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 (see also: "Why is it so hard to buy things that work well?"). 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 are 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 is 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 will not 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 is plenty of such information in public 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 will not work smoothly. Speaking of contractors, there is an interesting discussion on house building with contractors. But as a general rule, many people do not hesitate to accept money for jobs they are not qualified to do properly, possibly do not even realize that they are not (while many more seem comfortable even with jobs involving actively and knowingly hurting others, let alone doing a poor job), and the expectations of contractor work should be lowered in the absence of sufficient control (such as enforced regulations, or perhaps just a qualified third party revising the work).

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.



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.

When poking electrical wiring (e.g., changing light fixtures), it is better to have a voltage tester. I like a no-contact voltage tester, in part because it also helps to check where hot wires run inside a wall, but apparently they may be unreliable. Some of those count as multimeters: sometimes including a pyrometer, often a flashlight, sometimes voltage and resistance meters, and/or other regular multimeter functionality.


It may be hard to justify acquisition of tools without planning to use them frequently, but then it is 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 is 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. Mainland 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 are GROSS brand's products in Russia, with a few "distributor" websites saying it is 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 is 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), 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), light fixtures (apparently Arte Lamp is like that, along with InStyle and Divinare: advertised as Italian, made in China, seems to only sell in Russia, the trademark belongs to a Lithuanian company, used to belong to one from Panama, the Italian domain name's contact information points into Moscow, unclear whether the referenced Italian company and office exist at all: the company doesn't show up in searches, the address on Google Maps doesn't have the office marked, and that address doesn't match the approximate location mentioned in the company description, the description itself looks half-baked, and for some reason many retailers sell them for exactly the same price).

I've looked into local (Russian) tools specifically, wondering whether there is anything good (or at all), given Russia's industrial sector being similar to that of Germany in size, and all the fuss 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 is mostly extraction and its support/servicing), and it is mostly defense, aerospace, and automotive industries otherwise (though those heavily depend on imported components and equipment as well, basically doing only the final assembly locally), 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 (PRC), even if they have some kind of local manufacturing.


Some of the consumable products that are nice to have at home, in the decreasing order by estimated frequency they tend to be needed with, roughly in the order I would acquire them: cleaning products, light bulbs, batteries, duct tape, WD-40, electrical tape, lubricants (silicone grease seems to be versatile), sealants, glues for different purposes, various connectors and cables, maybe solder and flux, screws and wall plugs, bolts and nuts, nails.


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 is 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 is a good idea to learn about standard current ratings, and to ensure that the actual wiring matches those. Residual-current circuit breakers (RCCB, aka RCD, aka GFCI) may be desirable.


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 is правила устройства электроустановок, though it is often said that Russian ones are stricter than US and EU ones, apparently contributing to them not being followed, and to the corruption, leading to more fires and other incidents; in the US there is 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 is nice to keep surfaces accessible for cleaning, preferably even without moving anything.


Casual plumbing is mostly about screwing things together, and occasionally dealing with rust. It is 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 are 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 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.


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 is 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. Philips light bulbs at 4000 K look yellowish, even though they are labeled "neutral white". 6500 K ones seem fine to me.

As with computers, it is 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 will not 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 mostly fine and commonly available, though they buzz audibly. And there are benchmarks around.

And once again, the stuff that is non-trivial to replace should be reliable (which usually means simple), so that you have less of a headache when things break: simple light fixtures with replaceable light bulbs (and without built-in AC-to-DC converters and LED strips) are preferable, so that the complex and unreliable parts are easy to replace (and it is easy to find and choose a replacement quickly as well). Among those, the simplest (most straightforward and reliable) ones are perhaps those without lampshades or excessively fancy elements, just with light bulbs poking out, with enough space around them, and easiest to replace.

Major appliances

Major appliances tend to be relatively heavy and expensive, so it is 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 appliances 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.


"How to Pest-Proof Your Home".


Proper documentation is hard (especially if it is others doing the construction), but it is 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.

LibreCAD handles building information modeling with its Arch workbench (and the external BIM workbench), which includes pipes.



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.

Air conditioning

Air intake is a useful feature: in addition to delivering fresh air, it can filter that air, and even do some heat exchange with the air already in the room, for increased efficiency. Otherwise some end up running an AC with an open window, leading to a low efficiency, while the dust keeps coming.


Apartment buildings tend to have communal heating, but for a separate house that is 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 is 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 is an opportunity 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.

Remote control and monitoring

For some devices, particularly heating, remote monitoring and/or control may be needed. Boilers, for instance, use semi-closed protocols like OpenTherm, which are tricky to interact with. I plan to investigate this later, but here are some links related to libre and customizable systems for that (IoT/"smart home" sorts of things): openHAB, Home Assistant, Homebridge, ESPHome. Some do it from scratch, see "How I wrote my own Smart Home software".


Public utilities and other communal services tend to be low-quality and hard to get fixed around here, complete with scammy field service technicians: whether those are commercial organizations (with some competition) or the ones funded out of municipal or government budgets, with mandatory regular payments, issues are not getting solved unless you pay somebody unofficially to actually fix them. Sometimes such services are sold by technicians themselves. When there is a fixed price for a service, one of the tactics the technicians, veterinarians, and likely others employ is to claim that the price is for the work itself, but the consumables should be paid for separately (even while it certainly is not so, and some companies would call you afterwards, asking whether it happened -- though without warning in advance that it happens).

While going off the grid in an apartment completely is not viable, it seems sensible to reduce the number of such utilities, rather similarly to software, hardware, or online service dependencies with bad vendors.

See also

A Pattern Language looks like a nice book on architecture and adjacent topics, with its copyleft version available.