Saturday, December 15, 2007

Kitchen Design and Flow

I'm putting together the cabinet and floor plan for the kitchen remodel. The only real constraint I have is the window on the north wall. The sink will remain in that location.

Obviously the dishwasher should be near the sink, and I want counter tops available on either side of the stove.

Currently, the cabinets on the sink-side of the kitchen are in this arrangement, although there is no dishwasher. On the stove-side of the kitchen everything is currently reversed (the fridge is closest to the living room, which blocks some of the flow visually into the kitchen).

The table is not drawn to scale, so I'm not worried about the flow around it.

The green outline represents the counter top - solid surface or granite. Red outlines are lower cabinets, and blue outlines are upper cabinets.

I have considered having the dishwasher to the left of the sink, but I think it'll work better here, even though it means longer supply & discharge line runs.

Depending on how tired I am as this project progresses, I'll probably open up the wall leading into the family room by about 12". This will mean moving the electrical switches too, which I really don't want to do, but it'll really open up the room a lot.

There are currently soffets above the upper cabinets. I'd love to remove them and installer taller upper cabinets, but this could create a whole mess of extra work that I really don't want/need right now.

To all you professional designers and those who have been there before, am I missing anything which would improve the flow of the kitchen?

A Fireplace Built for a Man

I was going through a bunch of pictures I have and ran across some pictures of a fireplace that any red-blooded guy would like in his living room. Hate chopping wood for the fire? No problem, you can burn logs the size of a Toyota in here! For a size reference I've included daddy's little tax-deductions. If I stuck my head up into the flue I could stand upright in there at 6'3.

Can anybody* identify this fireplace or name where it is? I'll give you a hint - there is public parking right outside this building, although your car or truck is not welcome within a mile of the place.

* My brother should know where this is, so he's not allowed to chime in.

Walk up a flight of stairs and you get a good view of the building. A lot of stones went into building this place!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Blurring the Line Between a Fake Fireplace and a Real Fire

I've complained about the crappy old fake "fireplace" in my house before. It's old. It's fake. In general, it sucks large quantities of ass.

I now know it's also a fire hazard and was installed by a previous owner who should NEVER have been allowed near anything electrical.

Yesterday I smelled what I assumed was a hair burning on the heating element of the "fireplace". It stunk, so I turned the fireplace off. This piece-o-crap is (was), unfortunately, a major source of heat for the family room, so I knew I'd have to finish burning whatever was stinking sooner or later.

Today was the day. It's in the low 20's outside, so this room is too cool for my comfort - about 65 degrees when the rest of the house is 70-71.

I get back from work and crank the thermostat up, wanting to make the stink before the kids get home so I could blame it on the dog. Don't judge me.

About 30 seconds into the burn I hear a fizzle (cue Snoop Dog) and see copious amounts of smoke coming from what is normally a fake fire. Not a good sign.

Until this time, I didn't know if this smoking pile of crap "fireplace" was hard-wired or plugged in. Deciding that having my house burn down would not be the best way to start the weekend, I grabbed the plastic "logs" and turned the whole cheap-ass "fire" sideways and notice that there is no fire, but plenty of smoke coming from the heating coil.

That calms me down a little, as "smoke without fire" is better than "fire with urine soaked pants".

I find that the base the "logs" are sitting on is hinged, so I remove the "logs" and find that there is a 220 volt plug underneath. The "logs" were then unplugged and the whole assembly was removed so I can let it cool down before throwing it into the garbage.

With the crappy fake "fire" (and real smoke) removed I noticed a few things. First, the flooring in this room was crappy brown tile - probably asbestos. Crappy brown carpet over the top of crappy brown tile is actually a step up in a couple of ways. I've also noticed at least part of the reason this room has been so cold. This "fireplace" has been constructed directly over the top of one of the heating vents, meaning that this vent was blocked and useless. Useless like a book showing proper electrical work in the hands of the previous owner, but I digress.

Here we have what should be outlawed in all 50 states plus Canada (Mexico, you're on your own). This rolling drum simulates fire in the same way a Yugo simulates a luxury car. The smoke was coming from years of gunk built up on the electronics caged in on the left.

Wiring done to code? Not for me, thanks. Buried deep inside the base of this crap-tastic "fireplace" is a 220 volt outlet to power this garbage. At least I assume it's 220 volt. It's a 220 volt plug and 220 volt receptacle, but I've learned not to trust that things in this house were done correctly. I will not be surprised at all to find out that it's actually wired as 110 volt. Notice how the receptacle is cocked to the side? It's just laying there, not firmly attached to anything. Nice job, previous owner.

With all of the crap out of the way for only 30 minutes, this heating vent has already raised the temp in the room by a few degrees. I had been planning to add some baseboard heat, but now may not have to. If I need to, I've at least got the wiring already in place. Assuming it's actually 220 volt. Gee, what are the odds...

This cage is what was used "back in the day" to hold smoke in. Over time, smoke gets smarter and unless you're careful, it finds a way to get out. In the wild, smoke is allowed to run free. I prefer free-range smoke, but I'm all about conservation of the species.

Instead of using a baseboard heater, we are also considering installing a fireplace which uses real fire to heat the room and part of the house. A pellet heater would be nice, but I need to look into it to see if they look authentic enough. Last thing I want to do is remove old crap only to replace it with new crap.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Kitchen Electrical Upgrades

In my last post I mentioned that my kitchen will (hopefully) soon be getting updated. One thing which I didn't mention but that should be part of any kitchen update is the electrical service.

One side of our kitchen has an outlet to the left and one to the right of the sink. On the other side of the kitchen there is only one outlet hidden behind the microwave. The microwave and refrigerator take up the only plugs on that side of the kitchen.

None of these outlets are GFCI and one plug has an open ground - not the best idea around a sink...

