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.