Monday, October 14, 2002

Third Mortgage Re-finance

With interest rates continuing to drop, it makes sense to refinance once more, for the sole purpose of decreasing our interest rate.  Since Chase has been doing a good job with the current mortgage, we approached them and asked if we could refinance to a lower rate.  They agreed.

We again refinanced with Chase Manhattan Mortgage, getting a 15-year fixed rate mortgage for $125,800 at 5.75%.  This paid the balance of the third mortgage of $125,823.32 plus closing costs.  Closing costs included title insurance ($768.20), but since the previous re-finance was so recent, we were able to skip the appraisal.

Monday, September 30, 2002

Painting the House

September 2002.  The house needed to be repainted. This time it was Steve Lindberg, $3260. This painted all the outside trim, the garage doors, and the exterior door to the back bedroom. 

First, there was a pwoer wash with bleach and soap.

Then all broken caulk areas were re-caulked, with Kelly Moore 45 year caulk.

Finally everything was painted.

 The outside trim is Sherwin-Williams Cuprinol SW 3507 Riverwood.


Wednesday, August 7, 2002

New A/C System

On 9 May 2002, I had the A/C system checked out to make sure that it would work for the upcoming summer. While it is working correctly, the technician said that it is "running high amps" and will fail under load. 

Since we should hardly need the A/C system in May, but will definitely need it in July thru September. So it seems like a good time to look for a new A/C system before it fails. I checked with 3 different companies. It seems that a good system would be a Trane XL1800, 16 SEER, 5 ton unit. We want to replace our existing system, both heating and cooling. The Trane XL1800 is common, and we can get comparative quotes. 

From 3 different suppliers we got: $8970, $9177, and $7624. An alternative was presented by Strand Brothers. They quoted a Lennox system which was SEER 14.5 for $6187. Instead of Freon, it uses 410A as a refrigerant. Plus it runs at variable speed, trying to minimize how much it has to do to reach a target temperature. 


But before we do that, we check with the City and they suggest we have our ducts checked. The duct work for our heating and A/C system run thru the attic. We've had all the ducts replaced once before, in April 1996, but the City believes that a lot of conditioned air is lost due to leaky ducts, so they are supporting a duct leakage analysis. We had our ducts tested on 3 June 2002. The duct leakage analysis showed that we both had duct leakage, but possibly more important, not enough air flow to properly cool most of the rooms. So we need the ducts sealed, but also modified to get the right amount of air, at the right temperature to all the rooms in the house. 

We contracted with Strand for both pieces of work. First, replace the existing heating and cooling system with a new Lennox system (both a gas furnace and A/C system), and second, modify the duct work to adjust the air flow and seal them. The contract, 8 June 2002, was $6187 for the replacement system and $2625 for the ductwork, for a total of $8712. 

I suffer from allergies, and so I would like the air conditioning system to also do the best it can to clean and filter the air. So we added onto this total $650 for a Honeywell Electronic Air Filter, and $395 for an ultra-violet light. The UV light goes anywhere in the air flow from the return air chamber to the top of the system where it branches for the various parts of the house and is supposed to help kill viruses and bacteria. 

We put $5000 down on 20 June 2002. The heating and A/C system was installed promptly and with little problem. The main issue was that the electronic air filter, installed just above the return air chamber raised the fan, furnace and evaporator coil. This makes it difficult to put the evaporator coil in place, and so it had to be turned 90 degrees from what was expected. 

But the duct work was more difficult; much more difficult. The ducts themselves were replaced and rebuilt according to plan, but they did not work as designed. The objective was to increase air flow to each of the rooms to be plus or minus 10% of what would be desired for that size of room. There were 18 registers. 


A spreadsheet was used to identify each register, the desired airflow, and the measured airflow. 

My idea was to have a concrete, objective criteria that defined if the work was "good enough". This seemed to cause significant problems. Strand expected to measure the current situation in order to establish that I needed work done, then design a solution to fix the situation, do the work, and declare it done. They did not normally go back and re-measure things to see if things actually improved. When we did, we found that some registers had improved, but others had not; some actually got worse. Before the work was done, we had 69% of the desired airflow; afterwards we were at 85%.  Better, but not what they promised.

