Monday, December 31, 2012

Digging right to the fence in the backyard

We will continue the approach of putting a mowing strip along next to the fence.  In our case, we dig down to bedrock and pour a concrete wall and then cap it with a limestone brick.  The first step of this is to dig down to bedrock.  We have started that.

We will continue this along the fence over to the rock wall, and then start pouring concrete.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Second part of the final pathway walls

We continue pouring concrete to define the pathway.   We want the pathway to be about 36 inches across, so we pour the other side of the pathway accordingly.  First we put the forms up.

and poured cement in the forms.

We removed those forms after a day,

and moved them on to the next section

poured more concrete,

and did the same for the last section.

This gives us a complete walkway pair of walls, going from the completed part of the walkway, around the patio wall, and forming a smooth curve that should be easier to mow along.

This completes the current phase of pouring the concrete walls.  The next step is to fill the space between the walls with rubble rock and then top it with limestone blocks along the walls, and decomposed granite for a walkway base.  And we can start filling the pit back in with dirt, mixing it in with all the leaves and grass clippings that we have accumulated over the past month.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Restarting the irrigation system

It's threatening to freeze outside, and the radio says that plants survive a freeze better if the ground is wet.  Our city-allowed day to water is coming up (Saturday), so it might be best to water before the freeze.  Unfortunately, when we had the water line electrical wires extended, the wires may have been mixed up, so we need to determine which wire controls which zone.

This is time-consuming, but not difficult.  We turn on a zone at the controller in the garage, and then walk around to see what zone is actually running. We do this for each zone, until we have a complete mapping from the old zone numbers to the new zone numbers.


Once we have this table, we can see that to restore the controller to its previous zone definition, we need to
  • Switch the wires for 4 and 9
  • Switch the wires for 5 and 8
  • Move the wire from 6 to 7, the wire from 7 to 10, and 10 back to 6.
With these changes, we now have a working controller, with all the zones the same as before, and we can water.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

New Refrigerator

Our refrigerator died.  I opened up the freezer to get ice and found most of the ice had melted.  It's at least 15 years old, and was on our list to replace, so it was not unexpected.  It did mean we had to throw out almost everything in the refrigerator and freezer, but there certainly could have been worse times for it to die.

 So Monday night we went out looking for a new refrigerator.  Using Consumer Reports evaluation, we were looking for either a Whirlpool or Kenmore.  Our first stop was at Fry's Electronics, and we soon narrowed our choice to a Whirlpool refrigerator with the freezer on the bottom, and French doors with an ice-maker in the door.  We ended up with model WRF989SDAM00.

We arranged for it to be delivered on Wednesday.  Tuesday night I emptied out the old refrigerator -- luckily Wednesday morning was also our garbage pick up day.

First the installers took out the old refrigerator.

To get the new one in, they had to take the front door off it's hinges.  The new fridge came in the front door, thru the living room and into the kitchen.  To get around the kitchen island, they took it between the island and the dishwasher.  I took the dishwasher handle off.

Once the new fridge was in place, they hooked up the water supply for the ice maker, slid it back into place and plugged it in.

I spent the next hour or so taking off all the protective tape and plastic wrap, then washed out all the drawers and bins and shelves.

 But by the end of the day, we have a new refrigerator.  


 This replaces everything but the cabinets and the microwave from the original construction.

Trying to use the new refrigerator, they say to throw out the first 3 bins of ice and to flush 3 gallons of water thru the water dispenser.  It takes time for the ice, but I can do the water dispenser now.  When I start to use it, I find water on the floor.  Tracking it back, it's flowing down the side of the door gasket, and coming from the hinge at the top of the refrigerator.

Using a Phillips screw driver to remove the hinge cover, we find both wiring and a clear plastic tube to carry the water.

And the clear plastic tube has a hole in it.  Looks like it has been bent too much or too often.

Since this is a brand new refrigerator, I call Fry's.  They say to call Whirlpool.  Calling Whirlpool customer service, I get Kitchenaid, who says they are also Whirlpool.  Customer service wants to identify the specific part  that needs to be replaced, to decide if this needs a technician, or can be done by the customer (me).  So they transfer me to a separate company who handles all their parts (Marcone Supply), but they can't determine exactly what part it is, and transfer me back to Whirlpool/Kitchenaid.  This time they greet me as Amana, and says they also are Maytag.

In any case, they set up for someone from A & E Factory Service to come out on Friday morning (8 to 12).

On Friday, a technician shows up, agrees on the problem, but does not have the part on his truck.  He orders the part --  will be shipped UPS directly to my house --  and schedules for someone else to come out next Thursday to do the replacement repair work.  In the meantime, "don't use the water".

Digging up Zone 2

With the start of the cement for  the wall for the pathway poured, Zone 2 is completely defined.  So we can begin taking out the remaining rocks and providing better dirt.

