Category Archives: House

A Christmas to Remember

Christmas is such a nice time of year.  Like most people who celebrate Christmas, we enjoy the time with family, the great food, and the fun we share exchanging gifts, baking cookies and listening to holiday music.  It’s always a special time and a real joy for me.

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This year (actually just a few weeks ago), my parents have bought a house nearby and came to their new place (into which they have not yet really moved).  My elderly aunt and uncle and my brother and sister-in-law came and stayed with my parents in their new house.  My gang hung around the new place too and it was setting up to be a really fun time.  My brother and I planned to do a few projects to “tighten up” the new place and then just goof around for fun.

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The house had been empty for a good period of time so there are always kinks that need to be worked out.  The kitchen and bathrooms were remodeled and had never been used so we figured there might be a few little things as is common with new construction.  Little did we know…

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As people started using the plumbing, we discovered that the shower drain leaked, the installers had cracked the tub spigot, the door was not sealed in and the water control valve was not installed correctly.  My brother and I set about remedying all of those issues by basically yanking out all of the things and re-installing the tub/shower correctly.  Meanwhile, we found that the wax ring on one of the toilets was leaking.  It turns out that the plumbers had not tightened the hold-down bolts at all…it’s a wonder the toilet didn’t just topple over when used.

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Meanwhile, my Mom was cooking in the kitchen and ran some peels down the disposal.  I think there was a drainage problem beforehand with a clogged pipe, but the peels made it very apparent and stopped up the kitchen drain completely.  We had a snake and ran a good bit into the drain to clear it but it was a job for a plumber…after-hours on a weekend.  The guy came out and was great and ran 50 feet of snake into the drain and made it better but definitely not clear.  He’s coming back to finish later this week when regular rates apply.  Hopefully that will be a simple fix!

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My aunt became very ill during the shower fix and we were concerned that she was in very bad shape during all of this…it came to the point where we called an ambulance to take her to the ER.  Since my brother and I had the shower apart, Emily volunteered to go along to the hospital with my aunt and uncle.  About 5 hours later, we found she had both kidney and gall stones and all was basically ok (the wonders of medicine!)

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Around 8 or 9 that evening, when everything seemed to be winding down and it seemed like nothing else could go wrong…you guessed it…more went wrong!  The hot water heater started leaking water pretty badly…it turns out there was a faulty pressure relief valve that didn’t really need any pressure before it decided to relieve itself.  No hardware stores were open when we figured out what was going on so I got a new one the next morning.  We were back in business in 20 minutes or so and everyone could get hot showers!

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As bad as all of this sounds, for some reason, it just wasn’t a stressful weekend for me.  LOTS of stuff went wrong, but it all had fairly clear solutions.  I knew everything was going to be ok and that I’d have a good story to tell.  I doubt it is necessary to document this entire weekend here as I doubt I’ll ever forget it, but just in case, this was definitely a Christmas unlike any other!

It once again rolls downhill

Awhile back, I mentioned that we had a pretty bad Saturday that culminated in erupting sewage in our house.  There is more to the story of course and you dear friends, are always so patient to listen to my ramblings…

The tool of doom!
The tool of doom!

So we finished our ’round-the-clock pumping and called the plumbers.  They immediately told us that our city sanitary board offers a free service where they will run a camera through the system to identify the location of the problem.  In fact, a simple clog will sometimes break free when their camera passes so we were pleased with the possibility.  The city came and did their thing…after they finally found a spot that the could even access the system.  You see, in our old house, there are essentially no viable clean-outs they could use.  Luckily they were able to access the system through the floor drain that was the original source of our problems.  After some work, they identified a spot 44′ out into the yard that was the problem…it just went black on the camera.

Replacing our sewer line
Replacing our sewer line

We called our plumbers back and they began the task of roto-rooting the system.  Of course, without a clean-out, they had problems.   The only option for their bigger tool was to remove one of our toilets and go through the system that way.  Luckily we have 3 bathrooms so we weren’t immediately doomed.  The problem, however, was that they got their tool stuck in the system somewhere 80′ or so in from the entry point.

Replacing our sewer line
Replacing our sewer line…all the way down to the main!