The reduced air flow resulted in some additional changes to the duct work, and a larger evaporator coil, but still did not meet the goal. This got management involved, with different air filters and different measuring devices. The result seemed to be that first, the measuring devices were not very accurate and second, the measuring devices were not even repeatable. 

The measuring devices fit over a register and measured the amount of air coming out of it. Different instances of the measuring device gave different numbers. The same device would also give different results. Part of the problem was the Lennox system itself. It has a variable speed fan, and is reluctant to "blow at full speed". The result of this is that it is difficult to get the fan to run at full speed, or even a constant speed. Lennox apparently did not build into its controls a "test" mode which would just turn the fan on, full speed. 

Eventually, we got things done as well as they were going to be, but it was not easy. We never got the ultraviolet light, and the reusable electrostatic filters were deemed too restrictive to air flow, so we use disposable HEPA filters instead. 

One of the better features of this system turns out to be the warranty. The warranty is for 10 years parts and labor. 


This has turned out to be critical:

  • 23 May 2005 -- the system doesn't seem to be cooling. I have an A/C pocket thermometer, and it shows the air coming out of the closest register to be just barely cooler than the air going in to the return air closet. Turns out there is no coolant; the 410A coolant has leaked out. They put in more, but come back a couple days later and find a leak in the coil, so they replace the coil and recharge the system. This takes about 2 weeks altogether.
  • 1 July 2006 -- the compressor will not run. A bad "Dual Run Capacitor" is replaced.
  • 10 July 2008 -- internal electronics short out. The module controlling the blower motor is replaced.

Each time, Strand came out, found and fixed the problem. No charge. This should continue until 27 June 2012.

But Strand was none too happy about it.  They sent a letter in October 2008 saying that the system was no longer under warranty.  I sent back a copy of the original warranty, showing that it was still in effect until 2012. 

But the arguing ended up being unnecessary.  At this point, the system stopped breaking and just kept running for the next 10 to 12 years, when it was replaced by a Trane.

Saturday, July 20, 2002

Excavation and a Sidewalk in Front

December 2001 to July 2003

Linda suggested that she would like to put herbs in the peninsula between our driveway and the neighbor's driveway. So I dug up this area and removed all the rock, upgrading the soil and putting compost in to replace the rock.

In the above photo you can see both one of the large rocks that came out and the wheelbarrow full of the smaller rocks. Also you can see the irrigation lines.

The irrigation lines are of two types. The larger line is the main line that provides all the water to the entire sprinkler system. The water line from the city goes thru the water meter and then splits into the line for the irrigation system and the line that goes into the house. The main irrigation line goes straight back to the back of the house, turns right, goes across the back yard, turns right again, out to the front yard, turns right again, and across the front yard. The individual irrigation zones split off the main line as necessary.

The other irrigation line in the photo is the line for Zone 1, which runs back and provides sprinkler heads for the peninsula.

Once this area was dug up and improved soil brought in, Linda decided it was too shaded to grow herbs, so we have covered it with hardwood mulch and large landscape rocks.

In addition, it seemed that we needed a walk way to get from the garage and driveway around to the backyard. To do this, we outlined the area we wanted to be a walk way, and outlined it with a line of white limestone rocks. Then we took the dirt out of the walk way area and put in sand and decomposed granite, to form a base. Then we put stone on top of that base and filled in the space between the stones with a flexible grout.

The stone for the walkway is Oklahoma Thin Flagstone, with decomposed granite underneath, and Polimeric Sand as a grout. We got these from Custom Stone Supply, $398.05.

Wednesday, July 3, 2002

Converting a Bedroom into a Loft

Spending a lot of time in the attic suggested that there were two main areas where there was a lot of space -- over the kitchen and over the bedrooms. I thought that the space over the bedroom could be used by taking the ceiling off the bedroom to make it more open and provide access to the attic area. I figured this would be a major change and take a lot of time. And I had only a vague concept of what I would be doing.

