Sunday, January 27, 2008

Do You Honestly Think You Can Win?

So, as stated in my previous post, I'm in Ireland at the moment and will be until February 1st. I hadn't planned on posting. After all, how can I write about the house if I'm not in the house? But events have changed. It seems that after two and a half months, the mice are back. Numbers 41 and 42 were caught within the last two days.

Now I for one do not find it a coincidence at all that they have returned while I am away. I'd like to think that they saw me as Mr. Kluges the fearsome predator, destroyer of rodentia, assassin of vermin. (I am not a megalomaniac.)

Clearly they had decided that I was not one that could be driven away. They understood my resolve. Now they are testing my wife's. Little do they know that I'll be returning in just four short days. Run, run to your bolt holes, little rodents! Judgment is nigh! Ha!

I'd also just like to say that I REALLY miss my family.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

It WAS a nice round number.

(Cross-posted at Musings & Mutterings)

My parents are here to visit us. Which is nice for many reasons... visiting their granddaughters, company while Mr. Kluges is gone on his business trip, extra help around the house....

...mouse removal...

Yeah, after several months in which our mouse count remained static at 40, it has remained so no longer. Yesterday I discovered #41 under the kitchen radiator, and my kind father disposed of it for me.

And this morning, since we reset the traps last night, he'll get to do the same with #42.

*sigh* I LIKED letting the mouse count just sit at 40; I didn't need them to try to catch up to the 42 doors!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Wheel, Lever and Crib

So, back into the fray again today.

Contractors were out on Wednesday to look at the gutters and the other numerous carpentry jobs we'd like to have done. I've always been a bit concerned about finding somebody to work on the house. There are a lot of people out there who can do the work, but without the sensitivity that I'd like to see. Many contractors fall victim to the mindset of "consumption capitalism", which is endemic in our society (and probably a topic for another post when I feel like I need to get on my soapbox). If something is broken, throw it away and replace it with new. Its cheaper to find a new item and install it rather then spend the hours required to fix the old item. In our current society, materials are cheap. Labor is expensive. Use materials, avoid labor.

There is another argument put forth by contractors, which holds more merit. Over time, there have been improvements in the way things are built. My gutters are a perfect example. Integrated gutters, like I have, are not a great idea, compared to modern day gutter solutions. But they were a huge improvement to the gutters most if its peers had, which is to say, none. Maintaining a poorly designed feature (compared to modern solutions) puts me in a philosophical quandary. Is there sufficient historical value in maintaining poorly engineered gutters, or is it better to re-engineer them to better protect the other materials of the house? Will that re-engineering cause unintended irreparable damage? Will it change the look of the house so that it no longer appears as it did? And what age are we trying to make the house look like? When it was built? When the previous owner had it? Or the owner before him? All of those owners are part of the history of the house, just as we will be someday. And to say that the only valid view of the house is 1921 is to ignore the lives of all those who followed. I think a lot about these things and hope that someday, future generations won't judge me too harshly for the choices I made with the house.

But I digress. We contacted the previous owner, who is an architect and currently living in Sidney, Australia. And he came forward with someone that had worked on historical restoration projects with him while he was designing in the area. The contractor, Matt, seems good, but then again, I though the plumbers would be good to. And that did not turn out nearly so well as I had hoped. At present, here is an overview of the projects we're having Matt bid on:

  • Replace the gutters around the top of the house and the front entryway.
  • Repair the gutters over the back porch.
  • Rebuild the gutters over the front porch, which were removed sometime in the past. At present, the water just drips over the edge and drains next to the foundation, which increases the moisture in the basement.
  • Possibly increase the number of downspouts. There are only two downspouts draining the roof. That's really not enough.
  • Replace the roof on the front entry.
  • Replace rotten soffit, fascia and framing over the main entry.
  • Replace rotten soffit and fascia on the main roof.
  • Reframe two basement windows, including putting in a dryer vent in one.
  • Jack up the back porch and re-level it. Water has been channeled by the support post, which caused it to sink.
  • Replace the back porch roofing.
  • Replace the rotten portions of the back porch upper railing.
  • Replace rotten soffit and fascia of the back porch roof.
  • Remove and replace the plywood soffit on the front porch with beadboard soffit.

