI shuts off the power before it can harm you.

"Ground", BTW, is where loose, escaped-from-it's-wires, electricity is trying to go; the Earth itself. In fact, the English refer to it as "earth" rather than "ground".  In modern house wiring, the ground wire is an extra wire, a "conductor", either bare copper or sheathed in green (the universal ground symbol),  connected literally to the earth, parallel to current bearing wires throughout the house, and is the escape hatch for electricity to find ground without going through you on it's way.  The GFCI is an added high-tech safety improvement on top of the grounding system.  They didn't have them when I was  kid.

I don't know how a GFCI works; it's techno-wizardry that I, and you, don't have to understand, to have work for us.

There is one obscure but crucial piece of info I want you all to know about GFCI receptacles or breakers: they need to be exercised to remain effective.

One of approx 257,000 hits Google yields to "GFCI  maintenance" query.  Actually says "exercise" in reference to circuit breakers, which should be exercised yearly at least, as opposed to monthly, for the more sensitive GFCIs.

 Read the fine print on or in the box.  It will tell you to trip it once a month. "Trip" means to exercise it's function by pressing the little button that says "test" until the device goes "click".  That has shut off the power to the device. The other little button says "reset" (sometimes it's red)   , and pressing it until it clicks will restore the power.

Basically, you want to test this little sucker all the time, to keep it alert and crisp, ready to do it's thing if called upon.  Left to itself, it will pout from the neglect, lose it's self respect wait, that's the psych lecture notes...ahem, the device needs to be exercised so as to not build up corrosion internally and affect the extreme sensitivity of the device to subtle shifts in current.


If you have a GFCI circuit breaker protecting the required receptacles, it will be in the circuit breaker box from which all the electricity in your house is distributed.  In this box on the wall, inside or outside of your house, is the "main breaker", the off switch for the entire house. Below it are circuit breakers, or, in really old houses, fuses, that protect individual circuits that carry electricity throughout your house. One of these breakers may be a GFCI breaker, and it has a "test" button on it as well.  Push it and then reset it. It is reset by moving the little handle all the way off and then clicking it all the way "on" again.  

   And behind the door...
These circuit breakers control individual circuits, which are wires in a system to carry the current to individual appliances on the circuit, the receptacles (Plug ins) and built in lighting.  Some circuits are "dedicated", like for your washing machine or your fridge or possibly even your computer, and serve one appliance only. Other circuits distribute the current to the plugs in one area, for whatever you plug in, or the lights in one area.  All this stuff was originally installed by a licensed tech and was inspected by a gov't building inspector  when your house was built, according to the codes in effect at that time.

(I can see that I am going to have to address electrical systems as a whole, and what you need to know about them, in another session.)

It is also worth noting that one breaker, or one GFCI receptacle, properly wired, can protect many receptacles in different locations.  A GFCI is required by code in bathrooms and in kitchens near water sources, as well as for all exterior receptacles.  You can check which recepts are  GFCI protected by tripping ("test") the breaker or recept. Any recept in the house that no longer has power when the device is tripped is being protected by the device. If you are a renter, I suspect that the landlord is required to provide these devices by law to meet standards of habitability, at least in the civilized parts of the US.

Whatever. I want you all to come away from this thread aware of the GFCIs in your life and dedicated to exercising GFCIs whenever you encounter them. Test your friends' GFCI. Test the one in the restroom at work, and the restaurant where you have dinner.  Do your own at least once a month, if not more often. Once a week would not be excessive. Click "test" and then "reset".

If you don't have GFCIs in your home, you probably should, although my family managed to survive the last half of the past century without them.  I can walk you through installing one for yourself if you need one. They cost around ten bucks, and can be safely installed by a sane and sober human without danger if directions are followed. There is a tendency in the process of regulating safety to make things totally idiot proof, that ignorance of things like electricity shouldn't just kill you because you fucked up a little bit.  I explain it to my workers as, in the example of building a deck, or balcony, that it has to be strong enough to endure all the drunken teenagers that can cram onto it jumping up and down to see how strong it is, or just jumping up and down (in unison) for the hell of it.  Drunkproof, I call it.  Thus, GFCI recepts or breakers.