So how to determine what exactly to do? I figured I needed professional help, so I looked for an Architect. I found "The Studio of 2 on Sixth", a small studio with a husband/wife team of architects: James Linville and Lina Husodo. They really brought my ideas into reality. They took our old blue prints for the house, scanned them in and converted them to a new computer file. (In the process, they also flipped everything over -- the construction of the house was the mirror image of the blue prints). They built a cardboard model of the house, with a removable roof, so you could see the way everything would fit together. Which was a really good idea, since my mental model was taking the roof off the wrong bedroom. The architects worked from June 2000 to December 2000, and billed by the month, but altogether cost $2468.20.

The architects also put us in contact with KWR Services. KWR Services did an analysis of the impact on ventilation, insulation, and heating/AC issues. This analysis is what drove the decision to install a roof ridge vent and soffit vents.

Plus, the architects considered that if we removed the ceiling from the bedroom, that might make a difference in the structural construction in the exterior wall. The framing for the bedroom ceiling effectively acted to support the middle of the exterior wall. KWR suggested a structural engineer, who suggested that we stiffen the exterior wall by installing a double 2 x 12 the length of the room along the exterior wall, between the "first floor" and the "second floor".

One thing I did was to get a building permit. It seemed likely to me that I would need one -- I wasn't sure. As I happened to be downtown near the building permit office, I stopped in and asked for one. Big mistake. They wanted to see plans, and cost estimates, and schedules. I guessed it would take years to do, and maybe cost $4000, and wasn't sure what would be done. But they were eventually happy to issue me a permit, charge me $110 (20 Nov 2000) and send me on my way, with a permit for "Remodel Attic Space for Loft/Storage Area", and some brochures about permits and inspections.

Most of 2001 was spent in getting things ready for the remodelling work. We needed the roof ridge vent and soffits. I replaced roof supports and extended the catwalk in the attic. I reinforced the floor over the kitchen and doubled the amount of fiberglass insulation over the dining room, living room and kitchen. We had the wind turbines and the power roof vent removed and the roof patched, and then I installed a solar radiant barrier on the attic side of the roof in these areas. I contracted with All Year Heating and Cooling to move some of the A/C ducts, to get them out of the way, extend the ducts to the utility room and master bedroom closet.

Now we were ready for the major remodelling. We contracted with Masterpiece Remodeling to remove the old roof and reframe the new walls and floors. This started 1 Nov 2001, and was done by 8 Nov 2001. This just provided the rough framing. $9100. This also included installing the windows (see below) in the new exterior wall. The previous framing and cedar siding for the gable had to be removed and rebuilt. We took the opportunity to replace the cedar siding with a stone siding that matched the first floor, all the way up.

The design called for two new windows -- a small double-hung window in one of the loft areas, and a larger fixed window above the windows in the bedroom. Both of these were ordered ahead of time from Home Depot. $205.66 for the small double-hung window, an Andersen wood window TW18210 20 inches by 33 inches plus $328.86 for a 5 foot wide by 3 foot tall picture window, Andersen P5030. (ordered 29 October 2001, picked up 25 Nov 2001)

We called All-Year Heating and Cooling back to run new ducts for the new space -- the upstairs loft area (two new registers, plus re-running ducts for the bedroom itself. $1200 (29 Nov 2001), plus another $550 to McCullough Heating & Air Conditioning (19 Dec 2001)

It was clear that we would need changes to the electrical power and probably new circuits. While we would prefer to run them from the main circuit breaker box, that seemed really difficult, so we instead installed one big line to a new secondary circuit breaker in the attic. Jimmie Farrell Electric did this for us. $963.80 (15 Nov 2001). With the circuit breaker in place, I can then run the lines for the outlets and lights myself.

After the electrical wiring was done, as well as telephone and CAT5 cabling for computer and cable communication, I called for my first inspection for the electrical work, 26 December 2001. I mostly passed, but I needed to ground each outlet to the metal boxes, so I would need to do that and then have a re-inspection. In the meantime, it was passed to close off the walls with sheetrock.

The sheetrock work was done by John Hernandez, for $2800. He installed the sheetrock, taped and floated it to cover the seams and make it smooth, and then added a texture to the walls to match the rest of the house. It took 3 days, from 20 Feb to 22 Feb 2002.

