After hooking up the 50 cent ceramic bulb holder in the back hallway, we soon were inspired to upgrade. A visit to two home centers found the light we were looking for. The Westinghouse Churchville fit our image of 'modern victorian' quite well. The cylindrical brushed nickel shapes on this lamp closely resemble our living room chandelier light, and with two compact fluorescent bulbs, we can double the amount of available light in the back hall, which has always been a little dim for our tastes. The Westinghouse light is a fairly good quality light. The metal parts leave a bit to be desired (especially in the upper end), but the glass shade is very thick and looks like it could take some mild abuse. Durability is fairly important in this area, because nearly everything that comes into or goes out of the house comes through this hallway. Construction lumber, bookcases, mattresses, and other large bulky items all move through here and could easily break a bulb if it's not properly protected. There's no wallboard up yet, but the light still looks pretty nice against bare lath. *shrug*

As a fine musician once said... "I'm downright amazed at what I can destroy with just a hammer." Well, in my case I mostly used a breaker bar. It's funny how a seemingly little project turns into a big project so very fast. The task list this morning included just a few items: rewire back hall light, install basement stair light, build base for upstairs washer/dryer. I was sure I'd be onto the last item within a couple of hours, and maybe get all three done today. I ended up taking all day on the first item. We had rewired the light at the top of the back stairs ages ago, but never got around to doing it's downstairs sibling because, well, we're bad at finishing projects, and it involved going back into the dark, cold, itchy attic. I started the seemingly simple task by attaching the new wire (14/2 romex) to the old wire (100 year old cloth covered ungrounded cable), then I went into the attic and pulled on the old wire, hard. It pulled a few inches up, and then stopped. I went back downstairs and scratched my head - it appears that it should have pulled, but something was stopping it. I resigned myself to the idea that I'd have to take all the plaster off the ceiling before I could see what was hanging it up. It was going to come down soon anyway, so why not now? Now, if demolishing plaster sounds like a lot of work, it is, and it's messy too. It's not just plaster that comes down - it's bits of wood, it's insulation, it's dust, it's mouse poop. Basically, everything that could make it's way into the ceiling cavity in 100 years. I went upstairs for some heavy plastic and masking tape and taped up the doorway to the kitchen. No mouse poop in Z's kitchen! Not if I could help it. I climbed the ladder and proceeded to swing the hammer in the direction of the plaster. I managed to get some down, but it was slow going. Now where did I put that glorious tool, the breaker bar? The breaker bar is a nearly 3 foot long chunk of steel and looks like a crowbar, but twice as thick. It's the perfect demolition tool. Things went a bit faster then. Soon, I had the whole ceiling demolished. Heck, I had the room taped off and the perfect tool in hand, why not take down the walls too? Within the hour, I had the whole room stripped down to the lath, and a layer of rubble 4 inches thick on the floor. From previous experience, I knew that taking the lath off too would mean lots of fiddly work with removing nails, and the drywall would then never come flush with the trim - our new technique is to remove the plaster, which is about as thick as 1/4 inch drywall, but leave the lath in place. Because I didn't want plaster raining down on us before the ceiling drywall went up, I also removed every other lath board in the ceiling - this released the plaster 'keys', but still held the blown fiberglass insulation in place. To get the plaster out of the house, I used a snow shovel and a 5 gallon bucket. It took 11 buckets (2 lath, 9 plaster), and our driveway now sports a stylish pile of rubble to show the neighbors how handy we are. Finally, I was able to see why the wire wasn't fishing. I removed a bit of blown fiberglass, most of which rained down on me, reached up into the ceiling and discovered a whole new world! The space I had accessed is attic space, but it's hidden behind the knee wall of the 'bonus room' above the kitchen. I'd always known it was there, but never actually seen it. COOL. The original insulation is visible (newspaper), and I discovered a few things up there - two old metal table legs, an old cigarette tin, and an invitation to a lodge meeting from 1912! It's amazing what you find in old houses! OK, on with the show, as they say. What was it that was stopping me from just pulling the new wire up to the attic? A single cable staple, not 6 inches from the light fixture. If I could have reached up there and released it, I could have been done with the whole job in a half hour. Well, at least I got to use the breaker bar. *rolls eyes* Once the staple was removed, I fished the wire, installed a blue plastic electrical box, then a ceramic single bulb fixture to the ceiling and connected the other end of the wire to a junction box in the attic. In the basement, I flipped the circuit back on, and back upstairs revealed a problem. The downstairs light was on all the time - the switch didn't do anything! Alas, I wired it to the wrong box! Back in the attic following wires around lead me to the light at the top of the stairs, where I spliced the downstairs wire into the upstairs fixture. Finally, the light works, the wall plaster is down and ready for drywall, the ceiling is better insulated and I even put up a vapor barrier. Tomorrow, we will go light fixture hunting to replace the 50 cent ceramic jobber. Next up on the short list - install a light fixture in the basement stairs. Aw heck, maybe I'll just rip the wall down, open it up to the back hallway and make it into a mudroom.

