The Wall Damage from a Whole-House Rewiring

Last week, I blogged about our finally-finished whole-house rewiring. While the most important thing was to avoid the possibility of an electrical fire due to dangerously outdated wiring that was shorting out in the walls and ceiling (more about that here), a secondary concern was how badly the inside of our house would get destroyed in the process of fixing it. After all, we had a young baby to think about… and if we had to move out of our house for a week or two while an electrician worked on the wiring, it was hard to figure out how we’d even manage.

Fortunately, while a few of the Chicago electricians we called foretold total doom for the interior our house, others promised minimal damage and a space that would remain livable throughout. And the one we ended up picking did a better job than we thought we could have hoped for — they kept everything neat and tidy, cleaning up as they went, and even patching and re-painting the walls afterward.

But we still had some pretty spectacular holes in our walls during the process, and in case anyone was wondering how bad walls might get ripped open during a whole-house rewiring, look no further than this post for some pictures. To start with: our bathroom ceiling, which seemed to hold the worst of the wiring problems, looked like this for a few days:

Massive hole in the bathroom ceiling.

This was actually the worst and biggest hole inflicted during the entire process. The rest of the house had smaller holes around the outlets and light switches — which is quite a lot of little holes when you think about it, but our guys did a really great job covering our furniture to protect it from dust, as well as cleaning up the wall debris by sweeping, vacuuming, and even mopping. If it wasn’t for the holes, you wouldn’t be able to tell anything was going on.

As an example, this is what it looked like around the outlets during the work:

One of the outlets in our bedroom during the rewiring.

And when they got to ripping up the ceiling fixtures — including the one in Lillian’s room — they covered the holes with tape and plastic to keep everything contained:

The hole in the nursery ceiling, covered with plastic.

All in all it was much less intrusive and messy than we might’ve feared, and as I write this, it really isn’t possible to tell that any of the holes pictured in this post were ever there. Which is really great, all things considered.

Anyway, there’s still more to be said about the whole-house rewiring project, including various light fixture upgrades and adding ventilation to the bathroom, but since Lillian just passed her six-month birthday and has her routine six-month well baby checkup scheduled for tomorrow, I think a baby-related post is due for the next bloggy update. Stay tuned!

Whole-House Rewiring: Finished at Last

After those major electrical problems surfaced, we started searching for an electrician to replace all of our ancient outdated wiring in one fell swoop. It took a week of comparison shopping and over two weeks of work, but I’m happy to finally report that the project is finished, the holes in the walls are repaired, and our entire house now has safe, modern wiring.

Right now, we are happily basking in the glow of our working light fixtures (pun intended), because for almost two weeks, this was the scene in our bathroom:

An image showing a dark bathroom, lit by only a battery-powered camping lantern.

The bathroom, lit by a camping lantern.

Shopping for an electrician was an interesting experience. The quotes we received varied wildly, from $1,900 on the low end all the way up to $10,000 at the highest, plus one guy who insisted he couldn’t give us an exact price until he ripped open our walls and measured exactly how many inches of wire he would have to add and/or remove. They also varied quite a bit on the amount of construction chaos they predicted. Some basically said, “we’re going to have to tear the walls down and you’ll need to move out while we work” while others promised smaller, more strategically-placed holes and a house that was livable at night.

The quote we ended up picking was for $2,800, and it actually came from the same contractor who refinished our floors. It turns out he’s a total jack-of-all-trades who works with a licensed electrician, and came with a glowing recommendation from some friends of ours who’d had him do similar work on their place. And even though the quote wasn’t quite the lowest, it included patching and re-painting the walls afterward — everyone else we called had a pretty clear “not my department” attitude toward that.

Granted, it still wasn’t cheap by any means, but it also wasn’t as bad as we’d originally feared. Plus, the timing was actually pretty fortunate: we had filed our tax returns good and early, and the electrical problems started right around the time our refund check arrived. So that eased the blow quite a bit.

Anyway, here’s a handy breakdown of everything that got done:

  • All new wiring everywhere in the house. No more random partial power outages, no more scary buzzing sounds in the walls, and peace of mind that our house won’t burn down while we sleep. Hooray!
  • Upgrade to a newer larger circuit box. The box that was there when we moved in only had 12 slots maximum, with 9 in use, although the vast majority of the lights and outlets were concentrated on just 2 of those for some reason. The new box has a maximum of 20, with everything much more sanely balanced across 13 of those, and some extras for if we ever want to add some real electric-powered rooms to the attic someday.

    An image showing two circuit boxes, one old and one new.

    The old circuit box (left) compared to the new circuit box (right).

  • All new outlets and light switches. When we moved in, almost every outlet in the house was of the two-prong variety, but they’ve all now been upgraded to the three-prong kind. It feels oddly luxurious to be able to plug our laptops straight into the walls without having to mess with adapters.

    An image showing a brand new modern electrical outlet.

    Shiny new 3-prong electrical outlet.

