Tile Handyman

When I hadn’t finished all three tasks from the final inspection list in April by the August 28th deadline I got to feeling desperate that I would never finish the building permit so I looked around for a tile installer. The only thing left on the list is completing the family room bathroom shower.

Tile Guy

Tile Guy-Tim King

I contacted a few tile installers and consulted the Nextdoor app to see if my neighbors had any recommendations. I don’t know what it is about my jobs but it is difficult to get someone to return my calls, or be available, or do estimates. Tim King who used to be a part time handyman but has started working at it full time made room in his schedule for the job and started in two weeks instead of two months.
I was very happy that he showed up on the scheduled day and got to work installing the tile.

Shower wall tile install

Shower wall tile install


Originally I was going to create a mountain mural and put it centrally in place of three regular tiles.This was my inspiration after downloading several examples.

Sample mosaic

Sample mosaic

My imitation still needed work (lots of it) when Tim arrived.

My attempt at the mosaic

My attempt at the mosaic

After toying with the idea of just leaving out three tiles and filling them in with the mosaic later, I gave up and had Tim install a trim feature instead. I got some 4×4 tumbled marble tiles when my kids moved to Germany. They were their leftovers and the tumbled stone looked great with my tile. I cut all the triangle tiles but it was a little tricky to install and took longer than anticipated.

Tumbled marble design

Tumbled marble design

I like the look of the tile trim though it is a bit rustic due to varying sizes of the tile triangles.

Trim tile at back wall of shower

Trim tile at back wall of shower

Trim tile at front of shower

Trim tile at front of shower


In the time Tim allotted for the job, all of the walls to the ceiling and the trim tiles were installed. I still have the shower head area, a bit of ceiling, the niche tiles and the Schluter Kerdi shower floor system to install and tile. I’ll be using 2×2 mosaic tiles for the niches and floor. I’m thinking about a row of trim tile at the shower head wall. Hiring at least part of the job out helped to make progress so thanks to Tim King! Now I better get going on the rest. He might have time to return and help finish in a few weeks. I’ll have to see how the project goes.

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Hanging A Painting

Country side painting

Country side painting


We need to get the last of the decorative items out of storage and decide what to do with them. I have always liked this serene painting that I bought at a second hand store in Indiana years ago. It has been in our houses since then and I wanted to keep it. The frame was a bit the worse for wear so I sanded it and polyurethaned it and looking much more spiffy I tried to hang it in the living room.
I have been using the ramjet and power nails to create hanging hooks on the brick and stucco walls. When I sent a nail into the stucco wall about where I wanted to hang the frame the nail went right through the stucco. That surprised me but I didn’t stop to think why that happened.
Instead I tried a metal butterfly bolt in the enlarged hole. It wasn’t seating well so I used a hammer to send it deeper into the hole and a huge spark rang out!
Unfortunately I had hit a power cable going to the outlet below. It seems that the chances of hitting a cable, the only one in the wall had not occurred to me. With the breaker off I took out the bolt and had to enlarge the hole to repair the wire. Luckily I only pierced one wire and didn’t short it.
So now the painting hides a huge hole in the stucco!
Hole in stucco wall

Hole in stucco wall


I should be able to repair it eventually with the acrylic stucco and caulk. But I also found out that a hammer easily breaks the stucco off the wall in case someday it needs to be removed.

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Front Entry Closet

The front entry is spilling over with stuff. It is the staging ground for recycling boxes and recent tools and stuff going out to the RV and extra stuff from my kids move that I haven’t organized yet. Given my lifestyle it may always be getting cluttered but I hoped having the front closet set up for storage and coats would help with the clutter. So it was the next closet I tackled.
The closet poles I had on hand were a bit too short for this closet so I used 2×4’s instead of 1×4’s to hold the shelves. Attaching pole holders to the 2 x 4’s allowed me to use a shorter pole.

Pole hangers

Pole hangers


I was able to take advantage of the salvaged lumber pile for the boards again, With two coats of white paint no one can tell some of the boards were gray and weathered.
Reused boards with corner filler

Reused boards with corner filler


I assembled the support system as a set because there was no backing for drywall between the support post and the wall in the corner of the closet so there was an unfinished gap. I bought a 1×3 to fill it and attached it to the shelf supports with my finish nail gun.
Supports in closet

Supports in closet


With the help of a friend we made use of some of the new storage at least temporarily while clearing off some of the stuff I moved from my mother’s apartment when she passed away this summer.
Storage shelves

Storage shelves


I had tried to hang the closet door several months ago but the wall opening was not square and the old door frame didn’t allow the door to close. I had to use the reciprocating Sawsall to take off part of the 2×4 on the right to allow the frame to clear the door. I messed up the interior drywall with the saw but it was not a fantastic job anyway. Then when I finally got the door to fit the space, the lower hinge was bent. So I took a hinge piece off another door and it would not line up with the hinge cutout on the door. I tried moving it up and down and still could not get it to fit, having carved out an ugly space above and below the hinge. I finally got the hinge to align by hanging the door from the top hinge and then screwing in the bottom hinge while it was attached to the door. Notice I also could not find the hinge pins.
Bad hinge alignment

Bad hinge alignment


This door with its unsightly hook was the narrowest closet door I could find in the stash and it barely fit the frame. I will have to do some upgrades on this door in the future.
Reused closet door

Reused closet door


I’m glad the closets have poles and shelves. That will help us stay more organized as we do finishing work inside the house.

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Master Closet

The master bedroom has been occupied several times since I set up the furniture in there. Our daughter and her family moved to Aachen, Germany at the end of May. They emptied their house and rented it so they needed to be out before the big move. They spent the last few days with us and the parents slept in the master bedroom. The kids slept with us and in the guest room. Then my sister visited and she stayed in the room. It was very hot then and she said the room stayed comfortable because of the effective ceiling fan.
But the guests are gone for now, the master bathroom is finished, (mostly) and I wanted to move to the master bedroom. Our current bedroom will be Dave’s office and his desk is already in there. I moved the filing cabinet in there too. We will leave the bed up so that we can also use it as a guest room.
Before we could move though, the closet had to be set up to hold our clothes. So I have been working on that all week.
I knew I wanted shelves on one side and clothes poles on the other. I also put a clothes pole at the back. The front of the closet has a bit of an odd angle, so the shelves had to be cut to fit. I had disassembled all the shelving in the old closets and the entry and saved the particle board shelves. So I had several to choose from to assemble in the master closet.

