Category Archives: electrical

Lighting

Lighting is one thing we had really left along while we finished the construction. The electricians just fitted basic fittings and whatever bulbs they had to hand – basically whatever enabled the electrical work to pass the inspection – and we didn’t really touch anything until recently.

The exceptions were the bathrooms where we got the electricians to fit water-safe Light-Emitting Diode (LED) lights and places where we had already bought fittings from Ikea that were code-compliant (Francis’s bedroom, the kitchen, pantry and outside). We also replaced most of the bulbs with LED bulbs, and now the whole house now has LED lighting. LED-based lights should last for 25-30 years without needing to be replaced and will use a tenth of the electricity of conventional filament bulbs, without the levels of mercury in Compact Fluorescents (CFLs) – which also don’t last anyway near as long and are nowhere near as energy efficient as LEDs. People used to be worried – some still are – that LEDs give a ‘harsh’ of overly blue light. That might have been true several years ago, but now LEDs can be found from this bluer end all the way through to warm yellow-orange that looks and feels like filament bulbs (and there are even LED bulbs that physically look like vintage bulbs too). Of course the great thing about LEDs is that they don’t have to look like bulbs at all. They can come in strings, or flat, or almost any shape.

However, there remained the question of proper fittings, in the main parts of the house and other rooms. Our friend in the island built a house a few years ago, and she struggled for months to find light fittings she liked. The truth is that contemporary lighting in Canada, and not just at the more affordable end of spectrum, is really bad. Terrible design, cheap materials and poor manufacturing in mostly in uncertain conditions in China, are the order of the day. Most of the lights are poor imitations of ‘antique’ designs or fake art deco. None of the lessons of the modernist movement in terms of functional and good design for everyone, appears to have been learned. Certainly there is a wide range of affordable lighting but it’s all, without exception, bad. Ikea has offered some options – and we taken a few of them – but even theirs isn’t that good and they appear to have almost given up on doing simply things well in terms of lighting.

Added to this is the fact that Kayo and I don’t have exactly the same tastes. I tend to like a greater range of modern lighting, and particularly the more colourful. Kayo is more minimal. But we have enough overlap! We particularly wanted a couple of pendants to go over our dining table and some kind of modern triple, descending pendant for the stairwell, as well as something interesting for the lounge area, and something actually Japanese for the tatami room upstairs.

Unsurprisingly we got the latter from Japan, a simple washi paper shade, and found the interesting light for the lounge from the same maker, Toshiyuki Tani, this one made from shaved birch-bark laminated with clear plastic on a metal frame.

For the others (and also for furniture, about which there will be another post in future), I had been spending some time lurking on eBay, etsy and European vintage sales sites like vintg.com (formerly RetroStart) for the last couple of years, trying to pick up some bargains from the era when lighting really was well-designed, namely the mid-20th century, particularly in countries like Denmark, the Netherlands and Italy. I picked up a few NOS (new old stock) Danish pendant shade kits, which were quite common at the time, but it doesn’t look like we’re actually going to use more than one so we’ll probably sell the others on. But we managed to find what we wanted for both the stairwell and dining room.

For the dining table, we were lucky to find a pair of genuine ‘as-new’ Louis Poulsen PH 4/3 lights for less than half the new price. I love Poul Henningsen’s designs, and it doesn’t matter how many of them you see, the simple PH 4/3 still works in almost any setting. It’s an almost perfect design.

For the stairs, we had a lot more trouble as it’s difficult to agree on one piece for such an important setting and difficult to find anything affordable that’s so big. Because the stair rail is steel, I really wanted something that echoed this and provided further contrast to all the wood. We eventually settled on a triple Star pendant designed by Dutch architect and designer, J.J.M. (‘Jan’) Hoogervorst for Anvia. It’s got an industrial feel but also creates a really beautiful light and works very well in the space. The black and white enamel finish is a little battered but it’s even better for that and rather than restore it, we’re going to leave it that way.

The Bathroom

Alfredo, our amazing plumber, was here this week and in one day did just about everything that needed to be done. This means that the upstairs toilet is working, our bathroom is now almost finished, and the kitchen will also be after the electricians have finished their work next week. Not everything has gone smoothly. We did try to get hold of a whole house on-demand water heater, which we would still be able to use once the solar thermal panels have been installed (which won’t be until the spring at the earliest). However, it turns out that our current electrical supply is only 100 amps, and whole house on-demand water heaters require 200. So, we have decided to keep our existing rented electric hot water tank until we’ve sorted out what, if anything, to about the electrical supply. Once the electricians have been, we will have hot water. It may not be worth worrying about the ampage of the external electrical supply if we are going to have Solar PV installed next year…

As we’ve described earlier, the bathroom is in a Japanese style. It is a room divided in roughly three parts: a changing room with a wooden floor, sink and mirror; a large shower space, that is mainly designed to be used sitting down, usually in a little stool – although we will also have a higher hook for the shower for those who want to use it in a western style; and a deep but short soaking tub – which you only use once you are totally washed and clean in the shower. The entire space of the shower and tub is tiled and it’s effectively a wet room. The only thing we’re not entirely happy with is the framed glass doors that divide the shower from the changing area. We did get them very cheap on sale – we have had to save money in all kinds of areas – and they unfortunately look it. On the other hand, the tiles are also just about the cheapest and simplest white, 6 square inch tiles you can find, and they look great now everything has been finished. There is also a line of grey 2 square inch tiles that runs around the shower space, which helps give some definition and also enabled Chris to use whole tiles where the they meet the shower pan, which just gives a nicer finish.

The shower pan and the tub are both from Kohler. We did investigate importing a tub from Japan but it would be both expensive and there are plumbing differences. Japanese tubs empty directly into a pan underneath the tub which is then plumbed in. It’s a system which dates from when Japanese baths just emptied directly into the ground. The 4′ Kohler Greek tub we have installed isn’t cheap, but it is the only commercially available Japanese style soaking tub we could find in North America. You can get wooden tubs of varying cost, but romance aside, these need to be pretty much permanently damp or they can start to crack, and passive houses are much drier than the average house.

All the faucets and controls are from the Moen ‘Align’ range, which we got through our plumber at almost wholesale prices. The unit and the mirror cabinet in the changing area are both from Ikea. It’s an ‘Odensvik’ sink in a ‘Godmorgen’ 4-drawer unit in gloss grey, for those who are interested. You can’t really see the proper colour yet as we aren’t going to take the protective blue plastic off until everything is finished.

The shower is from US company, Bricor. It’s a handheld shower, the B110 model with the lowest flow rate available commercially, 1.125 gallons per minute. They work by adding in air to the flow, so it feels like a lot more water. Bricor also specially tweak each shower head to fit the water pressure you have. We’ll find out if it works soon…

End of August Update

A lot seems to have been done this month – we’ve got a porch, the interior walls and ceiling finished, subflooring and all the upstairs hardwood flooring done, a lot of work in the bathroom and a lot of the final electrical work completed. The next most immediate jobs for September are the building of the floating deck that will provide the floor for the porch, porch roofing, eavestroughs and rainwater collection pipes, plumbing work in the bathroom, WC tiling and then toilet and sink installation, lighting installation and most importantly of all, the completion, testing and balancing of the HRV system. The very last thing will be done by Malcolm Isaacs from CanPHI, who will also be coming down to deal with some outstanding airtightness issues with the Motura sliding door and to conduct a blower-door test. We should be pretty close to being able to move in during early October.