Gilles' Outlet

September 30, 2007

lnstalling a Cable Jack

Filed under: House Remodelling — Gilles @ 5:38 am

A cable jack is installed.


Skill Level: 1 (Very Basic)

Time Taken: About 5 minutes

New houses are usually pre-wired for cable, phone, Cat5e network… In old houses, it is sometimes necessary to add  new cable jack.

The materials for this project. From left to right:

  • A box of "no tool" type cable connectors. There are two kind of connectors: the ones which require a special tool to be installed (the connector is pressed in place onto the cable) and the tool-less ones,
  • A cable jack designed for in-wall box mount,
  • A face plate.

These items were purchased at the local Home Depot.

Left: The box for the cable jack has already been installed and the cable was already pulled.

The cable was cut so there is about 5” of play. 

Right: I used a sharp utility knife to remove the first layer of insulation (the black plastic). I exposed a little less than 1” of the conductor.

It is critical to not cut deeper than the insulation. If so, you will cut the wire and the jack may not function.

Left: I use a pair of cutting pliers to cut the outer wire mesh. I cut the mesh so only 1/4” was left. Again, I made sure not to damage the central conductor.

Right: I used wire stripper to remove the insulation protecting the central connector.

Left: I ensured that no part of the wire mesh was in contact with the central connector (aka no short circuit).

I twisted a cable connector onto the wire end. I made sure that it was locked in tight.

Right: Detail of the connector: the central conductor protrudes about 1/2”.

I visually inspected the work to make sure no wire mesh was in contact with the central conductor (no short circuit).

Left: I treated the connector nut onto the back of the jack and screwed it tight. I hand tightened the connection. I did not use any wrench or tool to avoid over-tightening.

Right: I carefully folded the cable into the box avoiding to bend it or kink it. I threaded the screws provided with the jack and tighten them using a flat screwdriver.

I positioned the face plate and threaded the provided screws. I tighten the screws with a flat screwdriver.

That is all there is to do. The next step is to test the newly installed jack.

NOTE: I have witnessed cable company technicians install new cable jacks. They do not go through all this trouble. The just drill a hole in one of the wall, all the way through, pass the cable into it and install a connector at the end of the cable. This practice creates a large cold air draft through the hole, not to mention an easy way in for bugs. It is a shame, provided that this operation only took about 5 minutes, time to take pictures included.

To avoid the air draft, I plugged the hole in the wall with insulating expanding foam, installed an electrical box and threaded the cable through it. The foam makes the hole air tight and the box, besides being required by electrical code, makes it a little harder for bugs to go inside the house.

Tools Used:

  • Flat Screwdriver
  • Utility Knife
  • Wire cutter

Materials Used:

  • One "no tool" cable connector
  • One cable jack
  • One face plate


June 24, 2007

Repairing a damaged exterior wood gate

Filed under: House Remodelling — Gilles @ 5:55 am

An exterior wood gate is disassembled, repaired and hung. New hinges and hardware is installed.


Skill Level: 2 (Basic)

Time Taken: About 3 Hours

In this article, we remove the door from its hinges and fix a moderate split in one of the post. The gate is then unassembled, damaged wood is replaced. The frame is hung, boards are attached and new hardware is installed.

The subject of this article, seen from the inside (the door swings toward the photographer).

It is not immediately obvious on this picture, but there are many problems with this door:

  1. The door does not operates smoothly. It needs to be held up to swing,
  2. It is clearly not square (there is more space between the door and the post at the top hinge than at the bottom hinge),
  3. The wood has split at various places, including the bottom of the left post,
  4. It can only be opened from outside,
  5. Hardware is badly rusted.


Left: I started the repair by a full inpsection of the door.

The top hinge is fastened to a piece of treated 2×4. The wood is clearly split. Hinge and fasteners are rusted. There seems to be various different kind of fasteners used.


Right: The bottom hinge is rusted. It is mounted with a surprisingly wide range of fasteners: there are two 3” screws jammed in the same hole (top) and one 1-5/8” machine screw in the bottom hole. The hinge barely holds in place: I could move it by hand.

Finally, the post seems to have split. I suspect the damage can be repaired without replacing the post but I will need to gain access to the area under the hinge to confirm this.

Left: I used an impact driver to remove the screws on the bottom hinge. They came out without a fight.


Right: A large socket ratchetting wrench allowed me to remove the lag screws holding the hinge to the post. I held the door in place as I was removing the lag screws.

When the hinge was loose, I removed the door from the opening and sat it aside.

Left: I probed the left pole for weaknesses. I could not move it by hand. It was set in a concrete base which appeared in good shape.

