The year of DIY SOS

First of all,

Happy New Year!

Now that all that Christmas nonsense is out of the way it’s time to attempt to get back to writing posts a bit more regularly. Before anyone gets too excited that is likely to mean a lot of rambling on about fixing up our new house; 2011 was the marathon house buying year but 2012 is going to be a whole Olympiad of jobs that need doing on the house of many leaks!

Given the number of leaks we already have, one job that I’m not planning to do myself is replacing the bathroom. We’re still trying to figure out the best way to fit everything in without everything looking odd or squashed. My pencil and paper scribbles have evolved into a highly realistic 3D rendering quick 3D sketch in Second Life to see what it might look like. Apart from our bathroom looking extremely small when dropped in the middle of a field on its own, it was a very simple way to get a rough visualisation.

I haven’t quite managed to use bathroom sketches as an excuse to buy a Galaxy Note… yet… maybe if it was just a little bit cheaper!

The other project I keep contemplating is whether to put in some structured wiring. While decorating and pulling up floors would seem like the perfect opportunity. Unfortunately there’s no obvious place to put a so called ‘node zero’. I guess I could put a patch panel in the loft and defer choosing the final location until later. Would that work? And is there an easy trick for running cables behind dot and dab dry lined walls? Using 8 or 16 pair cable seemed like it might make things simpler than pulling through multiple cables, but that doesn’t seem particularly easy to get hold of in the UK. There’s a good chance decorating will just overtake any ideas about installing ethernet cables but I haven’t completely given up the idea.

Next job: sanding.

9 thoughts on “The year of DIY SOS

  1. If you’re going to run cabling, do it before you start decorating. It’s not fundamentally difficult, but retrofitting to an existing building is fiddly. The key to getting it right is lots of careful thought and preparation. If you can’t hold up a picture of where every run in the house will go, showing how many cables, what type, and how long each is, you’re not ready. It took me about 2 weeks to work it all out in detail.
    I ended up running CAT5e & Coax to all the rooms in my house, and managed to avoid having any visible cable runs whatsoever, despite having all solid walls. I found that provided I was prepared to compromise slightly on the locations of the sockets, it was almost always possible to run cables through existing voids (eg for the soil pipe) and existing built in cupboards. An electricians draw-tape will be invaluable, and allow you to run a decent pull-wire. Then use that to pull pre-cut bundles of your cables. Remember to include another pull-wire in that bundle so if you ever do need to pull more cables, you can do it relatively easily. String is cheap.
    Whatever you do, run at least twice as much CAT5e as you think you’ll need. I’d not bother with CAT6; the cable is much more rigid and will be difficult to run, and for the length runs you’ll have, you can run gigabit over simple UTP CAT5e anyway.
    I have my node zero in the loft, in a small 19″ rack built from wood & MDF. That contains the 24 port gigabit ethernet switch, the ethernet and telephone patch panels, and the video distribution system. I then have a node one in my study with the ADSL modem, a further 8 port gigabit ethernet switch, the main house (24×7) server and some additional “transient” 1U servers. These are all going into another small 19″ rack when I redecorate the study in the next month or so.

  2. Got a bathroom tip for you. Since you’re not allowed normal light switches in a bathroom, the normal choice is a switch in the hallway or a pull-cord. The former is inconvenient, the latter is old-fashioned and clunky (and some think unhygienic). There is a little-known third option: inductive switches that detect touch through tiles or other surface coverings. I have two in my bathroom (one for the main light, one for the illuminated mirror), each controlled by touching a contrasting tile on the wall. Works brilliantly, everyone who sees it very impressed :-)

    There’s a mains switch box that goes above the ceiling (or wherever), then a postage-stamp sized sensor that only carries 5v so can go anywhere in the bathroom. Thin wires between the two. Glue the sensor onto the back of a tile and the whole tile becomes a light switch. Set of tiles I used had “accent tiles” consisting of a normal big one with a hole in the middle for a contrasting small one – ideal for a switch.

    Company I bought mine from is here: – no connection, but a happy customer who thinks they should be more widely used.

