The wiring is complete

Finally, the wiring is done. I feel like I’ve been working on it forever. And looking back to when I finished the framing, wow, I have been on this stage a log time. I finished the framing May 12. So it’s been eight months.

Of course, I wasn’t wiring the entire time. And I had some setbacks with some of the low-voltage wiring. But not much work got done during the summer months when weekends were more activity-filled. And it took a lot of contemplation time to figure out where I wanted the lights and receptacles and how best to group them into circuits. Before I could even get there, I had to work through a wiring book so I had a basic idea of what I was doing.

Then there was the old-work/new-work snafu. And issues getting the measurements right to figure out where the furring strips will go so I could place the can lights between them. (They won’t go up until after I put the insulation in the ceiling.) It’s been a long, drawn-out process filled with missteps and delays. I’m glad that part is done.

I’ll call Friday to schedule the rough-in inspection, and spend the weekend getting things straightened up so it all looks good for the inspector.

Then I’ll cross my fingers — and look forward to portions of the job that will hopefully move faster and give a greater sense of ongoing accomplishment.

My head hurts

I spent the afternoon working on  wiring for the lights. I mounted the electric boxes for the sconces that will go on either side of the projection screen, for a light in the closet under the stairs and put up a couple of boxes for switches in the appropriate locations. Then I started trying to figure out how to wire the lights. Naturally, I started with the hardest circuit first.

The two main rooms in the basement — the home office and the home theater — will be relatively simple. One circuit for each room, each with eight or nine lights. In the home theater room, there will be the two aforementioned sconces and six can lights. The sconces will be on one dimmer, the six can lights will be divided between two dimmers, front and back. I’m going to power all three dimmers through two three-way switches, so it’ll be easy to turn the lights on or off from the bottom of the basement stairs and from the office side of the basement. (I’m hoping to buy remote controlled dimmers so I can do lighting scenes for different applications – movies, games, tv, etc., and program them into the Logitech Harmony remote that I hope will control all the A/V, but that’s another story.) On the home office side, there will be nine can lights, including one for the short hall that separates the two rooms. I haven’t decided if those will be all on one switch, or if I’ll put in zones for the desk areas and the music area.

But then there are these orphan lights. Directional can lights that will shine on the fireplace. A light in the closet. Pendant lights over the bar and puck lights in the soffit over the back bar. Lights for the unfinished storage area. About seven lights altogether that didn’t fit neatly onto either of the other two lighting circuits. So, I thought, why not just put them all on one circuit?

That was fine. I had an idea of how to put one set of lights on a switch, then keep the circuit going to unswitched outlets or lights. But for some reason, trying to extrapolate that to five sets of lights, all with their own switches, made my head hurt. Then I was trying to figure out if the method I used would work if the power went to a set of fixtures first, before the first switch. I think it would have, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around how to do it, and if doing it that way would require using a lot more of the more expensive 14/3 wire.

A little electrical background: There are two main gauges of wire used for indoor electric: 14 gauge and 12 gauge. Twelve gauge is larger (yeah, 12 gauge is larger than 14; I already figured that out the hard way), and generally used for 20-amp breakers. Fourteen gauge is used for 15-amp breakers. Both come in either 2-wire (plus ground) configurations or 3-wire (plus ground) configurations. The shorthand is gauge/number of wires. So 12-gauge wire in a three-wire configuration is referred to as 12/3. For simple wiring, all you need is the two-wire configuration. But if you want more than one switch to turn on and off the same light, or if you want to have switched and unswitched power on the same circuit, you need 12/3 in some places. In an electric circuit, you have the hot wire, carrying the charge. You have the neutral wire, which completes the circuit. And you have the ground wire, which diverts electricity safely into the ground if there’s a short somewhere along the line. So you always have at least two wires plus the ground. The third wire comes in when you need a second hot wire either for a common carrier for a three-way light switch (which lets two switches control the same fixture or set of fixtures) or to carry current past a switch.

Anyway, back to my set-up. I have a wiring book that explained how to run a fair number of simple circuits, but it didn’t include any examples quite like this. What seemed to make the most sense to me, given the configuration of the lighting and the location of the sub panel, was to run from the sub panel to the two lights by the fireplace, then to the switch for those two lights, then to the switch for the puck lights under the back bar, then to the outlet for the puck lights, then to the pendant lights, then to the switch for the pendant lights, then to the two lights in the unfinished space, then to the switch for those two lights, then to the light in the closet and, finally, to the switch for that light.