As part of the kitchen update all outlets will be tied through Ground Fault outlets, and will also be on new circuit breakers. God knows how the previous owners had this place wired.

New outlets will also be added so that every part of the counter-top has electrical service to it without use of extension cords or running cords over the stove.

A feature we had at the previous house which we really liked was an electrical outlet at the end of the "L" on the counter. That's in the plans for the kitchen re-do as well.

I had also installed some under cabinet lighting at the previous house which I plan to do again at this house. This time I'll need to get a little more creative in wiring, as I want to get both sides of the kitchen wired on one switch for the little puck-lights which will light up the counter top.

It's details like this which you really need to pay attention to if you're going to do the work yourself, like I am. I don't want to get all the cabinets installed before remembering that I need to run some wire or change plumbing.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Kitchen Design, and the Spinning Auger of Death

If all goes as planned, we'll be able to order our new kitchen cabinets either in late December or early January. New countertops will be done as well (look at the following pictures and see if you can tell why...).

We're still arguing about granite tile or solid surface. We both like the look of granite more than solid surface, but I'm the one who has to do the installation work and I'm the cook and I really like how solid surface compares when it comes to cleaning, staining, and durability. It's just damn hard to get past how much we like the look of granite.

To make it an even tougher decision, the company Mrs. Muskego Jeff and I work for manufactures solid surface countertops so I can probably get a killer deal compared to what all of you looky-loo's out there can get. Decisions, decisions.

Here's what I've got to start with: a pretty much original 1960's kitchen. No dishwasher, no disposal, but plenty of storage and a metric boatload of ugly. Take special notice of the aquarium in the picture. Notice the nasty looking water? I changed it yesterday - that's the rust in our water. Before starting the kitchen remodel I really need to get an iron filter installed, otherwise all our new appliances are going to look like crap in a matter of months.

We like the layout of this side of the kitchen, so we'll only tweak it a bit. The counter along the wall will be longer by about a foot and the portion which branches off at 90 degrees will be smaller, opening up the path through the kitchen a bit. It'll also house the dishwasher, unless we decide to put that to the left of the sink. I'm still working out the layout in my head and on paper. To the left of the sink would probably be best since it wouldn't block access to the sink, but having it to the left of the sink really limits the stock cabinet sizes available to make it all fit properly.

This side of the kitchen really makes me scratch my head (I'm pretty sure it's not lice this time). It looks like the installer was drunk when this was done. Notice the range hood in relation to the stove. It's not an optical illusion or perspective issue - the hood is about 4" shifted to the right of the stove. Not only that, but just to the left of the microwave is the fridge. The fridge should line up with the upper cabinet, but I have 6" of space there instead. Either the upper cabinets on either side of the range hood were too narrow or the lower cabinets on either side of the stove were too big. Either way, they all match, so I'm guessing that somewhere along the line the previous owners decided they needed more room and installed the same style lower cabinets, but in a slightly wider size. This pushed the fridge over 6" to the left.

Yes, that's bacon in the pan and Mountain Dew on the counter top. The crescent rolls are in the oven and I hadn't started the eggs yet. I cook, clean, renovate, help the kids with their homework, and hold down a good job. Wow my wife got lucky. I'd be all over me if I weren't straight.

Speaking of the Mrs., she read my last post and asked what the hell I was talking about with reference to the snowblower being "single stage". Since you bastards in warm climates probably don't know either, allow me to educate you in the ways of your stupid cousins to the north.

A "single stage" snowblower has what I like to call a "spinning auger of death" on the front (see picture). This sucker spins at a high speed, and the slope of the blades pulls snow into the middle where it is then thrown out the discharge chute (that sounds dirty) at a high rate of speed.

When it's spinning at full speed it's completely freakin' deadly. Picture a 250 pound food processor with no safety protection powered by a gas engine. A neighbor at our previous house lost 1-1/2 fingers trying to clear stuck snow out of his snowblower. He forgot about this little tip: "turn the fvcker off before sticking your hand anywhere near the auger."

There is another type of snowblower which is a lot more common now: a 2-stage snowblower. The main auger runs at a much slower speed, and is designed to pull the snow into a second auger which is running at a high rate of speed. This second auger is located inside and out of the way, so it's "safer". I've never used one, and based on how this tank runs I may never get a chance to.

I noticed that this snowblower has never been too far from home. It was made in Racine (just south of Milwaukee) by Jacobsen. It started it's life around Janesville (south-west of Milwaukee ), and then moved to Whitewater (west of Milwaukee) and then to Milwaukee County. Now it's just west of Milwaukee again. Always less than 100 miles from where it was born.

I couldn't decipher the year the snowblower itself was made from the serial number, but. . .

. . .the ID plate on the engine leads me to believe that the engine was made in either 1972 or 1975. This sucker is almost as old as me, and probably older than most of the people who actually made it this far through the post.

The engine was also made in Wisconsin. Just like me this snowblower is probably stuck here for life.

According to Tecumseh, "lubrication" is important. Words to live by, kids.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Removing Snow, the Old-School Way

How many times have you wanted some shiny new tool or other equipment but just couldn't justify the price? That's what I'm dealing with when it comes to my snowblower. I have no idea how old it is, but I wouldn't be surprised if it were over 30 years old. The last time I had it tuned up (10 years ago) the dealer said if it needed parts that I'd be out of luck. Luckily, none were needed.

This thing is big and heavy, and since it's a single-stage blower it can just about destroy anything which hits the blades when they're spinning. I wonder if I can get the cat outside and make it look like an accident... It's old-school snow-blowing at it's finest. If I remember correctly, it belonged to my step-grandmother who gave it to my dad, who eventually gave it to me. I've had it for around 10 years now.

