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Home Improvement
Jun 14th, 2012 at 5:57pm
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Several of us own houses now, and I'm sure others will be in the market eventually, so I figured I would start a thread for home improvement and similar tasks.  Since buying our house four years ago, I've had to quickly learn about electrical, plumbing, carpentry, etc.  I figured it might be beneficial to share some of the home improvement stuff I'm doing in the hopes it might be beneficial or encouraging to others.

This doesn't necessarily need to be limited to home improvement.  It'd be neat to see other types of handiwork, such as car repair, hobby-related crafting, etc.


-b0b
(...loves to tinker.)
  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #1 - Jun 14th, 2012 at 5:58pm
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Our dish disposer was getting old and worn out, and our sink had recently started draining slowly. Even with judicious plunging and plenty of Drano, I couldn't seem to get things cleared up much.

After checking under the sink, it was clear the plumbing had been installed by a pack of retarded monkeys that were hitting a bit too much acid.  I'm obviously not a plumber, but it's common sense that drain pipes need to run downhill if you expect water to drain out of them.  Can you spot the problem in this picture?



The horizontal pipe that connects the disposer outlet to the drain from the right-hand rinse sink is angled upward.  That would explain the frequent and worsening clogs, and also the constant bad smell that emanated from the disposer.  Since the pipe was angled upward, both the pipe and the disposer failed to drain completely.  Also, the uphill angle caused water to drain very slowly, so particulate matter ground up by the disposer wasn't getting flushed out - hence the clog.



The idiots also used the wrong type of pipe to attach to the outlet of the disposer.  This permitted leakage, which badly corroded the disposer outlet and damaged the floor of the cabinet.



The plumbing has to be replaced in it's entirety to allow the disposal outlet pipe to enter the drainage pipe at a lower point.  Since the disposer is a bit worn out and the outlet is badly corroded, we've decided to buy a new unit and replace it along with the plumbing.

As a hardcore nerd, I couldn't buy just any disposer.  It had to be the biggest, baddest, most powerful, and most technologically advanced disposer on the market.  May I present the InSinkErator Evolution Excel 1.0HP garbage disposal:  http://www.amazon.com/InSinkErator-Evolution-Excel-Household-Disposer/dp/B000G7U...

-b0b
(...$3.99 overnight with Amazon Prime, yeah!)
  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #2 - Jun 14th, 2012 at 5:59pm
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The new disposer arrived this afternoon.  I just finished with the install, and although I didn't get everything accomplished I had hoped for, the majority of the installation went quite smoothly.

After removing the vertical piping and tee from the rinse sink, the vertical pipe broke right off the old disposer under its own weight.  That's not surprising, but it's awfully scary.  Had that broken at an inopportune time, we could have had a bit of a flood to deal with.  I definitely found the source of the clog, though...





This is one of the things I had to give up on.  I was going to replace the strainer on the rinse sink since they're inexpensive and it would improve the appearance of the sink.  I absolutely could not get the retaining ring off this beast.  I went back to Home Depot and bought a purpose specific wrench and some penetrating oil, and I still couldn't get this thing to budge with all my might.  Since it was a purely cosmetic improvement, I eventually decided to just leave it.




The plumber's putty on the disposer drain adapter had long-since turned to dust, and was allowing water to seep around the adapter, hence the rust all over the top of the old disposer.  I found an unused, unopened disposer adapter under the sink, so whoever installed this one had apparently just reused the existing adapter when they replaced a previous disposer.




Once everything was removed and the new adapter was in place, it was time to seat the new disposer.  Here's a side-by-side shot, showing the size difference.  The problem with buying the Cadillac model is that it was freakin' heavy, making it very difficult to get the thing attached to the adapter.  It's only 20 pounds, but it is amazing how heavy twenty pounds can be when you're holding it at arm's length and trying to make fine adjustments to the placement.




Here it is, in place and ready for the plumbing.  I installed the electrical wire previously using a separate kit, and forgot to take pictures.  Whoops.




Here's the final product.  I'm not super happy about the odd angles of the existing PVC, but I was able to get everything lined up with a flexible tee.  I squared off and sanded the ends of the PVC and made sure everything was tight.  After running the sink for ten minutes, I couldn't find a drop of water that had escaped, so I think this might just do it.




Everything is held together with compression fittings and host clamps, so it is relatively trivial to take it apart again if I need to fix something.  I also noticed the outlet isn't GFCI protected, which seems like a bad idea for an under-sink outlet, so I've put that on my list of things to fix this summer.  The problem with home improvement projects is they inevitably lead to more projects!


-b0b
(...is going to take a long, hot shower now.)
  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #3 - Jun 15th, 2012 at 7:26am
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Ok so at first I thought this would make us sound really old...but I was interested in your replacement...that's when I confirmed we were old!

X
  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #4 - Jun 15th, 2012 at 9:25am
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Hahah, that uphill pipe is crazy.

This thread is a good idea, I recently purchased a home as of April. I plan to install a disposal at some point.

Total changes we've made so far:
-Painted 5 rooms
-Tile backsplash
-All electric receptacles/switches replaced and re-covered(previous owner painted over them)
-bathroom fossett upgraded/installed

Future Plans
- This would be a never ending list -
  
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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #5 - Jun 15th, 2012 at 10:10am
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Are you sick of painting, Stick?  We painted about half of the rooms in the house when we bought it.  That was four years ago, and we still haven't painted the rest of the house.  I'll be a happy man if I never touch a paintbrush again!

Oh, and wallpaper?  Never again.  I think we spent more time removing wallpaper then we did patching, prepping, and painting (three coats!) combined.  This was some of the lovely wallpaper we had to deal with:





I also replaced most of the electrical receptacles when we bought the house.  The existing receptacles were ridiculously old and had 4-5 layers of paint (no kidding) on them.