I'll get into trouble if I try to show you how to do things that are the realm of licensed techs.  Because I know my own limitations, and enough about electricity, I do this work for myself on my own house, at my own risk.  If I fuck up and harm myself, I have nobody else to blame but myself.  I accept that as the price of my freedom to work on or repair my own property.  I won't tell you to do this kind of thing for yourself, but some people do, just like some people fix their own cars.

I hope this is useful. It's only a start, if enough Kossaks stroke me for doing it. I thrive on praise (unique, aren't I?), so make me feel useful and treat me with respect and I'll be your slave, cyberneticly speaking.  If anyone has a specific immediate house-type concern to address, bring it on and I'll do what I can with it.  Let me know where you want this to go. I'm starting from a point of assuming that everyone here doesn't know any of this stuff. I do know that there are many handy Kossaks and a lot of this stuff is already known to them.

If I get something wrong here, jump on my ass.

UPDATE 10 AM I'm taking a quick break for breakfast but I'll BRB ad continue responding in 20 min or so.

Originally posted to claude on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 06:53 AM PDT.


Did you know about exercising your GFCI before this?

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Comment Preferences

  •  Where were you when my son and I tried to install (12+ / 0-)

    a light fixture over the dining room table?

    We did it, but we should have bought a voltage tester first, it's more relaxing that way.

    Good idea for a diary!

    This above all: to thine own self be true...-WS

    by Agathena on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 06:49:36 AM PDT

  •  thanks for this. (10+ / 0-)

    up until last september I've always been a renter, and not particularly concerned about home maintenance or repair. That was the landlords deal.   Now, as an actual homeowner, I have to start fixing things myself so this diary and the future ones will be a GREAT help to me.  

    Thank you again for this and I do look forward to more.

  •  You're in trouble (9+ / 0-)

    (in a singsongy voice)

    I own a lovely 1906 house, and am ALWAYS having issues.

    I'm gonna start making a list during the week....

    "We answer to the People, not the Corporations" A Real Democratic Slogan

    by paddykraska on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 06:57:50 AM PDT

    •  ooooh, an oldie (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      high uintas, gmb, paddykraska
      bring it on.

      -8.0, -7.03 don't always believe what you think...

      by claude on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 06:58:42 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Mine was built 1913... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      high uintas, gmb, paddykraska list will be extensive, let me tell you...

      •  I've got an 18th century farmhouse (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        all the real problems that need fixing date to 'improvements' from the 20th century, however. Just finished rewiring virtually the entire house, and undoing some bits of hackery that, when I discovered them, left me stunned. They were so unsafe, I'm still somewhat amazed that there hadn't been an electrical fire at some stage.

        •  18th century farmhouse? (0+ / 0-)

          I remember one of those down the road when I was a kid. And then 200 years of ad-ons to that!  Major money pit, but it will be worth it, someday.  I salute you for taking it on. Are you doing the wiring pesonally?

          I love to poke around in really old places, to see how they built things back then.

          -8.0, -7.03 don't always believe what you think...

          by claude on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 09:59:59 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  yes, I did all the rewiring (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            it would have cost a fortune to hire an electrician, and I studied wiring in school years ago though I never got my license.

            I've done pretty much everything else on the house as well, including rebuilding the roof and tearing down the chimney and rebuilding that. The one job I begged off on was replacing the ground floor (which had gone soft). The whole thing had to be ripped out and all new joists put in, so it was a job for a contractor. I did do the finish work on that as well, however.

            •  Bravo, Sminth! (0+ / 0-)

              You have gotten quite an education, doing all that. Old chimney?  Didn't happen to be a Count Runmford type fireplace, did it?  They show up in old New England houses, but I have no idea if you're there.

              We have stuff that old here in New Mexico, old adobe (my particular specialty) houses and stone, as well. Santa Fe was founded in 1610.  If you mean really old here in NM, some of the Pueblo Native villages go back  even further, and then there are the various Anasazi sites going back more than a thousand years.

              -8.0, -7.03 don't always believe what you think...

              by claude on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 10:19:51 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I'm in PA (0+ / 0-)

                and no, this chimney was relatively modern. It was built to run up inside the stone wall, and then tilt into the wall at the attic level to come out above the roof line flush with the outside wall. But all the flue angles were bungled, so I had to pull down the most difficult bits and do it right. One of my proudest creations. The resulting chimney looks like it is original to the house.

                Among the things I learned on this job is how to do stuccoing properly.