We start digging out the dirt, to get down to the rock, mixing the dirt with some of the Fall leaves we have been collecting.

As we dig the dirt out, separate out the rocks, and mix in the dirt, we move it so that it fills in the parts of Zone 2 that we had dug out.

 We cannot get all of the rock out, since some of it is directly under the Chinese Pistache.   We are getting in as close as we feel we can.  If the tree dies at some time in the future, we should dig down and get the rest of this rock out.

Friday, November 16, 2012

First part of the final pathway walls

I don't have either enough time or enough concrete right now to finish the walkway, but I could at least get started. 

I framed the shorter of the two walls to define the walkway.

And then filled it with concrete.

Threading the new conduit

Getting the cable and telephone lines into the conduit was a farce.

I called both AT&T (telephone) and Time-Warner (cable) on Monday to see if they wanted to do this work.  Both said they would schedule someone to come out and put their cable in the new conduit.

But Time-Warner didn't give a day when they would be out, and so on Wednesday, I decided to do it myself.  I disconnected the cable from the cable box out near the fence and put it in the conduit at the house, eventually getting it out of the conduit back near the fence.  I hooked it back up at the cable box, and tested that everything still worked.  As I was cleaning things up, guess who shows up? A cable guy.

He goes over the work, and decides that it would be better to just run a new cable, replacing the old cable.  That way it can be exactly the right length.  Also he inspected the big cables in the ground that I uncovered and figured they should be repaired and maintained.  So he put a service call in for another person to come out and fix them.  On Thursday, they came out and re-did those connections.

So the Time-Warner work went pretty well.

The AT&T work, on the other hand, was different.  After the call on Monday, the AT&T repair customer service said that someone would be out on Tuesday, 8 to 12.  No one showed up.  I called back and they said someone would be out on Friday, 9 to 7. 

On Thursday, they tried to get a hold of me, but I was pouring concrete and didn't hear the phone.  I wasn't expecting anyone to call on Thursday, since they had said they would be out on Friday.  The guy on Thursday said that they were given the address "Harbor Ridge Cove" instead of "Barker Ridge Cove", and since they couldn't find that, had tossed the work order into a "junk" bin.

On Friday, I call them, again, and they said the address was correct, but they couldn't decide what area of town it was, and no one would be out -- they would have to reschedule for a later time.  I thought this was ridiculous, so I told them they were incompetent, and I would just do the work myself.

I started with the Network Interface box just hanging there.

First we record which wires are attached where, and then disconnect the wires and attach the box to the wall.

We ran the telephone line thru the conduit and reattach the wires to the AT&T side -- two of the pairs of wires -- the blue and white/blue, and the orange and white/orange.  Also replace the ground wire.

Then re-attach the house telephone wires.

And, again, as I was finishing this off and cleaning up, an AT&T repair guy shows up!  He looks things over, says it is done pretty well, and then proceeds to take it apart and do it again.  The main change was moving the ground wire.  After all that work trying to get someone out, and being told it wasn't going to happen, someone shows up anyway.

After he was done, I put a cap on the conduit, both ends.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Underground Electrical Conduit

We bought 2 inch PVC electrical conduit, matching what Austin Energy does with the power line.  Byrd says that telephone and cable conduits should be at least a foot away from the electrical lines, so we positioned a separate run up the wall for the cable and telephone lines.

From the wall, we put in a 90-degree connector to change from vertical to horizontal, and then after a slight distance a 45-degree to head to the back of the yard.  A 10 foot section takes us under the bridge (and where the pathway will be) and into the main pit.

That's were we run into problems.  We need to turn the conduit to head towards the green City transformer box.  Both the cable and telephone lines originate neat the green transformer box.   But the angle we need to turn is probably something like 16 degrees.  Standard connections come only in 90 and 45 degrees.  In the picture below, you can see that both a 90 and 45 degree turn would be way too much.

But we had seen that there are two flavors of 90-degree connectors.  One is fairly small; the other takes about 2 feet to slowly turn 90 degrees.  Byrd says that is meant for fiber optics, which can't turn quickly.

We noticed that for the larger, slow turning 90-degree connector, that if we cut it at any given point, the pipe is almost straight at that point, at least for a couple of inches -- long enough that a connector won't notice that it is slightly curving.  So we can find the point where the tangent to the curve is pointing in the direction we want, and cut it there.  Then connect the 10-foot straight piece and we have a good connector for our specific angle.  The slight curvature in the connectors might mean it is not a perfect fit, but since this is for a conduit, not for pressurized water, that should not matter.

This extends the conduit all the way to the area near the electrical transformer box.

Now all we have to do is find one end or the other of the cable and telephone lines and run them thru the conduit.

