Interesting weekend . . .

Weird.

Well, first off, we had a bitterly cold Canadian air mass move through the area starting Friday afternoon, which dropped the local temperatures to sub-freezing. Naturally, the extra strain caused the central heating unit to finally quit – completely.

We’re fine, though. The fireplace insert we put in last fall took over with no trouble, aside from a bit of extra bundling up to keep the setting lower.

Anyway, Sunday afternoon proved to be quite the adventure. It started just after lunch, when my wife took a bag of trash out to our dumpster. As she opened the lid, she discovered about a dozen (used? not sure) syringes in the bottom of the bin. She came running back in and told me – I went out and confirmed it, and then called the local police. They were amazed that someone would go to the trouble to put them in OUR dumpster – there are several houses around where they’d have been less likely to be seen. See, our dumpster sits direcly under that brand-new super-bright LED security light we just had installed about a week ago, making it a very visible location even in the middle of the night. Anyhow, they cheerfully removed the syringes, and said they would do some extra patrols through the neighborhood to see if they can find who put them there.

As soon as the officer left, I went to the kitchen and put a cup of coffee in the microwave to warm up. I’d just sat down at my computer to read the news when *BANG* – I heard something loud right out front that sounded sort of like a head-on collision. That turned out to be pretty close to describing what did happen. Somone’s vehicle jumped the curb just north of our driveway, and destroyed a traffic sign (on a metal pole!) which landed in the street. By the time I got out there, and I tried to respond pretty quickly, the vehicle that hit the sign was gone, but a pickup had stopped in traffic and was keeping other vehicles from hitting the sign. I had my phone in hand, and called the police again. There wasn’t much they could do about it, aside from filling out an accident report. None of the potential wittnesses waited around for the police, and all I could tell them was that I heard it happen and called right away.

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House maintenance update . . .

There are a few people reading this who probably remember earlier blogs where I described the house we live in and what challenges we deal with in trying to “go green” with it.  However, since I get about a new subscriber every week, I’ll do a brief recap.

First, our house was built in 1930.  It is solid brick – by which I mean that the exterior is brick, the interior is brick, and the only wood is the floor, roof, and interior paneling.  There is no insulation or dry wall.  The electrical outlets are almost entirely built into the floor, like they were an added afterthought – quite likely since indoor electricity and plumbing weren’t particularly common in 1930.  The house inspection listed our water heater as “approximately 18 years old” – and the HVAC system was installed in 1973.

So, one of our focus points on investing in our house has been looking for ways to improve the energy efficiency.  We’ve replaced about half of the windows with energy-efficient double-pane vinyl windows – with good results.  Every window we replace shows an almost immediate reduction in our utility fuel use.  We have also planted nearly a dozen trees around the east and south borders of our home, to eventually provide shade in the summer.

But, one of the things we’ve been keeping an eye on was that hot water heater.  Knowing that the average water heater lasts around 10 years, ours was nearly 2x expectancy when we bought the house.  So, we started a special savings account just for putting aside money against the day it would fail.  That day arrived – today.  I first suspected a problem when I went to make coffee at 0300 (3AM for those who don’t work with international time) and it seemed to take a very long time for the water to warm up at the kitchen sink.  Later, when my wife got up and started getting ready for work, she couldn’t get any hot water for her shower.  She tried 3 different water faucets with no hot water, and pronounced a state of emergency.  So, I called our plumber at 0800.  After I described the situation, he said that it did indeed sound like the unit had finally failed, and told me that he’d stop at the store on the way over to get a new one.  He’d be here within an hour.

He left here, job completed and all trash cleaned up, at 1030.  He didn’t even give me a bill – saying, “We’ll mail it to you.”

Then, completing the cycle of spending this year’s income tax refunds, we had our electrician come over to give us an estimate on upgrading our outside security light.  The one we currently have uses mercury-vapor bulbs, which (besides being an incredibly BAD idea for the environment) drink electricity like a drunk goes through beer.  We’re going to have him replace the fixture the mercury-vapor bulbs go in with one that uses standard light bulbs – which would be an energy savings in itself.  But we’re not going to use standard bulbs, which would still use about 200 watts.  We’re going to put in an LED bulb, which will use about 40 watts for the same amount of light we get right now.  He thinks he can get this job done within the next week.  His fee?  $35 plus parts.

Continued home improvements . . .

I realize that sleep deprivation and nearly endless pain have made my usually sharp memory a bit more dull, but I seem to remember writing a while back about trying to get our fireplace fixed so we can use it for winter heat.