But, as I said, I just couldn’t wrap my head around that. It seemed like in order to pull that off, I would need to run the 14/3 wire between everything. But I wasn’t even sure about that. I wrestled with it a good part of the afternoon. I’d pace around the basement, come upstairs and read the wiring book, look stuff up online. Go back downstairs. Pace around a bit more. I was seriously ready to start beating my head against a wall. Finally, I found a forum online where someone raised a similar question to mine, but it was too different to really help me. But, I thought, I could ask the question there. So I registered for the forum, started a new thread and laid out the problem, much as I did up above, though with a bit more specificity. I started trying to diagram out the circuit run. And when I got to the end of that, before I even submitted the question, the solution came to me.

If, instead, I started with the switch in the closet and worked around the other way, I would always be dealing with a simple switch-fixture combination. That I knew how to do. And it required a lot less of the 14/3 wiring. (Did I mention that’s more expensive?) To simplify even further, I decided the switches for the pendant lights and the puck lights could go in a dual-gang box (a two-switch box). So that’s what I’m doing. So, this circuit goes from the subpanel to the closet switch and then to the closet light. There’s a 14/3 run between the switch and the light to carry an uninterrupted hot line on from the switch to the light, where it will go onto the switch for the unfinished area. That pattern repeats then with all the switches, with 14/2 running in between. Clear as mud? I’d draw a diagram, but it would probably end up looking like the remnants of a bowl of spaghetti.

Because of all the mental work, I only got about half the circuit run today, but it’s all downhill from here.

I think.

Progress still coming in small increments

So all the outlets are wired. The bathroom switch, light and fan are wired. I have the cans mounted in the ceiling for the recessed lighting, but I still need to run the wiring for the lighting, and put a mount in for a light in the closet.

I also need to rewire the part of the basement that’s going to remain unfinished. That’ll require dealing with some of the existing wiring, though, so I’m thinking that one over carefully to make sure I know exactly what I need to do before I start.

Once that’s all done, I’ll call the county and get it inspected. Assuming I pass, I’ll install the outlets and switches, then call in my friend who’s going to help install the subpanel and hook up the new circuits.

After that? Drywall! Then ceiling, tile floor for the bathroom and bar area, wet bar construction and, finally, laying down the laminate.

One short line of words to describe what will undoubtedly be months of work.

But I’m motivated by thoughts of the finished project. Adding to the motivation, I bought some of the AV equipment. Yamaha in-wall and in-ceiling speakers, a Sony powered subwoofer and a Sony STRDH830 Sony 3D 7.1 Channel A/V Receivers. (Oh, I redid the speaker wire, too. Out of ignorance, I had put in 18-gauge speaker. When I bought the sound equipment — 140-watt-per-channel amp with speakers that can handle the power — I realized I really ought to go with a larger gauge. So I bought 12-gauge wire and installed that. What? You didn’t know that 12-gauge is actually bigger than 18-gauge? Yeah. Neither did I.)

Just to sweeten the deal even more, for Christmas, I bought my wife The Coppola Restoration of the Godfather trilogy on Blu-Ray for Christmas. I’m a romantic, I know. Actually, she’s never seen The Godfather, so we decided that should be the premiere movie when the man cave is finished.

Looking back, serious work didn’t get started on the basement until February. I thought this would be about a six-month project, but I had no clue what I was doing, so I probably should have tripled that estimate to start with. With the weather turning nasty, there should be some prime time to work on the basement to make some genuine progress in the coming months. I’m looking forward to the finishing the electrical, which has taken a lot longer than I anticipated. I think once dry wall starts going up, I’ll begin to feel like the project is moving again.

Incremental progress continues

I finally feel like some progress is being made on the basement again. I got all of the outlet boxes mounted (hammering in the nails to mount the boxes convinced me even further that the nail gun was THE best tool purchase I made for this project).

Let me tell a little story on myself about the outlet boxes. I didn’t buy any for a long time because I could not find the ones I needed. I needed boxes that would attach directly to the studs. All I could find were ones with rotating tabs to secure to drywall. Neither Lowes nor Home Depot had what I was looking for. Finally, I discovered why. When you look at these kind of boxes, they are labeled one of two ways: Old work or new work. For some reason, either something I read online or something I “figured out” on my own, I thought “old work” meant electric and “new work” meant low-voltage wiring like speakers, ethernet, cable and phone lines. I was wrong. Old work signifies boxes for renovations, work done after a room has been finished. New work signifies boxes for new construction (or new finishing projects like the one I’m undertaking).

Once I realized that, finding what I needed was ludicrously simple. D’oh!

This bore bit won’t reach through the nearest stud.

