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

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Solar is Up! Day One

Yesterday the Xcel technician stopped by about 4 PM to install the solar meter. That completed the setup for our solar system.

Xcel technician installing meter

Xcel technician installing meter

She gave me a hang tag that said the system was ready to bring online!

Xcel ready hangtag

Xcel ready hangtag

After she left I called Tesla support to get directions to turn on the system. It was so windy outside that my phone lost connection! But after calling back I just went out and did the checks with the phone left inside. Basically I had to be sure the system circuit breakers were on and then turn on the Eaton shut off box and then the inverter. It takes about 10 minutes for the inverter to come online. Then I reported the production numbers to the support rep. Next the Powerwall switch was turned on and we were in business.
The system showed the Powerwall was down to 0%. So the power initially went towards charging that back up.

Powerwall at 0%

Powerwall at 0%

The power diagram shows the house being powered by the grid as the batteries are charged by the panels.

Initial power flow

Initial power flow

In the last hours of daylight the Powerwall charged up to 2%. I was hoping for a nice sunny day to see what the system could do and we got it. By mid morning the panels were producing enough to charge the batteries and power the house.

Excess power to battery

Excess power to battery

By afternoon the Powerwall was completely charged. Then excess power from the panels began to feed grid.

Power to the grid

Power to the grid

As the sun began to wane the Powerwall began to supplement the panels.

Then at night, the panels shut down and the Powerwall batteries take over.

The Powerwall will not go below the set reserve which is about 50% for our system. Then the grid will provide power until the sun charges the panels in the morning!
This is a great day in the life of a LEED hopeful home.

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If It’s On A List, Then It Must Get Done

Sooner or later the list must get done. It is past time to come up with a Spring list and I’m looking at the items that I have paid no attention to for a season and feeling like I had better get them done.

These two items have been hanging out on the list for a few seasons. Since we had the drywall started last April and painted in May, cleaning up should have happened by now right? I guess since it is overhead it was not right in front of my face it didn’t happen.

  • Vacuum ERV vent shaft (replace vacuum bag)
  • Clean beam

I stuck a bucket under the kitchen sink drain because it was leaking and over time it just stopped.

  • Fix kitchen sink drain

I suppose it got gunked up? Otherwise I actually did these items.

  • Grout tile over tub
  • Install bench in family bathroom shower
  • Schluter in family room bathroom shower
  • Replace filters on house water system
  • Install airlock entry door

I suppose these were half done since one shower is completed and the second one started. One door is hung. I used extra mortar to prep the perimeter of the concrete floor with Kerdi.

  • Level shower floors
  • Get showers tiled
  • Hang doors in the master bathroom and bedroom closet
  • Install tile on perimeter of house floor

Although it has to be done again, the inspector came over for a final which was great.

  • Get final inspection

And now on to the items that didn’t get done at all.

  • Install corian on top of vent shaft
  • Make corian tub tray for master bathroom
  • Wire thermostat and dimmer switch to ERV
  • Install new calcium filter on boiler supply
  • Install new TDS monitor on water supply
  • Foam gap at floor in storage closet

My son gave me a circuit design that might fix the issues I’m having with the ERV analog control and I’m working on that.
I have resolved to not add any new items to the list. Today I rewired the light in the kitchen and that was not on a list. I notice that I didn’t post anything about this project when I did it.

Kitchen Hanging Light

Kitchen Hanging Light

The decorative top piece was missing at the time and I found it a few months ago. I decided since I had the ladder out vacuuming the vent shaft I might as well fix the light. Of course the top piece had to have the wire threaded through it and I had to take the whole light down to do that. But now it has the “mountain” theme.

I bought this bronzed copper light in Arizona for $20 because it was missing a lamp shade. I looked and looked but could not find the exact shade so I replaced them with galvanized animal feed bowls for about $6. It was pretty hard to drill the holes in the center of the metal for the wiring to the light bulbs. So they are a little off center but I like the result.

Kitchen light with trim

Kitchen light with trim


Now back to the list…

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Painted Garage Door

I  was surprised that our garage door was so shy. I had to look long and hard for any photos of the door before it was painted. This is how it looked when we bought the house. There was always a patch where perhaps a lock was moved.

