Sunday, May 6, 2018

A fine place to do business

If you read the last post, you know that we have been working on a complete home remodel since we moved to Michigan. Just last week, I finally finished the downstairs bathroom that I had been working on since Christmas day. We had originally planned to have a builder do both bathrooms for us, but he went over budget, so I decided I would save some money and do this one on my own.

So first off, here are the "before" photos:

This part of the house was an addition, probably added in the early 80s and renovated in the 90s.

Everything was the cheapest materials you could buy. Still functional, but not particularly nice.

The porcelain throne 
This is a standard low cost fiberglass insert tub/shower combo. On the right was a wall just for plumbing. It made the bathroom feel very small.

So then I tore it out. This was the easiest part of the whole job. Pro-tip for pranksters: Did you know you could probably gut your buddy's bathroom in about three hours and then when he comes home from work, he has just an empty room instead of a bathroom??

Let the throne stay for a while in the interest of keeping two poopers in the house as long as possible 

 Then came the crawl space... The single digit temperatures outside were actually a positive thing. I can access this crawl space from the basement so it's was probably 20-30 degrees in there. But that means the spiders are asleep, and I could easily locate and insulate any gaps where the really cold air was getting in.
original tub drainage pipes

I had to change the rough plumbing from the stubby wall in the right of the tub (which I tore out) to the exterior wall on the left. 

Exterior plumbing can be risky because when it's that cold outside, pipes can freeze and burst, and are not easily accessible. I decided to invest in closed cell spray foam. It's not cheap, but has double the R-value of fiberglass. I put down about 2" of spray foam, and then filled the remaining 3" behind the plumbing with fiberglass at a later time.

So here's the plumbing, pretty standard PEX. I've plumbed automotive fuel, brake, and cooling systems before, but this was my first time doing home plumbing. I pressure tested it and it held 50 psi for several hours, so I figure it will work.
This tub is original to the house, and was in the upstairs bathroom. I really wanted to keep it because it has a lot of character. The contractor we had hired wanted to break it up throw it out, he wouldn't take on the job of moving it down the stairs. I told him to get it out of the bathroom and I'd get it down the stairs. I'm not really a big guy (extra medium, actually), but I have some big friends who were willing to risk their lives getting out down a stairway with a 90° turn in it.

Waterproof membrane on the lower part of the tub surround 
After doing the drywall (I hate drywall. I really really hate drywall), I got started on tile. I'd never done tile before, but I Vaughn (you remember Vaughn from California who used to help me when I still worked on the Falcon...) was visiting and he got me started.

Tiling upwards isn't so bad, but tiling downwards suuuuuucks.

Wall   tile done. It goes up about 40" around the whole room, and to the ceiling in the shower area.

Then we laid out the floor tile. Had to make sure it all fit and that we had enough. We didn't, I sent the wife on a materials run.  This hex stuff comes in about 1sq ft mats. We picked out the white tiles where the black tiles went, and I labeled each mat.

B5! It's like playing battleship.

Then I laid the tile. This was incredibly challenging. I spent all free time for a couple weeks on my hands and knees for this floor. Sometimes the mats get misaligned and that is bad times. You have to find ways to cheat the gaps or you end up with very noticeable seams. My wife helped where she could but she's very pregnant, so that kind of limits what she can do. 

Fitted and laid

Next up was grout. Not too difficult, or even time consuming compared to the tile.

Floor grout

Paint was easy once we found the right color.

Final step was finish plumbing and vanity install. My wife found an antique dresser on Craigslist, so I had a top made from the remnant quartz from our kitchen. I cut down the drawers to half depth so I could fit the plumbing in the back. 

In progress


New easy-to-clean pooper
Shower. Needs a shower curtain and rod but we'll get there. 

Sothis is the final result. I'm happy with how it came out. It cost all of my free time for four months and a few thousand dollars, but barring any plumbing catastrophe, it was worth it.

With that done, the living area of the house is basically complete. I still need to do some reorganization in the basement, and possibly a footer drain to keep it dry (we still have some water intrusion issues down there...) but the inside is pretty well finished. It's quite a nice place to live now.

