Thursday, September 22, 2011

Decomposed Granite

We have 3 of the four sides of the raised garden prepared for the walkway, plus the section from the gate to the raised garden. These areas have walls defining the walkway edges, with limestone blocks to give it a finished look. Eventually, we want to put flagstones over them, but that will wait until the entire walkway is finished. We will put the flagstones on a base of decomposed granite over the rubble rock that fills most of the walkway. It seems like a good time to go ahead with the decomposed granite. It will make working in this area much easier.

We bought 3 cubic yards of decomposed granite from Whittlesey Landscape Supplies. To see how large this is, each of the bags below is one yard by one yard by one yard -- a cubic yard. Plus we got a palette of the white limestone 4x4 blocks that we use as edging for our work. We will need them along the walkway, plus all around the yard along the fence.

The cost of this was: decomposed granite $94.35, the limestone blocks $222.60, plus $80 delivery. Including taxes, the total was $435.14.

The rest of this work was fairly simple -- shovel the decomposed granite out of the big white plastic bags, into the wheelbarrow, and then out onto the walkway sections that have been filled with rock rubble.

Hours later, we have the walkways filled in. We have about a half cubic yard more than we needed; it's stored behind the raised garden and we can use it on the section in front of the raised garden, as soon as we have that well-defined and filled in with rock rubble.

And we expect that this will settle, especially if/when we get some rain.

The Walkway across the yard, part 1

We have decided to dig out the first layer of rock for the walkway that goes from the raised garden to the back patio. When David was here, we started this work, but didn't really have time to do much. Our approach is to define the inner curve of the walkway, and dig out from the other side, leaving one side to use for framing the wall that defines the walkway.

So here, we can see the initial digging, going from the edge of the walkway, digging South. We encounter rock (and the sprinkler line) just below the surface, so we have only a couple of inches of dirt to remove.

As we expose the rock, we need to break it up and get it out of the way. The easiest way to do this is to use the dirt as a ramp, allowing us to roll the rocks up and out of the growing pit.

Days of this sort of work, gets us a roughly triangular pit two to three feet deep with a well-defined edge for a wall to define one edge of the walkway.

We are now in position to be able to frame and pour the concrete for this wall.

First we form and pour the wall along the remaining dirt.

Then we frame and pour the other wall. This is more difficult, since we have to simultaneously support both sides of this wall.

We have to make sure that both walls are about the same height and will form a level walkway from the gate to the back patio walk.

Once that sets for a couple days, we can put the limestone blocks on the top and the walls are done.

Now we need to dig out the yard, and fill the area between the two walls with rock rubble to create the stable, filled area for the decomposed granite and finally the flagstones.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Granite counter-tops in the kitchen

We have finally upgraded the kitchen counter-tops from Formica to granite.

Linda looked around and found some granite that might work at Austin Stone Works. It turned out those slabs were already taken, so we had to look further. There are 4 or 5 major yards that have granite in Austin, and we went to all of them. Repeatedly.

Eventually we found some granite called Copper Canyon Exotica.

We reserved it at the yard and told Austin Stone Works about it. They quoted us a price and started work to cut and shape the stone in their shop. They called and told us that installation would be on the 15th.

On the 14th, I then started clearing off the counter tops. All the drawers and kitchen ware under the counters was removed. The gas stove top was disconnected and removed. The sink and faucet were disconnected.

I also removed the disposal. The City had been indicating that they didn't want us to use our disposal -- they suggested putting food scraps in the trash to lessen the difficulty in processing waste water. So I figured we would just not put a disposal back in. I put an electrical box in under the sink and put the electrical wiring into it.

On the morning of the 15th, two workers showed up. First they removed the old Formica counter-tops.

And then they installed the new granite counter-tops. All the space had been carefully measured, so that the granite pieces were just put in place and fit.

As part of the counter-tops, we also got a new sink. It's a 16-gauge stainless steel sink from Soci.

