Nightmare on Elm St.

The journey of turning the nightmare we bought on Elm St. into our dream home...

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Friday, June 30, 2006

Contractors and Cabinets

Hi everyone, remember our patio contractor conundrum? Well I am pleased to say we have made a decision. It's Contractor 5. I'll let you know how it goes! Contractor 7 came in over $2000 more than Contractor 5, plus Con. 5 is doing sod, too. Yay!

Today I had the death appointment with the cabinet people at Lowes. I went in with a LIST OF THE ACTUAL CABINETS THAT I WANTED. I wanted to price it with 2 door styles and one option (glass doors or wine cabinet). I arrived for my appointment with SlowyMcPhony Face* at 3 pm, she didn't even sit down until 3:45. If you are asking why I had waited so long, it's because 1. I thought maybe I was mixed up and it should have been 3:30 and 2. It took me two weeks to get the stupid appointment in the first place. She spent the next hour and fifteen minutes typing things into her computer, filing paperwork, and answering the phone, then complaining about her clients to me. Finally she started giving me pricing options, but they made NO SENSE. Basically when I figured out about 5:00 that this was going to cost me nearly $10,000 for birch cabinets for my basement, I bailed. I remembered that last month, I'd received a faxed estimate from another cabinet company in town, and I pulled that out and started comparing. It was much more reasonable ($3000), so we ran a few errands and then went over there. They were very, very nice, very professional, and didn't talk on the phone at all when I was there. They are supposed to rework their estimate with a different door style and call me tonight with a price. I'll let you know how it goes.

*not her real name, but it should be...

"Blog It to Me... "? Oh, I'll blog it to you!

Fellow houseblog brethren, I ask you to please explain to me the point of the editor's page article in the July/August 2006 edition of Old House Journal, authored by Gordon H. Bock. This article, ostensibly OHJ's nod toward those of us toiling on our money pits and blogging about it feels a little mixed in tone. For those of you who haven't read it, it may be available on their website, but I haven't checked.

Mr. Bock starts the article off by discussing 2006 as the year of the blog, and transitioned into mentioning the NY Times and Washington Post articles. He asks why people who are "bitten by the old house blog... ...feel compelled to not only keep a running journal of their construction exploits, but also to post it for all the world to read? Is it some sort of catharsis, where sharing the tedium of stripping paint helps purge the memory? Or is it the ego boost of having your own show where an audience of thousands follows your project in installments as if it were on TV?"

Let's discuss this paragraph before we move on. How is my little blog all that much different than the articles in OHJ's magazine? Basically, we cover the same topics- a few how-to tips, a discussion of renovation and transformation of a space, and analysis of available materials and a discussion of their pros and cons. Maybe blogging is cathartic... maybe there are times that I'm frustrated and I need to write about it. But maybe working on your house isn't all about the end result, the beautiful before and after photos with the smiling couple and the bowl of fruit on the counter. It's about being dirty, exhausted, and frustrated that you've worked a solid 12 hours and you don't have a damn thing to show for it. Maybe that's what I'm trying to capture. I don't feel like it's an ego boost to have people read about it. This is a way of telling a story, regarless of how many people listen. Maybe Mr. Bock doesn't like to talk about this dark side of house restoration. Most of the homes that OHJ feature in their stories have teams of architects, contractors, designers, etc. I know many of the kitchens featured cost more than my house! Not everyone can afford that kind of work, and I feel that maybe people read houseblogs to learn about the "real story" of home restoration, and maybe get some practical lessons on how to tackle problems for themselves. Basically, I started this thing because 1. I wanted to keep my friends and family apprised of what we've got going on (and why we never call you back) and 2. I wanted to contribute, in my own way, to something from which I have learned so much, not only how to do something, but a newfound respect for my home and the others in my neighborhood.

Mr. Bock goes on in the next few paragraphs to discuss the prevalence of photographs on blogs, allowing housebloggers to display even the smallest details of their restorations. He wraps up with a discussion of trends within houseblogging, and poses some question as to whether houseblogs will stand the test of time as well as the houses they are about. It is difficult to understand Mr. Bock's overall opinion on houseblogs. Maybe it is as mixed as his article leads me to believe. At any rate, I'd like to hear your thoughts about it. I love reading about what each and every one of you are doing, and I certainly hope this article doesn't discourage would be bloggers from diving in and tackling the challenge of documenting their restorations.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Soggy Update

Yeah, it's still raining! For those of you who saw that some people died in Frederick, MD in flash flooding last night, tragically it is true. However, we're very blessed, we're doing fine, the basement is a little musty but fortunately very dry. (We had a frantic email from a friend this evening but were unable to reach her.)

We have both worked crazy hours this week, so we haven't had the energy to tackle the grout yet. We hope to get to it soon. Contractor 7 left us a message tonight to indicate that he has an estimate for us, so hopefully we'll get in touch with him tomorrow (although that may not happen due to our weird schedule this week- we've both been in by 9 and rarely out by 7 all week!). My birthday is coming up, and a new patio would be the perfect present (hint, hint, Aaron, hint, hint!) Tomorrow night we have an appointment with a kitchen designer to (hopefully) place an order for the basement cabinets. I'll let y'all know how that goes. Stay dry! The thunder is getting worse, and after talking to a coworker whose house was struck by lightning, I'm getting OFF the internet!

