Consider Yourselves Under Lock-Down

Here we are, just a few days after we returned to the U.S. and, thank God, we made just in time. The impact of the upcoming wave of virus infections and associated deaths is just beginning. I fear that the worst is ahead of us.

Or is it?

First, consider your own situation.

Are you over 65 and/or vulnerable to the virus because of underlying medical conditions?

Are you expecting a child or have toddlers in the house?

Are you young and are stuck in wherever you are because of the recent California government mandate to “shelter in place”?

What makes it worse: The elderly and those with serious underlying health conditions (e.g., unmanaged diabetes, COPD, suppressed or compromised immune systems) are very much more likely to die if they contract the virus. Here are some statistics:

What makes it better: Isolation. It sounds pretty harsh, but the best way to protect those who are vulnerable is to ensure that they have minimal contact with people. Designate someone in the family to be the “shopper” who goes out and gets/delivers essentials to the family.  Consider having goods delivered. [link] If you’re single, then obey the orders of your state and/or local officials.

Are you expecting a child or have toddlers in the house?

What makes it worse: Initial indications are that the virus tends to affect older people, and for whatever reason, there have been very few deaths among babies and young children. The biggest risk is that they can be vectors for the transmission of the disease. They may be infected, but not exhibit symptoms, and put others at risk. Like Grandma who wants to see her grandchild.

What makes it better: The only way to stop the spread of the disease is to isolate. The human population does not have any immunity to the disease, which means that EVERYONE who gets infected WILL get sick. Keep everybody at home and minimize personal contact.

Are you young and are stuck in wherever you are because of the recent California government mandate to “stay at home”?

What makes it worse: Not following the stay at home mandate.

What makes it better: Close reading of the stay at home mandate allows freedoms to go food shopping, go out for medical evaluation, take care of veterinarian services for your pet, or even exercising outside. (Hint: The virus spreads through clouds of snot when an infected person sneezes. If you’re outdoors, the wind disperses the COVID-19 virus into virus heaven.)

What makes it better (2): Everybody gets hours per day back because they don’t have to spend time with their sorry butts in traffic. Theoretically, it could boost the economy because all of us would re-capture a few precious hours of time each day. That could have multiplicative effects if used wisely. What are you going to spend your extra time on?

What makes it better (3): I can be more agile with my time at home and increase my productivity. Example: I want some fresh rolls for tonight’s dinner. So I use my time between meetings and other tasks to get the dough started,  punch down and shape the rolls, ready to pop in the oven to accompany dinner. The steps, by themselves, take little time and the time between steps is efficiently used.

What makes it better (4): I will get to spend extra time with those close to me, be it my immediate family, or treasured pet, if there were a difference. Maybe that’s where my 2 extra hours go.

Stay safe and God bless.

Cruzin’ N Boozin’ – Day 3/4 – A Successfully Executed Contingency Plan

After hearing the bad news that our cruise was cancelled, we were, naturally, very disappointed. Stella and I look forward to our vacation cruises almost from the time the last one is over. Stella researches all the options, we discuss possible itineraries, and we set about planning and preparing, usually over a year in advance. It really is our time together and as we age, we want to enjoy our golden years while we’re still relatively healthy and young. This is a missed opportunity for us that we will never get back.

That being said, there was little time for us to go around feeling sorry for ourselves. At least not right now. Even though we had plane reservations, there was still lots that could go wrong, and what with the rapidly deteriorating travel situation getting back to the US, we really needed to catch a few breaks. So, we decided to relax and recover as best as we could on Sunday so that we would be ready for our long journey home on Monday. Door-to-door, the trip was going to be 24-25 hours, and that’s if everything went as planned, which was by no means a guarantee.

Instead of being too adventurous, we just stuck around the hotel on Sunday touring the grounds. I got caught up on the blog, we tried to sleep a lot, had a few drinks with lunch, then an early dinner to catch a few more hours of sleep until our 1:00 AM wake-up call. The hotel was very nice, and in fact the food was truly one of the best restaurants we had been to. As in better than what I can (or am willing to) make.

The Santiago Sheraton. Really nice hotel.

Lunch in the lounge. May as well have some fun!

Dinner before our flight. This hotel has one of the best restaurants that I’ve been to.

1:00 AM came early. In fact, I was so restless that I woke up at midnight and went ahead and got a head start so we could both shower and finish packing back up. We kept our (now useless) cruise documents in case we needed them later to sort out the refund/compensation situation after the dust settles, and with heavy heart, we packed those away. We met the taxi to take us to the airport and we were there about 2 hours earlier than we probably needed to be, but the traffic was light and it was a good risk mitigation step that was paid for in sleep hours, which we weren’t going to get much use of anyway, so it was a good investment.

Santiago airport at 3:00 AM. Pretty architecture.

We went on an airline that I never heard of: COPA (Compañía Panameña de Aviación). It’s the official Panamanian airline based in Panama City, Panama, and it literally connects all of the Americas – North, Central, and South. They fly only 737’s the fleet is very new, the aircrafts were clean, the service was good, and they were on time. It was founded back in 1947 by some Pan Am execs, and it’s a pretty big operation, on par with other airlines like United, Lufthansa, etc.. It sure outlasted Pan Am!

We had 3 legs on our trip: Santiago, Chile to Panama City, Panama, to Orlando Florida, to San Diego. The layovers were adequate, but we literally walked off each plane and went right into boarding the next, so not really any down time at the airports. The total in-flight time was about 16 hours, and while we tried to get some sleep, that was only in fits and starts. Exactly what one would expect during long flights.

Starting our journey home…

We did catch some breaks on the aircraft. None of the flights were totally packed, so we were able to weasel our way into getting an aisle and window seat with an empty middle so we could stretch out a little and maybe sleep a little better. The other great news was that there were zero weather delays and no mechanical problems. All three flights went like clockwork. Yaay!

If there was one anxious moment, it was the connection in Orlando. We had to go through immigration and customs, and their international terminal is a little wanky and it was difficult for us to figure out where to go. At first, I couldn’t figure out the gate for our next flight and there was nobody at the information desk and the arrival/departure screens only listed flights at the international terminal. Then, I remembered that I had the Flight Aware app on my phone, so I was able to look up the gate. Alas we had to get on a tram and then trek to the opposite side of the airport. Compounding this was the fact that we had to go back through TSA screening, and due to the air travel fiasco caused by the administration’s lack of planning and poor crisis management, we had a 45 minute wait getting through security screening. Looking at the bright side, Orlando was not one of the 13 airports that were designated for travelers flying in from Europe that needed extra health screening. These airports became “chokepoints” of the grandest kind with waits up to 3 hours, causing missed connections, and causing potentially infected people to congregate for hours at a time en-masse, only to be dispersed as potential vectors around the country. Glad I was not part of that mess!

Crowd at Orlando TSA security checkpoint. Yikes!

Yet, the delay almost made us miss our connection! They were getting ready to close the doors when we ran up, out of breath. Good thing they didn’t take our temperature at that point!

We returned to San Diego safe and sound, and thus far, are thankfully asymptomatic. We’re going to stay at home and find out what the quarantine recommendations are and, if we are subject to those, we will do so. We’re also going to have to keep our heads about us and get caught up to speed with developments and act accordingly.

Home Sweet Home!

I’ve given some thought to how one should approach an existential crisis such as the one we’re currently undergoing, and I’ve come up with some ideas:

  1. Don’t panic. Be confident in your ability to weather the situation and don’t succumb to a “herd” mentality. Don’t go out and buy a bunch of toilet paper. That does nothing to contain the virus. Think about how to do without. No toilet paper? Use a washcloth and throw it in the washing machine. Out of hand sanitizer? Learn how to wash your hands properly with soap and water. It’s much more effective than hand sanitizer anyway, and way cheaper. Out of disinfectant spray? Improvise with bleach and water. Out of bread? Learn how to bake it. Use your skills and/or learn new ones to make do. This is going to be a rough few months (at least) but the likelihood of us running out of water, electricity, and food is pretty low, and if you’re fortunate enough to have shelter, that’s really all you need.
  2. Think ahead. Plan as best you can to socially isolate yourself and prepare yourself for the possibility of catching the virus and getting sick.
  3. Stay informed. Listen to the news and web sources to get the best information that you can from multiple sources and make thoughtful decisions based on that information. There’s lots of good info about how the virus is spread, data based predictions about what the various scenarios are, and how our actions as individuals can influence the outcome. “The consistency of the data tells the truth”.
  4. Be compassionate. There are lots of people who will suffer. Many have limited choices and resources if they can’t go to work, either due to quarantine or furlough. Consider getting involved in relief efforts either through direct action, or through donations. We need to help each other out and take care of each other.
  5. Be optimistic and keep your sense of humor. These will be trying times, but we as a people have been through these crises before, and we will not only survive, but we will come out stronger and the better for it. Life is not fair. It does not matter what circumstances you find yourself in. What matters is how you respond. Have faith.