As long as it continues to run I can't justify spending $500 on a new snowblower. Yeah, a new one would be nice and would throw snow farther, but this bastard just keeps chugging along.

Since that last tune up, it always starts on the second pull. Always. Until today, when I break it out to prepare for the first real snow of the year. I figure I'm ahead of the game by getting started on it as the snow just starts to fall. It's always started, why would today be any different?

Hello, Murphy. I see you brought your Laws with you today.

Yup, it doesn't start. I drain the gas and put in fresh gas. No dice. I pull the carb shield and spray in some starter fluid. Nothing. I pull the plug and find it's got spark, but it's weak and the plug is covered in gas and soot.

Before going to get a new plug I consider that it could be some debris in the bowl of the carb, so I start to unscrew what I assumed was the float bowl's mounting screw. It's actually the carb's needle - I've never seen that kind of setup before. No biggie, it screws right back in place, and I leave the bowl alone.

Off to the local ACE to get a replacement plug and to let my shoulder rest from pulling on the starter for 15 minutes. It had electric start about 20 years ago, but that starter died and could not be fixed.

I drop in the new plug and it fires right up like there was never a problem. It's running a little rough though, and not reaching full RPMs (as determined by my calibrated ear). Either way it still works and I remove the few inches of snow from the drive. I hoped the way it was running was from some remaining old gas, but then I remembered that I probably changed the setting on the carb's needle as I was screwing around looking for the problem. With the throttle set to full speed, I gave the needle a few turns and it's back to running like a raped ape. It actually seems to be running better now than it had for the past few years.

Damn, no new snowblower for me. The driveway is big - two cars wide and at least 3-1/2 cars long. 15 minutes of work now.

Happiness is a Tecumseh engine, blaze orange paint, and surface rust.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Let There be ROCK!

Back in my college days, I used to play a lot of music in the apartment. A lot of loud music. Extremely loud, to the point where I was threatened with a call to the police if I didn't knock it off. Point taken, no need to involve the po-po.

The stereo I had set up was quite capable of causing conversations that went something like this:

Me: "Hey, give me a beer!"

Other Person: yelling "What?"

Me: yelling "Give me a beer!"

OP: yelling "What?"

Me: pointing to fridge "Give me a fvcking beer!"

OP: yelling "What?"

Me: yelling "Your mom really needs to shave her back, now give me a beer!"

OP: yelling "What?"

Me: yelling "Is that your sister? She's hot! Can I have her number?"

OP: yelling "What?"

And on and on. The volume was either low or blaring, usually blaring. That's what college is all about. I listen to a lot of different music, from rock & metal to classical & punk. I really can't stand country, except for Johnny Cash, but that's a whole different story. One of my roommates at the time loved Jimmy Buffet, and more often than not when I returned from class he had Cheeseburger in Paradise or some other song I now can't stand playing. God, how I hate Jimmy Buffet now. I didn't mind him at first, but the same stuff over and over from a roommate I also began to hate with a passion has a way of doing that to a guy.

To get to the point, I finally hooked up the speakers after about 15 years and discovered that they are still capable of being waaaaay too loud. They're the size of furniture, each weigh a good hundred pounds, and still pound out the bass. They'll go great in what will eventually become the TV/family room. After I get around to renovating it that is.

What I really like is how technology has changed since I last used the speakers. Back then, I had the receiver/amp, a CD player, tape player, and equalizer all hooked up into it, and had a couple of huge racks of CDs taking up floor space. Now it's just the receiver/amp and the iPod. All the CDs are in storage, the tapes are long gone, and everything is nice and neat. The equalizer may still be used in the future, but I'm not going to bother with that until I have the room done.

So here's to you, engineers responsible for designing the Cerwin Vega D-9 Loud Speaker! I raise a glass of Mountain Dew to you.

(the picture is from shortly after we moved, with these tanks stacked in the garage)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Come on Baby Light my Fire

Aaaah, if only it were a real fireplace... (notice the glow of the yuletide light bulb behind the plastic logs)

I still can't wait till I get to tear this crappy fake fireplace out. We've been using this 2nd family room as a work and storage room since we moved in, but with Christmas coming we need to make room in the main family room for the tree. Extra furniture and the computer can go in this room for a while. Before that happens, there is a LOT of cleaning to do - all the tools, boxes, new appliances, etc need to be moved around for room. Lots of fun . . .

This is also the room where the Great Mouse Eradication of '07 is taking place. My fear is that now that we've moved so much stuff around, that they'll go elsewhere. To help keep the odds in my favor I finally picked up the Victor snap-traps - 8 of 'em. 4 in this room, 4 in the basement ('cause I think they might be coming in there and then migrating upstairs), 2 in the garage, and 1 on the stairs. Yeah, I know that adds up to more than 8. Included in the counts are the crappy traps I've been using plus one covered trap for the stairs that the cat probably won't get caught in (and oh, I'd feel so bad if that were to happen...).

I've also looked at the TomCat traps in a little more detail and think I understand why they don't kill the mice quickly.

When the mouse trips the trap the jaws close quickly, but don't gain enough momentum and don't have a strong enough "snap" to really feed the mouse a cup of hot death. The Victor traps, on the other hand, use a thin metal bar which travels 180 degrees, allowing it to gain some good momentum. Plus, that bar is a lot thinner than the "jaws" of the TomCat trap meaning a more localized impact on the mouse. For a comparison, hit your hand with a rubber mallet and then with a regular hammer. Which hurts more? The smaller face of the hammer.

To test my theory (and look like either an idiot or a God to my kids), I put my finger in each trap. By far, the Victor trap scared me more before the experiment and did hurt a lot more. The TomCat didn't hurt at all, while the Victor trap hurt like hell.

Get ready mice, I'm bringin' the pain!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Tunnel Vision

There is more to life than killing mice. I've actually been doing a little extra work here and there to finish up some of the projects already started.

