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Being in the middle of a multi-home fire event with extensive destruction, there is a large pool of people that want to know what happened, how it happened, and progress during cleanup. Beyond the obvious family members, this also includes the various insurance company agents, fire investigators, and the fire department (who has regularly sent out crews to the site to both ensure no flare ups, but also to talk through the fight with those not there to ensure their techniques are refined in the future).

This post is for all of them. And it is to highlight the absolutely fantastic neighborhood that we live in.

Our neighbor, Al Boyden, was one of the first on the scene with a camera (that is his picture to the left). His iCloud photo stream includes photos from very near the beginning of the fire through to the photo to the left, when both the neighbor’s house was fully in flames and the fire trucks were just rolling up. I’ll have to ask Al to update the photos with the original timestamps. It is astonishing how fast an Eichler goes from “singed in the corner” to “full blown, total destruction, flames”.

My photo stream contains a series of photos taken after the fact that include documentation of both the destruction wrought and the cleanup process. Eventually, it’ll also include all the photos of the reconstruction process (which will be quite involved and, in some respects, even more involved than our remodel because part of the roof is going to be replaced).

Craig Allyn Rose appears to be an official photographer for the SJFD and has an incredible gallery of images from the event. The photos are primarily taken nearer to the two neighbors whose houses were destroyed. I’ve reached out to Craig to see if there is any additional information he would like added to this post. (Thank you, Craig, for your efforts and for sharing.)

Another professional photography on the scene was Chris Smead of Chris Smead Photography, who also works with the Fire Department.

LED Kitchen Illumination

When remodeling our house, one goal was to move to the highest efficacy lighting while remaining cost effective. In terms of pure lumens per watt — pure efficacy — LEDs are, by far, the winner on the commercial market and have been for the last decade.

Up until two years ago (when we remodeled the kitchen), though, the cost per lumen of LED based lighting has been prohibitive outside of things like rope lights or other installations that had tons of low power, cheap, lamps. Unfortunately, rope lights and christmas lights just don’t make for good task lighting in your typical kitchen. CFLs, though, pretty much suck. After 18 months, the lamps are starting to fail, they are sometimes noisy, and their warmup time can be annoying (contrary to reports from the energy & incandescent lamp industries, CFLs are actually not terribly toxic — the amount of mercury is tiny).

I have been watching the LED market for quite a while. In particular, Best Hong Kong has an interesting selection of relatively current and relatively reasonably priced lamps. I’m using some of their products to illuminate the hand blown glass pendant lamps at the top of this picture. Thank you to EMSL for suggesting Best Hong Kong in the first place!

In monitoring the technology, the one name that came up over and over is CREE, who seems to be one of the leaders in manufacturing LEDs and LED fixtures. At least, CREE is the name that comes up most often for products targeted to residential applications (Phillips and others seem to be big names in the commercial space).

Now, if you search Amazon for CREE lamps, you’ll find a bunch of units, but the state of the art tends to be about six months behind and, frankly, comparatively expensive (of course, if anyone happens to stumble on the above link a year or two after I wrote this, I hope the prices are reasonable and the technology current).

Cree 3x 3w LED GU10 120VAC lamps

Since the technology existed, the issue was then a matter of figuring out where to find lamps with the latest CREE LED technology integrated into a package compatible with standard home lighting fixtures. After having found some CREE 3x 1 watt GU-10 (i.e. track light compatible 120v AC lamps) and found some 3 watt CREE LEDs with the same form factor as the 1 watt LEDS, a bit of searching revealed that, in fact, if you are willing to import lamps in lots of 10 (or more), you can buy the latest lighting technology

Through, I found Ledsion Lighting Technology Co. Ledsion manufacturers a ton of LED based lamps, both for home use and in various commercial applications.

Not having ordered product from Ali Baba or — frankly — ordered anything direct from the manufacturer in this fashion gave me a bit of trepidation. But, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Kitchen From Above
CFL based illumination; not as bright, no highlights.

I ordered 10 (minimum lot size) 3x3w (9w) CREE based GU-10 120VAC lamps. It took about 10 days for the company to make and ship the lamps (yes — make — a lot of the manufacturing is pretty much on-demand). It came to about $19.00 per lamp. While just about 2.5x the price of the 7w CFLs they were replacing, the LEDs generate 150% the light output and have a rated life of 50,000 hours vs. the CFL’s 8,000.

I.e. the performance and long-term cost– the efficacy — of the CREE based 3x3w LEDs completely dominates CFLs. Better still, the light quality is just stunning compared to the CFLs. The LEDs are “on” instantly and provide a very even light. Frankly, it looks better than 50 watt halogens original to the track in that the light is, for lack of a better term, more comfortable; less harsh.