  3. @Richard, thanks for the tips- just adding an electricians draw-tape to the shopping list. I’ve been building up a picture of likely cable runs in my head but don’t have anything on paper yet. I think I can get cables up in to the loft from most rooms using soil pipe boxing, which is why I’m thinking that would be a good location for a patch panel. There is no power up there yet though so I don’t think I’ll be putting anything else up there in the near future. (Lots of other things ahead in the priority list!) The run I’m struggling with is from the loft to the VDSL router/temporary node zero under the TV. There is an unused coax though, so I might attempt to use that to pull through a new cable- my guess is that it will be a tight fit if it works at all, hence the multiple bundle cable theory.

    @Pete, like that a lot, thanks for the links. Unfortunately, even with the photo, spousal approval isn’t looking likely!

    On a slight tangent, does anyone have any thoughts on shower pumps? The current water pressure is an average UK vented dribble, so we were toying with the idea of getting a pump. On the other hand, to keep noise and costs down, I’m currently leaning back towards doing without one. Any recommendations for extra quiet pumps or good low pressure showers much appreciated.

    • Your other option to get to the loft from the lounge is via a conduit on the outside of the house. I had to do the same for my lounge. I wanted to drop 4 x CAT5e, 2 x Coax & a telephone line to the back of the TV/audio stack. I used 25mm black tubular conduit, which comes in 3m lengths, and matching clips and termination boxes. Total cost was about £20 or so from TLC in Southampton. It helps that that section of the outside of my house isn’t visible from the front or rear gardens, but the end result is very neat and wouldn’t look out of place on a new build.

    • We have a pump and while it is a bit noisy, it’s not something that bothers us. I’ll certainly be checking the mountings on Pete’s suggestion though. A decent shower is worth it in my opinion. A dribble doesn’t make you feel better.

      I’ve been redoing my bathroom after a bit of a leak on Christmas eve. I’m putting in a bath rather than the current shower cubicle and have found a few good space saver baths which might be worth looking at. They’re probably more use in my case because I didn’t want to have to redo the entire bathroom. I used DraftSight to do the drawings – there tend to be good technical drawings for things like baths and the ability to dimension everything is very useful.

      • What do you count as a bit of a leak? Hope it wasn’t too serious!

        I’ve been using Google Sketchup but at first glance DraftSight seems like it might be worth a closer look. Thanks for the tip.

  4. Can’t comment first hand on shower pumps – my house is all at mains pressure, no Victorian-style tanks in the roof. My parents have always had a pump though – their shower would be pathetic without it. Their current pump is pretty quiet – its all about good mountings so the vibration doesn’t transfer into walls and floor.

    If you do stick with low pressure, be very careful which fittings (shower head, valves, etc) you pick. The old-fashioned British system is more or less unique in the world, and most fittings are designed for higher pressure.

    If the pipes are currently 15mm, going up to 22mm on a low pressure system might help it be less of a dribble.

    Personally, I’d get a pump. But then I like a good shower enough that I’m planning to uprate my boiler to supply the shower-head I have my eye on :-)


    • Ok, I thought you were slightly mad for planning to upgrade your boiler for a shower… except I’m now starting to think of doing something similar. I’ve been looking at vented mains pressure hot water systems, and wondering whether now might be a good opportunity to give solar hot water a try. So not at all mad as it turns out!!

      • Sounds like you actually have even more disruption in mind :-)

        My house has a combi boiler, which is a technology I’m entirely happy with (everything in one box, heat water on demand). However, the one downside of a combi is that there is a limit to how fast it can heat water (or rather, given a specified temperature rise, how much water it can output per second). This is why they don’t make sense for large houses with multiple bathrooms, but with one bathroom mine is well capable of supplying a shower as good as any normal person would expect.

        The potential boiler upgrade was because I was breaking out of the “what a normal person would expect” category and being very tempted by a shower head that’s 600mm in diameter. That’s right – a normal-style shower head scaled up to TWO FEET across :-). That would have needed a considerably bigger combi boiler (and they do exist) to supply it at its rated capacity, but it would otherwise have been a like-for-like swap rather than a complete redesign.


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