the Solar Cell

It would be tough to call today’s job a project.  It took about 10 minutes to fix and an $8 usd part from the hardware store.

Here is the problem!  It’s the middle of the day and the carriage lights on both side of my garage are still on.  Their both on an automatic solar cell that is supposed to turn them off in the morning and back on at night.  But it’s obviously not working.


Here is the box panel located on the south side of the house.  If you have a similar system, look on the southern side of your home first. That is likely where the builder would have located the box (at least in the United States).

Notice the size of the opening on the end.  It’s not larger than about 1/4 inch (3 or 4mm).  The replacement I purchased is about twice that size in order to let more light on to the solar cell.IMG_1308

It’s a simple procedure to replace the solar cell.  Take a screw driver and remove the top and bottom screws.  Inside you will find the back of the solar cell with three wires: red, black and white.


After TURNING OFF THE POWER at your circuit breaker box, simply unscrew the red wire from black (loaded) wire and attached the red wire from your new cell.  Do the same for the white and black leads.

The old cell should be held on with a screwed on ring with a foam piece of the weather-stripping between the ring and panel cover.  This should unscrew by hand if it’s to tight, you could use a pair of pliers.   In the picture below, I have removed the old cell and replaced with the new larger cell.  The plastic locking ring and weather-stripping are shown before installation.


Here is the new cell installed and the panel cover replaced.  You can clearly see the larger opening.  I’ll wait for nightfall to see if everything is working OK. (oh, and don’t forget to turn the power back on).



the Deck 2013, part 3

With the a major section of the deck completed and having the railed section finished, it’s now on to the expansion of the screened in porch.  I wanted to do something a bit different with this part of the project.  I had first planned to just extend the roof line of the existing porch with a “roof” made of screen rather than the standard shingles most often used in Midwestern porch construction,  But as I’ve written in the past, sometimes ideas just seem to present themselves.  And as a result of having dinner under a restaurant’s pergola one evening, I decided that a pergola roof would look much nicer, be easier to build even being a bit more expensive.

We started with the floor joists.  In the picture below note that the joists are doubled up and have upside down joist hangers attaching them to the ledger board (on the left).  Due to the fact that my support beam in this section was just 44 inches from the ledger board, standard building code would have limited my  cantilever past the support beam to just 11 inches.   So I retained a certified professional engineer to design the construction method in this area.  The upside down hangers are designed to prevent up lift forces from the longer cantilever.


Before the center porch roof supports on the outside wall can be removed, the roof structure would need to be re-enforced.  I did this by “simply” installing additional header supports.  Added were two 2×6’s above the existing ones and an additional 2×12 outboard of the existing headers.  In the picture below, you can see the installed 2×12 below the 2×8 cedar board.

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With the decking installed and roof re-enforced, it was time to start the porch framing expansion.  I am using the same cedar posts that were used in the existing porch.  I planned for only the corner posts to be attached to the main deck construction.  I did this by cutting a hole in the deck to match the size of a section cut from the bottom of the post.  Once inserted into this pocket the bottom of the post would be screwed to the main deck structure.

photo66Each of the two corners were installed in this manner and then the outside posts were tied back to the porch with horizontal beams.  The top beams were attached to the vertical posts using a simple but yet strong lap joint.  They were screwed together using 6 inch construction screws using impact driver drill.

photo 1 Once the outside posts and top beams were installed, I simply filled in the other vertical posts screwing them to the top beam and bottom deck.  The horizontal members are 2×4.  All of this section is constructed from rough cedar which will be later stained.  The next step was to install the pergola roofing members with pre cut ends and installed to the top beams with 3 inch deck screws.

photo 81At this point I was ready to install the screens using the tried and true method of staples to be later covered by 1×4 batten boards.

inside view of the bigger porch space.

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View from the outside of the finished expansion (other than the planned wrapping of the lower section of the deck in matching cedar)

photo 883In the end, the porch expansion turned out better than I expected.  With the completely different roof lines, I decided rather than paint the cedar gray to match the existing porch, I would stain it to give this new area its own character and style.

the Fireplace Remodel, part 3

I’ve had the new stone fire place finished  for some time now and even the re-claimed barn wood mantel is installed.  We’ve spent some time looking at stone/granite for the ground level hearth but nothing has been decided upon.

Here are some progression pictures of the stone installation.

This is the start of the stone install.  On the bottom I setup a temporary wooden support shelve which is supported in the center with three wooden wedges.  This provided me a nice even surface and it served as spacer between the floor and the stone where the future hearth stone will be set.  This support will be removed once the mortar cures.

ImageThe next picture is the installed stone up to and around the mounting cleat that will hold the barn wood mantel.  Once again you can see a temporary wooden support above the fireplace insert.


