Monday, December 16, 2019

Replacing Blinds with Cordless Blinds

The blinds/shades in the kitchen and the living room are showing their age.  Plus with a grandchild, who will eventually be walking, there is the issue of the danger of the dangling cords, so it seems prudent to replace them.  We already have cordless blinds in both the back bedroom, the guest bedroom, and the computer room, so this completes the set.  We still have corded wooden shutters in the dining/TV room, and aluminum mini-blinds in the office and the front bedroom, but those are really hard to get to, or always in the down state, so the cords are not really a problem.

The blinds we put in the back bedroom seem reasonable, so we went back to Home Depot to get more like them.  Those are double cell cellular shades, made by MyBlinds, or something like that, but when we got to Home Depot, we were told that they no longer do double cell shades.  We priced out just single cell shades, but decided to sit on it a bit.

Going home, I checked the internet and found that Levelor made double cell cellular shades, and they were carried at Lowe's.  So we went to Lowe's.

Linda had picked a color for the paint for the Living Room, and I had measured the window openings, so we just needed to find something to match.  And we did, a 7/16 inch double cell cordless light filtering shade in Color 12R70104 Daylight.  Three shades, each 70 inches wide and 70 inches high.  Inside Mount. We placed the order on 27 Nov 2019, for $600, plus tax taking it to $649.50.  They were delivered on 5 Dec.

Meanwhile, we considered the kitchen shades, and decided to do the same.  But having seen what they did at the store to order them, I looked to see if I could do the same online, and I could.  So on 28 Nov, I ordered 3 more for the kitchen windows.  The center one is 69 7/8 inches wide, while the left one is 22 1/8 and the right one is 22.5 inches wide.  All of them are 58 inches high.  Again, inside mount, cordless, in Daylight color (online it's 12470104).  These were only $377.78 being smaller windows.  These were delivered on 6 Dec.

Installing them took a couple of hours.  First I removed the old blinds.  Then I patched the sheetrock to cover the holes from the mounting hardware for the old blinds.  Next screw in the new mounting hardware, and snap the new blinds in place.  In the living room, I had some trouble with what are probably nails in the headers above the windows where the support hardware was to be installed, so the hardware had to be moved over slightly.

In the kitchen there was no such problem, so again, it took a couple of hours to remove the old blinds and hardware, then install the new ones and snap the shades in place.

In retrospect, now that I have double cell cellular shades from 3 different companies -- Bali, MyShades, and Levelor, I can tell some difference between them.  The one that may (or may not) matter most is that the Levelor shades do not seem to be as well counter balanced.  There is a greater tendency for one side or the other to go down more, so that the bottom of the shade is not level with the window sill.  I can go back and adjust it by raising or lowering one side or the other, but it requires more work.  The other (older) shades do not have this problem.  They tend to all go up or down evenly, staying level at all times.  But I expect most of the blinds to be open most of the time -- we mainly bring them down only when it is particularly cold outside at night and we want the extra "insulation" to keep out the nighttime cold.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Excavating the front yard, to the street, Part 1

We started to dig up the front yard by digging a trench across the yard, following the sprinkler irrigation line from the valve to the sidewalk.

The documents said there were two valves in the middle of the front yard -- one for zone 10, and the other for zone 11 (the section between the driveway and the sidewalk).  So we continued to dig from the known valve (zone 10) until we found the valve for zone 11.  From the stone retaining wall, we knew where the irrigation line went under the sidewalk, so we assumed it was a pipe from the valve to the sidewalk.

Sure enough.

In fact there were two pipes -- one main supply line for Zone 11, and a feeder line for zone 10.  We removed them both.

Then we kept digging until we hit rock.

And from there we expanded the width of the trench towards the street.

Scrape the dirt off, and cart it off to the back part of the yard, to expose even more rock.

Break that rock up into manageable pieces and move it out to enlarge and deepen the trench.

Repeat this process -- scrape off the dirt, haul it to the back part of the yard, to expose more rock.

