Here’s the yearly share of my iPhone home screen, although it’s two screens this year.
Last week I was finally able to finish the living room project, before going to Puerto Rico last week. My three month sabbatical started, which gave me a lot of time to work on it. This was the final big phase of a living room remodel. Here are the before and after pictures.
Actually that’s not a true before picture because there used to be an old A/C unit built in to the wall. Below is the only picture I could find, which shows the cover that was over it.
Last July or August my Dad and I removed the unit and patched up the wall. Then I had three Mitsubishi mini-splits installed around the house. In April, my Dad and brother came down for a weekend. We took out the sliding glass doors, removed the sunroom, and installed a 5×6’ window.
I had a gas fireplace insert installed a month earlier actually. I put black painted plywood up on two walls, and I installed Select Surfaces Barnwood Spill Defense Laminate Flooring from Sam’s Club. It’s really nice flooring and easy to install.
Bought a new loveseat, the Sonos Arc soundbar and Sonos Sub, and two IKEA bookshelf speakers (Sonos compatible). I’ve put several other speakers throughout the house as well and am really enjoying the Sonos system.
I found an awesome mirror on Facebook Marketplace, which had been in an old farmhouse for over 40 years. It’s in really good condition. The room was really starting to come together.
It was several months before I could spend more time finishing the room though, because I had to fix up the outside wall of the house and build the outdoor gym area. During the peaks of the pandemic last year, my Dad collected and processed a lot of awesome pallet wood, which he gave to me.
I sorted through it all to take out the really twisty stuff and to organize it in to wide and narrow boards. Then I jointed an edge of everything, cut the ends square, ripped to two common widths, and did a rough surface sanding. I wanted to bring out more of the wood’s character, while keeping it rough.
Brandi helped me pick out some stains and we stained about a third to a half of the wood.
After seeing how long it took to stain this stuff I bought the HomeRight Super Finish Max HVLP Paint Sprayer. I laid plastic out on the driveway and gave all of the wood three coats of water-based polyurethane on the face. It only took about 10 minutes per coat, which saved hours of time.
The next day I started at the top of a wall and tried to create a random-ish pattern as I used an 18 gauge nail gun to tack boards to the plywood walls.
I continued the process for the second wall. Then I was able to finish the light switch and outlets. I bought a 65″ Sony A80CJ Series 4K OLED TV from Costco and hung it on the wall with a full-motion mount from Harbor Freight. The mount was easy to use and will allow us to keep the TV pointed directly at the loveseat, where we normally watch TV, or rotate it towards the couch when we have company over. The soundbar hangs under the TV with the Sanus WSSATM1-B2 extendable soundbar TV mount, which was also easy to use.
Now I was able to finish off the floor trim behind the loveseat. I also picked up some rustic looking quarter round for the pallet walls, which blends in well.
To frame in the window, I processed some old 5″ wide oak flooring and gave it three coats of the same water-based poly. For the trim, I used some of the leftover narrow pallet wood.
I really love how the room turned out!
One other little touch was building a shelf/cubby/table next to the loveseat. I wanted a place to put the left channel speaker, store laptops, and set drinks or snacks. My original idea was to have a couple of horizontal slots for the laptops. I was discussing the space limitations of the area with Brandi and she had the idea to make vertical slots instead, which worked out really well. Here’s the SketchUp model.
For the top I processed more pallet wood, glued it together, sanded smooth, applied stain, and did three coats of wipe-on poly. For the cubby unit I used whatever scrap plywood I could make work and painted it black. I didn’t care much about the base since nobody will ever see it unless they’re really going up to inspect it.
I’m so glad to have this project finished and we’re loving the way it turned out. I do have one more thing I’m working on for the wall above the loveseat (done now!) and hope to finish this week or next. Then I’ll be spending the rest of my sabbatical to remodel the kitchen and dining room area.
I hadn’t started a fire in my living room in over a decade.