Shelves cut to fit

Shelves cut to fit

I also saved the support boards and pole hangers. Plus I had several angle supports left over from the ventilation shaft/light shelves. All the shelves and the support boards got a light sanding and two coats of paint.

Angled shelves at the front closet door

Angled shelves at the front closet door

The distance between the shelves was figured to hold the baskets that I like to keep my clothes in. I prefer baskets to drawers.
The original support boards had holes drilled for the closet poles. So I used this system again to attach the poles.

Closet pole held by support board.

Closet pole held by support board.

On the other side of the closet I had to enclose the vent and electrical connections for the crawl space ventilation fan. The duct was a bit too wide to fit in the 2 x 4 wall. This is an inside wall but the bottom of the wall connects to the crawl space. The other side of this wall is the rear hallway and outside door. That is where the fan vents to.
The space was framed with 2 x 4’s so I cut 8″ wide boards from the salvaged wood rack for the box and tacked them to the inside of the framing with my finish nail gun. Then I topped the sides with another board and attached one to the bottom too. There was a fiberboard panel that was covering some plumbing in the original house and I cut that to size for the cover. It is screwed on so it can be removed if necessary. I also wired an outlet into the electrical connection for the fan. Another outlet might be useful. I found that the circuit that was labeled for this fan wasn’t the right one though. I’ll have to update the circuit list. The box and the cover also got two coats of paint.

Closet poles with ventilation fan duct box.

Closet poles with ventilation fan duct box.

Since I started on the shelf side of the closet and continued the clothes pole from the hole in the support board, I matched that height with the other clothes poles. So I had not figured a good height for a double decker pole area. I kind of lucked out having just enough space to double the poles in one area.

Shelves meeting at same height

Shelves meeting at same height

Where the shelves meet I installed straight metal braces for more support. I had to go shopping to pick up these metal braces and while looking for some that were less than $3.97 for a pair, I found this clearance plant rack at Big Lots. For only $12.47 I knew it was about the right size. It is perfect for the narrow corner and can hold shoes neatly. I had been looking on craigslist for something like this with no luck. It was a great find. The closet door will be hung from this side of the closet. It is opposite the matching door in the bathroom. And happily Walmart had the braces for $2 for a package of four.

Bargain find, clearance plant rack.

Bargain find, clearance plant rack.


I successfully moved all the clothes in our old closet to the new one with room to spare. I will hang the coats and jackets in the entry closet instead of the bedroom.
Clothes in Master Cloet

Clothes in Master Cloet

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Storage Closet

Sealing the gap between the walls and the floor in the storage closet has been on the to do list for some time. I emptied the closet and vacuumed the floor to access the gap on the outside walls.

Closet stuff

Closet stuff

The closet floor is part of the original slab. When the tile was removed from the floor we intended to break out this concrete. But since the block wall is sitting on it and we didn’t want to tear that down we kept the existing slab in the closet. The floor is quite rough from removing the quarry tile. Eventually I will knock out the lumpy cement and lay tile.
With the floor cleared out and cleaned I used spray foam to seal the gap.

Gap filled with spray foam

Gap filled with spray foam


Then everything went back into the closet and I also moved three of the big wooden doors into the closet. I had to get them out of the way to get shelves and poles in the master closet.
Doors in the storage closet

Doors in the storage closet

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Another Radiant Cooling SetUp

I have again set up the 1/3 HP aquarium chiller that I bought in 2016. This time outside so that the heat from the chiller is not released in the utility room. The controller is inside and the wiring and piping is routed through the outside air vent for the wood stove.
I did a similar test with well water running through the floor piping last year, and it seemed to cool the floor but I didn’t keep it up worried that the constant flow of well water might have an impact on our water supply. I was capturing the water used in a barrel outside and then using that to water the fruit trees.

Water Barrel

Water Barrel

With the chiller itself outside I used the existing water in the radiant loops to feed through the chiller and back into the floor. I tapped into the system through the valve drains.

Drain valves opened

Drain valves opened

The drain valves feed a hose that allows me to let air in the piping escape when I start the heating system in the fall. I put a dual valve on the hose spigot and attached a long 1/2″ flexible stainless hose to that.

Dual valve and hose connection

Dual valve and hose connection

The return pipe is attached to the cold water return for the furnace but the furnace is separated from the flow with a shut off valve. The chilled water flows through any zone that has an open drain using the system pump which is disconnected from the zone valves and plugged directly into the chiller controller.

Existing system pump

Existing system pump

The electrical cord and hoses are threaded through the outside air intake for the wood boiler and that duct is disconnected for these pipes to use that access to the outside.

Outside air duct for piping and electrical cord

Outside air duct for piping and electrical cord

I didn’t break the drywall shown in this photo, this was an area the installers had difficulty reaching because of the water tank. Eventually I will have it fixed.
I cobbled together a bit of a shelter for the chiller outside. The chiller is black so I was trying to keep it sheltered from the sun.

Chiller Shelter

Chiller Shelter

I had to cut the pipe for the duct to thread the wiring and the hoses through it. but a shorter pipe will work as well for the winter air duct.

