A good tip for sweating copper to a plastic outlet box

If you are sweating copper water lines to a plastic outlet box at a laundry or fridge or any appliance, you have to be very careful not to melt the plastic box with your torch. At the same time, it is a delicate balance because you need to make sure it is HOT enough to give you a good connection. Otherwise, your pipes will leak, and that is BAD!

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We wrap our pipes with wet rags around the connection to the outlet box while sweating the connections.  This drops the temperature at the specific location of the plastic that needs to be protected and, meanwhile, allows the region of the pipe being soldered to get significantly hot enough to make the connection.

A very strong residential entry lockset

There are lots of entry locksets out there.  Once in a while, I get calls to come and secure doors after break-ins. When I explain to homeowners how easy it is to break through a door and actually show them the assembly and anatomy of a door and lock, the homeowners are usually shocked how easy an intruder can get through their door.

There are a couple of aspects to consider. An old friend from Havana told me that when he was growing up, people didn’t even have door locks in the city and no one stole from one another. The repercussions were extreme and that alone was enough of a deterrent, interestingly. Then he came to the US and was shocked to have to be on guard from crooks from every angle. It is an interesting perspective.

Here too in Capitol Hill, for home security, it all comes down to perspective and application. Most crooks are just looking to steal things when no one is looking. And, although crime as a whole continues to decline in DC, some crooks will smash a door in.  And 99 percent of entry doors can be smashed in easily with a swift boot to the lockset.

One way to stiffen your door is to install a steel angle or jamb stiffener with strong grade 4 or better steel fasteners all the way back to the structural framing. A good locket can also protect from picking and kicking. (It is a different topic, but I am also always amazed how easy pros can pick a regular Schlage or Quikset keyway.)  A disc tumbler or Super Spool Lock are a lot harder to pick and the hardened steel provides an additional level of security.

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This picture shows a Super Spool Lock I installed recently on a door that I rebuilt after it was broken in.  It will be very hard to break into this door again.

Capitol Hill Outdoor Kitchen

We just finished an outdoor kitchen project that was a lot of fun to build.  Kitchens always have tricky aspects, but we came up with a lot of solutions to make this one work well in the outdoors.

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For outdoor cabinets, there are only so many good options, and the lead times on stainless cabinets, for example, are ridiculously long.  Here, we built a frame for our countertop out of steel. This was way cheaper than stainless cabinets and it is also structurally as strong as can be and will hold up well over the years outdoors. We installed a 3 cm granite countertop and a stainless undermount sink. We kept the sink small because the countertop space will be more useful than the sink space since this space will be used more for entertaining than regular dining.

The steel frame underneath the countertop provides storage space, but we needed a way to conceal the space for aesthetic reasons and still leave the space accessible. We used an exterior-grade cement siding with PVC trim on treated plywood. All elements will hold up well outdoors and the look matches the adjacent exterior. The panels are hung on z-clips, so they lift right up and the space below can be used for storage.

We notched the panel to allow the passage of a natural gas line to service a gas grill. We hooked up a 5.3 CF fridge that provides a lot of room for drinks and food for the grill.

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In the spring, this will be one of the nicest rooftops in Capitol Hill.  This was a fun project!

Gary Sr. Cuts Ceramic Tile on a Wet Saw (7/5/2013)

In the video below, our founder Gary Sr. shows us how to cut ceramic tile on a wet saw.

WARNING: you may want to lower the volume before watching this video.  The wet saw cuts at a very loud and high pitch.

To Gary Sr.’s right side of the ceramic tile, you can see the cut line.  The tile is run through the blade with the installed side intentionally positioned outside of the cut area.  By cutting the tile like this, you are sure not to lose any part of the tile that is to be installed. The other portion goes to scrap.  The blade width is taken out of the scrap piece of the cut tile. Here you can see Gary, Sr. and Gustavo use an ‘X’ to mark the piece they want to use.

I specifically do the opposite, I always mark the scrap piece with an ‘X’. They worked as partners, so they knew each other’s habits and quirks. Many types of installations go in most efficiently with specific crew or team sizes. Tile goes in best with two people working together. One person measures and sets the tile, and at the same rate the other one cuts the tile.

Historic Cast Iron and Steel Handrail Restoration in Capitol Hill

Historic Cast Iron and Steel Handrail Restoration in Capitol HIll

Restoration of historic handrails is an important part of our work here in Capitol Hill. Stair and handrail components like the ones we restored in this project are some of the beautiful architectural characteristics that make Capitol Hill unique.

The steel railings on this project had been replaced since the original construction; however, when they were replaced, the handrails were not properly welded or treated.

We reinstalled the handrails and welded them fully. In other photos (see below) you can see the closeup views of the weld joints. The weld joints previously were not treated properly. The slag had not been removed after the weld bead cooled. Painting directly to slag does not work because the paint will not stick to slag. So, over the years, following the previous repair, the joints had rusted through.

At the few locations where the joints had not rusted completely, the welds held but sheared off the cast iron post. We reattached everything and re-welded and treated the connections at all the posts.

Condition of newel post before the GLBC repair.

Condition of newel post before the GLBC repair.

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Winterizing hose spigots before winter

This past spring, we changed a lot of hose bibbs that froze and broke over the past winter. This upcoming spring, we would like to see that fewer of our customers start the new season with hose bibbs that froze and broke over the winter.



To prevent hose bibbs from breaking, if they are not the frost-free type, they must be winterized properly.

GLBC, as a general rule, only installs the frost-free type, but seeing as there are many non-frost free ones out there, we know most people instead install the non-free type hose spigots.  We consider this a best practice.DSCF4804

But sometimes, if not treated properly, the frost free hose bibbs will break as well.  To properly winterize, the hose outside must be removed and the valve must be closed completely. That’s it! It’s that simple.

For the plain (old style) hose spigots, there hopefully is a valve inside the house above the spigot that isolates the water supply line to the spigot.  That valve must be closed completely and then the valve outside must be opened to allow all the water in the line to drain out by gravity.

We often see newly flipped houses where the builders did not follow code and installed the old style sill faucets. Why do the supply houses still sell the old-style spigots if they are no longer allowed by Code? The old-style spigots are still sold because it is still permissible to use the old style for boiler drains and equipment drains inside the house.  Unfortunately, many plumbers do not recognize the difference and since they are cheaper, they use the old style.

Also, the Code requires the following for hose spigots:

“P2902.4.3 Hose connection. Sillcocks, hose bibbs, wall hydrants and other openings with a hose connection shall be protected by an atmospheric-type or pressure-type vacuum breaker or a permanently attached hose connection vacuum breaker.”

This is part of what we install, but the vacuum breaker is not included in the old style spigots.