Right: I used a 24” level to check the post for plumb. It was almost perfectly plumb on all faces. That was a good sign.

Split put aside, the post appeared to be in good condition.

Left: Upon closer inspection of the split post, I found various nails, probably installed to contain the problem. Many of them were badly rusted.

I used a mecanic’s bent pry bar to pop the head of nails out of the wood and removed them with a regular pry bar.


Right: I slid the tip of the mecanic’s pry bar in the split to gauge the severity of the damage. It felt like the sliver was still holding very strongly to the post. The split looked very clean.

I decided that the split could be contained and there was no need to replace the post.

Left: I injected exterior, waterproof wood glue in the split as I maintained it open with the pry bar.


Right: I used a plumber’s flux brush to work the glue in the opening. I applied glue from the top first: gravity drew the excess down.


It is notoriouly difficult to sucessfully glue pressure treated wood. There are three major reasons:


  • Pressure treated wood usually contains a lot of moisture when purchased and water is a solvent for most popular "yellow" (known as "PVA") wood glues like the Titebond familly in their liquid form. However, there are poluyrethane based wood glues. For these type of glue, water actually accelerates the curing process. It is worth using these when the wood is wet (brand new treated lumber for instance).
  • When glued wet, the large shrinkage of pressure treated wood puts much more stress on the glued joints, causing them to fail much faster.
  • Usually, people want to glue pressure treated wood for exterior applications. In this case, it is mandatory to use a waterproof glue. Water resistant glue resists water for some time and then give way while waterproof glue, in theory, is not affected by water after curing.

In my experience, gluing wet pressure treated wood sucessfully is difficult, especially with brand new lumber. To maximize your chances of success, leave the wood in a dry area for up to 90 days (depending on the air humidity of your location) before using it and bind with polyurehtane based glue.

Now, I am in the best case scenario: the post has been installed for at least 3 years and I know it is pretty dry. Moreover, it has already shrunk and elements have already washed some of the preservative away. My experience told me that it was fine to use a waterproof PVA glue here.

Left: I installed a few clamps to maintain the lips of the split in contact. Clamps were set to be tight but I made sure not to overtighten: this would have squeezed much of the glue out of the joint and defeat the purpose.


Right: I decided to hold the split tight with a few exterior 3-1/2” deck screws. To prevent further wood splitting, I pre-drilled about four holes.

I chose a drill bit which was 25% smaller than the shank of the screw.

Left: I drove four 3-1/2” exterior deck screws using an impact driver. I made sure to drive them so their heads were flush with the surface of the post.


Right: The finished repair: I have removed all clamps and cleaned the excess glue with a wet sponge. It is easy to see the four screws on the right face of the pole. The last one was installed on the corner.

Left: I turned my attention to the door. Using the same large ratchetting wrench, I removed both hinges.

Right: I discovered two badly split pieces of 2×4. Fasteners started to rust and stained the wood, probably due to the combination of water and the corrosive effect of the preservative used to treat the lumber.

Left: Using a reciprocating saw with a short metal cutting blade, I cut all nails attaching the top and bottom 2×4 to the sides.


Right: I pryed the frame from the board. This left a bunch of nails protruding from the door’s boards. I used a hammer to push them down out of the board gently.

 They are in good condition and I plan to re-use them because the door must keep its "old" look as much as possible while function well at the same time.

Left: I cut a piece of new pressure treated 2×4 using a circular saw. I held my framing speed square as a guide for the saw to ensure a straight cut. Using this trick you can cut dimensional lumber quickly, accurately and safely.


Right: I pre-drilled holes for 16d galvanized common nails. I used a drill bit which was 20% smaller than the shank of the nail. This prevents the wood from splitting. This is especially required here since I am going to nail very close to the end of the board.

Left: I used a pneumatic palm nailer to drive two 16d galvanized common nails.

This is called "face nailing" (nailing on the face of one 2×4 through it, into another piece of wood). Face nailing provides a great holding power.


Right: Ater nailing the frame back together, I cut two pieces of treated 2×4 and attached them to the frame and with 3-1/2” deck screws. I then attached them to the cross bracing with two 2-1/2 deck screws. This will give the cross bracing and the frame extra strength.

Left: The finished frame, ready to be hung. 


Right: The glued post after 24 hours. The repair can barely be seen. However, there is a slight edge (about 1/16”).

As small as it seems, 1/16” will cause the hinge to not sit flat on the surface and increasing the stress. This will cause the hinge and / or the wood to fail sooner than expected.

Left: I used a finish sander with 60 grit sand paper to sand the bump flat. It took only a few minutes.

