Whole Home Portable Backup Generator project Part 1 – the DuroMax XP13000EH portable generator

I recently purchased the DuroMax XP13000EH portable generator. It is portable in the sense that it does have wheels. If you don’t have a trailer with a ramp, i wouldn’t expect to be carting it around anytime soon. Its big and heavy. The unit weights ~260 lbs with no gas. Gas weighs less than water at about 6 lbs per gallon. With an 8.3 gallon gas tank add another 50 pounds and you are right at 300 lbs. fully loaded.

My plan is to keep this generator in the garage and roll it outside and plug it into the house when outages occur so i really don’t have to move it more than 25-50 feet. It has some fold down handles and newly improved solid tires to prevent flats from becoming a problem in an emergency. To do this right, I am going to have to pull some heavy wiring in schedule 40 PVC conduit under the house and install a “power inlet box” (NEMA SS2-50P receptacle) as well as installing a manual generator interlock kit on my outside electrical panel. The entire setup will be rated for a capacity of 50 Amps at 250 volts AC.

A few of the many items i am collecting as i prepare for this project. (6 gauge stranded THHN wire…still waiting on my black wire…1.5″ diameter concrete dry core bit with SDS compatible auger, interlock kit, and 50 amp generator connection box)

More on the actual generator… I was looking for the biggest portable generator i could find at a reasonable price with a high approval rating from end users. Home depot sells the XP13000EH for $1,399.

The Generator is powered by a 500cc OHV Engine and with 10,500 watts of running power and the ability to surge up to 13,000 watts, this generator can power household essentials such as lights, small and large appliances, and your home’s central A/C system. The fully loaded power panel features multiple outlets including (2) 120V GFCI protected household outlets. Also on the power panel are individual breakers to prevent overloading and keep everything safe. $1,399 met my budget for the things we need to power in an emergency. This unit is both EPA and CARB approved for operation in all 50 states if you need to care about those sorts of things.

The next step up in size (the XP15000) 12500 running watts with 15,000 starting watts moves up in price to $2,999! From a math standpoint you start to get into some other cost considerations too. 15000 watts divided by 240 volts is 62.5 amps. At this point to meet NEC code depending on how far your wiring run is you are looking next size larger wiring. Note: thick wire gets expensive really quick. I’m also not sure how this largest model gets away with a NEMA 14-50 receptacle from an engineering standpoint which is rated at 50 amps unless the unit can’t supply 100% of its capacity from the largest outlet. Maybe an electrician out there can answer this.

The XP13000EH came boxed and strapped to a pallet. You will need to do some assembly such as putting on the wheels and handles. A small tool kit with wrenches was included.

The generator has an electric push button start which is another great feature for ease of use. One thing i did realize upon firing up the generator for the first time is that it is noisy. However, after thinking about this in depth its sort of like having a 500cc motorcycle parked outside all day running. If you need lots of power, physics says you need a big motor. (you can’t get somethin for nothin!…1st law of thermodynamics)

Front panel view of generator showing buttons, breakers, receptacles, and switches
It also has a pretty blue fuel tank!
Rear view of the Duromax XP13000EH

I also REALLY liked that this is a DUAL fuel setup runs on gasoline or propane. Propane and Natural Gas are excellent choices for emergency fuel if you have access to it.

Why? Propane Gas can store infinitely in a portable tank or Natural Gas can be piped to the generator for almost unlimited use at a very low cost. These fuels also do not create large carbon deposits when they burn so your engine and carburetor stay cleaner meaning longer service life for your investment.

Since this is dual fuel (propane & gasoline), it will require a modification to run off Natural gas which i eventually intend to also do. I have my eye on a kit from http://www.nashfuel.com/ is selling a conversion kit on Ebay for $109.99

view of the components that make up the Nash fuel duromax natural gas conversion kit
Natural Gas Conversion Kit Duromax XP13000EH Generator 13KW LP 20HP Dual Fuel LP

This Kit essentially turns you Dual Fuel setup into a Tri-Fuel setup and will allow your generator to run on low pressure propane, low pressure natural gas, or gasoline.

We will explore connecting this and other similar generators to a home electric panel in Part 2.

