Archive for the 'Attic' Category

AC Install Day One: Wednesday, June 15th, 2005

Wednesday, June 15th, 2005

When researching air conditioning for old houses, I scoured the internet for articles and information about high-velocity air conditioning, and while I found House in Progress’s post, I found almost no first-hand accounts of having air conditioning installed in 1) an old house 2) with no existing ductwork 3)while the owners were living there.

Based on that I’m going to do a day-by-day play-by-play of the install process in the hopes of giving some future installee a look into the process. Right now I don’t know if they’re going to leave great big holes in all my walls and plaster dust all over everything or what, so I’m a little nervous about the whole thing.

If you’re not looking to get AC installed in your house, you may want to just skip the next 8 entries (or run the risk of dying of boredom). You have been warned. On to the details:

American Vintage Home, Inc. Wilmette, IL
Blower Unit
Space Pak 5 ton high velocity blower
Condenser Unit
Heil 14 SEER ultra quiet (5 ton)
Number of air outlets
Number of returns
1 (ceiling of second floor stairs)
Estimated time to install
8 business days
Number of breaker slots needed in the main electrical panel

Our two installers from American Vintage Home, Jack and Bo, arrived today at about 11:30AM and began unloading their truck into our attic. Bo put on shoe covers, laid cloth tarps in the front foyer and the second floor hallway while Jack started placing supplies and tools on the front porch (which Bo relayed up to the attic). They got everything upstairs pretty quickly when their project manager, Dmitry, arrived to do the initial walkthrough with the three of us.

We started out by discussing the placement of the blower unit in the attic. M. and I want to add a dormer to the North side of the attic, so I made sure that the guys would put the blower as far into the Northeast corner of the attic as possible to avoid taking valuable floor space away from the future attic room.

We then went through every room in the house to discuss where each outlet would go. When J.R. first came out to give me their quote for the install, he took detailed measurements of every room and every window. He used this information to calculate the “heat load” of the house, and consequently, how many air outlets would be needed for each room in the house to keep the house evenly cooled (as well as the “tonnage” of the blower and condenser). Based on this, a room with more windows would have more outlets, and a room on the West side of the house would have more outlets than an identical room on the North side of the house. Furthermore, Dmitry explained to me that the outlets should be placed in each room as far from the air return as possible, but not in a place where they’ll blow cold air directly onto someone (like over a chair or a bed). This means that the outlets typically get placed in corners, above windows and above radiators.

After agreeing on the placement of all of the outlets, we reviewed the electrical panel and the placement of the outside condenser unit before Dmitry went on his way.

This all gave me a pretty good feeling about the team, but then again, no one had started sawing holes in the house just yet either.

Jack set to work in the attic while Bo covered the entire guest room in cloth tarps and plastic sheeting. Thirty minutes later, the two guest room outlets were installed, the tarps were rolled up, and any remaining mess had been vacuumed up. Aside from the two new outlets (and the Space Pak outlets are almost entirely unnoticeable too), you couldn’t tell anyone had been in the room at all!

Mind you, I had resigned myself to living in a construction zone for the 7-8 days of the install, but it looks like they really meant it when they said that they would take great care to keep the Old Man clean during installation. Their literature even claims that they’ll “leave your home as clean as we found it.”

Over the course of the rest of the afternoon, they worked their way clockwise around the second floor, covering the room in progress with tarps and plastic sheeting, drilling the hole for each outlet, feeding the duct tube in through it, and attaching the plastic port to the duct and the ceiling. In addition to the two outlets in the guest room, they installed one outlet in the hall, one in the hall bath, five in the front office, one in the bath off the office, and three in our bedroom. By the time they knocked off, all 13 outlets on the second floor were installed! And, as promised, the whole second floor was as clean as they found it!

They’ve given me a worst-case install time of eight days, which means that they’ll finish by the 24th. The downside is that installing the second floor outlets is by far the easiest part of the whole install–getting the tubes down through the walls to the first floor (and out through the brick in some cases) is going to take a bit more work.

So far, these guys get an A+. Professional, communicative, neat, and detail-oriented–what more can you ask for?

Empty Spaces

Monday, May 30th, 2005

I spent today putting the finishing touches on the attic in preparation for getting the air conditioning installed. After perforating my skull on yet another protruding nail, I took the time to pull hundreds of panelling nails out of the rafters. I then set to work pulling up the two pieces of carpet, one of which was attached to the floor with wire nails.

With all the big stuff out of the attic, it was time to tend to the dust, dirt, bits of wood, nails, peanut shells (from squirrels that apparently lived there before we moved in) and general crud that covered the attic floor from one end to the other. We’re talking about 50+ years of filth. To give you an idea of just how filthy it was, here’s a before and after picture of the rear attic windows:

And now, on to the cleaning. Supplies included:

  • 1 Shop VAC
  • 1 Shop VAC HEPA filter
  • 1 2.5″ Shop VAC hose
  • 1 pr. gloves
  • 1 set of grubby-old clothes
  • 1 old hat
  • 1 pr. safety glasses
  • 1 pr. ear plugs

I basically started in the Northeast corner of the attic, worked my way South, and then West. After a while I achieved a zen-like calm as my mind wandered farther and farther away from the mindless task at hand. M. made me lovely lunch which I ate in the backyard because I was so covered in dirt I was sure I’d destroy the kitchen–when I first came down from the attic, I looked like I’d been rolling around in a coal mine.

