Saturday, April 28, 2007

Home Depot can Kiss my Backside

"You can do it, we can help." Yeah. Let me translate: you find it yourself, figure out if it will work for your application yourself, and load it into your car yourself. We can help lighten your wallet for your effort. What, you want us to actually have somebody available to help lift a 200 pound bathtub in a damaged box off of another one that you want to buy? Sorry, I'll have to find somebody else to help you. 10 minutes later, still no help. 7:30 on a Friday night (yeah, I have no life) and the store is pretty empty of customers. Where are all the employees? Standing out front watching three police officers search a van which was pulled over in the parking lot. Bite-me, Home Depot. I'm taking all of my future business to Menards and Ace Hardware.

Oh, I never got anybody to help me move the bathtub, so I left empty handed.

Astute readers will remember my previous post regarding my love affair with Ryobi cordless tools. Yes, I know Ryobi is only available at HD, and they do have some more tools I will buy. I plan to boycott the local stores and go mail-order with them. Will this boycott do anything to hurt HD? I doubt it, but they seem to be doing a good job at hurting their own business, so we'll see how things turn out.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Yum, Rust!

My house has well water. For years I've been on city-water, which typically has less "flavor". After developing a taste for no taste in my water, it's been an adjustment being on well-water again. The slight taste I can live with. Heck, it's only tastes a little bit like minerals. My biggest issue with it has been the rust in the water. To be honest, I don't know if this is rust from the well line, rust from the water table, or from where, but it's there none-the-less. The most telling sign of it has been in the new toilet I installed. The first time I really noticed it I almost accused one of the kids of not flushing after a whiz. The water just looked yellow-ish. The longer it sat, the more it turned color. I also noticed some slight staining streaks in the toilet bowl. No, not those streaks - I know what (who) made those. These are the streaks which come from around the water inlet holes around the top of the bowl. NOT IN MY NEW TOILET, says I. I figured that short of a high-end full filtering system, I can at best hope to get the rust and other minerals down to a manageable level. I looked at a number of filter systems, and decided to see if I could avoid spending big bucks. Some of those filter systems cost a few thousand dollars! Menards carries a cartridge-type system for about $40.00, with replacement cartridges costing around $12.00. Worth a shot. Here's what I got: a stand-alone filter with the connections for 3/4" copper.

Installation wasn't too tough, although the instructions are only written for people doing new plumbing. There really should have been mention in the instructions stating that if you are splicing this into existing plumbing, that you may need to get creative in order to get the filter connections on. I had to cut another 6" section out and then re-install it. Not a huge deal, but it did mean another run to the local ACE Hardware. Once installed, I bled the lines of air and it now filters all water before the water gets to the water softener. I am not filtering any water which goes out to the front or rear hose bib. I'm hoping to get about 3 months of use out of the filter before it needs changing, but that time will be determined by how much crap I really have in the water lines. The handle at the top allows me to shut off the water to the house or to bypass the filter as needed. The crappy pipe fitting in this picture was not done by me. I did other crappy pipe fitting which I'm not posting pictures of.

Does it work? Surprisingly, it works better than I had expected it to. There is still a little taste to the water which doesn't surprise me. What did surprise me is how much rust it's trapped after only two days. Now I wasn't getting a glass full of rust each time I had some water, as I expect it was mostly caught by the water softener. In fact, every time I looked in the wash sink in the basement (where the water softener purges into) there was always a lot of rust-water splashed inside it. Today, it was far less than I had previously seen. Hopefully this means that my water softener is now having to work a lot less, too. That water softener is one of my next projects, by the way. I want to disconnect it and lay it down so I can flush it out - something which has probably never been done.

