Monday, March 31, 2008

Home Improvement Ideas

Check this out if you have some time (safe for work viewing).

And when you are done, be sure to see collections I through IX.

Feeling pretty good about the House of 42 Doors...

Thursday, March 27, 2008


It's been another long hiatus. I try to leave no more than seven days between postings, but I failed this time around. Work has been extremely busy, and we lost five days visiting family in Minnesota over Easter. A good time was had by all.

We finally have all the bids in for the work we've identified and it is very disappointing. We won't be able to do all the major structural repairs this year. We basically can either replace the main asbestos roof, or we can repair the front and back entry. We might have been able to do it all, but the cost of the new main roof is higher than I expected and the cost of the gutters came in much higher than I expected. I'll be struggling the next few days with what to fix and in what order. It would be a lot easier if I was prescient.

The largest problem is that everything is interconnected. The house works as a system and if one piece gets changed, it affects the rest of the house. While we can afford to replace the shingles, when I figure in the cost to repair the gutters, the beadboard soffit and the fascia board, all of which should be done at the same time, the number starts to get big enough to make me squirm.

The gutters are probably the single cause of all the damage to the house. They are the first line of defense in getting water away from the house and they failed some time ago, doing a lot of water damage. The previous owner fixed them, but now they are just starting to fail in some areas.

Try looking here if you aren't familiar with any of the terms I'm using.

Most gutter systems are affixed directly to the fascia. Structurally, I'd say this is a superior design to my gutters. When water spills from the gutters, it tends to fall directly to the ground and leave the fascia untouched. The gutters on the House of 42 Doors, though are built slightly differently. See the image below for a modern gutter layout on the left and the House of 42 Doors layout on the right.

These gutters are built into the roof itself, by carving out a "shelf". The top half of the fascia board is removed and in it's place is a decorative, curved metal piece. The resulting void, between the end of the roof and the decorative metal element is where a metal liner is placed. The metal liner is the gutter. The interior gutter shape is essentially a rolled box bead shape, although the dimensions I measured indicate that they are not standard.

Unless seamless gutters are installed on the house, all gutters will probably have a seam pop at some time. In a normal installation, the water leaks through the seam, and falls to the ground where the homeowner can say, "Guess I better gets those gutter seams fixed." In this house, the seams leak into the soffit where the water can rot the wood from the inside out. The previous owner helped alleviate this problem by putting round vent holes in the soffit every few feet or so, and I think it's a great compromise. The other downside though, is that the gutters need to be custom fitted into the space between the decorative element and the roof. Stock gutter pieces won't fit. And as I've found out, custom metal work is expensive.

The whole purpose of the decorative metal element is to create a Tuscan entablature out of the roof profile. It certainly would be a lot cheaper to remove all of this gutter foolishness and replace it with something more modern. It would also destroy the look of the house.

Winter is by far the hardest on the house. There's insufficient insulation in the house, which means that heat from the house melts the snow and ice dams form. The freeze/thaw cycle, the slow trickle of water and the clogging of the gutters with ice causes a lot of water to leak into the soffits and onto the fascia. In the summer, rainwater generally moves fast enough to splash past the holes in the gutter and happily gurgle into the downspouts.

Resealing the seams is a bit tricky, from what I've been told. Unless the metal surfaces are clean, it's hard to get a get solder, and after almost 30 years of rain, detritus and rust, the gutters are definitely not clean. It is possible to patch with caulking and rubber, but they don't last as long as a solder and once those items are applied it is virtually impossible to solder the seams. There is also the issue of heating the gutters up to soldering temperature when they rest near or against wood. I'm told all of these things make it difficult to repair gutters in place. Unless they are made of copper. Copper is evidently a wonder material. It also happens to be one of the most expensive.

Realistically, we have three materials that that new gutters could be made from; galvanized steel, stainless steel or copper. Each step down in materials seem to reduce the cost of the quote by about 10% to 20%. As could be expected, the more expensive the material, the longer its lifespan. If the gutters are well taken care of though (kept clean of debris, well pitched to remove water, and painted to reduce rusting for the steel products), there's no reason why they shouldn't outlast me. After all, they almost outlasted the previous owner.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Lot Can Change In Six Months...

Two posts in one day is a bit much, but I've been meaning to post these images for awhile now. Ms. Huis was kind enough to help me out.

So here is a picture of the house around the end of August, beginning of September. The height of late summer when everything is green and verdant.

Go forward six months and you have this.

They are both pretty, but I know which picture I'd rather be in.