Sanding pressure treated wood creates dust with dangerous chemicals: avoid sanding pressure treated lumber if at all possible. If you must sand treated lumber, wear lungs, eyes protection and perform sanding in a well ventillated area. Clean all tools well and wash work clothes separately from other clothes to help prevent cross contamination.

I clean my sander with blasts of compressed air.


Right: The new hardware for the door. On the left: lock (can be opened from both sides), the new door handle. Right: new hinges.

Left: The frame sitting in the door opening. It is held by two temporary cleats of wood clamped on posts. The door frame was made perfectly plumb and level by adjusting the cleats under it. 

Right: Detail of the temporary cleat on the left. It is essentially a piece of scrap 2×2 held in place by a vise like clamp. The door frame rests on it.

This allowed me to see exactly where hinges need to be attached. Before proceeding to the next step, I made sure everything was setup plumb, level and square one last time.

This is critical: doors don’t function well if they are installed out of plumb or level.

Left: I pre-drilled holes on the post for lag screws holding the top hinge in place. Holes were 20% smaller than the shank of said lag screws.

I use an impact driver equipped with a socket to drive the lag screw. I made sure the hinge was perfectly plumb before tightening.

The hinge is clearly not straight on the picture. I had to drop it as I was taking the picture. 

Right: I pre-drilled the holes on the frame for lags screws holding the other part of the top hinge. Holes were 20% smaller than the shank of the lag screws.

Left: I removed the left temporary cleat to gain acess to the area where the bottom hinge will sit. The frame is held by its top hinge and the temporary cleat on the right. 


Right: I verified the level and plumb one last time and installed the bottom hinge following the same procedure.

I removed the temporary cleat and verified that the door swung freely and nicely.

Left: I re-installed boards on the frame. I inserted a  spacer (a piece of wood with the right width) between the previous board and the board to install to ensure an even spacing. I positioned two old fasteners in their holes.

Right: Using a pneumatic palm nailer, I drove two nails in the top section of the frame and then, two nails at the bottom and two nails in the cross brace.

Left: After installing all boards back, I turned my attention to the lock. Again, I pre-drilled holes for lags screws. 


Right: The door, with the new hardware installed. I had to fabricate a little support block to hold the hardware. It is made out of two pieces of 2×4 screwed together with 2-1/2 deck screws.

This block was secured to the frame with four 3-1/2” deck screws.

The door, seen from the outside. The only trace of the repair is the holes left by the old hardware (top left) and the black handle allowing the door to be opened from outside.


Notice that there is no hardware on the outside of the door, which might make it a little difficult to close it from the outside. This is done on purpose: homeowners wanted the door to look almost like if it was a regular part of the fence, not a door.

Tools Used:

  • Pneumatic Palm Nailer
  • Ractchetting Socket Wrench 
  • Cordless Drill 
  • Cordless Impact Driver 
  • Reciprocating Saw
  • Clamps 
  • Basic Carpentry Tools

Materials Used:

  • Treated Lumber (2×4)
  • Door hinge & Lock kit
  • Galvanized, Hot Dipped 16d common framing nails
  • 3-1/2” Deck Screws
  • 2-1/2” Deck Screws

June 2, 2007

Repairing a titled porch

Filed under: House Remodelling — Gilles @ 6:31 pm

A tiled porch is repaired after a few tiles fell by themselves during a moderate rain storm.


Skill Level: 2 (Basic)

Time Taken: About 2 Hours

During a moderate rain storm, several tiles fell off a porch. We inspect the tiling job for loose tiles, prepare surfaces for repair, mix some modified thin-set, apply and comb it. Tiles are installed and grout lines are filled.

Left: the affected section of the porch. I know tiles were laid less than 6 months before they fell. Well installed tiles last for years, even outside.

Combs in mortar are clearly visible. This means that the back of the tile did not come in contact (or very little) with the mortar. This is clearly the signature of a hack job done by a clueless homeowner.

Right: I started the repair by inspecting all other tiles. To see if a tile was not set properly, pros hit it gently with their index or the back of a plastic putty knife. If this produces a hollow sound, the tile has not been set properly.

I found about 7 improperly installed tiles, some had already started to separate from their substrate. I tried to pry them loose with a putty knife but none gave way.

I would normally use a flat piece of metal to force tiles off but I had only time to repair the existing damage. In the future, more repairs will likely be needed in this area.

Left: I inspected the back of the failed tiles. There were no trace of any mortar. This told me that the tiles were not pressed down in the mortar or there was not enough mortar applied.

The small areas where the mortar actually touched tiles were breaking, almost like sand. This indicates that the mortar used was not designed for exterior use. Rain washed the mortar away, leaving the sand behind.