Click on the following pic for a larger size. You can actually see the rust! (sorry about the crappy photo quality. By the way, when it was new, the filter was completely black except for the nylon mesh around it.)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

I Love the Smell of Expanding Foam in the Morning

Before I can start on the kitchen floor, I need to finish a few smaller projects. First on the list was to replace the back door. The one on the house when we bought it was as weather checked and crappy as the front door, so it had to go. With the new door in place we'll be able to tile right up to the thresh hold. We weren't sure if we wanted to add a storm door for the back door or not, so we found a middle ground for now. The door we purchased has a window which can be opened. Yeah, a window in the door is not the most secure way to go, but it's a nice neighborhood and if somebody wants to break in, they'll get in one way or another. That's why I have insurance - to protect my Picasso and Rembrandt collection. As I removed the old door, I found there was very little insulation in the door frame, which explains why I felt drafts in the winter around the door. The new frame got a can of expanding foam in all open spaces, so I expect the problem to be gone.

I've also been spending some quality time outside with the overgrown landscape. I honestly don't think anything has been pruned out there for at least 10 years. I cut down a couple of scrawny trees which went to seed next to the foundation. They weren't big enough to cause any damage, but they were about to touch the gutters, so I know they've been there a while. The evergreen bushes were about twice the size that they should have been allowed to grow, so I cut out a lot of the lower growth to expose the roots. They look much better now, in my opinion. By the patio, I had an evergreen which was so heavily overgrown that the best thing for it was just to remove the whole thing.

Our plan for the landscaping has changed a bit now. We're going to wait until next Spring to do any real major work outside so we can do all the landscaping in one shot (when we have money). The interior renovations are going to take every penny we have right now, and I've got enough on my plate without worrying about the landscape too much.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Lawn Won't Know What Hit It

At our previous house, the lot was just under 1/4 acre. Subtract the footprint of the house, a LOT of planting beds, the driveway and the sidewalk, and I ended up with a pretty manageable size lawn. For the 8 years we were there, I did the lawn with a standard push mower. No need for a self-propelled, and I was able to finish the whole thing in about 30 minutes if I didn't let it go too long between cuttings. Our new place is 1/2 acre, and has no sidewalk or planting beds to take up space. Just a LOT of grass in need of fertilizer and attention to make it thick and green. My original plan was to just mow it with the push mower, and as money becomes available in the future look for a deal on a used riding mower. Just days away from the first mow of the season, I found myself taking a detour on the way to work due to work being done on a bridge. As luck would have it, somebody had a rider sitting out front for sale. It's a Sabre by John Deere - originally sold by Home Depot in the late '90s. It runs fine and is in good shape, so it now resides in my garage waiting for action. 12 hp and a 38" cutting width. It'll cut almost twice the width of my push mower and will mow at a speed about 50% faster than I would go on foot. By my calculations that should more than cut my mowing time in half leaving me that much more time to work on the house. Yay.

Oh yeah, the rider has headlights so now I can mow at night!

Monday, April 16, 2007

I've Got Priorities

Multiple choice:

You have a half-hour to kill before anybody gets home - what do you do?

A. Take a nap
B. Eat a sleeve of Girl Scout cookies
C. Surf for Asian midget p0rn
D. Destroy ugly 60's architecture

Answer: D. I've already got C taken care of and I'm out of Girl Scout cookies. "A" was a trick to weed out the weak.

Before, I had the remains of the half-wall between the kitchen and living room:

After, I've got ugly carpet, linoleum, and some patching to do before I start the floor tile. I think the dog is starting to get used to the noise and dust (finally) :

I had hoped to remove enough of the wall to make the bottom half even with the top half, but there is an electrical out let very close to what is now the corner of the wall, so I'll end up bumping out the top portion of the wall about 1/2" to match the lower half. Either way I've got patching to do, but it's all worth it. If you've ever watched those home flipping shows and were amazed at how much larger a room looks when a wall is removed, that's what we're experiencing right now. Even though it wasn't a "full" wall to begin with, it really feels larger in these rooms now.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Let There (Eventually) be Light

I'm not planning on re-roofing the house for a month or two, but I found these light tubes on sale at Menards for $10.00 off, so I figured I'd save money and get them now. Well, I actually only got one since that's all they had, but I'm going back before the sale ends to get the second tube. I'm planning to put one in the bathroom and one in the hallway. Neither area has any natural light, and the hallway seems especially dark unless we turn on a light - even during the day. I got the 10" tubes, although they also sell 14" tubes. I think the larger size would be overkill for the limited space I'm trying to light.