It wasn’t an ordinary wood burning fireplace though. My house has a boiler and the previous homeowners had installed a heat recovery system, called Hydro Fyre, which fed the heat from the fireplace back through the boiler and out to the rest of the house. It sounds good in theory, but with the number of pipes running over the top of the fire, it seems like it was a chimney fire waiting to happen. Look at how loaded with soot everything was!
After they removed the old system and cleaned things out, a direct vent gas fireplace insert was installed. I got the Escape model with the black Firescreen front, made by Heat & Glo. The interior panels are a patented FireBrick technology, which produce up to 25% more radiant heat than a metal interior. Even on the lowest fan speed it really throws out the heat! A remote control makes it easy to change five flame heights, four fan speeds, and three levels of ember illumination. It’s a slick unit.
I love how it transformed the look of the entire room. Why did I wait so long to get this?
I’ll call this phase two of a living room remodel after getting Mitsubishi mini-splits last summer. Several more projects are planned whenever an item arrives, which is supposed to ship near the end of April.
This post will be about the software that brings things together, making it easy for me to manage and allows the devices to “talk” to each other. Maybe it’s a good thing it’s taken me almost a year to write this part 2 because there have been some dramatic improvements to how everything runs. I was using homebridge for a period of time, but found I never really used HomeKit/Siri. Home Assistant has been updating a new HomeKit component, so I’ll have to give it a try.
I’ve talked about Home Assistant in a lot of posts; it’s the software running on the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B to handle everything. It’s very powerful software and has been a lot of fun for me to configure everything. Being on a Linux box and having to configure everything through YAML files makes it a tough entry for the average homeowner though. It’s improved a lot in the year I’ve been using it with better documentation and some UI configuration tools, so it’ll be interesting to watch for the next 12 months.
Being Open Source was a big draw of HA for me. Open Sourcecraft has a good article about the creator. The project operates on an aggressive schedule you don’t see much; every 2 weeks a new version oh Home Assistant is released. These aren’t small updates either. Each update fixes a ton of bugs and adds support for new devices.
I did install HA using Hass.io, which simplifies the process and makes it easy to do upgrades and install add-ons. Here are the add-ons I’m using.
In addition to running Home Assistant, I wrote a couple of small services I run on Pis. The first is the temperature sensor/monitor I use in my garage. I’ve improved it a lot in the last year. The second service is home-assistant-pi, which reports a bunch of data about each Raspberry Pi on my network back to Home Assistant, which you’ll see in the screenshot below.
The beauty of Home Assistant is you can set everything up the way you want. Your limitation is your imagination and your comfort level with configuration files and code. I took a bunch of screenshots of my setup.
I keep all of my configuration (except the secrets file) in a GitHub repo in case I mess something up. I’ve learned a lot by looking at other examples, so my repo is public as well. Maybe my config will help out someone else. The repo is home-assistant-config. If you have any questions about anything you see in this post or in my configuration, let me know.
In the final post of this series, I’ll explain the cool part of this whole thing, the actual automations. I need to go through my ideas list and implement all of them though.
A couple of weeks ago I noticed the heat was staying on in my office pretty much all day. I have a boiler heating system with 4 zones and the thermostat that controls the front of my house is right there in the office. I wasn’t cold in there, but the thermostat wasn’t reporting that the temperature ever reached what I had set.
I pulled the Nest off of its mounting bracket, put my hand near the hole in the wall, and I could feel cold air. So I grabbed an instant read meat thermometer and stuck it through the hole. The reading inside the wall was 10° lower than a foot away from the wall.
For a simple fix, I stuffed a bunch of insulation through the hole and covered it with foil tape.
In order to monitor the effectiveness of the fix, I put together a quick temperature sensor instead of having to turn the meat thermometer on and off.
Two or three years ago I had the opposite problem with this heating zone; it was always cold in the office. By feeling the wall I came to the conclusion that the thermostat had been installed right next to one of the pipes sending hot water to the upstairs registers. Brilliant! The fix that time was moving the thermostat over between the next set of studs.
