Happiness. Short-term, stupid, self-interest.

Home Renovation – Crunch Time

September 2006

“Simple deadline of next winter”… HA! Not at that rate. The impending winter was my deadline to have the room insulated and heated so that I could continue to work on the room in the cold months, and more importantly, so that I wasn’t trying to heat the outdoors. (“Do you live in a barn?” my father would always say to me when I left the door open)

Thus, it was crunch time! The correct order for doing this would be:
1) Insulate the walls
2) Extend the ceiling joists (a project I’ll explain in the future)
3) Install air channels in the ceiling
4) Insulate the ceiling
5) Hang the sheetrock
6) Tape & mud the sheetrock
7) Maybe even paint
8) Build a hearth for the stove
9) Install the stove…

Hmmm… install the stove… I wondered how long that would take? I also questioned my ability to install the stove, especially for meeting code and all. I read the instructions, I probably could have done it myself, but… installing the stove is like playing with fire and I would just sleep better at night knowing a professional made sure everything was going to meet code. Oddly, what scares me even more than fire is water. I have tackled plumbing before, but the one thing I have learned is that if water wants to get somewhere, it will. Thus, the idea of cutting a hole in a perfectly good roof for the chimney (vent) scared the heck out of me. The last thing I wanted was to have the spring snow melt and find its way under the flashing and drip down in to ruin all of my hard work. Thus, another good reason to have a professional install the stove.

The professionals were scheduling a month out and were getting busier every day, so I scheduled the installation for mid-October. Now I had a new deadline and there was no way I would be able to get that list done before then. So, I figured out what was the minimum I needed to do which was just enough insulation to do just enough drywall to get started on the hearth. That was quite a bit, actually, but I got it done by mid-September.



Now I needed a hearth for the stove. Technically, I didn’t need much of a hearth as the stove could be as close as 2 inches from the drywall because is it a direct-vent, completely enclosed unit. But, we wanted the hearth to be something special; something that added to the ambiance of the room; make it look as real as possible. Since this focal piece was going to be there forever, we wanted it to look great and do it right.

Yep, I just have to build a hearth.

…I wonder how you do that?


April 30, 2007 Posted by | Home Improvement | 1 Comment

Credit the HTGuys

Recently, my blog post on the Top 20 Reasons Why Home Theater Beats the Movie Theater Hands Down received a lot of attention from the listeners of the HTGuys’ Podcast #164. (16:10 is time index if you don’t want to listen to the whole thing) I got a kick out of listening to Ara and Braden review my list; I don’t think they realized that I have been a long time listener. (Probably because this is my somewhat anonymous blog, as opposed to my real blog, Hop-Talk.com… Ara may be interested)

I first mentioned the HTGuys back in July of 2006 and again on How to Find a Good Podcast. The HTGuys are the #1 rated technology podcast at Podcastalley. I haven’t missed a show; it is the perfect thing to listen to on the drive to work.

In Podcast #140 I had asked a question on behalf of my neighbor who had recently purchased a 46″ LCD TV right before the Super Bowl and was having trouble with the aspect ratio when watching high definition. Braden’s suggestion was to check the set top box (that’s the cable box) and make sure the output was configured for the correct resolution and sure enough that fixed the problem. (thanks!) (too bad about ‘dem Bears; though they did better than my team)

The HTGuys have also answered several of my questions that have helped me continue my home improvement project, which is my new home theater room. For the last few months now, I’ve been releasing a post every Monday that chronicles the story of this project, which is still not complete at the time of this posting, but is coming along nicely. Every step of the way I am planning for a great room with a great home theater, which is why when I am sitting in a shell of a room I am reading up on Dolby technology.

The HTGuys have also peppered my own short lists with the components I eventually hope to have incorporated, such as the Harmony remote, a Yamaha receiver, and possibly the HP MediaSmart Server. Although it may be awhile before I’m actually installing and upgrading my home theater (I’m embarrassed to list my current components), I do plan on making Windows Vista a key component of the system with a custom built computer and so hopefully I’ll be able to impart some knowledge, advice, or lessons learned to Ara and Braden.

So, being such a big fan, I have to give the HTGuys partial credit to the top 20 list, if for nothing else, they inspired me to write it in the first place. Many of the reasons on the list have been talked about on the show at one time or another.

I did leave off #21 – You can build an outdoor home theater and do all of the above in your pool. Well, as they pointed out, you can’t really do all of those items in your pool…

Oh, and buy them a cup of java...