                •  we do a lot of stucco (0+ / 0-)

                  in New Mexico. Totally applicator sensitive.  And many new tech stuccos to experiment with. Then there's interior plaster, a whole other world of knowledge.

                  -8.0, -7.03 don't always believe what you think...

                  by claude on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 12:01:07 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

    •  I'm in a 1968 raised ranch (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      claude, paddykraska

      [1968 was a great year] and I know NOTHING because I lived in apartments all my adult life. It was "hey Super, please come and fix this or that."

      Looking forward to diaries on caulking and gutters.

      This above all: to thine own self be true...-WS

      by Agathena on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 08:05:39 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Uck (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:


        My big bugaboo is always electric. My house is wired extremely weird. The front wall of the house is on the same breaker as the kitchen at the back of the house and like that. Very funky.

        "We answer to the People, not the Corporations" A Real Democratic Slogan

        by paddykraska on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 08:16:12 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  yeah, mine is funky, too (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          I even have some old aluminum wiring in places, but I've replaced most of it. I have seen how aluminum wiring can cause a fire.  

          Not much you can do with wierd circuitry, as long as it's all working. Wires themselves don't "wear out" but you have to pay attention to where the wires are connected to each other and to other things. In old houses, these points of connection can corrode, building up resistance to the current flow, which causes heat, etc.  One good protective maintenance thing ids to take apart all the various recept and switch boxes. Disconnect each junction or connection, clip off half an inch of the old wire, strip back the insulation, and re-connect with fresh wire nuts. This gets everything moving through fresh connections.

          You, of course, will disable a circuit at the breaker, before taking anything apart.

          -8.0, -7.03 don't always believe what you think...

          by claude on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 08:27:50 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  That's interesting (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            I have, apparently, original 1913 wiring here; freaks out whatever electricians come to do any work.  I just heard the words "knob and tube" not too long ago, and am learning it's apparently not a good thing.  I actually  thought, previously, that my wiring wasn't so bad, because I have actual circuit breakers rather than fuses, but it turns out that my circuit box is an XO, which, I guess, is an antique in its own right. Sigh.

            •  I've seen 'Knob and tube' (0+ / 0-)

              I think. Separate wires, each strung from insulator to insulator. No ground.  The trick is to get to be able to actually see all the wires and stuff, see that they are intact, unfrayed, inplace on their insulators. The action is still at connections, although some of that old insulation can be a taste treat for mice. At least you're aware of what you have there.

              Best of luck.

              -8.0, -7.03 don't always believe what you think...

              by claude on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 08:45:19 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  Yeah, that's it (0+ / 0-)

                With two cats, mice, at least, aren't a problem.  I think the really big problem with old wiring is the risk of overloading the circuits, since we have so much more stuff to plug in than they did 80 years ago.  But most of my problems, so far, have been with individual circuit breakers failing.  

                •  Uh, no (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  if you still have knob and tube wiring then you should get it replaced asap. Trust me.

                  There are a lot of reasons for that. First, no matter whether you have cats, you (or your predecessors) are likely to have varmits in the walls at some stage. They often chew away at old insulation, which can cause sparks.

                  Second, if the wiring is a century old, the insulation is definitely brittle. Any insulation that was in any way damaged during installation is ready to fall off the wires by now.

                  Third, you have no ground. Lots of stuff requires a ground to be operated safely. Besides, you can easily give yourself a shock with wiring that has no ground.

                  Fourth, a hundred years ago many people installed their own wiring, and even the professionals did things that are not remotely safe. For ex., they typically spliced shorter bits of wire together and just taped them up. Almost never put these connections inside electrical boxes. Tape that old often just falls away from wiring when you touch it.

                  Even forty years ago, knob and tube wiring was considered a major hazard that needed immediate replacement. Usually it's easy enough to do yourself.

                  •  Thanks, Smintheus (0+ / 0-)

                    for pointing that out. I wasn't aware it was that critical and I'm glad you showed up to catch that.

                    Zoskie, you get that?


                    -8.0, -7.03 don't always believe what you think...

                    by claude on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 10:29:34 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                  •  I know (0+ / 0-)

                    I know it needs to be updated, but I don't think I'm enough of a handywoman to do it myself--and there's not currently enough money to have someone else do it.