Trim was finished around the front door, garage was cleaned out, basement organized (a little), etc. Just nothing that really resembles a "project".

I still have a few outdoor projects to finish before winter really hits. Mulching the last of the leaves which finally fell, brining in the hoses, cleaning out the gutters. You know, fun stuff like that.

Oh, and Happy Birthday to my brother "Smudgemo". Here's your cake! Sorry it's late, blame dad.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Freddie Mercury? Two Minutes Till Showtime, Sir.

Ba da bup, bup, bup, another one bites the dust!

I wish I could say the mice are dropping like flies, but with only two dead varmint under my belt, I'm far from being the "Great White Hunter". And no, I don't really keep the dead ones under my belt. I keep 'em under my pillow like any normal person would.

I'll put some of the blame on the traps. I've had no "real" success with the sticky-traps, although they've been a lot of fun for me to play with. Stick finger to pad, pull finger off pad and giggle at how sticky it is. Repeat.

The snap-traps I got are the TomCat line.

They kind of suck - in a bad way. Too many times I've checked the traps only to find them empty of peanut butter. They're super-easy to set, but require too much weight to set 'em off. I did find that if I stick the peanut butter WAY onto the back of the trap's lever and on the main spring that it forces the moue to really get far into the trap which hopefully increases my KPD ratio. That's "kills-per-day", for those of you who don't read Mouse Killer's Digest (honest, I buy it for the articles!). It's in all the finer book stores and WalMarts.

If (when) I find one more trap licked clean I'm going back to the hardware store to get some good ol' fashioned wood base spring-traps-of-death. Trickier to set, but it's hard to beat how well they work.

Maybe I should try some cheese in the traps. I haven't seen this brand before, wonder if it's good...

Somebody with lots of expensive tools has too much time on his hands.

Score! One more mouse and one pilfered trap. I'm still making the call Jeff 3, Mice 0 (Since I'm not dead. Yet.)

Overnight, one more mouse. It's a blood-bath! Well, not really. And those traps really suck worse than I expected. I was hoping the first mouse was just a mutant, but all three mice I've got so far survived the trap and had to be taken for a swim to finish 'em off. I've never had to do that with the old Victor board traps. I'm going to get a couple today before the Packer game:

Not because I feel bad for the mice, but because I don't want mice paralyzed from the waste down crawling around the house demanding better parking spots. Jeff 4, Mice 0.

Cue the Count from Sesame Street: 1 dead mouse! 2 dead mice! 3 dead mice, hahahahaha! 4 dead mice! 5! 5 dead mice! Let me count them again!

I also had a neighbor e-mail me this f'd up little gem of a picture:

Awwww yeah, shake that tail if you want me to call you again!

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Mouse Went Out Fighting

Hopefully it's the only mouse, 'cause if it isn't, the other ones are smarter and I'm in trouble. It actually took two traps to catch this first one.

I wasn't sure if the sticky-traps would work, so I put a snap-trap right next to the sticky one in an area I was reasonably certain was in the mouse's regular path.

This morning, success! And confusion, since the mouse was caught in both the sticky and the snap traps. Front-half sticky, back-half snap. I don't know if it was just running past the snap and got caught or what exactly happened, but I chalk this one up as a Win for me!

So far, no signs of other mice.

The following bit of brilliance was stolen from "The House and I" blog, obviously proving that I'm not the only one with too much free time. I'm almost tempted to use this as my new screen background.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Stupid Mice, 1. More Stupider Jeff, 0.

Now they're just screwing with me. I checked the traps and found the furry little bastards took my peanut butter bait from one of the snap traps. Last I checked, I am still not running a bed & breakfast for rodents!

Based on comments from my previous post about the mouse (mice?) in my house I was going to be civil and put some food on the sticky-trap, along with a Sudoku puzzle to keep 'em fed and entertained while waiting for the hammer. Now I'm just going to use a bigger hammer.

They keep this up and I'm going to re-watch the end of Fargo to get some more ideas on how to best handle this little problem.

Don't make me go all Peter Stormare / Steve Buscemi on your asses, mice! (Fargo reference)

If it makes you feel better, pretend I'm talking about this Hammer:

Are These Freakin' Leaves Glued On?

Alright, it's almost the middle of November and I still have trees which haven't dropped even close to all of their leaves.

At this rate I'll be raking leaves in December.

This tree is still changing colors!

If it doesn't get with the program and drop the leaves this week I'll consider removing them by force. Mr Maple Tree, meet Mr Chainsaw. Unfortunately, this tree is all that blocks our house from cars which could otherwise run directly from the adjacent street straight into our house. I was told that a few years ago the FedEx guy came close to it due to icy roads, and that the previous owners of the house were paid well for the "damage" to the lawn.

Monday, November 12, 2007

I Hates Meeces to Pieces

Stupid little mouse, running through my peripheral vision. That's the first and last time you make that mistake.

A quick trip to Menards and I'm ready for you and your varmint friends. I got sticky-traps, snap-traps, and poison. I'm going to kill all you little fvckers one way or another!

We'll see if those sticky-traps are worth their salt, I've never tried them. One thing I know I didn't want is to put a snap-trap on the stovetop, so I put a sticky-trap up there to see if my hunch is correct, that they're getting up there. I'm actually looking forward to waking up early tomorrow to check out the traps. I'm hoping to see some carnage!

Snap-traps are going inside some of the base cabinets and other out of the way areas. At least out of the way enough to make it look like an accident when the cat finds one... (my wife doesn't read this, I'm safe)

The poison is going in the garage, and I'll probably put some stick-traps around the car as well. It won't see any road time once the weather gets bad enough and I don't want those furry little bastards chewing through the top or in some other way wrecking the car.