Garage Door in 2011

Garage Door in 2011

By 2016 the door paint had deteriorated and in 2017 I bought some paint on craigslist that was about the same color.

Garage Door in 2016

Garage Door in 2016

When Spencer and Dave used the door for a baseball backstop this year though, Dave ended up patching several indentations and then painted it.

The paint has a bit more red in it than the original but it is very good paint (low VOC) and looks pretty good.

Newly painted garage door

Newly painted garage door

Next I have to change the weather stripping at the bottom and spray foam some of the large cracks at the sides.

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Rustic Bathroom Door

We are having guests at the end of the week. I thought it would be great to have a real door on the master bathroom now that the shower is also completed. I even used the shower before our trip to try it out. I hung a piece of heavy duty vinyl material that I bought at auction from repurposed materials for a shower curtain. Today I hung one half of the rustic bifold doors that I bought on craigslist.

Rustic bifold doors

Rustic bifold doors

These doors are part of a vision that I have been working on for years now. They were purchased about the time I bought the vanity for this bathroom more than two years ago now. I guess time goes fast when you are having fun, or slowly when you are working on such a large project.
I used new pine door jamb pieces and stops for this door. It was a bit tricky because it is an angled doorway. I leveled the side jamb pieces both vertically and horizontally and squared them to one another. The door was fit exactly into the opening with the jamb shimmed to fit the door. The door is not shutting level though. It may be warped from two years of being moved around in various storage areas. Or it may have been a bit warped when I bought them. Who know?
I used gate hinges to hang the doors, leaving the original bifold hinges in between the panels. These doors are meant to run in a track but I was hoping to use them free form. I thought I might hang one on each side of the door, but I didn’t want to have the door open in front of the light switches, so I hung them together.

Gate hinge on angled door

Gate hinge on angled door

Without the track it is difficult to get the door placed exactly in the jambs to close it. Plus the top of the open side leans out a bit. So my solution was to place stops at the top and bottom of the door and use a sliding bolt to hold the closed door in place. It worked reasonably well but will need some tweaking.
The outside of the door needs a finish applied. But Dave particularly likes the look of this z bracing on doors.

Rustic doors with z bracing

Rustic doors with z bracing

It is not too difficult to open the door and fold it beside the entry wall that holds the plumbing access for the tub. I will use the second set of doors for the walk in closet, eventually.

Open bifold bathroom doors

Open bifold bathroom doors

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Winter Tent Worked

I was distracted from building projects by preparing for our spring trip to the Grand Canyon with the family. We have a small RV that fits us and the grandkids just fine but the rest of the family did not have a good tent to stay warm overnight. So I put together a winter tent system and I’m pleased to report that it worked fine.

I set up the tent at home just before we left without staking it completely and we had to disassemble it in a big windstorm that gusted up to 20 mph. The blocky style definitely doesn’t do well in high winds but nothing broke which was good. I packed the large tent in the RV closet and we had to store coats and clothes in the shower.

Tent set up at home

Tent set up at home

The Grand Canyon was a perfect meet up place for spring break. It was magnificent and amazing to share with our kids and grandkids. One son lives in the Phoenix area so he was able to drive up in a few hours, another lives in California but visited his in-laws in Irvine first so their drive was about 8 hours and we took three days to arrive with the older grandkids. Their parents came a day later and only stopped for one night. We all arrived happy and safely.

Monument Valley camp

Monument Valley camp

The Grand Canyon was beautiful and awesome as always. The weather during the day was perfect. Clear and in the high 40’s and 50’s. But the nights were cold. The first night was coldest at only 22 degrees.

Grand Canyon view

Grand Canyon view

We stopped to show off the Watchtower to the grandkids and then went to the campsite. I started unpacking the tent and could not find the inner tent pieces in the RV closet. I thought I had forgotten the major part of the tent but started putting together the outer walls and roof of the canopy. Luckily I had that and the groundcloth laid before it started to snow! It was beautiful and it didn’t stick, but it was chilly.
While I was working on the outer tent, I remembered that the main duffle was in the loft bed area. It was too big for the closet! So I was glad that I had the whole tent after all. I hung the tent inside the canopy walls and put up the nylon ceiling. Then I moved in the double cot and the roll up metal table to hold the Mr. Buddy propane heater and I warmed up the tent for the family. I brought a CO2 monitor just to be safe.

