Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Washing Machine Water Supply Valves

Our washing machine died a violent death.  We had noticed puddles of water appearing in the machine when it wasn't being used, but on Friday while washing a load, the door (it's a front loader) burst open and poured water out onto the floor of the utility room.  I quickly closed the door to limit any more water on the floor but after a few minutes, it burst open again.  Turning the washing machine off did no good; water continued to come out full force.  I tried to turn the water off behind the machine, where the hot and cold faucets are, but the faucet handles would not budge, so quick out to the street and turn off all the water for the house.

Then two hours of bailing, sponging, and wiping down the floor to get all the water cleaned up.  Plus, the water went thru/under the wall between the utility room and the garage and flooded it too, so it needed to also be cleaned up.

Then we could take the time to make the hot and cold faucets work, and turned the water off at the wall.  But just as with them not wanting to turn off the water at all, they also were not able to turn the water off completely -- they still leaked water at least a gallon every 2 hours.  So I capped them off, temporarily and called a plumber to replace them completely.

Allstate Plumbing was able to get someone out here on Tuesday, between 10 and 12 AM.  I moved the washing machine out of the house into the garage, so he could get to the wall behind it.

We wanted to replace the old style fixtures that required many turns to open or close with the newer ones that just take a quarter turn to turn on or off.  The plumber determined that he could not just detach the current fixtures and replace them with new ones -- the thread and pipe sizes were too different, so he cut open a section of the wall, to get at the raw copper pipes.

Then he was able to remove the old valves and solder on a new set of quarter turn valves.

That was $281.97 for parts and labor, and he was done by about 11:45 AM.  I think he did an excellent job.

Once he left, I was able to re-insulate the wall around these pipes and put the sheetrock back together.  There was another patch to the sheetrock wall down closer to the floor where it was cut open decades ago for a termite prevention treatment, so I'm fixing that at the same time -- again boosting the insulation and patching the sheetrock itself.

The pieces of sheetrock that had been cut out were glued back in place, using the "Great Stuff" foam insulation.  Great Stuff is a urethane based foam, and urethane is a good glue, so I foamed around the edges and pressed the pieces in place (and keep pressing to avoid having the glued-in pieces pushed out as the foam expands.)

Once that dries, sand off any excess, then apply sheetrock compound to fill any holes and level it out.  Not too carefully, since we want a texture.  Again, sand and apply after that dries.

Finally mask off anything that should not be painted and paint.

And once that dries, we are ready for the new washing machine.

The paint used was some leftover stuff from Home Depot, and it seems to match pretty well.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Excavating the front yard, to the street, Part 2

We keep digging towards the curb.

The top layer (of dirt) comes up pretty easy, but the next layer (of rock) is more difficult.  It was suggested that this was road base from the original construction of the curb.

But the technique is the same -- separate the rocks for disposal, mix the dirt with the rock dust and lots of leaves and keep going.  Eventually this gets us all the way to the curb at least 24 inches down.

Doing so exposes the question of what to do next to the sidewalk itself.  The "dirt" under the sidewalk is a mixture of rock and dirt and roots and the roots tend to raise the sidewalk.

We would like to discourage roots from going under the sidewalk.  So we decided to pour a cement wall along the sidewalk and continue the 6x6 limestone blocks from the end of the retaining wall to the street.

Pouring the cement wall requires framing it up, as before.

We used some left-over rebar in this section of concrete, since we had been unable to get rid of it any other way.

Then, once the concrete is poured, we mortar some of the remaining 6x6 limestone blocks from the retaining wall onto the top of the cement wall.

For this section of the  6x6 limestone blocks, we mixed up our own mortar, from sand and white masonry cement, using a 3 parts of sand to 1 part of cement ratio.  This seemed to work okay, but despite wearing gloves, it created severe chemical burns on the backs of my hands.  After two weeks those were pretty well healed.

Once the sidewalk wall was in place, the remaining job was simply to move all the dirt that we dug out back into place, mixing the different types of dirt and lots of leaves as we did.

This fills the area, but leaves a wall edge of 4 to 6 inches all around the yard, so we need to bring in about 18 cubic yards of new dirt to fill it up.  More as things settle.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Replacing Blinds with Cordless Blinds

The blinds/shades in the kitchen and the living room are showing their age.  Plus with a grandchild, who will eventually be walking, there is the issue of the danger of the dangling cords, so it seems prudent to replace them.  We already have cordless blinds in both the back bedroom, the guest bedroom, and the computer room, so this completes the set.  We still have corded wooden shutters in the dining/TV room, and aluminum mini-blinds in the office and the front bedroom, but those are really hard to get to, or always in the down state, so the cords are not really a problem.

The blinds we put in the back bedroom seem reasonable, so we went back to Home Depot to get more like them.  Those are double cell cellular shades, made by MyBlinds, or something like that, but when we got to Home Depot, we were told that they no longer do double cell shades.  We priced out just single cell shades, but decided to sit on it a bit.

