A Lesson in Light Fixture Anatomy

I just finished removing the dimmer switch from our living room (we never used it, plus that light’s on a lot and we’re on our second set of bulbs since moving in less than 2 years ago, and a light just died from this set, so we’d like to make the switch to spiral bulbs), where I spent a good 20 minutes rewiring since the previous owners thought that things like grounding were unnecessary, plus they chopped their wires really short, which made swapping the switches out super fun…

Then it occurred to me: a lot of people just getting started in the world of DIY home repair/remodeling don’t know where to start or where to look for help, and thus make mistakes.  I’m by no means an expert, but I have learned a few things along the way that have greatly helped me in my quest to make this house our home.  For example, this illustration was extremely helpful when I converted our bedroom fan/light from a double toggle switch to two single toggle switches, and I consulted it again when I was replacing the living room light switch.  And when I was working on our bathroom, I discovered something about the way light fixtures mount to the wall that I didn’t know before.

I assumed that most bathroom light fixtures had a universal mounting method (or at the very least, would be compatible with each other).  I was wrong.  This is the box/mounting hardware from our original light:


The teal arrow is pointing to the threaded rod that fed through the light fixture base and was capped off with a decorative cap that held the fixture snug to the wall.

Here’s a shot inside the box:


This box was mounted between studs, so the red arrows point to the screws/bolts securing the box to the tension rod.  The teal arrows point to where you can secure the light’s mounting strap.  Unfortunately, the new light fixture had 2 screws that secured the base, rather than one in the middle, and the circle cross bar that came with it just would not line up with the teal arrows.


fixture strap


circle cross bar

The new circle cross bar did have a hole in the middle, and I seriously considered just mounting the circle over the existing fixture strap, but that left very little room for tucking wires.  Since I was planning on moving the light fixture up a bit anyway, I opted to just get a new box, one that would be a bit more compatible with the new light’s mounting hardware.

I’m glad I did because I’ve come to hate all these tiny little metal half-boxes the previous owners used for all their work:


The new box’s holes line up perfectly with the circle cross bar (6 and 12 o’clock on the picture below, I forgot to mark them), and the red arrows point to the location of the light’s mounting screws:


(I tucked the wires down a bit for the picture, there’s actually plenty of length to work with.)

So there you have it: two very different, not-so-compatible, mounting systems and a relatively quick way to fix it (if I wasn’t moving the light fixture up, I would have needed to open up the wall just a bit more to accommodate the new box- it was slightly wider than the old one.  I also flipped the tension rod around so it sat deeper in the wall to allow the new box to sit flush with the wall).

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Tiny Trees

All my projects are in that awkward middle stage, and I want to show you guys finished things, not half-done projects that ruin the surprise, so I thought I’d share this picture instead:


Shortly after Christmas, I found these tree-shaped jars on clearance at Walmart.  The big one was $2, and the first little one was $1, and then the little ones dropped to 50¢ and I bought a whole forest.  Seriously.  We refer to this collection of jars as The Tiny Tree Forest.  And even though they look pretty empty in that picture, they are currently full of Tiny Tree Treats (clearance Valentine’s Day candy and Jelly Beans).  They currently live on top of our DVD shelf, which helps their tasty contents last longer.  Plus we get to make trips to the Tiny Tree Forest, and something about that phrase (that and Tiny Tree Treats) never fails to make me smile :)

Oh, and some technical details:  Our living room doesn’t have the best lighting, and I didn’t want a flash reflection, so I used my 50mm lens wide open at a shutter speed of 1/50s.  I was a bit worried the narrow depth of field would make the foremost tree be not completely in focus, but I love the way the 1.4 aperture blurs the rear trees!

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Shopping = Fun?!