Tent at the campsite

Tent at the campsite


The grandkids and their parents filled the winterized tent. But we didn’t fill the RV the first night and the guys who took the other family tent were freezing in their summer tent! So the next couple of nights we slept another person in the RV but still didn’t fit a couple of the guys. They put up a smaller tent and used two sleeping bags together and wore long underwear to bed. But the nights were still pretty cold for them.
The heated tent was quite comfortable though and most of the family was warm and cozy. Unfortunately despite these luxuries, I had a bad cold and was not able to sit around the campfire making s’mores or do much hiking. But I could babysit my youngest grandson in the RV which was wonderful!
The return trip was great too. The parents left a day early and took much of the winter tent back in their car and we stopped with the grandkids at Four Corners National Monument which is a cool geographical location with lots of lovely Native American art for sale.
Four Corners, four states

Four Corners, four states


We were home in time for the Easter Dinner that the parents cooked for us. Yum.

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Passed the Final Inspection

April Fools!  But we did have the inspector come out at the end of February and we are very close. We had three things that needed to be done to pass: first, finish the showers; second, caulk around the bathroom toilet; and third, fix the bathroom GFCI outlets.

Inspection Report for Building Permit

Inspection Report for Building Permit

Fortunately the solar installers found that it was just a circuit breaker for the GFCI outlets and turned them back on. Unfortunately they didn’t know which circuit did the trick.

We also didn’t pass the solar system electrical inspection. The plans called for a 150 amp breaker to the whole house panel. But the installers did not replace the original 100 amp breaker. The next day the installer returned to replace the breaker and the wire to the house panel and the work was approved.

Solar Install Inspection Report

Solar Install Inspection Report

 

 

 

 

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Solar System Commissioned

Commissioning was basically a test of functions. I had the Tesla app open on my phone so I could follow along with the tests. The commissioning was early in the morning so the system was not yet producing full power.
With the grid turned off, solar was powering the house.

Solar to the house

Solar to the house

When house usage was lower than production, solar powered both the house and charged the battery.
Solar to battery and house

Turning off solar and grid powered the house from the battery.

Battery to the house

Battery to the house

And when the grid was turned back on, the house was powered by the grid while solar charged the battery.

Solar to battery Grid to house

Solar to battery Grid to house

Before the installer left he set the battery charge to 50% which meant the battery would take all the solar power until it is 50% charged and then solar will feed power to the house and excess to the battery. He said that is typical.
The inverter displays the amount of power it is converting to AC. So I took a photo of it too.

Inverter power status

Inverter power status

The saddest part was turning off the solar system to await inspection and the power company thay has to come out and install the grid feed meter before the system can be used.

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Tesla Solar!

The solar photovoltaics were installed yesterday and “commissioned” today. I’m thrilled. This seems like another major step in the process of putting together a truly energy efficient home. And it is another case of purchasing a complete system with installation included.
The electrical connections happened first. Two installers came in a Solar City, doing business as Tesla truck. They had the power wall onboard and the outside electrical boxes including the inverter. First to go in was the Powerwall battery backup. It was unpacked, a bracket installed on the wall and then it was hung on the bracket.

Powerwall box

Powerwall box

Powerwall in truck

Powerwall in truck

Installing bracket

Installing bracket

Battery powerwall in place

Battery powerwall in place

The Powerwall needed side ventilation because the shelving unit was a bit too narrow so I cut an opening on the side of the cabinet. I also had to move an electrical outlet that was in the middle of the mounting area.
The installers then moved outside to install the several electrical boxes and the inverter that came with the system. They also made the connections between the outside panel and the solar equipment and connected the main sub panel to the backup system.

Installing electrical boxes

Installing electrical boxes

Late in the afternoon the truck with the panels and another install team arrived.

Solar panels arrive

Solar panels arrive

Solar panel specs

There were five men on the panel install part of the job. The mounting brackets went in very quickly and in a couple of hours the panels were connected to the brackets on the roof.

