09 February 2013

Lights, workbench, action!

I had actually built a workbench in early January, but the shop was too dark and cold to use it. So, today's little project was leveling the workbench, securing it to the wall (it's a little top-heavy and tippy), and hanging lights.

The bench is made from I think 3 2x4s and 1 sheet of OSB, cut in half and layered 2 deep. It's just temporary, though -- just to get things rolling until I get the nerve up to gut and rennovate the whole shop. The walls of the shop are dirty and full of holes, and because of the holes, we can see there are large sections with no insulation. Also, the old inefficient T12 lights all need to be replaced with modern T8 fixtures, and the existing lights are all in the wrong places anyway (and of course there aren't enough of them).

All this adds up to stripping everything down to the studs, insulating, putting up new walls and ceiling, and running new electric. You'll notice I put electric after walls -- I think I want the electric all surface mount, so it can be extended or reconfigured without tearing into walls.

Until then, I also put up temporary lighting for the temporary workbench. Conveniently, an outlet was right where I needed it to plug the lights into the ceiling. About time something happened in my favor...

08 February 2013

Yeah, snail's pace is right

I spent most of January and the beginning of February sick, so progress has been frustratingly slow. The house is livable for now, so I've been trying to get my workshop in some semblance of order. In the beginning of January, I ordered a window-mount heat pump. I'm sure you're all familiar with window mount air conditioners, but here in Idaho, we usually need a lot more heat than cool. A heat pump will cool in the summer, but more importantly, it will heat inexpensively in the winter.

Ordinarily, an electric heater is expensive to run. All electric heaters are nearly 100% efficient, but even though they don't waste power, they sure guzzle a lot of it! A heat pump does run on electricity, but uses about 1/3 the juice as a pure "space heater". So while not as a cheap as natural gas, it's still not too shabby.

Few window A/C units work as a heat pump. Most A/C units with "heat" are merely space heaters. Fine, perhaps, for climates like California, Texas, or Florida where heating is seldom needed, but not so much for Idaho. No, a window A/C with heat pump is pretty rare. In fact, I think Amana is the only company that makes them (and, surprisingly, they're actually still made in the US!).

Now, there are plenty of PTACs (like what you find in many hotel rooms) out there by GE and others that are heat pumps, but they're all 4 feet wide so it's unlikely you'd put one in a window. PTACs are good choices for heating/cooling a shop or garage, but do require a big ol' hole in a wall.

As it happened, my shop came with a hole in the wall above the window -- a small hole though, so rather than reframe, I just got a window unit that fit the existing opening. The good news is, it has plenty of capacity to heat and cool the space, being 11.5k BTU/h. A 19k BTU/h Amana is even available in window-size, but would have been overkill for us -- oversizing a heat pump is almost as bad as under sizing it, as it leads to moisture problems (not good in a machine shop filled with steel that can rust!)

As it happens, my heat pump requires a 240V outlet. No problem, Lemontree and I are already honorary plumbers, so I can be an electrician too, and install one! Actually it's not that simple, I did spend a week or so researching the NEC electrical codes. There are lots of rules to follow, but that's okay as those rules are what keep us from getting electrocuted or having our houses burn down.

After careful study, I applied for a permit, purchased about $40 worth of materials (copper wire ain't cheap!), and pretty much finished in two evenings. I was just about ready to have it inspected, when I got sick again and again. Just as soon as I felt halfway human, I'd get hit with something else. So went about 5 weeks. Finally though, today I passed the inspection and with Lemontree's help, hoisted the heat pump into position. And it even works!

Now that the shop can be a warm and pleasant place to work, hopefully I can get more things done. As long as I don't catch yet another bug...