Can Do

My parents asked me to replace three recessed lights, aka cans. Typically, a hole in the ceiling is a puncture in the home’s thermal shell, allowing air and heat to escape. With older recessed light fixtures there’s no way to close this hole. The new cans are shielded on top, enabling a homeowner to air-seal and insulate over them without creating a fire hazard.

I started by removing the bulbs and the trim kits – the parts you see from below. I also switched off the electrical circuits, of course. Then it was up to the attic where I would pull out the fixtures using a headlamp for light. To avoid crashing through the drywall ceiling I had to stand on adjacent joists and kneel over the existing fiberglass insulation. I cat’s-pawed out the four electrical staples holding the fixtures in place, then ripped the metal spikes from the joists.


The old can, surrounded (but not covered) by attic insulation. Access is tricky.

Limited access made it tricky to install the new cans. They came with a metal spike and a nail at each of the four corners. I positioned a can, jammed each spike between the joist and the ceiling drywall, and pounded in each nail, all the while kneeling atop the joists and keeping the headlamp trained on my work. Two of the three existing ceiling holes were tight against a joist, which forced me to take apart the sliding mechanism in order to mount the cans directly above the holes.


Old can removed; new can awaiting installation.

Electricals were pretty straightforward. The old cans used wire nuts and the new cans used clip-in connections, so I didn’t even need a wire tool. It was simply a matter of re-threading the feed cable and matching like wires – black to black, white to white, ground to ground.

On the other hand, installing the new trim kits was a real bear. They’re poorly designed with an awkward spring-loaded connection to the fixtures and the vaguest instructions I’ve ever read. It took me half an hour to realize I could adjust the depth of the socket inside the fixture by removing one screw completely (no instruction mentioned this) and tightening another to make room for the trim kit. As the most visible part of the installation, the trim needs to look right, and I wish it screwed into the fixture or otherwise attached in a more foolproof way.

Oh well. The lights work. And now the house is better insulated. De nada, Mom and Dad.


New can installed with a new trim kit.


Mark and I finished the laundry-room counter and the shelf behind it. We took a spare 1×6 tongue-and-groove ceiling board and cut it to make a 5-inch upright, choosing this height so the shelf covers the plumbing boxout for the washer but not the electrical outlet just above. For the shelf itself, we needed 6½ inches of width… so we made it out of TWO spare ceiling boards. Mark ripped a new groove by passing a board edgewise through the table saw a couple times, and then we glued it up, fit it into the tongue of the other board, and clamped it until the glue set. A couple blocks underneath stiffened the shelf and also acted as a guide for the upright.

Once the glue was dry and we confirmed that the pieces fit nicely above the counter, I screwed’n’glued the shelf to the upright. Mark painted the assembly white to match the other trim in the room. The shelf sits on a couple of ledgers on the back wall, with no permanent connection for easy removal and access to the utilities behind.

Counter with shelf, all done!

Counter with shelf, all done!

Elsewhere in Bob’s house, Mark has made tons of progress. It’s pretty exciting to see the upstairs come together as a finished space. Here’s a gallery of the latest details we’ve completed. (Hover for picture captions.)

Next project: the living room floor. Our new floorboards are full of holes, and we have a few neat ideas to fill them in. More on that next time!

There’s Always Something to Do

As I mentioned last post, we ran out of siding for Colin’s house, and we’re awaiting a new delivery. We were getting so close to the peak of the Barn’s south gable end, and psychologically it was difficult to change gears leaving this face unfinished. But never fear. Terry has a strong work ethic and keeps a list in his head of projects that need attention. I’m trying to adopt the same mentality – both at work and in life – so I don’t waste time.

To stay busy I installed F-channels and wide J-channels along the top of nearly every wall of the Barn. The J-channel is very visible (unlike the F-channel, which gets hidden by the soffit), so I overlapped the seams between pieces, much like the siding. To make the seam, um, seamless, I took my snips and cut off the last two inches of the “behind” piece, leaving only a tongue that slides into the “front” piece. Angle seams (like around the top of a door) required more ingenuity but followed the same concept.

Lots of channels (plus some siding and soffit) on the Barn's backside.

Lots of channels (plus some siding and soffit) on the Barn’s backside.

I also took on the tricky task of preparing the soffit returns. These are the places where the roof underside turns a corner. The soffit comes in from each direction, and to look good it needs a pair of channels back-to-back along a 45-degree angle. I had to cut narrow J-channel to exactly the right length, with an angle cut on both ends leaving no protrusions or gaps. Sometimes I then found nothing to nail them to, requiring me to install a short 2×4 or two above. Fussy work, but it was great to gain the confidence that I can do it.

Soffit return in the southwest corner of the Barn: two narrow J-channels back-to-back.

Soffit return in the southwest corner of the Barn: two narrow J-channels back-to-back.

Less rewarding was knocking down all the wasp nests in the gable ends, before we covered them with soffit. Standing on a ladder rung as far below as I could reach, I used a long rigid pole to scrape the underside and detach the nest. Then I made a dash for it. Surprisingly, the wasps seemed unconcerned with chasing the aggressor who destroyed their homes. I never got stung or even followed. But I couldn’t shake the fear.

One wasp nest, shortly before removal.

One wasp nest, shortly before removal.

Oh well. It had to be done. And the channel and soffit work is looking really good as this week closes out.

Miscellany: Terry made great strides installing aluminum trim, and Colin put up some lanternlike outdoor light fixtures. Indoors, a painting contractor and a tiling contractor make the house more livable by the day. Always something to do.