                    •  often you can do much of the work yourself (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:

                      typically, knob and tube wiring is not stapled or otherwise affixed to the wood it runs along. So normally the way it is replaced, when it runs through hidden cavities. is that you hook brand new wire to the end of the wire you want to replace, and pull the new wire through from the other end of that same wire. It may take you a while to determine where the beginning and end of each wire is, but once you've done that, the rest is just a matter of patience. And you can replace a single stretch of wire at a time. It doesn't have to be done all in one go.

                      The main problem in fishing new wire through is that Knob and Tube wiring sometimes runs through ceramic tubes, which can be relatively small. If you can't inspect the size of the tubes that were in use in your house, you might have better luck fishing through new wire that is wrapped in a rounded shape, rather than the flat shape with is more common.

                      Btw, there are steel reels that you can buy to help fish new wires through walls. You attach the end of the reel to the old wire, pull it all the way through, then attach the new wire to the end of the reel and pull it back through. Gives a little more security doing it that way.

                      If you have doubts about work you've done in replacing wiring, you can have an electrician come in and check what you've done a lot more cheaply than to have him do it all for you.

                      •  Ok... (0+ / 0-)

                        That's really interesting; I still don't know if I'm up to it or not ;-).  But what you're saying, then, is at any particular outlet or whatever, I would detach the wiring, feed the new wire through, and then just connect it at both ends? So this essentially would leave all the circuits the same but just with new wiring?

                        See, when I've had electricians here, they suggest starting with upgrading the service (whatever that means) and the circuit box, then rewiring room by room, adding circuits as we go (since the entire house is on about 2 or 3 circuits.  That's what makes this sound so overwhelming.

                        Hmm...I'll have to think about this some more...but thanks very much for the info.

                        •  appearance is the issue (0+ / 0-)

                          you can run all new circuits in new conduit. They do make decorative conduits, for visible locations, and then you're not fishing around inside of walls and such.  But, of course, then  you have a bunch of visible conduit.

                          -8.0, -7.03 don't always believe what you think...

                          by claude on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 12:13:32 PM PDT

                          [ Parent ]

                        •  yes, that's what I'm saying (2+ / 0-)
                          Recommended by:
                          claude, Zoskie

                          in theory you can just replace the old wiring by pulling new wires through.

                          That's entirely separate from the question of whether you want to upgrade your service, which means (a) putting in a box with circuit breakers rather than fuses, if you don't have one already; (b) putting in more circuits than the 2 or 3 you have; which also involves © putting in further circuit breakers than 2 or 3.

                          Few people seem to be able to live nowadays with only a few circuits, though obviously it is possible. Presumably you have a gas stove, water heater? If electric, that would be two circuits right there.

                          In any case, if you read up a little on basic circuitry, you can design and install circuits yourself. Or you could have an electrician design them for you, and you could do the carpentry and installation, string the wire, and just have the electrician do the final hooking up of things and installing the new circuit breakers.

                          In addition to using decorative conduits, as claude suggests, which save a lot of time and expense but do remain visible, you can often run a lot of wiring invisibly in old houses if you use a little ingenuity. One of my favorite tricks is to fish a wire straight up into the attic, and then drill holes and let wire down into wall cavities above where you want to install lights or wall outlets. It uses a little more wire than normal to go all the way up there and then back down, but talk about easy to do.

                          •  Thanks again (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:

                            You've given me a lot of great ideas, and a lot to think about--thanks!  Obviously, more than 3 circuits would be better, but in trying to break this down into what I can afford, and what needs to be done to keep the house from burning down, more circuits might be in the second phase of the project.  I really do appreciate all your suggestions--you've made the whole thing sound much less mysterious, and much more doable.

          •  aluminum wiring (0+ / 0-)
            If you can, take it all out, IMHO  Because of the fire danger.  

            My FIL is an electrician and I hear often how he refused to use it at all during the short period when it was being promoted (before they gave up because of the fire dangers proving out).

            That was back when my husband was a teenager and working for his dad, mostly wiggling into crawlspaces he could fit better than adults... that would be early 70's?

      •  caulking and gutters (0+ / 0-)

        don't know if I can fill a whole diary with caulking and gutters, but I appreciate kowing what you need info on. You have a specific question about caullking and gutters, right now?

        -8.0, -7.03 don't always believe what you think...

        by claude on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 08:17:41 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yes I do, (0+ / 0-)

          Which is the best kind for outside of windows? must all the old caulking be removed?

