Monday, June 18, 2012

Chipping Away At Projects

We've been lazy about updating the blog, mostly from being pooped after real-work and house-work.

Jeremy and Elle at our weddin'
The Back Yard
The pool has come in quite handy to cool off after yard work.  Matt has taken to wearing his swim trunks for outdoor work so he can immediately dive in when we're done.  Close friends, Jeremy and Elle Alcorn, came by for dinner and brought fantastic gifts of a cantilever umbrella, fire pit and tons of bug repellent products.  Our back yard is shaping up nicely.  This is the year of "slash and burn" gardening, probably next year will be more about planting an proper landscaping.

Cool umbrella

Le fire pit

A quick wood holder I built out of
scrap 2 x 4's we had lying about

Creepy Crawlies
While rooting around for some wood to burn that night, Jeremy found some strange "things" all over the leaves of one of our trees.  We figured out they are spider mite eggs, which will hatch sometime soon (the thought of the amount of mites to be released gives me the heebie jeebies).  The eggs are quite dense on the leaves, and even on the branches of the tree.  There are three trees of the same type in our yard and they are all infected.  Spider mites can kill a tree, I wanted to take the zombie apocalypse approach and strike strong by cutting all of the trees down that day.  Matt's cooler head prevailed and we are going to try a tiered approach of pest management.  Step one is lady bugs, we released 3,000 last week and have seen three since then (insert Price is Right losing sound effect here).  They are probably hiding in the siding of our house to spite us.  Matt is sure they hunt at night, but with the degree of infestation I think we need to move up a level.  The next step is to buy "spider mite destroyers" (Stethorus punctillum).  Their only prey is spider mites, and once that population has been depleted...they cannibalize themselves.  The third level is spraying a bunch of chemicals all over the place, but we'd rather not get to that.

Horrendous, disgusting spider mites

Pit Progress
We're chipping away at the Pit slowly and I think we're in the home stretch.  To ease the 9" drop between the foyer/kitchen level and the floor of the Pit, I built two steps.  They each run the length of the opening between the foyer and the Pit, and the kitchen and the Pit.  The treads are nice pieces of oak that we've routed and stained.  With four coats of polyurethane, I hope not to have to refinish them for a long while.

Potpourri of photos:

New register cover...not sure why you would even put a
register directly in front of a door, but we're not going to
dig up the concrete slab it runs through to move it.

After two passes with a rented carpet cleaner, I still
tried  to spot treat the skid marks left by years of recliner
use.  It's been a while since this photo was taken,
amazing what it looks like today.

Pulley system I rigged to lower the bird feeder for
easy filling.  Before the pulley I was just running
the rope over the branch...then the rope broke.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Electricity E-lec-tricity

A very expensive lesson
I had always thought all surge protectors worked the same, and that having any cheap surge protector would provide more than enough protection. We learned that this is not the case.

Halley was at home for the electricians to install the new stove and couldn't get the tv to work. She thought nothing of this as our TV remote is somewhat complicated... It is a "smart" remote designed to work everything in our home theatre setup (TV, receiver, xbox, ps3, cable box, etc.) It can control anything with IR (I used to control our AC with it as well). She ignored it and just picked up a book to read until I got home.

When I got home, I immediately assumed Halley had broken it (jokingly) and tested every combination of all the devices. I jumped around from thinking the TV was broken, to just the receiver and called in the home theatre expertise of my 2 ex Best Buy home theatre nerds Alex Fiddler and Rich Hart. They both recommended testing on known good equipment to rule everything else out. Fortunately I work for a company that tests video equipment all day long, so I threw it all into my car and took it to work the next day.

I finally determined that every HDMI port on every device but the Xbox had died. Dustin Rand (an employee) showed me the internet that said HDMI is very prone to static electricity. (so anyone using HDMI learn from our lesson and take precautions...) This was a huge bummer... The PS3 we didnt use very often, but the reciever powered our speakers. We then contacted Comcast for a replacement box which showed up a few days later.

To add insult to injury the day after I installed the new comcast box and setup everything back up, we had another storm. Guess what happened? The HDMI went on not only the comcast box, but also our tv and Xbox. 

