Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Replacing the Kitchen Microwave

The Kitchen Microwave has been there for 30 years.

But the turntable is no longer working.  The turntable has 3 wheels and one of them has stopped turning, so it has been ground flat on one side and the friction is now so large that the turntable does not turn at all.

So it's time to get a new one.  It's not easy to find one.  Consumer Reports does not evaluate microwaves, but just gives general properties to look for.  The control panel for the Magic Chef is very simple; control panels now seem to be much more complicated with lots of buttons for specific purposes (Specific buttons for popcorn, potatoes, pizza, ...)  All we want is to be able to punch in a time and start it up.

And opening the microwave door seems to be mostly pushing a big button to pop the door out, rather than pulling on it.  It seems pushing the big button would be difficult for older people, so we would prefer a big handle to pull.

The other problem is that we have a "built-in" microwave.  Most microwaves now seem to be for over a range, or for a counter top.  But some counter-top models come with a "trim kit" that makes it look like it is built-in.  Mainly the trim kit needs to make sure there is enough air flow in and out of the microwave.

Eventually  we settled on a Kenmore Elite Model 75223 2.2 Cubic Foot 1200 Watts Stainless Steel Microwave.  Model 405.75223310.  They have a trim kit for this, Model 22273 Trim Kit, 27 inch, Stainless Steel.

The first step is to remove the existing microwave.  That leaves a big hole for the new one.

The main problem we have is that the previous microwave was about 1.2 cubic foot; the new one is 2.2 cubic foot.  The previous microwave was probably a 24 inch model; the new one is a 27 inch model.  So we have to make the hole bigger, especially bigger vertically.  Rather than make the entire hole bigger, we just cut a couple of notches in the top to accommodate the trim kit. We also took the cabinet doors off the cupboard above the microwave, so we could work.

The trim kit first puts a pan down that the microwave sits on.

Then the microwave slides in.  It plugs into the outlet in the back of the hole.

The trim then goes over this.

And we put the doors back on the cupboard above it.  The doors had to be moved up about an inch.

Update.  On 23 March 2017, the microwave stopped making microwaves.  Everything still works, but it does not heat.  15 months after the start of the 12 month warranty.  Since it only cost $150, plus about $100 for the mounting kit, it does not seem to make sense to try to repair it, so what do we replace it with?

Consumer Reports has actually rated Microwave ovens, in their 2017 Buyer's Guide, and this exact model is rated their #2 choice.  So let's assume it was an item defect and not all such model microwaves.  Unfortunately that model is no longer available, but there is a  successor, the model 79393.  It's $250 as is.  Plus this time, we will pay for the extended warranty, so that it won't break.  An extra $50 to make it last for 3 years.

But of course, the new model is a slightly different size.  It still fits in the opening just fine, but the mounting kit won't work.  Instead of 24 x 12.5, the new model is 24.5 x 13. 

Sealing the Border Between the Jungle and the West Lawn Bottoms

As we have excavated the West Lawn Bottoms, the trench that will be the Bottoms is defined by the Retention Wall on the one side and the Jungle on the other side.  The Jungle has a limestone block border that defines the one side.  We have excavated right up to, and under that border.  Digging gets most of it clear from the border down to bedrock.

A little jack hammer work gets out the stubborn stones to clear it straight down from the edging to bedrock.

We can then form this up and fill the area under the stone edging with cement, to keep the plants from the Jungle in the Jungle, and to support the edging.

After removing the forms, we have a section of the wall support.

This work was done in August.  In December, we had the opportunity to continue this further.

First, we have to clear out the dirt and rock.

Then we form it up.

Pour the concrete, wait a day for it to dry, pull the forms off and move the forms down to do the next section.

And do it again for the last section in what has been excavated so far.

The result may not be pretty, but it should be functional -- supporting the stone border around the Jungle, and sealing the Jungle off so that the plants in the Jungle do not grow out into the yard.  

 (We have had problems with the Nandina in the Jungle growing into the yard; this should stop that.) We want to continue this all the way around the Jungle, as we continue the excavation in the yard.

In March, we continued to dig around the Jungle.

Getting the rock out of the way, exposes a bunch of roots coming under the border between the Jungle and the lawn.

And a couple days of cleaning this out gives us another section of the border that we can pour concrete under.

We form this up, and pour the concrete.

We need to do this in two steps.  The first step creates the bottom half of the wall.  Then we move the forms up and pour the top part, right up to the bottom of the border rock.  The result is a bit rough, so we plaster the outside with mortar mix, to create a smooth plastered wall.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Irrigation for the West Lawn Upper

With the Retaining Wall laid out, we can outline where the River of Rocks will go.  Not actually laying it out or putting it in place, but just outlining where it will go, relative to the main area of the West Lawn.

And once we have that in place, we can now look at what we want to do for an irrigation system for the main West Lawn, the Uppers above the Retaining Wall, all the way back between the fence and the River of Rocks.  Most of this is shady, from the Oak tree and the Elm trees.  Our intent is to put in native grasses that are shade-tolerant and drought-tolerant.  Low maintenance.  Our landscape plan says Inland Sea Oats and a Texas Sedge.