I replaced most of the receptacles with surge protecting outlets.  This eliminates the need for a surge strip.  Sorry about the blurry shot:





-b0b
(...is tired just from looking at that wallpaper.)
  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #6 - Jun 15th, 2012 at 7:38pm
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Oooo I like this thread, nice job bob with all your upgrades!
  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #7 - Jun 15th, 2012 at 7:44pm
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That disposal drain made me throw up in my mouth a little, thanks bob
  
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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #8 - Jun 16th, 2012 at 12:12am
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Briney, I think you should show us how you hooked up Susie's hot tub jets to the electrical system!

X
  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #9 - Jun 16th, 2012 at 12:41am
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X wrote on Jun 16th, 2012 at 12:12am:
Briney, I think you should show us how you hooked up Susie's hot tub jets to the electrical system!



Is this going to be scary?


-b0b
(...braces for impact.)
  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #10 - Jun 16th, 2012 at 1:13am
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He is being sly cause I haven't done that yet! haha
  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #11 - Jun 16th, 2012 at 10:36am
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I recently changed the brake master cylinder on my VW jetta, stupid car.  I also have a laundry list of jobs to do to my Jeep as well.  If anyone is interested I can put some stuff up here this summer as I do more work.

Home improvements suck, especially re-wiring some knob and tube, good stuff.

pez
  
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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #12 - Jun 16th, 2012 at 12:02pm
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Andrew, didn't you wire up your Ford Tarus with a complete sound system?  That's a tight spot, so a house shouldn't be that hard, right?
  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #13 - Jun 16th, 2012 at 12:42pm
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I pulled a ton of knob and tube wiring out of my garage a couple years back and went absolutely nuts with new light fixtures and receptacles.  Fortunately, I had bare studs to work with, so running the new cabling was trivial.  I think the hardest part of any electrical job in the house would involve running the new cabling.  This is particularly true in our house, which has had several additions, so none of the walls line up between floors.

Here are a couple shots of the garage immediately after I finished running the wiring.



The sub-panel was a crusty old fuse box.  I replaced that with a circuit breaker sub-panel.  One circuit controls the regular receptacles and the other controls the lights and surge suppressing receptacle for the network/stereo equipment.




Here is one wall of the garage.  I removed three receptacles and replaced them with ten receptacles, along with an eleventh surge suppressing receptacle that is elevated from the rest.  A twelfth and final receptacle was placed on the ceiling next to the garage door opener.




The new 2x4s will support a wall-mounted network rack.  The receptacle above the rack is surge suppressing to protect the network and stereo equipment.  The black cabling is Cat 5e, and the shiny copper cabling is speaker wire.




This pic shows the rear left corner of the garage, where my workbench sits.  I doubled up on outlets in this corner since it is where I will have the most use.  I also placed two network drops in each of two boxes here.  The corner box is a double-gang that also has the rear left speaker drop.




Finally, an overhead shot, and my one point of regret.  I replaced one overhead light with four overhead lights, thinking that would be more than sufficient.  Now I wish I had placed eight or more.  The garage is quite dark, and the walls soak up the light like a sponge.  Hopefully, once I put plywood on the walls, the garage will brighten up significantly.

« Last Edit: Jun 17th, 2012 at 12:12pm by b0b »  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #14 - Jun 16th, 2012 at 1:02pm
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I would love to see some of your guys' car projects, as that stuff is greek to me.

Here is a few outdoor things I did last year and actually took pictures of.

There was a raised flowerbed around our tree by the driveway that was sitting there with no bricks. The person that lived there before us took them all when they moved out. So I dug everything up around the bed, placed in gravel and leveling sand and built a nice wall around it. I don't have many Work in progress shots:



And finished!


We have 2 basement egress windows, that you can open to potentially escape a fire. Well the previous owners placed these tiny plastic egress walls in there, and you couldn't open the windows all the way to get out... nice. Also he put concrete at the bottom of the windowwell so when it rained, the water drained from the ground into this window well and it would fill up with water. To top that off, the ground all around the window wells actually angled back towards the house. With nowhere else to go, it would come in our windows and leak down the wall into the basement. Fail. Mold Fail.  Although it was funny one time to come downstairs and see an aquarium out the window. There were a quite a few late night water bailout sessions. So I set about fixing the window wells, to allow proper escape and drainage.

I don't have a good before picture, but this will show just how tiny those window wells actually were. The window opened outward and would just smack into the wall.



So after a little bit amount of digging I started running into... Concrete!! This genius had poured concrete at various intervals around the window wells to "seal" them in.  You can't see them in this pic, but I have a later pic of them. I had to use a pickaxe and a sledge to break up these massive chunks and haul them out of the hole.



I finally get down to the bottom of the windowwell. Hauling the concrete chunks out at this level was pretty tough.



But I finally cleared them out, and the plastic walls. I dug even further, because the guy had placed the concrete bottom of the well almost at the level of the bottom of the window. Not smart.



So to make sure water would flow properly I dug out a big pit, and then at the bottom I used a post hole digger to dig another 4 or more feet down to the draintile thats at the very bottom of the foundation with most houses. Modern homes may have a perforated pipe down there that goes into a sump pump or whatever, but I was pretty sure we just had the gravel.



I put in a capped piece of pvc pipe that had small holes all down the sides so that water would flow as best as possible down to the draintile. I also put in some weedbarrier for funsies and then poured in about 12 + cubic feet of drainage gravel. This would allow water to move very easily down and away from my windows.



After the gravel was in, I started laying in retaining wall brick and leveling it off. I backfilled with gravel behind the brick for further drainage.



Materials/Chaos:



Finished with the brickwork: I placed a small 6 inch step in the brick to help people step out of it.



I then hauled some of the dirt away, and used the rest of it to grade the surrounding dirt, so water would flow naturally away from the house.



Then I went ahead and did it all over again for the other window well! This one had to be smaller because we have a hose that comes out right by the window and the electrical/gas pipes that run out to our outbuilding are buried here too. Also you can see one of the concrete chunks from that window well in the picture, as well. The concrete had dried against on of the electrical conduits, so that was fun to get off.