Cruzin’ N Boozin’ Day One/Two – The Long Journey There, And A Very Short Stay

Well, we’re finally underway! The weather here in San Diego is unusually rainy, and the forecast is rain throughout all next week. We need the rain but it is a bit dreary. We’re very much looking forward to some sunny tropical weather!

A Rainy Start

Because San Diego is a popular cruise ship port, we like to try to either start here, end here, or both. Because we’ve completely exhausted the “both” option years ago, our choices become more limited and what we’re left with are the “repositioning” cruises where a ship will go from working one itinerary to another. For this particular cruise, the ship was working South America during their “summer” (December through March), sailing back and forth from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Santiago, Chile. We did that cruise a few years ago, so now we’re picking up the ship in Santiago, working its way up the West coast of the Americas on the way back to San Diego. After we disembark, the ship is scheduled to go on from San Diego, to Vancouver BC and start working the Alaska circuit for the “our” summer. But we have to get to Santiago first, and that means a long plane ride.

Despite the rain, our spirits were up and we headed off to the airport to begin our first leg of the journey from San Diego to Dallas-Fort Worth where we would pick up the international flight to Santiago. With the COVID-19 epidemic causing a crisis in the travel industry, we expected that fewer people would be travelling and that was somewhat true. Our seats were in the back of the bus, but fortunately, there were a few open seats, so we hogged a window and isle and had the middle free. A good deal in coach! Nevertheless, while the plane was not packed, it wasn’t exactly empty either. I was a little surprised given the general sense of panic I’m seeing on all forms of media, but I suppose that it takes a few days to adjust given rapidly changing situation.

At the airport


Airport is not too busy.

Our airline itinerary.

We made it to DFW without too much trouble, and we had a layover, so we got a bite to eat and had a short birthday celebration for Stella.

Stella’s Birthday Dinner.

Getting Ready To Board Our International Flight

We boarded our international flight uneventfully. It was on a Boeing 787, and we paid a bit extra to get upgraded “economy plus” seats. For these long hauls, the “business class” has these fancy “cubbies” that you can sleep in, but they are nosebleed expensive. Turns out that the economy plus is what I would otherwise call “first class” – free booze, upgraded meals, separate service, nice roomy seats that recline without banging the person in back of you. The real deal. Totally worth the extra bucks on a 9 hour overnight flight!

Just as we were settling in, the purser came over the intercom and announced that if you were going to embark on a cruise ship in Santiago, that your cruise was cancelled and you needed to deplane. Crap! This was what we were trying to avoid by carefully monitoring the situation, almost hourly. But we’re in a crisis mode, so best to accept things as they are and go on. Just as we get all of our stuff together and head for the exit, the purser comes back on the intercom and announces that the previous call was only for those that got some sort of message from their cruise line. Several of us were going on the same ship so we quickly compared our texts and e-mails and confirmed that we were not affected. So back to our seats we go. I decided to follow up and called the cruise line directly. The person I spoke with then said that Royal Caribbean was canceling all cruises for the next 30 days, following what the Carnival line did the previous day. So, in a panic, I told this to my fellow cruisers and we started to head out again. Finally, as luck would have it, we had a crewmember going to the ship on our flight, and she was in direct contact with headquarters, who gave us the straight story: The cancellation only applied to ships sailing out of the US and any ships underway, or sailing from foreign ports would continue with their original itinerary. So we’re on again! Back to the seats we go.

Since there actually were some folks who had to deplane, we sat around for about an hour. Once we pushed back and we started taxiing, I though all would be well, so I sent my boys a “wheels up” text. That turned out to be premature. The captain came over the intercom and reported that we had a brake overheating problem, so we went back to the gate to have maintenance take a look. It turned out to be a stuck brake caliper, but since the airplane had many (32 of them), we could disable one and still fly. After another hour, the captain came back on the intercom and announced that the maintenance crew could not complete the repair, but that there was another plane that we could use, so we deplaned, this time for real, hustled over to the other aircraft, and waited an additional 90 minutes while they preflighted, fueled, and catered the airplane. We boarded, got settled, and got going, this time for real. Whew!! It’s amazing what a couple of shots of bourbon will do to improve your disposition! Life is good.

Dinner On The Airplane.

Beginning Our Descent To Santiago

Our flight landed around noon, local time, and we de-planed and made it to the gate. We had to go through a basic medical screening right away, but it was pretty, well, basic — taking our temp and answering a few questions on a medical form. From there, we went through immigration and customs, and, lo and behold, a person from the cruise line was waiting for us to get us a ride straight to the hotel. We arrived at the Sheraton, Santiago, one of the best hotels in Santiago, and were treated as you would expect to be at a top notch hotel. We got in our room, and I had a nice lunch with a well-deserved beer (or two), went back to the room for a nap, then it was down for cocktails and dinner.

Arrived In Santiago.

Beer at The Hotel.

Stella and I went to the lounge and ordered the “official” alcoholic beverage of Chile, picso, which is a type of brandy distilled from grapes. It’s highly regulated (distilleries must grow their own grapes, and it can only come from certain regions) and it was wonderful on the rocks! Really looking forward to our vacation!

Then the phone call came.

At first I didn’t answer it because I didn’t recognize the number and I figured they’d leave a message. Stella then looked at her phone and the 3 digit prefix was the same as our travel agent, so I figured I’d better call back. It was, indeed, the travel agent, but I only got to voicemail, so I quickly walked over to the Celebrity Cruise folks, who were still in the hotel lobby. Lo and behold, our cruise was cancelled 2 hours earlier! We found out that there were two other cruise ships in quarantine at San Antonio (our cruise port), so things were degrading fast. Time to get out of Dodge!

I called the Royal Caribbean hotline (parent company of Celebrity) and a representative quickly answered and made travel arrangements for our return. These aren’t as nice as our incoming flight, but the fact that we have them at all makes us extremely fortunate. Additionally, since we aren’t coming from an area that is on the prohibited travel list, we won’t be travelling into one of the DHS designated airports designated for extra screening. I’m hoping we won’t have to go into ordered quarantine when we return to the states, but we will be self-quarantining for 14 days. As of this moment we are asymptomatic, so perhaps luck is still with us.

We decided to make the best of it, have another pisco on the rocks, and have dinner at the hotel. The restaurant was actually quite fabulous, and we were overlooking a very large gathering of a wedding cocktail hour before the reception. Sadly, all of these gatherings, at least in the US, are not going to be happening for a while as we collectively hunker down and settle into a hermit lifestyle.

So, having previous risk mitigation and contingency plans in place, we are well positioned to execute our “plan B” and get our butts home.

Your wishes for good luck are much appreciated and are paying off!

Cruzin’ n Boozin’: Day 0 — Should We Stay Or Should We Go?

We’ve been planning this cruise vacation for over 16 months. And now THIS! It just can’t possibly be. It’s surreal.

Yet despite all the warnings about the COVID-19 epidemic and our personal reservations, we’ve decided to go ahead. What are we thinking?

That’s a good question. But first, a little background on how human beings come to decisions and how our personal interests and beliefs introduce bias. The technical term for this is “confirmation bias”. From Wikipedia:

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or strengthens one’s prior personal beliefs or hypotheses.[1] It is a type of cognitive bias. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for desired outcomes, for emotionally charged issues, and for deeply-entrenched beliefs.

This bias is leveraged by social media through use of targeted messaging and ads (a.k.a. “filter bubbles” or algorithmic editing”) that prioritize information to show individuals what they will tend to agree with and exclude opposing views. Originally developed by social media companies to maximize advertising revenue, and is currently being exploited by our enemies, most prominently Russian trolls, to influence our electoral process and destabilize our country.

Which is why I stay off social media.

Except when I want to bombard you with my own biased views that I try to cleverly hide behind a veil of supposed authority gained from a few minutes of online research.

“If you can’t bedazzle ’em with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit” (unknown source)

But I digress.

With the confirmation bias of our emotional investment in this vacation in mind, here is how we came to decide to go. As a professional risk manager, I wanted to take a risk management approach because ultimately, we had to evaluate the risks we were taking vs the reward of going. For that, I needed data and facts. I chose three primary sources: the CDC, the State Department, and the cruise line.

