By Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon
The wiring of a new or remodeled home can look like spaghetti to the untrained eye, like the wires in this former fraternity house remodel – but it will be hidden later. Proper wiring is essential for functionality and safety.
Over the past several months we’ve kept you posted on an interesting project we are involved with. Our challenge was to turn a former fraternity house into a single-family dwelling. It has been fun to see this evolve from the heavily added-onto house it had become over the years back to the stately single-family home it once was. We aren’t there yet, but progress is being made.
At this stage of the remodel, progress is more practical than aesthetic. The roof has been “dried in,” which means the plywood sheathing has been put over the roof structure and felt paper has been laid over the whole area. A product called ice and water shield has also been applied around the eaves. This self-adhesive membrane is stronger than felt paper and is required by code. Its purpose is to prevent roof damage from ice dams that occur when heat escapes from the exterior walls and causes snow to freeze and thaw repeatedly.
Another area of activity has been the plumbing. The “rough” plumbing is complete. This refers to the hidden parts of the plumbing system: the pipes that are in the walls, over the ceiling, and under the floors. The large pipes can be either cast iron or PVC (a durable, hard plastic). Cast iron will be quieter, but it is more expensive and difficult to work with. Smaller pipes will be either copper or the more flexible PEX (cross-linked polyethylene). You can imagine the advantages of a flexible material over one that needs to be cut and soldered at every twist and turn. PEX is also attractive in terms of budget because the cost of copper has risen significantly.
Plumbing will be one of the more practical steps of a remodel. This old fraternity house has been stripped to its skeleton and will get all new plumbing, wiring and ductwork before the comprehensive project is finished.
The home’s electrical work is also progressing. Again, this is “rough” work, meaning it will also be invisible when the job is done. New panels have been installed, and wires have been run from the panels to various fixtures and outlets throughout the house. The common material for this is Romex, which is a grouping of a positive, negative, and ground wire in a flexible plastic sheath. Because it is flexible it can easily be worked through small holes drilled in the structure of the home. All these wires are brought back to the main panel in a spaghetti-like mess, but a good electrician brings order to the chaos and creates a well designed system that is easy to maintain or adapt in the future.
Finally, the mechanical work is under way. The old boiler system is being replaced with new forced air furnaces. This requires running ductwork throughout. Because this house has been gutted, all the walls and ceilings are open and accessible, which makes the ductwork step much easier. Sheet metal is the most common material for ducts, but newer pliable ducts are also available, offering the same ease-of-handling advantages as PEX piping and Romex wiring.
At this stage of a remodeling project there aren’t the dramatic changes of the framing phase or the excitement of the finishing stage. Nevertheless, taking the time to install these major systems correctly and according to code is critical. We’ll check back with the old fraternity house in another month or so when we anticipate the new house to be really taking shape. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.