Saturday, March 25, 2023

Sedge for the Front Lawn

We dug up the area between the sidewalk and the driveway, between Fuzzy and the house.  And then put down some old granite pieces to form a walkway from the driveway to the sidewalk.  But so far we have no plants to replace the lawn.  Linda decided that some Texas Sedge would do well there.


As it happens we still have one stump to dig up in the West lawn from one of the elm trees that died after the Big Freeze in 2021.  And that area generally has been planted with Texas Sedge (and Inland Sea Oats), and at the moment the sedge is doing really well.  But I'm going to need to destroy it to dig up the stump, so rather than destroy it, we decided to transplant it from the west lawn around the stump to the front yard near Fuzzy.

We dug up an area between one and two feet out from the stump.


and transplanted the sedge we dug up to the parts of the front lawn next to the bed edging near the house

and to the area closer to the wall that holds the dirt around Fuzzy.

Taming the Jungle

Back in 1985, when we moved into the house, there was an area in the backyard which we left sort-of native.  It was surrounded with a stone edging and contained several original growth trees.  When we put in the sprinkler system, we did not extend it into the jungle.  But at one point, as we were doing early landscaping, a nephew designed and installed plants to create a two level view -- Nandina on the bottom and a taller bush (I forget what) on the top.

Over the years, the Nandina grew and flourished.  It eventually grew up and took over the space of the taller bushes and seems to have pushed them out.  And now Linda says that Nandina is not a native plant; it's considered invasive and should not be used.


So we have decided to remove it from the jungle.  Our first thought was to use the tree branch loppers and just cut the Nandina stalks off at ground level.  But in addition to the taller stems, there is a lot of just foliage.  The chainsaw is ineffective since most of it just seems to bend and move out of the way.  A hedge trimmer, on the other hand, seems to work pretty well on the foliage and leaves behind the taller stems, which can then be easily cutoff with the loppers.

This exposes the actual trees growing in the jungle and gives a start to re-doing the entire jungle.


Thursday, March 16, 2023

Maintenance on the Sliding Door to the Deck

We noticed some time ago that the weather stripping on the sliding door to the deck from the living room was starting to come apart.

This is an Andersen Door, so we went to the Andersen web site to try to determine what piece needed to be replaced.  They call it a "gliding door", not a "sliding door".

According to their information, what we needed was the Interlock Weatherstrip.

which comes as a kit, the Interlock Replacement Kit, which contains the Active Panel Interlock and the Stationary Panel Interlock.  $46.81 from their parts department in Minnesota.  To make sure that we get the correct set, there is a set of numbers in the upper track that identify what we have:

Unfortunately, their computer system could not understand these numbers, so I had to call and talk to someone.  He took the order.  The only issue was what color.  I know the inside is an Oak, but the outside is sort of a grey?  That was fine, we got the order.  Turns out there are two greys.  A light grey Sandtone, and a darker grey Terratone.  We have Terratone, and they sent Sandtone.  But it is almost not visible, so we went ahead.

They seem to have redesigned the Interlock, so both pieces have to be remove and the two new pieces put on.  And a small part of the stationary door needs to be modified to allow the new design to be installed.  There is a very well done video showing how to replace the Interlock, called "Replacing an Interlock Weatherstrip on Gliding Patio Doors (Frenchwood and Narroline) | Andersen" on Youtube, that shows the whole process.  Plus there is a printed guide that comes with the Interlock Replacement Kit.  It is almost enough to understand how to do the work.

The main work is with replacing the two pieces on the stationary and active panels.  Since the new pieces use the same screw holes as the old pieces they can be positioned pretty easily.  But there are little plugs and pads that go on the top and the bottom which are more problematic.  The video and instructions basically say, remove the old plugs and pads and install the new ones, but do not give a detailed picture or video view of how that should be done.  The head dust pad, for example can go on the door panel or on top of the interlock piece, and it is not clear which it should be.  Similarly they send two Sill Dust Plugs -- one for a right hand door and the other for a left hand door, but really do not indicate how to tell which one to use.  It goes at the base of the stationary panel, which can be on the left or right depending on whether you are looking out from the inside or in from the outside.  Since all the work is done from the inside, I assumed we have a left hand door.  Oh wait, does the left/right refer to the stationary door or the active door? 


