Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Utility Room Smoke Detector

We have a smoke detector installed in the utility room, over the doorway to the kitchen.

When we were cleaning up after the washing machine leakage, and replacing the on/off shut-off valves for the washer (which involved using a torch to "sweat" the copper pipes), it became obvious that it wasn't working.  Putting a new battery in it didn't help.  But it was dated as being from 2001, so it probably needed to be replaced anyway.

We have been having good luck with the Nest smoke detector units in the rest of the house, and they also provide CO (carbon monoxide) detection, so we wanted to replace the previous one with a new Nest unit.  Rather than having a battery operated unit, and having to keep the battery charged and replaced and all, we went for a wired unit, that uses the standard 120V house wiring.  But of course, there was no power up here in this area, so we would need to run power for the new Nest unit.

And as long as we are running power to this area, we could install an outlet for the dustbuster, which currently has to run a wire down the wall and around a corner to the floor level outlet.

Power will be easiest to run from the attic.  Luckily that part of the attic is not floored, so we just have to burrow down under the insulation.

Now it looks like we have an outlet already close to this area, to provide power, but that outlet is switched (and we need raw power, not switched power), so we had to go a bit further afield to find an outlet that was not switched and tap into that to get power.  While doing that, we replaced the outlet with a GFI outlet

And we then lucked out with putting in the new outlet boxes.  The area over the desk in the kitchen is furred down, so the walls adjacent to that -- which are both of the walls we are putting outlet boxes in, have no back-side, and we have easy access to them (once you get below the insulation) .

So we cut the sheetrock and put in two new outlet boxes -- one for the new smoke detector, and the other for an outlet. We put in a GFI outlet, since it is "around" water (but of course, the outlet in the attic that provides power to this outlet is also a GFI, so this is especially overkill).

Then for the other outlet box, we attached the power connector for the Nest protect ($120, Home Depot).

And after getting it added to our network of Nest protect units, we should have a new, working, smoke detector and CO detector for the utility room.

Then we can close up the insulation in the attic.

and remove the old smoke detector, to finish all this up.

Monday, January 27, 2020

New Rugs for the Garage

Linda complained that the rugs we had in the garage smelled "musty" after they were flooded by the washing machine.

Luckily just after we got the washing machine replaced, the City of Austin had one of their twice-a-year "bulk pickup" days, where people put out large objects (too large to fit in the normal trash bins) and the City picks them up.  In our neighborhood that can mean a wide variety of things, but many of them are often in relatively good shape.  In particular, people throw out room size rugs, because they are dirty?  Or stained?  Or just not the style they want now?

So I checked around and found two new rugs to replace our old ones.  Unlike the older ones, they are not the same size.  The smaller one is 8x10.

and the larger one is 8x12.

but the fit nicely in the garage.

The larger rug has a label on the back saying it is polypropylene, made by Orian Rugs (only 94 inches wide, not quite 8 feet). Torello Ivory.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Minor fixes to the Front Yard Retaining Wall

When the Front Yard Retaining Wall was built, I first put all the stones in place, to make sure that I had enough stone, and that my levels were right -- to be able to see what it would like, roughly, before it was fixed in place.  It was just meant as a proof of concept, but the masons took it as literal and tried to use the same stones in the same place, taking it apart and putting everything back where it had been.

Unfortunately, I didn't pay that much attention (well, no attention) to exactly how it looked.  And the result, after it was all in place, was that three of the stones on the top had a backside which was less than perfect.

This would not be a problem except on the top course of stone, where the top edge of the back side of the rocks shows.

It seemed to me that the easiest way to fix that would be to replace these stones.  So I measured them, and went to Whittlesey Landscape Supplies, where I had bought the original stones, and got stones that were just the right size for these 3 stones, and placed them on the wall above the stones they were to replace.

Months later, when there was basically nothing else that needed to be done, on a dreary day,  I had the guys come back and replace the stones.  $350.

They started with the new stones.

and broke apart the old stones to get them out of the way, chiseling the mortar out to get a smooth place for the new stones.  Then they spread the mortar and put in the new stones.

This gives a much smoother inside line.

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.