Installing mounting braces

Installing mounting braces

Panels go up and connections made

A special boot was used under a panel to run wiring through the roof into the garage attic. Then a penetration was made above the equipment behind the garage into the wall just below the attic ceiling and the wires were brought to the breaker boxes. After the wiring between the panels and the electrical controls were made the job was finished for the day.
The lineup of control boxes behind the garage is impressive.

Inverter and power boxes

Inverter and power boxes


I’m also impressed with the amazing usable 13.5 Kwh storage battery that is the Tesla Powerwall. There is a battery disconnect installed above the power wall.
Powerwall and interior disconnect

Powerwall and interior disconnect

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We Get a Shed

Here is something new. A shed purchased as a kit and put together by a store contractor. Our kids ordered it for us and had it built, although they will use it for a couple of years. And it certainly takes less time to order and have it delivered and built. No wonder the Sears houses were so popular!

Delivery by the builder

Delivery by the builder

The kids bought the Rainier shed from Lowes. It is about 10′ x 10′ with a 4′ loft inside. That is a pretty big storage shed. I chose to put it near the hot tub thinking that I can use its sides for solar thermal panels or for the tank enclosure.

Site layout

Site layout


Extra costs for the kit included leveling blocks for the floor joists. The joists are treated 2 x 4’s and a couple of 4 x 4 beams. The blocks were just plain concrete pavers. The floor framework was covered with 1/2″ chipboard plywood. They called it plywood but typically we wouldn’t confuse it with smooth faced plywood. This floor kit was also an add-on to the shed kit. I suppose it could be built over dirt or gravel instead of wood.
Floor first

Floor first


After the floor was together, the carpenter put together the walls which are made from 2 x 3’s and exterior wood panelling. Each wall was built and then lifted into place.
Then the walls

Then the walls


After lunch the roof panels went on. I didn’t notice the loft being put together but I would guess than happened sometime during the roof raising.
Now it needs shingles

Now it needs shingles


The shingle bundle also did not come with the kit. But it took less than one bundle to cover the roof. The shingles were stapled on.
Finishing touches

Finishing touches


A vent was cut on each side of the building and covered with a screened basement type vent cover. With a padlock on the double doors, the shed was finished. Except for paint. Dave and I will paint it.
Finished shed

Finished shed

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More Tile in the Master Bath

The master bath floor is finished. I just have to decide if I will use tile or baseboard in that room. I only have eleven trim tiles left. I could use them in the master but then I would not have enough for the family room shower edges.

I fixed the saw switch and was able to cut and fit most of the tiles for the remaining floor area.

Tiles cut and fitted

Tiles cut and fitted

Unfortunately before I was completely finished the saw switch started acting up. I cut the last few cuts with just the grinder, by wetting the blade regularly and applying it to the tile. Luckily I didn’t have to make any long cuts. When all the tiles were cut I mixed mortar and installed them.

Tile Mortared

Tile Mortared

I had to mix two batches of mortar because the first was not quite enough, so I used the extra in the second batch to mortar down more Kerdi for the tile edging in the kitchen.

Then I looked at the saw switch and found the bottom of the switch was not attached correctly and it had fallen apart in the housing. So I took it out and re-connected the parts and added a small strip of gorilla tape for good measure. Then I thought the switch wasn’t firmly in the housing because of the parts I left off. So I replaced the switch with the top rubber gasket and its holder. That made the switch feel firmer and this time the switch could be turned on and off. Essentially I fixed the switch again. Now it may stay fixed for awhile.
The next day I was able to mix more epoxy grout and grout the rest of the shower tile and floor. I had extra grout and I used it in the entry to grout the edging tiles. Then I returned and did the two thorough cleanings and in the afternoon I had time to apply caulk to the shower edges.

