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How a faulty washer may have saved our lives

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Have you ever had one seemingly trivial issue open up a torrent of "opportunity" and possibly may have saved your life? I believe we may have.

Our clothes washer started to fail after 20+ years of good service. It was an Amana washer - one of the no frills models with mechanical "clock" brains and limit switches for sensors. It was a hand-me-down from my brother who had previously used it for several years so all in all, it was a really good machine. During the holiday, we opted to get a new washer and dryer set. Considering how long lasting this simple washer was we set out to get the cheaper model again as sometimes "less is more." However, the holiday sale made the top of the line comparable in price to the cheap stuff so, we bought the upgraded larger washer and dryer.

Meanwhile, our house is over 100 years old. The utility room is a walled in back porch - the floor is tilted and the old flooring was bowed and buckled in some places. When you jumped on the floor, it bounced. This new machine is a clothes washing computer with tons of sensors and algorithms to wash as efficiently as possible. I read through the installation documentation and the first item in the installation checklist - in bold - "Make sure that the location for this washer is level and flat." It also had about twice the capacity of our old washer. I did some calculations on the new wet load weight requirements and realized the same footprint that shook the whole house during spin cycles would now need to accommodate at least 170lbs more.

Time for a remodel of the last "old" room in the house.

We had remodeling this room on our list for a long time but have always pushed it off due to other more important projects like the roofing, ramps and accessibility modifications. We knew that the utility room would be a big and expensive project but it wasn't hurting us to leave it - until now. I didn't want to shortchange this upgrade so I hired a contractor to do the heavy lift stuff that was needed:

  • Gut the room
  • Pull out the old floor including joists
  • Build a self supported floor system that didn't rely on the older foundation
  • Change out the plumbing for the new appliance locations and demands
  • Insulate the room
  • Change out the exterior windows and door
  • Install new Sheetrock

I opted to do all of the interior finish work and rewire the room myself. While we had the walls exposed, I also wanted to take advantage and make some home automation upgrades.

The Upgrade that Kept on Giving

This has turned out to be the one upgrade that just keeps on giving and probably wound up saving our house at minimum and possibly our lives. You see the previous owners renovated the kitchen and did what we thought was an incredible job. Gas/Electric stove, loads of cabinets and counters and all of the modern amenities. Where they skimped was on the wiring of the stove and the gas insert. They used the old 1950s era wiring and ran it up the same space as the gas line less than half an inch apart. To place the cherry on top, the cable has exposed wire. This era of wiring wrapped the two hot lines with the neutral, making it very strong but also incredibly susceptible to shorts due to wear, vibration or deterioration (fabric and paper insulation - See blog banner image)

Furthermore, the cutoff for the gas line was inside the wall. WTH!?! I've seen some side-stepping in my time but this one was just plain stupid. If we had ever had a problem or needed to change out the flex line, we would have had to run outside to shut off the gas.b2ap3 large 117 High St

Opportunity Knocking!

Having rewired a couple of houses and being a fan of the NEC, I went to work rewiring to code and to correct an awful gas stove connection. What I didn't realized though with all of this drama was the wealth of home automation opportunities that this one remodel gave us. This room shares walls with three other rooms and with this we were able to:

  • Add security wiring for moisture sensors to half of the water outlets in the house.
  • Replace 50% of the house plumbing with pex home-runs so that the moisture sensors above can trigger automatic shutoffs of affected areas without cutting off the water to the whole house
  • Replace the shoddy saddle crimped water line to the refrigerator with a dedicated water line and shutoff wall box.
  • Add a wired moisture sensor to the area behind the refrigerator.
  • Add over cabinet AC and network wiring to 2 very hard to reach parts of the kitchen which shares one of the walls with the utility room.
  • Add wired door sensor to the back door (was finicky 433 wireless before)
  • Add a wired moisture sensor to the area where the new washer is going.
  • Add a smoke detector with relay contacts to that room.
  • Gave me access to replace the last bit of old wiring in the dining room so that I will have a neutral wire in the switch box for that room.
  • Add a wired external security camera to the outside of the utility room
  • Add a wired security camera in the utility room

This renovation wound up taking a long time to complete but I think it was absolutely worth it. Not only do I sleep better knowing that we corrected some really dangerous problems, but we have gained many other features that I honestly didn't expect to check off the home automation list. We still have a ways to go to get everything we want but now the light at the end of the tunnel isn't a natural gas explosion!

 

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