Most of the primary lighting we’re doing on the first floor renovations comes from cans. Also called “down lights” or “recessed lights”, these are basically wired up just like table lamps, but the housing for your light bulb is in a metal can that’s embedded in your ceiling. Can lights come in a few different sizes and flavors depending on your application. The can is basically part one. The second part is your light and reflector assembly. There’s a ton of different options on this front and can let you do some pretty cool things. The first question in cans is New Construction or Renovation design? New Construction cans come with sliding tracks that allow you to nail them directly into your ceiling joists. Their installed in unfinished spaces and wired up before the drywallers come in. Renovation cans are designed to be installed in holes you cut in your existing ceiling. You cut a hole the size of the can. Pull your wire through the hole. Then wire the can up outside the ceiling, and stuff the hole unit up inside the space. Little locking clips then hold it in place by clamping above the ceiling. Your project will dictate which one of these designs you should choose. For us, we actually got to use both. In the space we gutted and reframed, we put new construction cans in. In the kitchen, we put renovations cans in the existing ceiling. I think my preference is for new construction. It’s cleaner and doesn’t involve fishing wire.
When pulling wire in finished work, you’ll often use something called Fish Tape. Fish tape is a flexible metal wire that’s flat (like a thin tape). It’s ridged enough to push through tight openings. Once you get it to the other side, you tape the wire you’re trying to pull to it with electrical tape or whatever. Then you can pull the line from one end while pushing it through from the other. Wire, especially as it gets thicker, is really difficult to get around corners or through ackward areas so you really want to be able to push and pull at the same time. This process is kind of a pain in the ass and I kind of suck at it. But there’s not much choice for running electrical in finished space.
Back to the cans. The second thing you need to consider is insulation approved or not. Essentially, IR-rated cans (sometimes called airtight) are designed to be placed in spaces that are finished with insulation right up against the can. Think ceilings where the roof is right above your ceiling. These cans are constructed to stem the heat generated by the light bulb from going up into the space around the can and potentially causing a fire. Non-IR can can be installed in spaces where they won’t be touching anything besides the ceiling. If you don’t need insulation ready cans, then there’s not a lot of reason to use them. This is doubly true as lighting moves towards LED applications. LEDs produce far less heat than traditional incandescent lamps (they also consume far less energy).
Lastly, you need to decide on the size and number of cans you’re installing. The first two questions are kind of easy. You just consider your application and pick what you need. This question requires more finesse. Over the counter cans come in three basic sizes: 6″, 5″, and 4″. There of course, are special order products to fit most applications. We decided on using 6″ and 4″ cans. The large ones are for general lighting in halls and rooms. The small ones are for lighting over the breakfast bar. I ultimately installed three lights in the hall: 2 cans and 1 fixture hook up (to be decided later), and 7 in the kitchen plus 3 in the bar. I know there are programs and lighting simulations you can do to figure out appropriate amount and placement for your lights. I kind of winged it. The rule of thumb is to use the height as the diameter of the light cast. So, if you have 8′ ceilings, then you’ll have a light pattern 8′ across. I used graph paper and circle cut outs to try and figure out how many and roughly the best way to put in the lights. Then from that rough design, you have to fudge the actual install due to ceiling joists and other things you might find in the way. I also replaced the existing light fixture with a can in order to not have to try and patch the hole it left. In the end, I suspect an interior designer would notice how unpolished things are, but hopefully it’ll match the rest of our crookie house.
I feel I must point out something here. Em is a lighting engineer. Her job involves the design and testing of light bulbs. The proper term for what I garishly refer to as a light bulb is a lamp. The thing the lamp goes into is a fixture (or sometimes a system). The fixture contains the ballast. It’s an electrical component that converts A/C electricity into D/C and properly feeds it to power the lamp. So pretend I used these words properly in this post.
Wiring up the cans is a pretty straight forward task. The can has a metal box attached with a spring plate. Open it up and there will be three wires: white, black, and ground (non-sheathed copper wire). You’ll have 3 wires coming in from the cable you pulled. Just wire up the white to white, black to black, ect. When wiring multiple lights, just wire them all together. Things might get a tad trickier if your power is coming into the system in a funny way. For example, if your power is coming into the fixture first instead of the switch. I’ll get into switches in another post. There are two main brands of cans in Home Depot: Halo and Commercial Electric. Halo costs about 40% more but the construction is certainly worth the added cost. This is most noticeable in the wiring. Halo fixtures come with wired push connectors. You just pop open the plate, push your wires into some holes, and then close it up. It takes no time and it’s near impossible to screw up. Conversely, the CE fixtures use cheap, stranded wire that’s a pain to try and splice. If you ever have to make this call, I would encourage going Halo.
