Tag Archives: DIY

My Lovely Fresh Air Intake.

In the north, we seal up our homes to stop cold drafts and save money on heating. All our windows and doors are tight with gaskets and levers designed to make them as impervious as it is possible to be in the cold north wind when the temperatures drop to -40C  (-40F). One of the unfortunate consequences of our eternal quest to keep out the cold is the air in the house gets stale. I suppose we could just open a window when it does, but then you have the cold draft, you have to recall when to open and when to close. Canadians generally get around this nuisance by installing a fresh air intake from the outside into our furnace intake.

After we got all the new windows installed, I noticed three new problems.

1) My allergies acted up when the house was closed. I am especially allergic to house dust and dust mites. While I am not allergic to my cat and dog, they certainly contribute to the dust in the place.

2) Our new windows were constantly wet with condensation whenever the house was closed up. Even with a dehumidifier running, the windows got so wet they just dripped and I was left with puddles to mop up on the window sills. When it got really cold, the neighbours watching our house complained of ice build up on our screen doors.

3) When we went to bed, I could often smell a funny sooty odour, an old soot smell, which would immediately go away if I opened the bedroom window a crack. We were creating a negative pressure situation in our tiny house and air was coming in where it could, including down the old wood stove chimney.

And then there was the radon issue. We bought one of those radon kits from Amazon to test our tiny house. The kits are really easy to do. You order the inexpensive little kit, put the detector in a main floor bedroom and leave it for a few months. You ship it off to the manufacture and about a month later you get a report back. Our little house came back at 176 becquerels per cubic metre. By Canadian standards anything under 200 is considered safe and about 200 you should consider minor mitigation and above 500 is serious business and you should move out until it is fixed. The best way to increase your radon is to have your house in a negative pressure situation. The radon gas gets sucked in. If you house doesn’t get into a negative pressure state, the radon mostly stays in the ground where it belongs. Now technically 176 becquerels per cubic metre is “safe” but there really is no safe minimum when it comes to radon. Less is always better. Another reason to be concerned about that soot smell.

It’s September now, and necessary to keep the house closed up at night because the temperatures are dropping to near freezing. We are not yet using the furnace because the house holds enough heat from the daytime and from cooking to be warm overnight. We started having that nasty musty smell and the soot smell return overnight and the windows were wet each morning with condensation.

Last fall, we had a furnace guy come in to add ducts so some heat went into the basement. He pointed out we had no fresh air intake and he said it would make the air stale and cause our windows to fog up. He offered to add one for us for $850. We were about to head south for the winter so we said we’d get back to him in the spring. We left a bunch of messages and he never called back. His company had a big contract installing new houses on a nearby reserve and he was too busy with that to accommodate us. (This is common in a rural setting.)

In the meantime, I was busy researching fresh air intakes. Most of the pages about fresh air intakes are about selling you a particular type but I did learn how they function. The majority of them work by having little electric fans that kick in when the furnace goes on. They have a filter inside and flaps and such, many that need maintenance. Because our house is so very small, we needed something that would work when I ran the kitchen fan or the bathroom fan even if the furnace did not come on. Running the bathroom fan is enough to create that negative air pressure. There are barometric additions to the fancier fresh air intake that keep the air pressure even no matter what. They were more expensive, much more. We also use electric heat and we don’t have a central air conditioner so a lot of stuff about code just does not even apply. While we don’t have a wood stove hooked up due to insurance issues, we do want to be able to hook it up again and use it if we were to have one of those infamous multiday blizzards with a prolonged power outage that are a once every ten year event out here in the boonies. We will really need a passive system if such a blizzard happens.