It took over 6 hours to finish cleaning (including the time pulling all the nails and disposing of the carpet), but this is what the attic looks like now:

You can even see where some previous owners cut holes in the floor for one reason or other (See the before pictures for comparison). While the floor is for the most part sound, before we finish the attic (in a few years), we’re either going to have to replace the entire floor or put a layer of plywood over it.

So we’re now officially ready for the AC guys to install. Woohoo!

Where Did May Go?

Thursday, May 26th, 2005

Wow, what a month. I’ve been completely swamped and have hardly spent any time working on The Old Man.

The week before last, M. and I spent some time out in the yard: I turned over most of the garden on the South side of the yard (which is nothing but a 90 foot strip of dirt) while M. weeded the yard. We’re basically struggling to make sure the lawn doesn’t die from neglect while the rest of our neighbors seem to be competing for the cover of Home and Garden magazine. This weekend we’re hoping to pull up some sod in the back corner of the yard and get some semblance of a vegetable garden started, but that might be a little ambitious for two people with as little free time as the two of us.

The attic is coming along nicely. Last weekend M. and I managed to get the rest of the panelling and framing ripped out (and thrown out of the rear attic window). So now our attic is mostly empty except for a few hundred pounds of dust and dirt, so this weekend it’s back up there with the Shop Vac. And the Advil. Another few hours of work and we should have a relatively clean attic ready for the air conditioning installers to do their magic.

Breathe in the Air

Thursday, May 26th, 2005

No pleasure, no rapture, no exquisite sin greater… than central air.

–Azrael, Dogma

Despite the evident Biblical repercussions, M. and I have decided to get central air conditioning installed in The Old Man. After a ton of research and 4 separate quotes, we’ve decided on a vendor to install a Space Pak high velocity system. We never really considered a conventional duct system, so it came down to Space Pak or Unico system, and our chosen vendor does both, but recommended Space Pak.

Quite frankly, even after doing tons of research and asking a bunch of people which they preferred, the jury’s out on which one is better. Our nephew, S., who does HVAC for a living claims that the differences are mostly in the marketing materials. On top of that, we have several friends who have Space Pak, and they love it, so it’s obviously not a *bad* system. As long as it cools the house without sounding like a 747 is landing, I’ll consider it a success. Whatever the case, if all goes well, by the end of June, we’ll have air conditioning installed.

The Big Red Fan of Death

Wednesday, May 4th, 2005

Last year, a mere two weeks after we purchased The Old Man, I was at a conference in Oregon. At that conference I ran into my friend Chris who I hadn’t seen or spoken to in months, mainly because he had moved to England earlier in the year. We greeted each other and when Chris asked how I was doing I told him that we had finally found a house and we were really excited about it. And he blurts out,

“Oh yeah! I heard about The Big Red Fan of Death!”

Now seeing as Chris has been living in Europe and I haven’t spoken to him about the house AT ALL, much less about THE BIG RED FAN OF DEATH, my brain pretty much stalled and proceeded to do flip-flops for a moment.

How did Chris know about The Big Red Fan of Death? Was he a spy? Was The Old Man bugged? Was my neighbor with the tin-foil hat really onto something?

The only people that knew about The Big Red Fan of Death were (the four) people who had actually been to my house, and Chris did not (to my knowledge) know any of those people, nor was he one of those people.

I looked at Chris and drooled intently for a moment.

After regaining my voice, I managed to stutteringly ask Chris how on earth he knew about The Big Red Fan of Death.

“Err, um… how di.. did… fa-fa-fan???”

To make a really long story only slightly shorter, it turns out that he found out about The Big Red Fan of Death from Greg, a friend of mine that Chris didn’t even know.

Greg had been in town the month that we closed on the house, and he had stopped by The Old Man while I was ripping out the basement ceiling. Greg had been so very impressed by The Big Red Fan of Death that, upon returning to the West Coast, he regaled an entire party with a story about his visit to The Big Red Fan of Death. Chris had, of course, met Greg at that party.

And so The Legend of The Big Red Fan of Death was born.

When we first saw The Old Man, we noticed that he had no central air conditioning. We knew that we’d want to install central air, but figured that the ceiling fans would help keep us cool provided we could get some breeze through the windows.

When we opened the door to the walk-up attic, we were greeted not by a light switch, but by a strange clock-like protuberance on the wall:

Odd, but not the strangest thing we’d seen in a house–perhaps some sort of light timer? However, eight steps into the attic, we found ourselves facing another door. After opening the second attic door, I stepped up into the attic, and before I could vocalize the question of why anyone would put a second attic door halfway up the stairs, I saw why: I saw The Big Red Fan of Death.

