Quality time in the attic

I spent the afternoon in the attic today, and got the lion’s share of the wiring done for the fan project. Last week I fished the wire from the basement to the attic. It was pretty straightforward. Some medium-duty nylon rope was the ticket. I dropped it down into the stud cavity from the attic, went into the basement, poked up a hooked piece of stiff wire, snagged the rope, and pulled it through. Then I used the rope to pull the romex up from the basement into the attic. The two keys to doing this successfully are:

  1. Electrical tape; and
  2. A helper.

Just tape the romex to the end of the rope with plenty of electrical tape, go up to the attic, and have your helper feed the cable up from the basement while you pull it up. This can be done by yourself, but you’ll get lots of exercise running upstairs and downstairs to unkink the romex.

The first job today was to get the old box and brace out of the ceiling to make room for the new fan-approved brace and box. Every time I do this, I’m reminded of how much I hate those metal ceiling box braces that nail to the underside of the joists. There’s no way to get them all the way out without tearing up the ceiling. Plus, the weight of the fixture tends to pull the nails loose over time, which is not good news for the ceiling, or for the person standing under the fixture when it eventually comes crashing down.

The trick to getting these out is to cut them, removing the center part and leaving the ends nailed to the joists. I’ve found that the best tool for this is a Dremel rotary tool with a cutoff wheel. I’ve used a hacksaw, and it’s laborious (the bars are actually pretty thick metal) and the sawing action can damage the ceiling (and your knuckles). The Dremel is not perfect (if you breathe wrong on the cutoff wheels, they break), but believe me, it is far superior to sawing.

This bar came out easier than others I’ve done. Once I cut one side, the other side just swung out of the way (because, of course, the nails had pulled loose).

The actual wiring was complicated but straightforward. There were a lot of wires in the old box (it fed two different downstream branches). Rather than put everything back into the fixture box, I mounted a second junction box, wired everything up to that, and ran a single 12/3 cable to the fixture box carrying two switched hots (lights and fan) and neutral. This makes for a neater job and lets me use a larger box for all of my splices.

Just a couple parting tips for doing this kind of work:

  1. Invest in a pair of knee pads (or “kneelers”). Your knees will thank you for it.
  2. If your house has lots of BX wiring like mine, invest $25 or so for a good quality rotary BX cutter. It’s absolutely worth its weight in gold, which you’ll appreciate if you’ve ever tried to cut BX with a hacksaw.

Almost done now, just need to wire up the fan control, route the wire in the basement, and remount the fan.