Easy fix Freezer problems

Last night the ice cream seemed soft indicating something might be amiss with this essential appliance.

Further inspection revealed that there was a large buildup of ice in the back of the freezer reducing the proper circulation of air.

I removed most of this with a putty knife.

Some of the ice I removed. There was a LOT.

Further I noticed ice and crud build up that was possibly causing the door to not shut easily or completely.

I removed these tracks by unscrewing them

Only 3 screws hold in each assembly

I put everything I took out of the freezer that was part of the freezer in the shower and washed it with hot water. Then I carefully dried to remove all moisture as any little bit would cause the bearings to work poorly upon re-freezing.

Bath time for your appliances.
All cleaned and dried!
Finished cleaning. Wipe out any remaining moisture with a towel.

It’s also really important for the door to seal keeping warm air out and cold air in. I wiped down all the refrigerator and freezer door seals and their respective mating surfaces with Clorox wipes. You will be amazed at what looks clean but is most likely very dirty if you have never cleaned these before. Sometimes after cleaning them the door will mate so nicely that it feels difficult to pull the door open from the low pressure vacuum created by the cold air inside. This is desirable as it will really help the units efficiency by reducing air leaks.

Wipe down seals and mating surfaces.

In about an hour the ice cream was solid and there were no wet spots in the freezer.

Opening crawl space vents in Spring

If you have a crawl space under your home, you most likely have crawl space vents. These vents allow you to control the amount of airflow under your home. It’s really important to have good ventilation to keep mold and moisture from accumulating and ruining your home.

However, In winter months it’s essential to keep these vents mostly closed to keep any plumbing under your home warm so it doesn’t freeze or crack. There is also the energy savings factor as well.

As warmer temperatures come with spring it’s essential to open those vents to allow the foundation to “breathe.”

It’s rather simple. Simply locate the vent(s) and slide them open. Except that they rarely open easily with a simple push of the finger. So I bring a hammer with me an gently tap them open.

Be careful not to break off any plastic tabs on the vents while tapping.

Gently tap the finger tab to open the vent.
Fully opened crawl space vent.

One caveat, some newer energy efficient (green) homes have air conditioning in the crawl space. In this case, traditional venting as described is not necessary.

In-wall shelf trim replacement

I am not a wood worker. Generally the best I can hope for is to make big wood smaller.

I built some functional in-wall shelving a while back and decided to try my hand with a router. The results were terrible.

Basically the idea was to build a box that could screw between two studs and put holes on each side for shelf pins.

Thin homemade router trim. Terrible idea. Hang my head in shame.

I used the kreg shelf pin jig to make the evenly spaced holes when I originally built these. Kreg makes some great products.

I then proceeded to make some really terrible trim for the outside with my dewalt laminate router.

I have lived with this for a couple of years and really just hate it every time I see it.

Anyhoo… my wife went out of town for a few days. Perfect time to rip apart something in her vanity area right?

I started to pry away the trim but the drywall started to peel immediately. So i stopped and cut around the perimeter with a razor blade to free any caulk seal.

Cut any caulk seal before demo to make sure the drywall doesn’t rip.
Peel off any junk and get a flat surface to work with.
I like to mark an “x” on the side I plan to throw away and the angle of a cut.

I decided to use composite (fake wood) trim. Its perfectly smooth so it makes for a better finished product. The closer you start to perfect, the better the possibility you will end up somewhere close to there. It also is already white. So no priming and for now I’m not going to paint it. It looks great as-is.

DeWalt compound miter saw. Set at 45 degrees.

This DeWalt miter saw is really easy to set. there are de-tent positions for standard angles such as 45 degrees. I used to like small saws but now the bigger the better. More power = smoother faster cuts.

Air nail in place
Fill any holes and edges with white caulk.

This looks so much better.

If you have a project to fix this weekend, don’t forget to vacuum and clean up too.

Installing your own Hot-tub spa.

Meeting all the site requirements to install a hottub properly can be pretty daunting and the consequences of improper installation can be complete disaster.

In a previous neighborhood, one of our neighbors a few blocks away bought a hottub and decided to save a few bucks by wiring it up himself. He used plain NM (Romex type) household wiring. This was roughly 400% smaller than the wire size needed. It also was not rated for outdoor use. Coupled with using a standard breaker instead of a GFCI, disaster was an eventuality.