Painter's tape for straight caulk line

Painter’s tape for straight caulk line


As I was grouting the insert tile for the shower drain, I realized I cut the wrong type of tile for the tray. The drain was not that expensive and I’m just ordering a new one because this “feature” tile looks odd to me.
Caulked floor with mismatched tile insert

Caulked floor with mismatched tile insert


I’m looking forward to trying out the new shower! The minimum grout cure time is 2-3 days. Seven days are recommended. The first half of the shower floor was grouted a week ago. In another week it should be fully cured and resistant to staining.
Finished floor

Finished floor

Posted in Bathrooms, Tile | Comments Off on More Tile in the Master Bath

New Switch for Tile Saw

I bought a Husky bridge style wet tile saw for a bathroom remodel tile project in our Tempe house in 2007.

Tempe Bath Vanity Area Tile

Tempe Bath Vanity Area Tile

That was the first really creative tile layout that I designed and it turned out pretty well I thought.

Tempe Bath Vanity

Tempe Bath Vanity

It helped to have a wet saw to make the cuts and I did several tile projects in Tempe. We also used the saw on my son’s condo and my daughter and son-in-law’s tile projects and of course in this house.
After over ten years of use though the saw is beginning to wear out.

Tile Saw Label

Tile Saw Label

Last year we replaced the hose between the pump and the blade. The splash guard completely rotted and I tore it off. A pin broke on the cord cover and it needs to be taped to hold it together. The pump connector cracked off during the tiling of the master bath shower and I had to order a part and replace the hose connection with a brass fitting. It is frustrating to be delayed when the tool is broken.
Last week while finishing the shower floor tile I noticed that the switch sometimes had to be turned on more than once for the saw to start and it wasn’t long before the switch stopped operating completely. This is a common problem with these switches, especially with an older tool. I found a replacement that was rated the same 120/20A and 240/12A and ordered it.

Safety Rocker Switch

Safety Rocker Switch

But when it arrived I took the switch out of the frame it came in and I ended up taking it apart. Then the tabs inside fell out and I had to reassemble the switch.

It was a difficult job to disassemble the power box. It is accessible but the wires inside are tight and I had to remove several clamps to get enough slack in the box to reach the connections and remove the old switch.

Wet Saw Power Box

Wet Saw Power Box Opened and Unclamped

Unfortunately after the switch was installed and when I started to put the box back together I tested the switch first and it didn’t work! The switch was not engaging and I thought it could be due to a broken circuit breaker that was attached to the switch. So I ordered a new circuit breaker but when it came today and I installed it the switch still didn’t work. So I had to take the switch out of the housing and figure out why not.

I opened the switch and one of the rocker plates that makes the contact was skewed. I placed it correctly and closed the switch and then checked for continuity with a multimeter and it seemed OK. So I tested it outside the power box enclosure and it turned on the saw. Then I had to disconnect it and insert it into the housing again and fiddle around getting all the wire clamps back in place and the the housing cover didn’t want to line up with the screw towers and a screw to reassemble was missing so I just used a trusty drywall screw.
When it was back together I tried to reinstall the rubber boot and holder for over the switch but they didn’t have enough clearance for this new switch so I had to leave them off.
Finally the saw is back together and working, just in time for a bathroom redo at my daughter and son-in-law’s house and to finish the master bath floor. Whew, I hope it doesn’t break again for awhile.

Posted in Maintenance and Repair, Tile, Tools | Comments Off on New Switch for Tile Saw

Master Bath Shower Grout

The work on the shower in the master bath has been slow but steady. Bill recommended sealing the rough tile before grouting so the epoxy would not stick to the tile faces. I couldn’t find our concrete floor sealer to use on the shower tile and Bill said some sealers will leave a white residue which I knew the soy based stuff would if put on too thick. So an easy solution was to buy a bottle of spray on sealer from Home Depot. Bill recommended TileLab Grout and Tile Sealer.

Tile and grout sealer

Tile and grout sealer

This just sprays on and wipes off. The instructions recommend two coats and not letting the sealer dry on the tile without wiping it. The sealer worked great at keeping the grout from working its way into the rough surface of the feature tile.
I had one more batch of the SpectraLock epoxy grout that I divided last summer. I used it to start grouting the shower. The mixing went well with the yellow part A and white part B mixed first.

Clipping corner of solution bag

Clipping corner of solution bag

The edge of the baggie is clipped and the whole bag squeezed out.