After these two issues with the placement of a thermostat, I starting thinking. Why are we still basing our heating on measurements taken from a set position on the wall? With the Internet of Things we can do this much smarter.
Imagine each zone in the house having one or more mobile temperature sensors. Like the simple circuit pictured above, but in a small case. These could be battery-powered or plug-in. Windows, wind, and location of the sun can all affect the heating of different areas of a house. Being able to move the temperature sensor with you as you make dinner in the kitchen or watch a movie from your recliner would be awesome.
These temperature sensors would wirelessly report the temperature back to the home automation system. I use Home Assistant, which would make it easy to set the heating schedules for each zone. If a zone needed to go on or off based on the sensor’s reported temperature and the schedule’s target temperature, it would wirelessly trigger a relay module at the furnace or boiler. The relay would wire in to the furnace/boiler system in place of the wires that come from each thermostat and it would never know the difference. None of these pieces are hard to build and the parts are cheap.
This is all just something that ran through my mind as I was fixing my heating issue. I don’t have plans to build such a system, but if I did I could ditch my 4 Nest thermostats. For someone who works at home, often at random times of the day, I think Nest thermostats are overrated anyway because the learning and auto scheduling system doesn’t do much for me.
A year ago, I posted a screenshot of the home screen on my iPhone 7 Plus. Might as well make this a yearly thing. Not much has changed with my app usage though. Here’s the home screen on my iPhone X.
This may be the first time since iOS added app groups that I have a 2nd page.
These are some augmented reality apps I wanted to try. I’ll get around to filing them into a group soon because this second screen is bugging me.
Yesterday I set out to fix a couple of things around the house.
It stopped working several weeks ago when the cleaning lady was using it. I was out golfing at the time so have no idea what happened. There was no sound or anything when the switch was flipped. My first step was to make sure the outlet worked.
So then I moved everything out from under the sink, got a bucket to catch the water, and removed the unit. I noticed a red button on the bottom.
It responded like the button on a GFI outlet. Then I plugged the disposal back in. There was a humming sound for a few seconds and then it stopped. The red button had popped out. Must be some kind of safety mechanism so the unit doesn’t burn up the motor. While cleaning out the cupboard I had come across an allen wrench.
There was also a hole in the bottom of the disposal where this fit. Gave it a bunch of turns and it started to feel pretty smooth. Pushed in the button, started plugging it in, and holy shit! The torque on that thing nearly sent it flying across the room. Glad I had barely touched the plug to power because my hand was able to jerk it away from the outlet.
I put the garbage disposal back in place, reconnected all the pipes, and I was back in business. No leaks either. Something must have been jammed inside.
As a bonus it turned out to be a good reason to clean the cupboards under the sink, which had accumulated a bunch of junk.
Garage Door Opener Light
It’s been flaky for several years. I had tried replacing bulbs and sometimes they would work for a bit or flicker here and there, but eventually stop working. With my new knowledge and confidence with electricity and circuits I figured there had to be something going on with the connection. After unplugging the garage door opener, I took off the face plate and disconnected the wires from the back of the light socket.
Looking at this socket, 2 things stood out to me: 1) seems like both contact points were corroded and 2) unlike a lot of light bulb sockets where the sides are metal, this only had the contact pad which is at about 1:00 if this were a clock face. I grabbed my favorite tool, the digital multimeter…
I may have been able to clean up the contacts on the socket, but I figured it was better to replace it. The only thing at Home Depot that looked like it would work was this waterproof light socket for $3.47.
I carved off some of the rubber with an X-ACTO knife for a better angled fit and applied a bunch of hot glue. Here are views of the front and back…
It ended up working much better than expected. I reassembled everything, plugged in the garage door opener, and voila!
I also replaced a 3-way light switch I could hear shorting out, but it was an ordinary replacement job.