We did the painting ourselves. We primed the sheetrock first with one coat of Glidden Speed Wall PVA Primer, white, 4 gallons. Then we use Ralph Lauren paints. Most of the room (and the loft) was done in GH109 Greenhouse Sunlight, 4 gallons.

 One wall was done in Naturals Pueblo NA39, 1 gallon, as an accent.


We also got two custom doors made by Home Depot. One short door for the access to the attic over the back bedroom, and one short door for access to the attic over the rest of the house. These were just the standard Lauan interior hollow core doors, but 24 x 36 inches for the one and 24 x 52 inches for the other. $219.59, ordered 16 Jan 2002, and picked up 9 Feb 2002.

We bought a Hunter ceiling fan (Model 23853, $552.92) 9 March 2002 with a 4 arm light kit for comfort and lighting. We put fluorescent lights in the loft itself, as well as a smoke detector (since heat rises).

Now we were ready for the floor. We had a 3/4 inch plywood subfloor. It would have been nice to match the oak flooring from the rest of the house, but instead we went with a pre-finished engineered flooring -- Huntington Plank by Robbins, in a Shara Sand finish. Texas Floors supplied the material and installed it for $1952.00 with the installation on 21 and 22 March 2002.

Baseboards and window trim was obtained from Wenco Distributors. They had red oak trim that matched the trim in the rest of the house pretty well. $313.93 on 5 March 2002 for the baseboards and $148.80 on 20 March for the window and door trim. We got James R. Mattocks to install the trim for $720 on 26 March 2002. He also enclosed the double 2x12 stiffening beam along the exterior wall with oak trim to look like a shelf, and topped the half-wall by part of the loft with a nice piece of oak.

One of the intended uses of this space was to hold books. After the framing was roughed in, I noticed that there was space over the master closet and decided to put some recessed bookcases into that loft wall. I framed it all out and then ordered 3 bookcases 42 inches wide, by 33.5 inches high and 10.5 inches deep from the Bookcase Store on 2 March 2002 ($353.98). They were ready on 23 March, and we just slid them into place, then secured them by nailing their wooden trim to the wall.

(Later, in September 2006, we would buy 4 more custom made bookcases from the Bookcase Store for $428.67 and put them along the other wall).

April 2002 was spent finishing the bookcases and trim. Everything had to be sanded and two coats of polyurethane applied.

Now the problem was how to get up (and down) from this space. During all the work, we were just using a step ladder to get up and down, but we needed something better. Our solution was to order a library ladder from Putnam Rolling Ladder Co. We ordered the #1 Top Bent ladder with Satin Nickel hardware, for $1293.00 on 22 March 2002, and took delivery on 29 May, with an extra cost of $118.13 for shipping.

This pretty well finished the work. I called for my final inspections and got (and passed) them on 28 June (Electric and Building) and 3 July 2002 (Heating and A/C).

So it took about 2 years and over $20,000. It opened up the room and added about 200 square feet of left storage space. That's expensive storage space!

Saturday, May 11, 2002

A window in the Attic

Working in the attic is hot, and dark. I have a trouble light that I use, but one light bulb is not a lot of help. To help solve both these problems, I installed a window in the gable over the kitchen.

The window is a Model G42 Andersen Gliding Window. $524.06 from Home Depot

 Since it was a "new" install in an open wall, I could frame it in the attic to match the size of the window, which is basically 4 feet wide and 1 foot, 11 inches tall.

 On the outside, I trimmed it with 1x4 rough cedar to match the rest of the house, and on the inside, insulation and radiant barrier.

Wednesday, May 8, 2002

Granite Counter Top for the Island

While driving around, I saw a place, Stone Masters, that had a "clearance" sale on granite counter tops. It would be a major piece of work to replace all our counter tops, but we could start by just putting a piece down on the kitchen island. That's a fairly small simple rectangle.

So Linda and I picked out a black and white piece of granite, and had them cut it to 27.5 x 33 inches. $308.23 which gave us both the piece for the kitchen and the "left-over" piece.

I used some "liquid nails" to glue it down to the existing formica counter top, since the purpose of this was mainly just to experiment with having granite counter tops. If it works well, we'll probably want to redo all the counter tops in granite.