During my search, I found a relatively cheap made in Canada solution. It was ingeniously simple in design and struck me right away as so very sensible. The company is called Plusaire. It’s not the right system for all houses. It does not have a heat recovery capacity. Therefore, it does slightly increase heating costs. Because of that, in our insane drive to decarbonize the planet, that means it does not meet “code” in Ontario. I calculated how much time it would require to pay off the incredibly expensive 100% heat recovery units out there versus the increased heating cost this little lovely would likely cost me. I should live so long! The Plusaire unit needs no maintenance, filters, has almost no moving parts and there’s nothing to break down. We heat with “green” hydro electric power and I don’t believe in this whole decarbonization nonsense in any case. I decided screw the Ontario code. I don’t live in Ontario and this unit suits our needs and our lifestyle in our 480 square foot (not up to code but grandfathered in) house perfectly. I ordered it. Your  mileage may vary.

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Work in progress connecting our Plusaire fresh air intake. (That was not the final placement of the ducting.)

Installation was actually easy. The unit came with an installation kit and instructions. I was able to install it myself after a few questions for another furnace guy who was also too busy to do the install but happy to share advice over a beer I bought him while we had a game of pool. (He won, barely. This is another way things often work in a small town.) I bought and learned to use tin snips. I read up on how to properly use the flexible ducts the unit came with. I broke the task into five steps. 1) Cut a hole through the wall of the house to install the outside intake. (Hubby dearest assisted.) 2) Mount the unit. (Hubby dearest provided some superior male intellect for me because I am just not strong enough to hold up the box and put in the screws.)  3) Install the big connector to the intake vent. 4) Install the little connector to the warm air output vent. 5) Tighten up all the flexible duct work, make sure there are no kinks and sags, put in supports, cut off excess in the flexible duct work, and use the provided roll of aluminum tape on all the places the directions said to. By spreading it all out over five days, it wasn’t quite so daunting. It’s a good thing I don’t try to get paid by the hour because I spent about three hours each day, mostly contemplating the best way to do it and double checking the instructions and rereading on line blogs. I will need to fiddle with the damper as the seasons change. I wrote the details of that right on the metal box in permanent felt pen just in case I lose the paper with the instructions.

After the first day when fresh air was now coming into the basement, I noticed an immediate improvement in the smell down there. The musty odour I was accustomed to was gone. After I got the connection made to the furnace intake, the freshness went through the entire house even with the duct work still sagging and kinked. We no longer need to leave the bedroom window open a crack overnight to keep the soot smell (and the radon) away. And best of all, our problem with the dehumidifier running constantly and still waking up to find the windows and the screen doors fogged up is gone, completely gone. Will this continue through to -40C when the furnace runs a lot? We’ll see. Will we lose so much heat with this passive system without heat recovery that we decide not to keep using it? Maybe. We’ll find out soon enough. Because when you live in Manitoba…

EPISODE 16: WINTER IS COMING | The Rambling Ramblers

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Installing a ceiling fan.

This is another older draft post from 2015 I didn’t finish that I am finally getting around to posting.

I have always loved ceiling fans because I find their slow movement relaxing and I like how they distribute the air and prevent hot and cold spots. When we saw a small ceiling fan, still in the box, donated old stock up for sale in the Renuzit store for $65 I simply could not resist. Installing it would be a royal pain, I knew that. Even so I wanted it.

 

In the past I have always hired an electrician to it. That was inevitably a multicuss job for them and more than once I had to have them back in because it did not work properly. I decided to give a shot myself. I have learned a lot more about electrical work since the last time I had a fan installed.

Projects like this are best handled with a lot more time spent planning than doing. I think that’s the biggest mistake I made in my early days of Doing It Myself. I’d just start and find myself missing tools, having to take things apart and put them back together again and often stuff just did not go. Since then I have learned that planning is the most important of doing.

Mount the bracket - Install Ceiling Fan

I started with with you tube videos on the topic and a video from The Home Depot. I love it when people put up clear easy to follow do it yourself videos. After watching three or four I felt this was indeed a doable job.   You put all the parts together, connect all the wires correctly and then it goes. Next step was to read the manual. I find I have to read the manual through carefully about three times checking my understanding as I go. Certain things stand out and stick with each reading. Even after that I have to consult the manual on each step along the way. Also inevitable is that you hit snags and have questions come up as you do.