You may have guessed it already, but I’m not your typically girly-girl.  I’m not a super-outgoing person and would much rather be swinging a hammer and working on projects than going out to the mall or dinner with a group of girlfriends.  Not that I don’t enjoy hanging out with friends, but I tend to gravitate toward smaller get-togethers as opposed to huge group functions.  You’re more likely to see me covered in paint and sawdust than in makeup.  And I’m hopeless when it comes to shopping.  When I need a new outfit for something, or need accessories to go with stuff I already have, I turn to my sister for help.  She’s got this amazing ability to just walk up to a rack of clothes and come away with the perfect outfit.  Shoot, we live almost 4 hours apart right now and I still call her!  We both head out to the same store and she finds cool stuff and describes it to me so I can find it too.  Even when we were in school (and again lived 3-4 hours apart) she would go shopping “with” me.  Or at the very least hop online and send me links to cute things so I had a target when I went out to the store.

My favorite time was when I needed shoes to go with the dress I was wearing to my brother-in-law’s wedding and since we were both in town at the time, she came to pick me up.  I totally forgot to set my alarm and was sound asleep when she came.  So I threw on some clothes, grabbed a muffin, and ran out the door.  We (she) found the perfect pair of boots at the second store we tried.  I had been up for just over half an hour.  It gave us the whole rest of the day to hang out and talk!  Had I tried to do that on my own, I would have ended up shopping and driving around for hours only to come home empty handed and in a terrible mood.

I bring this up because I voluntarily spent 6 hours a store today.  But this wasn’t just any store- earlier this week I discovered an ACE Hardware whose existence was previously unknown to me.  And it had this:


That is a whole aisle of drawers- drawers that contain nuts and bolts and screws and any sort of doodad you can imagine!  I seriously spent 15 minutes just walking up and down this aisle opening up random boxes.  And even though I couldn’t stay long that first day, I knew I’d have to come back.  So I came up with an awesome project idea and spent 6 hours there this afternoon picked out the perfect pieces:


This project involves spray paint, and I’ve heard rumors of a warm spell (40s) coming this way, so I’m hoping the weather holds out so I can show you guys because seriously, this is gonna be cool!

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Upper Bath: Complete!

Guys, I just showered upstairs for the first time in almost a month and a half, and let me tell you- it was amazing!

Back when I started this bathroom project, I figured I could have the majority of it done in a weekend… HA!  I should have known better… unfortunately, that meant that we’ve had to use the downstairs shower since January.  It’s not really that big of a deal- sure it’s a bit chillier down there, and it’s not as convenient as the bathroom right off our bedroom, but at least it has a functioning shower!

And today we put the last piece into place: a functioning fan!  I’ll go into details on that later, but right now, I have to show you our finished bathroom!!


Isn’t it awesome!  The pictures don’t quite capture the colors quite right (and I don’t have a wide-angle lens so things are a bit cropped), but I’m super-excited about how this room has turned out!

Here’s a shot of the completed vanity area:


(yes, I’m in pajamas- my pants have dinosaurs on them!)

You can’t really tell from this shot, but the globes on the light fixture are about half an inch above the level of the mirror frame- just where I wanted them to hit!


I’m still trying to figure out what else to put on my sweet floating shelves


So there you have it- our bathroom is done!  …until phase 2 when I plan on cleaning up and probably re-staining the vanity, and maybe replacing the countertop (it’s full of scratches and cracks and has a nice divot from when one of the light shades fell down).

What sorts of projects have you been working on?  Do they always seem to take longer than you anticipate, or are you pretty good at staying on schedule?

Posted in Bathroom, DIY | 6 Comments


Our bathroom is so close to being done!!!  I ran into a bit of a snafu this morning (like 4am, morning) in that the mounting screws for our light were too long (and my Dremel was nowhere to be found) and since no hardware store is open then, I had to call it a night.  Am I the only night owl who gets the most done at about 2am?