Further up the wall….and if you look real close at the cleat (sometimes called a French Cleat), I used some small spacer wedges to push up the cleat top in order to use the top of the cleat as a support for the next row of stone.  Between the cleat and the stone I placed some wax paper to prevent the two from sticking together.


And now we have all the stone installed, along with the barn wood mantel.  The last row of stone at the top required about 1/3 of the top to be cut off with the tile saw.  It turned out pretty even and looks nice.


The most important step in a nice clean installation is to take the time and lay out the stone on the ground before their installed.  Don’t grab them at random from the box and mortar directly to the wall.  Take the time to do a proper layout.  I can’t tell you how many times I rearranged the stones when they were laid out on the floor.   Making sure the color tone, stone size and texture were evenly spaced.  That time was well spent when you see the results.

I used Eldorado Stone – Mountain Ledge Panels

Once the hearth stone is installed.  I’ll update this post.

the Deck Chair

I have another small project from an exercise buddy!  We workout quite a bit and often follow-up those workouts with drinks on his deck.  He lives on a lake with a great view from his upstairs deck.  There are several nice deck chairs that as I understand were assembled as a family project with each of his young children getting to “name” a chair.  Well one of those chairs, being outside and exposed to the weather, had some typical wood decay and needed repairing.

My first thought was to take it apart, seeing as it was assembled with hex nut bolts.  I would then replace the rotted tendon with new material.  But even after removing a few bolts, those joints were weathered shut and there would be no easy disassembling of this chair….on to plan B.



Due to the significant amount of wood rot, plan B was to insert two 6 inch lag screw from the back side of the seat support – directly into the chair seat rail.


These are actually lag bolts/construction screws used to attached deck ledger boards.  They have self tapping “drill-less” threading to better  grab the wood.  They needed to be self tapping because I don’t own a drill bit six inches long.   And without a pilot hole, a regular lag bolt would likely split the wood.

With two of these installed I felt comfortable that the chair was fixed and it would have no problem supporting even the largest individuals.  However I knew that with just a little more repair work  I could make it stronger than when it was new.


So with some leftover IPE hardwood (pronounced “epay”) from another project I cut a small piece of wood that would be”sistered” to the original chair support with three outdoor rated deck screws.  (IPE is a fantastic outdoor wood. It’s very hard and mostly impervious to the weather, but it’s a bit tough to woodwork with being harder than Teak) and then another screw would be inserted from the back of the chair near the lag bolts.  This piece would in effect transfer some of the chairs’ support load to the back via second piece of the original chair platform, thereby taking some of the load off the lag bolts.


The end result is that the joint appears to be as strong as ever.  It doesn’t look real pretty but it’s certainly functional.  I think I could jump on the joint and it would not break.  I’ll return it back to its home this afternoon and personally use it to enjoy a post run and swim beverage.  Cheers!

the Fireplace Remodel, part 2

In the middle of the project, we decided to remove the step hearth in front on the fireplace and place the new hearth near or at the floor level, just peeking out above the carpet.  This meant a little demo in removing the OSB top and 2×10 framing.  It was actually pretty difficult to remove due to the carpenter being a little to overzealous with the nail gun.  But I did get the step torn out (without injury) and all the hidden saw dust vacuumed.  Lucky I had some left over Sheetrock I would need to patch the two openings previously hidden by the step,  you can see those below where the pink insulation is viable.


I had already covered most of the wall with black roofer felt which is used as a moisture barrier.  The barrier serves a few purposes.  One, to protect the drywall from the moisture in the mortar.  Two, to keep the moisture in the mortar, which slows the curing process, thereby resulting in a stronger finished material.  And lastly, it acts as a means to prevent cracking if there is movement between the stone and the wall due to any temperature and humidity changes within the house.

The next step is to cover the entire wall with metal lath.  I used 2.5lb lath as provided by our stone supplier.   This was a challenging process.  The lath can have a mind of its own and certainly has sharp edges, so be sure to wear leather gloves when handling this material.  Metal snips were used to cut it to size and lath screws were used to attach the lath to the wall studs.  Attach screws every 16 inches on the horizontal plane and every 6 inches on the vertical.  The lath itself should overlap 1 to 2 inches on the horizontal seams and 3 to 4 inches on the vertical.  It took about 3 hours due to the slow process on the trimming to size but it looks pretty good.  Note: there is a correct side of the lath to use away from the wall.  It’s the side where the bottom of the  little diamond shape openings form a little outward cup (presumably to help hold the scratch coat mortar.)


Applying the scratch coat mortar is skill that starts out poor, but you’ll quickly figure out what you’re doing and then the process will speed up.  The second half of the wall took about half the time as the first.  Mix the mortar following the manufacture instructions (I used a 5 gallon bucket and paddle mixer attached to a heavy-duty 1/2 inch drill), to a consistency of creamy peanut butter and use a flat trowel to apply.  Loading the trowel in the center only helps prevent mortar from dripping out as you push up and around and force the mortar into the lath, covering it to at least a 1/2 inch depth.  Take your time and expect mortar to drip out onto the floor.