Updates as warranted... I think a body-count is in order.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Giving Thanks Where Thanks are Due

A quick Thank You to all past, present, and future members of our Armed Services and their families.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Water, Water, Everywhere, and None is Fit to Drink

So I'm being all domestic and crap yesterday doing a couple loads of laundry and some dishes. All is going as well as can be expected, what with doing dishes and laundry, until I head downstairs to move the laundry to the dryer. As I round the corner I notice water on the floor around the floor drain. Hey, that's not supposed to be there! I figure it was just a burp in the line and think little more of it after I cleaned it up and mopped around the drain with bleach (I do not want to know what was in the drain). In goes another load of laundry and back to the dishes and other misc work. I come back down in a half hour and find even more water on the floor than the last time! SHIT! I did what little I could to find out what's blocking the line, but I know I don't have the tools or expertise to fix this. I have to call an expert.

Not knowing what it'll take to overflow the line and not wanting to risk a cesspool swimming pool in the basement, I look for a way to block the drain. My rationale tells me that if the floor drain is blocked, the water in the drain would need to back up far enough to start filling the laundry tub. Much better option than having the whole floor covered. I don't have anything to plug the drain, so I go to Plan B. I pulled an extra toilet wax-ring off the shelf of renovation supplies and seat it over the floor drain. On top of that goes a 5 gallon bucket filled with water. It sealed nicely and kept any extra moisture under ground where it belongs. That was all yesterday.

Today, I call a local plumber figuring I might as well keep the money local if possible. They say they'll have somebody over between 3:00 and 5:00. The guy was right on time (actually 5 minutes early at 2:55) and got to work. First, a 50' power-snake was sent down through the floor drain. From what we could tell, it looked like the blockage was under the foundation of the house and would probably come out easily. He was running water through the drain the whole time to make sure it flushed through, and eventually that water started backing up. The blockage was farther down the line towards the street. He moved the snake to the cleanout closest to the road, about 20' closer than he was previously, and ran it through again. No dice, it's still blocked. Out comes the big gun, a 100' power snake with a rotating blade which will cut through roots, turds, or whatever it hits. It takes him almost all 100', but he finally hits the blockage and everything suddenly flushes through. This evil-looking tool scrapes the whole pipe clean of build-up, so we should be good for many more nights of Mexican food.

Total cost: $145.00 to keep the pipes flowing. Not bad, considering I was going to run a 30' snake through it to see if I could find the blockage. Looking back, that wouldn't have done jack squat, so it's $145.00 well spent.

I had another guy from the same company come out an hour later to test our water (the first guy only snakes drains, the second guy does the "less crappy" work. I wanted to get an estimate on replacing the water softener with one made since the Kennedy Administration, and also wanted to get a price on an iron filter and water heater replacement. I could probably do all this install work myself, but that'd be a LOT of plumbing work and I don't think I want to load my plate that much right now. In round numbers, it'll run $1,000 for a new larger water softener (the water measured 25 grains directly from the well) and $1,750 for the iron filter. He said our water only measures 1 ppm of iron which he said is pretty low, but he's either wrong or the iron was hiding, 'cause we got waaaay to freakin' much iron in the water. Add to this another $200 to upgrade our existing supply lines to 1". That should help provide a more consistent pressure, which would be nice. Nothing says fun like somebody flushing a toilet while you're in the shower and having the pressure drop to next to nothing...

I had him quote me a replacement water heater as well, something which I have planned to do myself. There's another $1,000 which includes a slightly larger gas water heater and fixing the code "issues" for the current gas supply line. On top of that, I'll either need to spend $400 to put a chimney liner in (the furnace doesn't use the chimney anymore, and there isn't enough heat from the water heater to burn out the winter moisture - not a good thing for the chimney) or spend that $400 to convert the new gas water heater to a power vent model which would vent out the side of the house. Probably better to go with the power vent, even though it'll mean a little more electrical work for me. That way I could tear the chimney down and patch the roof to hide the fact that there ever was one. That would also eliminate a very likely place for the roof to leak. No matter how I slice it, to fully upgrade the water system in the house it'll cost me just over $4,000. We'll see what happens, stay tuned.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Our Family is Growing

It's been a few weeks since my last post, but I've actually been working on the house. Honest I have! I've actually been tackling some large clean-up jobs making room for a new member of the family which we hope to have join us this weekend. So much to do - moving boxes downstairs, and getting rid of stuff we don't need in the process. It's a huge undertaking since we never fully unpacked all the boxes since we moved in. Baby needs a place to sleep, afterall. Can't quite bring myself to leave her out in the cold rain! We're going to need a lot of room, because Baby is pretty good size. Almost 18' long and around 3,800 pounds.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

More Electrical "Fun"

It's Sunday morning and I've been awake since 5:30. Once my brain slips into gear in the morning, there is no going back to sleep for me. To avoid waking anybody else up I decided to spend some quality time in the basement doing some more electrical work. The main task was to replace the old worn-out outlet which the washer & dryer plug into. I assume it was original to the house. It was worn to the point where the plugs wiggle easily and could fall out - an easy problem to fix with a new $.79 outlet. It was mounted in a shallow double-gang metal box with metal lid - nothing out of the ordinary. I trip the breaker and check to make sure there is no power before I start this time. The circuit tester confirms the outlet is dead, so I start to remove the two screws holding the cover plate in place. First one is fine, but the second screw is a fucking wood screw. Yeah, a screw with a sharp point and sharp coarse threads is the perfect choice for electrical work, especially if you want to pierce the wire's jacket and short the whole damn thing out.

