Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Rigid plastic conduit: unidirectional

Good judgment comes out of experience. Experience comes out of bad judgment.

It seems pretty obvious in hindsight, but somehow didn't come to my head that I might have problems running fish tape through a rigid plastic conduit with a few bends. Guess it is not usually a problem, otherwise it would be widely documented - or it may have been just my dumb luck, but...

Turned out that a wide and big 1" conduit run of 26ft with two 90° bends is not passable in either direction.

Took me a split second to realize why - the bell. The one that is at one end of each conduit component. The rest should be obvious.

Two conclusions:

  • Do a dry run - works pretty well with plastic conduit, it holds up pretty well and you can probably get away with running it through even though it's not glued together yet;
  • Plan ahead and remember that you may not be able to pass a conduit in one direction.
What did I end up with? Well... Had to cut the elbow out and reverse the direction. Don't be like me.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Fake Air Returns: Watch Out

I remember reading a post at HVAC-Talk a few years ago when someone wrote that a contractor just cut a hole in drywall, installed a return air grill and claimed that it is exactly what it is supposed to be - a return. Long and heated discussion followed (HVAC-Talk expires threads, so the source is no longer available), with polar opinions being a) yes, it's acceptable and b) not at all, you must provide the path.

I've seen grills leading to dead spaces a few times afterwards, which makes me think this is not an exception.

Now that I'm learning framing - well, turns out that the building code explicitly calls for installing what is called fire blocking: two-by stud material that runs horizontally from stud to stud - every 10 ft measured vertically in stud bays. Fire blocking interrupts the upward flow of flames and heat.

Two lessons:

  1. There is no easy way to install an air return in a room;
  2. There is no easy way to wire anything - studs (at the minimum) are horizontal obstacles, fire blocking (at the minimum) are vertical obstacles.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

SketchUp + HVAC-CALC, part 2

You've read it here first. Now someone closer to the subject area implemented it: Energy Analysis Tool for SketchUp.

Told you.

Random Notes: Timing and Blueprints

Random note #1: One thing I have not regretted, in a hindsight, that I've started the wiring project right now - in local mid-season. When the insulation is disturbed, it doesn't function properly anymore, and had this happened in the middle of the summer (or in the middle of the winter for those farther North), it would've been bad.

Random note #2: SketchUp is the best thing since sliced bread for DIY projects. More and more professionals are starting to realize the importance of it (see the article on timber framing, for example). It works for project at almost any scale - the house model I've built, for example, has everything from the yard on the top of the scale to individual screws in places where I've laid conduit, on the bottom of it. Start with 3d Warehouse (Thai House Blueprints is a beautiful example), don't forget the SketchUp Blog.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Great Wiring Project, part 4

The Great Wiring Project, part 1
The Great Wiring Project, part 2
The Great Wiring Project, part 3

This one is going to be really short: I thought I'd be able to get away without a patch panel. No such luck. Off looking for one. Suggestions welcome.

(to be continued)

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Great Wiring Project, part 3

The Great Wiring Project, part 1
The Great Wiring Project, part 2

There is this usual dilemma - whether to run just the wires, or run the conduit. Given the fact that a) the opportunity presented itself and b) I know I would be able to utilize all the paths the conduit offers and not simply show it off to my friends, the decision was made to run the conduit.

Oh boy.

Remember, at the very beginning I said forget elegant? My particular problem (which is the more likely to happen to you the more owners it had) was caused by the fact the house's been remodeled. As a result, observations on one part of the structure were absolutely not applicable to another. To add insult to injury, the addition was partly a hack job (imagine my surprise when I uncovered a 4x4 beam in the middle of a wall... On top on two 2x4s... Turned out, there was a door before...)

There was a phrase in a book on wiring I read, "Be prepared to drill a few exploratory holes". Actually, that was a euphemism. They probably meant "Be prepared to tear the walls down".

Would the process be easier if I decided to run wires? Not really. It would only be easier if I was familiar with the building blueprints and was doing work on the same floor plan for the umpteenth time. For a case of a single DIY work, no, it wouldn't have been.

One reason why it wouldn't have been possible to even piggyback and/or replace existing wiring while running wires (as opposed to conduit) is that existing wiring is stapled down to studs very tightly and it either doesn't move at all, or any part that is thicker than the actual cable you're trying to piggyback will invariably get stuck at the first staple you meet.

Another one is that insulation offers a formidable obstacle. It is not really possible to guess where the fish tape is going (and those words about "non-curling" fish tape are a joke, too).

A word about fish tapes and cables - give it a LOT of padding. A run from the left side of a 14 ft wide room to the right side, up and over the ceiling, took whopping 35 feet of conduit - so had I bought a 25ft fish tape, I'd be kicking myself in the butt right now. Fortunately, I've bought a 50ft one - but now I'm not even sure *that* would be sufficient (the project is far from over). Crossing my fingers for now.

Back to conduits...