There were other unstated issues.  Since the active panel needs to be taken off, the door is open for the time it takes to do the repair.  We picked a warm day, so that there was no heating/AC issue, and although it does not say so, you can leave the screen door on all the time, which takes care of the bugs. 

The instructions say to take off the oak trim on the active door, but if you look, you see that the only reason you have to do that is because the interlock piece wraps around the corner and under the trim.  Since the old and new interlock pieces are the same thickness at that point, I could just pry the old piece out from behind the trim and jam the new piece under the trim, without removing it.

Also, the door was unfinished under the old interlock piece, so we took the opportunity to apply a coat of poly-urethane to finish it.

The whole process took about 3 hours. 

Compost and Nematodes for Back yard

There are spots in the back where it continues to compress and sink, and just as a part of taking care of the lawn, I figure it's good to put compost on the lawn.  So I ordered 3 cubic yards of dirt.  Professional Mix from Whittlesey.  Total was $309.92.  That was $148.50 for the dirt and the rest sales taxes and delivery.

They dumped it in the driveway.  I then carted it in the wheelbarrow around to the back yard.

Then in the afternoon, I spread the dirt from the little piles to more or less evenly cover the back yard.  The aim was to get 1/4 of an inch of topsoil/compost.

This was timed to try to take advantage of some rain that should be coming.

And another way to use the rain is to help spread beneficial nematodes.  We bought a container from Barton Springs Nursery, and sprayed it all around the front and back yards. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Removing the Solar Panels

 For over a year now, we have had problems with our Solar Photo-Voltaic system.  Every now and then, for no apparent reason, the circuit breaker in the electrical panel is tripped, disconnecting the solar system from our electrical system and effectively turning off the solar system.  The only explanation I can come up with is a transient fault with the inverter.  I can find no one to confirm this, and no one to replace it with a new inverter.  So we have decided to just get a new solar system.

But to do that we have to take off the old system.  The system consists of 4 basic parts -- the panels, the inverter, and the two cut-off switches.  Everything was installed in 2006, so it's all 16 years old, but the panels still seem to be turning out electricity just fine.  So I posted on Craig's List what I have and that I would give it away to whoever would be able to use it and would help me take it off the roof.

 I got a reply from Dr. Danger who lives down in Lockhart on a cattle ranch.  He had been "studying solar" for a year or so and has a small off-grid system, so he should be able to put it to good use.

Dr. Danger and two of his friends showed up this morning.  First thing we did was to use both cut-off switches to disconnect the system from our electrical system.  Then we went up on the roof and after some experimenting, figured out how to take off the panels.

The panels are in two rows, wired in series.  They are held down onto the rails by 4 clips, two on each side, near the top and the bottom. In addition, they have a copper ground wire and a power wire running from panel to panel.  The ground wire is held in place by a set-screw, so we back that off, and the power wire from one plugs into a plug on it's neighbor.  So starting at one end, we can run down the panels, removing the clips that hold them in place, then lifting up the bottom end to get access to the wiring at the top, removing the ground wire and unplugging the power wire.  The panel can then be moved off the roof.

After removing all the panels, the framework is held in place by nuts and bolts, so removing those allows the rails to be removed.

Down at ground level, we have the switches and the inverter.

With the two cut-off switches in the OFF position, the wires can all be disconnected and the inverter and the first cut-off switch removed.  This leaves the second cut-off switch, the two City of Austin electric meters and our circuit breaker box.

Now the house looks pretty much like the solar system has been completely removed.

But there are little brackets that held the rails that are embedded into the roof.  These will need to be removed when the roof is redone, but removing them now might cause the roof to leak, so we just leave them for now.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

New Light Fixture for Kitchen Table

 It seems to me that the light provided by the kitchen table light fixture was fading -- it was probably my eyesight, not the light -- so we got a new light fixture.  And my (adult) children said it looked really dated.  It was from 1985.

The new light fixture was from Costco, a OVE Decors Joakim 5 Light Chandelier. $179.99 (plus tax).

It took about an hour to replace. Once it was working, it has five light LED bulbs, each of which puts out 500 lumens, so we have a total of 2500 lumens.

The work to replace it first required cutting the circuit breaker for the lights -- circuit 36.  Then I could safely remove the old fixture, leaving just the wires and electrical box in the ceiling.