In the conduit and box are two red and one white. The red are hot lines and the white is the neutral. The washer/dryer are on their own circuit which is exactly what I wanted to see - that accounts for one of the red/hot lines and the white/neutral. The white/neutral runs from the fusebox to this outlet where it then follows the other red/hot. Basically, I've got one neutral for two circuits. As I posted yesterday, I'm not an electrician and don't know if this is common or not, but the plug I'm replacing is less than 5 feet from the fusebox. Just run the neutral the full length with the fucking hot you moron! Why tie it into an outlet and create another splice in the process? Since there is another hot in the conduit, I kill that line at the breaker before I switch out the outlet since both circuits share a neutral and I really don't want to wake up the family by screaming like a girl and pissing my pants while I get electrocuted.

So getting back to how it's laid out, the washer/dryer are good to go with a new outlet. The wood screw has f'd up the screw hole on the box, so I either have to replace the box or make it safer. "Safer" it is since I don't want to have to re-wire the whole thing. I blunted the point on the screw and pushed all the wires to the other side of the box. It's a double-gang box with a single outlet, so there is plenty of room. The cover is replaced and all is well.

Oh, did I mention that the other red/hot wire supplies power for the lights in the laundry area, the water softener, the sump pump, and the furnace? Not to mention an extra pair of outlets which aren't in use right now because they are old-school ungrounded outlets. Whoever the genius is that did this deserves a punch in the throat. When we replace the service panel and upgrade to 200 Amp I'm moving the furnace to it's own circuit and doing the same with the sump pump.

Update from yesterday's rant: Here's a picture of that cool (crappy) light I removed which was hard-wired and had the electrical box secured only to the fixture and not to a stud. I'm 95% sure it was originally a light over a pool table, and I'm 100% sure the installation sucked copious amounts of ass.

This joke of a wiring job is how the P.O. connected an electric stove when the place originally was set up for gas. I don't know what else is run inside the line supplying the stove, but the conduit runs towards the far end of the house where there is a fake fire-place with heat-o-lator (which will be removed with extreme-prejudice in the near future). Let's see just how fucked up this is... The power cord is hard-wired into this box, which is mounted in a half-ass manner to the double-gang box. The other end of the plug is hard-wired to the stove. The end in this picture used to be the plug, which would allow you to unplug the stove to move it. That wouldn't work here, because the plug won't fit through the hole in the floor which used to be for the gas supply. Basically, the stove isn't going anywhere without tripping the breaker and unhooking the wires at one end or the other. I guarantee this is not up to code without even looking it up. Oh, did I mention that where the plug goes through the box was just wrapped with electrical tape instead of something a little more safe? Yeah, that tape is good for 50+ years of protection from chafing of the wire. Jackass... The most worrisome item for me is that if there is a big water spill in the kitchen and the water gets behind the stove, it's going to go right through the hole and follow the wires down to the box. There isn't enough of a drip-loop in the wire to keep it from shorting out. Somehow the city electrical inspector didn't notice this although my home-inspector got a laugh out of it. Since we're changing back to gas, I didn't make the P.O. pay to fix it. Assuming it was her husband who did it and he's long since dead I didn't see any reason in letting her know how lucky she is that he didn't burn the place down. Damn I'm a nice guy.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Our House's Previous Owner was NOT an Electrician

Preliminary note: if you're not sure about a circuit, be safe and turn off power by tripping the breaker.

I'm not an electrician either, but I do know how to do things in a manner which won't kill me or the next guy. The P.O. in our case wasn't an electrician, and he sure as hell didn't know how to do electrical work properly (my first clue was the half-ass wiring for the ceiling fan/light in the kitchen). This time, it's the basement wiring which was added at least 20 years ago to provide additional light to the basement, back when they used to have a bar down there. It was done with a combination of rigid and flexible conduit, and on the surface it looked OK - no visible wires, conduit clamped to the plug boxes, etc. Both lights I was changing out were old, crappy, and hardwired so they needed to be removed and replaced with grounded outlets so I could plug in some generic fluorescent tube fixtures. The basement is only used for storage and laundry, so fluorescent tubes are good enough for now.

Once I started taking things apart is when I found what kind of half-ass job was done. Typically on a switched outlet, if you flip the switch to the "off" position it breaks the circuit's black/hot wire and the fixture is dead because power can't get to the fixture. I'll usually work down-stream from the switch like this in relative safety (I'm dealing mainly with very simple circuits in this case, and if I'm in doubt or if I'm replacing the switch itself I kill power at the breaker). In this case, the P.O. put the switch controlling the light on the white/neutral line instead of the black/hot, so even with the switch off live power was still going to the crappy old hardwired light I was removing. Normally this is easily found ahead of time, but the light fixture I was removing was a 1' x 2' pool table light which was screwed directly to the floor joists with an electrical box screwed to it's top. I removed the screws holding the light to the joists and as I was lowering the light I decided to pull the circuit tester from my back pocket to check things out, since I didn't know what was hiding in the conduit (my circuit tester doesn't read power if the wires are in the conduit - it only registers power when the wires are exposed). Lucky for me I did check it before starting to remove the electrical box screwed to the light and found out it was live, or I could have easily become the circuit's ground. To make it more fun, the P.O. did a crappy job using flexible conduit for this run. There was not a solid ground from the flexible conduit to the electrical box, so he wrapped a length of copper wire around the conduit and ran it through the screw holes on the box. Yeah, that'll work.

The last fcuk-up in wiring by the P.O. was that he used way too much flexible conduit. I've got about 2' too much line flopping around between the open studs. Oh yeah, it's not secured to the studs either, or I wouldn't care quite as much about having too much conduit. Tomorrow I'll have to stop out and get some clamps to secure the conduit to the studs.

Holy Half-Ass Wiring Job, Batman!