We got the quote back on Friday for all but the gutters and it was only about twice what I expected. I guess we'll just have to do about half as much. We also have a mason lined up to re-tuck the brick next summer, and we'll need to get the house re-roofed (more on that a different day).

Then there was the trip to the sawmill. This turned out to be a very disappointing end to a lot of work. It started when we bought the house. There is a beautiful oak tree in the backyard whose branches rubbed on the roof. We had tree trimmers cut the biggest limb into four, six foot lengths. They ranged from eight inches in diameter to over a foot. And to my eye, they were mostly straight. The limb alone of that tree is 150 years old, so I figured it would be great to turn it into old growth, white oak lumber.

Newly cut white oak weighs a lot, to the tune of 400+ pounds for the biggest limb. So taking my inspiration from the ancient Egyptians, I rolled the largest log on rollers to the trailer and then used cribbing to lift the log to the height of the trailer. Once there, I put more rollers underneath it and just rolled it into the trailer. Thanks to numerous interruptions, this entire process took three months.

When I pulled into the sawmill, I immediately felt a bit of anxiety. This guy had serious logs stacked outside. Logs that were easily three feet in diameter, twenty feet long and straight as an arrow. Those trees had to weigh several tons. My puny six footers looked like toothpicks. When I showed him the logs, the prognosis was grim. The conversation, summed up, went something like this.

K: So, I've got these old growth oak limbs that I'd like to convert to lumber. What do you think?
SG (Sawmill Guy): Limbs sway a lot in the wind, so the grain is usually twisted. Once the wood is kilned, the boards will twist and warp. That one there (pointing at the biggest one) has a bend in it. I'd have to cut it into two, three foot sections.
K: What would it cost to make them into lumber?
SG: Its $60 an hour for sawing, and that's the minimum charge, plus $0.30 a board foot for kilning. It'd probably be about $200 for all of it. But I'd hate to see you waste your money. I'd just cut them up for firewood.
K (crushed): So in your professional opinion, what's the likelihood that I could get some usable lumber out of this?
SG: Pretty low. What were you planning on making?
K: We were hoping for a chair or some bookshelves.
SG (snickering): Well, maybe if they were little enough. No, they're probably pretty twisted. You might be able to do some craft stuff with them, but I'd just cut them into firewood.

So I left. I could have pushed the point. He would have been happy to take my $200, but I took the expert at his word. So now I'm going to have to unload all that white oak and figure out what to do with it. I'm open to suggestions. It pains me to burn it. It has beautiful grain and is more part of the land than the house itself. For now, I'll store it somewhere, make sure it's out of the sun and rain, and hope something comes to mind. Maybe it could be door and window lintels for the tower I'm going to build someday...

I also discovered within the last week a new piece of exercise equipment. It's called a splitting maul. I've been splitting wood over the last week and thoroughly enjoying it. It's good exercise and it needs to be done with all the wood that we had cut in the fall. I had been planning on getting up at 5:00 am most days to go out for a walk for exercise, but it didn't really excite me. For some reason, splitting wood does. I suspect that it's because I can see progress in what I'm doing and that splitting wood isn't a chore I need to do to heat the house. If I HAD to split wood, I would probably grow to hate it. For anyone that knows me, I'm sure that next time you see me I'll have lumberjack pipes. :)

The last of our lights should be delivered today. This is the last thing the electrician is waiting on. Steve only has about one more day left at the house and then the electrical work is done. Hooray! We're also getting our guest bedroom set delivered today. So fun new new toys when I get home!

I don't know how regular the postings will be for the next two weeks. I'm off to warm, rainy Ireland on the 20th, returning on the 31st, for a business meeting. I'm hoping to get quite a few posts up, but no promises.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Make Me a Part

Another week in the House of 42 Doors...