The CDC is currently recommending to defer travel on cruise ships. This is because if an infected person boards, the likelihood of transmission is high due to the close quarters on the ship. This is especially true for people who are older (60 years +, and yes, that applies to both of us) because the death rates resulting from a COVID-19 infection are significantly higher for people in this age group due to the fact that your immune system gets weaker as you get older.

So, I’m 62 and Stella is 73 (today, happy birthday baby!) Graphically this does not look very good, but if you read the actual numbers, the death rate is still less than 10%. And this graph does not distinguish between those who have underlying health conditions (e.g., suppressed immune systems, COPD, etc.), from which neither of us suffer from.

The US State Department has issued a Level 3 travel advisory, which is to “reconsider” travel. (Note: the CDC and State Department rating systems are different). This is because the US Government has limited capacity to help you if you get stuck somewhere and you become infected with COVID-19. Additionally they are concerned about you picking up the virus and coming home and being an additional source of transmission. Plus Trump doesn’t want the numbers to look bad, so he’ll keep you floating on your infected cruise ship since you probably won’t vote for him anyway.

Finally, the cruise line: The cruise line that we’re on has not cancelled, but is implementing additional boarding protocols to identify potential carriers before they board. They will be doing temperature screening and asking a bunch of questions about where you’ve been and who you may have been in contact with. These protocols were instituted earlier this week after the cruise line industry met with VP Pence’s COVID-19 task force and came up with a plan to protect their customers to the maximum extent possible.

Now, objectively looking at the above, one might be tempted to follow the recommended deferral of travel — especially because our cruise line is offering to refund our payments in the form of a future cruise credit good through December 2021. But that doesn’t take into account the fact that we’ve invested our time, and more importantly, our emotions, into this trip. So let’s see how this emotional tie to this trip has affected our judgement.

First, the recommendations from the CDC and State Department are general in nature. They don’t take into account the specifics of our cruise itinerary and don’t break down the risk to tailor it to our specific circumstances.

Consider the cruise line and what ships were actually affected recently. We’re cruising on Celebrity, which is owned by Royal Caribbean. The ships that were infected with COVID-19 were from the Princess line, which is owned by Carnival. Carnival cruise lines have had the most troubles over the past number of years, from alcohol-fueled fights among the passengers, to poorly designed/maintained ships that have gone Dead In The Water (DIW), to senior officers not knowing, or at least willing to discuss with me, what lessons they learned from their troubles.  Read this interesting article from the NYT that underscores the sloppy management aboard these particular ships

This is why we will NEVER go on a line under the Carnival umbrella again.

Next, consider how many cruise ships have been affected by COVID-19. Exactly two. Out hundreds (380 to be exact) that are out there. Also consider where they have been. These two cruise ships were involved with passengers from Japan, where the outbreak is severe. Our ship, the Celebrity Eclipse, has been cruising in South America, where the outbreaks are isolated and have very low levels of community transmission. And this ship has not reported any COVID-19 infections, which they are required to do. Now that doesn’t mean that somebody who is infected won’t sneak through the boarding process, but because everybody is getting screened multiple times, I would say that the chances of picking up the virus are as low as, if not lower than, other concentrations of people. Yes, I know that we’re rapidly banning any gatherings of 250 or more (in California anyway), but that’s not accounting for the risk reduction that screening provides. We just don’t have the resources to do the required screening for every gathering in every venue.

Third, our itinerary is entirely through countries that have minimal infections. We’re going to follow the West coast of the americas from Santiago Chile, and return directly to San Diego. So if we get on the ship, and the ship remains clear of the COVID-19 virus, then we are at low risk for subsequent exposure, even considering the tours, which are populated by the same folks that we’re sailing with. In fact, we’re going to be coming from a country that has a HIGHER incidence of community spread, so we’re going from an area of higher infection rates to areas of lower rates.

Fourth, the likelihood of being “stranded” without being granted permission to enter a port has been significantly reduced as a result of the meeting earlier this week between the cruise line industry and the CDC task force. One of the outcomes of this meeting was to establish a protocol to accept a stricken cruise ship and allow disembarkation in a controlled and safe manner. This addresses the situation of the Grand Princess, now disembarking in Oakland, that found themselves in limbo for many days. We shouldn’t have that problem now that the right protocols are in place.

Fifth, our cruise line hasn’t cancelled. Yes, they have a business to run, but they understand that if the risk becomes too great, they will not have future business. Princess cancelled their cruises for 60 days because of the noterarity of their infections and Viking cancelled their cruises because their business is primarily riverine cruises in Europe, where they’re having a pretty significant outbreak and the United States imposed a travel ban.

Sixth, I believe that due to the testing debacle in the United States, the true number of infections are lurking in the background and once we get the testing ramped up, we’ll see an explosion. The graph below shows what is happening in the other current hot spots. We’re on the brink of the exponential upswing experienced by these other countries, so hold on tight!

I would rather defer my exposure to that inevitability by 2-1/2 weeks. It’s good to see that instead of waiting for the incompetent Trump administration to act, state and local authorities are preemptively banning all large gatherings and are moving into the “mitigation” phase of controlling an infectious disease breakout, so maybe there’s hope yet.

Seventh, I was very concerned about somehow contracting the virus and then being a “spreader”. I guess that’s still a concern, but because community spread is happening in the United States already, I’m probably just as likely to get infected here as I would be on the cruise ship, and even if I do become infected on the cruise, then the disembarkation protocols will minimize the risk of exposure to healthy people. You really can’t say the same thing about the “self isolation” that is currently occurring here because you’re dependent on folks following the rules by themselves.

So, those are my variegated reasons for deciding to go. We have followed the CDC and State Department guidelines to “reconsider” travel, and our conclusion is to follow through with our plans. We’re not being told NOT to go, the cruise line and airline hasn’t cancelled, we have taken all of the precautions recommended by the CDC and cruise line, and we consider the risk acceptably low.

Time will tell if we made the right call. Wish us luck, as we wish you all the same.

Mr. Sprinkles — Installing The Fire Sprinkler System

One of the major upgrades I wanted to do with this remodel was to install a residential fire sprinkler system. The reason that I did this was (a) it was required by new codes for new construction and large remodels (not strictly applicable to my situation), but more importantly it (b) increased survival rate in a fire by 90% and reduced damage by 70%.  How could I not do this?

I posted the details of the design of the system in a previous blog (link here), but now it was time to actually do the work.

Putting in a residential fire sprinkler system is within the ability of an advanced DIYer. If you can install a PVC irrigation system, and have some plumbing wherewithal, then you can do this. HOWEVER, the installation requirements are a bit complicated, so unless you develop your own plans, or really understand the requirements and codes, then maybe this is something you leave to the pros. Bottom line: if you have good plans and understand them, and you’ve done some work with PVC pipe, then you’re probably GTG.

Naturally, the start of the project means that I had to get the supplies. The plans called for some specialized material, but fortunately because California has required these systems in new construction since 2013, it was not too difficult to find suppliers, both locally and online. I found a local distributor, and I got most of the supplies from them. Unfortunately, they did not carry the brand of sprinkler heads called out in the design, and the plans are required to show the sprinkler patterns and installation requirements, which are specific to a given brand, which means I had to buy that specific brand or re-do the plans. So I had to mail order the sprinkler heads. Thank God for the Internet and online shopping!


All my sprinkler parts ready for action! This is just as much fun as opening up a brand new Heathkit. If you don’t know what that means, then nevermind…. *(See note at bottom of post)

Sprinkler Set

A sprinkler system needs to have a spare sprinkler set. I saw this in code somewhere, so I got it, but I think I may have been reading the wrong part of the code. In hindsight, I’m not totally sure if this applies to residential sprinklers (NFPA 13D), but I wanted to make sure I passed inspection.

I think that the most challenging part of this project was figuring out how to run the supply lines. Because the flowrate of the water is carefully calculated to ensure proper function of each sprinkler, you can’t just run the piping anywhere you want. Each fitting counts, and elbows in particular cause a loss of flowrate. The hydraulic calculations in the plans account for these, but you can’t go over the total number for any given branch. And the plans don’t show all of the lumber you have to maneuver around, so it’s a bit of a puzzle. But, like any puzzle, I just broke it down into steps and figured it out one section at a time, and eventually got to the end.

Getting the lines through the lumber takes some doing. The first thing you need is a drill and drill bits that can handle the job.


Heavy duty drill and drill bits. Although a lot of pros use the spade bits, I found that when drilling 1-1/2″ holes resulted in a lot of broken bits. I had a ship auger, which is (a) really expensive and (b) best suited for keeping a hole straight when boring through very thick wood. But I found a better option…..