Long story short, I killed power at the breaker and replaced the old switch and re-wired the circuit so that power is cut on the black/hot instead of the white/neutral. The fixture was replaced with a new single-gang box and grounded plug, properly set up to connect to the flexible conduit. As much excess conduit as possible was removed from the line to clean things up. I went from having three small light fixtures in the basement to having five generic shop-type dual-bulb fluorescent tubes. Now that I've got good lighting I have noticed a number of other "interesting" electrical adventures in my future. Since the old bar was ripped out long ago I am guessing a number of the old circuits down there could be removed to clean things up a bit. I haven't checked code, but I would think that the water pump should be on a dedicated circuit and not have three other outlets on the line with it...

The funny thing is that our house passed an electrical inspection done by the city before we could take ownership. These problems weren't super obvious (like the hardwired 220 line for the stove done in an even more half-ass manner - more on that when I get to that part of the kitchen renovation) but should have been noticed if they were serious about the inspection.

Moral of the story: just because the P.O.'s work looks OK, don't trust it until you check it yourself. You're P.O. might have flunked Electrical 101.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Kitchen Wiring

I've been lazy for the last week and haven't replaced the old switches and outlets. Until today. I scraped a dozen old layers of paint off the screws and removed the switches from the boxes. One thing which has bugged me since we moved in is that the previous owners did a little custom wiring of their own. When you walk into the kitchen, the light over the table should be able to be turned on from the hallway entrance or the back door. However, after the house was built a ceiling fan with light was added and they decided to f' up the wiring so they could have one switch for the light and one for the fan. The problem? One switch was at the hallway and the other switch at the back door. These used to be 3-way switches and now they're 2-way. At the hallway, they just removed the third wire. They did have sense enough to wrap the cut wire with electrical tape at least. Note all the grunge on the switches - yum!

At the back door I have no idea what they did, as the wires aren't marked and there is no obviously disconnected wire(s). I'll need to pull the ceiling fan from the ceiling to see what kind of mess I've got there, and once that is done I should be able to get things back in order. We're removing the fan from over the table and will go with a regular light fixture on 3-way switches. The switches here (and in most of the house) are wired utilizing those damn push-in connections. Half of them are loose enough to slide a bit as I pull the switches from the boxes. They're easy and fast, but I don't trust them.

Here's one thing I don't trust about them. One switch had some electrical tape wrapped around one side. At first, I thought it was to cover a side terminal - it wasn't. As I peeled the tape off, a chunk of the old switch came off with it. Yay for quality original switches!

Am I the only one who installs all new cover plates with the screws all lined up vertically? It may be over-the-top when it comes to worrying about detail, but I think it makes it look more professional. I have no life....

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Cleaning Product Round-Up

I'm home sick today. Not because I feel like death-warmed-over, but because I have to interact with a lot of people during the day and don't want to take the blame for getting my co-workers sick. I've got plenty of sick-days left for the year, so I may as well relax at home. Well, there isn't much relaxing since I can't just sit around. I took a drive to Menards to get a spare filter cartridge for the water filter and figured since I'm there, I might as well grab some more cleaners. All the stuff we used to use at our old house is useless here, due to the iron/rust in our water, so when we find something which works we stock up.

My definition of a "successful" cleaner is one which works with minimal scrubbing. Why work harder than we have to?? I've previously posted about my love for Super Iron Out, and since that time we've found a couple of other cleaners which also work wonders with our crappy water. Summit Brands is first on my Christmas list this year. I loved how fast and easy Super Iron Out works, so when I saw Instant Rust Out from the same company I figured it was a safe bet for $2.00. I tried it in the two worst areas for rust - under the toilet rim and in the bathtub. The rust in the tub dissolved quickly and with no scrubbing so I gave it a shot on the toilet. The problem we've had in cleaning the toilets is that the rust is up under the rim where it's hard to get cleaners on it long enough for them to work. The Instant Iron Out spray bottle is small enough to fit into the toilet far enough to spray on the rust. 20 seconds later and the rust is almost completely gone. No scrubbing or other effort other than applying a second spray to finish the job. This stuff is cheap and easy (like me) and works great.

I also tried Lime Out Extra from Summit Brands, but since we didn't have much of a problem with lime it wasn't too successful for us. It did seem to put a big dent in the toilet rim rust, but not without a lot of scrubbing and re-applying. I won't bother buying this one again. I would like to try their White Brite if I find it locally and I assume it works like Super Iron Out on laundry. One of the larger Super Iron Out bottles I bought a month ago came with their toilet tank tablet. I tried it and it seems to slow down the rust, but I still get rust build-up in a few days time. In the interest of saving money and using fewer chemicals, I'll probably not buy these again and just pour a little Super Iron Out in the tank every week or so. If I ever get smart, I'll put one of the tablets in one toilet tank and leave the other empty to see how much of a difference it really makes.

Sloppy kisses are also being sent out to HomeCare Labs, makers of "the Works" cleaners. Our neighbors have told us about the Works spray cleaner, and we agree that it works great for cleaning the bathtub and surround. It does require a light wipe-down with water to finish the cleaning process or you end up with streaks. It has worked well enough for us that we decided to give their toilet bowl cleaner a shot. Just like Instant Rust Out, this stuff made the rust disappear in quick order. It's shaped to allow you to shoot it under the rim, which is handy, plus it's designed for regular cleaning of the toilet so it's a one-chemical solution for the bowl.

Besides working well, all of these products are reasonably priced, something which is important for us since we need to use 'em so often. If you've got rusty water, give these a try.

Since I'm on a roll complaining about my water, I found a test-strip to check my water hardness. I ran a hose for a few minutes (since the hose bibs outside are the only water sources I have which don't go through the water softener). This picture was taken an hour or so after I did the test, and the test strip faded a little in that time. Basically, I don't have hard water. I have Sweet-Jebus-That-Water-is-so-Hard-You're-Off-the-Charts water. I'll have to "borrow" a couple more free pamphlets (which include a test strip in each) from Morton's when I go back to Menards to see how the water rates after it goes through the old softener. I think I've got it set properly for daily use, but it doesn't hurt to check.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Kitchen Takes a Big Step Towards Non-Crappiness

When we moved into the house in March, here's what the main wall of our kitchen looked like - wood paneling and linoleum flooring. The walls hadn't been painted in at least a decade and were very grungy. Soon after this picture was taken, the paneling was removed and the back door in was replaced.