Framing in the addition has a few interesting puzzles to figure out. These puzzles come in two flavors. The first is the problem of marrying new construction to old construction. The second is the problems created by unique space design. I don’t really know much about the history of wood framing. This house has doesn’t use the normal top and bottom plate construction. Instead studs are overlapped between the first and second floor and ceiling joists sit on a rim board that is notched into the stud framing. The interior partition walls are very simply framed with additional wood stuck in to add lathe for the plaster. Additionally, the framing in the addition doesn’t exactly mate to the framing in the main house. As a result, there’s a slope created by the threshold between the two house sections. This is probably due to a combination of settling and poor initial construction. The obvious presentation of these kinds of things is that the hall and bathroom in the 2nd floor have crocked floors. But the less obvious an stranger problems come in uneven joists.
This leads me to the first puzzle. Where the addition meets the main house on the 1st floor, the ceiling joists are uneven by as much as 1.5″. Mostly that’s because of these framing problems, but in addition to that, the lumber in the ceiling is differently sized from board to board. That’s a big gap. Usually you would just nail your top place into the perpendicular joists everywhere they cross. But this isn’t exactly possible if there’s an extra gap between the two. When I took down the original bathroom wall (which was obviously part of a remodel), the carpenter’s solution was to just apply this standard. The result was a bowed top plate and a fractured stud. Not the end of the world, but not exactly the best for structural soundness. My solution was to add additional wood, effectively creating a small run a triple top plate. I have no idea if this is the correct way to deal with the problem or not.
Where two walls meet perpendicularly, you need to have a stud so the end of one wall can be nailed into a vertical board in the other. Depending on how the drywall is going to be run around this corner, you might add up to three studs sandwiched together in order to have this nailing surface and provide surface for the drywaller to attach to. An alternative is to create what’s called a “california corner”. This method uses one stud for nailing purposes and a second stud twisted 90 degrees to make for the overlap. When remodeling, you often have to add new studs to existing walls in order to create this nailing surface. For our project this meant adding lots of wood to the exterior walls. Our house is packed with blown in insulation, so any time we open exterior walls, it’s a big mess. When the new stud fell close to an existing stud, I was often able to nail the two directly together. This solution is easiest and lets me get around the fact that there isn’t a top plate to nail into. I did have to notch all of my boards so they could slide up into the walls, past this rim board. Where they didn’t fall near existing boards, I had to come up with some creative solutions. For example, in one example, I added multiple 6″ horizontal boards to brace the new stud. My guess is that when dealing with old construction, there’s rarely a clear and concise way to go about it. I might be doing it wrong, but it’ll be more an issue of differing opinions on the best way to go about it.
- Clean and de-spider basement
- Continue patching drywall throughout the house
- Decide on master bedroom window
- Continue patching basement walls and prep for Drylock
- Installing PEX system
- Work to execute a water meter install plan
- Finish drainage/sewer system
- Add insulation as needed
- Prep walls for drywalling
- Finalize shower designs and finish framing shower
- Lay subfloor in laundry room
- Lay subfloor in bathroom
- Lay subfloor in pantry
- Close old dryer vent
- Install washer box in laundry room
- Finish Building up masonary wall in crypt
- Drylock basement walls
- Frame Master Bedroom Closet
- Frame Master Bedroom walls
- Shore up rafters in Master Bedroom
- Install wiring master bedroom
- Replace removed drywall
- Finish repairing and refinishing chimney
- Decide/order flooring for Kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room
- Set up appointment for insulation install
It’s January. I haven’t updated in a few weeks. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always felt like this time of year was a big let down. The holidays are over. It’s cold and bleak. And I’m not very fond of Spring, so I don’t look forward to that time of year. It’s not until about mid-May that I start feeling good about Summer coming and the garden taking off. When I was in school, this time of the year was the hardest. Slogging to classes in the darkness and snow. These days, it feels pretty much the same, but with lots of heavy lifting. The project is coming along according to plan. I’m on the last room of framing. The electric is done on the first floor. We’re gearing up for our first wave of inspections. Things are good. Still, I show up in the dark and snow, slog through the work, and leave in the darkness and snow. On the plus side, with the electric mostly done we have far more lights in the house. I’ll throw some posts up about electricity in the coming days. Here’s some other good things that will probably get their own posts:
- I installed a bunch of can lights in the kitchen and wired up 3 switches for them. This required logicing out the correct wiring path rather than just aping a diagram in a book. I feel pretty proud of that.
- The chimney is mostly repaired. After we pulled back the plaster, we discovered a significant vertical crack requiring a partial rebuild. It was on the short list of scariest things.
- I added a circuit and successfully pulled wire through conduit in the basement. Fishing cable is the worst job I’ve done so far.
- We settled on a plan for the master bedroom. We ordered a window and I’m working on framing it now.
- Em and Steve installed the meter setting, so we’re on track to get our water meter put in.
- I punched a handful of holes in the house for ventilation and windows.
Now is the time to start picking out aesthetics. This is one of the most difficult parts for me. I waffle and waffle over things like colors and patterns. I spent some time today walking around Lowes and staring at tile. If we want to order tile for flooring, we should do it now. Likewise for specialty items like countertops or custom cabinets or whathaveyou…