Drill 2

The drill bit on top is a self feed bit from Milwaukee. It is much cheaper and easier to handle than the ship’s auger, and it makes cutting through studs and joist a breeze.

Here is a link for a good package of wood boring drill bits.

The next thing is to plan where the lines will go. You want to drill through as little wood as possible while still keeping the lines straight with the minimum amount of bends (i.e., elbows).

Garage 1

View of the main 1st floor header with branch lines for the garage sprinklers.

Ideally you want to run the lines behind the ceiling, but I had to run one line through the studs in a wall. Because the supply line is 1″, the holes in the studs were greater than allowed for strength purposes. Fortunately, Simpson Strong-Tie makes a reinforcement called a “stud shoe” which restores the strength of the studs.

Holes 1

First hole drilled for the master bedroom sprinkler branch. I have marked the locations of the rest of the holes on the studs so the pipe is nice and straight.

Holes 2

Holes for the sprinkler pipe branch all drilled and lined up nicely. Drilling makes a lot of mess, so I was cleaning up a lot.

Bend To Fit

In order to get the pipe to fit through the line of holes, I had to flex the pipe to get it into the first hole.

Stud Shoes

Stud shoes reinforce oversize holes cut for the 1″ pipe.

Getting the sprinklers at the right height can be a little tricky. You have about 1/2″ of variance, but that can be used up quickly if you’re not careful about measuring and cutting the pipe.

Cutting the pipes is not a big deal because they’re plastic, but making sure that they fit properly into the fittings and are glued properly is pretty important. First, you have to de-burr both the inside and outside circumferences of the pipe cut so it fits easily into the bottom of the fitting. The glue is also important. Not too much, or it will run into the fitting and clog it; not to little or it won’t bond properly and you’ll have a leak. You need to use a specified glue with this pipe, and it’s a different color so the inspector can check whether or not you’re doing a good job of joining the pipes.

Securing the pipes is also very important. The installation instructions will specify the spacing of the hangers, and that’s based on the flexibility of the pipe you’re using. The reason these are critical is because when the sprinkler goes off, the outrush of water will act like a jet, subjecting the sprinkler to an upward motion. If there’s too much motion, then the sprinkler head disappears into the ceiling and doesn’t do a good job of putting out the fire.


The mounting strap has to be within 9 ” of the head to prevent vertical backlash when the sprinkler head activates.

One thing that I had to do was install some copper lines. the reason was that the plastic lines cannot be painted, and they cannot be installed outside. Since I had an instance of each, I constructed these portions of the headers as shown:

Living Room 2

If you look up from my living room, you’ll see the sprinkler heads mounted on the beam. I could not use PVC pipe because (a) it is not rated for exposed installation under sloped ceilings and (b) cannot be painted. My planned decor did not include the “industrial” look of exposed orange piping.

Finally, it was time to test. Since the code prohibits a shutoff valve between the street supply and the fire sprinkler header, I wanted to do a pressure test before I made the final connection. I hooked up a garden hose to the test fitting in the riser and, lo and behold, I had leaks! Hey, I knew I probably would have at least one problem, so that’s why I provided for an easy way to back out of the testing without causing a long and inconvenient pause in the water supply to the house that was occupied at the time. Turns out that I had “forgot” to glue a couple of joints. Missing that is easier than you’d otherwise think because the procedure to fit pipes together is to dry fit first so you don’t have to cut out and replace when you have to (inevitably) adjust something down the line. Still, I could have done a more thorough job with my pre-test inspection.

Test Setup

Connection to hose bibb for first testing.

I did not glue the ends of this tee before I tested for the first time. It’s pretty easy to check for glue lines, but I happened to miss these because I was going too fast.

I also had a leak on some of the sweated copper piping. The cause of that was trying to re-use a small length of pipe that I had to forcibly remove, which deformed it slightly, and then trying to tighten down on the sprinkler head too much, which ended up cracking the already weak joint. Two wrongs do not make a right!

So, I pressure tested again, and let it set for a day. I then found a couple of small weeps at sprinkler heads, which I fixed by tightening them a bit. Finally, it was time to hook up the main water supply and test the alarm. I tried to do the connection first with unions, but that did not work very well, so I tried something called “Shark Bite”, which is a short length of pipe with compression fittings on each end, and teeth to “bite” into the underlying pipe to secure it in place. The reviews were very positive, and sure enough, it worked great.

SharkBite fitting. This is a moveable fitting that can go over a pipe to join two ends without solder. It has a very good performance history and is easy to install, but is expensive, so maybe not a substitute for more “traditional” methods when joining pipe.

Now for the test of the fire alarm. This video is of the final acceptance test.

With all of the rough work done upstairs, it was time to start drywalling!

*Note: When I was an adolescent, my dad introduced me to ham radio and bought me a radio transceiver (transmitter/receiver) in a kit for Christmas. The manufacturer was “Heathkit” and they made a bunch of inexpensive electronic kits that performed pretty well and satisfied the urge of the DIY’er to build something. I built the radio (model number HW-16) and got my Novice ham radio operator’s license. Since I was only a novice, I was restricted to CW (continuous wave) communications only, meaning that I had to use morse code. But, hey, the requirement to get your license was to know morse code (you had to pass a test), so it was all good. Plus, I got my “own” radio station callsign (WN8OFD). That was all well and good, but the most exciting thing about the whole deal was opening up the box of the kit to start assembly! Here is a link that shows what my setup looked like.

And here is what I “said” when I wanted to strike up a conversation with a fellow radio operator:

dah-dit-dah-dit; dah-dah-dit-dah (CQ)

dah-dit; dit (DE)

dit-dah-dah; dah-dit; dah-dah-dah-dit-dit; dah-dah-dah; dit-dit-dah-dit; dah-dit-dit (WN8OFD)

dah-dit-dah (K)



Roughing It

Now that the wall framing was up, it was time to start installing everything that goes inside the framing. That means electrical and plumbing lines, and in my case, data cables and fire sprinkler piping. In this entry, I’ll briefly address the rough electrical, plumbing, and data lines, as I will have a separate entry on the sprinkler system (because it’s unique and cool).

Rough service work begins with locating where you want to put stuff. For plumbing, that’s usually spelled out in the plans, e.g., where you want the sink, shower, and toilet, so that part is pretty easy, and the relevant dimensions of where the plumbing fixtures connect are standardized. However, there are some nuances that must be considered, and since I’m doing an entirely custom installation, I decided to get all of my fixtures up front. That way (a) I could look at the installation instructions and actually do measurements if I needed to, and (b) the fixtures all matched. It cost  quite a bit up front, but at least that expense is taken care of (!). So, I went ahead and marked where I wanted the toilet, sink, and shower drains and water supplies to go. Now, I had to learn plumbing.

Supplies 1

All fixtures and parts for the bathrooms, plus the toilet and sink for the MBR bathroom.

Supplies 2

The rest of the parts for the bathrooms. I also bought all of the tile at once to make sure I had it from the same run. Lots of stuff to warehouse!

As a chemical engineer and as an engineer on a nuclear sub, I figured I could deal with the technical aspects of a residential plumbing job. I had to review the relevant codes to make sure I was in compliance, but then I figured, how hard can this be? I was about to find out….

I decided to start with the toilet drain because it was the largest pipe and I found out I would have to be doing some tricky routing through the joists, which I had previously tripled to shore up the master bedroom floor structure. These extra thick joists turned out be be troublesome because the pipe had to be angled to get the slope correct and the hole saw that I was using was only slightly larger than the OD of the pipe. I eventually hammered it in but getting that last joint together was a bitch! I hope it doesn’t leak.

Toilet Drain

Toilet drain piping. See the tripled joists surrounding the pipe? I had to drill big holes through those and ram the piping in!

The next challenge was putting together the water supply system for the showers. I decided to ramp up the quality of the showers by installing a “smart” shower system that uses an electronic control in the shower to remotely control the mixing valve. I went with copper pipe because that’s what the house had to begin with, and I sure got some good experience in sweating the pipes together (turns out that it’s not that hard). The best advice that I got was to use MAPP gas instead of propane. The higher temperature of the flame makes the solder flow much better. Nevertheless, It’s a complex setup and I ended up gouging one of the press-fit O-rings when I inserted the pipe into the mixing valve, so it caused a bit of a mess when I turned on the water to pressure test.

Shower Mixing Valves Annotated

Diagram of the remote shower mixing valves. These are located in the garage directly below the bathrooms. The hot and cold water supplies connect to the mixing valves and the remote controller sets the temperature and volume through the controller signal lines. The water then goes directly to the shower head(s).