Even though I couldn’t get the light up, I was able to get the mirror framed.  If you remember, I ran into some size-related issues with the mirrors we currently had at our house.  Thanks to your input, I opted to just go out and find a mirror that fit the space, rather than try to make one of the existing mirrors work.  At $50, it was a bit more than I wanted to spend, but I’m hoping by Craigslisting the other 2, I’ll be able to get most of that back.

Even though small, cute mirrors are all the rage right now, I wanted something big and this mirror definitely fits that- at 42″x39″ it just barely fit in my car!


I brought along my nice, thick alpaca blankets to pad the mirror for the ride home, and secured it in place with a few bungee cords conveniently placed in my trunk by my dad.   You can never have too many bungee cords- when I was younger we would stop an pull over, and rescue any bungees we saw on the side of the road and I may or may not have continued that tradition…

Also, once one of our cars dies, we’ll probably replace it with a bigger vehicle- my car can haul a decent amount of lumber and I can pack quite a bit of stuff in it, but having a larger vehicle- something with 4-wheel drive and towing capabilities- would come in handy here in Northern Wisconsin!  (not that my car will ever die- I’m hoping it lives forever- I love my car and am quite attached to it!)

Anyway… I managed to get the mirror out of my car and into the house without incident, and propped it up on the vanity to make sure it fit:


(I can’t wait to have proper lighting in here!  The majority of my in-progress pictures for this project look terrible, especially if I just use the point and shoot!)

It fits!  And for the record, yes, that is a piece of painter’s tape holding the mirror up and yes, it actually held the mirror up! (not that I’d trust it overnight or anything, but for a quick picture?  totally acceptable!)

After cleaning up the mirror a bit (I’m looking at you sticker), I picked up some mirror mounting clips.  I was originally planning on using a J-channel on the bottom:


But they only came in long lengths and I didn’t want to have to cut it down.  Since I was also planning on framing the mirror, I wanted to find some sort of clip that would be relatively flush so I could just seat my frame over it and not have to notch out around the clips.  I also really don’t trust the plastic clips, but I was having a hard time finding anything not plastic.  Then I found these clips at Menards:


After locating the studs, I rested the lip of the clip on the top of the backsplash and secured the bottom 2 clips.  For the top clips, I measured where I wanted to lip to fall and drilled my holes so that the clip could be raised up enough to slide the mirror into place and then pressed the clips down so the lip held the mirror in place.  Does that make sense?  I always go to write these kinds of things up only to realized I never took pictures along the way :(

Next, I measured out my frame.  I used 1×3 poplar boards the same width as the mirror, and about 2 inches taller (to make room for the mounting hardware).  After an unfortunate incident of late-night construction in which I measured twice, but still cut incorrectly (I mitered my corners and cut the long side to the measured length instead of the inner side- nothing a little glue and clamps and sanding couldn’t fix!…).  Here’s the frame drying after being glued and stapled (I don’t believe in Kreg Jigs, I plan on reinforcing the corners with screws later):


Oh yeah, I also lack large clamps, so after applying glue (and putting some wax paper down so I don’t glue anything to the floor) I threw a couple staples in each corner and then weighed each corner down to keep the frame flat.  Starting at the top and going clockwise we have: a full gallon of primer, a partial gallon of Minwax’s Golden Oak stain left by the previous owners + my cordless drill, joint compound, and about half a gallon of polyurethane (also left by the previous owners), 2 welding clamps and my corded drill.  Not the prettiest of set-ups, but it worked!

The frame got the same treatment as the rest of the wood in our bathroom: Miniwax’s Wood Finish in Jacobean + India Ink.  I ran into a few problems trying to mount it.  My first plan was to use a set of angle brackets like this:


But for some odd reason, the frame kept kicking away from the mirror.  I Googled to see how other people attached their frames, but most everyone was using Liquid Nails or some other adhesive and I didn’t want to glue my frame onto the mirror.  Then I realized I was probably over thinking things.  I grabbed a set of picture hanging brackets:


Measured where the center of the stud would be and installed them onto the back of my frame.  Then I drilled a drywall screw into each stud so they would line up with the hangers.  I also tied a piece of wire around the head of each screw, looped it through the hanger, and then back around each screw in a sort of figure-8 pattern.