Squeezing white part B into yellow part A

Squeezing white part B into yellow part A

When thoroughly mixed it is time to pour in the sand. The portion is weighed at 2.25 lbs. About 75% to 90% is added all at once and mixed in.

Mixing in colored fine sand

Mixing in colored fine sand

Then slightly more is added until the grout is the right consistency. Sometimes the whole bag is used and sometimes not.

Peanut butter grout consistency

Peanut butter grout consistency

Starting at the top of the shower, each batch of grout completed about three rows of tile all the way around the shower. I only did one batch of grout a day to keep from wearing myself out and getting sloppy.

Grout on tile feature

Grout on tile feature

I used a narrow plastic scraper to spread the grout in the shower which worked well. It was flexible but firm enough to press the grout into the joints. I left enough on to spread with the rubber trowel to pack it firmly into the crevices. Then I rinsed the wall with a special solution and a microfiber cloth, next another rinse with another solution and a white 3M scrubby. The third rinse is with clear vinegar water and a large grout sponge.

Shower walls and floor grouted

Shower walls and floor grouted

I had to divide another pro package of grout into four mini sections. I used two more to get from the top to the bottom of the shower and part of the floor. Each mini mix takes about an hour to spread. That is the recommended time for a batch before it needs to be rinsed. Rinsing takes about another hour of work.
I have another two pro packages to divide. I’m hoping I was pretty close in estimating the total amount of epoxy grout the tiling will need. There is a bit more tile in front of the shower that needs to be installed and grouted. Then the master bath will just need doors to be complete.

Posted in Bathrooms, Tile | Comments Off on Master Bath Shower Grout

Gleaning More Materials

I’ve used most of the building materials that have been stockpiled in the past; although there is more finish work in the house that needs to be completed. I hope to use the log railings for door and window trim inside. I have some baseboards for the house and rubber patio blocks that need to be installed outside. But I’m also thinking ahead to other projects.

This week I visited Repurposed Materials twice. Thursday to pick up a large galvanized window well that I bought when I was there on Monday for my auction items. I bought 4 drums of rubber infill, which seems to be tires finely ground that I will use instead of sand to lay a base for the rubber patio tile

Four barrels of rubber infill

Four barrels of rubber infill

I also won the bid for a set of metal rollers from a conveyer system that I will use for lumber rollers to support cut timbers too long for the table saw.

The galvanized metal window well is big. About 72″ long and 69 inches wide and about 23″ deep. I’m uncertain whether to use it as the base or the lid for the tank enclosure. I  bought two hydraulic bed lifts to allow access to the enclosure.

Selby Bed Lift Installed

Selby Bed Lift Installed

I have to insulate the enclosure well and there will be holes in the material used on the side for pipe access. I want it below the deck wall so that it does not interfere with the view.

Window Well

Window Well

I still had two of the barrels of rubber granules in the truck because they were too heavy to dump. The loaders pulled them to the back for me and loaded the window well on top. The metal originally sat directly over the bed rails but it fell down almost immediately when I left the yard even though it was tied and tightened with bungee cords. At least it didn’t fall off completely. I got out of the truck on the highway ramp to retighten the ropes and bungees keeping it on the truck for the trip home.

Window well in truck

Window well in truck

I also picked up just two of these plastic lattice edges because they seemed like they would work for holding the glass in the trombe wall. They might work but they cost $3 each. I don’t have a plan yet to help decide whether they are worth it or how many I would need.

Lattice fence edges

Lattice fence edges

I also bought one of these roof pavers just to see if it would work as a foundation for the tank enclosure. They are $135 for 20 or $6.75 a piece.

Extruded polystyrene and concrete roof pavers

Extruded polystyrene and concrete roof pavers

I was dreaming about putting these on our flat roof and building up a green roof on top of them for better insulation up there. But they are not in the best shape and I’m not sure the roof can take the extra weight. The rafters are 2 x 12’s and it is a short span of about 12 ft. so the roof is pretty sturdy. The green roofs I’m researching are shallow systems that use sedum and grasses instead of deep soil. These cement pavers are held on just by perimeter edging and are tongue and groove so the wind won’t lift them. They would add about R15 to the roof.