Remote Shower Control

Remote shower controller. This is all electronic and has a memory for 4 different settings (his/hers/morning/after workout/whatever).


I also found some cool water supply valves that were recessed into the wall and had a very clean look. They are called “stop pull boxes” and are made by a company called “LSP”. If you’re interested, here is their website: LSP Pull Stop Box

And some pictures:

Recessed Water Supply Valve 1

Recessed water supply valve. The valve is the brass fitting in the middle. If you look closely, you can see the ball valve itself (the silver thing in the middle). This is really slick because it’s behind the drywall and the valve is operated by a pushrod attached to the threaded rod on the left-hand side. Looks very clean after installation which I thought was important for a pedestal sink.

Recessed Water Supply 2

Recessed valve installed. The eustachon will cover the hole OK. The brand is “LSP” and the device is called a “pull stop box”.

Going on to rough in the electrical, the plans are important, but I decided I wanted to do some Human Factor Engineering to get the exact location of the switches and lighting fixtures. I imagined myself doing everyday tasks like going to the bathroom, going to the shower, getting dressed, getting ready for bed, etc., and that helped me locate switches so that (a) they would be easy and intuitive to reach for and (b) I could operate the lights from different locations to minimize going back and forth when I wanted to turn something on or off. I also put in extra wall receptacle boxes, especially near where the bed and home office would be. Receptacle and switch boxes are pretty easy to install, so with that done, I was ready to start running wires.

Rough Electrical Bedroom

Example of the customization that one can do if you’re doing this yourself. I added the data and power boxes for the flat screen TV at the last minute (at no cost to the customer).

Running the wires for the rough electrical is something that’s not typically in the plans, which only show the locations of the receptacles, switches, and fixtures. I guess I could have done a schematic diagram, but I figured I would only be doing this once, and as long as I was disciplined in labeling each wire, I would be OK. To run the wires, I did have to plan out where I would be bringing in power from the electrical panel, and then how that power would be distributed throughout the room. The bedroom has two circuits: one for the sink in the bathroom, which needs to be a dedicated GFCI circuit per code, and one for the receptacles and lights. The “current” electrical codes (pardon the pun) require that receptacles in living spaces (bedrooms, living rooms, dens, dining rooms) be AFCI protected, so I needed to take that into account as well. The dedicated GFCI circuit was pretty easy (one wire from the panel to the receptacle), but the other wiring was more involved. The first thing that I did was to bring in power to a receptacle box, and then distribute power to the other receptacle boxes from there. The lighting circuits then tapped off the receptacle boxes.

One thing to keep in mind is the number of wires you have running in and out of each box, and the number of “devices” (switches, receptacles, both of which are referred to as “yolks” in the trade). There is a limit based on the heat load, and there’s a fancy calculation in the NEC, which it turns out, is not trivial. Here is a link to an good explanation. To make things a little easier, I just always get the biggest box possible for the number of devices I want (switches/receptacles) and have not run into any problems.

Electrical Switches and Receptacles

Good example of tailoring the electrical controls beyond the minimum. I can control both lights outside the garage (front and side) and the garage work lights from this location. The front garage door light can also be controlled from the master bedroom and the front door because it is a security and safety feature. I’ve also installed smart switches, where necessary, to allow control automatically under given conditions (e.g., coming home at night, opening the garage door, fire alarm or smoke detector goes off to illuminate egress routes). The receptacles with built-in USB chargers are a must, pretty much in every room.

Routing the wire takes a little planning. The main idea is to drill as few holes as possible, which typically results in running the wires in the ceiling. The other “trick” is to unroll the wire so that it’s flat. If you just pull the wire from the roll, then it will come out twisted and be difficult to staple neatly to the framing. Unrolling it before you pull the wire takes some effort: you have to pick up this heavy roll and heave it ’round several times. But it pays off with a neat and professional installation.

After the wiring was installed, I needed to energize some circuits so we could continue to live normally (if you call living in a house during a remodel “normal” — I guess it’s the “new normal” for us). Despite my supreme confidence in my ability to install some relatively simple electrical work, I flipped on one of the breakers and there was a loud “pop” (“arcing and sparking” in the trade).

Electrical Boo Boo 2

I thought I smelled something funny. Better find out what happened here!

Turns out that I tightened down the cable clamp too tightly and the clamp cut through the insulation and caused a short.

Electrical Boo Boo 1

Forensic analysis showed that I had tightened down the strain relief so much that it cut through the insulation and caused a short. More is not necessarily better!

I felt pretty bad and embarrassed about that, but later, after doing some additional reading in my electrical “how to” books, I found that these sort of things occasionally happen even for the pros. I guess that’s one way to get experience! At any rate, I had to pull the entire cable and replace it because you’re not allowed to splice or patch an electrical cable. All interconnections must be in electrical boxes that have an opening through the drywall to prevent an electrical short from causing a fire behind the drywall.

Lastly is the data cabling. For my project, I’m running a minimum of 2 cat6e ethernet cables and one RG-6 cable per room, but the the master bedroom and home office, I ran quite a few more. I started with standard electrical boxes, but found that low voltage boxes are easier to work with, so from now on, I’m using those. Because these cables are circular in cross section, there’s no need to be too fussy with the unrolling. However, the installation should still be neat. I found some nice cable organizers that allowed me to create nice data cable runs, which was important as the cabling multiplied as I approached the wiring closet.

Data Lines Annotated

Data cables running through the attic. With a minimum of 2 Ethernet and one coax cable per room, that added up pretty quickly. I put a lot of these in the master bedroom because I wanted the cables for a flat screen TV and a home office.

Wiring Closet

Wiring closet replaces the furnace, which was relocated to the attic. All data cabling from the upstairs is run and neatly bundled (on the right). The loose stuff is the cabling from the living room and garage, which needs to be bundled later when I run the rest of the downstairs cabling.

Finally, I had to install draft stops. The inspector pointed this out to me, so that was something I was unaware of, but once I figured it out, it was pretty easy. Basically, wherever you have a penetration through the sole or top plates of your framing, you need to seal the openings. The best way is to use polyurethane foam that comes in a can. You can get a one-use can with an applicator, but I found that hard to control, so I ponied up for a pro applicator, Worked much better, and I figured I’d be using it for other things.

Draft Stop

Draft stop for the data lines coming into the wiring closet. I also had to accommodate the gas line going up to the furnace, which is now in the attic.

So with the rough work done, it was time to put in one of the true infrastructure “upgrades” that I planned for this remodel: a residential fire sprinkler system. Stay tuned…..


Framing The Interior Walls

Now that the exterior part of the addition was complete, it was time to start work on the interior. The plans (that I designed and produced) had an “en-suite”, meaning an adjoining bathroom and other facilities. As a matter of fact, the design reflected my predilection for the “process” of getting ready for the day: do your business, brush your teeth and shave, shower, and then dress. Well, that’s my order. My wife’s order is not the same, so that meant that if we had a scheduling conflict, one could be in private for the “business end”, and the other could take care of the rest. But I digress….

At any rate, I had to construct the framework which meant erecting a wall, and then putting in false ceilings and compartments to define the elements of the space. I had to make the wall that separated the en-suite from the rest of the bedroom, and a couple of smaller walls that separated the toilet area from the shower and dressing areas. These two smaller walls also had to accommodate pocket doors. The framing for these walls was pretty standard (except for the pocket doors — more on that later), but I had to do some detail work to make sure that I had all the correct structural components figured out.

Interior wall construction is similar to exterior wall construction but if it’s a non-load bearing wall, you don’t have the same requirements, meaning that you don’t have to use structural grade lumber, and don’t have to have a bunch of connectors. However, because lumber and drywall are produced to standard dimensions, the rules on top plates, sole plates, and stud spacing generally apply. Other than applying exterior sheathing, the techniques for construction are exactly the same.

Step One: Measure and Mark. The best starting point for wall construction is to lay out the wall on the floor. Professional carpenters do this for all the walls at once because it both speeds the construction process, and  but more importantly, it ensures accuracy and minimizes mistakes because you can see if everything fits together when you transfer all of the plan dimensions to full scale all at once. Not that there were any mistakes in the plans, mind you….(!)

(A) Locate the interior wall from a convenient reference. I used the existing exterior wall and the interior wall end that I had to marry up with.

Tools required for layout. If you’re doing this solo, then you need a handful of finishing nails and a hammer to hold the end of your chalk line (which I have in my belt, but neglected to photograph).