Whole house surge protector installed
So now we are gearing up to make our first home insurance claim as the total cost to replace all of this equipment is $1700, and our deductible is $500. We have finally learned this time though and installed a whole house surge protector and a nice tripp lite surge protector that comes with a $500,000 insurance policy attached to it.

The day Halley almost killed herself
While installing the whole house surge protector, I wanted Halley downstairs watching me (to call 911 in case I zap myself somehow) But also because I like having us both around working on more substantial projects as it gives us "another set of eyes" and hands to help out. After I installed the device and was ready to turn the power back on, I thought it'd be fun to let Halley flip the main breaker back on. I wanted to leave the front panel off, incase I had done something incorrectly (I have never installed a whole house surge protector before) so the mains terminals were exposed and pretty close to the main breaker.

New panel with faceplate removed
I should have given Halley a bit more warning/instruction, because when she reached to flip the breaker, her hand got sweat-inducingly close to the main terminals. She had no idea how close she got to getting zapped...or how high my heart had risen in my chest watching her.  Before I could shout or pull her away, she had flipped the switch safely and turned around with a big "what?" on her face in response to the guttoral noises I was making.  After doing a ton of research on electricity (and please correct me if I am wrong) there is no more danger in touching one of the house mains, then getting zapped from an outlet, assuming you are not  grounded well. Its still just 120volts and regardless of amperage, that amperage needs a nice path to ground (this is why getting zapped by an outlet doesnt immediate draw all the amps it has to offer and trip the breaker) So I feel a little better now, but at the time I immediately started sweating bullets.

If you look closely, you will notice a 200A on our panel. We finally got our service upgraded!

I worked from home on Tuesday May 39th so the electricians could do their thing. They came early (around 8am) and shut off the electricity around 9am. The service line is supposed to be 18 inches deep, but of course our house had to give the electricians problems by having the line 48 inches deep.

New Panel
The two electricians were very nice, and even suggested putting Molly upstairs while they used their concrete nailer (imagine a nailgun powered by a .22 cartridge) so she didnt have a heart attack. The new panel they installed was much larger so they had to build out the wall a bit so that it would sit flush.

Just because I was working from home didn't mean my office was taking a day off, so I tethered from my phone to deal with the daily fires. The power didn't come back on until 2pm and by that time I had drained every phone/computer in the house. 

The electricians did a great job, I just wish I could say the same about their customer service (see Halley's post). 

Old meter
Panel removed
The new meter

Forgotten house stories
 While working on the house, there are a number of small entries we forget about from time to time, and I wanted to add a few here.

After cutting down the trees, we left the debris on the front yard for a while before we hired a company to come and chip the wood. As they were doing this, one of the workers let Halley know they found a nest of baby bunnies.

The bunnies were so young they were practically hairless. Being the animal nuts that we are, we placed large planters around the nest to make sure that no one accidentally hurt the babies.

Halley still sees a mother and a young bunny almost every morning.

Baby bird looks pissed!
While cutting the lawn this week, I saw something flipping around in the tall grass and stopped the mower. I found another baby, this time a bird... too young to even fly away. I decided to stop for the day and hope the bird would make its way out of the grass so I could finish the next day.

Fortunately I did not run over anything the next day, so I am assuming he continued his journey elsewhere.

Really dumb
 The upstairs bathrooms had a very interesting piece of lighting we still cannot figure out. Take a look at the picture on the right and figure out how to replace a light bulb. The previous owners must have run into this problem as well, because almost every light bulb in the bathrooms upstairs were burnt out and left in place!
Switch and GFCI in one

Full light switch and GFCI
Another annoying aspect of this bathroom was its single outlet. They installed this hybrid switch + GFCI outlet that drove me nuts... Why not install a full GFCI, and a normal light switch? So I did :)

This was my first time installing a new outlet box, so I had no idea how to remove the old one. I decided exploratory drywall sawing was the best way to go. I found that the box was mounted to the stud, but in this case the stud was the door jam... So I decided against removing the entire door jam, and broke out our favorite tool... the sawzall. I am a bit overly cautious when it comes to electricity, and when I turn a circuit back on I always like to have Halley by the outlet just to make sure nothing explodes into flames... This project happened to happen on a day when I had off and Halley did not... So I used skype on my personal phone, and company phone to monitor the outlet in real time as I flipped the breaker back on. After a bit of drywall patching, everything looks good as new!