Chiller piping in air duct

Chiller piping in air duct

The big question is does it work?
It does cool the floor which helps keep the inside temperature below the outside hotter temperature. The controller reads between 69 and 73 degrees when I look at it. However the cooling is not enough to overcome the heat being radiated into the house from the trombe wall, appliances, and occupation of the spaces. The temp inside hovers around 80-82 when the outside temperature is above 89. But it does not seem to get hotter than that. With the ceiling fans inside it is tolerable.
At night the temperatures get lower and I open the windows and use a fan to blow cool air in the house, but even if the outside temperature is in the 50’s at night the house does not get below 76 degrees. It just holds heat really well.
I added a zone at a time and when I added the last zone it appeared that the floor throughout did not get as cool. So it seems that the best setting involves three of the four zone valves. The last zone is actually two separate piping loops and that is the one that seems to stretch the system a bit too far. Although it has not seemed to make a difference in the daytime indoor temperature to have a less cool floor overall. I don’t have a temperature reading for the floor, but it feels cool to the touch like a concrete floor might if it were in contact with the ground, which ours isn’t so it is not normally cool without the chilled water running through it.
I started the Energy Recovery Ventilation system again but found that the variable switch really wasn’t variable. Nor did it work to turn the system on and off. But it was running the ERV at about half speed or 3.24 volts that were not being modulated by the controller. I am guessing I have something wired incorrectly. So I ran the ventilation for a few days but now I’m hoping to fix the on/off so I disconnected it again. What a long process this has been.
And I still don’t have a very effective cooling system in the house but some cooling seems better than none.

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Sun Shades

It’s been a slow summer for home progress. A series of family visits and the passing of my dear mother have taken our time and energy.
I was also hospitalized three times and I’m getting tired of it. I’m having complications from emergency surgery I had in 2016. Was referred to another specialist so we’ll see if anything can be done.
In the meantime my biggest project is tiling the last shower but I can’t get motivated to start. Now that it is late summer and has been very hot I’m working on modifications to alleviate the heat.
The latest has been installing shades over the sliding glass doors. These are shades I purchased from a craigslist ad.

Craigslist Blinds

Craigslist Blinds

I only purchased four of them, all 56″ wide. I believe I paid $40 for them. I bought these to hang last summer but had them in storage for a year. Just too many tasks to get done.
They are supposed to be Hunter Douglas shades and they were apparently purchased from Spectrum Window Design in Denver.

Spectrum Shades

Spectrum Shades

They use Rollease plastic chain mechanisms to glide up and down.
I used the internet to figure out how the mechanisms worked. And found the instructions at Sun Control.

Rollease Installation

Rollease Installation

The instructions seemed very straightforward, but using the upholstered valences made the task more complicated. I finally just removed the fancy material and installed the blinds with the bare cloth covered boards they came with. I didn’t know that one of the blinds was longer and therefore had a larger clutch. I installed the longer one in the middle window but with the small clutch bracket and that didn’t hold the shade correctly.

I figured that out but then I noticed the heavier blind was pulling out the header board so I installed screw anchors but just for that one. Not all of the sets of blinds fit the boards as set up. So I found myself measuring the distance and moving the brackets more than once. I also had a difficult time getting the plastic stops in the correct position. I would often place it on the wrong side so that once up the shades could not be unrolled.

Large clutch

Large clutch

Small clutch

Small clutch

Locking hub

Locking hub

I did not realize until the very end of the job that the clutch could easily be slipped out of the tube and slipped back in the right position to maintain a fully rolled up shade.
But eventually the shades were installed and they do a great job of keeping the sun from shining on my radiantly cooled floor.

And the fourth shade fit perfectly with an inside mount in the extra bedroom north window.

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Drawer Dishwasher

Shortly after returning from Germany we went out to see our son’s family and meet his new baby girl. I decided to order a Fisher and Paykel tall tub single drawer dishwasher to install in their apartment. This will be a great help to the new parents and also has a sterilization feature for items like baby bottles and toddler lunch kits.
We decided against an actual portable because the kitchen is very small. The drawer units are also Energy Star rated and efficient. We knew how much space we had to work with in the cabinet. We tested the water flow from the faucet and it was over the dishwasher’s requirement. So we decided to hook it up like a portable because there was no under sink access to the hot water.

Kitchen cabinet

Kitchen cabinet

Inside dimensions were wide enough but not quite deep enough.

Existing cabinet

Existing cabinet


But it turned out the back of the sink cabinet had been removed and replaced with a piece of screwed in plywood and the back of the side cabinet also had a rear piece that came off easily.
Cabinet without back

Cabinet without back


Behind the cabinets was a chase in front of the outside wall. Through this we ran the supply and drain pipes and the exhaust pipe. These drawer dishwashers have an exhaust vent to allow for excess moisture to escape.
Pipes behind cabinets

Pipes behind cabinets


With the rear of the cabinet removed there was plenty of room to fit the depth of the dishwasher too. We intend for the dishwasher to be removed when they move so the frame inside does not alter the cabinet in any way. It is built from 1 x 2’s tacked to the cabinet bottom and under the drawers. We were fortunate to find just the laminated boards we needed for the side and front at the clearance room in the local Ikea. A side panel was cut and tacked to the frame that created the exact width called for in the installation guide.
Frame from 1 x 2's and ikea panel

Frame from 1 x 2’s and ikea panel


We removed the bracket to attach the panel to the front of the dishwasher so we wouldn’t damage it.
Dishwasher without panel bracket

Dishwasher without panel bracket


Then we figured out the side brackets for the dishwasher. At first they were confusing as the markings were very faint and I got one in backwards that my son had the patience to extract to try again. But the dishwasher slid easily into the space after they were successfully attached.
Dishwasher in cabinet

Dishwasher in cabinet


Next we had to figure out how to make the hook up easy for them to switch between dishwasher and kitchen sink. I thought a diverter would be ideal. But I could only find a shower diverter with a 1/2 inch shower connection.
SmarterFresh Diverter

SmarterFresh Diverter


The dishwasher had a 3/8 inch compression fitting meant to go on a typical water valve. I had sent a dishwasher installation hose that wasn’t needed because unlike the installation instructions I downloaded for the model, this one had an attached pex supply hose. I had purchased a 3/8 inch compression to 1/2 inch NPT female fitting. I didn’t find 1/2″ quick connects at the time but I was looking for the wrong thing. Nevertheless the supplies I bought didn’t work. The shower threads are not typical NPT but they are straight threads instead, known as NPS. So my connector would not fit the diverter.
I had ordered an adapter to fit his faucet but the one I bought was mislabeled and we had to go on a hardware search looking for the right sized adapter. We thought about moving up to a 3/4″ fitting to use a regular hose quick connect but the adapter we ordered for that was also mislabeled and huge. Then we looked up shower quick connects and found them. We ordered a chrome set.
Shower head quick connects

Shower head quick connects


So using a shower hose and the original NPT connector we were able to put together the connection to the kitchen sink faucet.
Diverter at faucet with quick connect.