And, while I’m telling tales on myself, I ended up probably putting in more outlet boxes than I need because I misunderstood the code. My understanding was that you should have an outlet every six feet along a wall. In fact, what the code says is that no spot along a wall should be more than six feet from the nearest outlet. That means you can actually put outlets 12-feet apart (which makes a lot more sense given the fact that outlets have to be attached to studs, and studs are generally 16-inches apart, meaning that there are rarely two studs six feet apart from one another). In any case, that’s not a horrible mistake to make, especially in a basement that will end up having a fair amount of electronic equipment – surround sound amplifier, AppleTV, DVR, several computers, guitar amps, keyboards, etc. – plugged in. Better to have too many outlets than too few.

Taking the long way ’round.

Running cable is time-consuming, but not terribly complicated. It involves drilling a lot of holes in studs to run the cable through. The biggest problem I’ve run into is drilling those holes in places where the studs ended up very close together, like near the end of walls or where the new framing met up with some of the existing framing in the basement. There’s not enough room to get the drill with a wood-boring bit between the studs to start drilling the hole.

With a long enough drill bit, I can start at the next stud over and drill through. That worked a couple of places, but not in others. One place, where new framing met existing framing simply was not going to work. A long enough drill bit wouldn’t fit between even the widely spaced studs.

So, I had to take the wiring up and over, then back down, as you can see to the right. It’s a waste of wire, but I didn’t see any way around it.

Another inch, and it would make it.

There’s a corner I’m working on that should be doable, but I may have to give it up. I got a longer bit and an extension, but even that, as you can see in the photo below, is just about an inch shy of making it. (You may need to click on the thumbnail to see the larger version to see the hole I’m trying to reach so I can pull the wire through the corner.) A longer extension would make it too long, so I’m just going to try to to keep an eye out for a slightly longer drill bit. Otherwise, I’ll have to do the up and over thing again. [Update: A friend and adviser on this project dropped by yesterday to see how things were going. He had a second short extension that enabled us to get the hole drilled. Problem solved.]

In addition to the wiring, I also got the framing in for the fireplace. My first delay on that was trying to figure out what to do with the framing behind the fireplace. I figured it ought to be insulated, but even with a zero-contact fireplace, I didn’t think having the insulation against the hot fireplace was a good idea. I looked for some foil-backed insulation, but all I could find was cardboard paper-backed insulation. So I put that up, then went ahead and put drywall over that.

The framing for the fireplace is done.

The framing itself was a little harder than I thought, mostly because I was having trouble thinking in 3D. I didn’t have any trouble getting the opening for the front of the fireplace framed in, but I wasn’t sure the best way of supporting the rest of the heavy fireplace.

I think this will work fine. The next thing I need to figure out is how (or whether) to attach the fireplace to the framing. It has tabs that pull out on the side for nailing it to the framing, but the fireplace needs to stick out about two inches from the framing to leave room for the drywall and faux stone we’ll be putting up on that wall, and the tabs are in place for flush mounting.

I figure finishing the wire, including the lighting, will take through November, easily. I need to call the heating guys to have them come in and hook up the gas for the fireplace, and I need to call the cable company to make sure two lengthy runs of cable that come down to the basement are actually good. With any luck, then, I’ll be ready to put up drywall in December. I’d hoped to have the basement done by Christmas, but I don’t think that’s feasible. March is probably a more reasonable estimate at this point.

Frustrations and delays

Well, not a whole lot has been accomplished since I finished the framing. I got the wiring done for the surround speakers and put in the ethernet cabling. But I wisely decided to buy a tester to make sure the ethernet was working. It was not.

Wiring ethernet is a pretty exacting undertaking. An ethernet cable has eight tiny wires in the sheath, arranged in four, color-coded twisted pairs. To connect the cable to a jack, you strip off about an inch of the sheath, arrange the wires on the jack and then use a punch-in tool that pushes each individual wire down over a metal pin. The network tester sends a signal through each wire, in turn. You plug in the main unit at one end and a remote unit at the other. The remote has numbers one through eight that should light up in the same order as the ones on the main unit. If they light up in different orders, that means you attached the wrong wire to the wrong pin. If some don’t light up at all, it means there’s a bad connection.

When I tested, only three or four of the lights lit up (but they lit up in the right order). I went back over the jack with the punch-in tool. No improvement. I thought I had maybe nicked the wires when cutting the sheath off, so I carefully snipped the sheath and pulled it apart to free another inch of wiring and tried again. No improvement. Maybe, I thought, I kinked the wiring when I pulled it through the joists, so I took a 100-foot role that I hadn’t used yet and put a jack on each end. Only two of the wires lit up.

Either I was really bad with the punch-in tool, or the wiring I got was bad. I finally got the idea to take a spare ethernet cable and test it to make sure it worked. Then I snipped off the ends and wired up two jacks. I tested again, and it worked fine. The problem, apparently, was the wiring I bought.