So I've designed a irrigation plan that involves a big loop around the area, with a couple of lines run from side to side to put a head in the middle of the area.

First we located the Zone 8 valve

We connected to the Zone 8 valve both to the outer loop and to one of the lines that go from side to side.

The output from the valve is 1 inch PVC.  We attached a 1 inch Tee and then brought those two lines to the same depth as the main lines, reduced it to 3/4 inch and attached it to each of the two lines.   We run 3/4 inch PVC around the entire area.  Every 10 feet (since the PVC lines are 10 feet long), we put a sprinkler head with a 3/4 inch Tee that has a 1/2 inch threaded center hole, which goes to a 2 inch nipple to the irrigation head.

We ran a line along the fence.

and along the new masonry work.

along the Retaining Wall

Then up along where the River of Rocks will be

past the connection to the valve and all the way up to the middle Elm tree.

At the end of both sides (next to the fence and next to the River of Rocks), we just ran a line as far as seemed reasonable and ended with an irrigation head.

And then after all the irrigation heads are in place and things are tested, we can cover it all up.

And we can top this off with the good dirt that we have piled in the middle of the back yard.  This reduces the pile

to nothing.

and fills up the back half of the new West Lawn.

We then sowed about a half a pound of inland sea oat seeds on this good dirt -- between the tree and the fence.  The expectation is that the seeds will act like they fell from their previous inland sea oat plants, lie dormant over the winter and sprout come Spring.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Using a Metal Detector

While digging over the past months, I have run into a disturbing number of rusty nails and other old construction debris.  While I can discard the rusty nails I find, it suggests there might be even more that I am not finding.  I would like to find and remove all (or almost all) of the old rusty nails.

A brief review suggests that a metal detector could find at least some of them.  Metal detectors are normally used to find coins or jewelery and such, but there are settings which will find "all metals".  New metal detectors can run several hundred dollars, but for my purposes, a used one will be fine.  I look on eBay and it appears that good ones go for $50 to $100.  Checking craigslist.com, I find one locally (well, within 50 miles) for $50, and drove down to Kyle to buy it.

This particular metal detector is a Bounty Hunter Tracker IV.

A PDF of a User's Manual can be found on-line.  Since I am still trying to do construction, I have not had time to do more than just try it in a small area, but just 10 minutes in the area near the Iris bed produced a dozen nails.

So this seems like an effective way to find nails in the dirt.  I should try to sweep over the back yard before declaring construction complete.


After almost a year, I've used the metal detector only a handful of times -- maybe 6 to 10 times.  But it has worked wonderfully.  In excavating the bed by the back bedroom, for example, I have found a lot of nails.

So this definitely seems like a useful tool to have occasionally.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Excavating the West Lawn Bottom Zone, Part 3

More digging.

 Extending the Retaining Wall.

Digging up to the back yard patio sidewalk, to begin laying down the other end of the River of Rocks.

We need to find proper height rocks to extend the Retention Wall over the excavated path, and then put the River of Rocks over them.

While we were working on this, the Fall rainy season arrived.  At one point we got 5 inches of rain, which flooded the pit that we've excavated.

And then five days later, we got 8.5 inches, flooding it again, and even higher.

The result is that it is too wet to work.  The dirt is very heavy and sticks together; I think this is from a high clay content.  After two weeks, it's difficult to dig, but possible.  I used this time to finish the Retaining Wall and link it in with the beginning of the River of Rocks by the back sidewalk.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Water Supply for Zones 6 and 7

We saw some weeks ago that irrigation zones 6 and 7 had valves in the middle of what is now the West Lawn Bottoms.  We dug these up and found that they had a common water supply line heading back towards the house.

We removed these lines and capped it off, and then extended the Retention Wall up to where the water supply line was capped off.

Both Zone 6 and Zone 7 will be for the lawn sections below the Retention Wall (Zone 8 is above the Retention Wall), so we need to bring them thru the Retention Wall. 

First we dug back to discover where the water supply line comes from.  It turned out to Tee off the main irrigation water supply line.  The main irrigation water supply line is a 1 1/2 inch PVC line running, in this section, parallel to the back of the house -- about 31 or 32 inches away from the foundation of the house.  The Tee for zones 6 and 7 is 72 to 74 inches West of the corner of the house (next to the Iris Garden).  We replaced the schedule 20 PVC with schedule 40 PVC.

We then ran the line down to the Retention Wall, dropped it down (since the ground is sloped down)

and then we ran it thru where the Retention Wall will be and reattached the valves for Zone 6 and Zone 7.   We taped the electrical control wires to the bottom of the PVC pipe.

This positions them to be used for irrigation lines to service what will some day be the lawn part of the West lawn, and the Central Lawn area.

The main lines are 1 1/2 inch lines.  They are stepped down to 1 inch lines for the valves.  The valves have 1 inch input and 1 inch output.  We will probably step that down to 3/4 inch lines with 1/2 taps for each sprinkler head.