Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I'm Going To Go Take a Nap Now

So, what did we do this year? In retrospect, a lot. So much in fact that we're broke and exhausted. Here's a recap of what we did (or had contractors do or had friends and family help with) in 2008.

Whole House-Electrical

* replaced knob-and-tube wiring throughout the house (excluding the ceiling of the first floor)
* added new circuit panel
* added numerous outlets, lights and light switches
* added fire alarms to basement and second floor
* added motion detector lights outside
* rewired original fixtures and used them to replace the 1970's and 1980's light fixtures
* purchased matching lights for office

House Exterior

* Replaced cement-asbestos roof with diamond-shaped asphalt shingles
* Replaced original gutters with custom-made gutters to match
* Had brick work tuck-pointed and repaired
* Had some of the rotten fascia replaced
* Had dormers re-roofed & re-cedar-shingled on the sides
* Painted 460 cedar shakes for the dormers
* Scraped & repainted some of the rest of the fascia
* Removed, repaired and painted the wood storm windows


* Relaid some brick stairs along the side of the house.
* Relaid brick patio in the back that was ripped up by the plumbers fixing the sewer line.
* Took out DOZENS of buckthorn trees/bushes/scrub
* Redid the front "rock garden"
* Trimmed back the honeysuckle.
* Seeded in grass seed in the front lawn
* Built (and filled) a nice firewood shed that holds about a cord of wood.
* Consolidated three cords of wood into one location in the back yard.
* Mudjacked the sidewalk around the house to help slope it away from the house

Living Room

* Painted
* Replaced light fixtures above fireplace
* Now have matching draft stoppers for doors and cushion for cedar chest
* Bought end tables & lights
* and rug
* and semi-circular shelf for phone


* Painted
* Replaced waste pipe running above ceiling due to sudden failure
* Therefore, had entire ceiling redone.
* And therefore had to paint ceiling & some walls again


* Replaced light fixtures and added a wall scones

Dining Room

* Replaced missing pane of glass in French doors


* Fixed the rotting window sills
* Replaced/added cleats to wind up the blind cords


* Peeled/scraped
* Washed the calcimine paint residue off the walls
* Primed
* Painted
* Now have custom-made bench cushion
* Replaced scratched-up plexiglass in door to LR with real glass
* Had locksmith repair our front door deadbolt, which didn't work, so we swapped it with a back door deadbolt

Master Bedroom

* Painted
* Added outlets
* Bought nightstands & lights
* and headboard

Pumpkin's Bedroom

* Peeled/scraped
* Applied flour-water mixture to calcimine paint, scraped that off when dry
* Washed the walls
* Primed
* Painted
* Took care of ugly conduit and outlet boxes on walls
* Replastered spots left from ugly outlet boxes
* Painted trim

Penguin's Bedroom

* Peeled/scraped
* Repaired plaster cracks
* Applied flour-water mixture to calcimine paint, scraped that off when dry
* Washed the walls
* Primed
* Painted
* Took care of ugly conduit and outlet boxes on walls
* Painted trim

Guest Bedroom

* Started peeling the paint


* Painted


* In process peeling paint in preparation for whole calcimine-removal process


* Had vent cut through wall for dryer venting
* Built shelving for storage of totes
* Wrapped radiator and hot water pipes with pipe insulation
* Built support wall for LR floor under radiator where it was sagging
* Drained radiator system and refilled
* Replaced heat exchanger on the boiler


* Painted
* Added lights, switches & outlets
* Put shelves in one under-stairs closet for my pantry
* Painted back hallway/entryway
* Purchased phone stand for next to laundry chute


* Built attic hatch to keep warm air in and cold air out

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


The long hiatus was due to a wonderful trip back to Minnesota where we saw family and friends. We had a great time visiting and relaxing. If the platitude "It is better to give than receive" is true, then we failed miserably. The family and friends were generous almost to a fault and somehow the wife found a way to pack two cars worth of stuff into our one car for the drive back home.

One thing we had to leave behind was a table saw that my parents bought me for my birthday. As of today, I am once again in my prime. It's been six years since my age was a prime number and it will be four more until my next, so I'll savor this one. If you are inclined to puzzles, it should be fairly easy to guess my age based on that clue.

I'll be going back to Minnesota again in January to pick up the table saw and am looking forward to numerous projects I can start with it, like the replacement of the wood storm window that crumbled from rot this spring.

I also had a chance to talk to my father-in-law about the energy use of their house. They own a fairly standard house that appears to have been built in the 70's or 80's. I'd guess that it is about 1500 to 1700 finished square feet spread out over two floors, including the basement. Last year they used 3,900 Kilowatt Hours of electricity and 762 therms of natural gas. That compares to our usage of 13,377 Kilowatt Hours of electricity and 1597 therms of natural gas.

I fully expect the feds to come knocking on my door any day now to ask about the cash crop that they suspect I have growing in my basement.

One nice thing about a long car ride is that it gives me hours of uninterrupted thinking time. I figured there were four possible culprits for our ridiculously high electricity usage (since we don't have a cash crop in the basement). First was the 14 year old electric water heater. Second was the 14 year old refrigerator. Third was the one year old pump for the boiler. Fourth a "leak" in our electricity somewhere - a ground, a short, etc. Something that was out of the ordinary and possibly dangerous.

Everything else in the house that we did probably matched fairly closely to what any other American family of four does.

While we were gone for the week, we turned the heat down to 55 and I turned the water heater down to 90. When I went down to turn it back up to 120, I took the time to read the sticker on the water heater, explaining to me the estimated annual cost of running this thing. I think I'd be better off heating our water with dollar bills.

When the water heater was new in 1994, the estimated annual energy usage was around 5,000 Kwh, with an estimated annual cost of $400 to run it. Something tells me that the water heater has not gotten more efficient as time goes on and I know that energy costs have gone from an estimated $.08 per KWh to $.01176 per KWh since then as well. The water heater is probably consuming close to half of our electricity.

I can't wait until it dies. Cold showers aside, it will save me money to put something else in.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

'Tis the Season

Well, it looks like December may hold the record for the fewest number of posts in a month. 'Tis the season.

Since I last posted, we've gotten snow four or five times, amounting to eighteen inches or so of snow (45 cm). We have a snow blower, so it isn't too bad to deal with. They are predicting another two to ten inches in the the next twenty four hours. If things keep up at this rate, it's going to be a very snowy winter.

We've been busy at the House of 42 Doors doing Christmas things - decorating the tree, making cookies, sending out cards, buying and wrapping presents, etc. This year we are trying to establish some additional Christmas traditions. Ms. Huis created an advent calendar which we were very diligent with for the first two weeks, but things have gotten a bit hectic here at the end and we've been slipping. We wanted to pick out a nice, large log from the firewood pile and burn the "Yule Log". It hasn't happened yet. I wanted to open and share the "Christmas Coconut" with everybody. The coconut we bought ended up being rotten. The one tradition we'll keep from last year though is to leave out cookies, milk and a shot of whiskey for Santa.

Even though it sounds like a bit of a disaster, it has been a good Christmas so far. We'll be spending next week in Minnesota with family and friends, so I don't expect to be doing much posting.

As usual, I have any number of small projects going on in the house. The attic door is in place, but still needs insulation added. I have it set up with a counterweight so it can be easily opened and closed with one hand, despite that fact that it weighs between fifty and one hundred pounds. I've been plastering over some of the holes in the walls. I've put some brass weatherstripping around one of the doors and I'm working on sealing up some of the other air leaks around the other doors.

I think that the new roof is having an unusual secondary effect on the basement. Last year the temperature in the basement never fell below 52 degrees Fahrenheit, even when it was -20 outside. This year the temperature in the basement has been hovering around a very chilly 48. I think that because the attic is a cold attic now, with roof vents, heat is rising from the basement, between the walls and into the attic where it quickly exits via the roof vents. This air movement is pulling more air in from the outside then it did last year and therefore, cooling the basement off.

Because there is no insulation in between the joists of the basement ceiling, the first floor wood floors are really cold. I have a lot of air leaks to plug in the basement, both to the outside and also in the air cavities that feed up to the attic. And of course, our six inches of fiberglass insulation in the attic, really does not meet the recommended R-49 value for our climate. We're short about twelve more inches of insulation. That's another area for improvement.