          Where do we start on the inside, caulking all around each window frame? Which is the best kind to use for interior?

          We bought a spray to seal the joints, don't know if it will work. One part of our gutters holds water and birds gather there like it was a bird bath. Should that section be replaced?

          Thanks so much!

          This above all: to thine own self be true...-WS

          by Agathena on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 09:16:48 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Gutter (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            if the water pools in the gutter, you probably have to address the overall slope that guides the water towards the downpipe. The pooled section may have just sagged lower and the water stays there.  I assume you have cleaned the crud out of the gutters, and the downspouts are not blocked?

            Best to remove old caulk. That's the hard part. For exterior, use silicone, although butyl based caulks are more flexible. Good against metal which expands and contracts more than wood with temperature swings. Get a caulk you can paint over, it should say so on the label.

            Inside you can use a latex or latex w/ silicon. Do you have sheetrock (plasterboard) going right to the window  or is the window surrounded by casing (wood trim). Ususally the place to caulk is where one material meets adifferent one.  (plaster/wood)

            Hope this helps some.

            -8.0, -7.03 don't always believe what you think...

            by claude on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 09:29:10 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  I didn't know (7+ / 0-)

    Holy cats - I've been a homeowner for over 30 years and didn't know I needed to test those thingys!

    We've had to reset them on occasion, but otherwise we just blissfully ignore them.

    I look forward to seeing more of you here!

  •  claude, you'll have your monitor full (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    claude, high uintas, gmb, paddykraska, va dare

    of questions.

    I have a quick off the top of my head.  

    I have some old ornate open-fret wrought iron beams supporting a copper roof on a small side porch. One of the beams has a small piece that has broken off the top where it connects to the roof. I moved the beam to my garage until it can be repaired.

    Do I have to have the beam welded to repair it or is there some chemical compound I can buy at the hardware store to fix it?

    <div style="color: #a00000;"> Our... constitutional heritage rebels at the thought of giving government the power to control men's minds. Thurgood Marshal

    by bronte17 on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 07:07:39 AM PDT

    •  is it cast iron? (4+ / 0-)

      cast iron doesn't weld, but the right epoxy might work to hold the broken off piece in place.  Sounds like this is a decorative element. Does the "iron" beam actually support anything?

      -8.0, -7.03 don't always believe what you think...

      by claude on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 07:13:57 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  There are four beams on each corner (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        gmb, paddykraska

        of the porch. There are no other vertical support beams other than these. I presume the wrought iron beams would therefore be the support?  Unless there is some mechanism for vertical support of a roof on a side extension of a house. [Don't laugh. I'm not a builder nor an engineer]

        This is an old house. Built around 1920 or so. The beams are original with the house.

        <div style="color: #a00000;"> Our... constitutional heritage rebels at the thought of giving government the power to control men's minds. Thurgood Marshal

        by bronte17 on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 07:40:24 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I can't type this morning (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Need more coffee and too lazy to walk down to the kitchen to refill my cup. Guess I need to bring my coffee maker up to my computer so I never have to leave dKos.  :>)

          Anyway, that should say a "horizontal support on a side extension."  As in some type of support beams extending out horizontally, somehow, from the main house.

          <div style="color: #a00000;"> Our... constitutional heritage rebels at the thought of giving government the power to control men's minds. Thurgood Marshal

          by bronte17 on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 07:44:41 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  ahh. you mean 'posts' (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          gmb, paddykraska

          posts go up and down, support the beams, which go sideways, between the posts. If the roof didn't collapse from the broken piece already, I would imagine you can put that post back, with the broken off piece glued on.  From what you describe.  Sen me some photos of the broken off piece and it's post,  and the porch where it goes so I'm sure I understand you.  "Four at each corner"?

          -8.0, -7.03 don't always believe what you think...

          by claude on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 07:49:36 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  LOL Four beams --one for each corner (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            For some reason, I always think of "posts" as being round things. This is flat and long with the open fret work.

            I'll try the epoxy repair and see how it goes.

            If it doesn't work, might email you for help. Eh, will probably email pics anyway.  I don't want to repair this and it not work, only to have the piece fall down and break off more pieces. The porch is about 5 feet high from the ground.