April 24, 2007 Posted by | Home Improvement, Home Theater | 2 Comments

Home Renovation – Installing the Floor

August 2006

As always, making the plan was half the battle. Now, we just needed to execute:

First, clean the room and sweep it spotless. (while listening to tunes & having a beer)

Layout 6 mil poly vapor barrier. Even though I could probably have skipped this step, it was a fairly inexpensive bit of insurance to protect against moisture from seeping through and creating mold or rot problems. The reason I could have skipped it is because my slab is thick enough and high enough off the ground level to compensate for moisture. There is an easy test you can do where you put a piece of poly on the surface and leave it for a day, ideally a wet and rainy day. If moisture droplets form underneath a day or two later, you need the vapor barrier. I didn’t need it, but like I said, it was an easy thing to do and I’d never get a second chance.


Layout my 2×3 sleepers and fasten them to the concrete with a powder actuated nailer. The Remington single shot nailer was the long way of getting it done, but it was very inexpensive. The powder and the nails were the greater percentage of the cost. You load the powder (.22 caliber charges), the nail, line it up and hit it with a hammer to fire. I put down nails about ever foot, which is slightly overkill. This actually is quite fatiguing and strength intensive as you have to be careful and hold the nailer firmly to get it to fire correctly and drive the nail flush. Kneeling on concrete isn’t very comfortable either.



I added extra sleepers for support in the locations where I plan tile to go.


Cut the rigid insulation to fit into each channel.


Cut and lay the ¾ OSB flooring, gluing each joint, followed by screwing them to the sleepers. (Note, you want to make sure that you stagger the seems)


You definitely need two people when it comes to moving around and installing ¾” OSB flooring. My lovely wife suited up in work clothes and together we installed the insulation, and flooring in just a couple days.


Almost done…


Finished! A little spray foam at the edges and we are all sealed up!


All of a sudden is was September. The weather was getting cooler and that meant crunch time.

April 23, 2007 Posted by | Home Improvement | Leave a comment

Home Renovation – A “Floor” Plan

August 2006

Living in upstate NY can make for some cold winters. Sometime around November it really starts to hit with temperatures dipping into the 30’s (Fahrenheit) along with some snow flurries. December, January and February can get bitter cold at times, temperatures reaching the single digits, for weeks at a time, depending on the weather patterns. (We did hit a high of 75 degrees F last January, so you never know)

My porch project is taking place upon an existing concrete slab which transfers the cold temperatures in the ground quite efficiently. So, no matter how I heat the room, it would never be able to counter the coldness radiating from the floor unless I chose radiant floor heating which had too many other drawbacks. Thus, I needed a solution.

The floor also needed to be raised slightly if I wanted an even flow, or level connectivity, between the existing house and the room. The same applied to the new placement of the patio door. My plans called for carpeting most of the room, plus the addition of some ceramic or porcelain tiling in the corner between the two doors.

With that information, I calculated out how high the floor needs to be raised with the end surface in mind. That needed to take in account the tile, the tile backer board, the carpet, the padding, the sub floor, and the sub floor support. Laying tile as a floor also has some minimum spanning dimensions for the support in order to assure a minimum amount of deflection in the floor which would otherwise crack your nice tile.

Lastly, in order to prevent the cold from seeping through, my plans called for the thickest rigid insulation that could be sit in between the support structure, which turned out to be a nice r9.1 value.

This is the plan…


Now we need to install it…

April 16, 2007 Posted by | Home Improvement | 1 Comment

Home Electrical Circuit Map

If you own a home, do yourself a favor and make yourself an electrical circuit map. And, do it now, not later when you need it. Countless times, I’ve referred to my map to figure out which circuit breaker I need to turn off so I can work on an outlet, plus, figure out what else in my house will go dead while the breaker is off.

It would suck if all the lighting in your room were out while trying to work on the outlet or fixture. It is also nice to know if you will be turning off the computer, or the DVR recording “Lost”, or the heat… It is no fun to play a guessing games each time.


Start with a rough sketch of your home floor plan, plus a sketch of your circuit breaker box with each circuit logically numbered. Then sketch in every outlet, fixture and switch on the map. Here is a sample of standard symbols you might use.

You will need two people at first to greatly shorten the amount of time it takes to map it all out. Ideally, you would use 2-way radios to communicate. One person stands by the circuit breakers, and the other person has the sketches and something to test the outlets with. I have an outlet tester you can pickup at your local hardware store which not only tells you if you have power, but if the polarity and ground is connected correctly.