We've been living in the house now for a year so I compiled our electric and gas bills for the year to see what we're consuming in electricity and natural gas. It's really quite horrendous and I can see a lot of room for improvement. If anybody else is doing the same and wants to compare, between November 2007 and October 2008, we used 12,465 kilowatt hours (avg of 1039 per month) and we used 1,631 therms of natural gas (avg of 136 therms per month).

Well, I showed mine. Anybody else want to share theirs?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Snow, Part Three

When I woke up Monday morning and saw the snow, I was smug with my cleverness. I had taken the day off and it snowed. There was no need to get up early to blow out the driveway. No need to fight through poorly plowed roads or drive on snow compacted highways. Wasn't I clever for arranging to get a day off, on the day it snowed. I took my time shoveling and snowblowing the driveway and sidewalks and did a thorough job.

Lest my ego get any larger, Mother Nature put me back in my place. It snowed again on Tuesday night, which meant when I got up for work Wednesday morning, I did have to get up early and blow out the driveway. I did have to fight through poorly plowed road and drive on snow compacted highways. And I wasn't so clever, because I didn't also ask off for Wednesday.

We ended up getting four or five inches in total. We've probably gotten almost a foot in the last couple of weeks, although I'd say there's only six or seven inches on the ground at the moment.

Today I need to put in a call to our gutter guy, Roger. We had a bit of a thaw over the Thanksgiving weekend, and the snow on the roof and in the gutters melted. As I was leaving the house through the back door (the one that gets snowdrifts under it), I noticed a drip pattern on the sidewalk under the eaves. Looking up, I saw a drip of water on the fascia, slowly coalescing and then falling to the sidewalk with a "splat".

Looking back now, it's funny how a single drop of water made me so furious. I was outside alone (no children present) and I let loose a string of expletives that was a grand culmination of two year's of experience with Irish cursing. I went into the garage, took out the large fiberglass ladder, and put it in place, on the snow and ice. At that point I was too angry to be careful.

Climbing up the ladder I looked at the roof and the gutters. Neither looked like it was leaking, but something was. Considering how the roof is built and where the water was exiting (at the fascia), I was fairly certain that it was the gutters. I was able to remove a few of the soffit vents (which I should really take a picture of someday) and get my arm up into the eaves to feel underneath the gutters. Sure enough, the decorative front piece was wet. Water was leaking from somewhere, flowing along the decorative front piece underneath the gutter, until it hit a spot where the decorative piece tipped back towards the house. Then it flowed along a joist, hitting the fascia board on the backside and dripping down to hit the sidewalk. I went into the house too, to check the inside of the attic, just to make sure there wasn't a leak with the new shingles. The attic was as dry as a bone.

I decided it would be good to wait a bit before talking to Roger or blogging. I was too mad to be coherent. So I'm now a little more calm and will call him to see when he can come out and resolder the joints on the north side of the house. Hopefully they can be resoldered. I don't want to consider what my options are if they can't be resoldered. And of course it makes me suspicious about the quality of the rest of the work.

In hindsight, hiring Roger was a bit like hiring somebody who is an expert with a crescent wrench to work on your car. The man knows how to use his tools, but he is not a mechanic and still could use a good mechanic to lead him along. There is more to gutters and moving water off of a roof than I would have guessed.

The weekend is coming soon and I have next Monday and Tuesday off. A nice long weekend to relax and get one or two things done around the house.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Snow, Again

We had a lovely Thanksgiving with our nuclear family. The parents and in-laws remained back in the home state and we stayed here, so Ms. Huis made a fabulous turkey dinner for us. We still have leftovers (of course).

I took today and tomorrow off to decompress from work and get a few things done around the house. Hopefully I won't get distracted away from all the projects around here. Ms. Huis is busy taking a shower while I keep an eye on our youngest. The other eye has been assigned to this.

We woke up this morning to snow, which is no surprise for the first of December. The timing is actually great for two reasons. First, I put out grass seed last week, and if it can stay covered all winter with snow, I should have first rate grass next spring. Second, because I had the day off, I was able to leisurely get up and blow the snow off the driveway, rather than get up an hour early or get into work an hour late.

Stepping out the back porch, I saw this. That's right, snow drifted into the house.

And this, which is the snow drifted up under the "storm" door and piled flatly against the interior door.

I may need to tighten up some of the exterior doors...

Friday, November 21, 2008


Last week I did a survey for a marketing company. They paid me $75 for an hour of listening to my opinions. I'm not allowed to discuss the contents of the survey. I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

I took some of the $75 and bought new casual shoes last week. They are brown. I like them a lot. They remind me of shoes I saw in Europe. They are replacing my hiking boots I used to wear on Fridays to work. Somehow, in the last few months my hiking boots have gotten covered in paint.

I desperately need a hair cut. I started growing a beard awhile back and now my whole head looks round. My daughter and I are still fighting over whether or not I have a beard. I maintain that I have a beard. She thinks that I still just have whiskers.

We still have bats in our office walls. Every night around ten o'clock they wake up and I can hear them crawling in the walls. I don't understand how something so small can hibernate all winter and live. I caulked where I thought they were getting in. If I caulked them in, they're going to die and smell.

After being exhausted from our roof project, and swearing I was going to relax for awhile, I've already started planning and building an attic hatch door.

There are 40 days between now and the end of the year. Of those, 12 are weekends. I get 4.5 days off from holidays. I also have 8.5 days of vacation to use up. That means I only have to work 15 more days this year.

I estimate that the size of our compost pile is about 125 cubic feet (ten foot diameter and four feet high). I'd like to spread it onto our lawn to even out the bumpy bits and to provide more organic matter to the grass. I have no idea what's at the bottom of it as we inherited it. I'm a little bit afraid of what I'll find at the bottom.

Our current dining room chairs we got for free on Craig's List. I'm always afraid I'm going to break one. We didn't have a dining room set and we don't want to spend the money on a nice one until the girls are a bit older.

After hearing stories of our house and me roughly describing where it is, a coworker spent one afternoon driving around until he found it. I tease him about stalking me.

I have two four foot by four foot pallets of shingles outside of our garage right now. I hate looking at them. It looks messy, but there is no room in our garage for them.

For her birthday, my wife asked to be able to park her car in the garage. Its a three stall garage and there still isn't room for a car.

Some days I sit on the little bench in our front yard and look at our house and smile. Some days I wish one of the big oak trees in our backyard would fall on it.

The first time I saw a picture of our house online, I thought it looked like an old schoolhouse.

Whenever I trim the Tartarian Honeysuckle hedge, I think it smells like cucumbers.

One day when I was in the backyard, the neighbor's cleaning lady started talking to me. She is an older woman who told me all about the days when our house and the neighbor's house were owned by the original family. She also told me that when she was a teenager, she and a boy snuck into the shed that she was currently cleaning. She said that it was the first place she had sex. I changed the subject.

Early in the year, I asked the magic eight ball at work if I would regret replacing the roof. It replied, "It is certain". The next day I asked it if I should replace the roof. It replied, "Without a doubt". The magic eight ball at work hates me.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Peer Pressure

Last night I found myself pondering the lesson of the weekend, which seems to have been adult peer pressure.

The church we attend and the one that my wife is a member of has been growing by leaps and bounds. At the sermon on Sunday, the pastor joked that they were no longer accepting any more members with children. He was tired of tripping over them. Being a member of a young, growing church has its pros and cons. There is energy and excitement, but there is also cost. The church is looking to expand its facilities, so of course they want financial commitments from the members.

After the sermon the ushers passed out cards to the congregation and everyone was asked to fill in their financial commitment and then walk to the front of the church where they could place the card into a basket in front of the altar, "as a public sign of their ongoing support to the church." I really like the new church, but this was just not cool. The whole scene was designed to pressure people. Immediately my dander came up and I did nothing. It could have been worse of course. The pastor could have asked for money right then, instead of a commitment, but I still did not appreciate the scene.

Around the neighborhood, everybody (and I mean everybody) has blown their leaves to the curb. Our city offers leaf pickup as a free service. A giant vacuum truck comes around and sucks up the leaves from the curb. Its another perk of our high property taxes. I was the only holdout. There is one other neighbor who has a bigger lot than us, but he is Joe, owner of the equipment rental place and he has the coolest gadget for blowing leaves. It's a wheeled leaf blower that makes blowing leaves little more work than mowing the yard.