Then I could wire up the new light fixture and put it in place.  It comes with 3 extensions that allow the fixture to hang low (or from a tall ceiling), but we just used one of them to make it as short as possible.

Once the fixture was up, I could put in the light bulbs and the glass surrounds.  The glass surrounds actual hang onto the light bulb, and are not attached to the fixture, so if we need to change a light bulb, unscrewing the bulb also will remove the glass surround. 

But the bulbs are supposed to last 13.7 years, so that may not be a common problem.  If we need to replace the bulbs, it will probably be because they put out a "warm" light at 3000K and are listed as "amber tinted" bulbs, which gives the overall appearance a yellowish -- amber -- tint.

Monday, February 6, 2023

Ice and Power Lost

Starting Monday, 30 January 2023, the temperatures dropped to around freezing and it rained.  The result was an ice storm and the build-up of up to 3/4 inch of ice on everything exposed to the outdoors, specifically trees and power lines.  This added a lot of weight to the trees, breaking many of the branches, which in the rest of Austin, fell on the power lines, disrupting the electrical system for the City.


Our power lines are all underground, but apparently they come from somewhere.  We lost power starting at 3:44 AM on Wednesday.  Power stayed off all Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday until about 10:30 PM, so almost 3 days without power, while the temperatures outside stayed at about freezing. It fell to about 56 degrees inside the house, as we coped without power for heat (we have a gas furnace, but it uses an electric fan to force the heated air around the house) or cold (the refrigerator ice started melting by Thursday) or lights (except for flashlights and candles).

Once the ice melted and we got power back, the temperatures warmed up and the sun came out, we were able to survey the damage. The big elm tree in the neighbors front yard took a real beating, losing a lot of limbs.

On our side, we lost some limbs from the remaining Drake Elm near the bathroom.  In fact one of the limbs that fell, tore the screen on the Master bathroom window.

But the main loss was in the back, in the Shin Oaks by the Back Bedroom/Bathroom and in the Jungle. Compare the Shin Oaks from July 2015

with what is left of them now.

But since the loss of tree limbs is massive across the entire City, we are told to just put the limbs out by the curb and the City will be around to pick them up.  This creates a rather large pile in front of our house, with similar piles all up and down the streets.

Monday, January 30, 2023

New Water Meter

 The City of Austin, which provides our water and electricity, is moving to using "Smart Water Meters" instead of the old analog ones that they installed when the house was built 35 plus years ago.  This provides (at least) daily updates to how much water has been used by sending the meter reading directly to a box on a utility pole somewhere and from there to the City's computers.  This eliminates the need for an actual person to come around once a month and read the meter, and should then mean that meters are read on time and accurately.  The City has had an ongoing problem with getting the meters read accurately.

The information from the City said they would send us a post card saying when they would be out to exchange meters, but I happened to notice there was a guy at the meter about 9:15 AM.  By 10:00 AM he had switched out both meters -- ours and our neighbors -- which are under our water meter cover.

He switched out ours first.  I turned off the water to our house using the homeowners switch.  He turned off the water on the City's side.  Then he undid two nuts holding the meter in place, took out the old meter, replaced a washer and put in the new meter.

He turned the City's switch back on; I turned on our switch, and there was water running to the house again, but now thru the new meter.  

He did the same to the neighbor's meter.

Then he plugged the "Meter Transmission Unit" into the new meter, and screwed it down on the underside of the new cover for the meters.  The new cover is plastic, since a metal cover like we used to have would prevent the radio waves from going from the MTU to the Data Collection Unit (where ever that is).

That set everything up and running.

Unfortunately, the MTUs mounted on the bottom of the cover mean that it needs an inch or two of clearance, and we don't have that.  Specifically, our meter, and the nut and cut-off valve on the City's side of the meter stick up too high and prevent the cover from closing.  I think this is because the tree root under the meters have lifted them up (just as it has lifted up the driveway at this point).

So he closed the cover as best he could, I put a traffic cone on top of the cover, and he said he would report the problem and they would send out another crew to raise the support box for the meters, so that there would be enough clearance.

I made sure to capture the meter before it was removed; just to prevent not knowing the meter reading (6134480) when it was replaced.  The new meter is supposed to start over at 0000000.