Diverter at faucet with quick connect.


Then we hooked up the drain. We had to replace the chrome tailpiece with a shorter plastic one. But attaching the drain pipe was easy with the included clamps.
Drain connection

Drain connection


The brackets at the dishwasher sides were then screwed into the cabinet sides and my son did all the measurements to fit the perfect Ikea cabinet front onto the drawer bracket. I cleaned up one of the cabinet door handles and the installation was finished.
Door installed

Door installed


We put in a hook to hold the shower hose under the sink.
Shower hose on hook

Shower hose on hook


And after the rinse test was successful, we loaded the drawer for a first wash. They are using the side area to store the dishwasher detergent.
Drawer loaded with a small wash

Drawer loaded with a small wash


I also ordered an electrical cord because I thought the dishwasher didn’t come with one but it did. Instead of replacing the cord, we used a heavy duty appliance extension cord. It extends from a small gap in the cabinet front to a nearby electrical outlet.
First Run

First Run


They are very happy with the convenience of having a good dishwasher. It is so quiet it is difficult to know that it is running. Because it is fully integrated, it is started with a remote. But if you miss the six beeps that say the cycle is ended, you have to guess whether it is finished or not. But that does not seem to be a big impediment for the kids.
Happy to have made the newly enlarged family’s life a bit easier.

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German Distractions

While visiting the family in Germany I helped put together furniture that they purchased second hand through the German eBay that functioned more like Craigslist here. They bought loft beds for the kids, and Ikea like slat beds called “lattenrost”. Since German apartment bedrooms typically have no clothes closets, they bought large wardrobes. This one has several shelves, two hanging areas and six large drawers below. It is pine and quite nice. And it fit the space exactly.

Stolberg Castle from Hospital Window

Stolberg Castle from Hospital Window


They purchased oak dining room furniture with a breakfront, and a lovely handmade wood (cherry I think) buffet that was actually free! Also a couch and chairs and coffee tables for the living room area. They rented a large van and some work colleagues helped move the furniture up those three long flights of stairs!
Ikea is popular there and the closest store is about 40 minutes away in the Netherlands. We drove over and it was fun to see a foreign Ikea-with a mirror image layout of the one in Tempe, AZ that I used to live near. We bought linens and a couple mattresses and a light fixture. I installed a few light fixtures as most of the rooms had only bare bulbs hanging from cords.
New light fixtures

New light fixtures


We didn’t really do much touring. But we had some lovely treats. My Son-in-law loves early morning walks to the bakery to buy German rolls and pastries. We had fresh rolls every morning!
Breakfast Croissant

Breakfast Croissant


The family is also very fond of the ice cream shops. We stopped by more than once for this delicacy. I guess it helps the businesses that apartment refrigerators don’t always have freezers.
Ice cream shop

Ice cream shop


The grocery store sold these yummy German pretzels and German flag sour fruit gummies that my granddaughter loves.
German Pretzel and Flag Sour Gummy

German Pretzel and Flag Sour Gummy


We had a couple meals at traditional German restaurants. I had snitzel a couple different ways.
Traditional German Restaurant

Traditional German Restaurant


For a slight variation, we stopped at a Bavarian beer garden and restaurant that had a little playground for kids and a bicycle tire vending machine!
Bavarian Restaurant

Bavarian Restaurant


In downtown Wurselen we went out to a Turkish restaurant that had an interesting menu. They serve hamburgers and fries but ketchup costs extra in Germany! Right outside the restaurant was the World Cup banner and we were treated to a long line of honking cars the night Germany won a game.
Wurselen World Cup Banner

Wurselen World Cup Banner


One rather exciting development was an emergency hospitalization for another bowel attack! So I got to experience a German hospital in Stolberg. It was very pleasant and the staff were all wonderful and were kind about the language barrier, sending me staff who could speak English. My son in law is also fluent and got me admitted and paid the fees upfront for me so that my insurance claim can pay later. One difference was that the patients wore their own clothes including nightshirts and day clothes and instead of going to the room on a gurney, I was placed on a bed that was my hospital bed. When I left, they took the bed out of the room and probably sanitized it. There were rows of beds in a storage area each covered in plastic waiting for patients. There were three beds at one time in my room and then two ladies went home and another came. The view from my window, and I was at the window was beautiful. I was looking at the Stolberg Castle!
Stolberg Castle from Hospital Window

Stolberg Castle from Hospital Window


Aachen was once the capital of the Roman Empire and the seat of government for Charlemagne. We took time out to go to the Aachen Thermal Baths and enjoy some soaking and horsing around in the pools.
Charlemagne art at the thermal baths

Charlemagne art at the thermal baths


The kids scout troop meets at the old fort and city wall. There are not separate boy and girl scouts. But they are divided by age.
Old city fort and wall

Old city fort and wall


The kids also were admitted to their school as guests for a couple of weeks before the session ended. They got to experience the German school that they will be enrolled in next term. They enjoyed going to class and meeting German kids and teachers.
Kids' Grammar School

Kids’ Grammar School


After a few extra days to recover from hospitalization, I was winging my way home and stayed awake for 23 full hours of travel. It was a movie marathon trip because I was able to watch several movies on the airplanes. But like many travelers I came home and got sick. I went to urgent care at home and got treated for strep so feeling good a day or so after that. Thank goodness for antibiotics.

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Germany!

In a strange turn of events, my daughter and her family, including my two wonderful grandchildren, have moved to Germany for a few years for her husband’s job! We moved close to them when we retired and although we like it here we surely will miss them terribly. They had to empty their house and store what they could. Their house is rented and they will hopefully be returning when this adventure is over.