The only solution was to excavate to retrieve their tool.  I figured that since they were going to have to excavate, we might as well replace the old clay tile pipe with new pvc and hopefully avert future crises.  So, with a huge tool still stuck in our bathroom and plugging a large part of our drain system, we entered day 3…or was it day 4?  Who knows?  Anyhow, the excavator came and dug up a large part of our yard, including the water line which was apparently buried on top of the sewer line.  Yeah!  More problems and expense!  Yeah!   #+@#$*!  It turns out the line was full of roots from the house clear to the city’s tap.  The city had to replace their tap and a section of their line as well…luckily that won’t immediately cost me.

Replacing our sewer line
Covered again…waiting for the mud!

Everything eventually got put back together and reburied.  We flushed and flushed to make sure it all rolled downhill as…stuff…is meant to do.  There is nothing left in our basement so it seems that all is well once again in our little piece of Heaven!


I get picked on from time to time and usually by my wife.  Oh I know, some of you who know her well would never believe it, but it’s true…she picks on me!

Ahhh...Jergens lotion!
Ahhh…Jergens lotion!

So the other day, were were both complaining about “winter hands” so I went to the store and started sniffing for the right lotion.  I don’t like hand lotion much but bleeding knuckles suck so I suspend my dislike for the winter months.  Still, I don’t want to smell like a girl.  So I popped the lids on some and did the sniff test.  The scents were all over the place…some were stinky or girly or reminiscent of the southbound end of a northbound moose.

Finally, I happened upon a bottle of Jergens – original scent.  I knew I had my lotion!  I love this stuff!  It instantly transported me to my childhood where one of my relatives had Jergens in her house.  As a child, that smell was one of luxury.  I have no idea why but that’s how I viewed it.  I look back on it now and it’s silly, but my child-brain kicked in and it didn’t matter…I wanted to enjoy that luxurious feel in my home.  And sure enough, Jergens lotion is great!  It doesn’t stay oily and it works well on winter hands!  So I told Emily my story using those words and she has been picking on me ever since!  I don’t even care though…I am living a luxurious life!

There is a second part of the life of luxury I live…

The other night I was preparing to jump in the shower around 11pm.  It was a “work night” and pretty typical of my usual routine.  I cranked the water on, waited for it to heat up and jumped in.  I had my washcloth all lathered up when all of a sudden, water shot everywhere except out of the shower head.      I looked and the flexible pipe broke where it attaches to the wall.  We have long had a cheap low-flow shower head on a junky flexible hose that had a mind of its own.  It finally broke which didn’t make me sad.  Breaking at 11pm made me sad as neither Emily nor I had gotten a shower and we didn’t want to be unshowered for work the next day.

Broken shower hose
Well that sucks

I decided I would just go to Walmart  for a replacement.  It’s the only place open at 11pm.  They had a wide assortment of junk but I spied one shower head that had a metalish hose rather than an all plastic hose…sold!  They didn’t sell any hoses without the head but I never liked the hose or the head we had anyhow.  Surely, the metal hose has to be better than the plastic one that broke.

My new shower head
Ahhh, the life of luxury!

So here is the luxury part.  I didn’t realize it until I got home but this was not a low-flow shower head.  It was an “EcoSpa” and had green ink on its packaging.  It wasn’t until I got home that what made it “eco” was the “water-saving pause switch”.  Talk about worthless.  I saw “USA” on the package when I grabbed it too…I was feeling pretty good …until I got home.  It was packaged in the US of A.  Talk about a whole bunch of marketing crap!  Anyhow, I feel bad having a water-wasting shower head, but I have to tell you, the regular flow shower head is super nice.  I didn’t realize how pitiful the other was until I installed this new head (at, oh, about 12:15am) and grabbed a shower.  Talk about luxurious!

Please don’t judge me for using all these highfalutin things.  I promise to ask Emily to use the pause switch when she shaves her legs…

Watch out for the guy on the loader

We ripped down all of the walls from Abigail’s room and loaded it into boxes.  We just got “medium” boxes from a store and they weighed, when full, around 80 pounds each.  Emily and I hauled them down the steps to the trailer.  One day last week, I hitched up the trailer and headed to the dump.  I have never been to a landfill before.  When we lived in TN, our county had a really cool place we called the dump.  In actuality, it was a bunch of big dumpsters where the county would accept trash, metal, plastics, etc…pretty much everything.  It was open every day and was super convenient.  It was a dump I guess but not a true landfill.