In any case, I had no desire to rake my leaves. I figured it provides good fertilizer for the lawn and I have more important things to do with my time. But then on the way to church, I saw that the neighbor's grandson was itching to use grandpa's leaf blower, so he and grandpa were kindly clearing our twenty foot wide section of land between our driveway and his property line. He had already cleared his leaves out the week before. I gave him the thumbs up, so he knew I wasn't bent out of shape about him "trespassing".

But when we got home, some of the lawn was free of leaves but most of it was not. It looked half done, so Ms. Huis and I took out the girls and finished raking the worst parts of the lawn. Which goes to show that I'm certainly susceptible to the more subtle forms of peer pressure.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Finally Done

The roofing/gutter/masonry project is done. There are still a few minor items that need tidying up, but there are no more contractors coming around. The scaffolding is down. There are no bits and pieces of equipment laying around the house. The bills have started coming in and money has started going out. I've been thinking about this project off and on now for almost a year. I had always hoped that we could put off repairing the roof for a few years. As a matter of fact, I clearly recall saying to my wife, "If it looks like we have to replace the roof in the first year or two, we're not buying the place." Boy, do I feel like a fool now.

The roof could have probably waited a few more years. The asbestos tiles weren't friable and I think that with proper maintenance and care, the roof had a few years left in it. The biggest downside was that twice a year, I had to climb up a ladder, take a twenty foot stick and gently push tiles back in place. The fasteners that connected them to the roof decking were rusted through in a lot of places and they would occasionally slide down. For the most part friction kept my roof together.

The gutters were a different story though. They needed to be replaced. The leaking water was rotting out the fascia and parts of the soffit. And as soon as I decided that the gutters needed replacement, the roof had to be done as well.

I learned a lot from this project. First, I learned that I'm majorly uptight about things. Not a single contractor that worked for us did a job that I couldn't complain about in some fashion. The roofers were far too rough in removing the tile. The masons chipped some of the brick with their grinders. The gutters do not drain as I'd like. The carpenter put a cedar shingle on wrong. I probably could have paid for this remodel with all the diamonds I was crapping out.

Second I learned that I'm still pretty good at ballparking costs. People always say that renovation/remodel jobs cost a lot more than expected. I always factor that in. The only surprise on this job was that the carpenter's bid came in high. Because of the slow down in the economy though, Matt was willing to work for less and I was able to get all the work down for about $2,000 less than he bid. When I ballparked this job in my head, I was only off by about 10%.
(MHH adds: Plus Mr. Kluges did some of the work himself that we'd originally had Matt bid to do.)

Third, I learned that nobody will do as good a job as yourself, assuming you are willing to take the time and acquire the tools.

Fourth, I learned that even an exterior job like this causes a lot of stress. I have not enjoyed the last month or so. Work has been a killer lately. I had an upgrade project to deliver in record time and on top of it, I was handed responsibility to help complete a three month project in the timeframe of three weeks. I didn't realize it, but the election was stressing me out too. I'm looking forward to a lot of time off soon. I have 7.5 days of vacation to use up before the end of the year.

I'll be more inclined to work on the house myself in the future. It's not because I'm trying to save money, but because I don't see the level of craftsmanship and pride in most of the contractors that I'd like. Our mason was very thorough, but he only had three or four years of experience under his belt. Someday he'll be outstanding, if he sticks with it, but he's not there yet. Our carpenter was the only one that impressed me. Everyone else was a bit of a let down.

Driving by the house now, it doesn't really appear that we did anything. This is both edifying and frustrating. When you spend money, it's nice to see something. With this you can't. I tried to remain true to the original character of the house, and in that respect I'm pretty happy.

There are still a lot of things that need fixing in the house, but I'm not going to list them here and now. Instead, below are a few before and after images of the house.

The house before...

And after...

The gutters before...

And after...

The shingles before...

And after - you can see that while the shingles are the right shape, they are a lot smaller.

And finally, the new cedar shake siding on the dormers.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Moral Degradation

Last week I went to the local grocery store to pick up some lunch. While looking for food there, I was appalled at what I saw.

We live in a fairly conservative area of the country. It's a Christian community where I NEVER expected to see this. To be fair, there are a few strip clubs in the area and at least one sex shop, but what I saw in the grocery store was completely uncalled for. After all, this is the grocery store, where mothers and children shop. It is grossly unfair to put mothers in a position where they have to explain certain things to their children.

I was looking for a peanut/raisin/granola mix while wandering up and down the aisles and looking at the signs hanging at the front of each aisle. It was about the sixth aisle where I saw the entry on the sign. I was so appalled, I didn't even go down the aisle. Doing so would have given the sort of tacit approval that the grocery store definitely does NOT need.

The second item on the hanging placard, right after "cereal" was "Adult Cereal". I can only hope that the boxes were on the top shelf and had brown paper sleeves over them.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Thanks W

Love him or hate him, George W. Bush has done something good for this country that no other president has done in over 40 years. He's gotten out the vote. Some will ascribe the high voter turnout this year to the inclusion of an African-American and a woman on the party tickets. That may be a factor, but I believe the high voter turnout is due to the concern people are feeling with the direction of the country. And I lay that directly at the feet of the current administration.

Generally speaking, the U.S. has a terrible voter turnout rate compared to most other democracies, but with all the actions the current administration has taken, it's caused a lot of people to wake up and realize that their vote does make a difference. A president and his staff do make policy changes that affect our lives.

I don't care if you are a Republican, Democrat, Constitutionalist, Green, Socialist, Libertarian or Independent, if you are a U.S. citizen, and 18 years or older, go out and vote today.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Roof Project Progress

I've been silent about the house for weeks now. Initial progress seemed lightning fast with the roof tear off in just two days. And then Roger and his crew got involved. It took them two weeks to install the gutter. It turns out they lost a week to sickness and the need to order more material. Then there was an actual week for gutter fabrication and installation. The the roofers came by and in two days they installed the roof. While all of this was going on, the masons were happily tuckpointing and caulking away.

Then we hit a bit of a slow spot. We're waiting for downspouts from Roger. The masons went away to work on another project (I think the roofers scared them away). Matt the carpenter was busy with other projects. Things started moving again last week, but we're still not done. I had really hoped to have everything buttoned down by the end of October. I'm getting tired of driving up to the house and seeing scaffolding out front. It's looking now that we'll be done by the end of this week. Really.

So here is the status check.

Gutters - Roger is telling me that he'll have the downspouts in his hands on Tuesday and should have everything wrapped up by the end of the week. This weekend though I found a section of gutter that is not secured by gutter hangers, so he's got more work to do, that he doesn't know about it. I also have to go around and double check he soldered all the seams. The first day he thought he was down, I looked at the gutters and found two unsoldered seams. Roger seems to have a problem with details.

Masonry - Howie seems to think he'll be done on Tuesday. That's assuming that I don't find anything he missed or anything he did wrong. I'll be going over the house with a fine tooth comb tonight. Howie does pretty good work. There's a few spots he's missed and some of his caulking is a bit wide, but I'm comparing his work to the work done by his boss Larry, who happens to have 30 more years of experience than Howie.

Roof - The roof is almost done. The roofers put on the wrong color flashing around the chimneys. They are supposed to be coming to replace it this week. Other than that, shingles, underlay and roof vents are all installed. I was up on the roof this weekend and it looks good.

Carpentry - Matt finished his work last Friday. He put up new fascia board, new pine cove molding underneath the gutters and re-sided the dormer walls with cedar shake. He made only one minor mistake, that no one is going to notice. He also had to put up two unpainted fascia boards, which is not ideal, but not the end of the world. All the other trim and boards I back primed, primed and painted on the ground (with help from various friends and family) so that they would be extremely water resistant. Those two boards won't have the backsides painted, as I can't reach them now that they are nailed on.

Painting - As mentioned, all new wood was painted on the ground, by myself, the in laws, Pusher and Puck. Many thanks to all for your help! What remains is to paint the fascia on the north and south sides of the house, to paint the dormer window trim on the west side, and to caulk around the base of the gutters. I'm hoping to finish this in the next two or three days with the unseasonably warm weather we're having. The soffits are still a mess, but that will have to wait for the future.

