Internal construction

Commonly in IT-related discussions it is proposed that the world would be better if computer users learned to use their computers a bit better, to which somebody replies that plumbers don't expect knowledge of plumbing from you, and likewise you shouldn't expect computing knowledge from users. While the analogy is arguable, I'd rather draw the opposite conclusion from it: it is quite useful to spend some time learning about plumbing and electrical wiring, even if you're not going to do those yourself: it would at least help to identify building code violations and dangerous setups before those lead to issues, and will give a better idea what to ask for, which appliances you can plug into outlets, what are the options and how things can be improved. Otherwise the expected quality seems to be close to that of an outsourced to a random contractor piece of software. Additionally, it is satisfying to know in a bit more detail how the things you use daily are set and work.

One can draw a few more parallels: just as programmers, different plumbers, electricians, and carpenters do things differently, argue which ways or technologies work better (or at all), tend to ignore instructions and documentation (and then run into trouble because of it), neglect documenting their work or disappear with supposedly written documentation, sometimes set wiring or plumbing dangerously, neglect maintainability (cementing pipes or splices without boxes in, or adding some trendy electronics, possibly even "smart" stuff, sometimes inside walls or ceilings -- setting more important components to go out of order and be hard to fix in a few months or years), and generally there's plenty of people who just hack things together without learning much about the subject, creating issues for everyone involved in the future, but there are more careful and knowledgeable ones too. And their tools are of varying quality, with both tools and materials being underspecified in stores. Most people do low-impact work, pretty much in any profession. Even though it's often said that the size of an error in software can be disproportional to its consequences, small errors in critical places can be disastrous with plumbing or wiring as well (but in most cases they won't matter much, in any of those areas). And just as programmers, they can do some programming/control: with ladder logic and other electronics for electricians, and with logic valves and other hydraulics for plumbers.

As for differences, judging by some search and chatter, online electrician communities tend to be private (sometimes requiring a license number to join), and information is limited in order to discourage DIY enthusiasts from making unsafe things themselves. Though of course there's plenty of it anyway, and there are dedicated DIY communities. Additionally, while in IT the paywalled ISO and IEC standards are not the most common kind, apparently in other industries they are.

Apparently the risks and costs are different in developed countries, where work is commonly done by qualified and licensed workers, with professional liability insurance, and even checked regularly by inspectors in some cases. In Moscow I was able to find some mentions of qualified contractors, legal contracts (and possibility of civil lawsuits), warranty, and separate insurance, though the experience suggests that it probably won't work smoothly.

These notes include some highlights, important things to pay attention to, and hopefully can serve as an entry point for starting the dive into these subjects. Nothing advanced is written here, since I'm a newbie myself.

Equipment

Safety

Personal protective equipment should be used; hurting and possibly crippling yourself is undesirable.

The most basic and commonly needed for housework items are spectacles (or a face shield) and gloves (different kinds), possibly followed by respirators (depending on a task).

As a side note, some of the other workwear appears to be practical and comfortable, unaffected by awkward fashion trends.

Tools

It may be hard to justify acquisition of tools without planning to use them frequently, but then it's easy to end up without tools. Buying complex and expensive electrical tools or machine tools for a single task would most likely be an overkill, but basic hand tools may be a better fit for a DIY enthusiast: usually they don't take much space and even good ones aren't expensive, and likely they will still work in a decade or few.

Apparently rubber usually degrades faster than metal, wooden, or even plastic parts, so it's useful to avoid rubbery handles for the tools you plan to have for years.

Toolboxes are commonly used to store and carry the tools, and multiple ones may solve the issue with having to haul a single heavy one each time you need something.

Since reviews, benchmarks, or even specifications tend to be unavailable, one rough heuristic for tool quality is its manufacturer (company, brand, and/or country). As with pretty much any other devices, established tool manufacturers tend to be in Germany (and around, elsewhere in Europe), Japan, Taiwan, and the US. China produces a lot of cheap stuff, often labelling it with an importer's brand; apparently supermarket chains use those.

As an example of a shady brand, as of 2021, there's a lot of GROSS brand's products in Russia, with a few "distributor" websites saying it's made in Germany, but the trademark is registered by the Chinese "Matrize Handels-GmbH" (the dash is not a typo; there are trademark search websites where one can look those up) company, with relation to some Russian folks who patented a spirit level recently. The "МИР ИНСТРУМЕНТА" chain occasionally mentions that it's their trademark, and occasionally just says that they are the exclusive distributor. Reportedly "Мастернэт" does something similar, distancing itself from its brands. Apparently a very similar thing happens with cookware (Gipfel and others), and possibly with electronics (ERA and Rexant: don't pretend to be German, but apparently ship most of the production from China while positioning it as local).