At the landfill At the landfill

So, here in WV, my county does not have a TN style dump so I had to take the boxes to our proper landfill.  I don’t know if you have ever taken stuff to a landfill, but it was an adventure!  I pulled onto scales where the nice lady took down my information and my weight.  She then told me to “follow the dust and stay out of the way of the guy on the loader.”  I get that it is a large piece of equipment, but it made me wonder if the guy on the loader was stable.

At the landfill At the landfill

Anyhow, I followed the dust awhile and sure enough, I could see a huge loader driving back and forth over a huge pile of junk and trash.  Truck after truck was lined up.  They whipped around and backed up to the pile, somehow missing the guy on the loader.  Some unloaded stuff by hand, while others in the big trucks dumped and ran.  Not having a dump trailer, I had to back into my spot and unload by hand.  As you might guess, the smell was…bad…very bad.  Bits of stuff were blowing around.  Crows were picking over who-knows-what.  It was dusty and I always had to keep an eye out for the guy on the loader.

At the landfill
Watch out! It’s the loader!

Once I had it all unloaded, I had to drive my way back out through the huge ruts and blowing junk.  Getting out was harder as there was no dust to follow.  There was still plenty of dust but it wasn’t the following kind of dust.  Anyhow, I finally made it back out and drove back up onto the scales.  My load ended up weighing 820 pounds which cost me around $16.  That seemed like a pretty good deal.  I had another same-sized load I took another day so my house certainly groaned with relief.  One little room shed 1600 or so pounds of weight.  I guess the guy on the loader was probably happy to see more junk to push around too, so all in all, it was a pretty cool experience.  My nose will never be the same and I permanently coated my lungs with pulverized nasty blowing around the landfill.  Who knows, maybe the guy on the loader was trying to find his way out and was just following the wrong dust!

Torn down

Abigail wanted a new bedroom and that’s what she is going to get!  Emily’s Dad, Emily, and Abigail tore up the carpet and tack strips and I demolished the walls and ceiling.

Ripping up carpet

That sounds easy and mostly it was (I used a 16 pound hammer which made things go quickly) but it was filthy work.

Ripping up carpet

The other day, I said there was no insulation in her walls but I was wrong.  When our house was built in 1939, apparently it was pretty modern.  The builders used Kimsul insulation, made by Kimberly-Clarke.  Kimsul is made from bats of crepe paper impregnated with asphalt.  Apparently it was originally developed as an insulation for refrigerators, car dashboards and homes.  I am not much for old movies but Kimsul was popularized by Cary Grant in the movie, “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House”.  Mr Blandings didn’t have to go back in years later and deal with it though!

We dress down a little when we work on our house

We dress down a little when we work on our house…

Imagine 75 year old crepe paper exposed to numerous heating and cooling cycles.  It was packed down into a nearly flattened blanket so had no insulation value left (insulation only works if it is not compressed…it has to have dead air space to slow the transfer of heat).

Kimsul insulation is a mess

Whenever I touched the Kimsul, no matter how gently, it disintegrated and turned into Kim-snow.  It’s dirty-oil-brown, paper-like and all around miserable stuff.

Covered in insulation Dust mask covered in insulation

Emily and I wore dust masks and glasses so we were somewhat protected, but we still got pretty messy.  I just took a shovel and scooped up the old plaster and insulation into boxes and we carried it down to the trailer in preparation for a run to the landfill.  We are almost done with all of that so she should be back into her new and improved room in…oh…6-8 years!

I’m a lumberjack and I’m ok (though just barely)

We had that massive mess-making derecho storm around June.  We were out of town for all of the fun but had to drive through the heart of the storm which was terrifying.  We had a good weekend away and all that, but when we came home, we found that a number of trees had not fared well.  We cleaned up the immediate messes but the remaining parts of one tree that still hung over our house bothered me.

Cutting down a tree Cutting down a tree

A few weekends ago, my folks were down for a visit.  We are always good for a project while they are here as my Dad is good at helping me think through things.  He also gets a good laugh when I press onward and do something stupid in spite of our planning.  Anyhow, we decided to cut the one tree that hangs over my dining room, power lines, AC, dog house, chain link and vinyl fences as well as Isaac’s bedroom and my patio with glass table and a nice picket fence.  Sounds like fun, eh?

Cutting down a tree Cutting down a tree

A few years ago I bought an electric chainsaw for trimming tree limbs.  Cutting this tree down is like trimming, right?  Who cares?  I used it to cut a lot of this tree down and only got the saw stuck in the tree one time where it was above my head such that I couldn’t reach it to get it down.  That part…not fun.

