Monday, April 28, 2014

More dirt for the backyard

We want to move the Monkey grass from its current temporary location back to Zone 2.  We have finished the excavation of Zone 2, but in the intervening time, the ground has settled substantially.  So we need more dirt for Zone 2.

We order 8 cubic yards of Grower's Mix from Austin Landscape Supplies, at $35 a yard, plus $70 delivery fee (Total of $378.88 including the tax).  They dumped it in the front yard.

Using the wheelbarrow, we moved it around and put it in Zone 2

In the lavender bed (North bed).

Where the old olive tree was in the South bed (it had settled).

In the herb garden (still needs more)

And we have some left over, for the lawn, when we finish it.

This gives us a clean front yard again.

Since it was delivered around Noon on Saturday, it took half a day
on Saturday, plus all day Sunday to move all the dirt.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Lavender Fields

In April, 2012, we finished digging and filling in the North Bed and planted it with Lavender.  The lavender did very well during 2012 and 2013, but the winter of 2014 (Dec 2013, Jan and Feb 2014) was very harsh.  It nearly killed the olive trees, and killed several of the lavender plants.  In particular, we lost the Provence, Grosso, Goodwin Creek, and the Fernleaf varieties.

Linda has some Mexican Feather grass in the corner of the bed.  We will plant some more Spanish Lavender, Hidcote, and a new one, Lady Lavender.

We will see if these last better.

A Venting Fan for the Master Bathroom

When the house was built, the builder put heaters in each of the bathrooms, over the toilets.  Experience has shown that there are few days when we need a heater in the bathroom, but we commonly need to vent the humidity from taking showers.  So I replaced the heater in the back bathroom with a vented fan.  That seems to be working well.

So the objective is to replace the heater in the master bathroom with a fan also.  I got a new fan from Lowe's, a Broan 683, just like the one in the back bathroom.

The painters, when they were scraping the popcorn off the bathroom ceiling, removed the heater.

But the fan will need to be installed above the ceiling, in the floor of the attic.  Unfortunately, this is in a corner of the house, with two exterior walls, so there is not a lot of clearance to work in.  To make things worse, that corner of the attic is essentially walled off by the loft area that we put in when we remodelled one of the bedrooms, and has been so well insulated as to be nearly unreachable.

But I realized that it was just behind the built-in bookcases in the attic.  So if we remove the bookcase, we should be able to get right to the area we need to work in.

First, we need to empty the bookcase and clear away a lot of stored stuff.

Then the bookcase, which is just nailed in around the edges of the trim, can be pulled out.

But unfortunately, the loft area was built without the bookcases, and the area behind the bookcases is all finished sheetrock.

and thinking about it, the wall behind the bookcases should be very heavily insulated.  One option is to cut thru the sheetrock and patch it later, but maybe this was not the best idea.

Let's try to remove the solar board radiant barrier in the attic and see if we can crawl back to work from the attic.

25 April 2014:

Removing the  solar board, it becomes obvious that getting to the area we need to work in from the attic would be next to impossible.

 So it seems the most reasonable way to approach the problem is thru the wall behind the bookcase.  We cut out an area between two studs.

And that gets us into the attic.  This part of the attic is not floored, so we move the insulation out of the way and lay a board down across two floor joists (or ceiling rafters), and this gets us back far enough to find the electrical box with the wiring for the old heater.

 Removing the electrical box from the ceiling, and using the hole from that to define one corner, we cut a larger rectangle that is just the size of the new fan.

While it is a mess up in the attic, it looks pretty good in the bathroom.

 The instructions say to position the new fan flush with the ceiling.  To do that, since it has to be nailed to the ceiling rafter in the attic, I tacked two one by two pieces of scrap wood across the opening in the bathroom.  This will leave 4 small holes that need to be filled in, and re-painted, but the new fan sits perfectly on the 1x2 pieces at just the right height.

Once the position of the fan is established, we then need to make a hole on the outside of the house for the exhaust vent.  Careful measuring, and drilling a test hole, establishes where this should be

We then drill multiple holes in the rock along the outside of where we want the hole to be, and use a rock chisel to break the rock out, cut thru the blue Styrofoam insulation, and thru the tar paper covered exterior fa├žade, behind the Styrofoam board and the rock exterior.  This allows us to install the actual exterior vent.

Now, we can snake the vent tube from the fan across the attic to the exterior hole and attach it to the exterior vent.  Having attached the wiring from the heater switch to the fan power wires, we now have a completely functioning vented fan.