Just after starting the job
Ceiling gone
Walls gone, rubble piled up in front of the basement door
Rubble piled high in front of the back door
What a beautiful sight.
I took down every other lath so the plaster keys would fall out but still hold up the blown insulation
More rubble - the insulation in the wall at the left was a previous project
11 buckets of rubble picked up with a snow shovel, and the little stuff was eaten by the shop vac
The light installed with a new bit of insulation and a vapor barrier!
The layout of the back hallway with stairs up on the left, the basement stairway, and the kitchen

For 3 years now, we've lived with a very mediocre electrical system in the basement. It went a bit like this: 1 electrical box (2 outlets), used for water heater and washing machine (over a very long heavy duty extension cord) 3 single light bulbs - one switched, and two with pull chains. That's not an adequate system to support 2 basement rooms. One half of each room was impossible to light without a supplementary floor lamp plugged into a very long extension cord. The basement has always looked dark and gloomy. So today, I set out to change all this. I'm installing 6 single bulb light fixtures and 5 outlet boxes (10 additional outlets) The switch at the top of the basement stairs will light 3 bulbs in the first basement room, and an additional switch in the doorway to the second room will light 3 more bulbs. For outlets, I'll have a GFCI in each room, feeding another set of outlets. For the first time, the washing machine will have ITS' OWN outlet! Almost all the existing wiring in the basement is affixed to the lower surface of the joists, and most of them run diagonally in a straight shot to where the power is needed. Running wires this way makes for a really ugly electrical system. All of my new work is bored through the joists with small (1/4 inch) holes, and only at right angles. Wherever I could, I've run multiple lines in the same joist bay and usually on the side of the bay most visible when walking through the basement. Once the wiring is complete and tested, I'll pull out our dryer circuit breaker (our old dryer hasn't worked for years). Tossing the 220V circuit will free up two slots for 110V circuits - a breaker each for lighting and outlets. As a side benefit, I discovered why we had power running through the ORIGINAL fuse box. The only purpose for running power to the box was simply to connect the light switch to it's bulb. It was fed by ancient knob & tube wiring and the fuse was still installed but bypassed. I've disconnected the box entirely, which removes yet another legacy device from the system - eventually the house will be knob & tube free!

I got my early Christmas present a few weeks ago - a Delta table saw. I have my first REAL woodworking tool, so I went searching for some woodworking plans. What I found is a treasure-trove. If you need a bed frame, a workbench, a kitchen table, or shelving, there are simple plans for it all, using inexpensive materials. It's an incredible resource (thanks Matthias - keep up the good work) For 3 years, we haven't wanted to store anything in the basement, because it occasionally gets wet during heavy rains. It has only flooded a bit once, when the sewer drain backed up (YUCK), but usually it's just a bit of water that comes through the old foundation. One particular shelving plan ( really impressed me, by it's simplicity. I already had most of the materials on hand, and it only took a couple of days to put together. Three upright 2x4s are nailed into the joists at the ceiling and run to the floor. Some brackets are constructed from pieces of 2x4, cut with an angle at one end, and affixed to the uprights with some gussets of 3/4 inch plywood. My shelves are a bit more primitive than the plans available on woodgears, but I really don't care that they look beautiful - just that they are functional. The total cost of materials was less than $50. The most expensive part was the planking: $30 for 6, 10 foot 2x8s. I also plan to build a workbench in the basement, and then maybe a foosball table, which is basically just a table with a game box on top. UPDATE: Finally swept up most of the dust, plaster, stone pieces, sawdust and insulation from the floor in the basement. That would be a drag if it went down the floor drain and backed up the sewer again.

One of the gussetted brackets
Even the lowest shelf is held several inches above the floor.
At the top, the uprights are nailed to the sides of the joists above.

Happy holidays to all, from our Never-ending Two Story.

Wisconsin was recently hit with a blizzard, which dumped up to 20 inches of snow on the ground in less than 36 hours. We ended up getting about 16-18 inches, and it was VERY heavy stuff. The temperature was just below freezing when it came down, so it ended up sticking to everything. It's great stuff for building snow forts and snowmen, but when you need to shovel it off your sidewalk or driveway, it's hard work. Thankfully, we bought a snowblower a couple of years ago, and it is serving us well. Many family's little 2-stroke snow throwers couldn't handle the amount we got, so I helped clear the sidewalk, nearly to the end of the block in 2 directions, then opened up three neighbor's driveways, before finally finishing our own.

All the snow on everything inspired me into the White Christmas spirit, so I surprised Z. with a real Christmas tree! We had earlier settled on putting up the plastic tree, which was somewhat of a disappointment. The last time we put up the fake tree was before we bought our house. There's nothing quite like the smell of a real tree in the house.

Happy Solstice, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Squidmas, or any other winter celebration you're into.

Stay warm!

The moist snow stuck to everything, and this is what we woke up to - the cedar leaning over to touch the roof!
Here is our car with 16 inches of snow on it.
I surprised Z the other day by buying a real Christmas tree. We had planned to put the plastic one up, so it was a big surprise
This little guy is almost 30 years old - the red elf represents my twin brother, and there's a green one that is me.
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