It is difficult to see but most tiles still had the store’s price tag sticker attached to it (left, under my wrist). This prevents adhesion so it needs to be removed.

Right: using a flat tipped cold chisel and a masonry hammer, I removed all pieces of loose mortar. I also removed all high spots to ensure there would be enough room for the new mortar.

Left: as I was removing loose mortar, the chisel caught under an adjacent tile and pried it loose. I got lucky not to break it. The tile’s back came off clean, like all others. I cleaned the old mortar under the newly removed tile.


Right: I used a masonry brush to clean the area. For the mortar to adhere well, surfaces must be perfeclty clean, dry and free of dust. This step is critical.

Left: a 25lbs bag of VERSABOND Fortified Thin-Set Mortar which can be purchased at most home centers. It is polymer modified and approved for interior and exterior use.

Non modified thin-set will cure hard and will be prone to cracks if the substrate moves. Polymer modified thin-set will cure flexible which dramatically reduces future cracks.

Right: I pourred about 1/4 of the bag in an empty 5 gallons bucket. The tool in the bucket is a mixing paddle. It is attached to a corded drill and makes mixing thin-set an easy and quick task.

NOTE: When pourring thin-set, it is important to be in a well ventillated area and to wear respiratory protection. This product contains Portland cement, which is bad for lungs.

I added about 3/4 quart of water (as indicated on the bag), turned on the drill on low speed and mixed the thinset for a few minutes. It is essentially like making custard with a beater.

Left: the mixed batch. Instructions said to let it set for about 10 minutes so I cleaned the paddle and prepared the tools I’ll use when laying tiles.


Right: after about 10 minutes, I gave the thin-set a gentle mix as specified by the instructions. When mixed right, it has the consistency of a paste.

Left: I used the flat side of a square notched trowel to apply the thinset.

When applying mortar, it is important to use the right notched trowel. For this thin-set, the manufacturer calls for a 1/4” x 1/4” x 1/4” notched trowel. It means that notches are squares 1/4” deep and 1/4” wide.

Right: the bead of thin-set before combing. I made sure there was enough mortar for tiles to come in contact with it almost everywhere. In this case, it took a more mortar than usual because the substrate was so uneven to begin with.

Notice that the bead is relatively flat.

Left: using the notched side of the trowel, I notched the bead of thin-set.

Notches help thin-set to spread evenly and to adhere to the back of tiles.



Right: I laid the first tile in position, carefully aligning it with the previous tile in the row. I also tried to leave a small gap between the tiles so the repair would blend in.

Left: I gently moved the tile left and right, back and forth about 1/4” to ensure an even distribution of mortar under it.

Right: I laid a scrap of 2×4 over the tile and genty tapped the tile down with a hammer. This pushed the title down into the mortar. I repeated the operation over the whole surface of the tile.

Now, these two steps were not done when the porch was originally tiled and this is why it failed less than 6 months after.

I laid the remaining tiles following the same technique. It took only a few minutes to lay the tiles.

Once all tiles were laid, I applied a thin bead of thin-set to fill in the gaps between tiles (called grout lines). Now you should (unlike me) wear rubber gloves: touching thin-set with bare hands can damage your skin and is not recomended.  

Using a wet sponge, I removed all thin-set traces on tiles but not on grout lines. Essentially, the technique here is the same as if I was applying grout, only I am using thin-set instead of grout.

Now, this is wrong. Thin-set should not be put in between tiles. This is a place reserved for tile grout. I did it this way because the whole porch was done like this and I wanted the repair to visually blend in.

Whoever did this job could not be bothered with waiting for the thinset to dry and then filling gaps with grout.

The two vertical slates had a tendency to fall down so I wedged two pieces of scrap 2×4 to maintain them in place, down in the mortar.

I let the thin-set dry overnight. On the next morning, I removed the supports and finished clean up the area.

Tools Used:

  • Masonry Hammer
  • Cold Chisel
  • Masonry Brush
  • Notched Trowel
  • Corded Drill & 4” Mixing Paddle
  • Spunge

Materials Used:

  • Polymer Modified Thin-Set (exterior) – about 6lbs 

April 15, 2007

Replacing soffit vents

Filed under: House Remodelling — Gilles @ 11:39 pm

A soffit vent is rebuilt from scratch. An inactive bird nest is discovered and removed from the attic.


Skill Level: 2 (Basic)

Time Taken: About One Hour

Attic ventilation is important. Good ventillation in the attic prevents mold growth, moisture and helps prevent rot.