In the meantime as soon as I learned they were leaving I made plans to visit and hopefully help them settle in. The job is in Aachen, Germany just over the border from Belgium and the Netherlands. So it was most convenient to fly into Brussels for my visit.

Getting close to Brussels

Getting close to Brussels

I flew to Atlanta in about 3 hours and then took an 8 hour flight to Brussels. After landing and deplaning, we had a long line to go through immigration to get passports stamped.

Immigration Line

Immigration Line

The family was staying in a beautiful old home in Stolberg that had been renovated but still had obvious signs of retrofit including a very old plumbing installation.

Stolberg House

Stolberg House

It also had many beautiful details. But buying an 1980’s house and updating and buying a 1800’s house and updating are two very different challenges.

Ornate oak door with wrought iron inset

Ornate oak door with wrought iron inset

One of the most interesting features was what they called a shelf toilet. No longer much in use, the Germans and other Europeans had a toilet that held water in the front instead of the back and only enough to cover a small hole. Waste is deposited on a shelf and flushed clear (mostly) by a rush of water at the flush. All toilets seemed to be dual flush and this model seemed to use little water. But the necessity of using a brush to clean up required more flushes.

German Shelf Toilet

German Shelf Toilet

Stolberg was about 20 minutes from Aachen and the family wanted to be closer to the city and jobs, so their apartment is in Wurselen. It is very spacious for a European apartment and has two floors but the entry is on the third floor of the building. The hallway stairs are granite and the railing wrought iron. Each flight of stairs curves in the middle. It also has a parking space in an underground garage, a storage room and a designated washing machine spot in a shared laundry room.

Third floor apartment

Third floor apartment

It has a wing with two bedrooms and a full bath, an entry with a half bath, a large room that the family will use for dining as it is off a small kitchen. Many German apartments don’t have kitchen cabinets and appliances, but this one did. Unfortunately the refrigerator is quite small and does not have a freezer compartment. But they will probably add a bit larger refrigerator to supplement the existing one. There is a room off the dining room that will be used as a kid bedroom. Upstairs there is a large loft area that they plan to use for a living room and a huge walk in storage closet at one end. It has hot water heat that appears to be controlled at the radiators.

Loft Area

Loft Area

There is also a very large bedroom upstairs that they will use for office and guest bedroom space. There are three decks, two smaller off the kitchen and entry and one larger with doors from the main room and the master bedroom.

Larger deck

Larger deck

The temperatures were in the 90’s while I was visiting which is high for Germany but with the windows open the apartment benefitted from a lovely breeze throughout. Like almost all German windows and doors they were the tilt and turn variety with no screens. But they allowed for the great ventilation.

German Tilt and Turn Windows

German Tilt and Turn Windows


The apartment is lovely and light-filled and spacious and seems like a happy place.

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One Day, Two Mirrors

It is past time to have moved everything that is destined for the house into the house. These mirrors needed to come in and claim their space.

I had the big couch against the long wall in the living room but the size the hickory mirror seemed off balance.

Long couch along wall

Long couch along wall

So the couch and loveseat traded places and the mirror centers over the loveseat perfectly.

Hickory mirror over loveseat

Hickory mirror over loveseat

I used the Ramjet nail sink to attach the mirror to the concrete wall. The first short nail rammed all the way into the wall and I couldn’t extract it. I just used a longer nail in about the same spot.
The second mirror was my grandmother’s. She had it in her hallway and I’m pretty sure it came from her old house. Maybe even her parent’s house. It is ornate and I had it in my more ornate living room in Arizona. Here in Colorado it seemed perfect for over the Victorian tub. This one is hung on two screws driven into plastic drywall sleeves.

Grandmother’s mirror over Victorian stele tub.

Grandmother’s mirror over Victorian style tub.

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Cleaning out the Garage

Unfortunately the charge cord that came with the JuiceBox is only 20 ft. long. And the 30 amp outlet is in the storage cabinet at the far end from the garage door. That means that the car has to be at least partially in the garage for the new charger to reach the charging port. And being in the throes of renovation for so long means I have tons of materials stacked in the garage and projects and tools that have not been organized for some time. So even though it is not fall, it was time to tackle the messy garage.

Too many boxes and tools

Too many boxes and tools

There are materials and supplies I want to keep protected in the garage. Some projects are finished and yet there are left over materials. I’m trying to get those out of the way.

Stuff that still needs garage protection

Stuff that still needs garage protection

I managed to reorganize, bring a few more boxes of photos and art work into the house, and empty and repack a few boxes. We brought in two large mirrors that I want to hang now. I’m missing the third. Can’t imagine where it went. And I swept out the dirt from this spring’s wind storms. I put casters on the tall shelves so that we can move them out of the way when we need to use the miter saw. I’m planning to put them on the table saw and joiner too.

Reorganized corner

Reorganized corner

I got a good sized parking space cleared out for the car.

Room for the car

Room for the car

But it is a really tight fit, so I will move more stuff around to get space on this side of the car.

A bit too tight

A bit too tight

The charger has been wonderful. I can add 10 miles to the electric range in just over an hour. I haven’t had a chance to run the Volt out of electric miles again so I don’t yet know how long a full charge will take with the JuiceBox.

Posted in -Chronological Recent Posts, Maintenance and Repair | Comments Off on Cleaning out the Garage

Installing a JuiceBox 220v 40 Pro Charger

Juice Box installed Horizontally

JuiceBox installed Horizontally

I decided to upgrade to a Level 2, 220v EV charger in order to charge faster during the highest solar production time of day. After researching various options, it appeared the JuiceBox delivered the most bang for the buck. Some caution against over-installing amperage capability as this one does for our Volt, but others seem to think that the higher capacity delivers the least resistance for a quick charge. Of course I love the app and wifi capability too. The JuiceBox is made by Emotorworks and they provide plenty of documentation and great support which makes it much easier for the do it yourself person.

We had most of the house rewired in the summer of 2016. They updated several of the circuit breakers and most of the circuits in the house. But they didn’t touch the 220v 30 amp outlet in the garage.