I had ordered the ethernet cabling a little more than a month ago, so it was out of the return window for Amazon. But when I contacted them and told them what had happened, they graciously agreed to accept the return anyway. Amazon is good that way. I ordered a higher-rated cable and installed a run this morning. From the moment I stripped the first sheath, I could tell this was better stuff. The twisted pairs were more tightly wound and the individual wires were solid cores, not strands. I installed the jacks, plugged in the tester and held my breath. The lights flashed, all of them, in order. My punch-in skills have been vindicated.

I’ve been reading up on electrical wiring as I prepare to get that roughed-in. I’m starting to get my head around it. I’m not sure how long it will take, especially as our weekends fill up with summertime activities.

The plumber will be coming in about a week to get the water pipes and drains ready for the half-bath and wet bar. And we’ve been trying to settle on flooring and ceiling options – what we do for the ceiling may affect placement of the light fixtures, so we need to work that out before the wiring’s complete.

I’m feeling a little frustrated with the pace, but I think it’s just because I’m at a place where progress isn’t as visible and easily measured. Once the wiring is done and the fireplace framed in, we can start putting up drywall. That will feel like progress.

Bring it on.

The framing is complete*

Well, it’s taken some time – about three months – but the framing for the basement project is complete*.

The interior framing

The framing of the half-bath, closet and HVAC closet took a bit longer than I thought, and was some of the trickier work I’ve had to do so far. I wasn’t just putting up a wall parallel to a concrete wall, so I really had to think about where things needed to go. I also had four doorways to frame in, but I found those to be pretty easy. (We’ll see if the doors actually fit.)

Tricky framing

Definitely the trickiest thing I had to deal with was an inconveniently located drain pipe. It was right where the bathroom wall needed to be. I ended up constructing a short framing section that fit under the pipe and then put in a couple of blocks between the partial stud and the full stud next to it to make it sturdier. Then I had to soffit in the exchange duct for the heater. I used a borrowed miter saw (thanks, Dave!) to cut the angles. I didn’t think the nails would be long enough to secure them, so I got some 4″ screws. That didn’t work out (kept stripping the screw), so I tried the nail gun, and it worked just fine.

It feels good to have the framing done*. The part I liked least was securing the bottom plate for all the walls. Even with a hammer drill and masonry bits, that was tough going, and a heck of a work out.


Up next: wiring for speakers, ethernet and electric. (I’m going to do the wiring, but let someone who knows what he’s doing actually connect it to the box. I got the front three in-wall speakers wired today. I’m going with a 7.1 system, so I have four more speakers plus the subwoofer to wire.

I also need to finalize the bar plans so I know where the wiring and plumbing for that will go. I’ll schedule the plumber soon to do the half-bath and wet bar.

So far, I’m really enjoying this. It’s given me quite a sense of accomplishment to see it all take shape.

* With the exception of the framing for the corner fireplace we decided to install.

If I had a hammer …


This applies even more so to a reciprocating saw. (The demolition blade did the trick. The old bottom plate is history.)

At least the taking things apart and altering of the environment. Putting things together? Not so much.

One wall goes up, another comes down

Progress continues on the framing. The final exterior wall is in. Now all I have left is several interior walls. These will include my first rough-ins for door frames, which will make it interesting.

Coming down

Before I get into that, I decided to do the little bit of demolition work that we need to do. We’re framing in the area by the stairs and incorporating it into a small portion under the patio that will remain unfinished. To make that work, I had to take down some of existing framing (don’t worry, it is not a load-supporting wall). This gave me another opportunity to put the reciprocating saw to work. It went right through the studs and the nails holding them in place. (I used a metal-cutting blade instead of a wood-cutting one.)

Open space

I cut through the top, and then was able to pull the stud off the nails attaching them to the bottom plate. I ended up with seven lengths of very nice 2×6. I think I’ll be able to repurpose those in the wet bar build.

With the studs down, I turned my attention to the bottom plate. That effort didn’t go so well. I switched to a wood-cutting blade. But at my first attempt to go through it, the blade bent. I tried again with a metal blade. Same result.

Barely a scratch

After three attempts with three different blades, you can see the damage done to the bottom plate in the photo to the left. If you look very closely, that is. I think I probably need a demolition blade, which is thicker than regular reciprocating saw blades.

Once this is done, I’ll get back to framing, which will be pretty straightforward except for the back wall of the half-bath. There’s an inconveniently located drain pipe there angling right across where the wall ought to be. I could put the wall in front of the pipe, but that leaves a pretty small margin for fitting in the toilet (about 10″ from the centerline of the toilet drain to the wall). This will require a fair amount of pondering time to figure out.