I've looked into local (Russian) tools specifically, wondering whether there's anything good (or at all), given Russia's industrial sector being similar to that of Germany in size, and all the noise about import substitution even in IT (where it looked silly, with rebranded software and everything). Apparently at least 1/3 of the industrial sector is resource extraction (though judging by the list of largest Russian firms, it's mostly extraction and its support/servicing), and it's mostly defense, aerospace, and automotive industries otherwise, while the import substitution mostly aimed agriculture, automotive industry, and IT. Looks like there are some small tool manufacturers, though rather often upon closer inspection it turns out that most of the production comes from China, even if they have some kind of local manufacturing.

Maintainability

Everything involved has a limited lifespan, which is usually a fraction of human life expectancy, so one is likely to have to replace everything a few times in their lifetime, and it's nice to plan for that.

"Off" switches

It is important to be able to turn everything off (water, electricity, gas), either for planned maintenance or in case of an emergency. So far I had most trouble with isolation valves, which were painted over, rusty, hidden, or absent. Circuit breakers tend to be in a better shape, but still not always quickly and easily accessible (while they should be), and not always labelled.

It's a good idea to learn about standard current ratings, and to ensure that the actual wiring matches those. Residual-current circuit breakers may be desirable.

Accessibility

All the connections (valves, splices) should be accessible without breaking the walls, ceilings, or floors. It wouldn't harm to have all the pipes and wires accessible as well, which is unusual for homes, but can be found in industrial/commercial settings.

Some of the accessible electrical wiring setups involve cable trays, electrical conduits, raised floors, dropped ceilings, cable raceways (sometimes hidden in moulding). Though before jumping into those, one should also learn about building codes (in Russia it's правила устройства электроустановок, in the US there's National Electrical Code), some of which require certain useful cable insulation properties (e.g., for it to not fall apart in a few years, to not catch and transfer fire), mechanical protection, appropriate circuit breakers, and possibly more. Actually if the building codes are followed, even regular concealed wiring should be accessible and somewhat adjustable.

Ideally ventilation systems should be accessible as well, to extract the birds falling into those and for inspection in general.

Lightweight furniture, relatively easy to move around, is useful for not blocking access to some parts of a room. And it's nice to keep surfaces accessible for cleaning, preferably even without moving anything.

Plumbing

Casual plumbing is mostly about screwing things together, and occasionally dealing with rust. It's nice to know about piping and plumbing fittings, along with sealant types, and perhaps about work with pipes for more advanced plumbing. Common tasks, like replacing a tap, usually would only require a sealant (a teflon tape is rather neat for tapered thread sealing, but a liquid sealant is still needed to seal wall-adjacent bits) and a plumber wrench or an adjustable spanner, preferably a spirit level. Plastic plumbing for low-pressure waste water usually doesn't require even that, but only relies on gaskets for sealing.

There's plenty of videos available online where plumbers demonstrate the process, and one can ask a hired plumber to help them for safer practice.

As for taps and other sanitary fittings themselves, companies from the same places where decent tools are made seem to produce the best ones (at the time of writing, Grohe is a nice and popular option).

Flood mitigation

A malfunctioning washing machine, a leaky pipe, and a bunch of other things can lead to unexpected flooding, which is dangerous and deals water damage to the floors below (summoning unhappy neighbours in case of an apartment building). A floor drain can help to mitigate it, though it may be tricky to set even during renovations. Other options are drain pans, isolation valves with water sensors.

Light

Lighting is usually divided into task lighting (direct and bright), ambient lighting (soft, indirect or diffused), and decorative (or accent) lighting.

Kitchen task lighting should be more than 500 lux (or at least 50 lightcandles), 1000 lux is recommended for electronic manufacturing. I went for a 1000 lumens/meter LED strip for mine. The linked Wikipedia article includes reference illuminance values for various other situations.

A high colour rendering index (CRI) is important for the lit items to look "right": as one would expect them to look, similar to being lit by the Sun.

Sunlight colour temperature at Earth's surface (after it gets through the atmosphere) varies, but seems to be around 6500 K, and that's our definition of white colour. I went for 5000 K, which looks fairly white as well, and was just the maximum available locally at the time with a high CRI.