Plan for the wall. I drew this custom from my model. Typically you’ll just have a plan (overhead) view and have to figure out all of the vertical stuff, and I could have probably just done a quick hand drawing, but I’m also the designer, draftsman, and engineer, so I can do it how I want.

Location of sole plate from exterior wall framing.

(B) Check for square. Never assume that any previous work is perfect. Anything you build will have

errors that slowly build up and must be corrected for at each step.

Check marks to make sure they’re square before you snap the chalk lines. This is 63 3/4″ from the exterior wall.

Measure a convenient distance along the exterior wall.

Calculate the hypotenuse of the triangle using the good old Pythagorean Theorem which you learned in middle school (you did, right?).

The moment of truth. Dead on.

Once square is confirmed, locate the other end of the wall out from the reference (exterior wall). Wall baseline measurements in place with nails for holding the chalk line. Marks are also made at the other end of the wall (not shown here).

(C) Snap baselines for the sole plate.

Wall baselines snapped.

(D) Mark the openings and intersecting walls. I needed to mark the entrance to the bathroom and the two intersecting walls that defined the toilet area. I ended up changing where the toilet walls were located to match where the drain was, and also decided to change the door swing to make it more ergonomic. Once you lay things out in full scale, you will find you will need to adjust. The plans are never (exactly) right!

The red marks indicate changing the location of the partition walls to match where the rough plumbing for the toilet came in.


I decided to change the door swing to better accommodate ergonomics for entry and exit from the bathroom.

Step Two: Make a kit. Once the lines for the sole plates are marked out with the door openings and intersecting walls, it’s time to start marking out lumber and cutting. The key to framing any wall is to carefully mark out where all of the studs/jacks/cripples will be on the sole plate, and then transfer those marks directly to the top plate. This ensures that the ends of each stud/jack/cripple will be vertically aligned, making the wall relatively easy to square up and put in place.

(A) Cut the plates to size.

16′ lumber ready for marking. I will only use two pieces for the wall plates (sole and top) and the third will be a header for the false ceiling inside the wall.










Measuring out the length of the sole plate.

I put the measurement on the lumber so I won’t forget!

(B) Transfer the marks from the floor layout to the sole plate.

Sole plate on baselines, ready for marking.

Marking where the header of the toilet enclosure wall will go. The marks are transferred directly from the layout on the floor.

(C) Transfer the marks to the top plate.

Sole plate and top plate clamped up for marking. You want to mark both at the same time for accuracy and efficiency.

Marking cripple studs on top plate. These will be transferred to the door header when framing up.

If you want a 16 oc spacing, you have to offset the first one from the end by 3/4″.

(D) Make a cut list. This is done by methodically going through each mark on your top and bottom plates and figuring out how many studs (vertical pieces of lumber) you need and of what kind. There are four kinds of studs:  Common (or just “studs”), Cripple, Jack, and King. Common studs are what you’ll have the most of. They are the height of the finished wall MINUS the thickness of the sole and top plates. For an interior wall with just one of each, that’s wall height -3″. With a double top plate, it’s wall height – 4-1/2″. In my case, the wall was going to meet the undersides of the trusses, which were angled to form the cathedral ceiling. So I had to use a plumb bob to find where the inside edge of the wall would touch the truss and measure from there.

Plumb bob lining up the edge of the wall to the truss. It’s actually pointing to the wrong line in this picture, (the correct line is the one on the lower right) but you get the idea.

Marking the bottom of the truss.

Mark on bottom of truss directly above the inner edge of the wall (i.e., the face of the wall towards the bathroom). Finish nail is in place to snap a chalk line.

Chalk line snapped on bottom of trusses to align the wall when it’s raised.

Back to the types of studs. Cripple studs are short studs that connect the tops/bottoms of wall openings to the sole or top plates. So, you’ll have a few of these wherever you have a door or window. In this case, I had a door and needed to place cripple studs between the door header and the top plate. Jack and King studs are what form the sides of the wall openings (windows/doors). The jack stud provides vertical support for the header while the king stud sits right next to the jack stud and provides stability to the header. The king stud is the same length as the other “common” studs but has a different name due to its function and location within the framing.

Door framing showing relationships between framing members. The cripple studs go above the header (where the hammer is). Note that the bottom of the door has the sole plate going right across. This will remain until after the wall is lifted and secured in place to make the wall assembly stiffer and easier to lift. It’s a simple matter to cut this out with a handsaw after the wall is up.

Once all of the various studs have been counted (and double counted), I put them into a table called a “cut list” to make sure that I didn’t leave anything out and that I had all of my measurements correct. I also put in the materials for the headers and the 4×4 header supports for the two smaller walls for the toilet area. Take some time to double check your work here because if you make a mistake and cut all your studs 4″ too short, you’ll have a lot of extra firewood and an unexpected trip to Home Depot.

Cut list. Makes it easy to get an assembly line going and helps keep track of where all of your parts are.

Cutting station. I couldn’t get my fancy (and too heavy) miter saw stand up here, so I improvised. Worked great!

All studs, cripples, jack studs, plates and headers stacked and ready to roll!

Step Three: Assemble the kit. This should be the easy part, right? Just separate your top and bottom plates, scatter your studs and arrange your headers and start banging away!

Kit components aligned on the floor, ready for assembly.

Well, not so fast. There are a few subtleties that bear mention when putting this thing together. First and foremost, you need to plan for a logical assembly sequence so that you avoid having to nail components awkwardly, or worse, have to disassemble a part because you couldn’t get to it. For this wall, I made several sub-assemblies so that I could accurately nail them together without interference from adjoining components. These sub-assemblies included the header, jack and king studs for the door, and header supports for the two walls separating the toilet area.

King and jack studs for door are pre-assembled. It’s a lot easier to face nail these two together when sitting flat then it is to try to bang it together when on its side and you have a floor and other studs to deal with.

Door framing subassembly with header, king, and jack studs. Also a partial assembly for the toilet wall header support (the one with the 4×4). I only nailed one king stud so that I could easily slide the header onto the support once the wall was up. I would then be able to nail the second king stud in place on the other side. This is a good example of thinking several steps ahead to avoid unpleasant problems in the future.

A good place to start is at one of the corners. I started with the sole plate.

Sole plate complete.

The other issue that you have to deal with are imperfections, both with your materials for the wall and the surrounding structures where the wall will go. Wood is rarely perfect. Some lumber can be badly warped. In some cases, you can take the worst pieces and use those for cutoffs, like cripple studs, where the warp won’t matter as much. Also, you can use warped lumber for the inner studs, where it doesn’t matter very much. Save your straightest pieces for the ends and the door framing, where that alignment matters most. You can also use leverage and beaters (sledgehammers) to “persuade” recalcitrant pieces of lumber into place.

Because of variations in the height of the floor (long story) I needed to put shims underneath some of the studs so they would be aligned with the plates.

Using a “cheater bar” to untwist lumber for nailing. I attached a 2×4 to the inside of the stud and then pulled like hell while I nailed the end to the top plate. I then removed the cheater bar.

Securing the top plate.

Wall complete and ready to raise!

Step 4: Raise the wall. Now it was finally time to raise the wall. Because it was inside the structure, I couldn’t use the wall jacks that I used for the exterior walls because the lumber used for the jacks would not fit under the ceiling. So I had to do this the “old fashioned” way with some helpers. The interior wall framing is lighter because it has no sheathing, and is also “flexible” meaning that I did not bother to perfectly square it up before I raised it. This is because it was going to fit between the floor below, lower truss chords above, and abut against an adjacent wall. So long as I had marks on the floor for the sole plate and marks on the truss chords for the top plate, and these two were plumb to each other, I could be reasonably certain that the wall would be plumb and in alignment with the rest of the framing.

Wall raised and in place.

Because the main wall intersected the slope of the cathedral ceiling, I had to make a few accommodations. Specifically I had to install blocking on the top plate between the trusses to lock in the top of the wall. See the following picture of the false ceiling.

Step 5: Finish the interior details: Lastly, I had to construct a false ceiling on the other side of the wall and add a couple of partitions. Since I wanted the toilet to be separate and isolated when necessary, I had to put in walls that accommodated pocket doors. Pocket doors require an entirely different framing system. There are many types of systems that use basic materials to do the framing, but from a DIY standpoint, I found it more expedient to just buy a kit. The instructions were pretty straightforward, and as long as you’re accurate with the measurements, it’s largely foolproof.

False ceiling assembly detail showing the header and the false ceiling cross members.

Hangers for pocket doors installed. The headers for the doors will rest on these and when the door kits are installed, these will form the walls for the toilet area.

Pocket door headers installed.

