Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Replacing the Patio Door

The Patio Door is a sliding door from the Living Room out to the Back Porch. It seemed to be a fairly standard unit when it was installed by the Builder (1986). When the house was broken into (1992), they pried the door open. The lock was a simple cast-iron piece that just broke. It only cost a couple of bucks to repair the lock.

So when the door started to not slide easily, I figured it was time to upgrade to a much nicer door. From the advertising I see, Andersen and Pella would be the main choices. Home Depot carries Andersen, and those doors looked very nice. Pella had an office on Burnet, and they also had very nice doors. We went with Pella. They could do the whole job -- removing the old door and installing the new one. We got a triple-pane glass, wood door, with Argon-Filled Low-E glass, Satin nickel hardware and duets between the glass. $3620.29. The contract was signed 11 July 2005; it was installed on 23 August.

This Pella door was so well built that it introduced a problem. When we let the dog out in the back yard,
we couldn't hear it bark at the door to be let back in! To fix this, we got a baby monitor and put it outside the door. When the dog barked, the baby monitor would pick it up and transmit it to the inside of the house.

But, incredibly, despite all the thought and work that went into the door, I found the locking mechanism so badly designed that it made the door unusable. In our home environment, it is a disaster waiting to happen. The basic design of the lock is flawed. All doors have 2 basic independent attributes: they are either (a) open or (b) closed, and they are either (1) locked or (2) unlocked. In the following picture, the door is unlocked.

The Pella door's design introduces a new state: (*) primed to lock, but not locked. The locking mechanism moves the door from the (2) unlocked state to the (*) primed to lock state. The next following change from (a) open to (b) closed will also cause the door to move from (*) primed to lock to (1) locked. This violates many obvious design criteria which are necessary for any well-designed general door:

(A) There is no visual cue or clue as to what state the door is in. If the door is closed, and the locking mechanism is down, the door may be in either the (1) locked or (*) primed to be locked state. So you cannot tell whether the door in the following picture is or is not locked -- it may be locked, or it may be only primed.

(B) A (b) closed door cannot be put into a (1) locked state. The locking mechanism must put into the (*) primed state and then it must be (a) opened and then (b) closed to lock it.

(C) The exterior key cannot put the door into a locked state, unlike probably any other lock in general use.

This design means two undesirable common situations will frequently occur:

1. A person will approach the closed door, and put the locking mechanism down and then leave, thinking the door is locked. In fact, it is not locked, but only (*) primed. This creates a security risk -- the house is unlocked although it looks locked.

2. A person will open the door. Since a locked door will not open, they will then go thru the door, closing it behind them. But since the door may be in the (*) primed state, closing the door will then lock the door, locking them out. This happened to us twice in the first week.

As I said, this is a disaster waiting to happen. This is a door is unlike doors that most people will have encountered. Children, guests, visitors. It is unreasonable to expect these people to be taught how to use the door before they use it, nor is it reasonable to expect that they will remember the peculiarities of this design.
Unlocked doors that look locked (and should be), doors that lock behind you, and doors that are not locked when you want them to be, and then lock when you don't want them to and not well designed.

This locking design is apparently used on all the high end sliding doors -- the Architect Series and the Designer Series -- from Pella, and it was beyond their ability to replace it with just a simple lock.

So we had Pella come back and take the door out.

We replaced it with an Andersen door. Basically the same, but only double paned glass (not triple paned) and so without the built-in duet blinds. $1597.68 on 19 November 2005. It was installed on 28 December 2005. $400.

Astoundingly, even the Andersen door did not have a simple lock. The Andersen door has a hook type latch and if the door was closed, there was insufficient clearance for it to swing and latch. So to lock a closed door, you had to first open the door a bit and then latch it closed. But the Andersen people were just bad builders, not bad designers, so taking a file to the latch, I was able to file it down so that it cleared. Now we can lock a closed door without having to open it. I really do not understand how these two major door manufacturers can be so clueless in what is an acceptable sliding door.

But finally, we have a nice sliding door. I put two coats of polyurethane on the wood trim.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Under the Back Deck

June to December 2005

When the back deck was replaced, it was also enlarged. The deck is level to the house. Since the ground slopes from the front of the house to the back (from North to South), the deck is 2 feet or so above the ground at the house to some 4 feet at the farthest point from the house. The builder had cleared off the area under the deck, put down landscape cloth and put pebbles on top of it. This keeps things from growing under the deck.

Since the new deck extends out further from the house, something needs to be done under the new part of the deck. One approach would be to just throw some landscape cloth over it and put more pebbles on it, but much of this area was a mixture of dirt and rock.

Rather than just cover it up, I decided to dig it all out, down to bed rock (which is just another two to three feet down. This took months, and involved both removing the dirt and rock, carefully, to avoid disturbing the supports for the deck, and then replacing the deck supports. When the deck was extended, they just dug down a little, poured a concrete pad, and put the deck support on that concrete pad. The result was that the deck support was on a concrete pad which was generally on dirt and rock. Dirt and rock that I was removing.

To keep the deck in place, I used a number of steel pipe jacks to hold the deck on both sides of a support while the rock and dirt under the support was removed and a new concrete support pour which went all the way down to bedrock.

Otherwise, the process was mainly just the work of digging out all the dirt and rock under the back deck.

Once all the dirt and rock was removed, I went in and built a retaining wall under the edge of the back deck to bring it back up to ground level. Behind the retaining wall, we put down landscape cloth and pebbles, to match what the builder had done under the original deck.

Now we wanted something that was beyond my amateur capabilities. We wanted to brick up the space under the back deck and create planters. The smaller planter would be for my irises, and the larger, two level planter for Linda's herbs.

Notice the area under the deck near Linda's herb planters. When we were excavating this area, it went quite deep, almost deep enough to stand up in. Rather than just filling that in, we put up a stone wall to hold back the pebbles further in (from the original builder), and left it an open space -- what we call "the dungeon".

To do this work, we called someone who had done stone work for Linda before, Guadalupe Zarate. He found someone to do the work for $4400, mostly using the rocks that we dug out from under the deck. They did an excellent job.