With the sole exception of the scaffolding at the front of the house, the front is done. I'm waiting for the scaffolding to come down before I post a picture. I'm getting tired of this project. It's taken longer than I wanted, cost more than I wanted and not turned out exactly as I wanted. The end product looks good. I just hope it will last the thirty to fifty years I want it to.

Monday, October 27, 2008


I'm trying really, really hard to keep a lid on Mr. Bitterman, but there's only so much I can do.

Are you part of the Nobama camp? Or maybe the McPain camp? The closer we get to the election, the more politicized everything becomes.

I found this article online. Henry or no Henry, the article will engender some sort of reaction.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


I didn't marry my wife for the bread that she bakes.

But I could have.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Money Matters

The bills have started rolling in for some of the work. The roof is done now, so their bill came this week. The gutter guy sent us a partial bill for the work he's done so far. We also finally got the bill from the heating guys for the draining, flushing and refilling of the radiators. I don't think I blogged about it, but they also put in a vent for our dryer, so that was on the bill too.

I've been thinking a lot about my spending habits over the last few months; how I spend money, where I spend money and how I think about money. I got to thinking about it quite awhile back after I had read an article talking about how Carnegie Mellon used brain scans to show how we decide whether to buy something or not (the study of neuroeconomics). The traditional view of economics says that we must decide if the value of the trade is worth more than the future value of what is being given up. Should I trade my chicken (which will give me eggs tomorrow) for several loaves of bread (which can feed me now). It turns out we focus more on the value of the trade at the very moment of potential exchange. In other words, our current needs and desires tend to outweigh our future concerns. Eggs be damned. Give me the bread. I'm hungry now.

I couldn't find the original source material, but here is a good summary. I'm sure a bit of googling will turn up more information.

Anyway back to where I was going. I used to think that I was extremely good with money, that I was thrifty. But when I thought about the amounts of money I've spent in my life and how I've spent it, I realized that this just isn't true. It's taken me some time to figure out what my relationship with money is.

I hate the act of spending money. In other words, for me, giving up money is stressful. What gets me in trouble is that for whatever reason, I've lost (or never had) a sense of the value of money. It causes me almost as much discomfort to spend $25 or $25,000. Spending $10,000 once is less stressful to me than spending $1,000 ten times or even five times. It's why I will pick quality, or the long-term solution almost every time. It also means I have a tendency to spend more, in the hopes that paying out more money now will mean I won't have to spend money later.

Obviously, this is not always the case. Sometimes the best solution is the cheap and fast one. It's a lesson I need to learn.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Politics and The Emperor's New Clothes

On Friday one of my co-workers shared this story about her 10 year-old boy.

Boy: Mom, I need a fake ID.
Mom: Why do you need a fake ID?
Boy: I want to vote.
Mom: You need to be 18 to vote.
Boy: I know. That's why I need a fake ID. I can vote. I mean, what do you need to do? Just write an essay on who you want to vote for?
Mom: Umm, no. You just go into the booth and fill in the circle next to the person you want to vote for. Like a multiple choice test.
Boy: That's it? No wonder we get such idiots in office.

The wisdom of youth.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Parable from Mr. Bitterman

Two brothers were married to two different women. One day the younger brother came to the older brother and complained about his wife.

"Every week my wife comes to me asking for money. She spends it on furniture for the house, clothes and education for the kids, groceries and gifts for herself. She donates money to the poor and to the church. The problem is that some of the money she spends foolishly and she's spending more than I make. What should I do?"

"Little brother, you need to tell your wife that she cannot spend more money than you make, that she is reducing you to a pauper. Look at my wife. I give her very little money and yet we live in a nice house, with nice furniture. Our children are well educated, we have nice clothes and good food to eat. We go on vacations and donate to the church. Little brother, take control of your wife and your finances."

What the older brother didn't know was that his wife was supporting their lifestyle by using credit. Every day she ran to the mailbox to intercept overdue bills and notices from debt collectors. His family was in just as much debt as his little brother's.

Which wife would you rather be married to?

Now think about who you are going to vote for.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Scratch, Scratch, Scratch, Thump...Silence

Life at the House of 42 Doors sometimes takes some unusual turns. I often find myself thinking, "I never expected that."

We are replacing the siding on the external walls of the dormers. The original siding was painted cedar shake. I doubt it was originally painted. More than likely, it was left natural and allowed to gray. In any case, we are replacing it with painted cedar shakes. The color is the same as what we inherited and happens to be what I really like.

For all of the work we're having done, we're trying to paint everything on the ground, before it gets attached to the house twenty plus feet above the ground. This includes the cedar shakes. That means each of the 460 cedar shakes need to be painted before they are affixed to the house. We are painting both sides of each shake, although strictly speaking, we wouldn't have to. The paint just provides one more layer of protection from the moisture. We also don't need to paint the very end as that part will be tucked under the layers of shake above. It also gives a place to hang onto while painting the rest of the cedar shake.

The problem is where do you find room to lay out 460 cedar shakes for painting? A bit difficult. Unitl my brilliant wife suggested hanging them on the laundry line. It turns out to be an excellent solution, so long as it isn't overly windy or rainy. Which leads me back to my introduction.

A few nights ago, Ms. Huis said to me, "You'd better go take the shingles off the line. It looks like it's going to rain." It made sense to me, but I chuckled as I was taking the shingles off the line. It was a sentence I never imagined I'd hear.

Last night, we were woken up at about 2:45 by something scratching loudly in the exterior wall of our bedroom. I got up and thumped on the wall and the scratching stopped. Something didn't make it out in time from when they finished the roof. I hope it doesn't stink when it dies. I went back to bed and could only think of all the H.P. Lovecraft stories I've read...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Roofers, Gutters, Masons, Oh My!

Do not assume that the recent lack of posting equates to an equivalent lack of progress on the house projects. On the contrary, things are moving along at a frightening clip. My head is spinning.

When I started to put together the numbers for these projects in the spring, I allowed for a 30% overrun fund, (my "Oh Crap" fund). The mason was a fixed bid, given to us last year, so I wasn't too concerned about that bid, but the roof and gutters were a different story. The number of contractors and the specialized nature of the repairs made me very wary. When the initial bid came in for the gutters, it was double what I expected and it ate up almost all of my "Oh Crap" fund.

Then, when looking at the cedar shake on the sides of the dormers and the state of the dormer fascia board, I realized we'd need to do some repair work there too, so I called Matt, who has extensive experience repairing historical buildings. When his quote came back, it used up all of my "Oh Crap" fund, and even dipped into my "I'm screwed" fund. The problem, of course, is that the "I'm screwed" fund doesn't contain money. It consists of a roll of antacid and a bottle of aspirin. Unfortunately, Matt doesn't work for antacid OR aspirin (can you imagine), so I called him and we negotiated. I told him how much I had budgeted. He agreed to cut his labor rate by 10% and I agreed to do some of the work myself. It's all that work that has been eating into my posting time. I'm doing all the painting and I had to do demo of the dormer walls. I'm still not done with all that I'm supposed to do, but enough has happened since last Wednesday that I need to post.

Roger continued to do installation of the gutters all through last week, finally finishing them up Friday around noon. Sort of. Really, he just completed enough so that the roofers could come by on Monday. When Roger called me on Friday afternoon to tell me that the gutters were done, I asked him if I could run water through them over the weekend, just to see how they performed. No problem he replied.

So when I got home Friday night, I climbed to the top of the scaffolding to look at the shiny stainless steel gutters, and was dismayed to see that the first two seams I saw were riveted and NOT soldered. No need to run water to test those gutters. With seams like that, they are guaranteed to leak. I called Roger immediately to let him know he'd missed two seams and to ask him if he could do that after the roofers started. He said it was no problem to solder them during or after the roof installation and that, "I thought I'd done all the seams, but maybe I missed some." I've expressed concerns about Roger and his capabilities on the project in the past. This was further proof to me that while the end product looks great, Roger is not great about details and consistency. It concerns me more than a little. If these are the things I'm catching, what am I missing?

Anyway, much to my disappointment, I was unable to test the gutters over the weekend. Roger still needs to add the downspouts to the gutters, which I hope he'll be doing this week. I need to go around and check all the seams to make sure they are soldered. Short of those minor details (soldered seams and downspouts), the gutters are done! Here is a picture of a finished corner. It looks almost identical to the original gutter (which is great).