Pocket Door Kit Instructions. This is the easiest solution.

Pocket door installed. I couldn’t find a picture of the framework (!)

The last thing I did was to cut out that piece of sole plate that was interfering with the door. If you recall, I constructed the wall with a continuous sole plate to help hold it together when the wall was raised. Now that the wall framework was finished, it was time to clean up that little detail.

Door opening with sole plate in place. I’m going to take care of that presently.

Sole plate is now cut for the door opening.

Now that the interior framing is in place, it’s time to proceed to the next step: rough plumbing, electrical, and data lines.

By The Numbers — Installing My House Numbers

Now that the garage door was up, I was in the mood to finish off the outside, and one of the last pieces of finish work was putting up the house numbers. Our house had been “numberless” for over a year, and it was high time to give it back some dignity.

As always, I decided to put some thought into this project because I felt that your house numbers are the first thing a person will look for when visiting. So if they’re placed so they’re difficult to read, or if they are installed crooked, or if they aren’t in balance, they really can detract from the curbside appearance. On the other hand, if they are tasteful and good looking, they really can be a very nice architectural detail instead of just being some “requirement”.

I initially did some online shopping with the big box stores (Home Depot and Lowe’s) and they had the standard ho-hum selections, so I started poking around and found some really classy numbers from a mom-and-pop outfit in Phoenix, AZ. They are called Modern House Numbers ( and I thought that they had not only very elegant designs, but also a quite superior product. Their numbers are made of solid CNC aluminum, are powder coated in appropriate colors, and they have a very interesting mounting system that uses little posts to offset the numbers from the wall surface, giving the numbers a 3D appearance. Yes, they cost some money, but hey, this is my house and my remodel. Plus I felt that the house needed something special after being numberless for a year.

Mounting these numbers wasn’t particularly difficult, but I did have to pay attention to a few things. The instructions were OK, but I created a video which really breaks down the process in detail. It also has some tips about performing the individual tasks such as dealing with epoxy and drilling holes in stucco. You’ll find the video on my YouTube channel and right here:

The critical steps in mounting these kind of house numbers are as follows:

Locate them properly. Although Modern House Numbers provides you with a template, you still have to put it in the right place so it is easily seen from the street and is consonant with the architecture of the house. No need to get obsessed with the placement, but consider a number of options and choose what looks “right” to you. If you don’t have a template, then my recommendation is to put your numbers on a sheet of paper in the orientation that you want and MAKE a template. All you have to do is mark where the screws go. Eyeballing the alignment and spacing while standing on a ladder is just faking it and will result in a hack job.

Placing the template is the first crucial step.

Drill the holes. For these numbers, you’ll need to drill a certain depth because of the posts that offset the numbers from the mounting surface. If you’re just using numbers that are directly screwed to the wall, then just mark the locations according to your template and either drill pilot holes (for wood) or holes appropriate for your mounting surface. If mounting in stucco, then try to use screws designed for stucco. You may have to paint the heads to match the numbers. The other option for masonry walls (e.g., stucco or brick) is to use masonry anchors. These require a little more work, but you still have to locate the holes correctly so the numbers will be in alignment.

Drilling the mounting holes using the template.










Dry fitting the numbers is very important. You don’t want to find out you didn’t drill deep enough with epoxy running all over the place!

Apply the epoxy. Disregard this step if you’re mounting the numbers directly to the wall. Epoxy is a miracle glue. It sticks to almost everything, is gap filling (meaning that if your hole is too big, it will fill in the gaps), and is waterproof. People who make high-end wooden boats use this stuff throughout, and it is amazing what can be accomplished with a fiberglass reinforced epoxy topcoat. The fiberglass disappears and you can see the beauty of the wood underneath and still have an incredibly strong and abrasion resistant surface. You can also see all the imperfections, which is why these creations are truly artisan. But I digress… The important thing to remember about epoxy is that the advantages can become disadvantages. Remember how it sticks to everything? Well, that’s EVERYTHING. So, if you don’t wear nitrile gloves, you will be scraping dried epoxy off your fingers for 2 weeks. (I know this from personal experience.) If you get it on something you don’t want it to get on, then it will be almost impossible to remove. You need to seriously think about how you will handle the goop so it doesn’t drip where you don’t want it, and protect the surrounding area from the drips that inevitably do happen.

Putting the epoxy on the posts. Not too much time to waste as I only have 5 minutes to get all the numbers mounted!

The other thing worth mentioning about epoxy is working time. Your have several choices, ranging from short (5 min), to long (hours). For a job like this, you probably want a short working time because if you do the preparation and pre-fitting correctly ahead of time, you shouldn’t need a lot of time to do the final assembly. For this project, I used 5 minute epoxy and did the installation in two steps: mounting the posts to the numbers, and then mounting the number-post assemblies to the wall. The video shows the details.

The final step is to set the epoxy-laden pins into the holes in the stucco to set the number.

House numbers all done. Looks good!

The finished product looks really nice. As always, there were a few boo-boos, but remember the craftsman’s axiom: The difference between an experienced and inexperienced craftsman is the experience one has in hiding mistakes.

A New Garage Door

I had been thinking that installing the garage door would be one of the last things on my list because I didn’t want to have to put drywall in and around all of the various hangers and fixtures that are a necessary part of the installation. However, putting in the door now would help finish off the exterior, and let’s face it, the old garage door was looking especially sad in the context of all of the other new work. Another reason was that the door was a swing-out slab, and when it was open, the bottom stuck out and was a head-strike hazard because of the way I changed my sidewalk. So, it was really time for it to go.

One last look at the old garage door. It lasted a long time, but it needed a reboot.

One of the main reasons that I wanted to replace the old garage door is that it sticks out when opened and you can hit your head if you’re not careful. I discovered this the hard way…


I discussed this possibility with one of my co-workers (who also happens to help me when I need an extra pair of hands), and he told me that garage door installation was pretty straightforward. He had done several, but also cautioned that you needed two people to put the sections in place. Plus, he said he would help me out when the time came. I was sold.

Putting in a new garage door and opener is well within the capability of the DIY’er who has a reasonable amount of experience. Having said that, you really need to respect the loads and forces that will be involved. That means that you need to do your homework and read the installation instructions and watch a few YouTube videos on how to do the installation. It’s also important to understand how the entire contraption works, which parts do what, and why you are assembling them in a certain way and sequence.

Back to the job at hand. I got online and found a few places that deliver made-to-order garage door “kits”. It turns out that you can get these same garage doors from dealers and installers as well as big box stores (Home Depot, Lowe’s, Costco). Two of the popular manufactures are Clopay and Amarr. I chose Amarr because I liked the available styles and options. There was a 3-4 week lead time for delivery, so I placed the order and began scheming and plotting the installation. This included downloading and careful study of the installation instructions.

Read the instructions! Note that I’ve highlighted the specific sections that were applicable to my installation.

The day came for delivery and I took the entire day off because my plan was to do as much preparation work as I could before my helper came the next day. I started by cleaning up the garage (seems as that’s a constant task), and then installing some additional framing around the door opening (or “jamb”). This framing is important because you’ll be attaching the tracks and the torsion spring to it, so it needs to be very solid and securely fastened to the rest of the framing. I also took the time to furr out some of the door header and pre-install sheetrock so I wouldn’t have work around the garage door parts later.

First thing is to clean up the garage so I’ll have an area to work in.

Here is the new framing for the jamb. This framing needs to be sturdy because it will be taking a lot of force from the door tracks and springs.

This is the torsion pad. It needs to be securely fastened to the header. I used 4-1/2″ Simpson structural wood screws (SDS). They are easier than lag bolts because to install because you don’t have to pre-drill a pilot hole. Plus they’re stronger.

I put the sheetrock up behind where the torsion rod and spring would go to make finishing the garage easier later.

My delivery truck. This truck had about 8 other doors kits for delivery to other homes. I guess I was in good company today.

The garage door parts all delivered. The door sections are on the right and there is a big cardboard box on the lower left stuffed full of hardware.

Next was the assembly of the hardware onto the individual door panels. Each panel is 16′ long by 21″ high. They’re pretty unwieldy, but one can move them around if you get in the middle and move slowly. These were much easier to handle than 20′ 2×12’s that I had to tug about when I was fixing my bedroom joists. The time I spent in reviewing the instructions paid off here because I was able to quickly recognize which part was what and where it went. That’s important when you’re staring at a box of about 300 parts and you need to sort them out.