So after that was all done, I put down weedbarrier (which does nothing, haha) and then a bunch of river rock.




I've had no leaks since then, and even in the craziest of storms there has been no water buildup. The brick has stayed level through the winter, and everything is still groovy.
  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #15 - Jun 16th, 2012 at 2:23pm
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Very cool, Briney!  I'd love to know more about the drainage pipe you installed.  How long is it?  Did you drill the holes yourself, or did you find a pre-drilled PVC pipe somewhere?  Is the bottom open, or did you place some sort of drilled cap on it?

That's a ton of work!  If there is one thing I absolutely hate doing, it's outdoors/landscaping type work.  That looks amazing!


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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #16 - Jun 17th, 2012 at 8:54am
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Yeah briney that is some serious landscaping there, trying to make us feel bad...

X, I have wired 2 car system installs, that car is gone now though, I have a VW jetta and a Jeep Cherokee.  Sadly I have had to replace brakes and front suspensions on the Jeep before moving down, now I have a list of stuff for both cars.

Bob, that garage looks awesome, I wish I had something like that for the work I do from time to time.  Knob and tube sucks to replace inside walls, I hate using fish sticks and fish tape and various other things to push, pull, and twist your way though some 100 year old walls with terrible design... bah.

I will take some shots of my next car jobs and put them here.
  
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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #17 - Jun 18th, 2012 at 8:27pm
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I don't really have any home improvement stuff...but I do have a little car stuff.

Most things I do I don't take pictures of.  When I did a little work on my moms mustang she took some pictures though.

The back story is my parents were driving around and started to smell something sweet and the windshield fogged up a little.  In a foxbody that means it is time to replace the heater core!

First you tear your way through the dash...


That's the bugger!


Extra parts...


And back together the first time.


Then I replaced the foam and leather for the seats.


Strangely I don't have any pictures of how the car sits today so use your imagination.
  
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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #18 - Jun 18th, 2012 at 10:10pm
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Quote:
Strangely I don't have any pictures of how the car sits today so use your imagination.


  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #19 - Jun 18th, 2012 at 11:07pm
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spanky wrote on Jun 18th, 2012 at 8:27pm:


The front fell off!

Those seats look amazing.  Seriously, night and day difference!  Did you have to stitch them in place?


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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #20 - Jun 19th, 2012 at 4:50pm
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Spanky I will have to inquire about some of your car knowledge if I get in a jam, I forget you know quite a lot about cars.

That looks nice, I imagine the dashboard was quite the pain.

pez
  
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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #21 - Jun 19th, 2012 at 7:23pm
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Quote:
Those seats look amazing.  Seriously, night and day difference!  Did you have to stitch them in place?


Nope, the leather came from a company called TMI products.  They make a lot of reproduction interiors.  It was pretty expensive but really good stuff.  The leather has cloth loops and attachment points on the underside that connect to the metal skeleton of the seat.

Quote:
Spanky I will have to inquire about some of your car knowledge if I get in a jam, I forget you know quite a lot about cars.

That looks nice, I imagine the dashboard was quite the pain.


Well, I really know about the cars I have had.  I might be able to fake it with a few other models but if you need info about a ranger, a fox body, or an e90 I could probably help.

Yeah, the dash was an experience.  More than one time I said "how the hell am I supposed to reach that screw?!"
  
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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #22 - Jun 19th, 2012 at 11:19pm
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Thats pretty nuts man! I can't imagine that every screw was the same... how the balls did you remember all that for reassembly?

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The front fell off!


bob, was that a Clarke and Dawe reference?
  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #23 - Jun 20th, 2012 at 9:01am
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Heck yeah!

  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #24 - Jun 28th, 2012 at 8:50pm
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I went to go comment on this thread about home improvements and hacks I've done....but I just am so distracted by Spanky's one photo (the one where the front fell off):

Is that a Little Mermaid sleeping bag hanging over its side?

Cait
  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #25 - Jun 28th, 2012 at 9:07pm
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Cait wrote on Jun 28th, 2012 at 8:50pm:
Is that a Little Mermaid sleeping bag hanging over its side?


That's how Spanky rolls.


-b0b
(...you should see his Justin Bieber comforter.)
  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #26 - Jul 25th, 2012 at 9:17am
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Here's my sink/disposal installation that I just wrapped up last night. I don't have before pictures but there was a double bowl white sink and no disposal. When we bought the home there was a microwave over the range but my wife is a bit of a tin foil hat kind of person and decided that we should take it out straight away. So I replaced it with a stainless steel range hood. The microwave was on a run of it's own so now that all those amperes were free'd up, I spliced into that run and wired in the switch to the outlet under the sink. I thought the location of my switch was pretty nifty. The wife wanted the switch under the sink for some reason. I was thinking a push button switch in the sink hole next to the fosset since the fosset is the spray type. But ya know, she's kind of in charge.

Here's the album
http://imgur.com/a/xaJL2

BTW, working under the sink sucks!
  
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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #27 - Jul 25th, 2012 at 9:23am
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I love the hidden switch, very cool!  You should screw a holster into the sidewall and throw in some serious firepower.  ;p

I agree about working under the sink.  I replaced our kitchen faucet about a year ago and had to buy a special wrench that would fit into the tiny space between the rear of the sink and the back wall.

Next time I replace a faucet, I'm replacing the whole frickin' sink along with it!


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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #28 - Jun 17th, 2013 at 12:32am
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So I am back with some more stonework to post. I seem to be addicted to it.

The front of our house was pretty boring when we got it. Any areas that had once had retaining walls were removed by the previous owner.



We have this area to the left of the house that once was a nice garden. We weeded it a few times and made pathetic attempts at growing things. But the yard was pretty much taking over.



So it was time to reign that lawn in!