Well, I FINALLY got an explicit explanation of what made the fireplace “unsafe to use” – it seems some of the bricks in the enclosure are cracked, and the mortar is crumbling, in addition to the chimney liner being cracked.   There is no easy repair.  To make the fireplace able to burn wood again, we’d have to get a mason to tear out the fireplace and rebuild it.

Well, we looked around at other options, and selected a fireplace insert that runs on the same gas that already came into our home for the hot water heater and the furnace.  Except that, being brand new (as opposed to being installed in 1973) it will be FAR more energy efficient.  It cost us about $300 (I think) for the gas line to be run to the fireplace, and the insert itself cost us $3500.

As of Wednesday morning, it is installed and fully operational.

On other updates: I continue to be amazed at how the Dawn Redwood tree I planted in our yard is doing.  Less than two years ago, it was only 2″ tall when I planted it.  It is now over 3 feet tall, and the bottom branches have a diameter nearly equal the height.  It is looking GOOD.  Also, because of all the rain we’ve had this year, the trees the city planted along the new sidewalk grew so tall and so fast that I had to cut some off the tops to keep them from getting top-heavy.  Both are already starting to provide some (albeit small amounts at this stage) shade to the sidewalk, exactly as planned.

More thoughts about our windows

I wrote this post last Friday, and though much of this post is negated by the events of yesterday morning, but I thought I might go ahead with sharing our thoughts in case it might help some of you if you’re doing home improvements too. – V

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As of last Friday, we have enough money in the “windows” set-aside account to cover 4 replacement windows, if the prices hold steady. We still haven’t heard back from the company about when there will be agents available to take orders for this service area, but we’re going to be ready when they are.

We were looking at our utility use last week, and made an amazing discovery. Compared to how much electricity we used in the same month last year, we used 200kw less in February this year. That is a powerful incentive to keep moving on the windows, wouldn’t you say?

As for which windows to replace, I know we previously had thought about replacing all of the windows in the one room of the basement, and there are still compelling reasons for doing that, but we had another realization. With the exception of the 4-window panel in the kitchen, we now have enough to replace all of the big windows in the house in one shot – updating and insulating about 2/3rds of the house all at the same time. If we hang an old blanket across the doorway of the kitchen temporarily, the rest of the house will cost nearly nothing to keep cool this summer (if they can get the windows replaced before then).

I think the basement can wait another year. Then we work on finishing up the tuckpointing. If things keep going like this, we’ll have this house update finished before the house turns 90 (it’s 85 years old, now).

Heater update . . .

Well, the good news is that we don’t need to replace the whole, nearly 40 year old, heater.  Not yet, at any rate.

The service technician said he believed that the moisture came from a rusted-out metal drip pan for the A/C unit (which we had on yesterday, so it had water in it).  This is apparently fairly common on older units, and ours is by far the oldest he’s ever seen.  In fact, he’s never seen one like it before.

Since there isn’t anything keeping the heater from working at this moment, he suggested we leave it at that and have someone come back to dig into what can be done about it tomorrow – at normal service call rates.

Our choice for Valentine’s Day . . .

When my wife and I first became a couple, it was Valentine’s Day 1999 – aka 16 years ago.  The first few years after that, I made it a point to get a flower delivery to her at work on Valentine’s Day – usually one rose for every year we’d been together so far.

Last year I missed it, because we were busy dealing with things related to having my daughter live with us, and didn’t even see Valentine’s Day coming.  She forgave me, and we continued.

This year, I’m deliberately NOT spending the money on flowers.  I’ve already called a handyman and made arrangements (in a manner of speaking, since there is no actual appointment) for him to come install a replacement ceiling fan/light in the room we just had a window replaced in.  The money I would have spent on flowers is covering his fee for the service call.  Since this ceiling fan/light has needed to be fixed/replaced for over 3 years, it’s about time we did this.   I think she’s happy we’re getting it done.

Basic Random Updates. . .

I realized that I have a few incomplete notices I’ve tossed out and then left you hanging over, so I thought I’d close the ones I can.

1.  The cheese slicer I ordered last Friday – arrived Monday morning.  Since I payed only standard shipping, that has to be something close to a world record.  Naturally, I left excellent feedback for the seller.

2.  It took so long for the window company to install the window we ordered last October that we now have almost all the money we need in savings to cover the NEXT window we order.  Hopefully it won’t take so long this time.  We’re still scratching our heads over whether or not to wait until we can get 2 windows at the same time.

3.  We’ve almost got everything we need to get our income tax filing taken care of.  As usual, we anticipate a refund, hopefully enough to cover getting our porch tuckpoint work done, and the columns rebuilt.  This will be the single biggest house project we’ve done all at one time, but since it is the porch, there doesn’t seem to be any alternative.