Disaster struck only a few weeks later. The wire overheated, the breaker failed, and the house went up in flames and had to be stripped down to the studs and completely rebuilt.

This blog entry is not a step by step guide. It is not intended for those who have not worked with electrical before. It is intended to give you a feel for what must be accomplished to properly install a hot-tub. I disclaim any responsibility for any work you do.

If you are planning to set a hottub on a wood deck, determine the weight limits and consult a structural engineer. Most site plans for hot tubs require something on solid ground or a concrete slab for a large tub. Hot-tubs are REALLY heavy and get way heavier when full of water.

Hot-tub delivery with 3 men and a dolly to move the tub into position.

Also, Please make sure that you research both current relevant codes and local codes as well as following any additional instructions that come with your tub. Additionally, pull an electrical permit where required.

Find a convenient space. Note the light overhead. This circuit had to be upgraded to GFCI to meet code once the tub was in place.

You will need power to your chosen location. A 50 or 60 amp dedicated circuit depending on the specifications in your owner manual.

Example of a common 50 amp disconnect.

*The National Electrical Code (NEC) 680.12 specifies installation of an approved manual disconnect device. It must be adjacent to the hot tub, at least 5 feet away, and within line of sight. The NEC also requires a 120V receptacle within a 10-20 foot distance from the spa.”

Pull appropriate gauge wire to your disconnect from main breaker location.
Example of a wired 50 amp box without breaker installed.

During hot tub wiring, copper wire is recommended with THHN (thermoplastic nylon) insulation. Avoid aluminum wire. The recommended minimum hot tub wire size in most cases is 6 AWG copper.

Note: some manufacturers (Especially Hotsprings) have special breaker requirements and may provide a “disconnect kit” with your spa.

Example of a special “Hotsprings” Spa disconnect with 2 breakers.
Protect all THHN wiring with conduit.
A much tighter fit once the breakers are in.

Next pull liquid tight flex conduit suitable for the number and size of conductors you have to the disconnect box and knock out the appropriate punch hole. (Make sure you still have power off to this breaker!)

I pulled my THHN wire through the conduit prior to trying to connect it since it can be difficult to pull multiple conductors through after connecting the conduit hose to the disconnect box.

Note: it is substantially easier to pull these wires when you have at least 2 people while doing this part.

Connect L1, L2, neutral and ground wires to breaker per hot-tub instructions.

Connect the flex to the hottub with locking nut.

Make necessary connections to the hot-tub electrical box. With my unit the connections were “push-in” style with no screw down needed.

The hot-tub powered up but kept getting errors. After a call to the store, the manager informed us they disconnect the recirculating pump at the store when they have them in the showroom so they can demo the lights and the sound system. I found the two loose wires.

I turned the power off and found the disconnected wires, plugged them back in and everything worked fine.

Time for a soak!

Attic Office Addition Part 3…Starting over again

Determined to set things straight and do things safely and right, i pulled a building permit with the local county. I then proceeded to find any information on the original build of the house and how it was constructed.

While i was doing that, I had to rip up all the work I had done. piece by piece, board by board. It was slow work. I had glued, nailed and screwed everything together.

I used a crowbar, cordless circular saw, sawzall, and hammer.

Doing it again, i’d use a deck breaker

The county permit office was absolutely amazing. They really spent some time listening to what i wanted to do, what i had done so far, and told me what i needed to do to make it safe and right.

Many people think the local building codes department is there to generate revenue for the city/county and somehow stop you from doing things to your house. Based on the fee i paid they truly were not. Basically for ~$150 I got a consultant who came out to my house several times over the next year and very patiently guided me throughout the project on safe and efficient building practices.

Several times when i was stumped or had an idea, I drove down to the local codes office and everyone jokingly groaned as I came through the door. Nevertheless, they were genuinely interested to see if i was going to get this done. I had taken on a huge project for an average DYI’er with no construction skills. I’m pretty sure there was a pool going on if i would ever get a certificate of occupancy.