Now we cover everything back up with lots of insulation.  We bought two more rolls of unfaced R-30 fiber glass insulation, and add it to what was already there.

The insulation goes right up over the access hole.   We add a 2x3 stud down each side of the access hole.

Which we then cover with a piece of plywood using decking screws, so that, if need be, we can just remove it if we need future access.

We slide the bookcase unit back into place and nail it to secure it.

This entire process took a couple of days, but we now have a vented fan, instead of an unvented heater.

The middle bathroom (guest bathroom) still has a heater; it appears replacing this unit would be nearly impossible from inside the house -- we would need to come in from the roof, so we are inclined to leave it until we need the roof replaced, in maybe twenty years.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Removing Popcorn from All Ceilings

When the house was built, the ceilings were textured with something called "popcorn".  This is a mixture of sheetrock compound (mud) and something like small pieces of paper or styrofoam which is sprayed on the ceiling and allowed to dry.  The rough nature of the result hides any flaws in the underlying sheetrock and provides a uniform, random ceiling surface.

But it's considered very dated.  So 1980's!   The current approach is to texture and paint the ceiling like the walls, which we did when the computer room was remodelled and when we re-did the back bathroom and bedroom suite.  Also I took the popcorn off the ceiling in the dining room and guest bedroom.

It takes a lot of work, and makes a big mess.  And the next rooms to be done would be the living room with a high "cathedral" ceiling and the library, where the ceiling is 12 feet, not the "normal" 8 or 10 feet.  It would seem that some form of scaffolding would be needed to rework these rooms.  So, I expected to hire someone to do this.

We were approached by a young person, a college student, for a company called "College Works Painting".  We are inclined to support college students.  They quoted $4343 to do the whole house: remove the popcorn, texture the newly stripped ceilings and paint the ceilings, which is about
what we expected, so we agreed to this.

The presentation suggested it would be done by college students, probably during the summer.  My goal had been to get it done by the end of the year, so that was fine.  The one constraint was to not do the work during April, since Linda would be recovering from her hip surgery, scheduled for April.

Linda's surgery got advanced to 18 March, and we got a call from Michael Harper wanting to start the job on 31 March (Monday). He stopped by the previous week to look everything over, and indicated it would take about 3 days.  I started removing A/C air vents, and objects near the ceiling, ceiling fan blades, light fixtures, the contents of top shelves.  No one came on Monday, but they did show up on Tuesday.  The job ended up taking from Tuesday 1 April 2014 until Wednesday 9 April 2014, including work on both Saturday and Sunday.  We were told people would be there at 7 AM, but they almost never started before 9 AM.

I took advantage of the ceiling work to remove the access panel to the attic that was in the Yoga room.  I built a frame from 2x3 wood and covered the hatch with sheetrock.

The first step for the work was to hang plastic film over the walls and floors so that it could be kept clean.

Once the walls and floors are protected, the ceiling was sprayed with water to soften the popcorn, and then the popcorn was scrapped off.  This was done room by room until all the popcorn was removed, exposing the underlying sheetrock.

 The greatest time was spent in this stage, probably a week.  Once the popcorn was removed, the new texture could be sprayed on the ceiling.

Once the texture had dried, it could be painted.

And then the clean-up can begin.  It took me days to vacuum, sweep, and mop the furniture, walls, and floors to clean up everything.  Then two days to put the air vents, fan blades, light fixtures and furniture back.

Was it worth the effort?  The ceilings certainly look better, but it cost over a week of time and effort.  They never did use scaffolding, just moving ladders around to get to the higher ceilings.

The process seemed very inefficient.  They put up plastic first for removing the popcorn, then took it down to get rid of the mess and debris.  Then they had to put plastic up again to protect from the texture spray.  Then they needed to protect from paint splatter.  The painters had the opinion that they would paint well enough that they did not need to mask the counters or furniture as they painted (they were wrong but dismissed the problems as "minor").  It seems that a better job could be done by putting up the plastic once, removing the popcorn and doing the spraying for the texture and painting once, and then removing the plastic, going room to room, rather than trying to do all the removal at once, then all the texture, then all the painting.  The painters seemed to underestimate the size of the job.

As with the dining room ceiling, we used Martha Stewart "Heavy Cream" for the color, but used Behr interior flat ceiling paint.  We needed 14 gallons, purchased from Home Depot.  They initially estimated they would need 8 gallons to paint, then, after going thru those 8 gallons, figured they needed 7 more, resulting in one left over gallon.  Part of this could be that they failed to prime the sheet rock once it was stripped of the popcorn and textured, but just started painting.