This outlet was an old style “welder” 30 amp configuration.

Old style 5 30 straight plug

When I took it apart I pulled enough wire down to see that it was labeled #8 wire. So that allowed me to upgrade the circuit to 40 amps. I used a circuit breaker that the electricians left in the box–they had pulled out a 40 amp during their work and replaced it with a 30 amp.

Circuit box with 40 amp installed

Circuit box with 40 amp installed–lower left

The EV charger draws up to 40 amps of charge on a 50 amp breaker, but I only had the wire size for a 40 amp. The breaker is supposed to be 125% of the constant draw amperage. So it is OK in this instance to put in a 40 amp breaker for a 30 amp outlet. The 2014 Volt only charges at a maximum of 15 amps but it limits its input internally. I upgraded the outlet to the new 14-30 type.

I had a little trouble getting all the circuit breakers seated. I had to pull some out to make room for the 40 amp and then didn’t realize that two double breakers could not go next to each other. A google search let me know to drop the breaker down one slot and I finally got everything seated. Of course I had the main breaker off during these changes.

The original wiring did not have much slack in the box, so installing the new outlet was a gyration of cable and screwdriver but I got it connected and back into the box.

Tight wiring connections to outlet

Tight wiring connections to outlet

I ordered an extension cord “dogbone” from Emotorwerks but decided to buy an adapter from Amazon because they took so long to ship my order. I guess I’ll have duplicate hookups. Just in case.

In the JuiceNet app I added my car type, and set the time zone. It also allowed me to enter my address and set the maximum charging amps. I set this to 24 amps on the advice of the emotorworks representative who also said the horizontal installation was OK. I had a shelf above the outlet and not enough room to install the bracket vertically with the size of the attached cord.

Juice Net Settings

Juice Net Settings

Juice Box on Standby

Juice Box on Standby

Of course I’m expecting this setup to work flawlessly with our solar photovoltaic system.

Posted in -Chronological Recent Posts, Electrical, Solar | Comments Off on Installing a JuiceBox 220v 40 Pro Charger

Solar Powered Volt

Way back in 2003 we bought the first model of hybrid Honda Civic sold in the US. It was the only car we would ever buy that was featured in a car show! It was a 2003 model but it was available in summer of 2002 which is when we bought it. I actually wanted a Prius but the sales guy in Tempe, AZ didn’t want to sell me one. He insisted that no shop would know how to work on them and told us it didn’t qualify for the energy saving car rebates available in Arizona at the time. (Which turned out to be a political scam by a representative who owned a propane conversion shop.) So I went to the Honda dealer and they were happy to sell me the hybrid car! We loved the new technology.

Honda power plant

Honda hybrid power plant-red band is the electric motor

It was only electric assist and the batteries were completely charged by the engine and the breaking action. No plug. It would be years before plug in hybrids were available.We sold the car when we moved to Colorado with well over 100,000 miles on it.

Our kids beat us to the punch buying a plug in hybrid Volt in 2014. Theirs is also this pearlized white color with the black interior.

Chev Volt 2014 with remote

Chev Volt 2014 with remote

This car has two electric motors and its EV range is higher than other plug in hybrids. But it is difficult to see what is under the hood with a large internal cover over the “works”.

Chev Volt 2014 engine

Chev Volt 2014 engine

Now that they went to Germany we purchased the car from them and I’ve been having a lovely time learning how to use its gadgets. I had to sign up for On Star to get access to some of the wifi features. Apparently these continue even after the free period for the other services. I also signed up for a free period for SiriusXM. It includes some navigation features I believe.

The app is called eChevrolet. I opened an account and registered our Volt. Once the On Star was turned on, the app made more sense having information about charging and other monitoring details. The app tells if the car is charging and the approximate time that the charge will be complete. It tells us that we need an oil change and that one tire is low. The tire seems to have a slow leak but Dave couldn’t find it.

EChevrolet Car Status

EChevrolet Car Status

Tire pressure and oil change indicator

Tire pressure and oil change indicator

When charging during the day, the house electricity use goes up about 1Kwh. It takes about 12 to 13 hours for a full charge. I drove it once past the 43 mile solar capacity and the switch over to engine power is seamless. The battery continues to assist when it is charged a bit by slowing down or braking. This is called series hybrid when the engine takes over, and parallel hybrid when the engine and batteries operate together.

The solar power that the car takes while charging would normally go to the grid or to the power wall battery. I don’t mind taking from the grid to charge the car. But it seems that to use the solar most efficiently we need to be able to charge it more quickly while the sun is at its peak. So I bought a Level 2, 220 volt, Juice Box 40 Pro with wifi and I’m installing it.

Posted in -Chronological Recent Posts, Solar | Comments Off on Solar Powered Volt

Books Unpacked

As part of the move the kids returned a couple of large bookshelves that they had brought from our Indiana house when they moved to Colorado. I had used our enclosed bookshelves to display my mom’s china and silver and other keepsakes so I was wondering where I was going to put the many boxes of book still packed in the garage. It is a good thing that we inherited these big bookshelves from our kids move.

Big and tall bookshelf

Big and tall bookshelf

When we moved from Arizona most of our books were donated. That is why it was amazing to me that we still have so many. I kept hardbacks and how to books and homesteading and well, too many I guess. But they are now all safely ensconced on shelves.

Filled bookshelf

Filled bookshelf

This opened up some space in the garage but it is still very crowded in there due to the extra building materials I have gathered for the finish work inside.

 

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Moved To Germany!

We had a busy May helping our daughter and her family move to Germany for her husband’s work assignment. They had to completely empty their house to rent it as they decided to keep it while they are abroad.

Empty house

Empty house

Dave and I worked on home and garden projects to get their house in tip top shape. I replaced the tile in their main bathroom because when I did the job a few years ago, I didn’t mastic down the backer board and the grout was starting to crack. We just took the whole thing out and did it again.

Dave did some painting and some yard work. I installed fancy magnetic door bumpers. We didn’t do much packing for them though. Dave took a few loads to the Goodwill and I was happy to take toys for my grandson and some keepsakes.