Cutting down a tree Cutting down a tree

We used some ropes, a ladder, my electric saw, and some foul language to bring down this ugly stupid house-hating tree…mostly anyhow.  I have one more section to cut but I just need to wait for a really windy day…or not.  I’ll wait for a day when Emily and the kids are away so I can sing that last limb a nice lullaby…a profanity-laced, meet-your-final-demise-stinking-tree lullaby.

Cutting down a tree Cutting down a tree

I came away (so far) mostly intact so I consider myself a near-professional tree trimmer now!  So where are my flip-flops again?  I have another branch to cut!


We had a sleep-over for Abigail’s birthday a few weeks ago.  We were talking about what we had to do to prepare and the first thing Abigail said is, “Can we clean up outside?  Can we start with the fence?  It looks trashy!”  Well, she had a point.  We bought this house 6 or so years ago and the fence was a wreck then.  It had stupid English ivy growing all over it and that stuff sucks.  I mean, it sucks the life out of anything it touches.  I despise the miserable stuff.  Oops…sorry…off topic.

Old picket fence
Isn't that old fence a beauty?
Old picket fence
I seriously just pulled it out of place! It was junk!

Anyhow, so back to the fence.  We looked sideways at the old fence and it fell down…well, the parts that didn’t just disintegrate fell over the hill.  Emily hoisted 3 new fence panels into the van all by herself (don’t ask…she was most seriously displeased with the lack of attention from the worthless staff at our local home improvement store).  I dug a lot of post holes when I put up the fence for the bee yard.  It doesn’t get any better with time, my friends.  I once again used the auger which is a man-killer.  Post hole diggers kill also, it just goes faster with the auger and this project was no different.

A post hole!
Auger the center of the earth!
New picket fence
Ain't it a beauty?!

So, we got the new fence up and the party went off without a hitch.  I don’t think that a single 9 year old noticed that we had a new fence in place.  I don’t think my neighbors cared much about my new fence.  Honestly, I sort of don’t care much about the new fence either.  The good news is that we now have a new place to air out shoes or hang laundry to dry.  I am so glad Abigail suggested this new fence so we won’t look trashy!

The sleeping loft

We have busted it pretty hard and the place is finally looking like a house (or at least a deluxe shed)!  I took Thursday off from work to frame in the gable ends and add collar ties at the top of the rafters. For the uninitiated, collar ties are boards that are added at the peak where each side’s rafters meet.  The collar tie helps to ensure that the boards cannot separate and splay out causing the roof to fail.  In typical trusses that most people have in new houses, all of the internal pieces are connected by several cross beams (which also make the attic area of most new houses almost unusable.

The gable end of our small cabin before I framed it in Getting ready to frame in the gable on my small cabin.  Check out the overhang on the roof

The open gable ends, about to be framed

Anyhow, I got the collar ties in and the gable ends framed including large windows in the front and the back.  I had to run the generator to power the saws of course, but I shut it down whenever I could and it was so peaceful up there.  I could just imagine standing in the top of the place looking out over the woods and hearing only the wind and water.

Collar ties Collar ties

The collar ties are the horizontal boards near the peak of each set of rafters

It was in the 20s on Thursday morning so all of the rain that had fallen into the open shell was frozen on the floor.  As I was working alone, it was pretty treacherous and kept me on my toes.  It really highlighted how urgent a roof overhead is to keep things safe and intact.

Beginning to frame in the gable ends Beginning to frame in the gable ends

Making progress on the gable ends

What made the collar ties and gable framing so urgent is that I have decided to hire a guy to put the actual roof on the place.  I have no safety equipment and since the roof is a 10:12 pitch, it is far too steep to easily traverse without it.  Without the work I finished up, however, it would not have been safe for him to be up there either.  Hopefully the roof will be on this weekend so I can finish buttoning up the building for winter.

Big window framed into the gable of our small cabin Big window framed into the gable of our small cabin

I got a big window framed into each end of the gable


Cleaning up near the stairwell of our small cabin Cleaning up near the stairwell of our small cabin

A little cleaner…mind the gap!

So, after I finished up that work, I cleaned up the 25 pounds of sawdust that I had generated and sat and enjoyed the view.  It was such a nice day and I started really seeing the place come together.    There’s no shortage of work left to do but we are nearly to a point where I can start to really employ child labor to finish the inside…”Hey kids, momma and I are going to take a walk…don’t fight and hang some sheet rock, would you?”