Happy St. Patrick's Day

First off, Happy St. Patrick's Day to all! Now that we're back in the U.S., I have to work today, but it's an official holiday in Ireland. We get about the same number of holidays in the U.S. as the Irish do, but they are spread out differently. In the U.S., we really load up the back end of the year, with half of our holidays taking place between the end of November and January 1st. I don't particularly like that. It means that there is a spread of almost five months between New Year's Day and Memorial Day without any built in holidays. I'd much rather have a day around March to break things up a bit. There are plenty of options (Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Valentines Day, President's Day, Saint Patrick's Day and Easter) but I guess none of them are important enough to warrant an official day off. Having said that, we are taking off this Friday, next Monday and next Tuesday to go visit family over Easter.

The last week at the house has been full of ups and downs (literally). On Wednesdays Ms. Huis has the car to go about her miscellaneous errands and activities (we're still a one car family). She picks me up after work and then we go home. Well, last Wednesday, as we were driving along on the highway, someone pulled up to us and motioned that we had a flat tire on the rear driver's side. By the time Ms. Huis got pulled off and into a gas station parking lot, the tire was 100% flat. We drove the car too far and destroyed the tire. So I put on the spare and on our way home, we stopped at a tire place and picked out a new tire. That evening, I went back, they put the new one on, put the spare back and like that all was well.

Until the next morning.

I no sooner got out of the driveway and was pointed towards the road when I noticed the car pulled really hard towards the passenger side. The inside of the car heard a lot of cuss words as I was sure that the tire shop had screwed up the alignment on the wheels. I didnt' get too far down the road though when somebody signaled to me that the front passenger's wheel was flat. Taking heed from our last tire, I pulled off right away. That tire was flat, so for the second time in a little more than twelve hours, I changed another tire. I took that one into the same tire shop and that one they were able to repair. We were lucky that we were so attentive with the first tire, otherwise we would have been in a bit of a bind with two flat tires. All four tires (and the spare) have been holding up nicely since Thursday.

The spring melt has finally arrived and portions of the yard are starting to peek through. I'm getting anxious to get out and do stuff outside. Yesterday Ms. Huis and I went out and measured the property and the buildings so that we could draw up plans for the landscaping. The lawn is much larger than it appears because so much of it is overgrown with buckthorn and some other hedge plant that I'm still trying to identify. Once we get those pulled out and cut back, we'll have a lot more room.

Last January we had a tinsmith come out and look at the gutters. The gutters involve a whole post dedicated to themselves, but the short and dirty of it is that we're looking to either repair or replace the gutters because they leak, and are rusted through in spots. I had waited patiently for the quote up until the last few weeks, and then I started trying to apply some pressure to this guy for a quote. I finally had to talk to the carpenter who recommended him in the first place and that got the tinsmith to shake the quote free. I almost fell off my chair when I saw it.

We made it fairly clear (I thought) that we weren't interested in copper. Our house is very much atypical in the neighborhood we live in. Putting a lot of money into the house is an investment we'll never see returned as the values of the surrounding houses are lower than ours. We committed the terrible real estate sin of buying the most expensive house in the neighborhood. This means that while I'd love to put on a slate roof and copper rain gutters, 1) we can't afford it and 2) even if we could, we'd never get our money out of the investment when the day came for us to sell. If our house was in a neighborhood of $300,000+ homes, it might make sense for copper.

So the tinsmith quoted us for copper gutters. And a copper roof over the front entry. And a copper roof over the back entry. That's right, the back entry. The one that no one sees. The one that is currently an airing porch that people walk on.

The quote came in at $26,000.

Yeah right buddy. Good luck with that.

He did mention that there as an option to use stainless steel for 20% less (that's ONLY $21,000 for those of you who don't have a calculator handy). Now just as an FYI, even though the bids on the main roof aren't finalized yet, the cost for the gutters look to be significantly more than the cost of replacing the roof, including removal and disposal of the existing asbestos shingles. Paying more for gutters than for the entire main roof sticks in my throat a bit.

So Tuesday and Wednesday we have meetings with two other tinsmiths/sheet metal fabricators. We'll see how that turns out.

Friday, March 7, 2008


Reading back through this week's postings shows that it's been nothing but a lot of gloom and doom. Here's a bit of good news from the House of 42 Doors. By the end of the day, our last project of 2007 should be done. The house electrical has been updated, and all that's left is for the city inspector to come out, bless it and throw holy water on the service panel (figuratively). I'm almost certain he'll find nothing wrong. Our electrician has done an outstanding job and the city inspector is a very reasonable man. We've already dealt with him twice, once for the sewer work we did and again when we upgraded our electrical service from 100 amp to 200 amp and buried the overhead lines. I've got an appointment with him at the house today at 3:30.

So here's a rundown of what we did, how long it took and what it cost (roughly).

We were given an edict by the insurance company to replace the knob and tube wiring in the house as it was seen as a fire hazard. The house is two stories and also has a basement and a full walk up attic. The majority of the wiring in the house was the original knob and tube wiring, although the kitchen had been updated in the past. The house had four circuits - one for the basement, one for the main floor, one for the attic and top floor and one for the kitchen. The electrical service coming into the house was 100 amp overhead.

