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.


These are the days . . .

Early this year, some of you may remember that I was frantically trying to get Window World to send someone over, and once it was proved beyond hope that they wouldn’t, I went to Home Depot to order some windows and get them installed.

My whole reasoning was thinking ahead to days like the ones we’ve enjoyed THIS WEEK.

Tuesday evening as we prepared for bed, I turned off the A/C and opened the windows, looking at an overnight low around 60 degrees.  Since then, the high temps have been in the low 70’s, and the lowest low so far has been 48.  The A/C has not been on, nor have we turned on the heater, all week long.

Although our cats do seem somewhat confused.  They keep jumping up to the windows and sticking their noses close to sniff this weird thing they don’t recognize – fresh air.  LOL!

Weird updates . . .

  1.  The sidewalk is complete – well, except for the fact that they didn’t get the back-fill of dirt along the sides done, nor did they manage to get the new driveway cement to tie-in to the old driveway.  There is about 6″ of crushed rock filling the gap between them.
  2. Our refrigerator has been – misbehaving? – for about a year now.  We tried getting the thermostat replaced, but the freezer compartment just doesn’t want to keep things actually frozen.  So, Friday afternoon we went out to Home Depot and looked around, and bought an upright deep freeze to put beside the refrigerator to handle the freezer duties.  The old freezer compartment will now be used for cold food storage that doesn’t need to be frozen.
  3. Thanks in large part to the new windows – our electricity usage went DOWN by 1,000 kwh last month, as compared to the same month the year before.  Now if we could just get the electric company to quit hiking the usage rates every time we decrease our usage . . .
  4. We recently discovered that, after about 9 years without access to this type of service, there is a new chiropractor in town who specializes in functional medicine.

Shaking my head… (UPDATED)

I’ve posted numerous times before about how the universe almost seems to behave like it is sentient when arranging things to challenge my plans.

Take, for example, today’s plan for getting the new windows installed (if the contractor keeps up his end of the schedule).  If I behave as if he will still arrive to begin the installation by around 10am, I still will have to shut off the A/C to allow him to work – on the day the weather forecast says will be the hottest one this week.

Sometimes I think the universe is deliberately testing me.  I hope I’m getting a passing grade . . . . . (grin).

UPDATE:  Last Thursday, there was a crew working down the street with a cement saw, cutting driveways and curbs to get ready for the new sidewalk.  Naturally, our driveway was no problem – until they tried to cut the apron.  It was poured with a cement that had crushed silicon rock added – they killed 3 saws trying to cut it, and didn’t get it cut.  There isn’t even a natural crack in it – and it’s over 50 years old.

Of course, the universe has a master plan.  The crew came back this morning to try again.  I had to run out and ask them to keep an eye out for the contractors for the windows, explaining that it took me over 6 months to get those windows ordered and scheduled for installation.  They were very understanding and glad to help by letting the contractors past when they arrive (if the apron cut isn’t already finished by then).

Speed bumps…

Life has a way of “adjusting” your expectations, doesn’t it?  LOL

My grandmother’s funeral is Wednesday morning.  I already wasn’t going to go, but an additional reason now is that, because it is then, there is a conflict with travel arrangements my wife made for getting to a conference for work – and those arrangements have existed for 2 months.

But, even that didn’t quite go as planned.  She and a co-worker were going to leave here early enough to catch an American Airlines flight out of Joplin, MO.  She went to bed early so she could get up early.  Ninety minutes after she went to sleep, American Airlines called to inform her that the flight had been cancelled.  It took another 90 minutes to iron out the problems and get them (my wife and her co-worker) onto another flight out of Springfield, MO.

The difference in travel times to the other airport means she still has to get up at 4 am, but now has 3 hours less sleep time before she leaves.

I’m going to stay up to help make sure she gets out of bed when she needs to so she can leave on time.  Because her alarm clock doesn’t always get her out of bed even on good days.