I decided to match the flowing lines of the previous retaining walls at other areas around the house. After looking at it for a few weeks, I decided to just get started. Once that first shovel breaks ground, you can't stop!

Like before, I dug deep into the ground, laid in some gravel/paver base, then some leveling sand and placed the stonework on top.



The sidewalk I was laying stone next to has a straight edge, so I didn't start curving until I hit the end of the concrete. Because of the gentle curve, the stonework sticks out into the yard a bit, but that is ok.



Worked my way over to the other side.



The digging is the worst part. Luckily I have a heavy pickaxe which rips through the yard very quickly. At this point I was also finding treasures from the previous owners. Popcans, wrappers, charcoal, heavy plastic landscape liner, tin pieces (no idea), and electrical wire were found all over the place.



Here is an example of the steps I used to lay in the stone. This is the leveled out sand sitting on top of gravel (use a 4+ foot level for more accuracy/speed) . I gave myself some leeway so I could adjust the curve of the stone where I wanted it. I then backfilled behind the stone with more gravel for drainage and soil expansion, and then added the second layer of stone.





The far side is finally dug out! That was a real pain, and this whole area is lower than the rest.



Robby the Robin was hanging out with me the whole day. He got as close as 2 feet (when I didn't have the camera of course) stealing the worms/critters as I dug up the ground.



I had to add a lot of gravel here to make sure everything was level. For good measure I tamped everything down.



Done!





I also decided to add some stone along our walkway.





And since I already had dug out along the sidewalk for the stone... I decided to install low voltage landscape lighting.
Each light is about 11w, and I have a 200w transformer. I have 14 guage wire, because I plan on adding a few lights down the road. These guys are reaaaallly easy to install and I highly recommend it. The digging is the hardest part. You just run the cable, and the lights basically have an attachment that pierces the cable in an enclosure. Boom, done.

And very nice results.




I bought 4 low power floodlights to hit our pillars for funsies. Susie didn't want full fill lights on the house, so I kept it subtle. Looks very cool from the street.



That's it for now, I suppose. Next on my list this summer is burying the overhead power line and cable line, and finally getting that deck built. Let me know if you have any questions!








  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #29 - Jun 20th, 2013 at 12:35pm
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Damn, Briney, that looks amazing!  Outside of basic maintenance, we haven't done anything too aesthetically thrilling to the house this year.

I've been going crazy working on the Jeeperator over the past few weeks, though.  It's all basic maintenance for the most part, but even basic maintenance can be pretty daunting on a car with 166,000 miles on the odometer.  I've been upgrading components wherever possible in the hopes of eeking out a few more miles before I need to buy Jeep 3.0.

Last night I installed a new rear sway bar.  This component is responsible for reducing body roll when taking a corner.  The factory sway bar is a laughably small 9/16" bar that weighs about 8lbs.  The replacement is 1" in diameter and weighs about 23lbs.  I also installed greasable polyurethane bushings to help keep the new sway bar nice and quiet.  I can't wait to give this thing a try!




Since the sway bar is right in front of the rear differential cover, I decided to flush the fluid in the rear differential while I had the sway bar removed.  I bought a new heavy duty diff cover to replace the badly rusted factory cover.  The old gear oil was about 30oz low, which is pretty scary.  Fortunately, the inside of the differential housing looked great with no chipped teeth or metal shavings. 




Here is a shot of the old and new diff covers side-by-side.  The new diff cover must weigh about 18lbs.  You could beat somebody to death with this thing without even breaking a sweat!




Last week I installed a new steering stabilizer.  The stabilizer is a gas shock that absorbs any jolts that would jostle the steering wheel when hitting a bump.  It also helps firm up your steering wheel.  The old steering stabilizer was the original model that shipped from the factory, so it was long overdue for replacement.  It's amazing how much better the steering wheel feels with the new stabilizer!




I also replaced the idle air controller (IAC) and the throttle position sensor (TPS) to correct a bad idle variability.  The Jeep would rev all over the place when idling from 500 RPM to 2,200 RPM.  This is really annoying, particularly when sitting in a fast food drive through lane because people would think I was revving my engine intentionally.  I forgot to take a pic of the TPS, but here is a pic of the new and old IACs side-by-side.




I also bought five new tires (including spare) and installed new high-performance brake pads and rotors, but I paid a shop to install those so it doesn't really count.


-b0b
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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #30 - Aug 11th, 2014 at 5:07pm
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More home improvement!  I finally got sick of the cheap, broken light fixtures on the front of the house.  The fixture on the left side of the door had a broken glass insert, so water kept leaking into the fixture.  This would ultimately rust out the base of the bulb until it no longer made sufficient contact with the fixture, leaving me with an inoperable bulb.  Both fixtures were corroded and rusty.

I've been replacing all of the bulbs in an around the house with LEDs, and I didn't want to spend $15 on an LED bulb just to have it go bad.  Long story short, time for new fixtures!

Unfortunately I was too busy juggling stuff to take many pictures, but hopefully this will serve as inspiration.  It only took about ten minutes to replace each fixture and it was a very simple one-man job.


Step 1, turn off the breaker corresponding to the light fixtures.  Safety first!  Then, remove the retaining bolts holding the fixture to the bracket.



Step 2, carefully remove the light fixture from the bracket.  Remove the wire nuts tying the wires from the fixture to the wires from your house.  Marvel at the fact that your crappy electrical wiring hasn't resulted in a house fire.



Step 3, forget to take pictures of the rest of the job.  All you have to do is remove the old bracket that is screwed through your siding into the wall.  Then, replace it with the new bracket.  If you're lucky, the holes in the new bracket will line up with the old ones.  Once the bracket is up, use new wire nuts to connect the fixture wiring to the house wiring.  Then mount the fixture on the bracket and insert the bolts.  Turn the breaker back on and test your handiwork!



-b0b
(...really needs to wash his siding!)
  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #31 - Aug 11th, 2014 at 5:32pm
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Very nice!