Rigid plastic conduit is a joy to work with (I've used 1/2" for single cable runs, 3/4" for double cable runs and 1" for the trunk). Flexible plastic conduit (there are several color coded varieties, out of which I've seen high voltage blue and low voltage orange) is surprisingly rigid at times - and don't let it spring in your hands and knock you on the forehead (ask me how I know). Did I mention wear goggles at all times?

Snap-on connectors for the flexible plastic conduit are, in fact, one-time use - it's a pain to disconnect one once you snapped it on. I've used threaded ones to connect conduit to the boxes, just to save myself some aggravation in case if I ever have to disconnect one.

Boxes. There's not much difference between cutting a smaller hole and using an existing work box, or cutting a bigger hole and using a new work box. If you want to route the conduit to existing wall plate, second option is unavoidable - unless the box can be taken out. I decided to use new work boxes everywhere (except one really simple run) - there's lots of holes to patch already anyway, a few extra doesn't make much difference, but makes the general quality of installation much more enjoyable.

The Great Wiring Project, part 1
The Great Wiring Project, part 2
(to be continued)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Great Wiring Project, part 2

The Great Wiring Project, part 1
The Great Wiring Project, part 3

I just realized that this story becomes chaotic pretty fast. Hmm... Let it be - and when it's all said and done, I'll reorganize it so it makes chronological sense for those planning, and find it a permanent place at DZ site.


If you think you have all the tools, think again. The only tool I had to buy was a high torque drill - your usual 1/3 HP kind gets stuck when equipped with bits starting about 7/8", and, in general, more powerful tools mean less kickback and more precision.

Drill bits differ - spades are cheaper but very rough, splinter wood badly on exit, but sometimes may be the only option. Forstner bits are much more expensive, but produce an exact opening - and unlike spades which go astray under slightest provocation, they are self-guiding and it is possible to use one to enlarge a preexisting hole. Remember that Forstner bits are usually pretty short - and the lengths you will have to drill through may exceed 8" (visualize door header left in the wall when someone decided they no longer wanted a door there).

Instead of buying a long bit, buy a short one and an extender - otherwise you might end up a short bit *and* a long bit, which is not that cost effective keeping in mind that one extender will work with many bits.

I will try to avoid using center bits for a while - the Ridgid one I bought broke on the first try - the center piece disengaged from the rest of the bit and got stuck in the wood. Took me lengthy and painful efforts to get it out of there - it happened in quite an inaccessible place.

Absolute must for this project (in my book) is a jigsaw - though you may get away with a drywall knife. It'll just take longer. Decent fish tape won't hurt, either.

A really bad surprise was the amount of dust drywall generates. The cleanest solution is to have a helper with a shopvac standing next to you - worked pretty well for me. Nevertheless, invest in a decent respirator (expensive) and goggles (cheapest and biggest work just fine). Cover all things with vents on the upside with a dust-opaque cloth (plastic is not a good idea because it will not let the air from those vents up - you're risking to kill your equipment).

Don't forget to replace the HVAC filters when you're done.

Be prepared that you will damage or destroy insulation behind the walls you're opening, so plan on either taking extreme measures not to contaminate it with drywall dust (I don't think it's possible), or live with it, or reinforce or replace the insulation altogether (may or may not be possible, depending on the location and size of the opening). Also remember that fiberglass does get under your skin - you may not notice it within first five minutes, but you will for sure notice it within first five days.

The Great Wiring Project, part 1
The Great Wiring Project, part 3

The Great Wiring Project, part 1

The Great Wiring Project, part 2
The Great Wiring Project, part 3

Initially, it was just about tidying up power cables, interconnections and speaker wires for the home theater. For about 30 seconds. Then I realized that the cable path is right next to air supply vents, and the rest was pretty simple. In theory.

It is often said that wiring is difficult. Not really - but it is sure different from most of the jobs people do for living, so you have to acquire some experience before it becomes easy. "How to do wiring" is a topic beaten to death elsewhere, so I'll try to concentrate on things I have not seen mentioned during all those years I've been planning to do the wiring.

Now it is a good time to recall the saying "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment". Not that I've had a lot of bad judgment calls, but some of them were pretty close - and I hope you folks do learn on my mistakes .

The first observation is - forget all hopes to make it all elegant. You can only make things elegant with some planning and forethought, and when you start your own wiring (or any kind of remodeling that makes framing and existing wires exposed in any way) - you will promptly realize that forethought and planning is not something present in buildings mass produced to satisfy skyrocketing minute-driven demand for new housing when the interest rate plummets.

Second observation is - forget the code. You will not see the code followed anywhere where the building inspector could not peek into when the building is finished. Not that you won't be brought to responsibility when something bad happens to the stuff you built, so be thoroughly prepared to present evidence that you did it all by code - there are two standards, for "them" and for "you".

The Great Wiring Project, part 2
The Great Wiring Project, part 3

Saturday, October 13, 2007

I'm waking up, too

Those who have been following this project since days long gone may have noticed that nothing really significant appeared here in about last two years or so.

There were many reasons for it - I've changed the house (couldn't staple those nice looking blue cables to white walls any longer), changed the job (free time have become scarce), and all the things that could've been done to the project itself were essentially done - there was no significant itch to scratch anymore.