Here approximately is what we did.

  • We upgraded the service to 200 amp service and buried the line.
  • We had all knob and tube wiring in the basement, attic and second floor replaced.
  • We added 35 to 40 receptacles.
  • We added 15 to 20 light switches.
  • We added 10 to 15 lights.
  • We added 3 fire alarms.

Essentially, we ripped the guts out of a 2100 square foot house with mostly original electrical and updated it to meet modern day living. About 90% of the knob and tube wiring was replaced. The entire job took four months to complete, but a lot of that time was "dead" time, where our electrician was waiting for our lights to come in or working on other jobs. I don't actually know how many man hours went into the job, but if I had to guess, I'd say four to six weeks of solid work was done. The job came in about five to ten percent over the bid, but we did deviate from the original bid.

Overall, I'm absolutely thrilled with the project and the work. The knob and tube wiring that is left is minimal and only connects to a few lights. It is in the ceiling of the ground floor, so the only way to replace it would be to rip out the ceiling, which just is not an option. So long as we keep low wattage bulbs in those fixtures (75 watts or less), they won't be a problem at all.

Bids we got for the job ran between $9,000 (plus extra for certain options) and $17,000. That doesn't include light fixtures (which can bankrupt you if want it to). Our cost came in much closer to the low end.

So now that this is done, we need to close out the project with the state by sending them photographs of the house and the work done and copies of the bills. Then we can start planning for this year's projects...

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Pneumonic Plague

Blech. Our youngest daughter has been sick for several days now with something like a cold. It's a chesty cough with a lot of phlegm.

I came down with something over the weekend. I'm not sure if it's from the youngest or from somebody at work (who was just diagnosed with pneumonia). I went home early yesterday.

Our eldest daughter is just now catching something. Ms. Huis is the only one who has been immune so far. Here' hoping she can stay healthy until I'm better.

I hate being sick.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Manneken Pis

Sunday was a great day. It was mid forties and it allowed us to finally chip away the inch plus of ice that coated the driveway and the sidewalk from the ice storm two or three weeks ago. It helped melt the last of the snow from the roof and it reduced significantly the size of the ice dams in the gutters. The leak in the dining room window reappeared, but I was expecting that and had containers ready. I was really pleased and hoping that things would melt and dry out.

And then about eight o'clock at night, the rain started. This had happened in the past, so I wandered into the basement to see if we had any leaks.

Going to the corner where it was the worst last time showed a spurt of water shooting across the room and onto the floor. It reminded me of Manneken Pis.

Forty gallons of water and two hours later, Ms. Huis and I moved everything up off of the floor and went to bed. We didn't know how long it was going to rain and couldn't stay up all night anyway. Monday morning showed some water in the basement. More than I wanted, but less than I feared. At least the basement floor got a good mopping with clean, soft rain water (which it desperately needed).

Here's hoping that we don't get anymore rain until after the snow has melted and the ground has thawed.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

I try to be wise in what I'm doing, to pay attention to what's happening, to plan ahead and foresee future needs. I try to hope for the best and plan for the worst, but like everybody else, I'm human.

Have you ever done something stupid that you regret? Like leaving the window open overnight, having the rain come in and ruin something. Or looking at a map while driving and accidentally running into something. Or having that one drink too many and doing something foolish. Something that you really should have known better, but you had a momentary lapse of reason (to paraphrase a Pink Floyd song).

In the midst of dealing with our boiler and our radiator pipes, we had several days where only certain radiators were warming up, so I took the time to really learn the pipes of the house; which ones were the hot ones, which ones were the cold ones, where the shut off valves, where the pressure tank was, where the spigot to drain the lines was, etc. In the course of this, I saw one long run of copper pipes that fed only the sun room.

The sun room sits away from the house and is glass on three sides. The glass windows are the vintage 1921 windows, which means that they are horribly inefficient. There is no basement under the sun room. It sits above a shallow foundation and has a tile floor that is always cold. The sun room is on its own radiator heating zone, with a separate thermostat. The coldest the thermostat goes is 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The thermostat does not have an off setting.

The sun room could be a four season porch, as it has baseboard radiators throughout. Heating that little room though would be expensive, so I traced the pipes back to the shut off valves and shut off the water to the sun room radiators. This had the other advantage of making it easier to troubleshoot the radiators in the main part of the house that weren't warming up.

This weekend I went into the sun room for the first time in several weeks and noticed that the water in the radiators froze and burst some of them. I should have known this was going to happen (water + cold weather + pipes = burst pipes. Duh!) The worst part is that my desire to save us a few bucks is going to cost us a lot more money to get the radiators repaired. I don't know yet what the cost will be, but what a bummer.