My first problem was the manual clearly specifies you need to have a proper outlet box designed specifically for a ceiling fan. It must be able to hold 35 pounds of weight. (My fan is a small one. Most of them are a lot heavier than that and many are very heavy. Now the question is do I use the old outlet box or tear it out and buy a new one and instal that? After much more research on line I discovered that the old fashioned outlet steel outlet box I have is rated for 50 pounds of weight assuming it is properly installed. I also discovered this old fashioned steel box was installed by first building a wooden box of two by fours around two sides and fitting them into the corner of the joist further increasing its capacity. This gives a four sided box. This is the old fashioned way of doing things.

The new plastic boxes don’t require all that effort to install. But the new plastic boxes cannot be used for more than 7 pounds of weight. So the old fashioned way would seem to be the right way for when, some 40 years later, someone comes along to retrofit something. Everything in this old house was done right and done with love and attention to detail. The very well installed steel outlet box is just one of many examples I have come across. These old houses were built to last, often by the people who would live in them or their neighbours who would be around to complain to if the job was done wrong. So things tended to be done right. Nowadays a stranger arrives, slaps together a whole development and sells off the houses and vanishes. No one thinks about retrofitting or what will happen 40+ years later.

Permits and regulations | City of Vancouver

I digress. Having established that the old steel box can hold the fan with about 15 pounds or a 30% safety margin I began. Ceiling fans have a safety cable you attach that the whole unit can hang from. This allows two things. First you can don’t have to have someone standing and holding the dang thing while you connect wires. Second you have something so if the whole thing does give the fan shouldn’t hit the floor. So my first job after getting the old outlet cover off was to put in a special screw for the purpose of hanging the fan by the back up cable. (Not all fans have it. Some have a cup the fan sits in instead as in this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVL4FdMyCfo)

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Next following the directions, I got the motor part hung. There is an upper housing that is just decorative that hides all the wires and such from view. Connecting the wire meant another pause to check on line. You see, my house has some old style thick copper wiring with red being the hot wire and black being the neutral wires and the ground is bare and attached to the steel box. All the wiring arrives on site in a long steel encased conduit. In the wiring diagram for connecting the fan that came with the manual, black is the “hot” one and it is for the fan motor, white is neutral. There is also a blue wire for the lights. There were three possible configurations for the switch. One can have an on off switch for the fan, a separate light switch and a dimmer with that. (Hence all the wires.) However the simplest of the three diagrams is to join the light and motor fan hot wires (black and blue) to the hot wire from the house (red) and just have power off and on and adjust the light and motor using the manual switches at the motor. Since doing it any other way would involve tearing up walls to reinstall all the wiring, we are going with the simplest configuration.

Connecting the wire has to be done properly. I learned from reconnecting my solar panels and my macerator pump. If the connection isn’t right you get trouble. The worst trouble is with the loose connection that lets some power in but makes the electricity have to jump over a space. That leads to heat and that leads to fire. I made  a poor connection while extending the wires on my macerator a few years ago. In rewiring my macerator I created a “hot spot” and while I did not burn myself, I sure gave myself a real scare when I was handling the wire and it was hot. The plastic electrical was partially melted. Because of that scare I had previously researched about the connecting wires. My preference is twist nuts. I used them for connecting lights and fans in outlet boxes and I had the correct sizes and types. When connected properly the nuts are solid if you give them a yank and all the wires are buried in deep with no bare wire showing.

Once the main housing was in the rest was easy. I added the fins and the light shades and then we were done. It worked! Three years later we are still enjoying the benefits of a lovely ceiling fan that keep the air moving. In a small house stale air is a constant issue so the little fan is lovely to have.

New Storm Doors

In our continuing effort to make our little house on the prairie into a snug warm place for us in winter and a cool welcoming place is summer we recently installed two new storm doors. Inner doors are always solid and often steel with insulation to keep out the cold winter. The storm door is the outer door that faces the elements.