We just an internal light today and started the painting project.  The 70s whore house hallway is dead.

Like the fixture you guys got.

  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #32 - May 6th, 2015 at 2:56pm
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Since the weather has been so nice, Meredith and I decided we'd finally get around to replacing our very primitive fire pit with a brick and steel model.  This was a project that we've been wanting to do for a couple years and it was fun (though exhausting), so I figured I'd share some pictures of the process.

The process started by dismantling the old fire pit and gathering all of the new materials.  The Jeep did an admirable job of hauling ~1,250 pounds of stuff on two different occasions.  Try doing that in a 3-series BMW!



I wanted to put plenty of drainage gravel under the fire pit to keep the walls from shifting over time.  I ended up using 25 bags totaling 12.5 cubic feet, or roughly 1,250 pounds.




The Jeep sat a wee bit low, but she took it like a champ.




Once the pit was dug, filled, and leveled, I picked up the rest of the building material.  It consisted of 120 paver blocks and 140 smaller square blocks, along with the steel fire ring.  Altogether it weighed around 1,300 pounds.




Meredith has wanted a Yoshino cherry tree for quite a while, and we found a perfect specimen in Ann Arbor.  We had to drive the thing back to Three Rivers, so I strapped it in for a safe ride. 




The tree was about 7' tall, so Meredith got to enjoy a tree in her face for the two hour drive back home.



The Jeep really needs a good cleaning after hauling all that crap, but I'm pleased with the ol' girl.  She did me proud!


-b0b
(...fire pit pics in the next post.)
  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #33 - May 6th, 2015 at 3:39pm
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I completely forgot to take pictures of the old fire pit (it was just a bunch of big rocks laid out in something approximating a circle), as well as the digging and leveling that I did before I poured in the gravel.  Long story short, dig a hole roughly 5' in diameter and nine inches deep, and level out the bottom of the hole as best as you can.  Make sure you use an actual level (4' level FTW) and don't try to eyeball it, as the surface of your yard is probably not terribly level to begin with.



I bought and assembled a heavy duty wheelbarrow for this project.  You absolute do not want to try doing this kind of project without one!  If you don't already have a wheelbarrow, I'd recommend buying one that has two wheels as you're going to be moving a lot of weight.  I bought this wheelbarrow as part of a "mix and match" kit (you buy the tray, handles, and wheels/accessories separately and have multiple options for each) at Menards for about $100, but there are plenty of cheaper options.


After leveling the bottom of the pit and checking depth throughout, start adding gravel.  It took me 25 bags of 3/4" drainage gravel to add get ~7" of depth.  Each bag is 0.5 cubic feet.  Use a steel-tined gardening rake to keep the gravel level, and double-check this using the 4' level mentioned earlier.




Here's a quick shot showing the finished hole filled with gravel and all of the bricks needed to build the walls of the pit.




I completely zoned out on providing pictures of setting the first course (row) of bricks.  The fire pit comes with instructions that show the ordering for each course and how to offset the upper courses from the previous course.  The first course is the most important.  Each brick needs to be leveled from front to back, as a minor forward or backward tilt can result in substantial gaps as the courses stack up.  Bricks also need to be leveled across the course (e.g. from the 12:00 brick to the 6:00 brick) to make sure the entire pit doesn't end up crooked, but this shouldn't be a problem if you leveled the base of the hole and the gravel before building the wall.  A heavy rubber mallet is very useful for this stage of the project.


The bricks within a course are not glued together, but each course is glued to the one below it as shown above. 





Here's a shot of my beautiful wife laying down the final bricks.  I couldn't have completed this project without her help!



I used a battery-powered Ryobi caulk gun and six tubes of landscaping adhesive.  The battery-powered caulk gun is reeeeally nice to have, but completely unnecessary if you don't other projects requiring one.




Here's about half of the dirt we dug out of the pit.  It's amazing how much dirt came out of that hole.  One of the hardest parts of the entire project was figuring out where to put all of this dirt when we were done.  I filled every hole in the yard, placed some near the base of the garage, and threw a bunch of it at the base of our trees.  You can also see the sticks that I pulled out of the old pit, and the stones that used to ring the old pit in the background.




Here's the finished product.  Once the last course of bricks is set, the fire ring is inserted.  Just in case 12.5 cubic feet of drainage gravel wasn't enough, another 2.5 cubic feet of pea gravel is added to the bottom of the pit.  This finer gravel allows ashes to be washed down with a hose while retaining any unburnt material.  I filled in the exposed drainage gravel outside of the bricks and seeded it with grass seed and fertilizer, so hopefully it will look better in a few weeks!



So there it is.  This is the "Ashwell" fire pit kit from Menards, which costs ~$500.  They have much cheaper kits as well, and there are a variety of shapes and sizes available.  The kit includes the bricks, steel fire ring, 5 tubes of landscaping adhesive and 5 bags of pea gravel.  The 25 bags of 3/4" drainage gravel were not included and cost ~$125.

You'll also need a good shovel, a wheelbarrow, a caulk gun, and some decent gloves.  I also used a tamper, a steel-tined garden rake, and a hoe (insert Wes's Mom joke here), but these tools aren't strictly necessary.


-b0b
(...exhausting, but totally worth it!)
  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #34 - May 9th, 2015 at 2:30pm
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That look great, bob!  Good job.

If you want some brush wood for your fire, feel free to come grab mine.  I believe I have one total buttload.

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #35 - Sep 30th, 2015 at 11:06am
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The Garage.

The never-ending project.

I've been working on remodeling our garage off and on for about six years now, and I'm finally in the home stretch.  When we bought the house, the garage was nearly useless.  It had absolutely no shelving or storage space and the walls were open studs. 