The first thing “codes” comes to evaluate is the structure you are building on. Is it safe, is it strong enough etc. they are not structural engineers but they will check for proper bearing (minimum placement of boards on other boards), correct size of lumber, correct amount of fasteners per board, correct bracing if needed, correct type of wood, etc. Are there holes or notches in the wood?, where are they located?, etc. You have to know all this stuff. There is a TON of information you need to know to do an addition correctly. Read the IRC (International Residential Code) for construction. It has tons of detail.

Buy a Residential Wood Framing Construction Quick-Card based on 2018 IRC here.

I also got the sense that VERY FEW homeowners ever get a building permit. That is a huge mistake. If you ever have an insurance claim or need to sell your house, you are responsible for having everything to code. A building permit may not keep you from doing dumb things but it will make sure you correct them before you are done.

Essentially, to be code compliant, I had to span the existing joist length with boards that could carry a sufficient live load for a livable space. I ended up “sistering” 2x10s to each existing joist. Basically fastening a larger stronger board in parallel to the existing joist. I did this to twenty two 2×10’s! Ugh! Talk about exhausting.

There are all sorts of technical specifics you can get into about the strength of combining pieces of traditional lumber. It didn’t really matter here. The 2x10s on their own were sufficient. I would have preferred to remove the existing 2×8’s but that would have meant removing the kitchen ceiling for a while in the middle of winter. Not an option. Also not an option when you need to feed a family every day. So the 2x8s are still there nailed and screwed to the 2x10s.

I beefed up the connection to 2×10’s on the the LVL by adding Simpson strong tie concealed joist hangers. These are a great option when you want amazing holding strength but have no room on one side to nail in the dog ear tabs on conventional Simpson joist hangers. Make sure you use Simpson approved fasteners with these hangers. There was a screw option but I used Simpson nails. I also bought a Pneumatic palm nailer which was an absolute Godsend when nailing these into an LVL.

Simpson LUC210z concealed joist hanger

These photos taken during the original framing of the house were really valuable for me to understand more about how my floor joists would be transmitting the massive load of the 2nd floor down to the foundation while having a huge open space over most of the living room / dining room nook. They helped me determine where the walls would need to be to bear the weight of the addition.

General load path of addition over living room / nook area
  1. Load is placed on the ceiling joists (which double as the floor joist above after the addition.
  2. Load travels out from joists to LVL and sidewalls
  3. Load travels down wall to window headers
  4. load travels out and down though jack studs and
  5. finally down through all the studs
The Existing LVL downstairs enables the addition to span over an open living room space. LVLs have amazing compression strength so they can span greater distances than traditional lumber.

Read Part 2 here: “https://suburban-trenches.com/2020/02/12/attic-office-addition-part-2-mistakes-were-made/

Connecting Extension cords together.

It occurred to me as I connected my shop vac to an extension cord that there is an old trick that is very valuable to keep cords from coming undone while using them.

Simply hold in one hand. Cross the cords and loop twisting each cord around each other’s axis and then plug together. It makes a special “knot” until you are ready to undo them.

Installing HALO 6” No-Can recessed LED lights

We love light and really thought we went overboard with can lights when we built our house. We have about 80 cans throughout the house. Recently we adapted the can fixtures to LED technology with can retrofits.

There are a ton of advantages to the LEDs. They have a clean flush look. They seal well with the ceiling surface. They take a fraction of the existing power of traditional conventional incandescent bulbs, they don’t generate direct heat, and they last for a very long time. Oh…and they install fast!

We have 4 can LEDs in our bonus room and 3 skylights. Surprisingly it still feels a little dark.

Bonus room still needs a little more light!

There is really no way to add new construction cans or retrofits in this space. It’s jam packed!

Enter the Halo HLB 6 in. White Selectable CCT New Construction and Remodel Recessed Integrated LED Direct Mount Kit (No Can Needed)

Here’s what you need to do the project

Always make sure you have more wire thank what you think you need. I used to always have to take 2 trips to the store because I didn’t buy enough. Now I buy the next biggest size roll up from what I think I need. A big plus is the more wire you buy the cheaper it is per foot. Generally it’s approx only 50% more to buy twice as much or even more. So the second half of the spool is costing you half as much.

Tip: use painters tape to mark your locations. You may want to move them around before finalizing.