In this article, we demolish a poorly repaired soffit vent, discover an inactive bird nest and remove it. We build a custom frame out of cedar lumber, staple soffit mesh and install it on the house.

Left: the soffit vent to rebuild.

Clearly, someone did a sloppy job: the vent is half obstructed by what appears to be a ripped piece of 2×4. The mesh is covered with paint restraining most of the airflow.

Right: a lader with wing was used. Working on a ladder is very dangerous. Use common sense and follow the instructions of your ladder’s manufacturer.

And by the way, I cannot be held responsible for anything which may happen to you as a result of reading this blog. Always consult a professional.

Left: I used a flat pry bar to remove the toenailed piece of wood and peeled the mesh.

It was held in place with various fasteners, none of them galvanized. Most were pretty badly rusted. The whole assembly hid an inactive bird nest.

Right: as I peeled more mesh, I noticed a duct discharging close to the vent. That duct was traced back to a bathroom fan.

This is a major problem. This is an intake vent. All moisture extracted by the bathroom fan is immediately carried in the attic by the air entering through the vent. Moisture accumulates in the attic. This is bad. 

This will not be addressed today but it will in a future article.

The mess seen from the attic. I took this picture before removing the soffit block so I knew about the nest and the duct.

The black flexible duct comes from a bathroom fan. It will need to be vented through the roof but this is another story. When this is done, all remaining traces of bird’s nest will be removed.

The vertical pipe on the right is a plumbing vent. It is actually the main stack’s vent.

Back on the soffit side. I removed all unused nails and staples I could using a pair of pliers.

I carefully measured the opening and removed 1/32” on each side to facilitate installation and give the wood some expansion room. It ended up being 22-1/8 x 3-1/2. None of the building supply stores I know about carry such a soffit vent cover so I decided to make my own from scratch.

Left: I cut all pieces to dimension using a power miter saw.

I used 1×2 rough sawn cedar (actual dimensions: 5/8 x 1-1/2). Insects and other rodents dislike cedar oils. It is critical to make the attic very unappealing to birds, insects and other rodents.

Right: I dry fitted all pieces on a flat surface and measured one last time to make sure the box would fit.

Left: I applied a generous bead of waterproof wood glue (rated for exterior applications) to both ends of the longest pieces.


Right: I assembled the frame and clamped it to hold pieces in place as the glue dries.

Left: I drove one hot dipped galvanized common 4d nail in every side of the box. It was easy because the clamp maintained pieces together tightly.


Right: a roll of "kwikmesh" utility screen. It is a 1/8” galvanized mesh specifically designed for soffit vents or foundation vents. It comes in 4” x 25′ rolls.

Left: a piece of mesh was cut to length using a pair of tin snips. I also had to rip about 1/2” of the mesh.

Right: the mesh was stapled to the frame using 18 gauge galvanized narrow crown staples. I used a pneumatic stapler and drove a staple about every inch.

That’s a lot of staples but I really wanted the mesh to stay well attached to the frame. Loose mesh will let insects in and tear more easily under wind pressure.

In general, galvanized fasteners should be used for all exterior applications. Moreover, cedar’s natural preserving oils are highly corrosive and galvanized fasteners (or better stainless steel) must always be used in cedar.

Regular (aka "bright") fasteners will rust very quickly.

The finished frame seen as it will be when installed. The mesh stands at the back of the frame so it is slightly more protected from the weather (not much more).

The yellow mark on the left side is a trace of chalk I have not yet removed.

Left: the frame was positionned in the opening. It fit snuggly.

Right: I fastened the frame to the rafters using one hot dipped galvanized common 4d nail on each side.

Once the vent was installed, I could feel the air getting sucked into the attic through the mesh.

Tools Used:

  • Power Miter Saw 
  • Pneumatic Stapler
  • Clamp
  • Flat Pry Bar
  • Tin Snips
  • Ladder With Wing
  • Basic Carpentry Tools

Materials Used:

  • Cedar 1 X 2 (actual 5/8” x 1-1/2”)
  • Galvanized Soffit Mesh
  • Galvanized Hot Dipped 4d common nails
  • Galvanized 5/8, 18 gauge narrow crown staple
  • Waterproof Wood Glue

February 19, 2007

Rebuilding and insulating an attic hatch

Filed under: House Remodelling — Gilles @ 5:23 am

An attic access hatch made of drywall is replaced by a plywood board. Insulation is added and the opening is weather stripped. Latches are added.

Skill Level: 2 (Basic)

Time Taken: A Couple Of Hours

In Washington, the recommended R-Value for attics is R-38. Building codes call for the hatch to be insulated at the same R-Value as the attic. Without insulation, an attic hatch is basically a large hole in the ceiling through which warm air can easily escape from the house.