It turns out that installation instructions are sometimes only so good. In this case, I had to install “struts” which are basically longitudinal reinforcements on each door panel. It was not clear from the instructions how to line up all of the holes, and, indeed, it seemed that several holes were not lining up at all. After about 30 minutes of head scratching and going to the computer to get a magnified view of the plans (thanks to PDF), I was able to figure out how it all went together and that I simply needed to drill some holes where they “should” have been. Bottom line is that sometimes you need to be a little smarter than the instructions.

Door panels with hardware installed. They are stacked in in order so we can just flip them up and put them on top of one another.

The next day, my helper came and we pulled down the old door, reconfigured the side jambs for the new door, and then commenced installation. We got the panels in place, and then I spent the entire next day putting up the tracks, installing the torsion spring and lifting mechanism, and installing the opener.

Here is my colleague from work who is a very reliable helper. I couldn’t have done this project without him.

Track hanger installed. I needed to do some adjustments later when I pulled up the door.

This is the torsion spring. The winder is in the middle. It’s a really nice setup because you just chuck in a 3/8″ socket to your electric drill and go to town. Winding the springs was essentially effortless.

I won’t go through all of the details because there are many videos and how-to’s which show the process much better than I was able to document. However, I do have a few suggestions:

Take advantage of the fact that the hardware is designed to be adjustable. You will likely have to accommodate some degree of error in your door opening and floor in order to get the door plumb and square. The door can also operate with a certain amount of tolerance, so things don’t have to be super exact. But you want to do a good job, yes? So get things as close as you can. I had to tweak things several times after the installation was complete as I noticed that this or that didn’t align just right. Every time I made an adjustment, the door operated that much smoother.

Use SDS screws in place of lag bolts if that hardware is not provided with the door. Examples include attachment of the spring pad and the rear track support hangers. SDS screws don’t require pre-drilling and are actually stronger.

Cut the top of the diagonal back hanger support at an angle so it fits flush against the drywall.

Cut the end of your track hanger brace so it lies flat on the bottom of the ceiling.

Track hanger brace installed. See how the top of the angle lies flat against the sheetrock? Believe me, you won’t be able to get the holes to line up if you don’t cut off that little piece.

The door was misaligned a bit when I first operated it. I didn’t notice at first and ended up damaging the door seal on the right side. NBD, that’s something that’s easy to replace.

Take the time to do a neat and professional installation. This includes running the wires for the opener neatly, and hidden if you can. I mounted my opener button to an electrical box and ran all the wires where the would be hidden by sheetrock (eventually). These details caused me to run our of bell wire and bell wire staples (the opener didn’t come with enough material), but the effort was worth it. Don’t forget the safety stickers!

Door operating switch. I mounted this to an electrical box so the installation is clean after the sheetrock is in place.

When I do a job, I want others to think that a professional did it. Installing the safety stickers is something that the pros do (or should do).

I always sign my work. It’s a nice personal touch.

My opener is really slick (Liftmaster 8500). If you have a garage door with a torsion spring, this is the opener you want. Every door on the delivery truck had a corresponding Liftmaster 8500, so that’s what the pros are using.

The opener mechanism is very compact and operates the door through the torsion bar. This design eliminates the bulky motor and bar in the middle of the garage ceiling. If you get a new garage door installed by a pro. it will likely come with one of these.

The opener comes with an electric door lock. The bolt sticks through the track and prevents the roller from moving past it.

Pay attention to how you install the light beam transmitter and receiver. Make sure you place the receiver on the opposite side of where the sun shines. If you install the receiver on the side which receives direct sunlight, as mine does in the late afternoon, then the sun will blind the receiver and the door won’t work. The receiver is the device that has what looks like a big glass eyeball. I thought it was the other way around until I installed it incorrectly and realized my mistake.

This is the sender for the “light” beam that is a part of the door’s safety mechanism. It emits infrared light so you don’t see it. The amber LED shows that it’s on. This is located on the side of the door that gets sun in the late afternoon.

This is the light beam receiver. It has a green LED and if it is lit, that means that the light beam circuit is working properly and that the door will operate (or if it doesn’t, then that’s not the problem). I found that the light beam is usually the cause of a door operating problem.

Here is a video that summarizes how I did the installation:

A DIY Take On Garage Door Installation

The house exterior is almost done! The inside is another story……

Lookin’ good! I’m getting lots of compliments from my neighbors.

The General Part 4: HVAC and Painting

It’s been awhile since I’ve put in an entry, and there’s really no excuse other than the holidays, a vacation, and not making enough time for it. So, the next few entries will be to catch up a bit and get back into the flow of regular blogging.

Since the last entry, I’ve completed all of the contracting work, and if you look at my bank account, you can tell. Going into this project, I knew that the contract work would be the largest overall expense, especially when you’re talking about new windows, a new roof, re-stucco, exterior paint, and a brand new HVAC system. The HVAC system cost quite a bit, but believe it or not, less than the stucco. Be that as it may, these are simply jobs that a DIY’er cannot accomplish. Either they require a crew, as is the case of the HVAC system or most anything that has to do with stucco or concrete, or is just too tedious and inefficient to do by yourself, such as roofing and exterior painting. Plus, I had enough experience dealing with heights, so that was enough of that.

The HVAC installation was fairly smooth. Once I settled on a contractor and a date, they came in, took all of the old stuff out, installed the mechanicals in the attic, and then ran all of the ducting. There are plusses and minuses to putting the HVAC mechanicals in the attic, but for me, the plus of getting the mechanicals out of the garage and simplifying the ductwork outweighed the noise factor (the system is super quiet to begin with) and the minor loss of efficiency by having the mechanicals in a hot attic. I think the fact that I have a cool roof and excellent attic ventilation will significantly reduce that concern.

Here are some pictures:

The new HVAC system involved a lot of ductwork. I ended up with a 3 zone system. Upstairs, downstairs, and MBR. Yes, my MBR is going to be the ultimate retreat and I wanted everything to be the best.

More demolition to make way for the HVAC system. The fun never stops!

HVAC folks working in the attic to put the system in place. The attic is a tough place to work in, so I’m glad they’re doing this instead of me.

The lead installer getting the mechanicals in order. They had to build a support framework in order to place the furnace, air handler, and cooler. Fortunately, the manufacturer (Carrier) makes these units so they can be installed horizontally, which works great in an attic configuration.

One of the HVAC installers, proudly standing by my new condenser. Having A/C put in was a major objective of my remodeling project.

The leftovers of the chimney of the old furnace. Ideally, I would have installed the HVAC system before I had the roof finished, and this would have precluded this extra “stack” but that’s not the way things worked out. Maybe I'[ll get this removed when I do solar (in some future lifetime).

One thing that I had to take care of by myself was to hook in the condensate drain into the house drainage system. Not too big of a deal, but the installer talked me into it, and I didn’t say no. Perhaps it was better because I know I did it right.

SOME of the HVAC system was DIY. In particular, I needed to construct ventilation ducts for my MBATH fan. Since I will have to do that for the other bathrooms, the laundry room, and the kitchen, I decided to invest some time in educating myself in the proper techniques and investing in a few tools to make the job turn our pro.

This shows a special crimper that is used to make a cut-off in ducting into a fitting that can be properly inserted into the next ductwork section.

Here is the MBATH vent going out.


Lastly, the painters came along and finished all of the trim work and exposed woodwork. This really made the place look nice and everything started to look finished from the outside. I got (and still am getting) a lot of positive comments from my neighbors.

Here are some pictures:

Painter working detail on my trellis. This was very difficult work and he took two days doing it. The results were magnificent!

One of the painters working the detail of the gable vent. Notice how he is up high on a ladder. Better him than me!

I decided to paint a light color underneath the patio cover. This is reminiscent of how porch covers are painted in the South. Bringing in these Southern elements no only pleases Stella, but also lightens up an otherwise dark space. Those Southerners certainly know their onions!

My side yard painted nicely. I had left this unfinished and it really was beginning to look shabby. I knew I needed to paint it, and I’m glad I finally had it done.

The paint match with the stucco is perfect! See how the otherwise gray electric panel now simply melts into the rest of the structure? Same with the gas line. Professional painters are masters at color matching, which is another reason that hiring a professional painter is well worth the expense.

Wonderful picture of the project after painting. This is really looking nice!

In fact, I got a letter from the my homeowners association asking when my storage container was going to be moved. Unfortunately, I had to explain that while the outside of the house looked great, the inside was a total disaster and I had at least another year of work before I was finished.

Since the time the contractor work was complete, I finished off some plumbing and electrical work for the Master Bedroom and got an inspection. I was going to write up some of the details of the electrical and plumbing, but decided to wait until I did another round of it as I have several other rooms to renovate.

More to follow soon!!