  • A new light fixture and fan for the bathroom ceiling. There was no ventilation in our bathroom when we moved in, and tons of moisture would build up when we took our showers. It was no coincidence that the electrical problems started in there — apparently the situation had gotten so bad that when they took apart the conduit, water actually dripped out of it. (Yikes!) It ended up costing extra for the fan, a vent for the fan, and the labor to install it all, but it’s made a dramatic reduction in the amount of fog in there every morning.
  • Some other light fixture upgrades. The fixture in our kitchen was so old that its wire was brittle and frayed, so we had no choice but to replace that one. We also took the opportunity to add a few other nice-to-have but not strictly necessary lighting upgrades. This included a ceiling fan for the living room, since summer is on the way and we have no central air conditioning, some lights for under the kitchen cabinets that add some much-needed visibility to whatever you’re trying to prepare on the counter, and a light for above the bathroom mirror to make up for the shadows that get cast on your face from just the one fixture on the ceiling.

    An image showing some new light fixtures in their original boxes.

    The stack of new light fixtures as seen before installation.

More details about the new fixtures, and the various holes that got knocked into our walls during all this, could fill an entire post — so I’ll aim for making another update in the next couple of days about that. In the meantime, have you ever heard of humidity in a bathroom causing problems with the wiring like that? I’d always assumed that the worst you had to worry about was mold or mildew building up, but live and learn I guess…

Deviled Easter Eggs

Deviled eggs dyed various pastel colors (thumbnail).Whether scrambled, fried, or boiled, I’ve never cared too much for eggs — except for the deviled kind, which I totally love. Maybe it’s because of the creamy flavorful toppings, or because they’re practically made of cholesterol, but somehow I just can’t get enough of them.

For the past year or so, I’ve been making big batches of deviled eggs and bringing them to family gatherings, where they get inhaled long before the party’s over. (By people other than me, I mean.) So when I stumbled upon this guide for making colorful deviled eggs, I instantly wanted to try making some to bring to our Easter gathering.

I ended up taking some liberties and experimenting a little compared to the guide, and substituted in the tried-and-true recipe I’ve been using for the filling. The thumbnail to the right is a little teaser showing the colorful eastery end result.

Just like when making regular deviled eggs, the first step is to get your eggs into a hard-boiled state. There seem to be various strategies for doing this, including baking them in the oven — this allegedly works, although I’ve never tried it. I always seem to get pretty good results using this method, which involves boiling the eggs for 10 minutes and then immediately placing them in cold water to prevent the yolks from getting that unsightly greenish ring.

Whatever your method, after the eggs are hard boiled and then cooled, the next step is to remove the shells, slice the eggs in half the long way, and set the yolks aside. And then it’s time for the fun part: playing with the colors.

Four bottles of food coloring (red, green, blue, yellow) next to the box they were packaged in.

Food coloring in red, green, blue, and yellow.

The guide recommended placing a few drops of food coloring in a glass of water along with a teaspoon of vinegar, then placing the sliced eggs in the water. I tried it with and without the vinegar, and unless I measured something wrong, the vinegar seems to make the color slightly darker slightly faster with slightly less food coloring. But you can get good results without it, and a good ratio for no vinegar seemed to be about 6 drops food coloring per 1 cup water.

A row of glasses, filled with water dyed with a few drops food coloring.

The colored water from left to right: green, blue, red, orange, purple.

The food coloring pack we picked up only had red, blue, green, and yellow. Eggs placed in the red naturally came out looking pink, and the green and blue both produced pastel shades. I skipped the yellow since the filling would have that pretty well covered, and instead mixed up some purple (3 drops red + 3 drops blue) and some orange (4 drops yellow + 2 drops red). The eggs stayed in the water for around five minutes, and this was the end result:

A tray of eggs that have been dyed various pastel shades with food coloring.

How the eggs looked after coming out of the food-colored water.

As for the filling, I’ve been using this recipe that I sort of invented, at least in the sense that I found the basic ingredients on the web and then played with the proportions until I found something that seemed particularly tasty. The ingredients list is as follows:

  • yolks from 18 eggs, mashed in a bowl
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

The proper thing to do next is to mix everything thoroughly together and then use one of those fancy frosting bags to get the filling into the eggs, but my method has been to just use a big ziploc bag with the corner cut off:

A method for filling deviled eggs using a large ziploc bag.

Filling deviled eggs using a ziploc bag.

It’s cheap, fast, easy, and the only drawback is that you don’t get the lovely intricate patterns you would with one of those metal frosting tips. (Although that alone is probably reason enough to upgrade, haha.) Anyway, once the eggs were filled, and a little bit of paprika was sprinkled onto each one for garnishing purposes, this was the colorful Easter eggy end result:

A tray of deviled eggs that have been dyed various pastel colors for easter.

The finished deviled eggs tray.

A closeup of some deviled eggs that have been dyed various pastel colors.

A closeup of the finished deviled easter egg tray.

I think they turned out pretty well, and they seemed to be a big hit at our gathering — I had mentioned that I would bring “deviled Easter eggs” but it seemed to come as a surprise that they were actually colorful. And it’s been so long since I’ve done anything Easter egg related, I really had fun with it.

