The Number of Electricians It Takes to Change a Light Bulb

The sorry truth is that I write a new entry in this blog when I’ve been charmed, appalled, defeated, or flushed with victory.  Clearly, my long absence suggests that it’s been a pretty dull winter. There was reason to be appalled, though. The coldest February in 150 years with a frost line downtown (over soil unprotected by snow) of 2 ½ metres is pretty appalling, but not very interesting.

LastSnow-1 To the best of my recollection, there’s been little charming and no victories. Defeat, of course, is on 24-hour call, but hasn’t shown up yet.

There is no end to the challenges, however. I’ve been trying to learn how to frame with lumber that twists and bows like it’s a snake trying to escape my grasp. Why is this a challenge? Because wallboard goes over the framed walls and if the studs aren’t lined up in a pretty decent approximation of a flat plane, the finished wall will be wavy.

Lumber-1 The workaround isn’t so much a workaround as a new technology: steel studs. But not a good idea, I suspect, when one side of that steel is against an outside wall.

There have also been hardware challenges. Interested in a pocket door that’s not a bankroll-busting Häfele? Get Johnson, from the States…but don’t expect to find a Canadian retailer. Same thing with good bi-fold door hardware. And don’t trust if you’re in the market for hard-to-find hardware or tools! I regularly see sellers who must be individual importer/scammers offering Rikon tools or Johnson hardware for two or three times their real cost.

Some expenses can be sidestepped, though. My success in this department (falling short of victory) has been a substitute for spray foam, a poor man’s insulation that’s leagues more effective than the sawdust that insulated the walls of my grandfather’s house.

Our house doesn’t have a frame, strictly speaking. Its construction is called “stacking board”


(in French, “carré de madriers” and “maison pièce-sur-pièce”  and it’s nothing more than large planks of Douglas fir held together with dovetails—a method of joinery that’s usually reserved for drawers but, here, has developed a case of gigantism.

The rough fitting of the lumber provides lots of opportunity for air exchange with the outside world. In the 19th century, that was acceptable because coal was cheap. Since that’s no longer the case, the only option is to seal the wall, but without sealing in moisture that will create a happy micro-climate for rot and mold.

Recipe for Poor Man’s Insulation on an outside wall

1) Seal the cracks between boards on the inside so moisture cannot migrate inwards and condense when it hits an air-conditioned finish wall or framing

2) Cover the walls completely with 1” DuroFoam from Plasti-Fab (gotta love those names)

DuroFoam-1 being sure to seal all spaces between the insulating panels and joining the panels with Tuck tape. The panels insulate, provide a thermal break and resist the migration of moisture. In other words, they do much the same job as spray foam.

3) Frame against the insulating panels with 2 x 4s or, if you don’t care about the loss of interior space and want super-R walls, 2 x 6s.


4) Insulate between the 2 x 4 or 2 x 6 studs using Fibreglas or a more skin-friendly and sturdier substance like Roxul

5) Cover all with a polyethylene moisture retarder.

Bingo. Just about as good as spray foam but at a fraction of the cost.

It’s hard to tell what the summer construction season will bring. Our neighbour has been patiently waiting for a fence. But the fence will be integrated with the structure of the deck that runs along the side of the house, and the design of that integrated structure is still a mystery to me.

While the walls are still open, we’re approaching the time when plumbing and wiring should be given some serious thought. And remember, in Québec, the building code is so tough that you practically need a licenced electrician to change a light bulb. The workaround here is to do the work yourself but to have it approved, inspected, and wired to the panel by one (or more) licenced electricians.

Although they’re not known to change light bulbs, pretty much the same is true for plumbers. Tip: Don’t try to learn how to do your plumbing or writing from an electrician or plumber who’s ostensibly there just for a quote. Instead, prepare your questions in advance and ask for a paid consultation. This is only fair to the tradesperson and it will help develop a relationship you can depend on for code-compliant advice.

One day later: Spent an hour with a young electrician, Chris, from Electric Eel, here in the Point. Chris gave me advice about current Electrical Code (residential) requirements, took a careful look at the work I’ve already done, offered suggestions about running cables, and warned me off some kinds of LED pot light sockets. A consultation well worth the investment.


About Terence Byrnes

Terence Byrnes is a writer and photographer who teaches at Concordia University in Montreal. Visit to see his photography.
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