Archive for the 'home improvement' Category

Floridian Condominium recommended contractors

February 24th, 2015 | Category: home improvement

Leave a comment on the google doc (preferred) or here if you have an addition or want a change made.

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Next Energy Efficiency Project

August 25th, 2011 | Category: home improvement

Trying to pick my next home energy efficiency project. Melissa and I were supposed to go to the beach in Delaware this weekend but Hurricane Irene has thwarted our plans. I have a rainy weekend to try one of these:

1. Ceiling Fan in the guest bedroom. No more steaming while reading, and more comfortable for friends sleeping over

2. Solar Shades to keep the sun out and the place cooler (and let me sleep longer)

3. Home beer brewing. It takes soooo much energy to transport the beer from the brewery to me.

4. More motion detector light switches. Some of the lights turn off when you leave the room. Upgrade the rest of them.


Have to pick one, any suggestions?


Installing a Thermostat controllable with Wifi

June 23rd, 2011 | Category: home improvement

I recently installed a Wifi Thermostat in my condo. A programmable thermostat is a must, for the following reasons:

  • Turn off the AC / Heat while you’re at work
  • Cool off the apartment before you return
  • Save a LOT of money

A lot of people leave their temperature at the same setting all day and night. This is a terrible waste of energy. It is much more cost effective to cool it when you are returning home, and to turn off system when you leave in the morning. It is hard to remember to do it manually, so a programmable thermostat is significantly better.

I decided to one-up the programmable thermostat and completely geek it out with a wifi thermostat that one can control from their computer, Android or iphone.

The thermostat of choice was this one:

The CT30 from Radio Thermostat Company of America. Despite the cheesy 80’s sounding name which you may liken to other well known institutions like the Peanut Corporation of America or Yokogawa Corporation of America, this is a fine thermostat. The interface is well designed and the software is surprisingly good.



This thermostat was quite easy to install. You need to have a C-Wire in your condo, which is a 24V AC electric supply. It frequently comes from your HVAC unit directly. Most modern buildings have this wire. Our condominium, The Floridian, has a C-Wire ready to use.

Removal of the Old Thermostat

You should remove the old thermostat carefully. In case you find that your wiring isn’t up to snuff and you don’t have a C-Wire, you’ll want to put this back. I had a cheap, builders-grade digital thermometer with only two buttons. I kept it just to have a backup. It had some strange snaps in the back, but can be pried off with a flat screw driver:

Pry it off. It has two weird snaps holding it on:


Turn off the HVAC unit and any A/C Compressors you have. Hopefully they are on individual circuits and individually labeled. The C-Wire carries 24V of electricity and could give you a nasty jolt. It could kill your goldfish but is unlikely to kill you.

Prepare the new thermostat

Remove the old wall plate. Remove this carefully. In our condo, the builder had half-assed the job and hadn’t put any anchors into the wall. I also found out that there was a hidden aluminum junction box immediately behind the drywall which made it hard to add my own wall anchors. I highly recommend using molly bolts in drywall, otherwise any screws you install are apt to fall out with just a light tug.

Wiring and Mounting

Our building has a 5-wire system:

5-wire heat pump system with Auxiliary Heat

This means that a heat pump is used to raise and lower the temperature in the condo. When the temperature needs to be raised by more than 5 degrees, or the heat pump is malfunctioning for some reason, an electric Auxiliary heater kicks in as “emergency heat”. This heater consumes a lot of electricity and is expensive to run. Think about heating with a hair dryer. It is imperative to buy a thermostat that can have a meaningful relationship with the auxiliary heater.

Follow the instruction manual to wire it up and mount it to the wall using wall anchors. You may have to drill up to four small holes to install the wall anchors. They will help to keep the thermostat installed snugly against your wall. I was only able to install two wall anchors because of the pesky hidden aluminum junction box I spoke of before.

Final Product

Total Time: 45 Minutes

Total Cost: $130

Total Savings: $1m, at least. Per week.

In all seriousness, installing a programmable thermostat, even an ordinary one, will save you a lot of money on your energy bill. It will keep the apartment at your ideal temperature when you’re home, and at a more efficient temperature when you’re away. Don’t believe the myth that cooling your home all day while you are away is more efficient than turning on your AC 30 minutes before you come home. Nowadays, I can turn on the AC with my phone anytime I want.


Installation of a Ceiling Fan in Your Condo

June 12th, 2011 | Category: home improvement

Have you ever thought of installing a ceiling fan in your bedroom? It can keep your AC costs in the summer time down and make your bedroom more comfortable. Especially if your mate doesn’t like the same temperatures as you do. I am from Boston and she is from Colombia. At 60 degrees, I’m wearing shorts and a T-Shirt and she is searching for her Parka. The opposite goes for the hot, humid, DC summers.

Here is a little guide that may help you to install a ceiling fan in your bedroom. My situation was made easier by a concrete ceiling with a pre-drilled, sturdy electrical box. First of all, it is critical to have a tall and sturdy ladder. I tried at first with a 3-foot stepladder, but it would have been superhuman to lift the 40lb motor and tighten very small, very intricate screws standing on my tip-toes. Get a good ladder!

See what your mounting hardware looks like

Remove your existing light fixture to see what you will mount your ceiling fan to. Here in the Floridian, our ceilings are concrete and the builder installed some very solid electrical boxes. You shouldn’t feel scared to secure a spinning 40 pound contraption to the ceiling.

The boxes in our ceilings are made of sturdy plastic. It is hard to see in the picture, but it is well encased in concrete. The box has kind of a mushroom shape with the wider part at the top and encased in concrete, so it is unlikely to slip out. I used machine screws (not the provided wood screws) to secure the fan to the ceiling box.

You have to remove all of the existing light fixtures and hardware and stretch out the wires. In our building, you may see two “live ends”, where you can connect two separate fixtures, each controlled by a separate wall switch. See the picture below. This was a nice addition by the developer.

Two live ends.

Each with a separate wall switch.

Putting the heavy bits together

Do exactly as the manual says! The Hunter Fan that I bought had ~100 pieces and it wasn’t easy putting it together. But whenever I diverged from the instructions and did something of my own, it was bad… real bad. At one point I had to disassemble the whole body while it was hanging from the ceiling. I’d wired everything together and turned the switch and nothing happened. As it turns out, I didn’t push a “reset” button after changing the remote control frequency. 2 hour detour.

Building the heavy bits

Hanging and taking shape!

From Installing a Ceiling Fan

The final product!

The fan looks beautiful in our bedroom, matching the wood texture of the ceiling. I slept in comfort last night. It could have been the fan or the wine, but it was a lovely sleep nonetheless. The fan is a Hunter fan from and cost ~$320. Be sure to get a coupon from the internet. I used a 12″ downrod to lower it down from the ceiling. Lighting Direct recommends an 18″ downrod for 10-foot ceilings like mine, but I opted for a shorter one and like this look better. The fan ships with a ~4 inch downrod that is totally insufficient.


Give it a try, and leave a comment if you found this useful. It is very easy to install this in the Floridian condos in NW DC – no drilling, cutting, or excessive wiring needed.