Break that rock up.

Lift the rocks up out, and move the dirt out, and we have a trench of maybe 8 or 9 feet in width.  We have about 7 feet to go to the curb.

Part of the process is lifting out the large rocks and putting them by the curb.  These can be used as "landscape" rocks; people will come and get them for retaining walls or just for decoration.

For the lesser rocks, they are sorted out of the dirt, down to about the size of a walnut, and moved to the driveway, and I try to get people to come take them away as "fill".

The dirt that remains is mixed with grass and leaves, to increase its organic material, and try to make it better dirt.  Then it is moved to the side until I can bring it back after all the excavation is down.  We have been using bags and bags of leaves.

The remaining soil to dig up no longer has any large solid rocks -- I believe this ground was all dug up for the construction of the road some 35 years ago.

What we have is a top layer of dirt -- relatively good dirt, although it can use more organic material (so we will mix it with leaves).  This top layer is about 12 to 14 inches deep.  Under it is a layer of a mix of limestone dust and rock, the buried by-product of creating the street, curb and such.  This is very very poor "soil", but if we mix it with leaves and then mix that with the comparatively better soil that was on top of it, it should be passable.  Sorting out the rocks and any other construction debris, of course.  We have found a lot of broken up pieces of asphalt.

This excavation has taken about 2 months, from early October to late November.  We hope to finish it off within another month, if the weather holds.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Filling the Front Yard Retaining Wall

The big pile of dirt in the front yard has been there for at least a year -- the results of digging out the trench for the gas line.  We used some of it to fill back in the trench, but there was a lot left.

The retaining wall allows us to move that dirt back into the front yard and create a raised depth of dirt around the big tree.  This took over a week of shoveling the dirt out of the pile, mixing it with leaves and grass, to increase its organic content, and distributing it inside the retaining wall.

The changes to the front yard were small, and almost not noticeable from day to day.

 The same was true for the pile.  To make it easier to see the changes in the pile, I cut thru the middle of the pile.

And then reduced first the front part to almost nothing.

And then the back pile

until there was nothing left.

This provided much of the dirt that was needed to fill behind the retaining wall (but not all that was needed).  We will need to bring in a final layer of really good dirt when we finish with the excavation.

Next phase is to excavate down the area where the dirt pile was, and remove any rock that we find there.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Finishing the Front Yard Retaining Wall

Having established that we have enough stone for the Front Retaining wall, and gotten a reasonable image of what it will look like, we now have to take it all apart, and put it back together with mortar holding it in place.

I could do that myself, but I'm not certain that my skills extend this far.  We want it to be level, and straight.  The steps should slope slightly so that water will run down the steps, not sit on them or pool at the back of a step.  And we want each course of stone to be offset from the previous one, to form a "stair step" effect, so that it does not look as imposing.  I can understand how to do the offset, but after a course or two, it seems the center of gravity of the wall will not be over the stone.  I can shovel dirt behind it, as I go, to keep it from falling over, but I'm not sure if that is the best solution.  How are stair-step walls done?

So, given the amount of work necessary to get this far, and that this will be a major feature of the front yard, which every ones sees as they come in the house, I figured I should look at getting someone else, a professional, to do it.

Basilio Ramirez (512-293-0886) of Ramirez Concrete Work & More was recommended to me.  He came out on Wednesday to look at and discuss the project, had an estimate by Thursday, and could start by Saturday.  $1650.

On Saturday, Basilio showed up with Jorge, and a pickup truck of sand and masonry cement.  They mixed the sand and cement in a wheelbarrow to make mortar.  They were very comfortable with the mortar, and had lots of time to work with it.  They first took the walls apart, then put wet trails of mortar down the middle 1/3 of the cement support for the wall, placing the stones on top of that and positioning them.  Then the same for the next level, and the next. 