Anyway, happy belated Easter! I hope everyone had a great time this past weekend. Any interesting adventures in Easter egg making, Easter egg hunting, or general Easter festivities? And has anyone ever heard about and/or tried that hard-boiling eggs in the oven technique? I’m curious about it, but I feel like with my luck I’d probably just explode them or something, haha…

DIY Draperies for the Living Room Windows

As of this past week, the electrical work that we so urgently needed is under way, and since that little drama is providing quite a lot of house-related blogging fodder, I figured I should catch up and post the final installment of the epic three-part saga about our living room window treatments. Before I forget about it, or get too distracted by other things.

So just as a reminder of where we left off, the first post was about how old and broken the blinds that came with our house were, and the second post was about hanging curtain rods on our plaster walls. In this post, I’ll share the end result of how everything turned out.

So first: what exactly were we looking for in curtains? The requirements were few, and fairly simple:

  1. Height – In order to cover our windows without falling onto the radiator below, they needed to be 74″ in height, which is non-standard — off-the-shelf curtain panels seem jump straight from 63″ to 84″ for some reason.
  2. Opacity – We like to close our curtains at night, and since our living room windows look right out on the street, we wanted the curtains to be completely opaque for privacy reasons — so no sheers or semi-transparent curtain materials allowed.
  3. Color – We didn’t have anything too specific in mind colorwise, although we worried that curtains too light might start to look dirty and dingy more quickly and therefore be higher-maintenance. We also wanted to avoid bright saturated colors or busy patterns.
  4. Type – To attach to the traverse curtain rod, we ideally needed some kind of pleated drapery, though these proved difficult to find — these days, the most popular kinds of curtains you see when browsing stores are the ring-top or rod pocket variety.

Ordering curtains online would make it hard to evaluate them for requirement #2, so we limited ourselves to what we could actually go look at in stores, and that seemed to make it pretty difficult to find anything that met requirement #4 at any reasonable price.

We eventually settled on Ikea’s SANELA curtains in light brown. They came in a 98″ length, but included iron-on tape for adjusting the hem yourself, and that’s what we ended up doing to meet requirement #1. To meet requirement #4, enabling them to attach via hooks to our traverse curtain rods, I took a bit of a risk and attempted to transform them myself. Here’s the product photo for the curtains to give you an idea what we started with:

A closeup of the tops of the Ikea SANELA curtains from here.

As you can see, the curtain panels have these built-in pockets that you’re supposed to just slip a narrow curtain rod through. To attach to the type of curtain rods we’d already installed, though, we needed them to have hooks instead. There are various kinds of curtain hooks — there’s a pretty good article here with a list — but the three that I experimented with are as follows:

Three different kinds of curtain hooks from here.

The first kind in the above photo, simple heading hooks, resulted in a loose, flat, droopy look when I just spaced them out evenly without making pleats. The second kind, 4-pronged pleater hooks, exist for exactly this purpose — by placing each of the four prongs slightly apart on the curtain fabric, it causes it to fold and create that pleated look.

But I didn’t end up using the four-pronged hooks because (1) the prongs seemed too long for our specific curtains, poking out the top when I tried them briefly, and (2) by the time I learned they existed, I had already started trying to use the third kind in the above photo. Which I think are technically intended for pocket pleated draperies, but I seemed to be getting decent results by wedging them into the slots in the back of the curtain panels like so:

Closeup of the two-prong drapery hooks, used in an unintended manner.

I folded the curtain fabric to make the pleats, and to hold them together, I added a few stitches to each one using a needle and thread, which I think turned out pretty well considering that I don’t know how to sew (as discussed here). The end result was curtains that fold together neatly when opened, retain a wavy drapey look when closed, and it all happens in just two seconds when you pull the cord.

The finished curtains, as seen opened (left) and closed (right).

And now for a fun “before and after” exercise to show how far the living room windows have come. First, here is the “before” photo — the panorama first posted here — showing what the living room windows looked like when we first moved in:

The wall of windows in our living room, as seen when we moved in.

And here is the “after” photo, another slightly distorted panorama showing what those windows look like now. (Confession: there are normally various baby playpens / carseats / ExerSaucers scattered around this room, but I moved them aside before taking the picture.)

The living room windows with the new curtains.

The curtains let a lot more light in than the blinds did, and when open, they clear the edges of the windows almost completely. And it’s really nice not to have anything covering the rich dark woodwork or the distinctive window panes anymore.

Overall, I’ve been really enjoying how things turned out, though as usual I have a few thoughts and ideas for improvement:

  • Between the curtains and the wallowing couch, it’s starting to look awfully beige in here, although I suppose that’s the sort of thing that can be fixed by scattering some random colorful things around the room.
  • The bright white curtain rods seem a little out of place — if we don’t end up adding a valance of some sort, I feel like they need to be either a dark brown shade to tie in with the woodwork around the windows, or the same creamy color as the walls. There’s an article here that mentions spray-painting curtain rods exactly like these ones, so maybe that’s something to try down the road.

Anyway, that’s that — one project completely finished, and posted just in time to start writing about all the massive electrical changes that have been taking place around here lately! So stay tuned for that, and in the meantime, does anyone have any window-treatment-related stories, ideas, or suggestions? Feel free to share in the comments.