Friday, February 26, 2010


We passed our first general inspection on the inside of the house. The electrical, plumbing, tankless water heater, gas, framing and sub-floor were all under scrutiny. There were several things he asked the plumber to take care of but we have a signature and can now start insulating. The funniest thing that came from it all is that the inspector told E, he trusts E is doing things right because he knows me and that E is accountable to me. I love it. Thankfully E found it funny as well.

We also received word that our windows should show up in several weeks. We know this because they've asked if they could use our house to film a training/marketing video on window installation. We are guaranteed our windows will be installed right. We'll have proof if anything goes awry too. I'm crossing my fingers that Marvin will throw in a free window with the deal. I don't have high hopes though, but a girl can dream.

We've come to a close on the major construction projects. Our moat has been filled and our yard shouldn't see too much more heavy traffic. This means we've started planning tree plantings. First up is getting trees planted into the easement through our city urban forestry program.

Chinese Pistachio: I've seen it described as the new urban darling. It grows to a mature height of 30' with a width of 25'. Growth is up to 3' per year. It is a drought tolerant and super hearty plant, resisting winds and infestations. The fall colors are gorgeous. Female trees produces pretty berries and flower. The males create pollen which might induce allergies and I'm not sure I want to subject myself to that. Bring on the mess making berries! The best part is that given we have a double lot, I think we can easily get the city to plant two trees, one to each side of the house.

Look at the pretty tree here: click me!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Guest Blog by E

Since the boss is gone for a couple of months attending to her singing career, I've taken over the general contractor position temporarily. The electrical sub-contractor finally did the under-cabinet lights (what a pain!) and the porch light and we are now finished with rough electrical. I've scheduled our rough inspection (plumbing, electrical, and framing) for this upcoming Wednesday. Roof final will happen as well. Hopefully we pass, and we can move along to insulation.

Speaking of insulation, there are many options as to how to do the ceiling. I investigated the new high tech spray foam... but the company wasn't interested in our house. Blow in cellulose seems like a good option to me, but K doesn't like it. (not exactly sure why...) So we're going to do good ol' fiberglass rolls.

If one looks at the energy department guidelines for insulation, one would see that the recommended R value in our region is between 30 and 60. I did a little recon at Home Depot and priced out the various form factors of Owens Corning Insulation and determined, to my surprise, the doing a double layer of R19 and then R30 is actually cheaper than doing a single layer of R30! How is this? R30 faced (required on the 1st layer or if only doing 1 layer for a vapor barrier) only comes in batts, which is significantly more expensive than rolls. R19 comes in faced rolls, and R30 unfaced (for a 2nd layer) also comes in rolls... so it looks like we'll have R49, which seems pretty high to me. A benefit to doing 2 layers is that we can place them perpendicular to each other, and therefor reduce the possibility of leaks around seams and such. Of course, before we insulate we'll need to go around and carefully seal all the holes with caulk or foam sealant. Every hole drilled for electrical and plumbing is a potential energy leak, and needs to be sealed for the most efficiency.

At this point in the project, doing electrical work is boring and tedious and my mind has started to shift towards the solar water system. The solar sub-system, which will work with both the domestic hot water and the radiant heat, is a closed loop system. A pump moves fluid around in a loop and transfers heat from the roof-mounted collectors to a big storage tank via an internal heat exchanger. I picked an evacuated tube collector because they are more efficient than the cheaper flat panel collectors with higher water temperatures... a necessity when using the system to help with the radiant heat in the winter. It better work!
Evacuated Tube Solar Collector

Yesterday I put the 82 gallon storage tank (with a double heat exchanger) in the drain pan. The tank weighs about 400lbs empty, a good 320 lbs more than I care to lift. Luckily for us, the previous roof leaked, which caused me to cut a hole in the ceiling of the utility closet, which in turn provided a perfect spot to suspend the tank with 2 tie-downs. Each tie-down claimed it had a 340lb working load rating... but they seemed pretty strained at only 200lbs each. Whatever though... they did the job and I was able to hoist the tank up a few inches and slide in the drain pan.

The next step is to strap the storage tank to the walls for seismic events, and plumb 2 fiberglass-insulated copper pipes to the roof mounted collector. Then I'll attach the delta-T circulator pump (pumps only when the temperature of the water in the collectors is higher than the water in the storage tank), the pressure relief valve, the expansion tank, the air eliminator valve, the temperature sensors, and a few other things and the solar water plumbing will be finished. Too bad we don't have any need for hot water yet (we don't have any fixtures installed!), as we'll be ready to collect the sun's energy quite soon!
Above: TACO Delta-T Solar Pump

Above: Expansion Tank
Above: Air Eliminator

Finally, PG&E stopped by a couple of days ago and gave me an earful as to how our electric meter is just kind of dangling off of the house. The PG&E guy asked me to add a couple of temporary straps to secure the meter, which I did. I'm not that enthusiastic about working around the power wires coming in from the power company... there are no breakers if something goes wrong. I'll be quite pleased when our stucco is done and the meter is firmly secured back to the house.