If there was a problem (at one point there was a vertical joint between two blocks that was over another vertical joint), the blocks could be removed, the old mortar scraped off (and by "old", I mean 5 minutes or so), put back in the wheelbarrow with the other mortar, mixed a little, and then more mortar was applied and the stones re-laid, in a different order to shift the vertical joint.

They kept at this, stone block after stone block, wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of mortar, until all the stones were set in place.  Then, effectively for cosmetic reasons, on the outside of the wall, they went back and put mortar in the vertical joints, and filled out the horizontal ones to match the front of the blocks.  After this "icing" was applied in all the joints, they used a wooden-handled wire brush to smooth the mortar off and clean up the joints.  Using the wooden handle to sort of shape and smooth things, and the the wire brush to clean off any extra.

 They didn't bother with the inside of the wall, since it was going to be filled and covered with dirt -- no one will see it.  Other than the top course of stone; they did do the top course on both sides.

That was it.  They got there around 7:00 AM, and were done by 2:00 PM.

I checked on Sunday, and the mortar seems very hard.  On Monday, I will start to move dirt from the mound that I have from the trench back to fill up the retaining wall.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Painting the Garage Walls

The garage walls are finished, but over time they have certainly shown their wear.  But this is certainly not a high priority item.  

In Sept 2019, we decided to re-paint the East exterior wall, or at least half of it -- up to the window. We took everything off of the wall, and used masking tape all around the edge.  We patched the sheetrock where the paint or texture had problems.

We painted by hand the patches and all the edges.

Then we used a roller to paint the wall itself.  Remove the masking tape.  Put the outlet cover back on.  Done with this side for the moment.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Roughing in the Front Yard Retaining Wall

We completed pouring a cement base to put the retaining wall on.  That lets us stack the stones on the base to see how things will look.  Along the sidewalk, for example, we have:

This extends up along the sidewalk until it disappears into the ground.  All the while it is flat and level, while the ground raises up to the street.

At the same time, it extends from the sidewalk, in front of the house over to the partition wall.

This part of the wall starts 4 stones up on the left near the door (so about 24 inches tall), slowly sinking into the ground until it meets the partition wall at the same level, only 2 stones (12 inches) tall.

The main exception to this smooth flow is in the section next to the sidewalk.  Part way down, we want to build a stairway that goes from the sidewalk up to the level that the dirt will be behind the retaining wall.  We need a new base for that stairway.

This is a bit hard to visualize.  The stairs themselves will be the longest 6x6 blocks we have -- those from 26 inches and up.  These stairs will need support to hold them up.   We do that by providing two sets of blocks running perpendicular to the stairs.

The stairs then bridge from one set of blocks to the other.

 In addition, we need a "box" around the stairs to keep the dirt that will be brought in from falling onto the stairs from the sides. 

So this appears to be two separate structures -- a box to hold the dirt back, and in that the stairway.

 This completes the rough work for this retaining wall.  We have the concrete base.  We have the blocks, for both the two sections of the wall and the stairway.  This shows that we have enough stone.  Now we need to take it all apart, and put it back together, with mortar holding it in place.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Preparation for the Front Yard Retaining Wall

The Front Yard Retaining Wall is designed to start next to the sidewalk and then continue across the yard to the partition wall that separates our front yard from the neighbors.  It varies in height, being taller near the front door and then gradually lowering to meet the partition wall as it moves across the yard.  With the base prepared by the partition wall, we need to continue the base for it across the yard.

Starting near the trench, where the wall base has already been created, we need to move across the yard.  There is currently a low garden bed wall separating the yard from the bed in front of the house.

We will remove this short wall and dig down to prepare it for the new larger wall.  The new wall is constructed of 6x6 limestone blocks.

So first we remove the existing wall.

We remove it up to the sidewalk, and then turn and dig out a new section along the sidewalk, towards the street.

The wall has two sections -- along the sidewalk and from the sidewalk across the yard.

