Dan's Kitchen: Electrical and Plumbing

Renovation Diary

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Name: Dan Bailey
Type of Project: Kitchen remodel
Location: East Boston, Boston, Massachusetts
Type of building: 2nd Floor Condo in a Greek-Revival Row House

Quick note from the editor: after a short break, Dan's Reno Diary is back! In the new year, we'll be running three Dan updates a week instead of just one — which means more Dan, which should keep everyone happy. Now back to our regularly scheduled program.

"Here's what I'd do," the electrician said after spending several minutes silently scrutinizing the exposed wiring in the kitchen. "I'd abandon all of this," – he gestured toward an octopus-like tangle of wiring sprawled across the floor – "tear it all out, put in a new sub panel, and run new circuits for each appliance." This wasn't exactly what I wanted to hear.

There’s a lot of old BX wiring in the kitchen, all of which will be replaced.
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All along I've been hoping that at least some of the existing wiring would be usable. It's old BX wiring (three interior wires wrapped in a flexible steel sheath) that was probably installed about 50 years ago, but it’s still in decent shape. There are several circuits in the kitchen, and I've never had a problem with an appliance overloading a circuit and tripping a breaker. Even so, it turns out that this old wiring just can't be made to meet modern code. And since all of the walls are open, now is the time to rewire the room.

The electrician went on to explain that installing a new circuit breaker sub panel will make it easier to rewire the kitchen. For some reason the main breaker panel for the condo is located three floors down in the cellar. By installing a sub panel in the condo, the electrician can run the kitchen circuits from the sub panel, rather than running each circuit all the way up from the cellar. If I ever upgrade wiring elsewhere in the condo, additional circuits can also be run from the sub panel. And once the sub panel is installed, I won’t need to run down to the cellar every time I need to reset a breaker.

Of course, rewiring a kitchen isn't cheap. Up until this week, the electrical work was one of the only renovation expenses that hadn't been finalized. After meeting with the electrician, I was expecting it to be expensive, but when he sent me a work proposal and estimate later in the week, I realized that the electrical work will be the single largest expense of the renovation. It will be a significant expansion of my original budget, but I'm sure it will be money well spent. Code-compliant electrical work is important, and once the kitchen is complete, I won't have to worry about overloaded circuits or spontaneous electrical fires.

But beyond safety and code compliance, the electrical work will contribute a lot to the style and functionality of the kitchen. The electrician will install recessed overhead lighting and under-cabinet LED light strips, both of which will be on dimmer switches. He’ll also add plenty of outlets, including one in the pantry for a microwave. The pantry may seem like an odd place for a microwave, but I don’t use the microwave very often and I’d like to keep it in an out-of-the-way spot.

A rust-covered pinhole leak on the cast iron waste line.
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Earlier in the week, the plumber stopped by and replaced a section of the cast iron waste pipe that runs along the ceiling. There was a suspicious-looking rusty spot on this section of pipe that looked like it could turn into a full-blown leak at any time. The last thing I need is sewage seeping into the new kitchen from above, so I wanted to preemptively replace the pipe before we seal it back into the ceiling.

The damaged section of waste line was replaced with PVC pipe.
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I also finished skim coating the fireplace surround this week and prepared it for priming and painting. Most people sand joint compound to obtain a smooth finish, but instead I chose to finish the surround by burnishing it. Burnishing joint compound is a pretty straightforward, two-step process: 1) wet down a section of the wall using a water spray bottle. Make sure it’s damp, but not too wet – you don’t want drops of water running down the wall. 2) Run a drywall knife along the wall at a steep angle in different directions – up, down, side to side, and diagonally – applying firm pressure the whole time. This process smooths and compacts the joint compound, leaving a hard, slightly shiny surface that looks a lot like real plaster.

Left: Running a bead of caulk along the seam between the wall and the side panel of the fireplace. Right: The seam after smoothing out the caulk.
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After I finished skim coating and burnishing, I caulked the trim and the seams where the fireplace meets the wall. After I was done, the fireplace surround was flat and smooth with no trace of the old textured plaster. Next week, the electrician will get started, and I’ll finish priming and painting the fireplace surround.

The fireplace surround is smooth and sharp after two coats of joint compound.
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Estimated time for project: 18 weeks
Time remaining: 4 weeks

Check out the full series (so far) and be sure to join us tomorrow for installment #18 of Dan's Kitchen Renovation.

The Renovation Diaries are a collaboration with our community in which we feature your step by step renovation progress and provide monetary support towards getting it done in style. See all of our Reno Diaries here.

(Images and diary text: Dan Bailey)

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