(it’s really hard to take a picture behind a mirror!)  I’m hoping that this will hold it secure enough that even if the frame gets bumped it won’t come crashing down (unless those hangers pull out…).  The frame also ended up being about 1/16″ lower than the backsplash, so it’s actually wedged in place pretty well!

Here’s the finished product!


Now to hang that light…

Posted in Bathroom, DIY, House, Tutorial | 2 Comments

Well That Explains Why Our Fan Doesn’t Work!

So back when I started this bathroom project, I knew something had to be done with the fan.  I’ve kinda been putting it off because frankly, I didn’t really wanna climb up into the attic.  I hoped that by cleaning the old fan up and lubricating the motor that it would magically start working again.  Yeah, like that would ever happen!  The one thing that worried me about just leaving the old fan in there though was the fact that when I pulled off the fan’s grill, I found a bee.  A dead bee, but the slats in the the grill were pretty narrow and I don’t think he could have gotten in via the bathroom.  The only other explanation is that he flew in from outside.  And I didn’t like that explanation either.  So I decided he was just a lone bee and he got lost.  Or at least I tried to convince myself of that.  Maybe by thinking it hard enough, it’d be true?

Then my dad offered to come up and help me put in a new fan.  Suddenly going up in the attic didn’t seem so bad.  I mean, he’s replaced more fans than I have, he’s actually been up in and has worked in attics, and he has all the fun tools :)  But I still had to go up and scout things out so he’d know what to bring.  It started out well enough…


That’s our attic!  It looks smaller than it actually is because the ceilings in the kitchen/dining room and living room are vaulted.  If you peer over the probably-not-code cardboard retaining walls, you can find them:


And if you follow the electrical wiring, and dig through a foot or so of insulation, you find a fan!


I excavated around the fan a bit further and unearthed this:


Spectacular!  Now I’m all worried about mice in our house!

I also found this gem:


Yup, that’s standard duct tape (not the foil kind like you’re supposed to use on duct work, confusing, I know) wrapped around the bottom chord of the roof truss, totally kinking off the 3″ flexible plastic “duct”.  Ugh, that picture seriously makes me cringe.

Since we’ll be replacing the whole thing (fan and duct), I had to find where it vented out.  Instead of venting straight up through the roof, or even out the side wall nearby, I finally found the vent 18′ away on the other side of the attic:


Huh… I mean, the wall right by the fan would mean a vent would be right over our deck, so I guess I get that, and going through the roof… well, maybe they just didn’t want to put more holes in the roof, which I also get, but still…  anyway… remember that bee I found in the grill?  Yeah… I found his house:


I gingerly picked around it just in case there were any sleepers in it.  The insulation stuck to the top of it, so it’s kinda hard to tell from this top view but the teal arrows point to the duct and the red arrows outline the edges of the hive.  I didn’t actually measure it, but it was pretty massive!


I shouted through the attic hatch for my husband to grab me some plastic bags and a giant garbage bag so I could clean everything up.  Fortunately, there was no one home, and the hive was pretty crumbly, so I’m guessing it hadn’t been inhabited for a while (our house did sit empty for a year before we moved in almost 2 years ago), but the bees did some pretty extensive damage to the duct while they were there:


There were several holes in the ducting (I cringe every time I call this flexible plastic tubing ‘ducting’ because it totally isn’t in my opinion!) and the hive was actually extending into the lumen!  How crazy is that!?  I guess that explains why our fan did absolutely nothing!  And I’m really glad we decided to replace it instead of just living with the old one and hoping the cleaning/lubrication helped it out!

