Michigan Trip DIY Blitz

Part of my recent trip to Michigan to spend time with my parents resulted in a mini-blitz of small projects around their home. I absolutely loved the opportunity to help my folks and work on the house I grew up in. This isn't much of a step-by-step, how-to post, since I didn't shoot nearly enough pictures, but you might pick up some nuggets along the way.

As an old cottage, the home is a Frankenstein blend of decades and decades of expansions, renovations, and repairs done well before my parents bought the place in the mid 1970's. Like my own home, it's still full of surprises.

It was a challenge to use someone else's tools. I enjoyed the game of figuring out what to use from my Dad's collection, and where he stored it. He had everything I needed and if I asked, he' d send me to the right location, but I really enjoyed poking around in his workshop and using different tools than I am accustomed to. It was fun.

The mighty Craftsman 7.2 volt drill

This particular species surfaced just after the extinction of the dinosaurs. (Craftsman-icus Seven-point two volt-us)

I started the blitz with a florescent, four-tube light in the kitchen. My brother had already been by and replaced the lamps, but it still wasn't working. It turned out ballast needed to be replaced.

The wiring conditions were scary.Through the small metal mounting strip for a globe style fixture poked the hot and neutral wires, with no insulation.

The original wiring was so old that the insulation had simply disintegrated, leaving those two wires within a quarter inch of each other. In electrical terms, I call that "not good."

Knob and tube wiring madness

"Not good"

After my Dad and I grabbed a new ballast and a few supplies he didn't have in stock at the home center, I pulled the whole fixture down to clean up the wiring. I trimmed it back a little and wrapped the remaining insulation with electrical tape to prevent further decline before adding brand-new wire to extend it safely into the fixture.

Oh yeah, remember friends, before you play with electricity, be sure to visit...

Rather than unnecessarily work overhead, I replaced the ballast while the fixture was still on the ground. Yes, my folks do cook on that stove. I'd learned to fry potatoes and make omelettes on that ancient, gas powered beast as a teen.

1800's Detroit Jewel Stove

The old Detroit Jewel

I zapped the fixture back up onto the ceiling with fresh toggle bolts and wired it in again.

Next, I replaced the broken hanger wire on a mirror / coat rack that my little nephew had pulled down. He'd yanked on an apron a couple nights earlier and narrowly missed being cracked on the head. Luckily the mirror didn't break.

That was a super easy fix. Hung and done.

The light switches in the basement stairwell were next. My mom wanted them replaced with fresh white switches.

Unfortunately, the local handyman had cut the opening too big to mount the switches properly. The ears wouldn't reach the edge of the drywall for support.

I used these neat little outlet spacers. They slip behind the mounting yoke of a plug or switch so they can be supported properly against the box.

Ideal Outlet Spacers

You just cut off what you need and fold them, accordion style, snapping them together like Legos. They slip right around the 6/32 mounting screw.

Ideal Outlet Spacers

Decent wiring here at least.

With the switches in and working, I moved down the stairwell to replace a dark brown receptacle, halfway down. It was old school, with no grounding prong. If there was no grounding wire in the box, I'd have to install a GFCI to be legal. You cannot simply install a standard three prong outlet where there's nothing to attache that third prong to. 

It was the same messed up wiring I'd found in the kitchen. It was a mess. The conductors were entering from opposite sides of the box and they were seriously worn out. There was no grounding wire either. I think it's old knob and tube wiring

Rather than replacing the receptacle I removed it. I cleaned up the wiring, taped it up good with fresh wire nuts and sealed the box with a single-gang blank cover. With an outlet at the top and the bottom of the stairs, there's no point in having on halfway, plus an extension cord from there is just a trip hazard.

Continuing down to the basement, I worked on a wall where the paint keeps peeling off. Apparently there had been some sort of water softener discharge issue years ago that had leeched salty water against the outside wall and eventually caused the paint to peel. Subsequent paintings were unsuccessful.  

I took a wire brush to it and cleaned off everything I could, tasting saltiness in the dust, There was a slight sparkle in the block and grout, probably salt, not a good sign for success.

The wall had been sealed / primed at some point. It didn't stick though. Rather than repeat the same thing, we decided to experiment with a flexible rubber coating. I've seen similar stuff on TV turn a screen door into a watertight boat, surely it would stick to this salty wall,.. right?

I put the stuff on initially in a thin coat and let it dry. After that, I blasted it on fairly thick. It ran a little bit, but nothing too noticeable for a basement wall,

Arrr,... take that ye' salty wall.

                           - AZ Pirate Guy

The fumes were staggering in that enclosed space, so I had to open up some windows and set up a box fan to exhaust that foulness outside. I closed the upstairs doors to keep the nastiness away from my Dad's lungs.  

It looked great!

The next morning, it was already peeling slightly. This one is a fail.

The last big project was a falling run of duct work, in the basement ceiling. I think the run had been stretched out a bit, back when they'd had the kitchen remodeled about  20 years ago. It finally started to drop in recent years.

My brother Jim and I pushed it back together and wired it up again. We wrapped the loose joints with foil faced tape and ran a few new screws into place. 

On one end it was actually hanging from a wire twisted around a drain pipe. We lifted it up with a fresh new piece of hanger wire, screwed into the framing. 

The ole drain-pipe hanging trick eh?

It was fun working alongside Jim and his legendary sideburns again.

There were plenty of other little things that got tackled before the trip was over. A tripped breaker that knocked out a kitchen receptacle got reset, the water softener was reloaded with salt, and the snow blower was put away, just a handful of little things 3,000 miles of continental United States normally prevents me from helping my parents with. 

Jim and I ran into town to pick up some supplies for one last project...

Tube-steak heaven.

That's right, honest to God, authentic, Detroit-style coney dogs. 





That's how it's done.