All of this changed again recently - energy prices are going up, kids are growing up, conditions change, and my last electric bill was whopping $420. Twice of what it was two years ago.

So the itch is there again.

And the last straw, I've made a mistake of undertaking a wiring project - and of course, as soon as I've opened the walls, I've realized that this is a perfect opportunity to install DZ again - and as soon as it is installed, two years worth of unimplemented ideas will start begging to be implemented and perfected.

So, the short term plan goes like this: Finish wiring, install sensors, install dampers, install DZ and roll on. Will not be fast (a simple speaker wiring project turned out into an exercise in advanced framing, insulation, conduit installation, drywalling, texturing and painting; plus, a new server room will be built to accommodate everything) - but it will be thorough.

Stay tuned.

Big guys are waking up

At last (seven years later), there are signs of companies that manufacture and install zoning systems and components for living waking up and paying attention to their Internet literate customers. First time ever, links from them (as opposed to mere installers) appear on the first page of Google search for related terms.


It appears, though, that they have to pay for listings to have them above DIY Zoning - which was the purpose of the project to begin with.

Let's see what the future holds.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Look, Ma, The Zone Control Blog!

Not this one. The one Jackson Systems created, here. Fresh one, too - started on September 24 2007.

Don't know about you, but I'm definitely looking forward to reading it. I sincerely hope it's not going to be an another clog.

Clog, n - a type of website where entries are made (such as in a journal or diary), displayed in a reverse chronological order. Clogs differ from Blogs because the content is typically aligned with a marketing or press release strategy in order to promote the company or corporation. -- Wikipedia entry on Clog

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The joys of DIY

I seem to be having extremely bad luck with contractors. It can easily be that I'm in a severe violation of the "secret of life is: have low expectations" principle. Most probable explanation, though, is that they just want to get their work day over with and go home. I guess they hope nobody would notice.

So my car breaks down (they do that). I get it to the dealership, they fix it... and put a dent in the door. I politely point out that the door needs to be fixed, they politely agree, fix the dent... and break the center console. And blame it on the car wash guys (never mind that I have specifically asked not to wash the car - last time they did, it cost them (not me - it was still under warranty) $1572 and spare change to fix the headlights the "car wash guys" killed).

It is plausible to assume that whoever dented the door hoped nobody would notice. It is also plausible to assume that whoever broke the console hoped nobody would notice. They just didn't expect that to happen twice to the same person in a row.

Fine... When in two weeks my window regulator breaks down and the window gets stuck halfway down, I take my sweet time to fix it, and my sweet money to buy the tools necessary (never before in my life I had a need for a torx bit set and a torque wrench - have them now). Spent a week, but next time it'll be an hour - procedures learned, tools acquired.

Oh, and I've also fixed all the things that the guys at the dealership broke the first time the window regulator broke, a couple of years ago. Half of pistons holding the door panel were broken. The door was rattling all this time, I've never had time to address the problem in depth, told dealership, they said "they all do that with age". Right. Few pistons fifty cents each - I bet they have buckets of those at each corner of the shop in abundance. But no, they didn't care to replace the ones they broke. A guy I met today explained to me: auto mechanics get paid by the job, not by the hour. They'd rather get paid for two jobs - and then two again, next time when the complaint is handled.

So, I've eventually gotten myself to route the wires through the walls. So I cut the walls open, and what do I see? Correct, 120V NM cable bundled together with telephone cable and stapled to the studs with metal staples. Forget the building codes, who is going to rip the drywall open to check it? Next thing I see is a 120V NM cable suspended across 20ft gap... with plastic conduit tube simply hanging on it. Not connected to anything. Next thing I see is a web of telephone wires, just knotted together and suspended in the middle of the attic.

I'm not even talking about a 1 ft diameter flex tubing branch crammed in snaking between framing members so its length is almost twice the distance it has to cover, and eventually feeding a 6x6 inch register.

I guess they hoped nobody would notice.

So what recourse do I have? None, really. Except you do have to take your time and energy to study all the sources on the subject matter and know what you're talking about when you're talking to contractors (but then they get pissed at you and might eventually tell you "you're too #%So what recurse do I have? None, really. Except you do have to take your time and energy to study all the sources on the subject matter and know what you're talking about when you're talking to contractors (but then they get pissed at you and might eventually tell you "you're too #%$&ng smart, I'm not gonna do business with you"), or simply learn to do it yourself.
amp;ng smart, I'm not gonna do business with you"), or simply learn to do it yourself.

Yes, the price I've paid for the tools to fix that car window would've paid for the labor. ONCE. Yes, I've already invested over three hundred dollars in tools necessary to do wiring (quality fish tape, drill bits, drill with enough torque to handle inch and a quarter holes, cables, connectors, wall plates, and so on and so forth), but I'm perfectly sure that at the end of the day, I'll be proud of the work I've done, and will have learned something to top it up.

Not all DIY is about saving a buck. Sometimes, it's about the long standing quality and the satisfaction of a job well done.