Saturday, December 26, 2020

Digging up the back half of the front yard, Part 8

 I posted the stump to Craig's List and over a few weeks, got several inquiries.  But then one day, late in the afternoon, a group showed up with a trailer and a pick-up and a winch, and after 3 hours of work, drove off with it, leaving me just the hole.

At this point there are two directions we can continue digging.  One is the section at the front, towards the street, up to the line of where we dug last summer.  

The other is the section back towards the house.  We've dug that down to the layer of rock that underlies the front yard, and have about a foot or so more to go.

This back half mainly needs jack hammer work, we think, so we decided to go for the front half first, since it would require just shovel work to start.

So first we dug down thru the actual dirt that tops the yard.

That exposed a hunk of rock.

Most of that was loose and manageable, so we were able to remove it.

And then with the jack hammer, we could go lower.

Then the rains came, and the snow, and further digging will need to wait until it is drier and warmer.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Digging out the Stump, Part 2

The stump is sitting on a pedestal of rock.  Flaky rock, and sometimes soft rock, but rock.  To get it separated from the rock, we need to either pull out the stump or dig out the rock.

In any case, it should be easier to do if the pedestal was smaller in diameter.  So using the jackhammer, and a pick, and a 12-inch chisel and hammer, I went around the stump, trying to dig out as much of the rock between the floor of the ditch and the bottom of the stump.

It may be difficult to see much of a difference, but notice the overhang of the root on the right hand side of the stump.

This small undercut is enough to get a jack (a pneumatic bottle jack) under that particular root and jack up the stump.  At first it is just an inch or two.  But that separated the stump from the floor of the ditch and broke loose a lot of the rock in between the two.  I could clean out the broken rock, making the undercut even larger.  Then I could move to a different side of the stump and do the same.  This substantially reduced the size of the rock pedestal holding the stump up.

Once the stump was raised up, on at least one side.  I could put large rocks under it, preventing it from lowering when the jack was removed.  Putting the jack on a similar rock, I could then jack the stump up even higher.

The higher higher the stump was raised, the more rock I could remove from under it.  I could also clean the rock off the bottom of the stump, making it lighter.

In addition to separating the stump from its supporting stone, by focusing the bottle jack on just the one side (the back), we could raise that side more and more, tilting the stump over.

Now, with the stump significantly tilted, we could throw a car tow strap around the stump, mostly on the "top" side.  

 The car tow strap was attached to a hand winch.

and then anchored on my car (which has a special bolt for towing).  The car was just used as a counter-weight.

By cranking on the winch, the "top" side of the stump was raised up even more

until eventually it was standing on its edge.

Then we needed to dig out some of the dirt that was holding it back, and eventually, we got it to tip over and out of the hole, so that it came to a rest out of the ditch, sitting on the dirt of the front lawn.

leaving a large hole where the stump had been, suitable for more digging, removing rocks, and general clean-up.

While this was presented as a fairly straightforward operation, it was, in fact, full of reversals (where the stump fell back down into the ditch) and adjustments to the straps, to the winch, use of the jack, digging out dirt and rock, and it was often not clear if it would work at all.  But it did.  The result was a stump out of the ground, and a big hole where it used to be.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Digging up the back half of the front yard, Part 7

 With the stump isolated, we can continue excavating the front yard.  There is a patch of dirt next to the stump that looks to be over a big rock.

So we begin by removing the top layer of dirt.  This exposes a network of roots a foot down.

We can remove these roots by just severing the two to four that leave this patch.

and having done that, we have an exposed layer of rock.

Thinking that stone ledge might be useful in supporting the stump as we try to get it out of the hole, we thought we would leave it as is for the moment.

Turning our attention to the back part of the front yard, we had noticed in our early excavations, that their was a piece of irrigation piping extending from the back of the yard, near the house windows, to the stump, some two to three feet down.

We removed all the dirt and roots above the PVC irrigation pipe.

exposing the entire length of the pipe.

 and leaving the ledge of soft rock to be removed once the pipe was taken away.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Digging out the Stump

 I have been working up to this for many weeks, months, but I finally finished isolating the stump.   By the end of August, I had expanded the trench to abut the stump on one side, and dug down deep enough to find the main roots.

The main roots spread out of the stump in all directions, but only in a fairly narrow range of depth.  The roots cannot go down very far because the whole yard, including the tree, is sitting on a layer of rock.  So the approach is to dig out all the top layer of dirt, which is pretty root free, until I hit root.   Then clean the dirt off of the roots, and cut the roots off from the stump.

That lets us dig down into and thru the roots that underlie the stump until we are 9 to 12 inches into the rock, below anything of interest.

This is then repeated around the stump.

exposing more roots and more rocks.

Going around the stump both to the right and the left, isolates the stump more and more.

Continuing around the stump, we end up with two large root complexes.  The irrigation pipe suggests this was at one point a "bubbler" which was meant to water the tree.  The roots then grew towards the bubbler, and engulfed it.

Focusing on those two root complexes, we expanded the excavation area to find a thinner "other end" of them, cut those off, and then dug them out. 

 The first came in just a day.

But the second was much more trouble.

 We dug down deeper around it.

And even tried to chisel out the stone underneath the root structure, until we were finally able to separate the stump from this batch of roots.

This leaves the stump, all by itself, sitting on a little pedestal of root.

