As you can see, one of the skylights has been added, and I’ve started the work for the second one. The ‘Self Flashed’ Velux skylights that we got are very easy to install. Once the shingles are removed from the roof, and the rough opening is cut out and framed up the skylight just drops in.  This is a two person job though, and my friend Marty did an awesome job helping me with it.   Velux includes some nice positioning blocks that allow you to make sure its aligned correctly, and then you just hammer some of the provided nails into the roof. After that you just have to put the shingles back on and thats it.

Alot of our friends and family have expressed concern that the skylights might leak. I, however am not concerned as the Velux skylights have three separate barriers against water. Any one of these should be sufficient to prevent leaks. The first is the metal flashing that gets layered underneath the shingles. This is the main line of defense and I can’t really see any water ever getting passed it. After that though, is a rubber flashing that extends a further 6″ beyond the metal. lastly around the rim of the rough opening a rubber gasket will still prevent leaks even if these other two barriers fail.

Hole in the roof!

Normally a  big hole in the roof would be considered a bad thing, but in this case its in preparation for the fancy new skylights we’re putting in.  I spent the weekend re-framing the opening, adding headers and sistering in some new rafters to support the load after the existing ones were cut.  Having all the right tools made the work pretty easy.  I used my wonderful Dewalt circular saw for most of the cuts, and used my 50-year old table saw to angle a few of the beams.  By far the most useful tool was the pneumatic framing nailer.  I probably could have done it all with a hammer, however I would have been exhausted and it would have taken twice as long.

Stage 1 Complete!

The demolition is finally complete, and the new work can begin.  Actually the new work already began with the electrical work I showed in the previous post.  I’ve also done a bit of framing, adding in some additional rafters to replace the ones that are being taken out.  One of the new ones is visible in the foreground of the picture.  In the picture you can also see some of the layout lines I’ve added to help visualize the final product.  On the brick wall the two white lines show how far out the stone veneer will come,   and on the ceiling the white lines show where the openings for the skylights will go.

As an added comment, this is the first picture taken with my fancy brand spanking new Canon Rebel Xsi.  This Digital SLR camera will replace my tiny little, mostly broken, Sony DSC-T9.  The pictures the Rebel produces are amazing even with my lack of photography skill.   The kit lens that I’m currently using is also much wider than the tiny little lens on the T9.  This means I can get more of the room into the picture without having to stitch together photographs.  At some point I’ll get a super wide angle lens,  but they are quite expensive, so that won’t be for a long time.

Wiring the Family Room

The previous owners of our house had done a bit of remodeling to the family room.  Exactly how much is a bit hard to tell, but by looking at the different types of electrical wire it seems that they added some recessed lighting and a motion sensor outside light.   Both of these have switches in the room, and were installed using remodel electrical boxes.   Remodel boxes are attached to the wallboard (in this case wood paneling) and therefore when I removed the paneling they were no longer supported.   I replaced these with some nice new construction boxes (they get nailed directly to a stud), and while I was at it, I decided to add a few more outlets to the room, including this double set which will be behind the TV.

Since the room will be used as a home theater, in addition to the electrical work I also had to run some other wiring, coax for the TV, a network cable for the Xbox, and some speaker wire for the rear surrounds.  The orange ‘box’ is a low voltage box, that is really just a frame with screw holes for a cover plate.  I suppose the ‘proper’ thing to do would be to terminate all the wires in the box and have nice little jacks to plug everything into, but this seemed unnecessary and would be detrimental to the signal from the antenna, as well as to the speakers.  Instead I just left enough wire hanging out to easily reach the TV stand.


What do you do when the only cars you have are both smallish sedans and you need to get 16 foot pieces of lumber home?  Why you build a roof rack of course!  To reinforce the roof for the upcoming skylights, we needed to get a bunch of 16 foot long 2×6’s.    Would have been nice to just rent a truck to get them, but the truck they have to rent at Lowes only has an 8 foot bed, and no roof rack.    The best option would have been to have them deliver it, however that was rather expensive, and this way seemed more fun.

Building the rack was pretty straight forward.  However I did hit a few bumps along the way.  My car has some nice nut-plates in the roof, which would make bolting down the rack easy and secure.   Since my car is German though, these bolts were metric.  This means that despite the massive collection of screws, nails and bolts I inherited from my grandfather, I didn’t have any that fit.  Fortunately after some hunting I found the proper M6 bolts at Lowes.  I then wrapped some 2×6’s in carpet to protect the roof, bolted them down, and then screwed some 2×4’s down to those.  All in all it worked pretty well, although the curvature of the roof made things a bit difficult, and of course it looked quite ghetto/white trashy.