They had a shed built at our place to store stuff that didn’t have to be climate controlled and they rented an indoor storage garage for stuff that did. Most of their furniture was sold or given away. It was a huge undertaking.

We had a going away party for the family along with a birthday party for my daughter.at the end of May. They left on the 28th and we are kind of in shock. We moved to Colorado mainly to be near them and our sweet grandkids and now they will be gone for a couple of years!

Birthday-Going away party

Birthday-Going away party

Good thing we like Colorado. And we like our house and garden projects. My son and his family are thinking of moving here so maybe we will have grandchildren here again some time next year.

Since it was my mom’s 97th birthday, we also celebrated her and last week my sister came to visit us to continue that celebration. We had a nice visit and took mom to Celestial Seasonings to enjoy the tour and sample teas. Mom is in a wheelchair but likes to get out and see new things.

Birthday at Das Meyer bakery

Birthday at Das Meyer bakery

 

So I’m finally ready to get back to work on the house!

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Tesla Solar First Month Report

On the occasion of our first utility bill after adding solar, we found a significant reduction in the cost of the electricity we consumed from the grid. As the Tesla engineers predicted the solar provided about half of our electricity use.

Comparison First Solar Month

Comparison First Solar Month

As a former research person, I love data and the solar application and Xcel downloads feed my avocation.

Tesla App Graph First Month

Tesla App Graph First Month

This graph illustrates the total power used in blue, the amount of solar produced in yellow, the solar used from the power wall above the zero line and the solar fed to the power wall below. The amount of grid power used above and the amount of solar power fed to the grid below. We have not altered our power usage except that with warmer temperatures the hot tub heaters are less active. But it has also been cloudy much of the time and it is amazing how much power we actually get on cloudy days.

The Solar City app provides slightly different data. This is the solar production graph for a very cloudy and rainy day.

Solar City App graph

Solar City App graph

Since we usually get about 50-60% of our electricity from solar, it is really exciting when we have a 100% solar day. This graph shows that it is a combination of the direct solar power and the battery power wall charging then taking over when the solar is not producing enough to run the house. It is likely that a day like this also fed power back to the grid.

First 100% solar day

First 100% solar day

This is another graph from the Tesla app showing the electricity usage and solar production. There was no extra for the grid this day. The spikes in blue are the peak electrical use with the hot tub running. The solar day is moderate but the green below the line is the power wall being charged for later use. The power wall in green takes over when the sun is not producing or producing enough to power the house until the batteries are reduced to 47% then the power is fully from the grid.

Single solar day

Single solar day

I created this graph from the data downloaded from Xcel in the billing report. I have a record of all energy use from 2012 when we bought the house to the present. This is the comparison between the 2017 May usage and the 2018 Kwh from the grid. Although the use is less than half, the bill was a bit more than half due to the taxes vs. the per Kwh cost. So using less energy costs a little bit more–about 11 cents per Kwh instead of 10 cents.

Grid Use before and after solar

Grid Use before and after solar

We signed up to receive a check from Xcel at the end of the year for the electricity we feed to the grid. They will use an average time of use cost instead of the time of use price at production. I think that will result in a better return but it is hard to say.

Tesla App Data

Tesla App Data

The Tesla app graph showed that we fed 150 Kwh into the system the first month. If we are recompensed at 5 cents per Kwh that would be about $7.50 back on the cost for electricity this month. I can’t find a public notice of the payback for electricity fed to the grid from Xcel. They only state it is an average cost. So apparently they charge between 4.6 and 7.57 cents per Kwh but they were hoping to lower the cost per Kwh by charging for grid use which was rejected by Colorado in 2016. Obviously that would not be good for solar customers since they have to have grid use to sell excess power back to the company and the electricity would be worth less. But the compromise was to introduce Time of Use rates which will be higher for high use time periods. This seems better for solar producers who will benefit from higher rates during summer days for instance.

We did not purchase solar for the payback as much as for the energy efficiency it provides and the great boost to our LEED platinum application. It appears from the first month it has been a success.

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More ERV Controls

I spent another day on ERV controls. It is unbelievable that these controls are taking so much time. I was gratified that I finally got the variable speeds to work with the Lutron Caseta wifi dimmer and the GRX-TVI control box. I decided to hook the Nest back up to the boost control on the ERV circuit board and to hook up the Dehumidistat for the family room bathroom.

Both of these are attached to the boost and to the line input.

ERV Boost Wiring

ERV Boost Wiring

It is obvious here that the two controls should be wired in parallel, but I tried wiring them to the same input and output. The dehumidistat works great but the Nest has a wiring error. So I will have to separate those wires and follow the instructions.
The next connection I spent time on was the control for the furnace fan. Unfortunately I couldn’t understand the instructions for using the Nest to control a dehumidifier with typical furnace controls. I found instructions last year to use a separate relay. But I didn’t see why the Nest couldn’t just use the furnace blower connections directly.

Furnace Air Handler to ERV Wiring

Furnace Air Handler to ERV Wiring

Since I have radiant heat, I don’t have the furnace control board illustrated in the relay diagram. So it made sense to me that I could hook up the fan wire and a common directly to the furnace air handler connections and skip the relay.

Nest with Relay

Nest with Relay

But when I removed the jumpers (JP6 and JP7), all the other controls stopped working and the Nest fan setting didn’t run the ERV. Then I noticed in the printed manual, an extra jumper setting for a furnace air handler.

Printed manual jumper setting

Printed manual jumper setting

Despite the fact that I had removed the furnace air handler wires from the board, I reconnected them to try this extra setting. This was time consuming because the wire screws don’t seem to hold the wires very well, and I had to try several times to get a tight connection. Moving this jumper J6 to position 1 didn’t change the outcome. So I removed the wires, probably for the third time and replaced the JP6 and JP7. I thought I moved J6 back but when the ERV tried to run with the Lutron switch it stopped immediately. I rechecked the jumpers and when I reset J6 the ERV was able to run again. J6 is described in my printed manual as a control to set the furnace tie in to a minimum of 70 cfm in position 1, but in the electronic manual, J6 sets the wheel options for the heat wheel rotation. Two different functions for the same jumper can’t be right. I’ll have to call support to figure this one out.
When I was finished for the day I had accomplished hooking up the dehumidistat and getting it to control the ERV. This was a very simple connection according to the Honeywell 8908D manual. But it took me most of the day to end up with one more working control.