10 weeks of work.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Replacing the central Heat and Air Conditioning system

 Our current A/C system is a Lennox system that was installed in 2002.  We had a lot of trouble with it after it was first installed.  It seemed that every year there was on major problem after another.  But they were all mostly under warranty.  But it was clearly not a reliable system.  The first A/C system had come with the house, so it was 16 years old when it needed to be replaced.  This Lennox system did not appear that it would last past its 10-year warranty. 

As it got older, the frequency of major repairs decreased.  Still, we expected to replace it as soon as it died after the warranty expired. No more throwing good repair money after an unreliable system.  The warranty expired in 2012.  By 2016, I figured it was bound to be on its last legs, so I contacted three A/C companies and got quotes.

Finally, in 2020, it died.  But it did make it thru the summer and waited until the middle of October before I came home from a walk, noticed the house was warmer than I thought it should be.  The fan was running full speed, but the air was not cold; not even cool. Stan's Heating, Air & Plumbing came out the next day and determined that their was no coolant in the A/C coils.  Since it had been working well just the day before, it apparently had suddenly sprung a leak, somewhere.  Putting new coolant in the coils would not fix the problem; it would just leak out again.

So we went back to our estimates.  Unfortunately, they were 4 years old now.  We had been quoting a Trane system.  One of the companies did not even carry Trane anymore.  So we went to the Trane website to find the Trane shops in Austin.  One of them, Service Wizard, had been positively mentioned on NextDoor enough that I remembered it.  I called them; got another estimate, and that estimate was in line with the earlier estimates, so we went with that.

We were quoted a 5 Ton Trane XV20i with an XV80 Gas furnace, around 20 SEER. Extras were a Honeywell 4" media air cleaner and an in-line duct booster.  A duct booster is basically a fan that sits in the duct work and blows more air thru it.  That was selected as the way to handle the problem that the East side of the house (with the kitchen) is typically much warmer than the West side (with the thermostat).  (The correct solution to this is a two-zone system, but that would require a substantial tear out and replace of the duct work, and a whole new A/C system (and place for it) for the East side.)

The first hitch was that the furnace was not available.  For whatever reason, it would be at least two weeks before a furnace was here.  But the weather almost no longer needed A/C, so we could wait.  After all the old gas furnace still worked if it got too cold (which it did).

Finally, the furnace unit arrived, and we were scheduled for installation on 3 Nov.  On 2 Nov, I went up in the attic and cleared the insulation away from where the booster fan would be installed.

And since they would need to run a control wire from the new A/C system to the booster fan, I cleared out the insulation above the utility closet in the hallway.

The second hitch came on the morning of 3 Nov, while I was waiting for them to come install the system.  One of the owners said that the new system was top of the line, and all digital.  Which meant that they could not get a signal out of the system to indicate that the fan was running that would control a booster fan.  They could put a booster fan in the duct work, but it would need to be turned on and off manually, which made no sense to me.  So we dropped the idea of the booster fan.  We currently get that effect by having a 20 inch box fan sitting on the floor in the living room; it effectively runs all day.

Once that was settled, the workmen arrived about 9:00 AM.  First they took the old system out.

and put in the new one.

This is Model No. 4YXCC009DS3HCAA, Serial No. 20403L0FCG.

Similarly they removed the outside Lennox system and put in the new Trane condenser.  That seems to be Model No. 4TTV0060A1000CD, Serial No. 20401L7T1F.

They had to replace the electrical box on the wall behind the condenser.

And we have to use the Trane thermostat.

which is a touch screen with a whole bunch of menu options.

The Nest thermostat that we installed in March is no longer needed.

This whole system cost $12,282.00 from Service Wizard Heating and Air Conditioning, and includes a 10-year parts warranty, but only a 1-year labor warranty.  Registering the whole system at says the warranty expires 11/03/2030, except for the compressor which goes another 2 years to 2032.

Update from 22 Nov 2020.  Since the booster fan was not installed, the effort to clean up the attic and expose the duct work was unnecessary, and reversed.  In doing so, we went and bought even more insulation -- unfaced R30 fiberglass batts -- and installed one roll over the dining room

and the other over the closet that holds the A/C and furnace unit covering all that duct work under feet of fiberglass insulation.

Update, 4 March 2022.

I had Fox Service Company come out and do an inspection and maintenance of the  A/C Cooling system. $69.  There were a couple of issues.  The motor is sealed, the drain pan is sealed in the upflow above the condenser, and the exterior capacitor is an invertor, so those could not be inspected.  I'm not sure if that is because the system was designed to not need maintenance or if there are special techniques that only Trane service people know.  But in all, it passed all inspections and should be good to go for another year.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Replacing a washer in the central bathroom shower

 We've noticed that the central bathroom shower/tub hot water is difficult to turn off completely.  So we suspect that the washer in the shower "Hot" stem needs to be replaced.

We first turn the water to the entire house off (out by the water meter) so that we can work without leaks.

We first remove the cold water handle, escutcheon, and stem.

That gets us access to the washer, at the bottom of the stem.  The washer is held on with a screw.

We have a partial package of 3/8L Beveled Washers, and that seems to fit the stem, so we use them.  

We reverse the process for the cold water to reassemble it.  Then we repeat for the hot water. Then we can turn the water back on out by the driveway, and we have new washers for both stems.