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.

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.