Rainy day home improvements: A hands-free storm door and carbon monoxide detectors

After a week of unseasonably warm weather, a cold-front moved into Boston over Saturday night, bringing cooler temperatures and rain. Faced with a rainy Sunday at home, I figured it was a good time for some home improvements.

A few months ago, we added a storm door to our Cambridge home.  Since we have young kids who take time to move in and out, the front door is often open for minutes at a time, wasting energy.  Also, the grit from the air was taking a toll on our door, requiring us to refinish it every few years.  We figured that a storm door would save energy and add some protection.

It works great, but it brings with it a new hassle.  We have a Phil & Ted’s stroller, and maneuvering it up and down the six steps to our door requires both hands.  Although the storm door can be propped open by adjusting a small letter slider on the hinge, it makes the proces much more arduous.  You now had to prop open the door, move the stroller out, then go back up and release the door.

I noticed once that some friends of ours had a self-propping storm door, and it occurred to me that I might be able to replace the original closer for our storm door with something similar. I went to the Home Depot with my 22-month-old in tow (which always makes for an interesting shopping experience) and managed to eventually steer him to the door aisle where we found a Wright Tap-N-Go closer for just $15.

I brought it home, and installation was a snap (even with some “help” from my 4-year-old).  The storm door closers are one-size-fits-all, so it was a simple matter of popping out the old screws to remove the old closer and swap in the new one.

The new closer has a convenient “foot-button” that you just tap with your toe, and the door stays open.  Now, we could pop open the door, bring down the stroller, and close it again with our foot as we went, eliminating extra trips up and down.



My second project for the day was to install new carbon monoxide detectors turned out to not be quite so simple, however.

A couple of years ago, Massachusetts regulations were changed to require a carbon monoxide detector on each finished floor of a home.  Our house was built a few years earlier, and while it had a modern, wired smoke detector system (the kind that draws AC power and links all detectors together so that if one goes off, they all go off), it did not have carbon monoxide detectors included.  We had installed a carbon monoxide detector in the basement when we moved it, but we didn’t have one on each floor as required by the new law.

For convenience, what I really wanted was to find a hybrid smoke detector / carbon-monoxide detector that was compatible with our existing system.  I figured I would be able to just pop some of old smoke detectors off and replace them with these new combination ones. At Home Depot, I managed to find exactly this type of hybrid model, and it was from FireX, the same company that made our current smoke detectors. A store worker confirmed that they would be compatible with our wired system.  They were painful $49 a pop, but given the important safety roll they play, I bit my lip and bought three (one for each floor).

I brought them home, but unfortunately, I discovered that replacing them would not be the simple swap that I expected.  Despite both being FireX, they had differently shaped connectors and mounting plates, meaning that I was going to have to completely rewire them.

One nice thing about our home is that the contractors all did very jobs, and we have a clearly labeled circuit breaker board.  I found the one marked “Smoke” and switched it off to power down the smoke detector system and set about unscrewing all the wires, matching up the colors of, and replacing the mounting plate.

My son was very excited by this activity and brought his own tools to “help”:

With a minimal amount of swearing (don’t all home improvement projects require some light cursing?), I finally got all the caps on properly and the mounting plate installed.  I hooked up the new detector, and then hit the test button.  Somewhat disturbingly, I found that the smoke detector actually talks in English, indicating whether it is being tripped by smoke or carbon monoxide.  I also heard a satisfying chirp from the other smoke detectors in the house, indicating that it is successfully communicating.

I still have to install two more, but my son desperately needs a nap, so they will have to wait until later this afternoon.

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