Now it may be hard to get a sense of scale from this picture, so here’s another picture with my cordless drill (fearing for its very life, I might add) sitting in front of The Maw of The Big Red Fan of Death:

For those of you who are counting, that’s a whopping thirty-six inch diameter, twelve inch deep fan blade. It’s powered by a small motor that’s mounted to the base of the fan. This remarkably quiet motor drives the fan by means of a fan belt:

So, by opening the main attic door and closing the second attic door (on the steps), you effectively make the fan the only means for air to pass into (or out of) the attic. Open the attic windows and a few windows in the house, and you can turn on The Big Red Fan of Death, and draw a profound amount of Fresh-Air through the house. I know it’s Fresh-Air because The Big Red Fan of Death says so:

If you stand in the attic doorway while The Big Red Fan of Death is on, you can actually feel the air pulling you into the stairwell. Since we don’t have any kids (or small pets, or birds, or elk), we used The Big Red Fan of Death a few times last fall before we moved in (despite the fact that our home inspector wrote DO NOT USE in HUGE letters on our inspection report). It works amazingly well at drawing the hot, stale air out of the house. Whoever installed it was obviously a genius.

Except for one small detail–the small detail that puts the “Death” into The Big Red Fan of Death.

It has no safety features. None. At. All. You could easily lose a finger in this fan. Or an arm. Or a small child. Or a Zebra.

It has no screen, no grill, no grate, no bars, no warning label, no nothing; zero, zip, nada, a big fat goose egg. What’s the international symbol for “decapitation hazard” anyway?

This is the kind of fan that would make Darwin proud.

But maybe I’m being short-sighted here–if you had kids in this house, you could really take advantage of having a Big Red Fan of Death handy:

Mom: Eat the rest of your vegetables!

Son: Plblblblblbttt! I don’t have to!

Mom: You will eat your vegetables right this minute or I will feed you and your vegetables to The Big Red Fan of Death.


Dad: Pick up your room!

Son: I don’t wannnnaaaa!

Dad: Remember what I did to your former sister when she didn’t clean up her room?

Son: Sir! Yes Sir! Picking up Sir!

And that’s the story of The Big Red Fan of Death.

Songs in the Attic

Sunday, April 24th, 2005

We’re really lucky to have a walk-up attic in The Old Man. It has its own door off the second floor hallway, and the stairway up has got plenty of height to it. The attic itself is about 8 feet at the peak, and tapers down to the floor on the North and South sides and the East and West sides have dormers with double casement windows. The Long Term Plan is to dormer up one side and make it into finished living space (essentially, another bedroom or study).

The attic is the sole area of the house that we’ve left untouched since we bought the house. We don’t really need it for storage or living space at the moment, so we’ve closed the attic door and concentrated on working on the rest of the house.

Now that we’ve started getting quotes for central air-conditioning, we have to get the attic into a state suitable for the A/C contractors to work in, and as with most everything else in The Old Man, that means demolition.

At some point in the past–I’d have to guess the early 70’s–one of the previous owners built a room in the attic. This room basically consists of some amount of R14 fiberglass insulation, furring strips, studs, and liberal amounts of lime green panelling. The construction included two built-in platforms that seem about the right size to hold single beds. Lastly, there is an enclosure built over the stairwell to contain The Big Red Fan of Death (more on that in a later post). This left a small amount of unfinished space in the back of the attic (accessible through a door, also covered in green panelling). The windows in the back part of the attic have fixed masonite louvers on them (outside), presumably to behave as an outtake for The Big Red Fan of Death when it was running.

So this Saturday, our nephew S. and I headed up into the attic with tools and the Shop-Vac and started ripping everything (except for the fan) out. We vacuumed a corner of the unfinished part of the attic and stacked the old storm windows and french doors there while we started tearing everything else out. We pulled down sheet after sheet of panelling, knocked down the studs one at a time, and pulled out strips of insulation. After about 4 hours, we had a tremendous pile of garbage in the back of the attic and had finished about 3/4 of the demolition work. We now had to get all of this out to the alley and into the garbage.

Looking towards the front, before and after.

We had two choices for getting the trash out: Make dozens of trips down through the house with armloads of dusty dirty wood and panelling, or chuck everything out the window and into the backyard.

I’ll give you one guess as to which one we picked.

We tore the louvers out of the back attic windows, and this gave us a clear path to the backyard. While we took turns throwing 2×4’s, furring strips, and bits of insulation out into the yard, we couldn’t toss the panelling out for fear that it would take wind and fly back into the house or even worse, into the neighbor’s yard.

Looking towards the back, before and after.

So I went down onto the roof over the breakfast room and S. handed me the sheets of panelling and I dropped them down into the backyard one at a time. After that, it was just a matter of picking everything up out of the yard (and replacing some king-size divots!) and getting it out to the alley. All told, the cleanup only took about 50 minutes.

So we’ve still got a bit of work to do before we’ll have a totally empty attic, but we got a lot more done in five hours than I thought we would.

Now where’s that bottle of Advil again?