I also had to make a run back to the tile store today. I noticed late last night that I was missing a box of 8" tiles. When we were (over)loading the van, we put one box off to the side because it was open and there was a shattered tile inside. The intent was to go through it to make sure it was only one tile, but in my haste to drive a low-rider van, I forgot about it. Only one tile was broken, and I was refunded the cost of that tile. While at the store, I decided to pick up a pair of corner shelves for the shower. I don't know if I'll use both or only one, but either way it should help keep us from having the shampoo bottles all over the lip of the tub.

I also got a chance to review the instructions for the heat mat and thermostat. It doesn't look like it'll be difficult to do, although I'm not sure yet if I'll need to run another power line to the bathroom to run it or not. The current service panel is pretty much tapped out and should be replaced, something else to add to the long list of projects! I like the blaze-orange color of the mat - reminds me of road construction barriers. I guess I'm easy to amuse.

While we were out picking up stuff for the house, I grabbed 160 pounds of Milorganite (high-nitrogen fertilizer) and a big bag of Scotts weed preventing fertilizer. The Milorganite is basically recycled waste from the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. Not a tasty thing to think about loading into your car, but I like to think there's a little bit of each of us in every bag.

Friday, April 13, 2007


20 boxes of 10 pieces, 12" travertine.
9 boxes of 24 pieces, 8" travertine.
2 boxes of 10 sheets (6 pieces x 6 pieces), 2" travertine.
200 pounds of thinset.
75 pounds of sanded grout.
2 gallons of grout admixture.
1 3'x5' heating mat and thermostat.

All in one Dodge Grand Caravan with a 230 pound driver, four bucket seats, and one bench seat.

How much did it weigh? A lot. I'm guessing there was easily over 2,000 pounds of tile and mix.



It may not look that bad, but that's low enough to drag the exhaust tip upon exiting the parking lot - lower than I've ever had it ride. Yeah, I'm pretty sure I easily exceeded the gross vehicle weight. In fact, I know I had very little suspension travel left (if any) in the back end. Luckily it isn't a long drive from the tile shop to my home. The steering sure felt light though! :)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Getting Ready for Christmas!

Seriously now, this weather is just plain weird. Two weeks ago the weather was great. The kids were able to play in their shorts, the ground was drying out and firming up, life was good.

Today we get this crap. It's my fault for continuing to live in this state, but my wife wouldn't let me leave. We probably got 5" of heavy packed snow and are expecting more. Luckily, the ground is still warm and it won't last. Heck, I'm not even going to shovel or break out the snowblower. I'll just wait it out. With my luck, we'll get a hard-freeze over the next day or two and my driveway will become an icy, rutted, mess. If that happens, feel free to point and laugh.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Ramen Noodles are my Future

Damn, travertine tile gets real expensive when you buy enough for a kitchen/dining room, bathroom, and entry way all at the same time! I guess I know what I'm going to be doing for the next year.

The plan is to do the full bathroom floor and entry floor in the same way we did the half-bath - 2 rows of 2" tile around the perimeter and 8" turned 45 degrees on the inside. The same 8" tile will be run straight up the shower walls, with an accent row of the 2" tiles worked in somehow to keep it interesting. The kitchen & dining areas will be 12" tile run across the whole area, approx 200 square feet.

This is what I put in for the half bath, which convinced us to go with it in the other rooms (shown here before I painted the walls - not bad for my first attempt at travertine if I do say so myself!) :

Eventually (if we have money left over) we'll go with some granite tile for the counter tops in the kitchen and bathroom. Unless we save money somewhere along the line, plywood is more likely in our future!

Monday, April 9, 2007

Bye Bye 1960s Design Hell

Instead of doing anything "productive", I decided to get destructive and remove a couple of the details on the house which I really hate. First to go were the vertical wall slats/dividers, shown below.