First, layout your hole pattern for the new lights in the ceiling. Use a stud finder to stay at least ~3 1/4” from each stud edge. This will ensure you can access the side of the stud to mount the LED driver power supply later.

The directions for the lights have a template. Use it to reduce error in your work!

Use a hole cutting tool to reduce the time to cut the holes. I cut all six holes in about 6 minutes. Also you get a perfectly round hole. Carefully adjust your tool. The slightest miss on adjusting can lead to problematic fit and a gap between the trim bezel and ceiling.

I prefer a large battery so I don’t have to switch out while working.

Klein tools makes a good hole cutter. Don’t accidentally throw away the plastic dust shield thinking it’s packaging. You will need it every time you use this tool.

Make sure you have your drill on the “drill” function and a full battery. The holes cut satisfyingly fast. Don’t push too hard though. Let the tool do the work.

I pulled 14 gauge 2 wire non-metallic Romex from hole to hole with little issue and didn’t need a fish tape. I pushed it with my arm as far as I could and then moved the ladder over to the other hole and reached and pulled it through.

Note: I didn’t turn off the lights / breaker until I absolutely had to so I could use them. I prefer to work with as much light as possible.

Next I tapped in to the existing cans in parallel. For each 2 lights I pulled another cable over to the existing can from one of the new holes. I did them all on the same side to stay consistent. We ready to connect to the existing wiring, make 100% certain to turn off your breaker so you don’t end up shocked or worse.

Keep your job site clean and organized to make things go really fast. Keep a trash can on hand to avoid having to pick up later.
There are 3 little black screws in the existing can. You can remove them and the can pushes up into the ceiling giving you access to the can junction box.

Make sure to push the can up into the attic space above.

Junction box exposed by unscrewing the can and pushing it into the attic space.

Tap in with appropriate wire nuts or push nuts. Make sure you put a strain relief on your NM wire. Code requires it. Some junction boxes have built in strain relief mechanisms. My old can lights did.

Remember to use strain relief to be code compliant.
Existing can junction box tapped with wire nuts.

These LED drivers have 3 color temperature settings. I prefer warmer tones in the 4000k range. Halo also makes a LED unit exactly the same except 5 color temperature settings for double the price. Not worth it to me.

Make sure to set the color temperature you like. Once you install these boxes it’s annoying and a lot of work to have to go back and set them if you didn’t prior to install.

I like to turn on the power and test as I go to prevent surprises at the end.

It’s tight quarters working through the hole but screw the driver to a joist instead of just laying it in the ceiling.

CAUTION: Remember to shut off you breaker before resuming work on wiring!!!

Push in wire nuts are a fantastic way to save time and are easier to use than versus traditional twist on wire nuts. I like to use them wherever I can. They also are good because they can easily be twisted off for re-wiring if you ever need to reconfigure the wiring.

First set working. Already loving the extra lights!
Done! Looks awesome!

In all I spent ~$145 and 4 hours to complete this project. Two of my kids were runners getting the things I dropped on the floor, handing me screwdrivers, etc. This saved a load of time from having to go up and down the ladder.

Attic Office Addition Part 2, …mistakes were made.

Link to part 1. https://suburban-trenches.com/2020/02/09/the-great-attic-office-addition-disaster-part-1/

I began in earnest. Trips back and forth to Home Depot.

You can put a lot in a SUV but it’s nothing like having a trailer or a truck. By the time you go to the big box store, wrestle a few boards to the cash register, and load the in your car…there is simply no energy left to actually get the board through the house and up the stairs to work on your project.

Lesson learned: If you need a lot of wood and have limited time, have it delivered all at once! The store will deliver it to you for a charge and in my view it’s well worth it.

Second lesson learned: I put a ton of dings and scratches in our walls in the process. Mainly because I lacked the energy to care. Don’t work when you are tired. You will create more work for yourself later. Your work will be slow and possibly unsafe.

The progression began…Cut 2×4 to length, glue and screw it to the underlying 2×8” making pseudo 2x10s to raise the joists to the same height as the floor outside the attic.

Working atop joists with no plywood down is tricky if you haven’t done it before. There is a certain level of balance that takes a few days to attain. Early on I did put a foot through the ceiling. Twice actually. Talk about demoralizing. Ugh. It created a whole mini side project that completely slowed me down as I had to stop and fix the faux sunlight I had created from the attic to the kitchen. And every time the kids came through the kitchen, there was no chance they were not pointing it out!