The contract with Austin Stone Works was for $7245.83. That covered removing the old Formica, the granite (getting the granite, cutting it to size and installing it), and the sink.

I got a new faucet from Lowe's for $246.81, a Delta Ashton Stainless Steel Model: 19922-SSSD-DST. It comes with a soap dispenser, but we didn't use it, so we only needed one hole drilled in the granite for the faucet.

Finally, I called Sully's Plumbing to connect the new sink to the drain pipes. That was $220. I figured that with the new sink and the now missing disposal, it required more skill than I have to design and implement a new way of connecting the sink and dishwasher drains to the old drain line. Now that it is done, I can see what is involved -- maintenance is easier than creating the initial system.

The next day was spent with putting in the faucet and getting the plumber and with putting everything back in place -- all the drawers and kitchenware, reattaching the gas stovetop and cleaning everything up.

The main missing piece now is a new backsplash.

Switch land-line phone service

AT&T was providing our land-line telephone service. It was about $20 a month after the base service plus taxes and fees. But then they raised the base cost by $2 a month in January, and then another $3 a month in August, which put the total monthly cost to more than $30.

Time Warner Cable provides our cable TV service and our internet service. We can throw the telephone service to them too, and get their "triple bundle". The triple bundle would provide both land-line phone service and long-distance. Normally we pay little for long-distance, about $5 to $10 a month, but with the higher cost of the AT&T service, it becomes cost effective to switch to Time Warner.

And now that AT&T has dug up the back yard and repaired our land-line connection, we at least know that it is possible to switch back and have working service.

So we made the move. In theory, our phone number is "portable", and we can continue using it. According to Time Warner, all we needed to do was switch out our previous internet cable modem with a new cable modem that also provided phone service and then wait for the magic to happen that would switch our service.

Originally our service was to switch over on 13 September, but that came and went with no apparent change -- picking up our phones still gave us a dial tone from AT&T. When I called, they said there were "technical" difficulties and the switch would happen on 15 September or no later than noon on the 16th.

Nothing seemed to happen on the 15th, but on the morning of the 16th, our phones were all dead -- no dial tone. To check, I plugged a phone into the Time Warner cable modem, but got no dial tone there either.

Waiting until after noon, I then called Time Warner. It took all afternoon to get the phones working. First they thought it was a problem with the modem, so I
took the old "new" modem back to the service center and swapped it for a new "new" modem. No change. Then there were issues with their data base, and several fields and "codes" that had to be changed. Around 5:00 pm, they got the phones working. It took over an hour of cell-phone minutes to make this happen.

Once the modem provided phone service, it was fairly easy to plug that into a nearby phone outlet, which takes the signal upstairs to our phone switch board. I could then run it to the distribution bars and then back down to the active phones downstairs.

Two problems developed. First, the phone line cords that connect phone equipment -- the kind with two RJ-14 clips on the end -- reverse the red/green wires. That reverses the polarity of the signal and causes problems with some telephone equipment.

The other problem was that one of the connectors was shorting out internally. By taking it apart and adjusting the position of the internal wiring, I was able to get it working correctly.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Walkway for the South Pit

To complete the walkway, we need to put it on the South side of the raised garden. We have it already excavated, walled, and filled with rock on the back side (East), North, and West.

As we excavate the yard, it would be useful to have the South side ready to accep the rocks we dig out.

Also, the South Pit has been excavated and filled back in, so all we have to do is shovel out the dirt and put in the wall. A couple of days of digging gets us almost there.

We need to trim up the dirt next to the South Pit, so that we get a clean vertical wall under the string, which would be 36 inches from the raised garden. Then we can frame it and pour the retaining wall. The retaining wall took 23 bags of Quikrete.

To finish this section of the walkway, we poured the corner that connects the South wall to the West wall.

Using mortar mix to attach the 4x4 chopped/sawed limestone blocks to the top, we have a finished wall separating where the walkway will be from the South bed.

Now all we need to do is fill the walkway area with rubble rock and top it with decomposed granite and flagstones.