The garage had one light fixture (for a dark 24x24' garage), two receptacles, and knob-and-tube wiring that was likely installed in the late 30s or early 40s.  Knob-and-tube is pretty scary, so I ripped all of that out and replaced it with modern Romex wiring.  I also replaced the fuse box with a modern breaker box.  I also installed twelve receptacles, a dimming switch, four light fixtures (really should have gone with eight or more), twelve Cat5 Ethernet drops, six audio speaker drops, and installed a network rack.  Some old pictures of previous work can be found here:  http://www.twncommunications.net/Forum/cgi-bin/yabb2/YaBB.pl?num=1339711069/12#1...

Two years ago, I started insulating the garage walls with fiberglass.  I have nurtured an intense hatred for fiberglass, and would use denim (or pay someone to spray in foam insulation) for future insulation projects. 



Here you can see the cutout that I left for my network rack, along with the Cat5 Ethernet cable ready to be seated and crimped.  I've drawn on the insulation with permanent marker to indicate where the wiring is located, with each wire labeled S for speaker, N for network, or P for power.  The power cabling is separated from the speaker and network cable as much as possible to reduce EMI.




Last year, I finally began finishing the walls by covering them with 3/4" sanded plywood.  It's a bit intense for a garage, but I wanted something that would last longer than I will.  Before putting the walls up, I tacked on metal wire protector plates so that I don't inadvertently put a screw through a wire down the road.



I used 4" stainless steel deck screws to hold the plywood in place, so each sheet is incredibly sturdy.  This section has additional electrical receptacles to accommodate my forthcoming workbench.




I finished hanging the majority of the plywood earlier this year, so I was finally able to get to a long-awaited milestone - shelving!  The garage had no shelving originally and I'd only purchased a single stand-alone shelf, so as you can see, stuff is all over the floor.  This made it a pain to do anything in the garage.  In this picture, I had nearly finished hanging the first section of shelving.




Here's a shot of the mostly-finished shelf after loading it up with the first batch of stuff.  I used three full-length 8' shelving sections on the bottom and ended up with four 4' sections on the top two rows (three shown here).  This is the Rubbermaid Tough Stuff shelving.  Each section can be moved independently and you can buy different shelf lengths (4' and 8') and depths (16" and 20"), so you can build exactly the kind of shelving you're looking for.  The big black box on the wall is my network rack.




Here's the opposing wall, showing the second section of shelving.  I figured 68 linear feet of shelving would be way more than sufficient, but I'm already thinking about adding another section of shelves next year.  Hopefully, the completion of my workbench will help eliminate some of the clutter!




Here's one final shot showing the current layout.  I added some additional rear rails and shelf brackets to accommodate areas where shelves ended more than 12" from a wall stud (and an existing rail/brace), as the shelf ends tended to be a bit floppy without them.



I really enjoyed putting the shelving together and it has vastly improved the appearance and usability of the garage.  I liked it so much that I'm considering doing the same thing in our basement to eliminate the ugly plastic free-standing shelving.


-b0b
(...always needs more garage space.)
  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #36 - Oct 1st, 2015 at 10:54am
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Nice job!  Love the shelves.

We are in painting mode and have baby's room all done.  Basement is almost done and once I have the project we started down there done I'll be posting as well.

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #37 - Jan 11th, 2017 at 3:52pm
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Sorry, I've been meaning to write up something about my home automation adventures for a couple weeks now and just kept putting it off.

I've been researching various home automation systems for several months and finally decided on the Samsung SmartThings platform.  There are a mind-boggling number of competitors in this space (WeMo, Insteon, Iris, Wink, Lutron, Piper NV, Homeseer, HomeKit, etc.), each with various pros and cons.  There were a number of factors to consider including price, reliability, features, size of ecosystem (e.g. number of supported devices), and platform openness (e.g. willingness to allow third-party code).  The SmartThings platform is relatively inexpensive and offers a lot of features, and has by far the largest ecosystem and the most open platform.

SmartThings is largely an ad hoc system, you buy the bits and bobs that make sense for you and use the SmartThings platform to integrate them.  In addition to the mandatory SmartThings hub, I've got a combination of first-party SmartThings devices (2 door sensors, 2 arrival sensors, 1 motion sensor, 1 leak sensor, and 1 outlet) and third-party devices (1 Apple iPhone, 1 Android phone, 2 smart bulbs and 6 light switches).  Both first- and third-party devices are super simple to add to the platform.

Once the devices are added to SmartThings, you can tie them together in just about any way imaginable.  You can operate them manually from your phone or tablet (e.g. turn the lights on from anywhere in the world) or configure routines and automations to get them to do things programmatically.  Here are some things I have configured:

1) When Meredith and I both leave the house, the SmartThings security system arms automatically.  If either door opens or the motion sensor detects movement, the alarm is tripped.  All of the lights in the house turn on and a siren sounds.  We also receive phone notifications and SMS text messages.  For $20 per month you can buy active monitoring from a company that will contact police if there is an alert.  I want to play around with a few more settings before we pay for monitoring.

2)  When either Meredith or I return home, the security system automatically disables and the front and rear porch lights turn on if it is after sunset.  Sunrise and sunset are automatically calculated based on zip code so you don't have to update them throughout the year.

3) I have four rooms in the basement.  Two rooms are tied to a light switch at the top of the stairs and two rooms have lights on pull-cords.  It's annoying to have to walk into a dark room (often filled with cob webs) to get to the light fixture.  I installed smart bulbs (Osram Lightify) in those rooms and linked them to a GE Z-Wave switch at the top of the stairs.  Now, when I flip the switch, all of the lights turn on or off together.

4)  We had our first basement flood in eight years following a particularly heavy rainfall this summer.  I only found out about it when I stepped on wet carpet.  We now have a leak sensor in the basement that will notify us as soon as water is detected.  I'd like to buy a couple more to place near our water heater and beneath our bath tub.

5)  SmartThings is linked to our Amazon Echo.  It will respond to commands such as "Alexa, set the dining room lights to 50%" or "Alexa, turn off the front door lights". 


