Sunday, May 10, 2020

Solar Lights for the Back Yard Deck Stairs

The dog has started to act uncomfortable in coming up the stairs from the back yard to the deck at night.  Linda suggests it is because of the contrast in lighting between the deck (with its two new bright LED light fixtures) and the yard.

So we purchased two LED lights to shine on the deck stairs.  Since we have no power to this location, these are solar powered LED lights.  The stairs face South and have no shade (at least until the Pecan tree gets much bigger), so this should work well.

We bought two Solar Step Lights from Amazon (JackyLED brand, $12.99).

and installed one on each side of the stairs.

The biggest problem was the installation.  There are two screws which must be exactly the right distance apart (7.6 cm according to the instructions), but we traced the back of the light onto a piece of paper and then drilled holes using that as a template.  However, despite drilling holes for the screws, the screws were made of such soft metal that they broken when screwing into the deck wood.  Remember the deck is ipe (iron wood), and very hard.  Luckily I had alternative screws that worked better.

The lights themselves seem to work really well -- very bright and last most of the night.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Digging up the back half of the front yard, Part 1

With the tree gone, we have the opportunity to dig out the rock in the back half of the front yard.  Last year, when we did the front half, we left the back half, so as not to disturb the tree.  But it died anyway, so we can dig out the back half and have a deeper dirt level for the entire yard.

Without the tree, the front yard is really quite exposed.  It gets bright hot Texas sun for much of the day.  So we put up a sun shade to try to shelter the area we are working in.

The first problem would seem to be to locate the area that needs to be dug up.  We started at where we thought the corner of where we had already dug up would be, but were way off, but moved over more towards the street and the barrier wall between us and the neighbors and found it.

Then we expanded that hole back towards where we had started,  down to where it exposed the underlying rock layer.

And we then expanded the hole by digging back towards the house.

The white PVC pipe is just being used to try to define a straight line to delimit the edge of where we are digging.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Remove Spanish Oak Tree from Front Yard

After all the work to try to make the big Spanish Oak in the front yard happy, it died.  It appears that it died last Summer (2019) from too much heat and too little water.  We thought it might just be dormant for the Winter, but come the Spring, there was no new growth -- no leaves.  Occasionally branches would fall to the ground, and they were really brittle and dry.

So the decision was made to remove the tree.  We started by removing all the lower limbs, which just confirmed our belief that the tree was dead.

 Then we took the top off.

This produced a large stack of wood that we gave away on Craig's List, and an even larger stack of small branches and twigs which the City took away in  Large Brush Pick-up.

The remaining part of the tree -- the trunk -- was 12 feet tall and 60 inches around (at the base).  It took some 3 hours of work to remove the top branches and cut down the tree.

This leaves a stump

but the yard is now clear of the tree and we can start digging, to remove the stump and any rock under the dirt.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

New Thermostat

The existing thermostat (a Hunter model) seems to be failing.

Several times in the past week, it has forgotten the time and now it is forgetting the programmed temperature settings.  Rather than wait for it to fail completely, it seems prudent to replace it now.

So we have bought a new Nest Learning Thermostat (Home Depot, $269.54) to replace it.

First we remove the old thermostat, exposing the 4 wires that it uses.

These four wires are a standard color mix (Red, Green, Yellow, White) and based upon how they were used before and an explanation on the Nest web site, we have:

R -- red -- the power wire for heating and cooling
W -- white -- controls the heating system
Y -- yellow -- controls the cooling system
G -- green -- controls the fan

These are still labeled from when the last thermostat was installed.

After patching and painting the area where the wires come out of the wall, we can install the Nest base.

and attach the wires to the Y1, G, W1, and RH tabs on the Nest base.

Then we attach the Nest thermostat on the base, and configure it.  Since it is just down the hall from one of the Nest smoke detectors, the two work together to set up the network information.

and, in theory, that is all there is to it.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Front Yard River of Rocks

Years ago, I had finished out the River of Rocks to the front yard, running it up against the short bed wall separating the front beds from the lawn.

Then we needed to dig under this to move the gas line, and we removed the bed wall, added the dividing wall between our lawn and the neighbors, put in the retaining wall, dug up the front yard and brought in new dirt.

That left the small bed area by the front corner of the house in shambles.

We still had the rocks that were used before, but now the wall had moved further from the back yard, and the wall was much taller.

So we used dirt to create sort of a ramp up to the top of the new retaining wall, and repositioned the rocks on that.

And then we replanted the Monkey Grass that had been there (but was temporarily moved to another location) back between the rocks.

This should provide Monkey Grass between and along the River of Rocks and Turk's Cap in the area from the River of Rocks to the dividing wall, and maybe next to the house too.  The Turk's Cap was planted there years ago, and all the digging seems not to have killed it; it keeps coming back from small parts of the roots left behind.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Dirt for the Front Yard

The weather is improving, and it seems a good time to get dirt to finish the front yard work.  We have the front yard area pretty well leveled, but it is a ways below the top of the rock walls that surround it -- 4 to 8 inches below.

We calculated that this is about 1600 square feet.  For 6 inches deep, that would be about 32 cubic yards of dirt.  We can only get 18 cubic yards in a delivery, so we order 18 cubic yards of dirt delivered.  Getting Professional Mix from Whittlesey Landscape Supplies, with a $130 delivery fee, that comes to $1001.07.

We use some of this to top-dress the back yard, but the bulk of it goes into filling up the front yard, taking two days work.

Then it rains, so we wait a week and get another truck load of dirt delivered.  16 cubic yards this time (and with a senior citizens discount), comes to $829.60.  Another two days work, and we have the front yard filled in.

We had a ring of mulch around the big Spanish Oak tree, and had to take that off, put dirt underneath and then put it back on.

Back Porch Light Fixture.

There are two light fixtures on the back porch.

By this point, they are very old, corroded and don't put out a lot of light.  It is very difficult to change the light bulbs.  So the thinking was to replace them.

We bought a new fixture from Home Depot -- Milford 4-Light Brushed Nickel Flush Mount -- manufactured by Livex Lighting.  This is an open design with four candelabra (E12) base lights.

Circuit breaker 30 controls these lights, so after turning that off, we removed the old fixture and installed the new one.This took about 30 minutes.

We put 4 "60 Watt" LED bulbs into the light fixture.  Each of these takes about 4.5 watts, so that's only 18 watts total, well under the 40 watt maximum.  But they put out a lot of light.  In our case we got "Daylight" bulbs (5000 degrees Kelvin) putting out 500 Lumens.  With 4 bulbs, we get 2000 Lumens, which is very bright.

Update:  This worked well, so we bought another one of the same light fixture and installed it on the other end of the back porch.

For this one, we put in one Daylight bulb (since we still had one left over) and then put 3 soft-white lights (3000 degrees Kelvin) in the others.