Here is a picture of the gutter interior. Notice that they have been in place all of two days, and they already need to be cleaned out.

Here is a cross section of the gutter. This matches the original gutter, with the exception that the interior gutter is stainless steel, rather than galvanized steel. You can see the decorative front attached to the interior gutter, which slips up onto the roof decking and is secured there.

With the gutters installed, the roofers were able to come out on Monday. In one day, they were able to get about 60% of the roof shingled. I'm hoping they will finish up today, but it may take them one more day. Putting on the flashing and roof vents will slow them down a bit.

The original roof had no roof vents. This really wasn't a problem as the roof was essentially cement. If the attic got to be 120 degrees, the cement handled it fine (of course it made the house very warm in the summer, but I'm only talking about the roof here). In the winter having a "closed" roof was an advantage. In the days of little insulation, the attic acted as a buffer to the rest of the house helping to keep it warm.

It's not possible to take the same course with our new roof. Our new roof is asphalt and asphalt exposed to 120 degree temperatures will fail prematurely, which is why you see roof vents on all the new houses. Most people find them to be unbearably ugly, so some clever fellow came up with a roof vent that is incorporated into the roof peak. Very clever really and attractive.

Unfortunately, one of the new roof vent systems is not an option for our roof. We have to use the older style vents, which sit up from the roof. I'm one of those people who think that they are ugly. One of the requirements of the roof job was to not put any roof vents on the front of the house. All the roof vents will be going on the back and the sides of the house. This will help keep the attic cooler and extend the life of the shingles.

"But Wait!" you say. "If the attic is cooler what will buffer the rest of the house from the cold?" The house is one big connected system. Changing the roof will affect the rest of the house. Depending on how "leaky" the old roof was, we might see a huge increase in our heating bills or a small one. I doubt we'll see an improvement. This all leads to the next project, which will be to rip up the attic floor boards, plug any air leaks coming up from the basement or the house interior (there are a lot) and then add to the five inches of pink fiberglass already in place. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The masons continue to work away at the house, although they've been absent for the last two days as they stay out of the way of the roofers. I was hoping they would have been done by now, but I think they've been working on other jobs. So long as they finish up by the end of the year, I'll be happy.

Monday, October 13, 2008


The House of 42 Doors can henceforth be known as...

The House of 42 Ladders.

(Ok, so right, I know that some of them are scaffolds, but this is just the front. And there's not even one on top of the foyer as there has been usually lately.. But on the plus side, if there's a fire, it'll be pretty easy to get down from the second floor.)

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Masonry 101

The House of 42 Doors is all brick and it's one of the things I love about it. With the masons here doing work, I thought I'd take up a post by going over bricks and mortar. If you don't care about bricks, go get a cup of coffee and peruse some other blog. If you're curious, go get a cup of coffee and come back. Here's what I've learned and a few photos to illustrate the point.

The bricks were made by the Streator Brick Company. They're still in business, but it appears that they no longer make our type of brick. Hopefully we'll never need to match the brick because I think we'd be out of luck if we had to.

Brick composition has changed over the years. Bricks today are hard, much harder than older bricks used to be. Many older bricks have a hard exterior with a relatively soft interior. This is due to the older firing process. As long as the brick exterior stays in place, the brick should be fine, but bust through that hard exterior and the soft interior will wear away faster than a neocon's deregulation stance during a financial meltdown.

The problem is that during periods of high humidity, water has a nasty tendency to get behind bricks and then during periods of low humidity want to migrate out. If the moisture wicks through the brick, it will make the brick flake away (or spall), especially during winter with the freeze/thaw cycle. Once that happens you expose the soft interior and the brick crumbles. Older bricks can avoid this by having a very soft mortar around the brick. This porous mortar allows water to wick out without going through the brick. The downside is that the mortar will eventually crumble and fall out.

If you've ever seen a white substance on bricks that looks like road salt, it is probably due to something called efflorescence. This is also a problem with bricks and water moisture. Water is coming through the brick and as it travels through, it picks up salts in the brick. Once this mixture gets to the brick exterior, the water evaporates leaving behind the salt residue.

One of the problems in tuckpointing an old building is that a "modern" mason will come in and replace the soft, historic mortar with a modern mortar mixture, which is much harder. If the mortar is harder than the brick, the water will evaporate through the brick, causing spalling and efflorescence. A good mason understands the different types of mortar and how hard they are. They will also understand when they should use modern mortar or historical mortar.

The other tricky bit is that when a mason is going to tuckpoint, he needs to remove all the old loose mortar from the problem areas before filling in with new mortar. This insures that the new mortar will stay in place. This can be done one of two ways, either by hand with a hammer and chisel, or with a grinder. The hammer and chisel method is highly precise and there is almost no chance of damaging the brick. It also takes forever. The grinder is much faster, but if the mason is not careful, it's easy to nick or chip a brick. Once that happens, he's exposed the soft interior and it's possible that brick will deteriorate, just as if it had been victim of bad spalling. Purists insist on hand chiseling, which means they either do it themselves or are filthy rich.

The house originally had black mortar between the bricks. We can still see this on the interior masonry for the fireplace. The problem is that black coloring agent does not stay in the mortar for long. It fades relatively quickly, leaving a gray/buff color mortar. A good mason will take the time to match the color of the mortar he is tuckpointing. Otherwise where he has been will painfully obvious, as the mortar will stand out.

Mortar doesn't just fail because of water migration. Mortar will show failure if the building settles. Mortar can also fail if water drips down onto the brick. In both of these cases "step cracks" develop. Below is a picture of one of my larger step cracks. It may have been caused by settling, but it may also have been from water dripping down from the lintel above onto the wall. From there the water just found it's way down to the ground.

In this next picture it doesn't look like there is a step crack. The holes here are probably from moisture freezing, thawing and pushing mortar out.

The next picture shows a wall that has been tuckpointed, but not cleaned. There's a step crack going from the upper left hand corner to about mid way in the picture, where it split and went both directions.

It's pretty easy to see above where Howie tuckpointed, but Larry and Howie haven't washed the building yet. Once they do that, it will be quite difficult to tell where they have done their work, which is exactly what we want.

The tuckpointing job they are doing is expensive (the bid was $6,000), but if we keep water away from the bricks by keeping the gutters in good shape, there's no reason why this tuckpointing job shouldn't last another 85 years. When compared to the costs of vinyl siding, stucco or paint over an 85 year time frame, I think that's a pretty good investment. And it qualifies for the historic tax credit.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Money Pit Mason

I've been saving this story for awhile, but now that the masons are working on the house, I think it's time to trot it out.

Finding masons to do residential tuckpointing is not easy. Masons are accustomed to working on government buildings, churches and schools, but there are very few all-brick homes in this part of the country, which means a low demand for those types of services.

When we bought the house I knew that I wanted to get the masonry tuckpointed. There were a lot of voids and step cracks. There were also a few loose bricks and even one broken one. I had no idea though how to go about finding a mason to do tuckpointing. Asking around led me nowhere. Nobody else knew of anyone who tuckpointed brickwork. Somebody suggested a mason, but they specialized in building chimneys from field stone. That type of mason might have worked, but I wanted a mason who specialized in building repair. I also wanted somebody local.

This meant I had to do about the worst thing to find a contractor. I opened the yellow pages and started looking through the listings. I found only one entry. I called the number and left a message. Mostly I was looking for a quote. The research I'd done hinted that it was going to be expensive to tuckpoint the brick. Material costs were practically zero (sand and mortar), but the labor was very intensive.

I can't remember the name of the mason that I first spoke to, but I remember with crystal clarity our conversations. I'll call him M (for mason). The first phone call went like this after the pleasantries were dispensed and I explained to him what I wanted.

K: When do you think you could come out and take a look at the house? I can run out over lunch or I get off of work after 3:00 most days. I could meet you out there and we could talk about what the scope of work is and costs.
M: I've got a job out in that area so I could swing by anytime.
K: Great! How does Tuesday or Wednesday sound? (This being Monday).
M: I can't schedule that way. I'll just swing out and take a look.

I can't schedule that way? What does that mean? Anyway we left it at that and I waited for him to come out and take a look. A week or two went by before I contacted him again. After several unreturned phone calls, I was concerned that the only mason I could find was not going to take the job. Imagine my surprise when I received a phone call from him at 4:00 one day.