Lowering the Water Supply Line

 With the foundation repair out of the way, we can begin on lowering the PVC line that provides water to our irrigation system.  The idea is to lower the line down to bed rock, as it comes out from under the path by the gate and then keep it down on bed rock along the house, around the corner and up the the edge of the current excavation.  Later we can excavate the rest of the backyard and lower more of it.

Since we are replacing the PVC line, the extra distance is not an issue.  But in addition to the PVC water line, the electrical wiring for the various zones also travels with the line.  Apparently standard practice is to dig a trench, throw the wiring into it, put the PVC pipe on top of the wiring and then cover everything over with dirt.  So the wiring now has to go down an extra couple feet and then, eventually, back up a couple feet.  So we need about 4 feet more wire.

To do this, we called American Irrigation Repair, as we have before, and had them cut all the wires and splice in an extra four feet of wire.  Each wire had to be cut, spliced on both ends, and the splice stuck in a special adaptor that keeps it waterproof under ground.

 Once that was done, we could remove all the old PVC pipe, and begin laying our new PVC.  We used "Schedule 40" which has thicker PVC walls.

We had to put in connections for Zone 2 and Zone 3.

And we then came back and connected Zone 3 to the existing piping for it.  This leads to underground drip irrigation lines in the North and South beds.

 We continued the line around the corner and hooked it into the existing PVC which runs across the backyard, where we haven't dug it up yet.  We put a connection for Zone 4 into the line before connecting it to the existing PVC.

 Before we sealed it off, we ran water to try to flush out any dirt or debris that got into the line.

And then we connected the Zone 4 control value.  We don't have a plan yet for what Zone 4 waters or where the lines go, but we have it ready.

Foundation repair

Once we have cleaned out the trench along the East side of the house, from the corner all the way to the fence, we can see that the house is not sitting on rock, but on rock on dirt on rock on dirt on rock.  And there are many tree roots going into the dirt under the foundation.  This seems to be just inviting trouble, so we would like to seal off the foundation.

We first clean out as much of the dirt and loose rock as we can.  Then we fill that space with cement.  To facilitate getting the cement in and holding it there, we use our standard cement forms, held about 4 inches away from the foundation, so we can pour the cement into the 4 inch space between the foundation and the forms.

This gets us partway around the house, then there is the area by the kitchen bay window.

 We do the same with that part -- creating a form and filling the area with concrete.

 And on around to the gate in the fence, first the forms.


and then the cement.

In all this took 72 bags of Quikrete.   At $3.10 per bag (plus tax) is $241.61.

We hope that this will seal off the foundation, making it stable.

 The cement did the main job of sealing the foundation, but notice that at the top, there were issues of trying to get the cement to seal up with the existing foundation.  Once the cement was poured, we then went back with just pure mortar mix and slathered on a layer of mortar to finish off the top of the cement and the existing foundation siding.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Trenching along the House to the Fence

With the monkey grass moved out of the way, we can continue the trenching along the side of the house, exposing the irrigation water supply line.


 We are concentrating just on the section from the Bay window to the gate.

 Using the jack hammer for a day, we have broken up most of the rock into pieces that we can remove.

Removing all this rock reveals a few more pieces that need to be removed, to get us to a clean trench, excavated down to bedrock.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Moving the Monkey Grass (again)

When the back deck was replaced, and expanded, there was a bed of monkey grass along the old deck.  I moved that to an area alongside the East wall of the garage. This was reported in a November 2003 blog posting. It's done reasonably well, except for a section where the garage roof creates an overhang, and the dirt underneath it gets no water.  I hope to fix that by moving the down-spout up to the top of the bed, right next to the fence, so that rain water, from the roof, is applied at the top of the slope and does everything in the bed as it flows downhill.  At the moment the down-spout is in the middle of the bed, so only half the bed benefits from any rain.

But in the meantime, we need to dig up most of this monkey grass to expose the irrigation water supply line so we can lower it to bedrock.  Since we don't want to just discard the monkey grass, I will transplant it again.

In theory this is just a temporary transplanting, until I can finish digging up this bed, Zone 2, and transplant the monkey grass back, but the list of tasks includes digging up the water supply line, and then digging down to bed rock, laying the water supply line on the bedrock, which requires changing the two zone controls (for Zone 2 and Zone 3), putting the telephone and cable lines in the conduit, finishing the pathway (which defines one edge of Zone 2, clearing out any remaining rock in Zone 2, filling it up with dirt, putting in new underground drip irrigation for Zone 2, and then putting the monkey grass back.  So it may be several months.

We started by putting it around the greenhouse, both on the East side

 behind the greenhouse, and along the West side.

 But this was not enough space, so we also used part of what is supposed to be the lawn alongside the walkway, since it had been dug up and had good dirt dumped there, at least until later.

We used some limestone blocks to define a lower edge of this area.

With favorable weather, we hope that this grass will do well, and we can put it into its final home once we finish Zone 2.