Left: the access seen from the attic. It is framed with 2×4. It is difficult to see but the access panel rests on a 1/2 border all around the opening.

Right: the current access panel: a piece of 1/2 drywall without insulation. Such a board has an R-Value of 0.45. It is an easy way out for warm air.

The brown material around the hatch is a form of insulation called silvawool.

I cut a piece of 1/2 birch plywood to the dimensions of the existing access panel. I chose birch plywood because this is what I had.

Any other type plywood would have been fine. I would avoid OSB (Oriented Stranded Board) because its rough surface shows through the paint.

A table saw would have made this task easier and faster but I do not own one so I clamped a piece of aluminium and used it as a straight edge to guide my circular saw.

I used a 100 teeth fine blade specifically designed to do smooth cuts and minimize material chipping. A framing blade would have left rough edges.

I primed the best side of the board with a good quality latex primer. I let the board dry overnight and applied one coat of good quality latex paint. After the first coat dried, I lightly sanded it with a sanding block equipped with 220 grit paper. A second coat of paint was then applied.

The board is going to be visible at the ceiling so I used a flat sheen paint to match the surrounding areas.

I cut four pieces of 2” foam insulation to the exact size of the wood board. I used a utility knife with a long blade and proceeded in multiple passes. A table saw or a manual saw would have worked too.

Four pieces of this 2” foam insulation at R-10 per layer stacked onto one another will provide R-40.

Left: I removed all traces of dust on the back side of the board and applied a generous bead of construction adhesive.

Right: The bead of adhesive. Notice how the bead goes near the edge without being too close so it won’t ooze all over the place when foam pieces are stacked and held in place. 


I drove a few 2 1/2” wood screws at the corners, center and around the edges to hold the first piece of foam to the board.

The foam board is 2” thick and the plywood is 1/2” thick so I had to be very careful not to drive screws through the plywood.

It is easier than it looks: hold the foam tight on the wood and drive the screw. Stop when the impact driver starts impacting. You can then verify the depth and use the impact driver to do the last half turn.

Left: The four pieces of foam stacked onto each other. The white wooden board can be seen at the bottom.

I used a couple of cans of paints to hold the boards as the adhesive cured.

I could have used a few large C-Clamps but I would have had to protect the top foam board to avoid marring it with the tip of the clamps.

Right: Not all boards were exactly the same dimension. This is OK since this part will be concealed in the attic.

If this becomes a problem, they I can always be trimmed with a saw. 


Left: A piece of self adhesive "D" weather stripping. Strips can be separated by making a small starting cut in between them and pulling them apart.


Each "D" strip is 3/8” wide and 1/4” thick.


Right: I installed weather stripping (one D strip) around the attic opening. The hatch will rest on it and prevent air infiltration.


Left: I replaced the attic hatch with the one just built. It fit snugly and looked great without the popcorn texture.

Right: However, there was a visible gap on the short sides of the hatch.  This is not good because warm air will escape through this gap.

In fact, I could feel a draft when I took the picture.


Left: To create a tight seal, I installed the rotating part of a sash lock on both short sides of the hatch. 

Right: With the attic hatch in position, I marked the location of the strike plate on the wall.

The strike plate was positionned so when the lock is closed, the hatch is pulled down. This compresses the gasket enough to create a tight seal all around the hatch.

The lock came with 1/2” screws which were too short (the drywall is 1/2”) so I secured the strike plate with 1” drywal screws. The head of the drywall screws fit snuggly into the countersunk hole of the strike plate.


Left: I cut the drywall so the index of the sash lock could freely rotate into its strike plate. 

Right: The sash lock after installation, in closed position. Notice the gap is now closed.

Left: The hatch before insulation and weather stripping. 


Right: The new insulated hatch with weatherstripping and sash locks.

Tools Used:

  • Cordless Impact Driver
  • Cordless Circular Saw
  • Tape Measure
  • Utility Knife  
  • Basic Painting Tools
  • Caulking Gun

Materials Used:

  • Birch Plywood 1/2 thick, approximately 24” x 30”
  • Latex based Primer and Paint
  • Rigid insulating foam R-10 (2” thick)
  • Construction Adhesive
  • "D" Self Adhesive Weatherstripping
  • Two sash locks 
  • 2 1/2" Wood Screws

January 26, 2007

Installing a door viewer (peephole) in a metal door

Filed under: House Remodelling — Gilles @ 7:29 am

A door viewer is installed in a metal door.

Skill Level: 1 (Easy)

Time Taken: Approximately 20 minutes
A door viewer is a cheap and easy way to enhance security at your front door. These simples steps show how to add one to a metal front door.