Next up we have to put our attention to the landscaping and.... garage???

My beautiful wife, and a swamp with turtles.

Nope. Baby. Baby boy is next up. Then maybe a garage.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Insuring Domestic Tranquility

I'm not dead, I promise. I just haven't worked on any car stuff (recreationally anyway) in months. But that doesn't mean I haven't been working. As you know, we recently bought an old house. Houses tend to be a bit more expensive than cars.  For the price of a base model Ferrari you can have a house with a 1992 Chevy Celebrity interior (complete with jammed windows and that faint scent of cat urine).  So of course, that's what we did. 

Much like I browse the craigslist CTO section out of pure instinct, Jen does the same for interior design blogs. Well, she might have a slightly less addictive tendencies than me, but interior design is definitely her thing. She's wanted to do an old house remodel for a long time, so that was part of the deal with moving to Michigan. It's been a wild ride. We decided to gut the kitchen and both bathrooms, and repaint all the other rooms, in addition to replacing a basement wall that was bowing inward. We hired someone to to most of the work (don't worry though, my part of the work has taken ever weekend since we started), and he did pretty good work but went way over budget so we let him go and I get to do the downstairs bathroom by myself. We also had unpleasant interactions with the city building inspector who, on occasion, forgets the purpose of his job and uses it to fulfill his authoritarian urges.

Anyway, I'm not going to tell that whole story or show everything that has been done. If you want more of the story and design theory, follow us on Instagram at I'm just checking in on my blog because it has been feeling neglected (and Jen is out of town so I'm blogging to entertain myself).

To say that the change in our kitchen is drastic would be an understatement. I'll leave the captions off so you can play a fun game of "which is the before picture".

The kitchen is not completely done, there are about a hundred finishing touches we have to do, including a new door. We are pretty thrilled with it though. The old kitchen was cramped, designed to be as cheap as possible, and maybe just a little dated. The new kitchen is a really nice place to be and for a 10x12 kitchen, is incredibly functional.

While I've been busy building the house, Jen has been busy building a kid.

That's right, in June we will be having a little boy. Hopefully this means that in a couple years I have a garage helper!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Drone Warfare

There is a deep primal urge within the lizard-brain of every car enthusiast. It usually surfaces when said enthusiast gets a new vehicle, but it can appear also when routine maintenance is performed on the exhaust system. The desire to undo countless hours of fine engineering work and replace the OEM muffler with something a bit louder is as strong as it is irrational. Rarely is anything besides a few decibels to be gained in doing so, yet we persist and do it over and over again.

One of the greatest risks in changing the muffler is that after spending a little time and often, a lot of money, the exhaust will drone. Drone is an unpleasant experience that happens when the sound waves from the newly loud exhaust resonates the body structure of your vehicle at it's natural frequency. It makes you feel like Manuel Noriega in your self inflicted NVH torture chamber.

I recently did this to myself. Not with Grace, but with my Jeep XJ daily driver, the TURD. The original 1998 exhaust system was on its way out and I got that urge. I picked up a glasspack from Summit racing for about $30, since my friend in high school had owned a glasspack equipped XJ and I remembered it sounding good. I paid an exhaust shop to bend up a new exhaust system and install the glasspack with a new catalytic converter.

Maybe I've just gotten old and maybe teenagers are immune to drone but as soon as I drove the Jeep, I knew I'd made a terrible mistake. The drone at 1500 RPM and 2800 RPM was unbearable, and it sounded so ricey I was a bit embarrassed to drive it. Remember, this is a beat up Jeep with a badge on the rear that says TURD, and the sound was the embarrassing part. I used an app on my phone called Sound Analyser to look closer at the problem areas, and found my biggest issue to be sound levels at 145 Hz.

Sound level readings with glasspack installed. Red areas show unpleasant drone.

After a bit of research, I came across the Flowmaster Super HP2 muffler. It would fit right in place of the glasspack and had a pretty good tone, from what I could find on YouTube. It wasn't cheap, but I figured I'd give it a try.