Last week or so has been a busy week. So busy in fact, I'm splitting this over two days of posting. Sadly, the most interesting bits occurred later in the week. :)

We had a front door lock that needed repairing, a boiler go out, water in the basement, contractors out for bids and a trip to the sawmill. And I found a new form of exercise (other than shoveling).

Some time ago our front door deadbolt stopped working. We'd put the key in and it would spin and spin and spin, but no deadbolt would come out. So we called a locksmith and asked him to come out on Friday. After much hesitation, he agreed even though "Friday was his busiest day." So he came out and knocked on the door. No answer. He rang the door bell. No answer. And he left because of course "Friday was his busiest day."

Now there are several things wrong with this story. First of all there was a heating and cooling van parked in the driveway (did I mention the boiler went out?), so somebody was there. Second, the door was unlocked (remember, the lock was broken). He could have poked his head in and said hello. Third, while ringing the door bell was good, ironically, it didn't work because in the process of cleaning up the knob and tube wiring, the electrician cut the wires to the doorbell transformer. Fourth, Pumpkin was sitting in the living room watching TV, and therefore the TV was clearly visible as on. Fifth, I gave him our home number, but he claimed that he left his cell phone back at the office. [Note from MHH: Actually, I think what he told me was that he'd left our number behind, not his phone. Either way, he couldn't call from the driveway.]

So even though, Ms. Huis was home, he didn't fix our lock. We suspect he happened to be there in the five minutes that Ms. Huis was downstairs looking at the boiler with Ted (the heating guy). Even though it was against my judgment to ask him to come out again (as he exhibited a pretty poor level of assertiveness), we did anyway.

He came out Monday and we found out that the previous owner had put commercial grade deadbolts on the outside doors. And that the company who made them doesn't make them anymore. And that the bore on the front door is nonstandard because it's a non-standard door (too thick), so replacement with new could be tricky. So he took the lock out, found the broken tumbler/lever, brought it back to the lock shop, carefully manufactured a new one and replaced it in the lock. He was there for about three hours trying to fix it and only charged us $68. He wasn't happy with how it turned out, but as far as I'm concerned, it's perfectly functional. I put in the key, turn it and the deadbolt comes out. And it unlocks too! The front door does still have the original mortise lock, and I think we have the key, so we could use that too.

On Friday the boiler stopped working. The temperature in the house wouldn't get above 62 Fahrenheit. We limped by over the weekend by short-circuiting the boiler and tricking it to run. This was accomplished by a bent key ring, provided by the heating professional. A little hokey, but it worked.

Fortunately the seller bought a one year home warranty for us when we bought the house and the boiler is covered. It's a $60 charge for the on-site visit and the rest is covered by American Home Shield. Currently the part to fix the boiler is still on order. The heating guys didn't have it on hand because the previous owner installed an unusual model of boiler. The manufacturer had to custom-make the part. Detecting a theme here?

The heating guys were able to clean the boiler sufficiently to keep us limping by for now. The part should be in this week.

I already wrote about the water in the basement. It turned out to be about 12 gallons, based on the number of shop vac containers we emptied (and by we, I mean Ms. Huis). We haven't had any more repeats of the problem. It wasn't surprising. An inch or two of rain on frozen ground can cause all kinds of problems.

And since I'm running short of time, I'll finish up posting tomorrow.

Monday, January 7, 2008


This post was going to be about the broken front door lock, the broken boiler, the wall sconces we picked out that won't work and the ongoing work of the electrician now that he's on site again. Instead it's going to be about vindication.

Often times I have seen that word expressed with a sense of satisfaction or glee. Such as "His assertions of innocence were vindicated when the true assailant confessed." When we moved into the house, I was fairly adamant about putting anything in the basement off of the ground if it was wood, cardboard or paper. Items were placed on bricks or on top of the plastic totes the majority of our stuff is stored in.

Ms. Huis thought I was being paranoid, but she humored me. There are thunderstorms in Wisconsin today and so far we've received about 1/2 inch of rain. For anyone who knows this part of the country, this is unheard of for the 7th of January. Honest to goodness rain with lightning and thunder. Wow. Where are the global warming nay sayers now?