There are still a ton of things I'd like to do with it in the next few weeks:

1)  Add a door sensor to the garage door and tie my garage door opener into SmartThings.
2)  Add Z-Wave door locks to the front and rear doors.  This will allow me to lock or unlock them remotely (e.g. if I'm on vacation and a plumber needs to fix a water leak, or smoke is detected and I don't want the firemen to kick my door in), and set a schedule to automatically lock the doors after they've been unlocked for a certain period of time.
3)  Add Z-wave smoke and carbon monoxide detectors that tie in with the security system.
4)  Convert several more light switches to Z-Wave enabled models.  Our house wiring sucks, so this is a bit of a chore.
5)  Replace our old "smart" thermostat with a Z-Wave enabled model.  This will also involve pulling new wiring.  I'm still debating between Honeywell and Ecobee.


I'll pop some pictures up later.  Fair warning, though, this is really addicting.  I want to convert the whole freakin' house!


-b0b
(...automate all the things!)
  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #38 - Jan 12th, 2017 at 4:39am
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I just spent two hours reading about Alexa and the things it can tie un for home automation...yep, I'm hooked.

Thanks for the write up.

What are some key things to get to get started?

Do you just have one Echo or do you have Dots throughout the house"

I was thinking an echo and doing some lights?  Hope plex gets an integration too.

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #39 - Jan 12th, 2017 at 10:31am
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At the moment, we have just one Echo in the living room.  I just ordered an Echo Dot for my office and I'd like to get another Echo for the bedroom at some point.  Amazon was offering a buy-4-get-5 deal on Echo Dots before Christmas, so hopefully that will pop up again.  I wouldn't mind adding an Echo Dot in the basement, garage, and Meredith's office.

One thing to keep in mind with the Echo/Tap/Dot is that integration with SmartThings has been intentionally limited by Amazon.  You can turn lights on or off or dim them, change channels with a Harmony hub, and do other nifty things, but Amazon prohibits Alexa from interacting with security stuff.  You can't arm or disarm the security system, lock or unlock doors, etc.  Amazon doesn't want to take on the inherent liability.  One other caveat that I find crazy is that you can't use Echo devices as output speakers (e.g. "The front door has opened") unless you use the Echo as a Bluetooth speaker and use a separate device (e.g. old tablet or phone) to generate the text.  It's janky.  Amazon has announced this support will be added sometime in 2017.

If you go with SmartThings, check out this community code for Plex.  I'm not sure if it will do everything you're looking for, but it might be up your alley:  https://community.smartthings.com/t/release-plex-home-theatre-manager-smartapp/3...

It also looks like there are some community workarounds to get Plex to work directly with Alexa.  This thread looks like a mess, but it might be what you're looking for:  https://forums.plex.tv/discussion/173499/amazon-echo-and-plex-alexa-tell-the-hom...

Finally, if you decide to get a Harmony Hub at some point, it looks like that has official integration with Plex, and the Hub has integration with Alexa and SmartThings:  https://support.myharmony.com/en-us/harmony-experience-with-plex


Regarding the lights, you'll need some kind of hub to operate them.  You've got some options here.  The two most popular lighting platforms are the Philips Hue and the Osram Lightify (Sylvania).  The Osrams are a little cheaper and the Hues offer slightly wider ranges of colored light.  Both systems have their own hub that can be used with Alexa or a smartphone app.  If you buy a SmartThings hub (and this is likely true of other home automation hubs), you can control the Osrams directly without a Lightify hub.  The Philips Hue bulbs always require a Hue hub and can't be controlled directly.

I only have two smart bulbs at the moment, and they are Osram Lightify white bulbs that I use in the basement.  I'm tempted to try out a colored bulb elsewhere, but I don't really have a good reason to have one.  ;p



-b0b
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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #40 - Jan 12th, 2017 at 5:42pm
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Looking at amazon, it looks like there are outlets you can plug into the outlet and the light to be able to control plug in lights.

Like I was thinking of one for my led lights in my counter shelf downstairs
  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #41 - Jan 13th, 2017 at 9:05pm
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I wrote a really long response to this last night, but it looks like I forgot to actually submit it.  Whoops.  Here's a shorter version.

You've got two choices for plug-in outlets.  You can either go with a Wi-Fi controlled outlet (TP-Link makes a popular model) or one that operates on Z-Wave or Zigbee.  Both have their pros and cons.

An 802.11 Wi-Fi model is a standalone device.  It doesn't require a home automation hub and connects directly to your wireless access point (likely integrated into your router).  It can generally be controlled through either a local web interface or a vendor-specific SmartPhone app, and can often be scheduled to run on/off at specific times.

The downside to Wi-Fi devices is that 802.11 makes for a really crappy home automation protocol.  Wi-Fi (as used in the real world, anyway) is a point-to-point protocol, meaning devices connect directly to your wireless AP.  The more devices you have, the more spectrum congestion you have to deal with, which slows down transmission rates for your other devices.  If you only have a handful of devices, this isn't a big issue, but it will become problematic as you add more devices.  Also, these devices generally can't interact with one another, so you can't tie them to motion/luminescence/presence sensors and turn your lights on/off automatically for example.

Zigbee and Z-Wave devices are a bit of a different beast.  Although the devices themselves cost the same amount as their Wi-Fi brethren, you need to pick up a home automation hub for them to communicate with.  These cost about $75, so the startup cost is a bit higher.  Once you've got the hub, you can have hundreds of devices connected via Z-Wave or Zigbee.  The two protocols are very similar and most hubs have radios for both protocols.  These protocols are designed for home automation and create a mesh in which each device repeats signals from neighboring devices.  As a result, the mesh gets stronger with each device you add.

These devices also offer tight integration through the hub, so you can mix lights with presence sensors, motion sensors, leak sensors, etc. and create your own machinations.  You can bundle all sorts of devices together and tie them to a single button or voice command.


-b0b
(...Skynet!)
  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #42 - Jan 14th, 2017 at 2:26pm
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Just found that post I forgot to make chilling in another tab.  Pretty much the same shiz, but long-winded.

