Monday, November 21, 2016

Backyard Lights

I'm Still Alive!

Clearly I haven't gotten around to posting much, but I figured I'd try to get back in it.  I've done a TON of work on the house since we bought it 6 years ago, and a lot in the past nearly two years since I made the first blog post.  I'm working on writing up pages on some of the major work I've done, including some step-by-step processes for common restoration work, like restoring windows, wood siding, etc.  Those are going to take me a lot longer to write up, so in the meantime, I figured I'd start doing some shorter posts.  These will probably be a bit random, but hopefully you find them interesting.

Backyard Lights

Back when we bought the house, there was a crudely-mounted two-bulb motion-activated floodlight on the back of the house.  It was installed using EMT conduit and set-screw connectors (not outdoor-rated), a standard steel octagon box (also not outdoor-rated), and wired directly into the panel, so there was no manual override control.  Oh, it also looked pretty tacky slapped on the back of the house. I don't have a good photo of it from way back then, but here's one from last spring when it was still up, but the driveway and other projects had been completed.

When we started on the house, I knew this was going to need to go, so I wired up an empty switch in the entry mudroom off the back door, and ran a 14-3 conductor back to an empty box in the basement so I'd have an available switch later, without having to cut open walls and repair plaster again.

Two years ago when I did the garage, I decided that the wall lanterns on the garage would be much more useful tied into a 3-way switch circuit with switches in both the garage and house, so I buried an extra conduit when running power for the garage subpanel, and wired it up with the switch I'd originally put in the mudroom.  Here are a couple photos of the conduit during installation.

 This worked great, and the two lanterns on the front with 150w bulbs, and one at the side entry door with a 100w bulb illuminated the garage and driveway well, it still left the entry to the backdoor on the house rather dim.
  When I finally finished up the patio and rear stoop and stairs this fall, I decided to add another matching wall lantern on the back of the house, and add a motion sensor for the entire circuit, while maintaining the pair of switches as manual override.  Now, I've finally completed the lighting plan I started 6 years ago.  I had bought an extra lantern, so it was mainly an issue of a bit of siding and trim work to make a space, and pulling some new wire, since despite my efforts to plan ahead, I didn't have power exactly where I needed.

Motion Sensor

The motion sensor was relatively straightfoward.  I just had to cut a hole and mount a box in the soffit of the garage (where it can view the driveway and back patio), and pull a 14-3 NM cable to the switch box in the garage where it ties into the original circuit.  I was a big hesitant to add a somewhat ugly motion sensor to my recently-restored garage soffit, but decided the visual sacrifice was worth it, and it's not as obtrusive as I'd feared.  I may get around to painting it white to subdue it further.

House Lantern

Indoor Work

Although I'd pulled an extra neutral with the 3-way travelers from the garage to the house back when I wired up the switches, I did not pull an extra hot, which was now necessary to allow the motion sensor and 3-way switches to fully operate all lights on the circuit.  To save borrowing a fish tape long enough again, I was able to use the existing wires to pull a small rope back through the conduit, add the new hot to the bundle, and pull them all back through again.  The most work then was running NM cable through the mudroom wall to reach the back wall to power the lantern.  To minimize plaster work, I removed the baseboards on the affected walls, and was able to work entirely in that area, even avoiding painting, which allowed me to complete this phase in a record two workday evenings! I'll skip the gnarly details and 2ft long drillbits to get through to the correct location in the basement, but here are a few highlight photos:

Outdoor Work

On the outside, I repeated a similar detail I've used elsewhere for penetrations through the siding.  I use a 5/4 trim block, topped with a drip cap to provide a durable, weathertight, and attractive mounting base for the light.  The drip cap was probably overkill for this location, but I like maintaining the consistent detailing that matches the original window trim.  It also provides proper drainage planes, and ties in with the original siding well. The top of the drip cap slips up behind the top siding board, and groove at the bottom laps over the bottom siding board.  I usually tweak the dimensions or location of the penetrations to line up with existing siding laps when possible for a neater look and easier fit-up.  It's all made out of western red cedar, which is the cheapest naturally rot-resistant wood I've found.  The 5/4 board is cedar decking, and the drip cap is some leftover material I made out of 2x4s on the table saw for previous work.  Here's what it looks like (I always pre-prime my new exterior siding and trim work):

Cutting the opening for the new mounting block on the house was pretty straightfoward, and just required a bit of careful work to cut the top removed clapboard out from under the remaining board at the top of the new block:

The Final Reveal!

After all the the tedious and dirty work, I put two coats of white trim on the new block, and touched up the blue siding, and it was time to mount the light and test it out.  I think it came out good, and my wife loves the better lighting coming and going in these dark fall evenings now.  Here it is!

Alright, well, that's all four now.  Hopefully I'll be able to keep up a bit better, and it won't be nearly 2 years before my next post!