See all of the progress on the cabin

Electrical roulette

We are always amazed as we repair and replace stuff in our old house.  Amazed and terrified in most cases.  Take, for example, the outside lights we replaced a few weeks ago.  They were junky looking lights and one had stopped working.  They looked ancient so we figured it wasn’t worth trying to fix them up.  Up I climb on my ladder and off comes the set screw holding it all together.  My jaw dropped as I lowered the light from the box holding the light in the wall.  Both lights were connected to regular 12 gauge wire by telephone wire (24 gauge).  In case you are not familiar, 12 gauge wire is a pretty typical size wire for running electricity through a house.  On the other hand, I used to play with 24 gauge telephone wire as a kid when I wanted to mess with flashlight batteries and tiny gizmos.  Twelve gauge wire is rated for a maximum of 25 Amps in free air, or 20 Amps as part of a 3 conductor cable (i.e. typical household usage).  Telephone wire is not rated at all for household current.

Ok, I know, I am going on and on.  I just can’t imagine what would make someone decide to connect an obviously very skinny wire (diameter of 0.0201 inches) to a very not-skinny wire (diameter of 0.0808 inches…4 times the diameter of the other).  Even if you know little about electricity, I would think one would at least pause for a moment upon seeing such a difference.  Check this out for a graphic

Fortunately my house didn’t burn down.  I don’t know how previous owners didn’t have problems aside from the fact that the lights were probably rarely used because of their location.  As we work through the issues in this money-pit adventure of home ownership, I shudder to think of what else lies in wait for us.

Anyone else see crazy stuff in your house and wonder how you survive?

It’s draining

I have been pretty lame about writing much lately.  It seems like life has taken over and left us without a life.  We have soccer two nights and one day a week, we have taekwondo two nights a week and we sometimes have to go buy groceries now and then.  I know our situation is not unique, but gee whiz, life can be draining.  I hope to have some news in the coming weeks about what we plan to do to remedy that, but that’s another story.

Anyhow, in the time I have on the weekends, I have been working on our house.  It’s mostly slow more so than steady, but I have to ponder my progress in between stopping points.  Emily wishes I pondered a little less I think, but I always have to work up the nerve to tear into the next portion of a project.  Once I start, I am usually fine…it’s just that starting part that’s tough.

Anyhow, I have been working on the basement bathroom for…uh…a year or more?  Yeah, I know.  Well, it’s because the shower had me scared.  Our basement shower has water pressure like a fire hose so that makes it potentially awesome.  The problem is that whoever installed it did so with absolutely no vapor barrier and with a drain profile that makes the floor so steep that it is hard to stand in.  It was really really ugly and poorly done too.  I decided to redo the whole mess and let it watery awesomeness be available for our usage once again!  Yeah, sounds good doesn’t it?  As I said above, I had to work up the nerve to do something about it.  Once I crack the first tile, all was well, but getting to that took a great deal of pondering.

I started banging on the floor with a sledge hammer and a chisel.  I needed to get access to the drain underneath so I could remedy that awful slope in the floor.  My house has a mixture of clay tile and cast iron drain pipes.  I originally thought that the shower drain was cast iron.  It had a cast iron top piece.  As I worked my way through the concrete, I discovered that the cast iron pipe was a decoy…it hung over a larger clay tile drain depending on gravity and good luck to let the water fall through the cast iron and into the clay…and it basically worked.  I was using an electric hammer to do a lot of the work (after an unfortunate finger/chisel/sledge hammer incident).  I worked without a care until I discovered the clay…holy cow I did not want to break that or replace it.  It was in great shape and under a lot more concrete so I decided to leave well enough alone.

The famed finger of the unfortunate finger/chisel/sledge hammer incident

Eventually I got it opened and in tact.  The clay tile is a trap so water was laying in the pipe.  I was able to feel through the trap and found that it was clear (yes, it is big enough for me to run my arm through it!).  The local plumbing supply place hooked me up with some pvc to join to the clay since my original plan to use a boot to cast iron was foiled.

I got the new drain in place and started the process of layering concrete and metal mesh and rubber liner on the floor to make a proper shower floor.  The original floor had a slope of 3 inches.  By code, the floor was supposed to have a slope of 3/4 of an inch.  

My shower is not yet finished, but at least I now have a vapor-barrier-enhanced-properly-sloped-much-nicer-looking-shower-in-progress!