The image at left was taken while the counter was illuminated by the old CFLs with considerably more light coming from other sources. No highlights on the counter, to speak of. With CFLs, the track lighting was nothing more than ambient overhead lighting. With the LEDs, it provides more ambient light and enough directed light to provide for highlighted spots.

Long term viability obviously remains to be seen, but I remain optimistic.

I returned to the Lesdion Lighting Technology to order more lamps and see if I could grab some 12vAC or DC MR-16 CREE based LEDs for other applications and, via AliBaba’s built in chat system, ended up chatting with the seller. Extremely professional, patient, and helpful. Answered a handful of technical questions and I was able to customize my order a bit to meet my needs. (And, really, I’m still a bit in shock that, through Alibaba, I can talk directly to a manufacturer to get a relative one off of a product with the custom color, lens, and wattage I desire. I feel like I just experienced a bit of Blade Runner from my living room.)

All in all, I’m extremely happy that LED technology has advanced to the state of being usable in “normal” home applications. While still slightly initially pricy, the long term costs may be significantly less and the reduced energy use is attractive. Because of the increased light output from the track lights, I’m finding that I no longer need to use the 30 to 40 watts of florescent tube under-lighting!

One Row of Solar Panels

As a part of our ongoing home improvement adventure, we are installing solar panels. Between the state and federal rebates, the increasing cost of electricity, and the improvements in solar technology, it is an investment that will pay for itself in a decade or two. Maybe less, if California really starts paying for excess production.

And, of course, Solar scratches my techno-geek itch. In particular, the system we are installing uses per-panel micro-inverters that leverage IP-over-powerline to network with each other to synchronize phase and deliver power back to the grid. As well, it makes the system easily expandable in that we can drop new panels in without having to replace a costly single inverter.

Single Micro-Inverter

Apparently, when this is all said and done, I’ll have access to a web site with a set of schematics that show our panel layout along with individual and overall power generation statistics.

Of course, being that we live in an Eichler, the path between concept and final installation has to have at least one adventure.

Original "Connector" In Action

While making my own low voltage cable light fixtures, I searched high and low for a little piece of hardware that would elegantly connect between the suspension cables and the wires down to the lights.

No luck. Everyone wants to sell you a cable lighting kit or, at best, the only “parts” are $40 bare MR-16 halogen lamp fixtures.

No thanks. Until I could figure out a solution, I simply bent a few bits of heavy gauge copper wire and made hangers like the one at right.

It worked OK, but clearly needed to be replaced with a real solution.

The answer?

Finished Connector Installed, Detailed

Spend less than $10 on parts and make my own connectors. Well, $10 on parts and $225 on the tools necessary to solve this particular problem.

What follows is a description of the tools and some photos of the various stages. If you have even the remotest amount of metal working experience, there’ll be nothing new here (and probably lots of opportunities to make fun of me).

But, as pictured at left, I achieved success!

Dining Table Lit by CFL Pendants (Including IKEA Ordning Lamps)

When we lived in New York City, we had these awesome cable lights with hand blown glass pendants and, in the middle in the picture left, an awesome little beaded center piece lamp over our living room table.
One goal of the remodel was to make sure that we had a place for the pendants to finally hang again after being in boxes for the past decade.
The glass pendants are hung above the bar between kitchen and living room and the bead shade was hung over the kitchen table.
But the shade was too small to hang by itself. Thus, we needed additional fixtures.
At first, I soldered a couple of stiff copper wires to the bottom of some 12v MR16 compact fluorescent lamps. Plenty of light, but obviously not terribly pleasant to look at a couple of random bare bulbs hanging about.
I have always been enamored by the cheese grater light fixtures in That 70s Show.
As we were heading to IKEA for other reasons, we decided to poke about the kitchen accessories area to see if anything Light Fixture-esque struck our fancy.
Christine found some ORDNING stainless steel cutlery caddies that seemed pretty close to ideal.
Cheap, too.

IKEA Ordning Based Lamps

So we grabbed a couple and I picked up some silver lamp cord from the local hardware store.
Assembly was trivial:

  • Solder ends of lamp cord to ends of lamp
  • Tie not in lamp cord just above lamp
  • Feed lamp cord through center bottom hole of ORDNING
  • Solder stiff copper wire to other end of lamp cord at desired height
  • Bend copper wire in a hook to hook over suspended power cables

The end result is clean, simple, and provides great light. Better yet, the interior of the ORDNING has wonderful concentric rings from the machining process.
The blue light at the top of the cabinets is from blue LED rope lights that extend across the top of all cabinets.