Tearing down the Ceiling

The ceiling in the family room had these fake wooden beams on it, as well as being covered with a rough texture.    To get rid of the texture the two choices are to either skim coat it with plaster, or to just rip it down and start anew.   Since we would have had ot remove a large chunk of the ceiling anyway for the new skylights, it was an eeasy decision to just tear it all down.   It was an easy job, as I was able to go in the attic and hammer down most of the drywall.  However that was just the start of it, as the cleanup would end up being far more work than just knocking it down.  Since we didn’t rent a dumpster I got some nice Glad Force Flex contractor bags.  Which although they were quite expensive (50 cents a piece), they don’t rip when you put 40lbs of drywall into it.  This made the job pretty easy, but it was still a lot more debris than I would have imagined.

New Kitchen Window

For the family room project we decided to replace the window, as well as add in the skylights.   Since we have two other windows in the house that are the same size as the one in the family room, we decided to go ahead and get those too.  And of course since that meant we were replacing one of the windows in the kitchen we figured we might as well replace the other one too.  Gotta have them all match you know.  Of course this had the effect of lopping another couple thousand dollars onto the cost of our family room, but thats life.

We decided to get Anderson windows this time, the decision was slightly arbitrary.  The windows seemed pretty much the same, I liked the interior finish on the Anderson better, but I liked the aluminum cladding on the Pella better.   Although I must say the $40 ‘Fuel surcharge’ that Pella wanted pissed me off.  If your delivery costs go up, raise the price of your delivery, don’t add on an extra fee and pretend its not your fault.  /rant

I did run into a bit of an issue with the installation, the window we got was the exact size of the rough opening, which meant there was no room for any shims.   The opening was pretty level and square so it shouldn’t be too big a problem.  If it is I’m going to have the walls all open in a few years when we redo the kitchen anyway so I can re-frame it then.

Stone Veneer

Around the fireplace in the family room we’ve decided to put up some stone veneer.  This will server to accent the area around the fireplace, as well as provide a fireproof barrier for the wall.  The stone is going to extend past the edge of the fireplace by two feet, which should give it some weight without taking up the whole wall.  This is the ‘stone’ we’ve chosen to use.  It’s not a real stone, its actually a type of concrete thats been died to look like stone.  There are a few advantages to this, the biggest one is of course cost.  Its like half the price of a real stone veneer.  The second is weight, the engineered stone as they like to call it is significantly lighter than actual stone, and is therefore easier to install, and doesn’t require as much reinforcement.  Lastly there is a much greater variety of choices available.  This is the one we’re going with, its from a company called Eldorado Stone, and is called Walnut Ridge.  The picture isn’t the best and the sample is a little dinged up but hopefully it will look great in the family room.  We’re going to match it with a Pennsylvania bluestone hearth, and a wooden mantle.

In with the new!

Last Friday the guys from the Rubino Service Company came by to install our new AC. Looks to me like they did a pretty good job, certainly worlds better than the old install. The new unit has a Lennox XC1, and an Aspen coil. I won’t be able to tell how well it works until it gots hotter and I can check out our electric bill, however I can say that it is impressively quiet. Its not silent, but its pretty darn close. It’s quiet enough that with the windows closed (which is pretty much all the time its running) you can’t here it running, and you can’t here it in the back yard at all.

The installation seemed to go pretty smoothly. It was generally a one-man job which surprised me a bit, but a small parade of other folks stopped by too. In addition to the guy who did most of the installation, another guy came to help move the unit and do some of the plumbing. A few hours after that an electrician showed up to check on how the wiring was going. Next the owner of the company stopped by to check on how things were going and then lastly the salesman showed up to make sure everything was done to our liking, and of course to get our credit card information. The only thing left now is to wait for the two rebates to show up.

Out with the Old AC

Our old central air conditioner has reached the end of its life. The name plate on the compressor is gone, so its impossible to tell just how old it is, but our home inspector thought it was more than 20 years old. It worked reasonably well for the first half of last summer, but it cost a fortune to run. Then around the beginning of August, the coil started freezing up. Reading up it sounded like the unit was probably low on coolant, and although that would be pretty easy to fix, we decided to get a whole new unit. After doing some reading everyone seems to say that the installer is the most important part of choosing a new AC, so we got quotes from three different contractors, Hutchinson Plumbing Heating and Cooling, Mount Laurel Heating and Cooling, and Rubino Service Company. We acutaly called a fourth company P.R. Sanders, but they didn’t call us back.

Unfortunately since we have a four year old furnace, that only has single stage blower we couldn’t get the most efficient AC, but we got quotes from each installer for both a high (~SEER 15), and a low (~SEER 13) efficiency unit. We also looked into getting a heat pump, but found that the NJ CleanAdvantage rebate, that would be worth ~$400 on an air conditioner, wouldn’t cover any heat pump we could get, which therefore made them far to expensive. I think this is a real travesty, as a heat pump is a more efficient solution, which is the whole point of the program. I made up a spreadsheet of the quotes, which can be found here, if anyone is interested.

Although all three of the installers seemed quite competent, and the prices were all similar we decided to go with the Rubino Service Company. They impressed me due to their excellent record keeping, as they were able to tell us that they had visited the house before (many years ago before the current system was put in), and what they did on what dates. And while the other two salesmen seemed to know their stuff, the Rubino guy was just a bit better.