In case you want some teasers, here are a few of the big how-to posts I'm working on:
  • Wood window restoration
  • Wood siding and trim restoration and repair
  • Interior cornice moulding fabrication
  • Leaded glass construction

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Beginning

The Beginning

In October 2010, my wife and I bought a 3-bed, 1-bath American Foursquare in Omaha, Nebraska, built in 1914.  We were looking for a pre-war house in the neighborhood I worked, with a preference for something that needed some work.  My obsession for turn-of-the-century architecture hadn't fully developed yet, but I knew I didn't want something bland and modern.

We looked at many houses, made several offers that didn't pan out, and eventually bought this place, a bank-owned foreclosure that was just too good of a deal to pass up.  It was structurally sound, weathertight, and aside from a hardly-usable kitchen and bathroom, mostly livable.  Incredibly, it had also survived 96 years with none of the red oak millwork getting painted, and very little of the pine/fir millwork upstairs being touched either.  The lack of paint stripping required was a strong selling point!

It's not an architect-commissioned showpiece or on the historic register, but it's has a pleasing, functional layout, and enough features and detail to keep me interested for now.  I call it the "practice house", as it's a good source of projects to hone my skills in preparation to restore the Stick or Queen Anne Victorian I really dream of.  I would describe it as a respectable middle-class home, likely built for the growing white-collar workforce of the growing teens and twenties.  It's one of four on our street built from the same plans, but each has small variations, likely made by the builder to avoid making them identical.  The exterior was 4" painted wood clapboard with a few embellishments and a fractured-stone pattern CMU foundation and porch columns.  The interior was plaster with oak floors and millwork in the formal spaces and pine/fir in the less formal spaces.  It was built with wood strip flooring in EVERY room of the house.  The interior millwork was relatively simple, with single-piece casing and baseboards, but with plinth blocks.  Profiles consist of flat boards with simple roundover edges.  The only extravagance is reserved for the entry foyer, which has an oak balustrade on the stair landing with a built-in bench, and portico with Doric columns that lead into the living room.  There were four surviving leaded-glass windows, and I'm certain there were originally two more when it was built.  They're very simple: built with plain, clear glass and straight lines, but unique in an era when nearly every house had the ubiquitous repeating-diamond patterns out of a catalog.

After we bought the place, we spent about 4 months doing the major kitchen and bathroom work before we moved in from our apartment, as well as major electrical and plumbing upgrades.  In the 4 years since, we've made significant progress on just about every other part of the house, but there's still plenty left.  I plan to share some of the many interesting projects I've completed and am still doing, but thought I'd start the blog out where we started: the pictures we took when we first toured the house.  Enjoy!

There it is, your basic American Foursquare.  Although poor choices have obscured it's simple beauty, it's all still there.  Once the porch is opened up again, the original clapboard siding is restored, and the hideous paint removed, it should look good again.
Many of the lots in this part of Omaha were graded quite a bit above the street and sidewalk, which makes the houses look a lot taller and more imposing than they really are.  I like it!
Not much to see here except an overgrown bush, more seafoam green fiber-cement siding, and a stupid satellite dish.
View inside after coming in the front door.  It's amazing how all that wood survived with the original shellac finish!
Few of the original light fixtures had survived, the entry being no exception.  There was originally a gas newel post lamp, which is probably the one I'm the most disappointed is missing.
View through the portico into the foyer from the living room
Close-up of the leaded glass window in the foyer.  A simple pattern, but unique.
One of two leaded glass sidelights in the entry vestibule before the foyer.  This is the more typical diamond pattern I commonly see in houses of this era.

View from the living room into the dining room.  The opening is framed with simple casework, but is large enough to give the area a connected feel.
View of the dining room from the living room.  It has a plate rail on three sides of the room, but oddly, not on the fourth.  This is how it was built, as there are no shadow marks or telltales on the plaster on the fourth side.
It was built with a convection ("octopus") air furnace, and retains all the original registers, which are now used for the forced-air furnace.  Nothing really fancy, but they're a step up from the basic stamped-metal registers that were also used in this era.
An now for some ugly.  While the tub was original (but in poor shape), the vanity, hardboard wainscoting, and shag carpeting are disgusting.  Clearly this room will need a lot of work...

And now for some more ugly.  The kitchen had only one 5' sink cabinet, a greasy range, and roll-away dishwasher.
There was some "nice" left in the kitchen, though, such as this original laundry chute door.

The kitchen and dining room are connected by a butler's pantry, which features this original built-in cabinet.  It's nothing fancy, but is very practical and fits the style of the house well.  Guests are impressed by it, which I find interesting because it's rather basic carpentry.  I guess 65 years of bland mass-produced housing has lowered the bar for what is interesting.
And lastly, going out the back brings you through this makeshift enclosure over the back stoop.  From the looks of it, this must have been a beer-fueled DIY project in the 50s or 60s.

Well, that's all for now.  Next time I'll show you some progress!