Friday, February 19, 2010

While the cat is away

E has not been at play. He has been working hard while I've been out of town.

Last update I received:

E wired the last circuits in the kitchen: microwave, dishwasher, sockets. The utility room electrical has been done. The GFCI circuit in the front bathroom has been hooked up. Several outlet boxes have been replaced and secured. Several of them were done before the dry rot demo on the outside of our house, but since they were on the walls that were removed, they ended up dangling. The only wiring left to take care of is the outlet in the laundry room, under cabinet lighting, and living room sockets.

We are also in desperate need of a label maker. Yes, it is a need. Who doesn't need a label maker? With the whole house basically rewired, we've been keeping track of all the circuits in the fuse box. Once we are final, I'd like to make it more permanent with shiny new, legible, labels. Legibility being the key.

Before I left however, we had a sad bit of news. There was one more corner of the house that had some possible dry rot. The contractor and his crew working on the project opened up a test hole on the back corner of our house, on the exterior of the master bedroom. The hole grew, and grew, and grew.

At this point, we should be free and clear of rot and termite damage. Should.

I've finally gotten around to removing some serious hazards from the property. So far, I've carted over 30 gallons of toxic materials to the household hazardous waste drop off facility. When we purchased the property, there was a mess of grand proportions outside. Remember? Part of the mess included buckets of old paint, stain, oil, chemicals, fertilizers, pesticides, and mysterious unmarked containers.

Here's a shot of one of our two waste piles before my two trips to the dump site.
Here is an after shot. Notice, I still have another trunk load to go.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Fixer Up Fashion

My DIY mentality has made me fashionable. Here I was lamenting the fact that my wardrobe has consisted of paint stained, concrete encrusted, cut up and semi-destroyed pants. In fact, I have been leading the way. I am a fashion icon, a trend setter. Don't believe me? 

Feast your eyes on the J.Crew Vintage slim jean in painter wash

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

When will it rain?

Of all things, E is now checking the weather to see when it will rain again, in eager anticipation! Yes, that means we are the proud new owners of a fully functional and non-leaking roof.

I've been dreaming of details far in the future. Let us take a moment to indulge my fantasies.


You really have to cast your mind for this picture. Sure, the floor is covered in miscellaneous construction dirt and grime, the wall is missing behind the tub, but we do have a toilet seat, a towel bar and two lovely towels.
At E's urging, we are playing it safe and going with both towels in the blue. I'm toying with painting the walls the green color from the other bird towel. Now, I'm not completely jumping the gun here, a few weeks ago I visited my mother and helped her pick out paint, towels, etc. I must have had way too much fun since she then sent me a gift card to Pottery Barn so that I too could bring home the darling bird towels. Someday soon we will have a bathroom to hang them in. Thanks Mom!

More future dreams and musings in the form of house numbers.
These are the forerunners at the moment. Mission house numbers from Rejuvenation in oil rubbed bronze or antiqued brass, which ever is closest to the final restored patina on our door hardware.

Lighting. I'm currently drooling over these fixtures at a local salvage yard. I am plotting their (or something similar) ascent to the dining room and living room ceiling, respectively.
Since I'm sure E will read this post and think "old lady", I'm asking, "Any other suggestions?"

That's all the dreaming I can handle for now, back to reality for me. Tomorrow I get a massage.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Men at Work

Under the house, over the house, in the house - crawling with men. These are some of the over the house variety providing us with a fancy schmancy modified bitumen roof, new flashing, larger drains and more vents. The company, Collins Roofing, is run by three Irish brothers. It is pretty spectacular.
The roof came off, the light came in. Our skylight opened up and it's even better than I was hoping. My initial hope was to help bring a bit of light into the dining room as well. Mission accomplished.
Perhaps we'll even keep the open airy, outdoor room feel too. Who needs a full roof, I kind of like the slips of light peaking between the boards. The picture below however was not a planned skylight, simply more of the ever so present dry rot. Not to fear gentle readers, all was replaced with spiffy new boards. This is of course at the lowest point in the roof, right in front of the teeny-tiny drain. Funnily, as with most of the house, the old portion (pre-back addition) had a great slope to the roof and lasted many many years. The new roof has at best a 2" slope for a 20' run of roof. The roofers are also trying to fix that little oversight.
Here we have more men at work. Go men, go.The process went something like this: Roofers showed up at 7:30am, prepped and began removing old roof. They cut out rot, expanded drains in exterior parapets, expanded drain between old house and newer addition, rolled on tar paper, and began nailing down tar paper for the next several hours. Continued nailing. Nail. Nail. Owners of new roof, aka me, receive messages from neighbors that the nailing can be heard from miles away. Walk miles away, hear nailing. The flame throwers came out. E commented that it was like our own mini Burningman on our roof. Unfortunately, the rain put an end to all the fun, but neighbors if you're reading, tomorrow is full blown flame torch day!