Then, one by one, go through each circuit and mark what goes out when the circuit is off. Later, you can redraw the whole thing neater if you like and color code it for easy reading. Lastly, store it in a clear laminate folder next to your circuit breaker so you always know where it is.

mapelec2.jpg mapelec.jpg

It doesn’t have to be as fancy as mine, or you can get fancier. Maybe I just missed using my colored pencils from my college days of drawing comic book super heroes.

You may at some point want to calculate the load on the circuit to see if you are pushing it, or, how far you might be able to expand/extend it. But, I’ll save that for another article if anyone is interested.

April 11, 2007 Posted by | Home Improvement | 13 Comments

Home Renovation – The Audience is Listening

July 2006

No, this is not going to be a THX certified room, but it is going to be my home theater. All my design, with decisions made to suit me and my family best. It is going to be great!

What you don’t see at this time is that along side of the detailed plans I have for building this room is a set of separate plans with just home theater equipment and configuration. It is a project of its own; and unfortunately, it will be just about as expensive.


I thought I had the plan for this all worked out, but some research on home theater design by Dolby became a little devil that had me sidetracked for a week. Specifically, speaker placement and speaker wire gage. Doing the wiring now meant that I had to choose exactly where the speakers would sit, because I wanted to hide all my wires in the wall.

dolby.gifI first read all about room layout and speaker placement from Dolby. (Dolby reference guide) I actually played around with my protractor for angles and distances to find the ideal locations. Unfortunately, the ideal setup is almost impossible unless you are making a real theater. The center channel speaker is supposed to be eye level in the center… but so is your TV. Theaters put the speakers behind the screen. For people like you and me, we do the best we can. But my real problem was the rear speakers. I had windows where the speakers would ideally be mounted on the wall. I had to pick the closest thing. I also planned for 7.1 surround, which for now can give me some flexibility with where I put 5.1 surround speakers.

My next challenge was the endless debate on speaker wire gauge. There are tons of opinions out there and everyone seems to feel very strongly about whatever opinion that happens to be. What I was able to determine is that the people who sell high-end speaker wire and the people who pay the high premium for such wire, are convinced they can hear better sound coming from super thick premium cable. I don’t buy it. (and I certainly won’t pay for it)

The scientific truth of the matter is that the gauge does matter, but in relation to the distance it is run which increases the resistance and thus the potential loss of frequencies we can hear. All the other things Monster Cable touts is negligible. For short runs, like 6’ to 12’ feet, even 22 AWG wire is fine. Remember, the lower the number, the thicker the wire – your household electrical wire is either 14 or 12 AWG solid for either a 15 amp, or 20 amp circuit. Speaker wire is stranded. But, I still wouldn’t go as thin as 22 AWG, especially if you are just going to buy a big spool of the stuff anyway.

I chose 16 AWG and just made sure my rear speaker runs were less than 50 feet; and they are going to be about 35 feet. I also made sure that it was CL2 (or CL3) rated for in-wall installation. All the other stuff about making better speaker wire is mostly vapor. People tried to convince me I needed 10 gauge wire…. 10 gauge! If you want to read all about debunking the myths of Monster Cable, read about the Truth of Speaker Wire.

I know the title of this entry is “the audience is listening”… I’m wondering though if I’ve lost you. Have you had enough? …because that’s just the speaker wire… there was also the electrical wire. That required a plan for the lighting, outdoor patio lights, switches, outlets, circuit load, etc. I also had to plan how to run all this wire. A detail I had to work out was that speaker wire could not be run within 12 inches of the electrical wire, or if it had to cross, it should at a 90 degree angle, or else you might picked noise in the speakers from electromagnetic interference.

I spent several weeks working all this out. I felt I wasn’t accomplishing anything, but it wasn’t going to work without a clear plan.


When I made my final decisions, I had the rear speaker wire run down into the basement to get around the french doors because of a very overbuilt header, then back up to the slab of the room and strung across the floor which would eventually be covered by a new floor. I had decided to run two new 20 amp circuits, one dedicated to the home theater, and the other to all of the outlets and lighting. I also added some additional framing within the studs to aid in mounting a flat panel TV on the wall.