M: I'm in the area. I'll swing by and take a look.
K: Sounds great! I'm on my way home.

Except he never showed. He called about 5:30 to say that he had gotten busy and would have to swing out some other time.

Another week went by and he called at 3:55.

M: I'll be out to your place in five minutes if you can be there.
K: No, I'm sorry but I have to work late.

Finally after another few days, I took a day off to work on the house. The stars had lined up just right and the mason and I were finally going to meet. He pulled into the driveway in a pink Cadillac. He was in his middle forties, had dark brown hair, a great tan, and a wardrobe that looked like it should have been left in the seventies. It was complete with the open V neck shirt and gold chains. At this point, "The Money Pit" seemed like my future. We walked around the building talking around each other - what I wanted, what he could do, how much it might cost, etc. It went like this.

K: We'll be applying for the historical tax credit for this work, so I need to be sure that the mortar matches closely and that it is the softer Type O mortar. We'll also need to do a test patch first, just to make sure that the work is acceptable.
M: Hmmm. You don't want to get involved with the historical society. They're just a hassle. I've walked away from jobs because of them.
K: Really? What problems have you seen?
M: They are too particular. Look, we can come in and put a new bead of concrete on your joints. Do the whole house for you. You'll love the results.
K: Wait. Don't you chisel out the old mortar first? I thought that if you didn't remove the old stuff first, the new stuff wouldn't stick.
M: (looking indignant) I've been at this twenty years and we've never had a problem with the mortar falling out. We can put new mortar in, make it flush with your brick and it will look great.

At this point I was horribly torn. This guy was talking about doing things I'd read were a bad idea (like not chiseling out the old mortar) and on top of it, changing the look of the house. The brickwork was meant to have recessed mortar. He was also the ONLY mason I'd found.

We got around to the front of the house and I knew we were getting close to the end of the conversation.

K: So what's a ballpark figure to take care of the house?
M: We'll we'd come in for a few weeks, do the whole's hard to say. But I know that you'd love the work. My guys are fantastic at what they do. And I'm extremely particular. I make sure the work they do is first rate.
K: Great! So what are we talking? $5,000? $10,000? $50,000?
M: A building this size...Probably around $20,000. But that includes caulking too. Don't have somebody else out to caulk around the doors and windows. You won't be happy and we'll just have to come out and redo it. And that will save you tons in heating costs.
K: OK. Well how much to just go around and caulk all the windows?

(We had to walk around the house again, because I guess he didn't take that into account the first time we walked around.)

M: It'd be about $2,000 to $3,000 to caulk all the windows and doors. But we really don't like working for that little amount of money. You give me a call when you're ready to do the whole house and we'll talk.

He left and the only thing I regret about that whole exchange is that I didn't have the presence of mind to tell him to get off my property and never come back again. I resolved that the House of 42 Doors would fall down before that guy ever set foot on my land again.

After a few weeks of cool down time, I sent an e-mail to the previous owner of the House of 42 Doors (who was an architect) and asked him if he knew of any masons. He came back with Larry, and thankfully, the story has come out with a happy ending.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

It's OK, Mom - I didn't fall.

Every time I have ever mentioned that I wanted to go onto the roof of the House of 42 Doors, my mother has called or e-mailed the next day to tell me to be careful. To be fair, a fall from the roof would most certainly be painful, and could be fatal. In a worst case scenario, it's a 22 foot drop to a concrete sidewalk and even in a best case scenario it is a ten foot drop to another roof. Either way, her concern is justified.

Still, curiosity killed the cat as they say. Last week I put on my boots and headed out the dormer window to see what the world looked like from on top of my roof. What had really sparked my curiosity was a comment by the previous owner that from the roof it was possible to see the river. Somehow in my mind that meant a great vantage point.

The roof currently has Sharkskin underlayment and some tar paper with granules where the flashing is going to go. Now you might think this sounds like good footing, especially since Sharkskin is touted as having a slip proof outer layer, but what has happened is that the granules from the tar paper are very loose and they have gotten onto the Sharkskin underlayment. If you take thousands of little granules (which are shaped like little marbles) and put them on underlayment, guess what? It get's verrrry slippery. In the interest of not giving my mother or wife a heart attack, I will only say that I made it to the top of the roof and back down again without falling off the roof.

It was good that I had made this little exploratory foray though. In the interest of saving some money I told the carpenter that I would demo the cedar shingles from the sides of the dormers. I had some serious second thoughts about this after a short ride on my overly large playground slide. After a few days of consideration, I hit upon a safety mechanism that was functional, if perhaps a bit simplistic.

I took a rope, tied it to a stud in the attic and threw it out of a dormer window. Then, doing the most dangerous part, I climbed back on the roof with the rope in hand. Taking it over the roof to the other dormer, I climbed into that window and tied the rope off on a radiator. Now I had a rope that went across the roof and was tied at both ends. With that rope I was able to give myself a handhold/foothold/beltloop so that I could comfortably demo the cedar shingles. It took about a half day to rip off the shingles, throw them down and then clean up the mess, and there was no slipping or sliding.

Our masons Larry and Howie are fantastic. Howie shows up every day at 7:15 and even worked on Saturday. The work they do is first rate. The mortar they are tuckpointing with matches almost perfectly and the job also includes caulking and cutting drip edges on the window sills. Really great work. When they are done, the house should be sealed up from the elements. I don't know how much it will help with the heating bills, but it can't hurt. They hope to be done by the end of the week.

Our gutters though are a different story. I was expecting Roger to be out last Tuesday or Wednesday. Friday, after days of calling with no answer, I sent an e-mail asking when he would be on site for installation. His response was, "We have had a few set backs but we are back on track. I am hoping to start on Monday, Tuesday for sure!!!! Sorry for the delay." No word on what the set backs were, but I hope to find out soon. We are now officially a week off schedule. I'm hoping this won't mess up the schedule for the roofing crew.

MHH adds: Here is a slightly easier to see version of the above picture. Yay for Picnik!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Masons, Day 2

Day 2? What happened to Day 1? Well, I uploaded the blog yesterday morning and as the day progressed, a few things happened. First off, Jon stopped out at the house to see how things were progressing. We didn't chat much, as he was just swinging through on his way to or from somewhere. I think it was the shortest conversation I've had with him.

Later on in the day (around 15:00, I think), Larry the mason showed up with one of his guys, Howie. It seems that they had a few extra hours and they were going to start on the house. Like right now. We unloaded Larry's air compressor and Howie went straight to work grinding out the mortar from the bad joints. They're back again today. We signed a contract for them to do the work last October, so I'm glad that they are finally here to get the work done. There are some pretty serious spots of erosion in the mortar.

When the roofing guys ripped off the old shingles, 87 years of dust, dirt, coal and who knows what else filtered through the tongue and grove roof decking to land on our attic floor. I was doing some cleaning in the attic last week when I made an unpleasant discovery. I found the dessicated remains of two mice (numbers 43 and 44) in the live trap in the attic. The live trap is not particularly humane when the mice starve to death.

Now the last time we caught a mouse was in January, and I can't say for sure when we caught these two, except that it was a long time ago. The only thing left of these guys was fur and bone. It does remind me though that I need to set traps. It's fall and the little buggers are going to be looking for somewhere warm in the winter.

Roger is still manufacturing the gutters in the shop today. He might be out later on. If he is and he gets some of the gutters up, I'll take pictures and post.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Gutters, Day 3 through 6

In the last few days there has been no visible progress on the house. Friday Matt dropped off all the lumber needed to do repairs and Roger dropped off the metal gutter coving, which is the part that everyone will see. In both cases I have signed on to prime and paint the material.

Saturday and Sunday were mostly spent giving the gutters two coats of primer and a topcoat of Ivory. I primed both the front and back of the gutters, which should help protect the Galvanneel if any water does seep in behind the gutters.

I also ran into my first problem with the gutters. When I went to paint the interior of the last five gutters, it looked to me like the Galvanneal had two different sides, one a matte gray and the other a shinier, galvanized side. And the matte gray side was the one on the inside for five of the sixteen gutter pieces. I called up Roger to ask him if there had been a mistake. If maybe he had accidentally bent five of the pieces backwards, placing the corrosion resistant side to the inside of the gutter, rather than the outside.