Dehumidistat to ERV Wiring

Dehumidistat to ERV Wiring

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New Toilets

I was tired of looking at and trying to clean the old biscuit colored toilet in the back bathroom. It flushed fine with its 1.6 gallon flush–a water saver in its day. But the tank and the bowl were stained with rust and calcium deposits that even scrubbing with a pumice stick did not help. The glaze was probably scraped right off the bowl.

Old toilet

Old toilet

I had some trouble finding the dual flush .5/.95 Stealth toilet that I used in the master bath so I decided to buy two. Originally I was going to use a round toilet bowl to replace the round bowl. But I bought one on eBay and it broke in shipping.

Broken toilet bowl

Broken toilet bowl

I realized the round bowl was not comfort height so I ordered an elongated to replace it. It is annoying that the dual flush tank and bowl have to be ordered separately and do not come as a set. This bowl is stamped with the .08 gallon flush for the single flush tank but it also is used with the dual flush tank or at least it has the same model number.

Elongated bowl

Replacing this toilet was very easy. The bolts came apart without a struggle and the water valve didn’t leak. I cleaned up the old wax and the dirt around the toilet line without too much trouble and was ready to set the new bowl.
I bought reusable rubber toilet seals again because I’ll probably want to remove the toilet later and they are so much cleaner than wax. I just reused the old bolts and caps.

Bowl set over bolts and tightened

Bowl set over bolts and tightened

The tank has an integrated gasket that fits on the toilet bowl and then the tank is tightened to the rear of the bowl.

Tank set on bowl and tightened

Tank set on bowl and tightened

Since the toilet is taller than the one it replaced, I had to go over to the hardware store and get a longer 16″ water line.
I connected the new line, turned on the water valve, and with no leaks the toilet was installed. I caulked the bottom edge with biscuit colored caulk to blend in with the floor. We bought a hard closing white wood toilet seat and it was inexpensive and easy to install.

Toilet installed

Toilet installed

I bought a second toilet for the family room bathroom where the 1/1.6 dual flush toilet cracked at the bottom. That one was not sealed with caulk and the inspector said it had to be to pass inspection. Next I’ll change that one for a new Stealth.

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UltimateAir ERV WiFi Control

It has been just over a year since I last tried to hook up the ERV to a WiFi dimmer. But with my son’s advice and encouragement the deed was finally accomplished.
He designed a circuit for me to convert PWM (pulse width modulation, a common control for LED lighting) output to analog which the ERV requires, The LED driver that used PWM was powered only by 24 volt and I didn’t have a dimmer that worked with low voltage, although there may be one out there for outdoor lighting.
I thought the Lutron system I tried may use PWM instead of analog like the LED dimmer. The ERV requires analog 0-10 volt.  But when I referred back to the documentation it said the output was analog.

Last year I purchased and tried the large GRX-TVI control box and a Lutron Caseta Pro dimmer with the Caseta bridge to make the ERV a wifi variably controlled system. I found the Lutron devices because I was looking for an analog dimmer system that controlled a motor as in the ERV. This system had an option to control a motor. In this chart the motor is an icon. The Caseta Pro is paired with the TVI to output 120v-277v with 0-10v control. The GRX-TVI and the Caseta Pro are magnetic low voltage devices.

Lutron Load Interfaces

Lutron Load Interfaces

Although after these devices didn’t control the ERV as I expected, I assumed that due to the magnetic low voltage and source and sink requirements the 0-10v output was not compatible with the ERV. I was wrong.

After the GRX-TVI experiment, I tried an Insteon dimmer switch, dimming ballast and wifi bridge, but I couldn’t even get the dimming ballast to output variable power at the 120 volt side much less the 0-10 analog side. So that was a big disappointment too. But after I got encouragement I tried again, plus this has been on my to do list for a long time.

The GRX-TVI documentation has a number of wiring diagrams that all make use of 120 power output. The wiring I tried failed to run the ERV with the outgoing signal. It could be that I had wired the GRX-TVI with the bridge wire to the switched output as shown in their documentation.

GRX-TVI Wiring Diagram With Dimmer and switch

GRX-TVI Wiring Diagram With Dimmer and switch

When I rethought the design I realized there was no need for the switched output. So I set it up as in this diagram.

GRX-TVI Wiring Diagram With Dimmer

GRX-TVI Wiring Diagram With Dimmer

The Caseta Pro comes with four wires and has a large range of applications but this one is quite simple. The blue wire is capped, the red wire is the dimming signal and the black is power from the distribution panel. The GRX-TVI diagram is clearly labeled for the incoming wiring. Power is black, neutral is white and the dimming signal is red.

Caseta Pro Dimmer Single wiring diagram

Caseta Pro Dimmer Single wiring diagram

It didn’t take long to hook up the switch and box again. And I tested the output with the dimmer switch before hooking it up to the ERV. It showed a nice variable signal on the volt meter. And lo and behold, it controls the ERV!

GRX-TVI Control Box

GRX-TVI Control Box-notice the red wire was extended with black

To use the 0-10 control on the ERV instead of the manual variable switch that comes with a unit–both cannot be used at once–I had to make a couple of jumper changes on the ERV control board. The manual switch is removed.

Recouperator 0-10v Jumper Changes

Recouperator 0-10v Jumper Changes

Next it was just a matter of updating the bridge software, it was a year old after all, and adding the switch to the wifi network. Now the ERV is controlled both by the physical switch on the wall, and the phone application.

Caseta Wall Switch

Caseta Wall Switch

Lutron Application-no icon for motors

Lutron Application-no icon for motors

Posted in Electrical, Ventilation | Comments Off on UltimateAir ERV WiFi Control