Left: The door viewer to install. It can fit doors from 1 3/4” to 2” thick and offers a viewing angle of 200 degrees. The wider the angle, the better.

It is approved for installation in fire rated doors. I purchased it at a local home center for less than $5. 

Right: I started the installation by marking the center of the door viewer with a pencil. It is centered horizontally and 5′ high from the finished floor.

Anyone old enough to answer the door should be able to use the door viewer and 5′ from the floor allows a teenager to use the device without problems. 

Left: On the inside of the door, I drilled a 1/8” pilot hole at the location I just marked.

I made sure to drill through one side of the door only. This technique eliminates potential material chipping on the edges of the hole on the other side of the door.

Right: Using a 9/16” metal bit, I drilled over the pilot hole.

With the 9/16” bit, I drilled through the insulation located in between the two sides of the metal door and went far enough to make a dent visible from the outside of the door. I did not actually drill the hole completely.

Left: From the outside, I drilled a 1/8” pilot hole over the dent made in the previous step.


Right: I used the 9/16” bit to drill the complete hole on the outside of the door.

Left: I applied a bead of siliconized exterior latex caulk around the outside end of the hole.


Right: I inserted the outside part of the door viewer and pressed it into the bead of caulk.

Left: I threaded the inside piece of the door viewer in the outside piece, through the hole.

Normally, I would have applied expanding insulating foam in the hole before tightening the door viewer but in this case, the bead of caulk and the insulation inside the door were sufficient.

Right: I finished screwing the inside part. The last quarter turn was done by pushing the assembly using a large flat screwdriver.

I could also have used the back of the blade of a large kitchen knife. It is a little easier to tighten the assembly because the blade acts on both rabets instead of one but you need to be careful not to cut yourself with the blade.

Finally, I removed all excess caulk which oozed aroud the outside part of the door viewer and smoothed the bead.


Tools Used:

  • Corded Drill 
  • Tape Measure
  • Caulking Gun

Materials Used:

  • Door Viewer 
  • Exterior Siliconized Latex Caulk

January 10, 2007

Finishing a garage window redux

Filed under: House Remodelling — Gilles @ 6:36 am

In a previous entry, I described how I refinished a garage window step by step. Today, I have put the finishing touches to the project: third drywall coat, caulk aroud the window, a few coats of paint and a Basic Blendz mini blind:


And here is a detail of the bottom left corner:


January 1, 2007

Weatherstripping an entry door

Filed under: House Remodelling — Gilles @ 11:53 pm

You can save up to 15% on your energy bill by weatherstripping openings (doors, windows and electrical outlets on exterior walls).
In theory, weatherstripping is simple: it is about preventing cold air from coming inside (or warm air to go outside). In practice, very few people take the time to think about the best way to weatherproof a specific opening and slap the first piece of foam then can put their hands on. This translates into poor insulation which does not last very long – essentially just like if there was no weatherstripping.
My main entry door used to be the perfect example of this. The previous owner definitely slapped on some pieces of foam but they were barely sealing the gap. This was not a very lasting job (you can see the foam leaving after a few months of service) and made the door difficult to close.

 Here is how you can achieve a great and long lasting weatherstripping.

Stop and think!

Weatherstripping is 95% design and 5% actual installation. Resist the urge of picking up a random gasket next time you visit a hardware store. Avoid glueing, nailing or screwing anything before you have assessed the situation and proven that there is no other solution.

The best way to figure out which weatherstripping product will best seal is to inspect the opening for built-in weatherstripping holders. Most doors manufactured in the last 30 years have been designed with weatherstripping in mind and most of them have a gasket holder. Hardware store (physical and internet stores) sell a large selection of gaskets designed for most popular doors. Use them because they’ll give the best seal, hold well and last long.

In my case, the built-in mecanism is a long opening designed to receive a vinyl clad gasket. If the previous owner looked at the dor jamb for 15 seconds, he would have noticed it and installed the right gasket. The left picture below is not from the same door but has a very similar kerf for gasket. The right picture shows the section of the adequate vinyl clad which will fit in the opening and seal the door appropriately.


The white part is made out of rigid pastic and goes in the kerf while the v-shapped black part get compressed when the door closes and seals the gap.

If there is no obvious holder for weatherstripping and there is already a weatherstripping solution, remove the old weatherstripping. The holder may hide behind existing weatherstripping. Sometimes, holders may hide behind several coats of paint. If you can’t find any holder, try to find the name of the manufacturer and look up online for the best gasket type. It is easier than it sounds.