Yeah, they were in good condition, but they were a bad design idea 45 years ago and haven't gotten any better in my book. Out came the 3 pound sledge and five minutes later I was left with this:

That's a mirror on the near wall, by the way. It's going away soon, too. Although I dislike it, I don't want every wall in the house empty and full of nail & screw holes. After I took this picture, I tore down the same detail which was by the front door (in the background of this pic). When I start the kitchen renovation, I'll tear down the rest of these partial-walls and patch the drywall to hide the fact that the walls were ever here.

I was on a roll, tearing out crappy old details I hated, so I turned my evil gaze towards something my dad would love - wood paneling! It was actually installed well and was decent quality crap - er, wood paneling. My big worry was that it was nailed and glued to the wall, as that's how I would have done it. Lucky for me, the guy who did it wasn't quite as anal-retentive as me and only nailed it over some ugly green paint.

For now, I've re-used the goofy old switch plate cover the previous owners installed. The wall is now full of old nail holes, grime, and ugly green and blue paint. It's still better than when it was covered with paneling. To make it a little nicer, I'll patch the holes and sand the wall making it ready for new knock-down texture, primer, and paint. Those steps will be a while from happening, but at least I am happier with it.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Cordless Tools - a Reason to Live

*** Hey, Ryobi! How about putting me on the payroll? ***

Talking to a co-worker yesterday, the conversation turned to home renovation and tools. He's of the mindset that the only good tools are the type with plugs. His exposure to good cordless tools must have been very limited, as I've got and worked with corded and cordless tools for renovation work and am of the opinion that decent cordless tools are worth their weight in gold. I started looking for cordless tools when I was renovating a condo a few years ago. My buddy and I were constantly turning off electrical circuits for the work we were doing and Murphy's Law dictated that any circuit we had tools plugged into would go dead. It became a hastle as the cords would have to reach from one side of the condo to the other (plus they kept getting tangled up) so on one of the daily trips to Home Depot I picked up a couple of Ryobi 18V tools - what they call their "Renovator Combo Kit".

I was impressed with how well they worked and how long the batteries lasted, so over time I went back and picked up the hammer drill, right angle drill, impact driver, planer, and caulk gun (yes, a battery powered caulk gun - it's a LOT more useful than you'd think). Now, I've got about a dozen different tools which all use the same battery packs and have found no issues with quality. Sure, they're not DeWalt or Milwaukee tools, but they're substantially less expensive meaning I can get MORE of 'em for the money. Checking out their website, I found they've also just released a leaf blower and pole pruner which I could use as well. I'll also pick up the air compressor, fan, stapler, and angle grinder before too long. While I wouldn't rely on a battery powered tool to fully take the place of all plug-in or gas powered tool, their convenience is sure hard to beat.

Time for Laundry - This Time With Style!

It's a small victory in a large war, but the new laundry sink is finally in and ready for action. As you no doubt recall from an earlier post, I needed to replace the old cement & steel laundry sink. It weighed about 900 pounds and the steel legs were rusting away. Not a good combination. I did some test fitting previous to today and had things ready to go, but needed to make a couple of minor changes. With the old tub, the water lines connected to the top of the faucet (which was trashed). The new tub's faucet connected from underneath, so I ran a couple of braided steel lines with shut-off's. Since the sink needs to be up against the wall for stability (it's plastic, after all) I had to drill a couple of 1" holes in the backboard of the sink. Easy solution, and problem solved. A little quality-time with my Ryobi cordless hammer-drill and the holes are drilled for the concrete screws. It's amazing how much more sturdy the sink is with a couple of anchors in place. The last piece of the puzzle will be to take care of the drain line from the water softener (just to the left of the faucet). I just need to cut out about 12" of the line and splice it back together. It's copper, and I added a short length of plastic tube at the end to better divert the water into the tub. To the right of the tub is one of two drain stacks in the house. The last thing I wanted to do was to break anything connected directly to the stack. So far, so good!

While I was in the basement, I took the opportunity to finally get some boxes out of the way. We had started stacking the still-boxed stuff as we were moving in, but when we had some heavy rain I found a small trickle of water coming in at the same corner of the basement where we were stacking boxes. It appears that the gutters hadn't been cleaned for at least a decade, and plenty of water was flowing out over the gutters. After taking care of that mess, it appears that my basement leak problems are done (for now?). To be safe, I picked up some 2x2 floor panels which are tongue-and-groove, with a plastic egg-carton bottom. They're designed for basement renovations to avoid water problems. I'm spreading them out a bit compared to how they're typically used in an effort to avoid more spending than necessary. At $4.95 each, they're cheap insurance from water damage to our boxes.