Another wall done … and a question to be answered

The longest wall ... done.

Finished the second, and longest wall today. It went far more smoothly. I’m still not getting the measurement right the first time most times. But there was much less futzing with the circular saw this time. Also, for some reason, the stud markers I carefully measured and marked off seemed to be a little off. I ended up checking each stud and making small adjustments, and still ended up off here or there. (I’m thinking some of the studs were probably warped, which threw off the measurements.)

Oh, and when we put in one of the top plates, I forgot to make sure the stud marks were facing down. Oops. I had to climb a ladder and put the marks on the side of the top plate. That probably threw things off some, too.

Anyway, this wall is a good 10 feet longer than the first, and it probably took half the time.

Next up is the shortest wall, a four-footer that corners off the long wall and then will have to meet up with the already-framed portion of the exterior wall. This and another short wall by the stairs will be the only two not dropped directly off or perpendicular to a truss. I was a little concerned about that, but I cut three blocks for the four-footer and got one screwed in without issue, so I think I can handle it. The top plate will attach to those blocks, which are even with, and perpendicular to, the truss. Everything should line up just fine.

So far, I’ve decided the wisest power tool purchase was the air compressor and nail gun set. I can’t even begin to imagine doing this with just a hammer.

After the four-foot wall’s done, I’ll have one more 15-foot wall to put up on the exterior, then about 40 feet of interior wall to frame in the bathroom, HVAC/water heater closet and an area that will remain unfinished. Then I need to start thinking wiring, both for electric and audio/video/ethernet.

The plansBefore I can get that mapped out, I need to make a decision about how best to orient the home theater. Click on the plans on the left. The home theater is the area of the basement to the left. My original thought was to have the screen for the home theater along the long wall to the left. But after getting some advice from someone who knows a lot about projectors and home theater systems, I’m reconsidering. He suggested putting the screen on the top, shorter wall.

My concern is the the narrow orientation will limit seating. We might be able to fit either a couch or a loveseat and sofa in the 12’6″ or so that will make up the width of the room with the walls put in. I would prefer not to get into dealing with risers – though I suppose that really comfortable bar stools could provide some additional seating for times when we have more than three or four folks watching a movie.

The concern with the wider orientation is that there won’t be enough depth in the room for optimum distance for the projector and to get really good surround sound speaker placement. Plus, the width of the room would put people really close to what will probably be an 80″ to 100″ screen.

I’m going back and forth. Anyone out there have any thoughts?

Update: Another thought occurred to me. If I make the bathroom narrower, I could get another 15″ of either depth or width in the home theater area. I just don’t know if I’ll have room for the sink if I make the bathroom that much smaller. It would give me about 33″ from the centerline of the toilet to the wall. Anyone know if that’s enough room for a small sink? 

Update #2: I’ve decided on the narrow orientation. I dropped the wall for the bathroom a little further out, but not as far as I originally thought. I didn’t want the space between the toilet and the sink to be too tight. Final width of the room is just more than 13 feet.

Ah, progress

The studs are going up.

I was hoping to have the first wall framed in by the end of the day today. We didn’t quite get there, but we did make genuine progress. The bottom plate was, at long last, finished. All but one of the studs has been cut to size (a couple were warped and a couple, ahem, ended up cut too short, so I’ll have to wait for the next batch of lumber to put in the final stud of this wall). And about a third of the studs were nailed into place.

There were, naturally, some frustrations. As carefully as I seemed to measure, I rarely got the cut right the first time. The process ended up going like this: I’d measure the length from the top plate to the bottom plate, then cut the stud. I’d try the stud in the measured spot, and it would be either too long or too short (by an eighth of an inch or so). I’d then try the stud in various other positions. If it fit someplace else, great. If not, I’d shave a tiny bit off with the circular saw and try again, and again. Many of the studs ended up just right – a nice solid fit that wouldn’t warp the truss above. A few were a hair short of that perfect fit. Lesson learned: Take those studs out of position before fitting others; otherwise, they might fall on you while you’re tapping the others into place.

Getting the studs properly positioned and keeping them there while nailing them into place was also challenging. Shannon helped, and it took some trial and error to figure out the best way of doing it (nail the bottom in first, then the top). The hardest were the ones that were just a tad short of a nice fit. But we managed. Lesson learned: Framing nail guns are heavy. We only got about a third of the studs nailed into place because my arms were getting rubbery.

Final lesson of the day: Best to quit early than operate dangerous power tools when you’re tired. Luckily, we didn’t learn that one the hard way.