Anyway, rain and frozen ground means that the water really has nowhere to go. It will puddle and flow away into streams and rivers, rather than soaking into the ground. Now if there happens to be a large pile of snow blocking the flow of water away from a house, then of course, the water will flow towards the house. And into the basement.

I haven't seen it yet, but according to Ms. Huis, we have a sizeable leak into the root cellar of the house. (The word "rivulets" was used along with the phrase "Shooting out"). Large enough to require shop vacuuming. Thanks to my paranoia, all of our important stuff was off of the ground. It's not surprising that there was a leak, because there is a crack around the window that needs patching. It's not huge, maybe just 1/16th of an inch, but its plenty big for a pool of water to drain into.

This isn't the end of the world. It's just annoying. We should be able to fix the problem by sloping the ground away from the house, filling the crack with concrete and maybe even installing a french drain.

I guess I have been vindicated, although I wish I hadn't been.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

We are here

As promised, here is a photo, taken by Ms. Huis of the sign in question.

Happy New Year from an Old House

Here it is, the first post of the New Year. It's a good thing that blogspot fills in the date for me, otherwise I'm sure this post would be erroneously dated January 3rd, 2007. It always takes me a month or two to get the year straight.

I had a great weekend with a visit from my parents, who brought some very thoughtful and lovely gifts. The first was a nice black granite plaque with our last name on it to hang on the pillar out front. Once I get it hung up, I'll take a picture and post it. We tried to hang it while they were here, but once again the house proved stubborn.

The brick in the pillar is the same brick as the house and we found out that even when using a masonry bit, that the brick is haaaard. After struggling for an hour or so and only making a 1/4 inch hole in the brick, we gave up. New Year's day I went out and bought more bits, and after another few hours of work, there are now four holes in the pillar. Once I get some screws, it should be a snap to hang up the plaque (ever the optimist).

The second gift was a framed cross stitch done by my mom of the house. It even has the house number on it and at the bottom is "He who loves an old house never loves in vain." It's already hanging up from the picture rail in the living room.

The last major gift was for my birthday and was a gas grill. We didn't get time to put it together yet, so it's still sitting out in the sun room, in the box. There were several other nice gifts, but those were the most notable.

Sunday I tried to start a fire in the fireplace, against the recommendations of the chimney sweep we had out several months ago. It seems that the chimney flue is supported by only one brick, rather than two or more, and that there is creosote between the flue and the brick, meaning there is a leak somewhere between the flue liner and the brick.

I couldn't resist the temptation to light a fire over the holidays. The desire for heat and light near the shortest days of the year is a strong one. Unfortunately, the only wood I had was unsplit and what had been left outside, in the snow. While I was hoping for a cheery, yuletide log blazing forth with heat, what I got was a spluttering, anemic, tired fire. It was a clear indication that I need to split some wood and put some where it will be sheltered from the elements. One more thing to add to the list of things to do.

The chimney drew very well, even with my pathetic fire and the next day the house didn't smell like smoke or campfire so that at least was good. And when I finally clean the fireplace this weekend, I just have to push all the ash into the ash dump where I can clean it out of the basement later. Fabulous.

Ms Huis' aunt was very kind to send to me a Christmas present of half a bar of peat. I dearly miss the smell of peat from our time in Ireland. It is a very distinctive smell and will always remind me of cozy, warm nights in winter (usually with a pint in a pub). She also made it very clear that the peat was not to be construed as some sort of stand in for coal (which made me laugh). If I can get a good fire going yet this winter, I'll have to throw it on.

We also got the phones wired while the parents were here. There is no longer any danger of tripping over a phone wire snaking in through a screen door, under an outside door, and past the main door into the kitchen. It is now properly done. My father has been working for a telephone company for almost 40 years (although he'll tell you he hasn't done installation work in probably 35 years), so the work is top grade professional. I wish I could get the same level of workmanship from all of my contractors, and of course the price was right too. :)