When I was on the east side of town I also drove to Aurora and bought a small electric water heater to use for a drain back tank for the hot tub solar water system. I had been looking out for a reasonably priced or free non-working small water heater. A 10 gallon one costs about $250 new and I bought this 115 volt model for $50.

19 Gallon Electric Water Heater

19 Gallon Electric Water Heater

I need the tank for the liquid in the thermal heating system. The panels each hold a little over a gallon of liquid and the tank has to hold all the liquid in the panels and piping including the heat exchanger. It is supposed to be about 50% larger than all the liquid so 10 gallons may not have been enough but 19 gallons should be plenty.

This project will take awhile but it will be great to have more solar and save on the electricity used to heat the hot tub.

Posted in Reduce Reuse Recycle, Solar, Spa, Trombe Wall | Comments Off on Gleaning More Materials

Tank Troubles

I found an ad on craigslist for six solar panels and two storage tanks. It was another Novan system with a heat exchanger. They had a photo of the panels installed on the roof.

Original panel install

Original panel install

There were also photos of the panels on the driveway and the tanks in the basement.

Solar thermal panels

Solar thermal panels

Large solar storage tanks

Large solar storage tanks

We picked up the panels in December and went back in January to disassemble the tanks and the heat exchanger and start the move of the tanks. That was when we realized they were too large and too heavy to move like the smaller system I purchased a few years ago.
The storage tanks on this system were big. I looked up the specs on the AO Smith STD 120 gallon solar boost tanks and learned they weigh 300 lbs.

AOSmith Solar Boost Tank Specs

AOSmith Solar Boost Tank Specs

We strapped a tank onto an appliance dolly and tried to get it up the basement stairs and it was too difficult. The seller had plans to be out of town for a few weeks and we planned a week in Arizona. In the meantime I started thinking the whole deal was going to be too difficult for us oldsters. The seller was older too although he and his friend who was helping with the sale were both in great shape as hikers and mountain bikers and mountain climbers. Very impressive backgrounds climbing in Katmandu and Australia!
In early February I arranged for some movers to bring the tanks up from the basement. I also planned to use plywood on the staircase to make a smooth surface to raise the tanks and even brought a winch that was attached to a 2 x 4 that could span the doorway. Unfortunately the movers stood us up at our 10:00 a.m. appointment. They claimed they had a tire blow on the way from Colorado Springs which is two hours away. I can’t imagine what they were doing there but they 100% guaranteed that they would be available at 3:30. At 4:00 I was unable to get ahold of anyone in the company and ended up just going home. After another few weeks of other projects and obligations and attempted arrangement for other movers, I decided we would try to slide them up ourselves or take them apart.
Today when we arrived we tried to take a tank up the stairs without the plywood or winch and couldn’t do it again. So we laid it down and started taking it apart. I left my phone in the truck so I didn’t get any photos of the process.
I had researched the tanks and they were glass lined steels tanks inside a casing of steel and insulation. I watched some youtube videos on scrapping and learned how to take one apart by slicing the outer casing off. So this morning I brought several tools to the worksite. All our pipe wrenches and socket sets, several screwdrivers including our battery powered drills and a grinder to slice off the casing. So when we couldn’t handle the full weight, the disassembly began.

The grinder did a good job of slicing the tank. There were a lot of sparks and it was rather loud. Roger was kind enough to find us all ear plugs to save what little hearing we have left. We pried off the top and bottom and had to cut around bolts that we could not get a grip on to get off on the bottom. We sliced away a good portion of the insulation around the tank but then decided to try loading it again on the dolly and taking it up the stairs.

It was still too heavy for me to be at the top, then Dave tried it and it was too heavy for him so we put down the plywood and he arranged the winch at the garage door and it was rolled up the plywood. At one point we were not sure how to stand it up at the top of the stairs but then decided to hook the winch onto the bottom of the dolly instead of the handle while Dave winched the two other men stood up the tank.

With a little finagling the tank went around the corner through the garage door and down the step to the trailer and we strapped it on. The scrap metal went in the back of the truck.

Scrap metal in truck

Scrap metal in truck

Roger had to leave so we stripped the second tank of its metal shell and will return on Monday to get it up the stairs and onto the trailer.

