Tag 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!

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!

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 hole...to 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!

Making steps…

When we first bought our house, there were many issues with the place.  Like a fool, I thought I wanted an old fixer upper.  I am smarter now but no less obligated to pay the mortgage so I press onward with the repairs.  Anyhow, one of the first things that needed to be fixed was the ladder steps that led to the front door.  There were a number of concrete pads embedded into the vertical dirt wall leading up the patio.  I kid you not, we had to turn our feet sideways and sort of hold on to get up to the door.

The old perches
That shovel is the only thing holding me up
That's a pile of block!

So, when we first bought the place, Emily and the kids remained in Nashville finishing out her job.  I started to work on the new place without their help.  My Dad came down and we went to town.  The steps were the first order of business.  I plucked the concrete pads from the wall and started digging.

Almost done!

The fastest, easiest, and cheapest way to get new, permanent steps in place was to form them from cement blocks.  Dad hauled numerous tons of block with his truck and we made our block steps.


Those steps served us well for 5+ years but eventually, the winter rains got into the block and froze, causing some of the blocks to crumble and break.  After near death (several times…I didn’t want to over-react afterall), we decided that the steps needed some work.  The kids and I chipped out the old block.  We had to cut sections out of some blocks, but most were pretty ok.  Abigail in particular seemed to enjoy the hammer and chisel so I see a possible career path for her if leader of the universe doesn’t work out.

I took a day off last week to form up frames so we could pour new concrete over the remaining blocks.  It was sort of difficult that way because we didn’t have a lot of extra room to make the steps bigger.  Too high and no one would be able to reach the first step, etc.  So, we poured another 1.5 inches or so on top of the old block.  I hand-mixed 17 bags of concrete on the hottest day I could find.   I didn’t think the van could handle carrying all 17 bags at once so I started mixing the third that I had and sent Emily on two more trips to get more concrete.

The framing waiting for concrete
Ahhh...music to my...feet? Arms and legs? Well, it was like music anyhow

We waited and fretted and finally unveiled the new steps sans framing.  The new steps are beautiful and hopefully will avert life-and-death situations for folks coming to visit.  After all of the work, we noticed that we forgot to write our initials in the concrete.  I figure we’ll revisit everything in 5 years or so anyhow, so maybe we can do it right the next time around!

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!

Good fences make good neighbors!

And awesome fences are…well, what I built.  You probably remember that we got a dog a few months ago.  I honestly had no idea what sort of a pain dogs were, but alas, I have Ginny and she’s a good dog.  She loves being outside so I have no problem letting her stay outside during the day while we are at work.  The problem is that she has worn all the grass from her kennel and her outhouse is far too close to my house.

Like a good dog owner, I want to protect Ginny from neighborhood dogs as well as gypsies, tramps and thieves…and Cher.

Oh yeah, lets’ take a moment to listen to Cher when she still looked somewhat human:

Anyhow, our house didn’t have a fenced in area so my cheap-skate brain kicked in and I started digging fence post holes.  Actually, we first had to cut down a mess of a tree that was on the one corner of the property where the fence was to go.  The tree had grown up pretty badly into the power, phone and cable lines that run on the edge of our property.

I marked the lines
Camo AND a chainsaw!

Again, being cheap, I couldn’t see paying someone hundreds of dollars when I could crawl up on a conductive aluminum ladder near the power lines to cut the junk down.  Slowly but surely, I was able to pick away at the branches until I could safely drop the tree.  Once done, I commenced digging and have almost completed the fortress as Isaac likes to call it.

The tree used to be at that far corner

(we did chainlink on one side so Ginny would be able to see out)

So the fence will be great for keeping Ginny safe, but it also hides the mess that my neighbors leave about in their yard.  They collect animals and stuff and just seem to be unable to haul all their junk to the curb on trash day.  I won’t rant too long (but boy I could).

Our view (sometimes) of the neighbor's yard...before the fence. Yes, it is a chewed up couch cushion.

Let’s just say that the thousand bucks we spent on this fence has saved us many thousands in mental health bills.  Emily has found her zen place behind our new walls!

It was raining…in my house

I love our old house and our neighborhood.  We have lots of old and large trees on our property and the properties around us.  We also have gutters on our house.  Leaves and debris…meet gutters…gutters – debris.

Mine was worse than this...and it was raining

You see, in the spring-time, the black locusts make thousands of little leaves and flowers that fall off, oh…um…about this time of year.  They are small enough that they are not stopped by gutter guards so they accumulate in the gutters.  I clean them every year but if my timing is not right, they build up and absorb just the right amount of water from light rains to form a great organic gutter-dam when the heavy rains come.

Anyhow, the dam did its dam thing last night and backed up the gutter right above one of the window wells to a basement window.  We noticed water coming in the house and I looked up and saw water in the window.  It was like my own little aquarium!  I ran outside in the pouring rain (and I mean pouring) to clean out all of the gutters.  I really hate climbing a ladder in the rain but I was able to break all of the dams on all of the gutters which washed all of the dam junk out into the yard.

I had to go back and dip the water from the window well as best I could.  I guess I could have waited until it fully drained into the house but that didn’t seem like a good option.  By the time I was all done, I was soaked through to the bone…and then it stopped raining.

I am going to buy a new blade for my chainsaw today…

Closet light…a dream come true

Our house is pretty typical of old houses.  Ours was built in 1939 and has tons of character.  We have three full baths which I suppose is strange for a house of that era.  We a small kitchen which also seems odd.  Anyhow, what seems right in line with my impression of older houses is the fact that the master bedroom closet is small.  I suppose that folks in 1939 had a few outfits, suits, etc and that was pretty much it.  A small closet would have suited them fine.

The most pitiful closet of all...lightless

We do not have excessive closet needs but we do have some closet needs.  Emily uses the closet in the master bedroom (which is smaller than the closet I had as a kid) and I use the one (of the same size as Emily’s) in the spare bedroom next door.  I guess to differentiate the master closet as special, the original builders included a pull-chain light in her closet.  My closet, however, being only a guest closet, was not likewise equipped.

Emily's closet...once a showcase for closet lighting

We’ve been doing all sorts of projects on the house and this weekend, as part of another bigger project, I decided it was time to remedy my pitiful light-less closet.  You see, a happy closet is one that has a light and a switch…not just a pull chain.  I am proud to say that I have the happiest closet in the house.  Emily’s closet, though once a happy closet, is now feeling switch envy.  I suppose it won’t be far behind mine as its owner won’t tolerate the closet’s whining for long.

What I used to see in my closet
My closet now...can you feel the joy?

Anyhow, for a short time at least, I have the happiest closet in our old house and another of my dreams is fulfilled!