Monday, June 26, 2006

At least one little bright spot...

The basement waterproofing has probably just paid for itself. After 7" of rain in two days, we're dry as a bone down there. There is a little water in the sump pit, but not enough to cause it to turn on. We also think that the new gutters have made a big difference. It really makes me feel good to walk down the hall at work and see water actually shooting out of a crack in the wall, and know that your home is dry and safe.

Here is a good aerial shot of the flooding. Thank God this isn't us. God bless those who are dealing with this crap. May the sun come out soon.

Weekend of Disappointment

We have very little to show for this weekend, unfortunately. Between exhaustion, rain, bad moods, and Home Depot frustrations, very little actually happened.

First, a patio update:

Friday morning we met with Contractor 7, who is concerned about drainage in our backyard. The other contractor who was concerned about drainage ended up with a $15,000 estimate, so we'll see how that goes. Contractor 5 came back out on Sunday and reevaluated a few things that we had questions about. He really seems like a nice guy. We asked him about drainage, and he said that in his patio at home, there is enough space between the slates for the water to perc down into the soil, and that he hasn't had any problems. That made me feel better, but we'll see what the final numbers say.

Saturday I did accomplish one major feat, I matched the paint for the ceiling track to the tin tiles for the bathroom. This had me super stressed, especially when I couldn't find the paint color that American Tin Ceiling had recommended. I'm going with Rustoleum Bright Aluminum (left in the picture), with a coat of clear spray on top. Here is a picture without the clear spray.

The rest of Saturday was spent trying to get an angled wall built around where the supply lines drop for the bathtub. (Sorry no picture.) This sucked terribly and I don't recommend it. A neighbor dropped by and asked why we didn't just redo the supply lines so that we didn't have to angle the wall in, which didn't help matters any at all. Around 7 pm we just gave up and ate popcorn and watched TV the rest of the night.

Sunday we awoke to a tremendous downpour which lasted on and off most of the day. We spent several hours trying to figure out what we needed at Home Depot for the wainscoting, but were thwarted by (1) the lack of consistent lengths of lumber (2) confusing pricing (3) general frustration. We left to go home and reevaluate, and then went back out, only to get caught in a second tremendous downpour. We gave up (couldn't get the grout or wood out of the car in that mess, even) and went to the grocery store Sunday night. So, nothing happened Sunday. Here is a picture of the tile floor from last week, at least. I forced myself to go down and take this before work this morning b/c I had promised all of you. Maybe I'll grout it this week. Who knows...

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Just a little internet entertainment

This is so much fun I can't even stand it. Make a paper doll of yourself using this application at! You can even order products using this cartoon version of yourself. Here is mine, accessorized with a paintbrush. I'm trying to accept the fact that she looks a LOT better than I do in real life! Ha! Many thanks to Whoorl and Nabbalicious for the link.

Maybe now Home Improvement Ninja will deem my blog cool, since it has a cartoon on it.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Tile wishes and patio contractor dreams...

I'm finally done laying that stupid flippin' tile. At least for now. Aaron and I haven't been planning ahead very well, so we don't have the cabinets or staircase parts that will go in the room with the tile yet. So, we kind of marked out where they will go, and we'll lay all the tile that abuts (is that a word?) those regions once the elements that we're waiting for are in place. Tonight we'll return some of our tremendous overabundance of tile so that we can move on to even more fun activities, like grout. Grout is such a weird word? Does anyone know how the stuff between the tiles got that name? I'd love to hear about it. Sorry, no pictures yet. I was too exhausted and covered in thinset to look for the camera last night. (I have managed to avoid thinset burns this time, though. Versabond is less irritating to my skin than Laticrete. I looked some stuff up, and the acrylic modifier can actually end up being the problem, not the cement. If you've got sensitive skin and you're planning a tile project, keep that in mind.) I promise to get them tonight if it's not too late when we get back from Lowes.

Aaron and I got into a small fight about the patio last night. I say, just write down all the stuff we need clarified on the estimate for Contractor 5 and fax it back to him. Aaron isn't in to that at all. So, we're now going to try out Contractor 7. Contractor 7 has laid two patios on our street, and they're a family of Mennonites. Everyone who has worked with Contractor 7 has nothing but nice things to say. The father handles the business part of the company, and the sons provide all of the actual labor. Supposedly they are very polite and professional. If they will lay slate, and they aren't insanely expensive, then maybe we'll finally have someone to go with. I am worried that they won't lay slate because their sign mentions pavers, and the brochure that they left on our porch had the same effing paver brochure that I've gotten 5 times in it. I'm so sick of paver brochures. I know what I want, and it's slate. Aaarrgghhh! But, I'm hopeful that we can finally get this project off of the ground.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Jackson and Perkins Rose Sale- I can't resist a bargain!