I’m big on lighting, too. I wanted the room to be able to be lit without the need for additional lamps (though we are sure to have some), but I had some specific design goals. One was that I wanted to be able to dim the lights for movie watching, and on top of that, I wanted to be able to never see the actual bulb (or reflection of the bulb) so it is not a distraction. (e.g. the movie lighting had to all be indirect) But I also wanted some spot lighting. I also didn’t want anything recessed in the ceiling because that is just a plan for heat loss and ice dams in the spring. (I’ll save the details on lighting to that for a future post)


It was great when it was finally time to execute the plan. I have to say, though, that pulling 12-2 NM wire is much more difficult than it looks in a picture. And, turning the corners of the room with it was extremely tough.

In the end, I’m still not sure if I have my speakers where I want them to be, but I left myself some options and I will see what works out.

I loved the cement floor to work on, it was so easy to clean and sweep. It was one of those things that made my favorite activity cleaning the workspace while listening to tunes on my MP3 player and drinking a frosty mug of ale. I almost hated to move on to the next step, but I needed a real floor.

April 9, 2007 Posted by | Home Improvement, Home Theater | Leave a comment

What This Guy is Playing – April ’07

As always, April, May & June are killer months for me and it has already started. I don’t have time to play anything except soccer on Monday nights. Here’s what going on around here…

  • Yard clean up
  • Lawn maintenance
  • Easter
  • Soccer coaching
  • Garage sale prep
  • Birthday parties
  • Making cakes
  • Exams for work (work is already busy enough)
  • Trying to continue on the porch project
  • Spring cleaning

That’s just April. However, I can say this:

April 4, 2007 Posted by | Family, Life in general, TV | Leave a comment

metamorphosis: Amazing Girls

metamorphosis: Amazing Girls, by Metamom

I second that! We’ve recently gone through a cut back across the board and everyone seems much more happy and relaxed. We didn’t get rid of everything, but we have created a nice balance. Since our new library has opened, the kids are eager to go there after school to do their homework and read books; we (er, Mom) use to not have time for that with the extra ballet classes. Plus, that leaves extra time to play on Grinch Mountain.

(Now I’ve just got to cut out this blogging habit)

April 3, 2007 Posted by | Family | Leave a comment

Home Renovation – Time, Materials and a Plan

Summer 2006

I spent April, May and June finishing up the patio door, the last window, flashing, caulking and the rest of the siding. It was somewhat of a milestone for me because I was now done with the outside work and I could work inside rain or shine. Plus, I got it all done during what it always an extremely busy time of year for me.

I was looking forward to the electrical work, which all had to be run before doing any kind of insulation, but I had a couple small things to tackle first. I had to install the interior door before the summer heat hit, box up the soffit, and remove the existing window that looks into our current family room.

I hated doing any work in this project that was part of the final finish, like theese bi-fold French doors, because I didn’t have the plan extended that far out. In this case, what style of doors do I want? What wood? How will it be finished, painted, or stained? But, it had to be done, so we would make the best decision we could at the time and hope it will all work out in the end.


I remember this part of the project distinctly because I was watching the World Cup at the time and kept dreaming that in four years I’d be done with this project and watching the games in high-def right on the very saw dusty concrete I was standing on . It was motivation.

I also didn’t need much motivation the day I decided to check out the window that needed to be removed. I removed the moldings to gauge how hard it would be to take out the window and I had my answer right away… I just needed to take off the molding… the window wasn’t held in by anything else. *sheesh*

Have I mentioned how many times I’ve cleaned my workspace? It was a constant clean and organizational party before moving on to the next phase. If you ever take on a project like this, it is imperative to know where your tools are and to be able to work without a mess.

The cleaning was actually my favorite thing to do. It always marked a milestone, it was satisfying, and it was mindless. I would crank the tunes, have a beer, and get it done.


I did realize at that time that there is no way the room will be completed in time for Octoberfest, not even suitable to hang out on. Luckily, my good friend Al was in the process of buying a house and not only offered, but really wanted to host Octoberfest for 2006; and so that all worked out.

There was still more destruction to do, the plywood sheathing had to come down, along with the removal of the blown-in insulation (I saved some… it was part of the plan). There was also some more framing and hanging of sheet rock for where the patio door and window used to be. I was a bit hasty in getting that done because I wanted to move on.


I continued to work on the plan, buy my materials, and put in my time. Up next was the electrical work and I was really looking forward to this because not only do I find wiring easy and fun, but it reminded me of one of the main reasons I was doing all this in the first place… home theater and THX, and for that, I had a plan.

April 2, 2007 Posted by | Home Improvement | Leave a comment