            <div style="color: #a00000;"> Our... constitutional heritage rebels at the thought of giving government the power to control men's minds. Thurgood Marshal

            by bronte17 on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 08:06:04 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  You could see if there is a blacksmith (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              bronte17, paddykraska

              in your area. I know one in Idaho and he does repairs like this all the time.

            •  Try epoxy putty (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              There are several kinds, depending on your application, ranging from aluminum to copper to wood. You can find out more about the different kinds here.

              Basically, it is a two-part system that you knead together and then apply. You can put it between and wrap it around parts, mold it to the shape you have, if it is fancy wrought iron. In a few hours, it sets up like steel. Since it is intended for holding metals under load, it is very strong, but easy to work with. You can get some types at Lowe's or other DIY or hardware stores.

              What is morally wrong can never be advantageous, even when it enables you to make some gain...Cicero

              by carolita on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 11:16:45 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

    •  Whatever it is (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bronte17, high uintas

      it sounds gorgeous!

      "We answer to the People, not the Corporations" A Real Democratic Slogan

      by paddykraska on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 07:16:39 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Great Diary (9+ / 0-)

    This is great information.  I am addicted to home improvement (mostly because we are so stretched with college tuition payments that everything else gets neglected).

    I just printed out your diary to keep for reference.

  •  Why this is related to current affairs (9+ / 0-)

    As oil gets more and more scarce and causes ripple effects in the economy, etc., it will become very important for people to know how to take care of themselves. Home repair stuff is a big part of that!

    Thanks for the diary - very informative.

    "We choose a foreigner to hate / The new Iraq gets more irate / We really know nothing about them, and no one cares." - Barenaked Ladies

    by PhantomFly on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 07:11:04 AM PDT

  •  Insulation (6+ / 0-)

    Claude, you could soon be one of the most popular persons around here if you keep this up.

    I have loose fill insulation without a vapor barrier in my ceiling. Do you know what I can put on top of it to get a higher R value? I have looked at radiant barriers also but the lack of a vapor barrier has me concerned.

    Any help would be appreciated.

    •  1918 (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bronte17, high uintas, gmb, paddykraska

      I have loose fill insulation in my attic, and we just hired a guy to blow in more on top of it. There is shredded, fluffed up fiberglas available, as well as shredded fluffed up and fireproofed cellulose insulation, which is recycled paper. You could do tis yourself, as most places that sell the insulation will rent the fluffer/blower device to homeowners.

      The vapor barrier is hard to do without taking all the existing insulation out and starting over.  I don't have one in my funky old house (ceiling vapor barrier).  The ponit of the barrier is that human life tends to generate moisture vapor, and this wants to migrate up into the insulation, rendering it less effective. You probably are alright without it, unless you live in very damp conditiond in your area.

      -8.0, -7.03 don't always believe what you think...

      by claude on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 07:25:05 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  You can also get fiberglass bats (0+ / 0-)

        that are unbacked, which can be laid over loose fill insulation.

        The lack of a vapor barrier is potentially a major problem if the attic area is not well ventilated. My house had a new extension built onto it by somebody who did sloppy work. The attic of that area was barely vented at all, and the insulation was laid so sloppily that the vapor barrier existed more in theory than in fact. When I crawled up there to check whether any problems existed, I discovered that the entire attic was drenched. The rafters were dripping with condensation, the walls were a mess, the insulation was dripping wet as well. I punched a small hole in the gable and put in a vent, and within a few weeks the condensation had all but dissipated entirely.

  •  Okay (5+ / 0-)

    I've tested the one and only GFCI receptacle in this house--and it doesn't work!  Not surprising, since I've never tested it before, and I don't think it's tripped on its own in years.  But now what do I do, replace it?

    •  replacing GFCI (6+ / 0-)


      you can replace it easily. The key to working on anythuing electrical in your house is to shut off power to the circuit you are working on. There wil be a circuit breaker that protects the bathroom circuit. You must turn off this breaker before doing anything else.

      If you don't know which breaker does the bath, plug a radio into the receptacle you wish to replace, turn it on and then go flip off breaker switches one at at time, until you hear the radio go off.  This way you are sure the power is off at that recept.

      After that, it's easy and safe, needing a screw driver and pliers. Just makes sure you replace the wires correctly. I don't know how handy you are. It's pretty obvious how the recept comes out of it's little box and where the wires are going.  When you actually are ready to do this, you can email me direct and I'll answer anything that's not clear.