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Old screen door that was falling apart due to water seeping into the underlying particle board, freezing and expanding in the winter. Some of the plastic parts also broke in the cold as harsh prairie temperatures makes many plastics brittle.

We call them screen doors because they include screens so that in summer you can leave the heavy protective inner door open and let the breeze through the house while keeping insects out. We also call them storm doors because another function is to keep the wind during winter from hitting the inner door. This dramatically increases the insulation value of the inner door. For those of you from southern climates a screen door is normally a light flimsy thing, often made with pretty wood work and scrolls. Such a door would never make it through our cold winters. Snow would get in behind the screen and pile up and prevent the door from opening or closing properly. The wood would freeze and swell. Particle board is commonly used in construction of outer doors but it just can’t take our winters. Water gets in and freezes and expands and turns particle board into fragile misshapen crummy stuff in short order. The weight of snow can also break flimsy doors. Storm doors need to be sturdy and made from materials impervious to extreme cold, extreme heat and both wet and dry conditions.

I wanted was something with as much openness are possible to let lots of light and air in. When we were in the south we were drawn to the pretty white screen doors with decorative scroll work and lots of openness. I also liked the feel of the security doors we saw all over during a trip to Mexico. These doors open the whole doorway while providing security.

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Both doors are entirely impractical for our harsh climate but I was pleasantly surprised to find a perfect storm door for my tastes. It was light and open for summer with windows the entire length and a drop down screen. It was made in Canada with no flimsy particle board to get wet and fall apart. These doors were aluminum and steel and tempered glass construction perfect for our harsh Canadian climate.

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The doors are made by AluminArt. One of the nice things about their doors is they have a wonderful warranty. If you mess up on the installation they will repair or replace the door or the part. That made it even more attractive. We haven’t installed a storm door before so we that helped us to decide. One thing I really liked was the dual closure system. There are pump closers on top and bottom. This makes the door quiet and yet feels so secure. You can’t slam this door. They came with underside door sweepers so that there is a nice flap to keep the wind out on the underside where the door meets the house. In addition there is a nice steel kick plate to protect the bottom of the white painted aluminum. I added my own additional layer of weather stripping and we rescued the chain back up from the old doors.

 

We found these doors when we were out looking for flooring. We didn’t buy them right away. Our lack of unlimited wealth means we have to stick to a budget. The budget meant the doors would have to wait. It was a good thing we did wait. After we had finished the flooring, we were in the same store to pick up some hinges and we went to admire our future doors again. We found out they where on sale for 20% off. It was also no tax days. Good and Services Tax (7%) and Provincial Sales Tax (8%) always add a substantial chunk to any purchase. This “no tax day” sale saved us a total of 35%. There’s budgets and then there are time to break out the credit card and go for it. This was one of those times.

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With the screen down half the door is screen.

Installing the doors went more smoothly than I expected. I watched a couple of videos on youtube first and then I carefully read the detailed Aluminart instructions.  I was fortunate in that in spite of the poor quality of the preexisting doors, the previous owner had done a great job of installing them. Everything was all square, plomb and right. We simply had to remove the old hardware and supports and put the new ones in their place. It was not hard work. It was just tedious and demanded attention to detail. I took out a lot of screws and and put a lot of screws back in. Up down, in out, lots of drilling, lots of muscle. It took me about 12 hours to get the entire thing done. If I made my living that way I expect I could get it down to two hours per door. I sincerely hope I never have to!

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Door had dual latches so even though our dog knows how to open the upper latch she can’t open the lower one.

With the doors open we can see out to both our decks and have a lovely view of our yard. We were delighted how much more light the house has in it now.

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Our dog and cat seem to really like the doors. They can see out anytime they want to.

One more step to making our little house our perfectly lovely home. I still need to do some painting around the disturbed trim. I have some touchups to do. I have the stuff…. well do you ever get everything right in a house?

No one associated with Aluminart or the retail store I purchased these doors from gave me anything of any sort for saying these nice things about the doors in my blog.