The men under the house continued to fortify our house against future earthquakes. And the men in and around the house began to fill the walls that were opened due to the dry rot with insulation. It's so pretty and pink.

I had another ebay success today after yesterday's bitter disappointment. After deciding on a coordinating light fixture to our newly purchased porch light, I found that several, un-restored but very restoreable versions were available on ebay. Since I had success with my last beginner light wiring project, I thought I'd take it a few steps further.
These are destined for the mud room door and the kitchen door. Both will get sand blasted and powder coated black. I'll then wire and buy matching shades for them. Voila, two vintage cast iron sconces for less than the price of a single new one. I'm sensing some hesitation and disbelief on your part. Don't worry, I think E has a bit of that going on as well.

Now, going back to yesterday -

E had some more quality under house time.
I got to stay above ground and wire the kitchen outlets while he drilled the holes and ran the wire. We got a total of four of these outlets hooked up last night and I'd never have guessed it, but every single one of them was in use today. I even caught one worker searching the house for a free outlet.
E also installed all the duct work, both bathroom fans and our microwave range hood, making today's roofing a reality. Now we've come full circle.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Friday Night

Here it is, late on a Friday night, and we're all tucked in bed. It has been a party of a week and it has taken a toll on E. He has been spending a good portion of his time crawling around in the crawl space. Perhaps crawl is a bit of an exaggeration. Due to his efforts, a huge portion of our electrical work has been completed to date. Just last night, E ran and hooked up the stove circuit, the garbage disposal, the refrigerator circuit and 2 kitchen outlets.
Notice the pretty earthquake bracket attaching our sill to the foundation. Also, see the handsome plywood shear-wall. Then there is the hole E is looking out of, that is what is kindly referred to as a passage. Yes, he somehow manages to maneuver through that generous opening.

On the construction front, the house has been rid of dry rot and termite damage. The earthquake retrofit and dry rot repair inspection is scheduled for early next week. We are then looking at insulation and plywood the same day. Wednesday another inspection and hopefully the weather will cooperate and we'll have the wire and paper for the stucco go up on Thursday. Monday the roof work starts and our skylight goes in which I picked up today. The other windows made the most recent delivery truck and are currently en-route. They should arrive at their new home sometime before the end of February.

We have been enjoying some lovely weather this week. The house has been humming with activity and Sophie has been able to get some sun bathing in.
But as for this weekend, we expect some showers and our house has its raincoat on in anticipation.

I haven't been soaking up the rays, no, I've gone popcorn happy. I did get around to tackling the hallway and here it is sporting its new look:

I also coated the master bedroom with several miles of plastic sheeting and painter's tape. I also encased our refrigerator and stove in a very artistic yet functional fashion.

I was planning on actually getting down to work on Sunday sometime but inspiration hit and my Friday evening was full of spraying and scraping. The good news is that it came down pretty cleanly and easily. The room is still a royal mess since I'm letting the now sticky popcorn goo dry a bit before I clean it up. The best news though is that our house is officially a popcorn free zone! This deserves a celebration, maybe next year when we're rested and up for partying.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Window Order

I just finalized our window & door order. There were quite a few numbers on the total line - enough to make me hesitate.

We keep hearing that the cost will be worth it. E is on board 100%. Even having experienced the difference of laminated glass for sound reduction, I had heart palpitations. The showroom is next to a railroad track and of course, all the exterior windows are laminated. It was amazing.

I feel confident in the windows, Marvin Ultimate Double Hung, Ultimate Replacement and Marvin Tilt Pac. All are Coconut Cream aluminum clad, primed pine interior. All of the original divided lites are being retained. All the doors, kitchen, mudroom, master bedroom double door are three point locking with one large glass pane.

We went with a double pane on all the windows, glass interior and laminated exterior for sound reduction (we do live on a busy street and next to the BART tracks) and energy efficiency. An added bonus is that they are security glass. After 2 robberies at our last house and a possible 3rd attempt, anything to make it harder to gain access into our house is a good thing.