      Remember my warnings.

      -8.0, -7.03 don't always believe what you think...

      by claude on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 07:33:52 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm digging this series, Claude! (8+ / 0-)

    Electricity really, truly scares me, but when my electric hard-wired?? smoke detector recently broke on a weekend, buzzing & ringing like crazy, and I thought of premium electrician's costs! -- I vowed to fix it all be me self -- granted, it would've taken a saner person 5 minutes, and it took me 45 mins, w/much brow-furrowing, donning of rubber gloves, grounding in rubber mats, and a few Hail Marys, but! I did it :)

    Cheers! looking forward to next week's installment :)

    'If Kos hadn't changed the rating protocol, I'd "3" you upside the head -- old school.' PBJ Diddy

    by PhillyGal on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 07:26:49 AM PDT

  •  Thanks Claude (7+ / 0-)

    This diary reminded me of a few things that I need to get done around my casita this morning while it is still nice outside. I need to change out a broken light bulb in my outdoor security lighting (I'll defininately turn off the breaker at the box before I dig in to retrieve the old bulb), and repair a sagging wooden gate, the hinge screws have pulled is a heavy gate and I am not enthused about taking it down and re-hanging it but it needs to be done before it totally rips out and is useless!
    This will certainly be another great diary series for Saturday mornings, I am a long time "do-it-myself" gal and love tips and hints and project suggestions of any sort.
    I'll go tackle the gate first!

    •  sagging gate (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      gmb, paddykraska

      if the gate is still in place, you might be able to replace each screw with a longer one, in place, one by one.  Once the hinges are newly secured to the post, you might be able to brace the gate against the sag, without actually taking it down.

      -8.0, -7.03 don't always believe what you think...

      by claude on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 07:56:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I have planned (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        claude, paddykraska

        to start that way! I have some longer and very slightly fatter screws that I am going to last resort will be to take the gate off and reset all the hinges a 1/4' to 3/4" further up which wouldn't hurt the opening/closing of it at all...of course then I will have to adjust the latching hardware but that is really not a problem is getting out there and starting on it! Haha!
        Thanks for the reply!


      •  Don't forget the potato! (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I ran into this in my chandelier not long ago - turned off the breaker just in case.  The bulb itself had broken and was not going to gotten out of the receptacle easily.  Smurfed the web and found that if you take a potato and stuff it over the broken bulb and turn slowly that the base will turn and out pops the light.

        It really works!

  •  Great idea (6+ / 0-)

    This is a great idea for a series. Thank you for sharing your expertise. My 1956 house was formerly owned by a home improvement kind of guy who didn't know what the hell he was doing and I find myself having to undo all his mistakes...always a hassle.

    Thanks for the tips on the GFCIs. I didn't know they needed regular testing either.

    Whatever is funny is subversive, every joke is ultimately a custard pie -- George Orwell

    by Psillieone on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 07:40:26 AM PDT

  •  Great diary. (5+ / 0-)

    When I was younger and lived in an really old house, I didn't have money to afford more than plumbing help. Everything else was on us. I learned how to change out light fixtures and wall plugs. They really are easy if you take the right steps to protect yourself.

  •  I own my very own ET......oh wait (3+ / 0-)

    I'm not supposed to say I own him am I? Anyway, he gets to deal with all things electric. (I am woefully bad at dealing with all the electronic doodads and often kid him that I dated him so that he could program my VCR, which goes to show you how long ago we married since there weren't DVD players back then) However, this was very nice to know anyway. I am absolutely certain that I can benefit from a home repair course or two.

    •  electric/electronic (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      paddykraska, tvb, cwaltz

      electric stuff is simpler than electronic stuff. Electric is straightforward on or off, black and white, with no grey areas in between.  Electronics is all grey, with micro subtleties and increments.

      Sounds like you found a keeper.

      -8.0, -7.03 don't always believe what you think...

      by claude on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 08:06:32 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Claude, this great series will be on my hotlist (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    claude, paddykraska, tvb

    for the next month or so - my husband and I are sprucing up around our house and have a pretty full slate of projects ahead. This week we're installing bamboo hardwood on the entire first floor of our split level.

    Next week I'll be painting my kitchen cabinets - is it okay to use latex paint over an oil-based primer (like Kilz) for the cabinet doors? Should I apply a coat of polyurethane over the paint?