Top: Flowmaster HP-2   Bottom: Summit Glasspack

Inside Summit Glasspack

Inside HP-2 Muffler

The HP-2 or Hushpower muffler is not the traditional Flowmaster chambered "mousetrap" muffler design, it's closer to being a "straight through" muffler, without actually being straight through. It helped overall sound levels, as well as tone. While it took away the embarrassment of driving my Jeep, it didn't quite fix the droning when at 1500 and 2800 RPM. From my sound level 

Tailpipe as made by exhaust shop
Tailpipe after my modification

Over  the past couple years, I've done a bit of research on different types of noise cancelling resonators for exhaust systems. Most people thing of absorptive resonators when they think of an exhaust resonator, but those don't cancel noise, and they only absorb high frequencies. My issues were centered around 145Hz, which is a relatively low frequency. Of the noise cancelleing resonators, the most common is a Helmholtz resonator. A Helmholtz resonator is like an empty soda bottle that you blow across the top of. A wave resonates inside the bottle, and comes out amplified. If sized correctly and included in an exhaust system, this can actually cancel out sound waves of a given frequency. These are actually included inside many OEM muffler designs. 

A quarter wave  or branch resonator is very similar in function and can be similar in form. It is simply a capped pipe that is teed into the exhaust system at 90 degrees. At certain frequencies, depending on the speed of sound (influenced by temperature inside the pipe) and the length of the pipe, noise is cancelled. After doing a few fairly simple calculations and educated guesses, I chose 30" to cancel my 145 Hz drone. Link to my 1/4 wave resonator calculator. The construction of the resonator was simple and can be seen below.

This is where the resonator tees into the main exhaust system.

I was pleasantly surprised when I went for a drive after finishing. My calculations were correct, or at least correct enough to do what I wanted. The drone at 2800 RPM was completely eliminated, and the drone at 1500 RPM was actually reduced. This can be seen in the plots below. The first plot shows an acceleration without a resonator, the second shows acceleration with a resonator. In the color plots, you can see that the red spot is turned light green, and in the upper chart, you can see that the 145 Hz region was reduced from 74 dB to about 61 dB. A 13 dB reduction means that exhaust sound energy was reduced 20x. The average level (RMS) was reduced by 11 dB. That is an unbelievably large improvement.

I can't say enough about how effective this method is in reducing unwanted exhaust noise.  I was beyond pleased with the result. I've finally found an effective method to please my adolescent lizard brain with a loud exhaust while simultaneously using physics to appease my ever advancing old-man "get off my lawn" requirements.


PS: This blog post was done, and it sat in my drafts box for a couple weeks. I didn't want to post it without a video of what it sounds like. With the new (old) house I just hadn't had time to do it. Today I finished up the exhaust job and had time to make the video. First I'll show the downpipe fab and then show the video.

I had an exhaust shop do the rear part of the exhaust because it was pretty straightforward. At the front, it was going to be a little more complicated. There were two items to deal with:

  1. I didn't want to mess with a two-bolt flange on the header because the bolts always rust and then the nuts are impossible to get off. Instead I wanted to have a V-band connection. To do that, the header needed to come off
  2. I also wanted a large diameter, non-crushed downpipe. As you'll see in the pictures below, the downpipe was significantly crushed. It's a common issue on XJs, I guess as the springs sag, the front driveshaft's front u-joint smashes the downpipe and restricts flow. I figure mine was crushed to about 50% of it's original area
Now for the pics:

Crushed downpipe

Left to right: OEM downpipe size, crushed downpipe, new downpipe size

Expanding the collector to mount v-band flange

V-band flange mounted to collector

Manrel bent XJ downpipe
The new downpipe did just what I hoped it would and increased top end power. Previously, the power would die out above about 4000 RPM. Now it pulls very strong from 4000-5000 RPM. Mission accomplished.

For your viewing pleasure: This is what it sounds like. I like it. I think it brings out the inline-six sound nicely. It's not too loud, but it lets you know it's there.

PPS: This is my Michigan Garage V1.0. It's an almost 2 car garage. The structure is musty and starting to lean, so it will probably be torn down and replaced with V2.0 next year. Since most of my attention will be focused on the house for the next year or so, it'll do.