I'm quietly reassuring myself as I type this.

We've seen the windows around town on some houses and unless you were walking up close to the house and specifically trying to pick them out, they look like the traditional wood windows I love. The reasoning behind the aluminum clad is two fold. One, once we have completed the renovation, our energy level for home upkeep will be on the low side. We are aiming at low maintenance. Secondly, our last house had brand new wood windows in several spots and even after priming and painting, it only took 2yrs for paint to bubble and peel. It could be the paints today it could be the direct light that they were receiving or the ocean air. Any way you slice it, we're giving this a go. You have to make a decision at some point and we're the king and queen of over research.

I did have a moment several minutes before submitting the order. After looking closely and noticing that the hardware on the tilt pack costs me money, and a bit more than a more traditional lock and pull would, I almost had them take it off the order so that I could order my own elsewhere and install them all myself after the windows were in. Like I don't have enough to do. Again, it would have been one more decision - or several more if I could manage to make it so.

Breathe. There, now I feel better.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Rewiring the Light

Before I get to the light, I have to share that the kitchen cabinets arrived at 7:30am this morning. We emptied out the living room the night before in anticipation. The two largest cabinets are sitting in other rooms of the house since they were too big to bring in the front door. Still, I think the loot is pretty impressive.

Now, for the snappy re-wiring of the light.
Step 1. Remove old socket, replace with new socket.

Step 2. Remember to thread ball & chain through fixture on second try.

Step 3. Screw socket in and admire handy work.

Step 4. Assemble new mounting hardware into one place,
arrange and take picture.

Step 5. Install new mounting hardware and prep wires for socket installation with a flashlight as the main light source. Remove previously installed socket from light fixture. Search garage for nut to fit onto back of grounding screw. Drop screw into box of Styrofoam peanuts. Abandon screw and attach ground wire to mounting hardware. Install socket and proceed to drop another screw into box of Styrofoam peanuts. Fish out screw. Remember to thread ball and chain the first time. Think to self, remember to move box of Styrofoam peanuts out of the way next time.

Step 6. Step back, turn on switch and admire.

Other happenings around the house:
E wired the three way switch for the mud room lights and started on the disposal outlet. We made a Depot run. I put the second coat of paint on the ironing board cabinet door. I picked up a humongous drain pan for the water storage tank at Moran Plumbing. I absolutely love that place. More stucco came off of our house, but I can see the end is near, for that side of the house at least. Last but not least, I prepped the hall for popcorn removal which is to commence tomorrow. Now that it's nearly midnight and I've put in my 16.5hrs for the day, I'm off to bed.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Where to start?

I'll begin with the good and work my way up to the ugly.

The e-bay bathroom light arrived in the mail today and it looks every bit as cute in person. We do need to re-wire it but that should be a snap. The porch light is also on its way. I opted for the lengthier, curvier model.

I have the fabric for the ironing board. I also have fabric for napkins, the yellow lemons I'd previously considered for the ironing board. I'm not sure in what century I'll get to sew them but they sure will be cute.
-ironing board fabric-

The house has seen some major work the past several days. In the hours before I left town for the weekend the windows were measured one final time. I'll complete the order tomorrow or Wednesday. I have several questions I need answered before we fork over large wads of cash. I'm was quite excited to learn from our installer that lead time for the windows is about half what I expected.

E met with the roofer and we are second in line for a roof in the next two weeks, weather permitting. We have to wait a week or so because our house is undergoing what I think of as Phase I termite/dry-rot repair. This was what the house looked like as I left for St. Louis:
-back corner by little bedroom, before-

While I was away, even more of the house was opened up. The good news is that they are working fast and new lumber is going in:
-back corner by little bedroom, after-

-front corner by office-
Notice E's handy work in the foreground; what a lovely trench.

-West wall along office and little bedroom-

-West wall along office-

We were expecting some dry rot/termite damage. We were not expecting this much. Our contractor has even apologized, that sort of worried me. We have so much damage that our contractor feels bad? Ouch. The silver lining in all of this is that the wall insulation we'd been pining for is a reality. I estimate we'll be able to insulate 75% of the small bedroom, and with the way stucco was flying off of our walls today, 50% of the second bathroom, and 50% of the office. E contacted a company that does spray in foam, they didn't want anything to do with our little house. I guess old homes are not worth the effort on their part. We toyed with the idea of pulling off plaster and lathe but in the end, that wasn't worth the effort and cost on our part. So in short, the adage of being careful what you wish for, does indeed have some truth behind it.