Roger didn't know. He called his materials guy who said that there was no difference in the material, that the entire piece was Galvannealed. I know that I'm paying a lot of money for these gutters (too much really), and it was reaffirmed when Roger offered without hesitation to just fabricate five more pieces with the matte gray finish to the outside.

What is troubling about this, is that Roger, who I hired to manufacture the gutters and who is supposed to be a metal working guy, couldn't tell me why the sheets of Galvanneal have different sides, and neither could his materials guy. Nor could they tell me if one side was more corrosion resistant. After painting 160 feet, both sides, with two coats of primer I can tell them that one side accepts paint more readily than the other. It's always frustrating to pay for expertise that isn't there.

In any case, Roger dropped off five more gutter pieces last night and I've taken the day off of work to try and get them painted today, although with temperatures in the 50's, I doubt I will have any success. It'll take too long to dry between coats.

Roger is working in the shop today and should be able to finish up fabricating the new gutters today. If the weather holds (and it is supposed to be sunny tomorrow), then they should start installation tomorrow. I'm hoping they'll be done by the end of the week at the earliest or Tuesday of next week at the latest.

Here's a picture of the day's work; seven painted gutter fronts, primed with two coats, front and back.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Roofers, Day 2

Another "quiet" day today. The roofers had just a few things to finish up. They had to put a little bit more roofing felt on, load the roof up with the new shingles and clean up the mess. They arrived promptly at 8:00 am today. I have to admit that after some thought I came to the realization that they probably were late yesterday because they were holding off to see if it was going to rain. I guess I unjustly maligned them. It just goes to show how easy it is to jump to conclusions when you aren't in somebody else's shoes.

By 11:30 they had everything done, including removing the huge dumpster that held the remains of our 87 year old roof. They did a pretty good job of cleaning up. There's still some residual black dust on some of the window sills and muntins and so long as I can get out there to brush it off before a rain storm it should be fine. It wouldn't bother me so much, but my parents just painted the window sills and now they're all dirty.

Matt will be dropping off all the wood tomorrow for the carpentry repairs, including the cedar shakes for the side walls of the dormers. My responsibility is to get all the wood primed, painted and/or stained before Matt uses them in the repair work. I'm also fairly comfortable that most of the existing fascia board is sound which means I can use the scaffolding that Roger kindly left behind and get some painting done this weekend. This weekend is going to be a big painting weekend.

We also have some salvage metal guys coming tomorrow to haul away some of our scrap metal. They came last week and hauled away a lot of stuff, including a vintage water heater tank and washing machine. Most of the stuff was pretty rusty and in tough shape or just plain broken. What's left though is the original water boiler tank used for the heating system. It's about five and half feet high, two and a half feet in diameter and has walls about one half inch thick. Several people have told me that we should sell it for scrap because it would be worth quite a bit. When Ms. Huis called last week, they quoted her $80 per half ton. At those rates, I'm glad that there are two guys who are just happy to try and get it out of the house without charging us. Here's hoping that their trusty refrigerator truck can handle it.

Roger stopped out tonight with color samples of the pre-painted Galvanneel. Sadly, none of the colors match closely enough. We could maybe have picked a very different color that coordinated with the shingles or brick, but I wasn't willing to take the chance of picking something I wouldn't like. If I had a decent computer program that would let me try out different colors on a pre-existing photo, it might have been easier. We'll end up using a plain Galvanneel that I'll have to paint. My "to do" list was getting to short anyway.

I'm hoping that Roger will be able to start putting the gutters up sometime next week. He hadn't started fabricating them yet as he was looking for direction from us. He needed to know if we wanted to replicate the double wall gutters or go with straight stainless steel. Now that we've let him know, he can start fabrication. Hopefully he can start tomorrow and be done fabricating in a few days.

Here's a picture of the roof as it is now.

And here you can see the bundles of shingles balanced up on the roof. Let's hear it for friction.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Roofers, Day 1

Today was the first day the roofing guys came. The day started with a 7:30 am call from Jon telling me that they were keeping an eye on the radar, but they were still planning on doing the roof today. I expected my next call to be from Ms. Huis when she got back from school at 9:00 telling me that the roofing crew was there setting up. She called me at 9:30 to tell me that nobody was there. I was not pleased about this. As I said on Monday, I believe contractors should show up at 8:00 and go home at 5:00. Doing so shows a certain professional attitude. In any case, they finally showed up at 10:15.

I went home for lunch at 11:45 and was surprised to see this.

That's right, a huge crane in front of the house. They were using the crane to lift a large container up to roof height. They threw the asbestos slate into the container and when full, they lowered it down and dumped it into the dumpster on the ground. By the time I got home, they had about one side of the roof done.

I couldn't resist peaking into the attic to see what it looked like from the outside. It made for an interesting shot with all the holes and cracks in the roof deck.

I left to go back to work without talking to any of the guys. They looked really busy and like they didn't want to talk to me. On the way back to work I got to thinking about how I had considered removing the roof myself. I pondered this for a day or two when I was concerned about the rising cost of the project. I thought about how I'd take the shingles off carefully. Where I would drop them. How I'd maybe set up a slide to send them down. And finally what tools I'd need. Seeing what these guys had for equipment (a crane!) makes it seem like a comparison of the stone age to the modern age. I'm glad I had them do the work.

Each of the guys carries a small monitor that tracks the air quality around them. This is to verify that they are not breathing in too much asbestos as they work away. There are two huge ironies with this. First, the monitors are not real time. They are sent into a lab and analyzed once the job is complete. My understanding is that if they did inhale too many asbestos fibers, it's too late. It already happened. The other irony is that all the roofers smoked. I guess the good news is that they won't get cancer...from the asbestos.

When I got home from work around 4:30, the roofers were putting the underlay on. They had all the asbestos slate off, but everything was absolutely filthy with black dust (coal dust? 1921 roofing felt?) By the time they left at 6:00 pm, they had the roof covered with underlay and the roof is waterproof, barring hail or high winds. There's some clean up to do tomorrow and they still need to balance the bundles of shingles on the roof. That way when they come back to apply them to the roof deck, they won't have to lift them over my custom gutters (and accidentally wreck them).

I talked briefly with one of the guys before they left for the day and he mentioned that they found almost no rotten boards, just one small spot of a few square feet. There was also one rotten fascia board by a downspout. This is great news. It means that we're replacing the roof in time. I'm looking forward to getting up on the roof this weekend to look at the dormers and also to see what I can see from up there.

Here is a picture of house when we took possession of it last fall.

Here is a picture of the house after Roger removed the gutter.

Tomorrow I'll post a picture of how it looks after the roofers are done with their first phase.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Gutters, Day Two

There isn't much to report today. Roger and Dale came back and cleaned up the mess in a half day. They picked up the remains of the gutters, most of the broken slate and none of the nails or roofing felt. Tomorrow the roofing guys come to remove the asbestos slate, and I'm sure the mess they are going to make will be ten times worse than what Roger made. It's supposed to rain tomorrow. Thunderstorms. It will be a minor disaster if it does. I have no gutters, so the rain will go right into my soffit and then I don't know where, other than down.

I climbed up to look at the paper wasp nest tonight too and it's absolutely huge. It fills the space between two joists (sixteen inches). I took a broom handle and poked it into the nest. The handle slid in the full four feet. I don't know if the nest goes that deep for sure, but the resistance against me pushing never let up. I also saw a few wasps fly between the one inch crack between the brick and the terra cotta block. That means the nest extends down into the walls. Who knows how big the nest really is. Once we get a good solid freeze they'll die.

I was woken up last night at 5:30 by my wife. "We have another bat." Sure enough, I recognized the "flet, flet, flet" of the little guy. No telling if it's the same one as before. I never asked him his name. So Ms. Huis closed our door and I opened our windows. I crawled back into bed to try and sleep my last 30 minutes, but between my wife saying, "Is he out yet?" and the occasional whoosh of the bat flying over my face, it didn't happen. Eventually, about 5:55 he found his way out and five minutes later I got up to get ready for work.

We also got back the cost options for putting a decorative facing on the stainless steel gutters. It's $725 for a Galvanneal piece and $1650 for copper. Another option is to get a pre-painted Galvanneal metal. It's a little more than Galvaneal, but has a 20 year paint warranty. The only downside is that it may not match our paint exactly. We'll decide this week what we're going to do.

