Monday, 17 May 2004
First weekend in a while that I haven't had work things to worry about, so it was time to think about home improvement again. Erica has a long list of projects at her house, but she needs to make decisions about things -- colors, styles, location, whatever -- so I gave some thought to my house. There's no end of work to be done here, either, but I wanted to do a project that would be fun and could be accomplished in a short period.
We decided on kitchen lighting. My house was built in 1958 and the kitchen was remodeled sometime in the 70s, we believe. (Oak cabinets, strange epoxy floor.) The lighting was classic 50s: a single double-bulb fixture in the center of the ceiling. It works, of course, but there have been a few innovations in lighting technology since then. A quick call to my friend Ken confirmed that track lighting was probably the way to go -- easy, flexible, comparatively cheap.
Off we went to Home Depot, for the first time. We got track-lighting stuff, which included a track, duh, and a junction to the power supply. Then our first dilemma: which of the many styles of track lights did we want? Spots or floods, halogen or normal, there was no lack of choice. I am driven in these situations by two factors: price and let's-decide-now. So we got three different styles of lamps, all $10, and bulbs to match. Hey, those halogen bulbs aren't cheap.
As a kind of afterthought, we decided to look at range hoods. For some inexplicable reason, my kitchen does not have one. Oddly, at some point they installed an exhaust fan in the ceiling kind of close to the stove. That fan is powerful, eventually; it takes about 90 seconds for it to cut through 50 years of accumulated grease and get spinning. What I really missed, though, was having a light over the stove.
At home, I got out all the new toys and thought about which one I wanted to play with first. Range hood, I figured. My plan was to use the "self-venting" option in the range hood (the fan passes the exhaust through a filter and back into the room). The idea was that this was the easiest; run some wire to bring power to the hood, secure it to the underside of the cabinets, and done.
Alas, I started thinking. Gee ... since the range hood could exhaust up some ductwork, maybe this was the time to do that. I could run ducting up through the cabinet and soffit and in the attic take a bend and use the old exhaust vent in the roof. Hmmm.
This little detour cost us the rest of Saturday and part of Sunday and two more trips to Home Depot to get ducting (first time) and a damper (second time). Had we stuck with the original plan to install just the range hood without ducting, we would have been done in an hour, oh well. There have been some benefits. I got a cool tin snipper to cut ducting with, a tool I'd needed before. And that old fan is gone, gone, the hole in the ceiling patched and a first coat of joint compound in place. And the range hood is cool and it's got a great fan that is now all hooked up.
I didn't start on the track lighting till this morning, after I had patched the ceiling and quick-like put another coat of paint on my back door, an ongoing project. The thing with lighting is that it's kind of hard to tell what it's going to look like. I suppose there are tools that can help, although Erica's theory is that you learn these things by experience. For example, I wasn't sure what the optimal place to put the track was. So I just took a stab at it, locating it so that we could put spots that would shine nearly vertically onto the countertops. Installing the junction box and track went smoothly, other than it meant crawling around in the attic, which is hell on my knees and my patience. (We also discovered that the ceiling is by no means level.) Once the track was up, we installed our selection of spots. Problem was that it was broad daylight, so it was hard to tell what the effect was. Another (separate) trip to Home Depot was made to get more of the spots that Erica liked best. And the special bulbs that those require.
When it finally got dark, we could finally get the full effect. Very nice. Changing the lighting enhanced the feel of the kitchen completely. Erica observed that we probably should have run the track straight down the middle of the kitchen. Probably so; we might experiment with that next weekend, since it's fairly easy to install the track, and we can use the old kitchen fixture for power.
The track lighting aside, the next task is to install some under-cabinet lights to finish things off. The biggest challenge there, I believe, is in figuring out how to run cable from the light fixture up to the attic. (More crawling around.)
Having once started improving the kitchen, it's easy to start imagining bigger and bigger projects. Erica several times suggested that I get a new stove to go with the range hood. It's tempting, but I know that a new stove would mean thinking about a new floor, which would mean thinking about those cabinets, and a new countertop, and ...
Better not to start down that path. Yet.