IMG_1195Once the mortar has set up a bit (possibly 30 to 60 minutes of drying) use the notched side of a trowel to scratch groves into the mortar.   These little groves will increase the bonding between the stone mortar and the wall mortar/lath.


I plan to wait 48 hours (due to a busy schedule) and then we’ll have a go at installing the actual stone veneer.  Looking forward to that!

the Fireplace Remodel, part 3….

the Fireplace Remodel, part 1

It is time to get on with the fire-place remodel, even right smack in the middle of the Deck 2013 project.  I figure now that the summer heat and humidity is in full swing, I can take a break from the outdoor deck project and get on with a nice indoor project and enjoy some A/C.  We are tearing out the old ceramic tile fireplace tiles and replacing them with Eldorado Stone Mountain Ledge Panels ( Silverton.) from top to bottom.

Here we have the existing fireplace after removal of the ceramic tile.  The tile was fairly easy to remove with a hammer and a cold chisel. Most of the tiles popped up without cracking.

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It was now on to the removal of the very dated white wooden mantel.  I found the best way to remove this was to first remove the tiny top and bottom trim pieces.  With these gone I could get the crow bar behind the piece of 2×6 lumber the mantel was constructed around.  I few hammer smacks, along with some prying of the crow bar and the entire mantel came off in once piece; in nice enough condition to re-use if necessary.

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With the mantel and tile removed, it was on to the tile mastic glue covering the black metal surrounding the fireplace opening.  I considered the purchase of some type of chemical stripper but in the end settled on an ordinary heat gun.  With a just a few second of directed heat, the glue was somewhat easily scrapped off the metal.  A quick light sanding to remove the remaining glue residue and it was ready to paint (make sure you use paint designed for high heat applications).  Below is the finished opening.  You can still see the glue on the bottom of the fireplace which should be covered by the new stone or easily removed later if necessary.

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On to part 2…

the Downed Tree

A fierce thunderstorm blew through our neighborhood this past Sunday and broke apart a tall tree right next too our house.  It was a decent size branch that broke from the main trunk and landed on the roof.  I’ve had to deal with this sort of thing before so I knew I was up to the challenge to safely remove this from the house.

NOTE: Whenever you’re dealing with tree maintenance, safety is the most important factor to consider.  Trees are HEAVY!  This branch at the base where it broke from the tree might have been about six to eight inches in diameter and possibly twenty feet to the tip of the top branches, but I bet it’s weight was easily over a thousand pounds.  Fresh cut wood is referred to as “green” wood.  And green wood has a huge percentage of its weight in water.  Unless you know what your doing, I strongly recommend hiring a professional (like Treeo Tree Service) to do this type of project.


Branch on the roof!

To remove this safely I needed a tall 24 foot extension ladder, (electric) chain saw and my rock climbing gear (I’m thinking very few people have rock climbing gear and if you don’t, hire this job out).

I placed the ladder on the opposite side from where the tree split.  After donning my climbing harness and using gathered climbing gear, I climbed up the ladder and used what’s called a climbing runner and/or daisy chain to tie the ladder to the tree – this will prevent the ladder from moving .  I then set up another runner around the tree and through the ladder’s top rug.  The ladder was now secure to the tree and the second runner was ready for me to attach my hardness into.  I then examined my plan of attack on the limb.  This limb was still attached to the main trunk, that would need to be cut away.  In order to control this as much as possible, I used some old retired PMI rock climbing rope to tie off the end of the broken branch just above the split and then run that rope up and over a higher branch on the tree.  The other end of that rope is tied off to a ground level trunk of a large tree nearby.  You make this rope as tight as possible so when you cut through the broken branch, the now free branch doesn’t go flying who nos where!  I didn’t want the branch  just dropping from where it was hung up on the roof because the air conditioner was near where it would have fallen and I’m taking no chances in crushing my A/C.

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the Maven up in the tree developing his plan of attack.

In the next trip up the ladder I ‘ll be taking my chain saw.  Being a small 16 inch electric, it’s compact and easy to handle.  You’ve got the extension cord to deal with but that beats a running gas engine or one to start up on a ladder.  The saw cut through the branch in a about 5 seconds and then the branch only dropped about 3 inches before the climbing rope went to full tension and prevented the free branch from falling.  Just as planned!


Here the limb is hanging by the rope that’s up and over a taller branch and tied off a larger nearby tree.

I return to the ground and carefully loosened the tied off rope and slowly lowered the limb to the ground before cutting it up into firewood and such.  I’ve done this exact thing on another tree on the opposite side of the house, so I had some experience at this.  It took about 2 hours but don’t rush this sort of project, take your time and plan for safety.  If your not 100 percent sure what will happen after each of your moves, then as I said.  Hire a pro and let them take the risk.