Quote:
You've got a couple of paths to choose from with the plug-in outlets.  You can go with Wi-Fi adapters that connect to your existing wireless access point (probably integrated into your router) or you can buy a Z-Wave or Zigbee model that connects to a home automation hub.  Both models cost about the same ($30 to $40 each), but there are pros and cons to both.

Wi-Fi models don't require a home automation hub.  They just link to your wireless access point and Bob's your uncle.  TP-Link sells a few different Wi-Fi controlled devices that seem pretty popular.  That said, you have to keep in mind that 802.11 Wi-Fi is intended for point-to-point communications, so that will limit just how many of these devices you can ultimately deploy.  If you decide to go with a home automation system down the road, these devices are generally not natively supported and you have to rely on workarounds (if available) to get them integrated.  If you're only going to deploy a handful of these, Wi-Fi will work great, but you'll probably want to replace them at some point if you want to go with a home automation platform.

Z-Wave and Zigbee models do require a home automation hub to bridge those protocols to Wi-Fi or wired Ethernet.  Zigbee and Z-Wave are low-powered meshes that repeat signals from device to device, whereas Wi-Fi data will only travel from a given device to the AP.  The more Zigbee and Z-Wave devices you install, the stronger those meshes become.  Although this doesn't apply to the plugs you're looking at, any battery-operated devices should definitely use Zigbee or Z-Wave as they draw waaaay less power.  We're talking 1-2 years of battery life on a small device versus a couple weeks.

Also consider what you want to do with the device.  If you're looking for simple on/off control using an Echo, smartphone, or tablet, the Wi-Fi devices will do what you want.  They can often do basic scheduling as well (e.g. turn the lights on at 8:00pm).  If you want more comprehensive control, such as turning the lights on when you walk into the room (using a motion sensor) or when you get home (using a presence sensor or smartphone geofence) or when someone breaks into your house, the Zigbee/Z-Wave devices are the better bet.
  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #43 - Jan 16th, 2017 at 4:52am
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Thanks!

How hard were the sensors to install or for that matter, any of it?

Were outlets just as simple as turn off power, install new outlets, turn on power?

Any good sites or reading that you can suggest to get my knowledge base up?

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(pics or it didn't happen)
  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #44 - Jan 17th, 2017 at 9:00am
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Sorry, pics are coming.  I was in Pittsburgh last week and I'm headed to Chicago today, but I'll try to post something this weekend.

The sensors are super simple.  The motion sensors literally just sit wherever you want them.  You can screw them into a wall or stick them somewhere with double-sided tape, but you can also just set them on a counter or shelf.  The door sensors also come with a removable base-plate that can be screwed into your door jam or simply stuck in place with double-sided tape  The screws and tape are both included in the package.

The only thing I've done that required any real effort was the installation of light switches.  Our house has some questionable wiring so I've had to pull new electrical cabling to a couple spots.  Virtually all of the Z-Wave/Zigbee electrical switches and receptacles require a functioning neutral (white wire) which is hit-or-miss in my house.  Your house is quite a bit newer so this probably won't be an issue for you.  All you need to do is identify the right circuit (which is a trial in and of itself in my house), turn off the breaker, remove the faceplate and switch/receptacle, and pop the new one in.

Here are a couple of places where I've spent a ton of time reading:


SmartThings Community Forum:  https://community.smartthings.com/
Unofficial SmartThings Wiki:  http://thingsthataresmart.wiki/index.php?title=ThingsThatAreSmart_Wiki


-b0b
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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #45 - Apr 4th, 2017 at 6:14am
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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #46 - Apr 4th, 2017 at 10:28am
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I'm wondering if SmartThings will finally start supporting multiple hubs for a single instance?  At the moment, using two hubs requires essentially two totally different instances, and devices can't talk across them (e.g. a motion sensor on one hub can't send an alert to a device on another hub).


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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #47 - Aug 21st, 2018 at 5:13am
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Laura finally has a smart phone!

Bob, what smart locks do you have?  Do they have deadbolts?

I know I want to reinforce the door frames, not sure if you did that.

Also, do you have a doorbell camera?
  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #48 - Aug 22nd, 2018 at 8:05am
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I spent a lot of time looking at the various Z-Wave/Zigbee door locks, and finally went with Schlage FE599NX locks.  There were other options, but several had some serious reliability and security issues.  This is the style I went with:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0083GJ17G/ref=oh_aui_search_detailpage?ie=UTF...

I haven't picked up a doorbell camera because they all seem a bit janky so far.  The Ring doorbell is stuck in its own ecosystem, and others like Skybell don't seem to have very good reliability.  I just picked up a Foscam outdoor camera for the front of the house a couple weeks ago, but it is currently sitting in my office waiting for installation.  It integrates with both SmartThings and Synology, so I think that might be a good alternative.  The motion detection seems to work really well, and you can configure it to send an alarm through SmartThings (and to your phone) and to record clips to your Synology when motion is detected.

I ordered the outdoor model with 1440p resolution and power-over-ethernet support (my switch does PoE natively), but there are other models that can provide wireless connectivity if you've got a power supply nearby.  Here's the one I got:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01LXWLK3N/ref=oh_aui_search_detailpage?ie=UTF...


-b0b
(...will let you know how the outdoor installation goes.)
  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #49 - Sep 8th, 2018 at 12:30am
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How do you use dead bolts with the Schlage locks you got?  Or do you just use dead bolts when you're home?
  

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Re: Home Improvement
Reply #50 - Oct 20th, 2018 at 10:35pm
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Sorry, somehow I missed seeing this post!  We don't have deadbolts, sadly.  We are replacing both of our entry doors next spring, and I'm planning on ordering custom doors that have the deadbolt situated a bit higher up the door than normal.  That will allow me to use both a smart door lock and a smart deadbolt.


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(...has been putting this off for way too long.)
  

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