wire routing and plaster walls
Tuesday, November 24 2020
This morning when I was down at the brownhouse taking care of business, I noticed that Cricket, the WiFi router I keep under a bucket above the roofline on the east end of the greenhouse, was no longer available. I pulled my pants back up and went to look and saw that the router had somehow fallen out of the bucket and was hanging by cables just below it. It had been held in place by zip ties, and the unusually sharp edges of the Asus router had probably eventually knifed their way through. At first I was afraid the router had been destroyed by the weather, but that didn't seem to be the case. It somehow had reset to stock DD-WRT settings, as if I'd held the reset button for a extended period. Perhaps this had happened because of a rain-related short.
Throughout the day, I kept piling tools and supplies on the west end of the dining room table, staging them for my evening activity: pulling a brand new piece of romex cable from the basement of the Brewster Street house up to its second floor.
Nancy came over this morning with her dog Jack and Ray's brother Kym's new dog, a poofy little terrier named Hurricane. His story was that he'd been produced by a dog breeder who lives next to Nancy's parents' vacation home in Maryland and been something of a show-dog reject. But they'd still sold him for realy money to Kym, meaning that any attempt to call him a "rescue" is mostly a lie. In any case, Hurricane (or "Harry," as Gretchen prefers) was excited to go on the dog walk with all the big dogs. Ramona, of course, was initially hostile to Harry and kept growling, raising her hackles, and even shivering whenever he came close. But she did her best to repress her hostility, and the walk ended up going well, with only one minor skirmish. After that, Ramona actually seemed to accept Harry as a new member of the pack.
Near the end of the day, I loaded my supplies (including the six-foot step ladder), left a bit early, and drove out to Lowes to buy even more supplies: duplex outlets, duplex cover plates, a replacement overhead light, some superglue, and 100 feet of twelve-gauge two-conductor (plus ground) romex cable. When I arrived at the Brewster Street house, nobody was there, which is something I don't think I'd ever seen before. At first I hoped they'd flaked out on me and I could just go home and not to do all the work I knew today's chore would require. But after only five minutes they all arrived: the matriarch, the son William, the two little kids, and a bunch of groceries for Thanksgiving. The matriarch works a night shift as a nurse at the nearby hospital, so she went immediately to bed, while the son fed the the two kids bits of a rotisserie chicken, with a side of flat bread. Meanwhile, I made a bunch of measurements and quickly determined that the outlet I wanted to route the cable to on the second floor (the most easily-accessed one of the few available) was inconveniently over a doorway, meaning there was no unbroken stud bay to run cable down to the basement. Another complication was that the walls were all made of lath and plaster (in some places covered with a quarter inch of drywall), which is not an easy material to cut through. I tried cutting through the wall adjacent to the outlet in the bedroom and soon gave up. Fortunately, that outlet box could be removed entirely from the front, allowing me to drill down into the void beneath the floor directly beneath it.
A diagram to help visualize the paragraphs below.
By then I'd come up with plan that involved using the space available adjacent to a heating register (a) to get the cable from the basement into the first floor wall (registers greatly help with figuring out precisely where things in a basement are with respect to things on the next floor up). William helped disassemble the register, and this allowed me to begin my routing of the wire. The nature of a lath-based wall is such that it's hard to determine precisely where the voids are, and I was fooled into thinking there might be horizontal braces between the studs. But when I tore through the wall in search of what I thought would be a brace, there was none. The resulting hole wasn't a complete waste of effort, as it made getting the cable up through the bay much easier having a place for staging (b) in the middle. (The snake wire and other wires I used to assist with snaking tended to get stuck on the plaster "keys" protruding through the spaces in the laths.) The only other major holes I had to open up were two in the dining-room ceiling adjacent to the wall. One of these was just below the upstairs bedroom outlet and other was at the top of the stud bay above the heat register. I had to cross two ceiling joists to get the cable between these holes, but fortunately I'd brought my very long 3/4 inch boring bit, which can drill aligned holes through void-containing material as much as six feet thick. Cutting the holes in the ceiling was brutal, and I don't know if an oscillating tool was the right one for the job, since it tended to vibrate the laths instead of cutting them. But eventually I was able to open up holes big enough to get my hands in, and that was all I needed.
To get a cable path from the top of the stud bay into the void over the wall was relatively simple, especially since I had that staging hole in the middle of the bay. I just drilled through the wall at an angle chosen to produce a hole about six inches below the ceiling at its bottom and in the center of the top of the stud plate at its top (c). Then I could pull wire up to that hole from below (Fig. 2) and then push it through the rest of the hole into the joist void above the wall (Fig. 3).
As I worked, William jumped back and forth between Fox News and CNN on the enormous television in the living room. He seemed fascinated by the news that was unfolding and was clearly trying to avoid being trapped in a bubble, though Tucker Carlson was a step too far. By this point, the kids were upstairs in the one room with light playing on some device that had a screen.
After three hours or so, I finally had the cable routed to the outlet box in the upstairs bedroom. I then connected it to the existing wiring using a brand new duplex receptacle. After that, it was a simple matter to connect to a known good junction box that was part of that circuit. To my delight, when I went upstairs, power in both bedrooms was working again. Reaching into those ragged holes to pull wire and handle power tools had torn up my hands, particularly my cuticles and that the nail on my right index finger that always wants to tear along the same line. But now that I'd restored electricity to the upstairs bedrooms, I felt elated. Working hard and being rewarded with good results is one of the best feelings there is. Mind you, my task here was not entirely finished. At some point I'd have to patch up the holes in the walls. But that could wait for another day.
William is a good father, and he made the kids thank me as I was leaving. They're good kids too, but William had been complaining all evening about how exhausting they are.
On the drive home, I wanted to reward myself with a road beer. So I stopped at the Rite Aid off Broadway just east of the railroad tracks. Amusingly, though, they only carried what I would refer to as "hood beer." By that, I mean ordinary American macrobrew like Budweiser, and Miller, Corona, malt liquors, various girlie beers containing artificial fruit flavors, perhaps some sorts of watered-down products from brands more famous for their distilled spirits, and hard cider. There was no Pilsner, Sam Adams, Stout, or any non-Mexican imports, let alone IPA. Evidently there is no market for fancy beers in this neighborhood. I couldn't settle on any of these options, so I walked out of the Rite Aid empty-handed. But at the Mobil Station only a third of a mile closer to Uptown, the beer situation was much improved, and I got a six pack of Lagunitas Little Sumpin' Sumpin' in cans. (I notice that Lagunitas has stopped calling it a wheat ale and now calls it an IPA.)
I returned home triumphant, still drinking my road beer.
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