Freakin' Cold Weather

Overnight in the teens, high temp today should hit 37. Normally, I couldn't care less as I've got plenty of work to keep me busy inside. As I was getting some stuff from the basement, I noticed that the sump pump well was full and ready to turn on to send the water outside. Well, I'm always ready to see my handy-work in action, so I trip the pump and wait. Hmmm.... the water level isn't going down but the pump is running. WTF? A quick trip outside and I find the problem. The water line leaves the house in the middle of the rear of the house. Instead of simply dump the water straight onto my patio, the line hangs a left and goes all the way to the side of the house - approx 20' of pipe. The pipe is laying on the ground and has some dips in the line where water can pool. Well, that pooled water froze and the line is now plugged. Since the dirt has built up so much over the decades, there really isn't any good slope to the yard anymore for this to work as it should.

The problem has just now started thanks to that wonderful check valve I installed. Previously, the water could drain back out of the line from either end. Now, once it's in the line it's in the line and won't go anywhere unless the slope allows gravity to do it. Once it warms up a little this will be added to the project list. I don't want to get rid of the check valve, but I'd also like the pump to be able to work.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

What has been started must be finished

As I get my battle plan ready for this coming weekend, I've come to the conclusion that before I start any new projects I really need to put the finishing touches on projects I've already started. The 1/2 bath is mostly done (I consider it done because I can use the toilet) but I need to swap out the tank because it drips a little water near the supply line. After screwing around enough with it trying to find the leak, I've determined that it's got to be a defect in the tank. The supply line and connection between the tank and stool is dry, so the water must be seeping out somehow. I've got another tank ready to go, I just need to do the actual work. The floor also needs a couple of coats of sealer for the travertine and I need to stain and install one last piece of base molding.

In the basement, I've got the new laundry sink installed to the point where it is functional, but it's got to be secured to the wall so it doesn't wobble on the cheap plastic legs and f' up the trap. It's great having a faucet for the sink which actually works. The old one on the cement sink (which is still sitting in the basement laughing at me because it knows I can't lift it without help) leaked and the faucet itself was seized towards the left-side tub and wouldn't turn to allow me to use it on the right-side tub.

The following conversation will happen this weekend:
Crappy Old Laundry Sink: "Ha ha, you can't lift me. Now if we were on the moon..."
Me: "Yeah, I know you'd weigh 1/6th as much. Bite me."
COLS: "Hey, what are you hiding behind your back?"
Me: "Oh that? It's just a new friend who wants to meet you."
COLS: "Wait a minute, that looks like a sledge hammer!"
Me: "Yeah - get ready to eat hot death!"
COLS: "Aaaaarrrrrrrggggghhhhh! Not in the face!"
Me: "No open coffin for you, beyotch!"

After my trip to Fantasy Land, I'd also like to get the new back door installed as that's taking up valuable wall space in my temporary work-room/family-room. I still haven't decided if I'm going to add a storm door for the rear door or not. Maybe if money permits... Ha!

Last project for the weekend is to BBQ a brisket. I've been waiting for the weather to cooperate for a weekend cook, and even though it's supposed to be in the 30's this weekend, we're not expecting rain. If that weather report holds true, by Saturday evening I'm going to be in brisket heaven!

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Scrub, Rinse, Dry, Repeat

Living without a dishwasher sucks. How did cavemen do it?!?