    I think your series will be quite popular - you're right in saying that alot of this stuff can be done by "Average Joes" (like us) if they're given a little guidance. My husband has become a fearless DIY warrior!

    •  latex over oil? I'm not sure (2+ / 0-)

      I'm not a paint wizard, but latex seems pretty forgiving. Paint on cabinets gets a lot of wear, so polyurethane or some other clear coat will help in cleaning without scrubbing away the paint.  Be sure the surface is very clean before putting on new paint, espcially in a kitchen, where there is lots of airborne crud that gets on everything.

      You could try a test patch of paint before you commit to the whole thing. do the inside of one door, or something, let it dry all week, and then abuse it and see how it holds up.

      Good luck with your projects.

      -8.0, -7.03 don't always believe what you think...

      by claude on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 08:15:09 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks for your reply and tips, Claude. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I'm going to wash down all of the cabinet doors with a TSP solution (tri-sodium phosphate, I think) before applying the primer - I read that it's supposed to effectively remove all the kitchen gunk that accumlates over time. I'll heed your suggestion to do a "test" door and let my kids and dog have at it for a week!

        I would have loved to replace my cabinets, but that's notoriously pricey - we decided to do the bamboo hardwood and other house-wide upgrades (interior doors, fixtures) for about what new cabinets would have cost.

        Thanks again - I'm looking forward to your series!

  •  GFCI operation (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    To understand how a GFCI works, you need just a tiny bit of electrical knowledge. In simple terms, electricity from the power company reaches a wall outlet on the black wire connected to the outlet. It returns to ground (an actual stake driven in the ground near your electric meter, or sometimes a buried water pipe) via the white wire connected to the outlet. (Unless your house is wired wrong and black and white are reversed - it happens, but not often).

    In normal operation, all of the current (electrons) that enters via the black wire leaves via the white wire. If you turn on your hair dryer and throw into a bathtub full of water, most of the current that comes in via the black wire will leave through the plumbing or some other path other than the white wire. The same thing happens in any situation where you might get a "shock" - the current in the black wire and white wire are not the same. Some of the current that should return to ground via the white wire has found a different path to ground, and it goes through you.

    The GFCI detects any current imbalance between the black and white wires and if it finds one, shuts down the circuit.

    The National Electrical Code (which controls how wiring is done in almost all of the US) requires GFCIs in any location that is or might be wet, because wet locations offer the greatest danger of people being electrocuted. Bathrooms are the obvious first location where GFCIs are required. Outlets near a sink, wet bars, any outdoor or unfinished basement outlet locations, pools, hot tubs, and similar places all require a GFCI or GFCI-controlled circuit As noted above, one GFCI outlet, or a GFCI breaker, can protect all the outlets after it on a circuit.

    In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. - George Orwell

    by badger on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 08:18:30 AM PDT

  •  OK, everybody 11:15 am MDT (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    we seem to have slid off the list. Glad you enjoyed this and found it useful. I'll be back next week, and feel free to email me if you have a question. I'm off into meatspace for the rest of the day.  New Mexico Kossaks are gathering up at Land of Enchantment's place later this afternoon, for a campout.  We'll see about that, as the weather guys are predicting big rains all weekend. Yummy on more rain for the high desert.

    Thanks for your participation and recommends.

    I'm open to suggestions for next week's visit.

    -8.0, -7.03 don't always believe what you think...

    by claude on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 10:07:13 AM PDT

  •  claude (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    well done

    We can but try. Sherlock Holmes.

    by Carnacki on Sat Aug 12, 2006 at 07:47:24 PM PDT

  •  shoot, claude, I could have used you (0+ / 0-)

    a few weeks ago when installing a new dishwasher. There's  a first time for everything, and I never fear trying something new. Had a heck of a time tracking down the right fittings for some nonstandard copper pipe.  Love these old 1914 house without standard wiring or plumbing!

    Electrical things always make me pause, however. The switch box is located about 4 inches from the main sewer pipe coming down from the bathroom. I shudder to think what will happen should the toilet on the main floor leak someday.  Not sure what they were thinking when the newer circuit panel replaced what was likely a fuse box.

    Great diary!

    How we spend our days, of course, is how we spend our lives. - Annie Dillard
    Visit me at exme arden

    by exmearden on Mon Aug 14, 2006 at 10:01:22 AM PDT

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