The section along the sidewalk is to be flat and level.  So as the ground rises towards the street, the wall continues straight ahead and "dives" into the rising ground, so that the top is always level.  That means that the corner near the door will be higher (more levels of stone) than the end nearer the street, where the wall becomes flush with the dirt and "disappears" into it.  The first course of stone work is mostly below ground level near the street, and continues flat for only 10 or 12 feet before it is so far below ground to be invisible.

So the height at the corner defines the height of the entire wall.  We start by pouring a concrete base at the corner itself.

and then extend that, level, down the sidewalk until it needs to be stepped up.  Once that dries, we can then stack 6x6 blocks on it, to see how the wall will look.

Notice, for example, that a couple yards from the beginning, we want to put a set of stone stairs that will lead up to the new yard level, the level of the dirt that will be behind the retaining wall.

For all of this, we need a bunch of 6x6 limestone blocks.  We buy 2 pallets of them from Whittlessey Landscape Supplies, and have it delivered.  This costs $664,31 for 7438 pounds of stone.

We first need to see what we have.  Unpacking the pallets, we have 43 blocks that are 24 inches long or more.

Four of these broke/fractured on the pallet.

Another 56 blocks are between 16 inches and 24 inches in length.

And then there were 13 short blocks, of less than 15 inches in length.

We also needed more concrete, for the base to put the stones on.  That will all be below ground and not visible.  We bought 10 60-pound bags the first trip and another 12 bags on another trip.

Plus we will need mortar to hold the blocks in place.  These blocks are actually big enough (6x6) and heavy enough (a 24 inch block weighs 72 pounds) that they can be used as "dry stack", where they are just piled on top of one another without mortar.  But we want to offset each course slightly to create a slight stair-step appearance, so we will mortar each course in place.  We want a white mortar, to match the white color of the limestone.  There is no white mortar in the cement/mortar aisle at Home Depot -- apparently "real" workers make it up from scratch from White Masonry Cement and white sand -- but there is white mortar -- made with white cement and white sand -- in another aisle, for glass blocks: Glass Block Mortar Mix (50 pounds).  We will use that.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Moving the Front Bed to Zone 9

We are re-defining almost everything in the front yard.  Originally the front yard had two irrigation zones:  Zone 10 to the West of the sidewalk and Zone 11 to the East of the sidewalk (between the sidewalk and the driveway).  While we are keeping this basic idea, we also wanted to consider the beds.  There is an existing bed in front of the house, between Zone 10 and the house, which now expands and runs into the area near the gas meter -- from the house to the West property line, and from the fence gate to the retaining wall.

While all the other zones are behind the fence, it seems to me to make sense to extend Zone 9, which is a set of beds from the backyard deck around to the West side of the house and up to the fence, to extend this Zone 9 to include the front yard beds by Zone 10.

There is already one head for Zone 9 in front of the fence, by the gas meter.

We can tap into that line to get Zone 9 water.

Currently the front bed gets it's water from Zone 10 via a pipe that runs under the stone wall defining the front bed.  We can cut that, and cap off the line going to the bed sprinkler heads.

Then one end of the front bed irrigation line, close to the downspout for the gutters that runs into the French drain, went to a head in the yard, which we have already removed.  If we run a line from the Zone 9 head by the gas meter to this end of the front bed lines, we will have moved them all to Zone 9.

So we dug out from the end of the front bed lines around the corner of the house and then down parallel to the side of the house -- 16 inches from the foundation -- to the Zone 9 head.

At the Zone 9 lines, we cut it and inserted a T-fitting.  Then a 10-foot section of 1/2 inch PVC.  At that point, we put in a sprinkler head, for the bed here by the side of the house,  and then continued to the corner.

At the corner, we turned around the corner and connected to the end of the front yard bed irrigation heads.

While we were doing this, we also ran a line diagonally to the other side of the bed, to the partition wall, to help get all of the new bed behind the retention wall.

This gives 3 heads to water the extension of the River of Rocks between the retention wall and the fence, and between the house and the neighbors yard.  This will include the first elm tree, the monkey grass between the rocks of the River of Rocks, and any other plantings in this area.