For the past month, we've had a very colorful kitchen to look at as we tried to decide which colors to go with. We decided on the far right dark beige (Sherwin William's Wheatfield) for that main wall, and the lightest beige on that same wall (Kilim Beige) for the other walls. Today was the day I finally had enough of looking at the walls painted like this. Off came the outlet covers and the trim and flooring was covered. Unlike most of the other floors in the house, I actually care about the kitchen floor because it's the travertine tile I installed a few months back.

Like the living room and hallway, I primed the walls and added some new texture to make the walls look like they aren't covered with a dozen layers of paint. Even with the primer you can still see the test colors peeking through. Nate: Want a ceiling fan/light?

We (I) painted the accent wall first and as soon as I started, we decided that the color looks like something you'd find in a baby's diaper. The lighter beige really made it look bad, but by itself it looks great. I broke out a sample of the darker color we had from the 1/2 bath renovation and tried it (as shown in the pic below), and we liked how that looked so we picked up a quart of that to repaint the wall.

It's not obvious in this picture, but the accent wall is now painted the darker color (Sherwin William's Tamarind) and the other walls are painted Kilim Beige. The colors go well with the flooring, but we really need to get some additional color in the kitchen now. The ceiling has yet to be painted, as I didn't have enough ceiling white to do that today. Well, I have enough, but it's flat paint and not suited for a kitchen ceiling. Plus I need to relocate the ceiling fan so it's centered over the kitchen table which means I'll have a little patch-work to do before it gets painted. Tomorrow I'll replace the outlets and switches. Overall, it looks a LOT better than it did yesterday and a metric ass-load* better than it did when we moved in.

* "metric ass-load" is a unit of measure invented in the early 40's by the Royal Navy. It's about 30% heavier than a U.S. ass-load.

Water Pressure

Over the past few weeks, I've been noticing that our water pressure has been lower than I had remembered it being. It wasn't a major difference, but it was something that I planned on looking into at some time. Well, yesterday it really started bugging me as I noticed that water pressure dropped severely when I flushed a toilet or ran water from the tap. I checked the pressure tank and it read the same 60 pounds that it has had since we bought the place, so I figured that wasn't the problem. The next thought was that it was an issue with a clogged line somewhere, but since the copper supply lines are large enough, I figured that wasn't it either. Tracing the supply lines and checking faucets upstairs and in the basement found that all were low on pressure, so there was definitely an issue somewhere. The only thing I could find which could be the culprit was the water filter I installed. In an earlier post, I droned on and on about the water filter I installed to help combat the rust we get from our water well. About a month and a half ago I pulled the filter and cleaned it in some Super Iron Out to get rid of the excess rust. I never thought that there was other stuff clogging it, and that's what was causing my low pressure problem. A new filter was installed and we're back to normal. Some people install pressure gauges before and after their water filters which give them a visual notification as to when their filters are getting clogged. When I eventually re-plumb the supply lines for a new water softener I'll probably install a larger filter and put the gauges in. Until then, I'll just change the filter every few months and be done with it.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Mmmmm, Paint Fumes Smells Gooooods

Are you done yet? Watching paint dry sucks.

The walls are painted and now it's time to replace the grungy old switches, outlets, and cover plates. The switches here are the original 30+ year old ones, with a new white cover plate sitting in place. The paint is getting a couple of days to fully dry/cure before I put the plates in place. Since you're wondering, the pieces of blue tape are areas which need a small touch-up of paint. It was darn near impossible to see the spots like this when the paint was wet.

The urine-yellow closet is no more, replaced by a boring/neutral light-beige. The wood flooring is original to the house and still in really good shape. It's probably never been refinished, since it can't get a whole lot of wear in such a small closet.

If a gimmick tool works, is it still a gimmick? The dark paint strip was done with a paint edging tool shown in the pics below. You just dip the pad in paint and run it along the edge between the wall and ceiling. It's got guide wheels which keep it from hitting the adjacent wall. It's MUCH faster than cutting in by hand, and it does a LOT better job than I could do without it. To edge the whole room at the ceiling, baseboard, and around doors took about 45 minutes total. Since I'm tall, I didn't even need to use a ladder. I rule.

This is the paint edging tool. Very simple - a handle, a pad, and two wheels. I got this one years ago, and think HD still sells them. You can see the little guide wheels to the right side of the tool.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Bye Bye Dirty Ugly Walls

It's been a long time coming, but the painting is well underway, even with a slightly hurting back. 1-1/2 gallons of primer and a gallon of ceiling white later and the living room and hallway are looking a LOT better. The walls are only primed, but not seeing the old nail holes or marks where shelving was really has the room looking good. After the walls get a night to dry, I'll put the paint on the walls. I'm going with Killem Beige by Sherwin Williams, and we'll have an accent wall in the kitchen of a darker shade.

The front entrance patch blends in nicely with the old wall, too. I still have to patch in the base molding. When the carpet is replaced, it'll cover the flooring patch I put in after the demolition.

The front closet is no longer urine-yellow in color. Well, it partially is in this picture, but it's done now in reality. A bare white closet doesn't make for a good picture, though. That back wall was really torn up from the past few decades of use. I have some leftover light beige from the 1/2 bathroom which I may use on this closet instead of using the Killem Beige. Might as well find a use for the remaining 2/3 gallon I have left over, since it won't be used anywhere else in the house.