--- Later, the following day ---
A quick addition to my previously well-stated point about not having a dishwasher sucking, I do have a dishwasher (not you, Beth) which will be installed as part of my kitchen renovation. All appliances are going to be replaced, new cabinets and counter tops installed, and new flooring installed. I just haven't gotten that far on the renovation work yet. And now, back to the show.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Shingle Blues

Since before we purchased the house, we knew it was going to need a new roof. From what we can tell, the house currently has two layers of shingles, meaning we really need to tear those off before installing new shingles. Today I spent some time after work cooking a rack of ribs, and got some time to inspect things a little more outside. There are some areas which are really in need, but the only leak I know of is in the garage. It only drips right in front of the garage door, so there is no additional damage being done at this time so it's not a 100% MUST-DO at this time, but it'll be done before summer really gets here (hopefully). How many roofs have I torn off and/or installed in my years of home renovation? Well, none. But I've also successfully done a lot of other things that I've never before done on my house. To add to the fun, the lawn is starting to come to life and it's twice as large as my previous lot. A 1/2 acre with a walk-behind mower should be good for me, although I'm not thrilled when I think of how much time it'll take.

Scrap Metal or a Backup?

Yesterday I put the old sump pump out for today's garbage pickup. I don't know why it surprises me, but this morning it was gone, along with 8' of metal vent tube from the dryer I also put out there. Maybe somebody wants to cash it in for scrap value, but I think it's more likely that it was taken for use as a backup pump. Either way, I hope the effort pays off for whoever took it. Personally, I wouldn't take one even as a backup considering you can get a new one for $50.00. Last thing I'd want to rely on when my pump dies is another pump of the same age. On that same note, eventually I'll get around to installing a battery backup pump in the sump well. My dad got it for me about a year ago, and luckily for me I was too lazy to install it in our previous house. This place gets more water into the well and our power lines aren't as new/reliable here, so it'll be a great addition and should give me plenty of peace of mind.

I also finally timed it right and checked the new pump with the well full and ready to go. The new pump is slower to empty the well than the old pump (it's only a 1/3 hp motor), but it's much quieter and there is no backflow of water when it's done. Unless my basement floods, I'm not worried about the speed.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

House Values

For the fun of it, I decided to see what the home market is like in the area. We've only been in this house for a month, but I'd like to see if Spring has brought newer/higher prices with it. I found a comparable place two blocks east of us listed for $40,000 more than we paid for this one. It's being sold by the original owners, and since there are no pictures listed other than the outside picture, I can only assume it's a little dated inside and they're hoping to get people in to look at it instead of turning them "off" with the pictures. If my guess is accurate, that bodes well for me, as I plan on having my house in excellent condition when it comes time to sell in 4-5 years. Now we just have to hope that home values don't drop like a rock. The area we're in should help avoid that - we're just outside of Milwaukee County and people are leaving Milwaukee in droves thanks to the increase in crime over the past few years and the horribly high taxes. I wish we would have left years ago.

Basement Updates

In an earlier post I mentioned the old sump pump and cement laundry tub. We've had some wet weather over the past few days which means the sump pump should be seeing some action. Every time I hear it turn on, it reminds me of how old it is and what kind of damage we could get if it died. I used that as the incentive to replace it today. How old is it? No idea, but the rust makes me think it's been here a few years.

A run to Ace and Menards got me all the pieces I thought I would need. Actually, I went overboard as usual and got two different check valves, various clamps, etc to make sure I could do the job in one shot. I go to these stores so often that I'll just return the extra stuff. Luckily this plan worked, as I ended up using various parts from both places to get the pump installed. A check valve was added at the pump housing, and I added a PVC line from there to the old sump output line. Testing of it found no leaks, and everything appears to work as planned. Besides the piece of mind, the pump should need to work much less than the old pump now that the check valve is installed. The only "problem" is that the new pump sits lower in the sump and keeps the cement covers from sitting close around the pump like it used to. Now there's enough room for the cat to get in there and drown. Oh damn, would that make me sad...

I've also started putting together the new laundry tub. My only concern is connecting the new PVC to the old metal line. Actually, it's not the connecting of the pieces which worries me, it's breaking the old parts when I take it apart which has me worried. I'd like to just connect the parts together without having to remove the entire drain line, but we'll see how that goes. Before loosening the pieces, I'll give 'em a soak in penetrating oil to help them come apart. The new plastic pieces will also be put together with an extra layer of plumber's putty in the joints to help avoid leaks. For once, I'd like to have a leak-free setup on the first try!