Kitchen Cabinets Roughed In

Simultaneous with the flooring going in, the construction crew installed cabinets. Actually, the cabinets were roughed in first to ensure that the floor tiles could be cut correctly.
The image at was taken from the top of the bar cabinets between living room and kitchen and shows the island, the refrigerator cabinet, and the big storage cabinet on the left.
Behind the island are cabinets all along the wall. Though not visible in this image, there are now cabinets hanging on the wall in the corner by the fridge cabinet.
(This is actually an HDR image again. Much better than the original images. Would have required massive lighting to expose this properly otherwise, I think.)

Large Cabinet Next To Atrium (with Stained Glass)

The cabinets are rocks solid and the hardware is really nice. Soft close doors/drawers and the slides are top notch. We picked out some curved hardware to go on the front of the cabinets, to tie with the curved handles on the appliances on the curve at the front of the island.
Our friend and professional artist, Trudy, is making custom glass panels for the cabinet doors and custom glass tiles that will be installed in a row along the backsplash over the kitchen counters.
Trudy also made the exquisite stained glass piece seen in this picture. Some detailed images can be found here and here.

Living Room looking to Bedroom Wall

The past few weeks, the remodel has been in turbo mode.
Every day, coming home from work reveals yet another item checked off (or nearly so).
A couple of weeks ago, it was the floor tiles. At left is the living room with tiles completed, but not yet grouted in.
The tiles used are 24″x24″ slate tiles that are about 1/2″ thick. I.e. large. And heavy. Each tile ways around 35 lbs.
Thus, each palette of tiles weighed about 2200 lbs.

For the past couple of months, our real kitchen has either been full of holes or otherwise under construction.
As a result, our refrigerator and the rest of our make shift kitchen has been in our atrium.
As we couldn’t move our stove into the atrium, I picked up a camp stove to see us through. Specifically, I wanted something that had at least two burners and we very easy to use. I already have a Coleman dual-fuel stove
, but it is a bit bulky and, though it can run off of unleaded gasoline, it is not exactly “push button” easy to light.
After reviewing a slew of stoves, I settled on the Coleman 2-Burner Fold ‘N Go InstaStart Stove.
It is compact, surprisingly solid, and very easy to use. It also spits out a ton of heat. Seriously. Beyond easily boiling water, frying foods, cooking pancakes, and the like, I have also successfully stir-fried in my very heavy cast-iron wok (seriously — 12+ pounds of cast iron)!
My only complaint is that the adjusting the stove for a low flame is trickier than it should be. If you simply push and turn the knobs, you’ll always end up with a flame that is bigger than desired. However, by simply pulling on the knobs as you turn slowly, the flame height can be set quite specifically to as low as you want.
Great stove. Very attractive design, too.
The 16 oz propane tanks run about $4.50 each and last for about one week with near daily cooking (or, at the least, boiling of water).

Kitchen to Living Room with Structural Plywood Installed

Normally, when you are redoing an interior room, you would typically hang drywall once the wall is insulated and all interior infrastructure is installed.
Not so in an Eichler!
At least not in earthquake country.
An Eichler is a textbook example of post and beam construction.
The house sits on a slab and there are numerous vertical posts that then support large (typically redwood) beams on top of which the roof is built. The framing and walls are typically run between posts, but non-structural interior walls are often used, too.

Kitchen Walls with Insulation (and Wire Protectors)

While Eichler houses typically fare very well in earth quakes, with no shear walls to cause the house to shift off the foundation (a common failure mode).
However, the whole house can be subject to shear forces that can cause catastrophic failure.
Thus, since the original construction, building codes now require that a certain amount of shear strength be maintained.
In particular, any exterior siding work must use siding the runs the full height of the house and must be nailed to the house with #8 nails spaced at certain intervals.
For interior walls, any wall that does not have internal cross bracing, must be finished with plywood that is attached with a certain gauge of nail at a certain spacing.
So, we end up with structural plywood and structural siding.

Roof Sealed and Freshly Rained Upon

A couple of weeks ago, our roof was mighty torn up.
Cutting through the multiple layers of roofing and creating Conduit Canals over the top, obviously the integrity of roof was basically naught.
And, of course, the first rain of the season was to be about 5 days after those torn up photos were taken!
The day before the rains came, the roofing guys came out and filled the channels with foam and then put sealant on top of the foam.

Roof Sealed and Freshly Rained Upon (Flat Part)

One day later?
It rained.
No leaks. Not a one.