If you really cannot identify the right type of gasket or if the door is not designed to receive a gasket (possible in very old houses), visit weatherstripping manufacturers’ web sites (for instance M-D) and look at your options. Prefer a screwed / nailed solution (more sturdy) than a glue on solution.

In my case, it was longer to remove the glue left by the inadequate weatherstripping than it was to install the new gasket. Here are a few views of the result:


The top corners are butted. The kerf on the jamb goes all the way up to the jamb while the kerf on the top stops 1/4 inch so I butted the gasket to follow this pattern (see right picture).

Sometimes, finding and installing the adequate gasket is not enough. In my case, the lock’s striker plate was installed too far away for the door to compress the gasket appropriately. The bad weatherstripping was interfering with the operation of the door and instead of fixing the real problem, the previous owner compensated for it by moving the striker plates. Once the plates were moved, the door closed fully and compressed the gasket adequately to form a tight seal.

December 31, 2006

DOW “Great Stuff” expanding insulating foam not so great

Filed under: House Remodelling — Gilles @ 6:46 pm

During recent remodeling projects, I used DOW’s Great Stuff insulating expanding foam. Well, it turns out that it is not so great stuff, at least the consumer version of it.
First of all, the can will become unusable after the first use. I noticed this when doig some work with Le Triporteur du Pacififique Nord Ouest and more recently, this morning when insulating around a door frame. The can was almost full of product but the foam could not be dispensed. That was very annoying and I did some more research on this. Apparently, the sticker on the can says "One time use should be expected".
DOW’s web site has a FAQ on this topic reproduced below. The sticker also has the same language.

Can I store GREAT STUFF if I don’t use the whole can?

GREAT STUFF straw foam will seal itself shut if left to sit for more than 2 hours after its last use. Insert a pipe cleaner sprayed with oil lubricant may prolong the life of the product. Plan ahead, identify and list all possible applications before opening can.

 Now that’s not so great. Only one use?

Second, none of the Great Stuff Do It Yourself products can be used on the house’s firewall. According to DOW’s website, only Great Stuff Pro Gaps & Cracks is recognized as fire retardant. Strange, because on the same DOW’s web site (forward to slide 25), a slide show explicitely indicates that Both Great Sutff and Great Stuff Pro are materials of choice for filling in cracks and gaps for the purpose of fireblocking.

Apparently, the PRO line seems much better. First, it has fire retardant capabilities (at least the "Pro Gaps & Cracks") and second, it can be dispensed with a gun. The FAQ for PRO products says:

How can I store GREAT STUFF Pro if I don’t use the whole can?

GREAT STUFF Pro straw foam will seal itself shut if left to sit for more than two hours after its last use. If using GREAT STUFF Pro products with the gun applicator, the valve can be closed allowing you to re-use the can up to 30 days or longer.

There is is!! The Pro line of products apparently gives you 30 days to use your full product. So here is a piece of advice: if you buy the consumer version, expect only ONE use so plan to empty the can in 2 hours after opening it. Otherwise, the Pro version is a must.

Tool Review: Makita 18V LXT Lithium-Ion Recipro Saw

Filed under: House Remodelling — Gilles @ 6:07 pm

I own one of these Makita Lithium-Ion Cordless Reciprocating Saw and believe it or not, it has always been there to get me out of very tricky situations.
A few weeks ago, a storm in WA knocked four large branches from a high pine tree in my backyard. I do not own a chain saw or any logging equipment and I did not want to acquire one for a one time use. Without much trust, I picked up my Makita recipro saw, attached a worn Milwaukee wood blade I found in one of the walls of a house I renovated a month ago, plugged a freshly charged battery and started logging (I thought I could power my fireplace with the wood, after it has dried throughly).
After the first few strokes of the blade, I knew I was out of the wood (so to speak ;-). The saw cut right throught the 3” fresh pine wood without a hitch. After three full branches, I had to put another battery. Well, not bad at all considering the dull blade I was cutting with and the fact that I did cut everything with the saw, including baby needles spouts!
More recently, the same saw was there when I most needed it. A leak in the plumbing of a house we were renovating called for wall opening and notching in the shower riser to access a cracked sweated fitting. The saw notched the 2 x 4 in a few seconds (okay, we had to finish the notch with a chisel because of limited accessibility, but that is not the saw’s fault).
Months before, the saw went through a plastic shower enclosure, 10 ft of plaster and lath and a few 100 years old hardened 2 x 4 studs without difficulty.
Is there anything I dislike about the saw? Well, yes. Its blade guide is sometimes difficult to remove. The release mecanism tends to jam and I have to gently tap it with a hammer to unlock it. Not a big problem.
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