There are also wires that go from light fixtures to switches and power cables for everything in the kitchen. Worry about that later I said. Anywhere I encountered a wire I just snaked the 2×4 underneath figuring there was some simple solution I knew of but had not thought of to address these wires that would be sandwiched between the plywood and modified ceiling joists. When I got to a point where I absolutely had to commit, i notched our a little space to let the wire slide through.

As I worked, I looked online for others who may have taken this innovative approach to making 2x10s out of 2x8s. Finding none, I applauded myself for being a progressive thinker with revolutionary techniques that would set the construction world ablaze.

As I finished the subfloor I started to worry. I was searching the whole internet and not finding a single example of anyone ever doing anything like this building up boards to make the subfloor higher. I think there was one guy who talked about it hypothetically.

I finally realized by measuring the span of the 2×8 joists and reading a little about framing that i was just adding dead weight to a structure that was already below specification for the live load of a living space plus furniture! As I began to add up the weight of all the walls and boards, insulation, drywall, and even screws yet to be installed I began to really get scared. My family is living in this house! What if it collapses! I needed real 2x10s instead of the 2x8s.

I won’t even begin to tell you how terrifying it is to admit that you have wasted thousands of dollars and many weekends that you could have spent with tour family to build a useless structure inside your own home that doesn’t meet code! I told my wife. While anyone can probably ascertain that this was not a pleasant conversation, and totally my fault…my wife was surprisingly gracious and merciful in not exploding at this news.

Logic would dictate that I was done at this point and there was no way I was going to touch any of this again and I needed to spend a boatload of money to hire a REAL contractor to come rip it all out and start over or it was just going to stay like this forever as light attic storage for the Christmas tree and ornaments. Well a quick survey of the internet said this size project was going to cost $40k+. And that was assuming no one has to demo an amateur’s work to get started. Yiii!

It took SEVERAL days to stop thinking about how much I had screwed up here but the wheels started turning again.

I really had to see this project through or I wouldn’t forgive myself. I promised my wife I would GET REAL INPUT from live humans this time and stop using the internet to validate my whims and ideas, pull a permit with the city, demo the work I had done before, and get it all built to code this time..

….surprisingly she was willing to go along with this. Little did I know the second time around was going to be even harder than the first. I could not have completed this project without her encouragement.

Clean your Dishwasher filter – a quick free way to improve dishwasher performance.

Pooling water sitting in the bottom of your dishwasher means your dishwasher is not draining properly.

Most current model dishwashers have a filter that should be periodically checked and cleaned.

Many homeowners don’t know that they can help their dish washer stay efficient by cleaning the pump filter.

Removable dishwasher pump filter.

To get started, remove the filter by twisting counter clockwise to unscrew and clear any debris that may have formed. I have also seen a few models where the filter is on the door or sidewall and opening by pulling a small tab that pries off with a little finger pressure.

Nasty gunk in the washable filter.

If your machine does not have a filter, scoop out anything that has collected at the bottom of the dishwasher.

Wash off and screw back in by turning clockwise until fully seated in dishwasher again.

All clean! Ready for dishes!

If you ever wash screw top glass jars with labels (like pasta sauce or pickle jars) to save them for other uses, the labels are notorious for falling off and clogging up the system. New mugs and other items may have stickers on them too.

While your looking at the dishwasher, check the spray arm nozzles. (The spinny things have little holes in them.) if they get clogged or blocked it also hurts the efficiency.

If you are drying a lot of plastic (I.e. you have young kids with sippy cups), the plastic won’t heat up and stay warm enough to help dry the load after the wash cycle. A rinse aid additive is essential for the cleanest, driest dishes. Add in the little fill chamber and periodically top off.

Try these rinse aids for really dry clean dishes! We use Cascade Platinum with great results.

Cascade Platinum Rinse Aid 16 oz (155 loads)

Finish Jet-Dry Aid, 23oz, Dishwasher Rinse Agent & Drying Agent, 23 Ounce (Pack of 1), Plum & Navy, 23 Fl Oz