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...