Most importantly, eight years ago, at almost this exact time, I married a brilliant, beautiful, talented and funny woman. I wouldn't be where I am today without her. Everything I've done with her in the last eight years, I'd do again, with one exception. I'd try and spend even more time with her. I love you Ms. Huis and thank you for eight great years.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Gutters, Day One

Today is the day it starts. The demolition begins. Nobody really knew how the roof and gutters were put together on our house. This is the really interesting part. How was the system designed? Did it work? What did people do to the gutters over the years to try and maintain them? I found out the answers to some of these today.

Ms. Huis called me at about 9:30 this morning to tell me that Roger and Dale were on site to tear off the gutters. They arrived at 8:00 and did set up. The fact that they showed up at 8:00 is great. I like contractors who show up at 8:00 and leave at 5:00. It means they are dependable. By the time Ms. Huis was done dropping off our eldest at school and dropping the car off at the mechanic, Roger had already torn into the gutters. His comment to her was that the gutters were pretty rusted and "this was going to be a bigger job than he thought." What a surprise.

About ten minutes later, she called me back again. The old spidey sense told me that this was not going to be a good phone call. She put Roger on the phone. The original plan was to rip out the interior gutter and save the exterior gutter. Then when it came time to put it all back together, we'd replace the interior gutter and reface it with the exterior gutter. Looks like that is not an option.

According to Roger, the exterior gutter was rusted through too and couldn't be saved, and that was on the east side - the good side. He was calling looking for direction. I told him I'd come home at lunch, take a look and we could discuss.

Once I got home, I crawled up onto the scaffolding to see what the situation was. It seems that in 1921, two pieces of galvanized sheet metal were used to create the gutter; an interior, functional gutter, and an exterior, half gutter used to make it look attractive. What I didn't know, was that when the previous owner said he replaced the gutters in the 80's, he didn't actually replace them. He took and created another interior gutter, also out of galvanized, and laid that on top of the existing 1921 gutter. There were actually three layers of metal, and they were all shot. One of the problems with that many layers of metal is that the water gets trapped between layers and then sits and rusts.

I had hoped to have a picture of the gutter and its onion-like layers on the fascia, but Roger was able to pull all of the gutter off today, leaving me with just the shots below. Tomorrow they'll be coming back to finish the clean up.

This first picture is a shot of the fascia on the west side of the house, looking south. It's possible to see the "L" they notched in the joists to accommodate the gutters now that the gutters are fully removed. It's also not apparent in this photo, but Roger and I are pretty certain that the fascia around the entire house is not original. The lumber is nominal sized pine, rather than a true 1" thick board.

The second picture shows the state of the roof once Roger removed the gutters. Because these are high backed gutters, they tuck under the shingles. The only way to take them off is to remove the shingles. Hopefully this won't cause us any grief. Roger really shouldn't have moved the shingles around much as he did. A government bureaucrat could have a fit as Roger is certified to handled asbestos materials. If necessary, I'll have to say that I removed them for him to do the job.

The third picture is to show what looks like a nice, dried up cow pie on the roof. We did not allow cattle on the roof. They make too much noise when they roll off the roof. Thud, thud, thud, mooooooooo, thud. This is all that's left of our 1921 roofing felt. Not great, but there you go.

The last picture is the best picture I could get of the many layers of gutter. It was clearer on the fascia. The layer of metal on the left is the exterior gutter. Next is the 1921 interior gutter and on top of that is the 1980's gutter.

We maybe could have saved some of the exterior gutter, but not much. Roger was trying to be careful, but the metal was bending, buckling, dimpling and breaking. When I considered that the visible gutter profile could be remade and that we were trying to save galvanized steel, it just seemed better to start over from scratch. Had the gutters been irreplaceable or the material no longer available, I'd have given it more thought. This leaves us with two options.

First is to abandon the concept of a double gutter. We'll use a single gutter, with the external face shaped to look like the old external, decorative element. The pros are that there is no increase in cost from the bid; the gutter is actually deeper than the original allowing more water to be channeled; and Ockham's Razor is satisfied. There are a few cons. First, if we put a slant to the gutter, there will be a gap between the bottom of the gutter and the top of the fascia. This is an ideal entry point for wasps and critters, who will happily fly into the attic or the floor joists of the attic. If we don't put a slant on the gutter, they won't perform as well. Second, painting stainless steel is not easy, nor always recommended. The name says it all, "stainless." This would leave use with a shiny gray gutter that would eventually fade to a gray. I do not find this appealing.

Second is to recreate the original, double wall gutter. The pros are that this allows us to slant the gutter, while keeping a nice tight seal between the exterior gutter and fascia. The external gutter can also be made of any material, as it doesn't need to function, just to look good. That means we can use Galvanneal so we can paint it more easily, or we could really go all out and use copper. The cons are that this will increase the cost of the project and it makes the entire gutter process more complicated. I've asked Roger to give me two "back of the napkin" type quotes for a double wall gutter; one with Galvanneal and one with copper.

Assuming we can overcome the technical issues with option one, we'll go that route. Alternately, if option two is not that much more (riiiiiight), we'll do that.

One little humorous tidbit is that Roger found a putty knife between the two interior gutters, probably left when the second insert was installed in the 80's. He tells me that it's a Craftsman, so I'm thinking I should be able to exchange it for a new one if it has a lifetime guarantee. Too bad I don't have the same guarantee for the gutters.

Friday, September 19, 2008


Since the work on the roof starts Monday, I thought it would be time to post current pictures of the roof and gutters. The first picture is of the front fascia board, looking north, with peeling paint. Notice the trim attached to the top of the fascia board and beneath the gutter.

The second picture is of the fascia board, looking south, where I have removed the trim. It appears that the exterior of the gutter does not fit securely against the top of the fascia board. The trim helps fill this gap, and of course, looks nicer. Then there is caulking applied between the trim and the external gutter. The bid from the carpenter does include replacing all that trim, so removing it will help them, and if I can salvage some, all the better. I'm not sure how successful I'll be at salvaging any. It's pretty fragile.

The third picture is a close-up of the asbestos cement tile, with my hand on the tile for scale. One of the things I'll really miss that is barely visible in the shot, are the half barrel hip caps where the roof edges meet. The add a lot of structure to the roof. Since the new shingles are asphalt, they'll just roll the shingles over those corners. It won't look the same at all. Short of going with tile though, I'm not aware of any way to get that look.

The last picture is a picture of the gutter looking north. The gutters on the east side of the house are in pretty good shape. I could have saved them and tried to have Roger re-solder them, but since I'm going to the trouble of ripping off the roof, I decided I didn't want to take the risk that the seams would pop again in five or ten years. In this picture its possible to see the galvanized gutter that lies between the external gutter and the roof.

Roger will be out Monday and the plan is to take a saw and cut the gutter out, while not damaging the exterior gutter. The exterior gutter will be carefully removed and set aside. Once that's done, it's time for the roofers to demo the asbestos tile. This weekend I want to remove all the trim and I need to make room in the yard for all the shingles the roofers will be unloading on Wednesday. We bought enough shingles for the garage too, so I need to make sure I have a place to store them.

On a completely unrelated note, and a nod to the fact that it's the simple things in life sometimes that can be very satisfying, my quest for oatmeal is over. When we were in Ireland, I got into the habit of having Odlum's oatmeal for breakfast with Irish cream and honey. I loved it. It tasted great, was pretty healthy (depending on how much cream and honey I added), and stuck with me for a long time, so that I wasn't hungry by 10:00.

When we moved back to the U.S., we bought Quaker Oats, which were awful, but I couldn't quite figure out why. So I began trying all different kinds of Oats, including some imported Irish oats, (not Odlum's) which were far too expensive. But none of them were quite right. Eventually, in talking to Ms. Huis, I hit upon the discovery that it wasn't the taste of the oatmeal, but the texture. It wasn't mushy enough.

So I started trying to soak the oatmeal over night. Then I tried cooking it longer. Then I tried soaking it 24 hours. But all to no avail. The texture was wrong. And then Ms. Huis suggested I try putting the dry oatmeal in a blender. Pure brilliance. That's exactly what it took. This morning I had my Irish porridge again and life was good. The only thing missing was the Irish cream, but I know I'll only ever get that in Ireland. It just gives me one more reason to go back.