Stripped tank on trailer

Stripped tank on trailer

The tanks are pretty rusted at the top and bottom and I hope I can clean them up enough to lay on their sides in an insulated enclosure to store the water from the panels. It was a big job and we were exhausted and hungry when we were finished.

Posted in Reduce Reuse Recycle, Solar, Spa | Comments Off on Tank Troubles

Pine Log Haul

I have a habit of checking craigslist for log items. I want to use pine logs for the trim in the house. I’m hoping to create a Colorado rustic lodge look.
I missed out on some log siding from Evergreen because it was too snowy and I offered less than asking. So when I saw this ad I decided to try for it. I was the first responder and the seller honored that even though it took me a few days to get there to pick it up.

Ad for pine logs

Ad for pine logs

The home it was from was purchased last year for 1.8 million. The new owner was not removing all the trim, just a few extra posts and railings. He replaced the log railings with metal rods and turnbuckles. A more modern and industrial look that was also attractive. It was a huge house. In fact I kidded the owner about whether he thought it was big enough. He said it was too big when it came to doing renovations. Here are some photos from the real estate site. These are the rooms that he pulled logs from.

Log Home Entry

Log Home Entry

Log Home Living Room Mantel

Log Home Living Room Mantel

The ad showed all the log sections for sale. This is what tempted me.

Tall Pine Post

Stair railing sections

Stair railing sections

Stair railing

Stair railing

Mantel

Mantel

The weather was in the single digits but clear when I picked up these logs. The roads were still snow covered and so were the pine trees. It was a beautiful morning in the mountains. The owner and a couple of workmen helped load them and even drove my truck out of the steep slippery driveway for me.

Log railings in truck

Log railings in truck

Log Haul

Log Haul


I’m planning to use the tall posts to build a front porch roof and the smaller stuff for interior door and window trim. I’ll have to figure out where to store the logs.

Posted in Construction, Finishes, Reduce Reuse Recycle, Trim | Comments Off on Pine Log Haul

Shower Floor

On the last day of Bill’s visit the tile saw pump connection broke. It could have frozen as the temperature dropped from the 60’s to below freezing overnight. We couldn’t keep the water line connected so we stopped cutting tiles for the master bath shower and Bill started the layout for the family room bathroom shower.

I worked on the shower floor after the part for the saw arrived. I had to order a 1/2″ MPT to 1/4″ barb fitting online as I could not find one at the box store or at the hardware stores. I visited several! In fact I could hardly believe that I couldn’t find the fitting or even a combination of fittings that would work.

Once I was able to cut tile with the saw again we were blessed with several warm days. I was able to lay out the cuts around the drain and then finish the edges. We started with a square line drawn to the front of the shower. Since the shower was uneven front to back Bill brought the tile line a bit outside the shower entry to trick the eye. The original squared line would have left the side of the drain with a gap because of the wavy tile, so I moved the line over just half an inch to get easier cuts surrounding the drain.

Lined up and cuts

Lined up square to front and drain cuts

Bill advised me to do the floor in two days, first the alignment with the squared line and the drain, and then the perimeter, letting the first tiles dry and be set before installing the rest of them.

Partial installation

Partial installation

I’m using the levels as straight edges to push the tiles into square. Some of the tiles were a bit larger or smaller than ideal so pushing them into place could expand or contract the grout joint. That required a series of adjustments to get the grout joints as level and aligned as possible.
The next day the outlying tiles had to be cut to fit. I cut them all before I started laying them but a few still had to be trimmed. I back buttered all the tiles as I laid them on the 3/8″ notch troweled unmodified mortar. It seemed to be the easiest to then pull them up as Bill had taught me so the top edges aligned. If the mortar was too thick and squished up between the tiles, I cleaned the grout line out with an extra spacer. I didn’t get them all completely aligned but I’m not an expert and I hope the grout makes up for mismatched edges.

Tile laid

Tile laid

The next step is sealing the rough faced tile so that the grout is easier to spread between the tiles and doesn’t stick to them.

Posted in Bathrooms, Tile | Comments Off on Shower Floor