Going home, I checked the internet and found that Levelor made double cell cellular shades, and they were carried at Lowe's.  So we went to Lowe's.

Linda had picked a color for the paint for the Living Room, and I had measured the window openings, so we just needed to find something to match.  And we did, a 7/16 inch double cell cordless light filtering shade in Color 12R70104 Daylight.  Three shades, each 70 inches wide and 70 inches high.  Inside Mount. We placed the order on 27 Nov 2019, for $600, plus tax taking it to $649.50.  They were delivered on 5 Dec.

Meanwhile, we considered the kitchen shades, and decided to do the same.  But having seen what they did at the store to order them, I looked to see if I could do the same online, and I could.  So on 28 Nov, I ordered 3 more for the kitchen windows.  The center one is 69 7/8 inches wide, while the left one is 22 1/8 and the right one is 22.5 inches wide.  All of them are 58 inches high.  Again, inside mount, cordless, in Daylight color (online it's 12470104).  These were only $377.78 being smaller windows.  These were delivered on 6 Dec.

Installing them took a couple of hours.  First I removed the old blinds.  Then I patched the sheetrock to cover the holes from the mounting hardware for the old blinds.  Next screw in the new mounting hardware, and snap the new blinds in place.  In the living room, I had some trouble with what are probably nails in the headers above the windows where the support hardware was to be installed, so the hardware had to be moved over slightly.

In the kitchen there was no such problem, so again, it took a couple of hours to remove the old blinds and hardware, then install the new ones and snap the shades in place.

In retrospect, now that I have double cell cellular shades from 3 different companies -- Bali, MyShades, and Levelor, I can tell some difference between them.  The one that may (or may not) matter most is that the Levelor shades do not seem to be as well counter balanced.  There is a greater tendency for one side or the other to go down more, so that the bottom of the shade is not level with the window sill.  I can go back and adjust it by raising or lowering one side or the other, but it requires more work.  The other (older) shades do not have this problem.  They tend to all go up or down evenly, staying level at all times.  But I expect most of the blinds to be open most of the time -- we mainly bring them down only when it is particularly cold outside at night and we want the extra "insulation" to keep out the nighttime cold.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Excavating the front yard, to the street, Part 1

We started to dig up the front yard by digging a trench across the yard, following the sprinkler irrigation line from the valve to the sidewalk.

The documents said there were two valves in the middle of the front yard -- one for zone 10, and the other for zone 11 (the section between the driveway and the sidewalk).  So we continued to dig from the known valve (zone 10) until we found the valve for zone 11.  From the stone retaining wall, we knew where the irrigation line went under the sidewalk, so we assumed it was a pipe from the valve to the sidewalk.

Sure enough.

In fact there were two pipes -- one main supply line for Zone 11, and a feeder line for zone 10.  We removed them both.

Then we kept digging until we hit rock.

And from there we expanded the width of the trench towards the street.

Scrape the dirt off, and cart it off to the back part of the yard, to expose even more rock.

Break that rock up into manageable pieces and move it out to enlarge and deepen the trench.

Repeat this process -- scrape off the dirt, haul it to the back part of the yard, to expose more rock.

Break that rock up.

Lift the rocks up out, and move the dirt out, and we have a trench of maybe 8 or 9 feet in width.  We have about 7 feet to go to the curb.

Part of the process is lifting out the large rocks and putting them by the curb.  These can be used as "landscape" rocks; people will come and get them for retaining walls or just for decoration.

For the lesser rocks, they are sorted out of the dirt, down to about the size of a walnut, and moved to the driveway, and I try to get people to come take them away as "fill".

The dirt that remains is mixed with grass and leaves, to increase its organic material, and try to make it better dirt.  Then it is moved to the side until I can bring it back after all the excavation is down.  We have been using bags and bags of leaves.

The remaining soil to dig up no longer has any large solid rocks -- I believe this ground was all dug up for the construction of the road some 35 years ago.

What we have is a top layer of dirt -- relatively good dirt, although it can use more organic material (so we will mix it with leaves).  This top layer is about 12 to 14 inches deep.  Under it is a layer of a mix of limestone dust and rock, the buried by-product of creating the street, curb and such.  This is very very poor "soil", but if we mix it with leaves and then mix that with the comparatively better soil that was on top of it, it should be passable.  Sorting out the rocks and any other construction debris, of course.  We have found a lot of broken up pieces of asphalt.

This excavation has taken about 2 months, from early October to late November.  We hope to finish it off within another month, if the weather holds.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Filling the Front Yard Retaining Wall

The big pile of dirt in the front yard has been there for at least a year -- the results of digging out the trench for the gas line.  We used some of it to fill back in the trench, but there was a lot left.