Since the hive was extending into the duct, and since we’re replacing it anyway, I decided to just rip it all out while I was up there.  Here’s the hive after I ripped the top half off:


(I should probably mention that I was fully suited up while I was up in the attic- I’m talking isolation suit, booties, hat, mask, goggles, headlight and gloves- even if there were bees in there, there wasn’t much skin for them to get at.  I really should have taken a picture- I looked like a marshmallow!)

Once I had the hive remnants cleaned up, I disconnected the ‘duct’ from the vent and guess what I found!?  Yup, more hives!


These looked newer than that giant behemoth of a hive, but no one was home in them either, so they got bagged up too.  I took off that stupid reducer because the duct we’re putting in will be 4″.  Also note the fibers from the improper form of duct tape.  If we use this vent, we’ll have to seal it up better:


Also, we’ll have to cut an actual circle.  And probably properly flash it.  Awesome.

(and yes, those are dead bee bodies along the bottom between the vent and the OSB)

In the meantime, I threw some house tape over that opening so nothing can get in before we either hook up some new ducting to it or patch it up.

So besides the whole there’s-a-giant-bee’s-hive-in-our-attic, and the fact that at one point there was a critter up there, I rather enjoy being up in the attic- climbing from truss to truss is kinda fun!

There’s a giant snowstorm heading our way this weekend, so the state of the roads will determine when my dad will be able to come up to help me out, but I really can’t wait to start working up there!  AHHHH!!! I seriously love house projects!!!

Posted in Bathroom, Bugs, DIY | 10 Comments

Upper Bath: Super-Secret Project #1

So as I planned out what I was going to do with our bathroom refresh/remodel, I came up with an awesome idea, but since I wanted to get phase 1 done in just one weekend, I mentally bumped it out to phase 2.  Then I broke the light and since it took a while to get a new one, I decided to start working on one of the phase 2 projects…

Floating shelves!!!


(Still gotta find stuff to fill the shelves- that’s where secret project #2 comes in :) )

As for how I made them: I used 1x2s for the frames and a slab of 1/4″ aspen for the top/bottom, but since I don’t have a table saw, or any sort of tool for making long, with-the-grain cuts, my frames ended up kinda chunky:


You can kinda see the inner frame in this shot, as well as how the 2 parts slide together:


I’ve been using Miniwax’s Wood Finish in Jacobean for all the bathroom projects so far, along with a bit of India Ink.  Fun fact: that can is one of the first project-related purchases I made, way back in 2009 when I built a super-awesome media shelf for my DVDs.  The can is almost empty and I’m actually kinda sad about it :(


I guess I’ll have to go buy some more!

Once the shelves were all stained and clear-coated, it was time to install them!


I was only able to hit one stud, so I secured it with a giant deck screw, and just used the second screw to hold the shelf level.

And since shelves look cooler in pairs:


For added stability (and weight!), each shelf also gets a cross beam.  I had to take them off so I could secure the bracket part to the wall, but I marked them so I would know which beam went with which bracket (I had pre-drilled them so I wanted to make sure the holes lined up):


I also put an arrow on both the bracket and the beam so I’d know which end was up and which end went where:


(can you see the screw tips peeking through the holes?)

Here are the completed inner frames:


Nice and chunky!  Fortunately the stuff I plan on putting on them isn’t too heavy because these shelves have some serious heft to them!


I’m pretty pleased with how they turned out!  And they were really easy to make.  I do wish I had been able to cut down the insides a bit so they weren’t so chunky, but until we find room for a table saw, I’ll just have to make due with what we have (and buy my wood as close to the size I need).

Even though it took almost a month longer than I intended, I love the way our bathroom is turning out!  The frame for the mirror is almost ready to be hung, I’ve cut a new hole for the light fixture and the old hole is patched.  All that’s left is priming/painting over the old hole, installing the light and hanging the frame.  I’m seriously excited!  I kinda want to jump into phase 2, but since it involves spray paint, I’ll have to wait until it gets warmer.

Posted in Bathroom, DIY, House, Tutorial | 1 Comment