Sunday, June 13, 2010

It Started Out Innocently Enough…

The plan for today was to put down a new layer of cardboard and plastic and then start to assemble the scaffolding in the stairwell. I had a line on a large cache of cardboard from my work. We are getting new network cabling put in this weekend and on Friday I told the guys I would swing by and grab all of the empty boxes. Well, I went by after hitting the lumber yard and they had not even emptied one box yet. They were supposed to be finished today and they hadn’t even emptied one box! Oy!

So now what. I thought about driving around to grocery stores to scavenge cardboard, but that did not seem too appealing. In an effort to keep the project moving forward I started to think about the light fixture in the stairwell. It was going to be a big challenge and I wasn’t even sure if would do it.

So here is the problem. That light with the medallion is in the foyer right in front of the front door. It is controlled by a pair of 3-way switches, with one next to the front door and the other at the top of the stairs. The plan was to add a second light centered over the window you see in the background. Because of the way I wired the foyer light and the pair of 3-ways, I needed to get a new wire from that medallion, up in to the attic, and then bring it down in to a new box in the ceiling of the stairwell.

That ceiling is 20-feet above where I’m standing when taking this picture. That is challenge number one. The other issue is that the medallion in the foyer is the last remaining original medallion in the house. Above all else, do no harm. I don't want to risk damaging the medallion or any of the surrounding plaster

So I started to think about what was the biggest obstacle. That would be getting the wire down through the wall from the attic to the first floor ceiling. The real problem here is that I broke my 4.5-foot long flexible drill bit when I was running telecom a few months back. That is a $60 bit and is essential in being able to drill through the top plate and through any blocking in the walls. I know a lot of people say these old homes are all balloon framed with no fire blocks in the walls, but this house has blocking in all exterior walls.

The front gable in the attic that is over the front door.

I knew I had a hole already drilled from when I did the foyer light originally. If there was enough room for a second wire I would be in good shape. So that was the place to start. I grabbed a long piece of fish tape and tried to thread it down through the top plate and through the hole in the blocking in the wall. This process can sometimes take a half hour, but this time a nailed on the first try.

At this point I was pretty sure I was going to be wiring the light. So now I move down one floor.

This in the second floor hallway just below the attic gable and just above the light in the foyer. The left piece of baseboard is removed and the long middle piece is pulled away from the wall.

Behind it is the fish tape that I fed down from the attic. You can also see the piece of 14-3 romex I ran a few years back when I wired the foyer light originally. I attach the new wire to the fish tape and pull it up in to the attic. I'm half way home. Just below this is the medallion.

The next step is to remove some floor boards so I can get it down through the hole in the medallion and connect it to the wire that is already powering the light. That way, when the foyer light gets turned on the electricity will flow up the new wire and also turn on the new light on the ceiling of the stairwell.

So this is where it gets dicey. Very gently and gingerly I must run another piece of fish tape up through the medallion and in to this hole in the floor. Then, after attaching the other end of the new wire to the fish tape I must even more gently and gingerly pull the new wire down through the medallion. It was a nail biter, but I eventually got it.

Getting the fish tape up in to that floor space took a lot longer then you might think. Once it was down through the medallion though, I now had a new wire running from the first floor all of the way up in to the attic. It was now time for the ladder.

I bought this articulated ladder about 12 years ago. I bought it because I needed a tall ladder that could also fit in a 6-foot high shed. This stairwell is the only time I’ve used it like this and it proved to be invaluable. This allowed me to get high enough in the center of the stairwell to cut the hole for the new box. After spending time on the ladder cutting the hole it made me realize even more the importance of scaffolding in the stairwell. The ladder works, but it is no fun.

I use an angle grinder with a diamond blade on it to cut through the lath and plaster. Unlike the walls in this house, they did use traditional wooden lath for the ceilings. The benefit of the diamond blade is that it does not cause a lot of vibration of the lath when you are cutting it. Once the hole was cut it was a simply a matter of mounting the box and hooking up the socket.


Now both this light and the foyer light can be operated as one from a pair of 3-way switches at the top and bottom of the stairs.

The last step is to rewire this fixture, which will hang in the finished stairwell. It is 4.5-feet long, so in the future I should be able to change light bulbs with a normal ladder. Getting that articulated ladder in to place was a bitch. I was sure I was going to take out a window or some plaster. I’ve also decided that I’m going to paint the ceiling and hang the fixture while the scaffolding is in place. Once this space is finished I am not going to want to fool with that ladder in there.


Karen Anne said...

That ladder is really scary looking. Shouldn't it have another vertical part running down the wall?

Greg said...

I guess you could say that it is designed to be scary looking. It is a 16-foot ladder that is in 4, 4-foot sections. Each section can lock in to place a different angles. So, while that may look odd in that position, it is actually very secure.

Sean said...

Are you going to install a plaster medallion for the new fixture?

Greg said...

Hmmm, that's interesting idea. I kind of wish you hadn't thought of it.


Anonymous said...

I thought of you a lot today as I was doing acrobatics on my step ladder and step stool scraping wall paper off of the plaster/lath ceiling. This stairwell isn't nearly as tall as yours. I'll be building a drop-down floor to fill the stairwell opening to access the 18" ledge on the opposite side of the stairwell.

Greg said...

I get sweaty palms just thinking about it. After being on the ladder yesterday I've decided to add handrails to the scaffolding.