The retaining wall allows us to move that dirt back into the front yard and create a raised depth of dirt around the big tree.  This took over a week of shoveling the dirt out of the pile, mixing it with leaves and grass, to increase its organic content, and distributing it inside the retaining wall.

The changes to the front yard were small, and almost not noticeable from day to day.

 The same was true for the pile.  To make it easier to see the changes in the pile, I cut thru the middle of the pile.

And then reduced first the front part to almost nothing.

And then the back pile

until there was nothing left.

This provided much of the dirt that was needed to fill behind the retaining wall (but not all that was needed).  We will need to bring in a final layer of really good dirt when we finish with the excavation.

Next phase is to excavate down the area where the dirt pile was, and remove any rock that we find there.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Finishing the Front Yard Retaining Wall

Having established that we have enough stone for the Front Retaining wall, and gotten a reasonable image of what it will look like, we now have to take it all apart, and put it back together with mortar holding it in place.

I could do that myself, but I'm not certain that my skills extend this far.  We want it to be level, and straight.  The steps should slope slightly so that water will run down the steps, not sit on them or pool at the back of a step.  And we want each course of stone to be offset from the previous one, to form a "stair step" effect, so that it does not look as imposing.  I can understand how to do the offset, but after a course or two, it seems the center of gravity of the wall will not be over the stone.  I can shovel dirt behind it, as I go, to keep it from falling over, but I'm not sure if that is the best solution.  How are stair-step walls done?

So, given the amount of work necessary to get this far, and that this will be a major feature of the front yard, which every ones sees as they come in the house, I figured I should look at getting someone else, a professional, to do it.

Basilio Ramirez (512-293-0886) of Ramirez Concrete Work & More was recommended to me.  He came out on Wednesday to look at and discuss the project, had an estimate by Thursday, and could start by Saturday.  $1650.

On Saturday, Basilio showed up with Jorge, and a pickup truck of sand and masonry cement.  They mixed the sand and cement in a wheelbarrow to make mortar.  They were very comfortable with the mortar, and had lots of time to work with it.  They first took the walls apart, then put wet trails of mortar down the middle 1/3 of the cement support for the wall, placing the stones on top of that and positioning them.  Then the same for the next level, and the next. 

If there was a problem (at one point there was a vertical joint between two blocks that was over another vertical joint), the blocks could be removed, the old mortar scraped off (and by "old", I mean 5 minutes or so), put back in the wheelbarrow with the other mortar, mixed a little, and then more mortar was applied and the stones re-laid, in a different order to shift the vertical joint.

They kept at this, stone block after stone block, wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of mortar, until all the stones were set in place.  Then, effectively for cosmetic reasons, on the outside of the wall, they went back and put mortar in the vertical joints, and filled out the horizontal ones to match the front of the blocks.  After this "icing" was applied in all the joints, they used a wooden-handled wire brush to smooth the mortar off and clean up the joints.  Using the wooden handle to sort of shape and smooth things, and the the wire brush to clean off any extra.

 They didn't bother with the inside of the wall, since it was going to be filled and covered with dirt -- no one will see it.  Other than the top course of stone; they did do the top course on both sides.

That was it.  They got there around 7:00 AM, and were done by 2:00 PM.

I checked on Sunday, and the mortar seems very hard.  On Monday, I will start to move dirt from the mound that I have from the trench back to fill up the retaining wall.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Roughing in the Front Yard Retaining Wall

We completed pouring a cement base to put the retaining wall on.  That lets us stack the stones on the base to see how things will look.  Along the sidewalk, for example, we have:

This extends up along the sidewalk until it disappears into the ground.  All the while it is flat and level, while the ground raises up to the street.

At the same time, it extends from the sidewalk, in front of the house over to the partition wall.

This part of the wall starts 4 stones up on the left near the door (so about 24 inches tall), slowly sinking into the ground until it meets the partition wall at the same level, only 2 stones (12 inches) tall.

The main exception to this smooth flow is in the section next to the sidewalk.  Part way down, we want to build a stairway that goes from the sidewalk up to the level that the dirt will be behind the retaining wall.  We need a new base for that stairway.

This is a bit hard to visualize.  The stairs themselves will be the longest 6x6 blocks we have -- those from 26 inches and up.  These stairs will need support to hold them up.   We do that by providing two sets of blocks running perpendicular to the stairs.

The stairs then bridge from one set of blocks to the other.

 In addition, we need a "box" around the stairs to keep the dirt that will be brought in from falling onto the stairs from the sides. 

So this appears to be two separate structures -- a box to hold the dirt back, and in that the stairway.

 This completes the rough work for this retaining wall.  We have the concrete base.  We have the blocks, for both the two sections of the wall and the stairway.  This shows that we have enough stone.  Now we need to take it all apart, and put it back together, with mortar holding it in place.