As with computers, it's useful to have good (possibly overkill) heat dissipation and PSU (in case if LED strips are used; AC-to-DC converters themselves recommend to pick their maximum load as expected load + 20%, and some recommend to rather make it 30--40%, though going further would probably be wasteful, and possibly they won't work as efficiently at lower loads). As with many other devices, one should pay attention to ingress protection (IP) codes, especially for kitchens and bathrooms.

One complete list of materials for setting kitchen cabinet lighting nicely (with a "gap" for going from over-cabinet to under-cabinet lighting, or just for skipping some areas: that is, with a cable soldered between two runs of the strip) is a LED strip, a PSU (and possibly a power cord or a rewirable plug to plug it into an outlet, with a switch), a LED channel, a two-wire cable (the electric current can be high at low voltages, so the wire diameter should be appropriate), electrical tape and/or heat-shrink tubing, double-sided tape (LED strips usually have them pre-applied, but they are also handy to glueing LED channels to cabinets) or some other mounting materials, solder and flux. The tools needed to assemble it then are a soldering iron (although one can go for solderless connectors instead), a hacksaw (unless chunks of aluminium profile fit well without it, or can be cut by others), preferably a file, scissors, likely screwdrivers for PSU's screw terminals, a wire stripper if available.

As for LED bulbs, cheap ones by lesser-known manufacturers usually end up costing more because of their short lifespans, while being dim and flickering. Philips ones are fine and commonly available, and there are benchmarks around.

Major appliances

Major appliances tend to be relatively heavy and expensive, so it's a good idea to choose and install them carefully.

For instance, usually there are special requirements for washing machines (or launder rooms, and/or other rooms with water/sinks), involving a separate circuit breaker (usually a 20-ampere one, not the more usual 16). Though even small appliences like electric kettles may easily trip the circuit breakers if turned on together while connected to the same circuit.

Repairs and servicing

Apart from the quality and appliance-specific specifications, easy repairability and maintenance are preferable: availability of genuine spare parts (long-term support by the manufacturer), ease of their replacement, availability and cost of regular servicing/maintenance. One can look up spare parts on manufacturers' websites, and repairs tend to be about part replacement, the videos of which are often available online.

Generally appliances aren't built to last these days, but rather to work for their expected lifespan and be utilized then. It seems that manufacturers are pretty good at optimizing them for those lifespans (and/or for planned obsolescence), so they start falling apart at that point.

Pest-proofing

"How to Pest-Proof Your Home".

Documentation

Proper documentation is hard (especially if it's others doing the construction), but it's a good idea to take pictures during all kinds of construction and renovations: questions tend to arise later, with the answers being forgotten and hidden behind the walls, floors, and ceilings. Storing recipes is a good idea too, since later one may need to acquire matching materials or just check what was used.

Heating

For any type of heating (or cooling) a good insulation is useful and important, but in some cases it is even required in order to make them practical or achievable.

Apartment buildings tend to have communal heating, but for a separate house that's an additional headache. Even if a house is unused, letting it to freeze is dangerous not just for pipes and furniture, but also for all the surfaces that can be claimed by mold, or the materials intended to stay indoors. In some places freezing isn't a concern, but around Moscow temperatures can go down to -40, though average low in the coldest months is closer to -9, and -20 is rather rare even at night. A common estimate for a 200 m² house is 10 kW of heat per hour, which matches my observations.

That's a bit much for electrical heating (not just costly, but also loading the grid and the electrical wires quite a bit: at 220 volts that'd be around 45 amperes); gas heating costs almost as much by 2021 (gas prices went up), and seems to be rather clunky, requiring increased maintenance. Heat pumps seem promising though: electricity-powered, but with heat output a few times higher than the consumed electricity. Air source heat pumps may be more suitable for warmer temperatures, dropping in efficiency quite notably at lower ones, when they are needed the most. Ground source ones don't have that problem, but require either large areas or deep holes, and the holes may require licensing and fees (or to stay within limits: as of 2021 in Moscow, those are apparently to extract not more than 100 m³ of water, for own non-commercial use), not to mention relatively high upfront costs. I'll probably investigate that and update these notes later.

But an important thing to keep in mind is that maintaining a house can be pretty expensive because of this; it's one of those opportunities to unexpectedly find yourself responsible to pay regularly, which is stressful, which is not great for overall mood and well-being. Building a smaller house, with better insulation, planning the heating from the beginning, and asking yourself whether you really want or need a house in the first place would all be good ideas.