Anyhow, I’m doing the “Home Alone” thing for the next week.  Just me and 2 slightly insane furbabies.  Weather permitting, when my wife gets home we’ll have 3 more double-pane windows in our house.

Oh, and I finally “bit the bullet” and ordered a manufacturer-refurbished Dell Laptop to replace the desktop computer that I’ve been using since ’08 (and cussing from the beginning because of instability).  It’s also estimated to arrive the day my wife is due back home.

Window progress…

We finally got the guy out here (Thursday, after two appointments that he no-showed without calling us) to measure the windows we wanted to try to get on this round.  We had him measure four windows, two on the north side and two on the south side.  If we got them all replaced, it would set us up for some nice straight-through ventilation on mild days.

Yesterday, Home Depot called and said they were ready to talk to us about choosing the windows we want.  We went out there in the early afternoon, and after looking at the options we chose the Anderson Low-E windows, and were able to afford three of them on this order.  We’ll still get the ventilation, because two of the replacements are going on the north side, and we already had two windows replaced on the south side.  This is huge progress – to the tune of $1,340 USD.

Oh, and another thing.  Window World took 6-8 weeks (that was the official estimate – the last window we got from them was ordered in early October and wasn’t installed until the end of January) to prepare a window for installation.  Home Depot is getting our Anderson windows in about half the time – 3-5 weeks.

Another window update…

After the frustration of not reaching the nearest office for over 3 months, calling the office in KC, KS, and getting passed up to the regional sales manager, I still couldn’t place my order.  The company I’ve been so frustrated by is Window World.  If possible, I’m not going to do business with them ever again.

After talking with the regional sales manager for Window World, I called the local Home Depot.  I called them because I remembered getting a flyer in the mail a few weeks ago touting their replacement window business.

It only took about 4 minutes for me to be talking one-on-one with the local sales manager in their replacement windows/doors department.  I described our situation and told him what the replacement windows we’ve already installed look like, and he was confident that he could replicate the windows with high-quality facsimiles from 2-3 different companies he orders windows through.  According to the website, one of those companies is a subsidiary of the Anderson windows company.

Someone should be arriving within a week to measure our next replacements.  We’re confident of getting at least 3 windows with this order, but that could be 5 or 6 depending on the price differences.

Protected territory – screw that…

I finally gave up on trying to order new windows through the closest local office, and called one just outside KC, KS.  I managed to talk with the sales manager for the store (actually, the KC area, Columbus Missouri, and St. Louis areas) and filled him in on my predicament.

He was very sympathetic, but when I asked about placing an order through his store, he replied that their contract with corporate HQ won’t allow them to cross into another territory – even if the territory is not being currently serviced.  I told him that I could pay cash, right now, for 4 windows (which means I could actually order 8 if I was confident of raising the other half of the money before they arrived), and all I want is to have those windows installed before cool weather in the fall comes along.

He took my name and home phone number, and is passing the information along to the regional sales manager.

Seriously, I get the notion behind protected territories.  It keeps aggressive sales people from stepping on each other to make a sale, which is useful.

What I don’t get is refusing to service an established customer when the territory he lives in has been abandoned.  There should be exceptions to not crossing the boundary when a store is not available to service the customer.

This is why . . .

Nearly 2 months ago, I started trying to place an order to get more of our windows replaced.  The overall goal is improved energy efficiency, but a sub-goal of that is being able to open them in nice weather.  There were only a few windows in the whole house that could be opened when we bought our home.

The last week has been of such a fair weather that, if we’d had even one window on the north side of the house that we could open, we wouldn’t have needed to run the heater or air conditioning the whole week.  Instead, afternoon high temps have driven the internal house temperatures into the uncomfortable zone and forced us to activate the air conditioning system.  Yes, I am calling the window people again today to see about getting that order placed – I want those windows in before we have the same type of weather this fall.  We’re ready, once again, to order 4 windows for certain, and if they keep dragging their heels on reopening the local office, we’re going to soon be ready for 5.  That’s 1/3rd of our remaining windows all at one time.

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


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).