Excerpt from my regular column in the Santa Barbara News-Press.
Intercoms and Pet Doors
Question: Our Montecito home has an intercom system that we used to get much use from when our children lived at home but unfortunately it stopped working years ago. There is a central control panel in the kitchen with a FM radio, each bedroom has a smaller panel with a speaker, and there is a panel at the front door with the door bell which no longer works either. I would really like to get the door bell and front door intercom working again or maybe we just need to tear the whole system out and patch all the walls. What can we do?
Your Handyman: Many custom homes built in the 1960’s through the 1980’s had hard wired intercom systems installed that were very similar to your system. These whole house intercoms typically featured a central panel in the kitchen that Mom would use to wake up or summon the kids, pipe music from a favorite FM radio station to different rooms in the house, or to identify a visitor at the front door via intercom. Also located at or nearby the central panel was a transformer located inside the wall that supplied the electrical power needed to run the intercom.
This type of hard wired whole house intercom has not been very commonly installed in the past 20 years or so and many of the older systems no longer work correctly or have stopped working entirely. Most new home communication and entertainment system are wireless which eliminates the need for wires to be concealed in the walls, attics and crawl spaces. If your system stopped working entirely all at once then possibly the problem was that the transformer burned out and left the system without electrical power. If this is the case then it may be that all that is needed to get your system up and running again is a new transformer. Look online to see if the manufacturer of your intercom system is still in business, and if so contact them to ask about a new transformer. If the manufacturer can not be found, get the model # and specs off the label on the transformer from the burned out unit and possibly you can find a replacement via a Google search.
One of the more common brands of home intercom systems was Nutone and Nutone wisely sells part kits that will allow you to retrofit your older Nutone system into a brand new system, providing that the wiring is still intact in your walls. We have retrofitted 2 different Nutone systems in recent years, and replaced the main control panel and all the remote panels including the speaker at the front door. Basically everything but the wiring and the metal boxes embedded in the walls were replaced and the home owner essentially had a brand new intercom system that should be good for another 20 or 30 years.
Question: I have seen advertisements for doggy doors that go through the inside wall of the house to the outside and it sounds like something that would help me with our dogs. We have 3 indoor dogs that are constantly wanted to be let in and out our back door during the day. How hard would it be to put one in our house?
Your Handyman: Installing a through the wall pet door is not a particularly difficult job to do but there are a few things to consider before you start cutting holes in your plaster or drywall. Depending on the type of exterior siding that your home has, it may be difficult to do an acceptable patch job if you decide sometime in the future to seal up the opening. Repairing an opening in an exterior stucco wall is relatively easy but if your home has say an older style of redwood tongue and groove siding, it may be a time consuming and expensive project to fill in the opening and have it not be a noticeable patch, if you sell the house sometime in the future to someone who is not a pet lover.
Another issue to consider when selecting the location of the pet door is whether or not there may be an electrical wire or pipe running horizontally across the stud bay that you are planning to open up. If your home has a raised foundation then more than likely the wiring for the wall outlets comes up from below the floor but if your house is on an cement slab foundation, then the wires are probably running across the wall horizontally from outlet to outlet. If your pet door opening has to be at a location where there is an electrical wire, then a junction box will have to be located on either side of the opening with a new piece of romex cable spliced into the existing cable at each junction box and then looped over the pet door inside the wall. These junction boxes will need to be open to the room but covered with a solid cover plate to be in compliance with electrical codes which prohibit concealing a junction box inside a wall.
A pet door is sized so that it can fit between the vertical studs inside the wall which are usually spaced at 16” centers leaving an open space of opening of about 14.5” for homes build in recent years. However if your home was built pre World War II then it may be framed in true 2”x3” studs spaced closer together allowing for a smaller opening for your pet door, and you would be wise to purchase a narrower sized door.
Once you have your wall location selected, carefully open up a small opening in the interior wall and then take a good look inside the wall with a flashlight just to make sure there are no surprises like a water or gas pipe. Once your interior opening is made using the template that comes packaged with the pet door, carefully drill a hole at each corner of the opening going through the exterior wall taking great care to stay level with the inside opening. Use these corner holes to mark for your cuts in the exterior wall, carefully cut the exterior opening and you are ready to install your new pet door.
Santa Barbara is home to all sorts of creatures like skunks who may also want to use the new pet door when your dogs are not around. I would recommend that you consider a pet door that has an electronic latch that only opens when a little transponder device worn on the dogs collar is nearby; otherwise the doggy door won’t open. Several years ago my neighbor woke in the middle of the night to find a family of skunks in his kitchen happily eating cat food after entering uninvited via an unlatched pet door. Fortunately his odiferous guest politely left after the food was all eaten and my neighbor sealed up the pet door first thing the next morning.
Owner, YourHandyman & Construction
CA License #935259