After successfully ignoring the rose catalogs and emails that I have been getting from Jackson and Perkins all spring, the last few days of their online rose sale finally got me. I'd been holding out since our backyard project is in such a state of flux due to our inability to secure a contractor. However, I just couldn't wait anymore. I'll plant the roses in cheap plastic pots and then transplant them when the patio is done. I bought two collections, one of lavender hedge roses and one of gorgeous English roses that I've been admiring for months.

The lavender hedge roses will go along the fence on one side of the patio. I plan to break up the roses with some hydrangeas and some white impatients.

I am going to create a separate garden for the English roses in one corner of the yard. There will be a bench that Aaron and I started work on last year, and hopefully a small water feature to enjoy the rose garden as its own little room.

I got all ten roses for about $65 with shipping. That works out to around $6.50 a plant. An awesome deal! I can't wait until my new additions arrive!!!

Monday, June 19, 2006

News Story: Park could open this week

This is very close to my house- I'm excited for the opening!


Park could open this week (click to link to actual story)

Publish Date: 06/19/06

By Liam Farrell
News-Post Staff

Staff photo by Bill Green

Construction of the Carroll Creek Park is nearing completion and is expected to open soon.

FREDERICK -- Waters previously passable only by small wooden spans or the Community Bridge on Carroll Street are now spanned by an arched stone walkway, designed as if plucked from Venice.

The red metal and steel wires of a suspension bridge are anchored by a single pillar set into the creek bed.

Barren concrete shores have given way to ornate brick paths, their angled patterns shifting to create unique sections of the creek's borders.

Dark blue street lamps line the paths, fountains spill into the water and wooden benches offer residents a chance to reflect on how far Carroll Creek has come in the almost 30 years since it overflowed its banks and ruined most of downtown Frederick.

The $10.2 million Carroll Creek Linear Park could open this week, said Richard Griffin, the city's director of economic development and the project director, and only a small list of items still need to be fixed.

"We've looked at every little nick," he said.

About 1,000 jobs will be coming to the creek area, Mr. Griffin said, and the park has attracted approximately $155 million in private investment in office, residential, retail and parking facilities.

"It's truly a mixed-use park," he said.

Portions are designed to match the surrounding buildings; near the Delaplaine Visual Arts Education Center, metal benches are used instead of wood.

"We have different 'rooms' of the park. We've intentionally tried to not make it homogenous," Mr. Griffin said. "We've tried very, very hard to integrate it (into downtown Frederick) É so you wouldn't have a clue that it's new."

Other park amenities include an amphitheater that seats between 350 and 400 people and an 80-foot-long enclosure that can be used for events such as art exhibitions and will house a boat rental company so people can paddle along the creek.

Electrical outlets are available throughout the park, Mr. Griffin said, so no external generators will be needed. In fact, one of the last requirements before the park can open is for Allegheny Power to turn on the electricity on the south side of the creek.

A primary emphasis for creek businesses, Mr. Griffin said, will be outside dining.

"The park has been designed to accommodate that and give people the opportunity to come outside," Mr. Griffin said. "We fully anticipate there will be more restaurants."

Hi-tech amenities will also be included. The entire area is a hot spot for wireless Internet, Mr. Griffin said.

The Carroll Creek Project is not finished, however, and the next phases, to finish the east and west edges of the area, are estimated to cost an additional $13 million in construction and design.

This Wednesday, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Delaplaine Visual Arts Education Center, representatives from the city and HNTB, a design firm, will hold a meeting for residents to learn more about the next phase of the creek project.

Mr. Griffin said he has only been a part of the initiative and that many other people deserve credit, especially Dick Kessler, who was the chairman of the Carroll Creek Task Force.

"It's very rewarding (work)," Mr. Griffin said. "I'm very honored to work on a project like this."


Tile Tribulations

Ever since I was a child, I've always loved old fashioned bathrooms with gorgeous black and white hex tile (although by my math, they really appear to be octagons) and clawfoot tubs. My dreams are finally a little bit closer, although we have an interesting story about the colors that we chose. Several months ago, I started looking at tiles, and happened upon the hex tile with blue accents at our local Lowes. I really liked the blue tiles, they weren't flat blue, they have kind of a dimension to the glaze and they gave a little bit more interest to the floor. However, when we went to buy them to start tiling the bathroom, every tile that they had in stock was broken. They had plenty of black and white, most of it also cracked, so we had our store check the Gaithersburg store to see if they had any in stock. A shower and a very rushed ride down I-270 later, and every blue and white tile at the Gaithersburg Lowes was also broken. I convinced myself that I'd always liked the black and white better, and Aaron as well, so we bought black and white tile and came back home. The next day, we ended up back at the first Lowes, and were nearly mowed down in the parking lot by an angry consumer. (He actually honked at us as we crossed on the main crosswalk into the store- I didn't realize that it was protocol to run! We were moving at a normal pace.) Apparently not dragging the man from his truck and taking out a week of home improvement frustration on him paid off on the karma balance sheet, because Lowes had gotten in 10 more boxes of new, unbroken blue and white tile. We promptly snatched it up and came home. (Ironically, I had stopped to let that idiot cross in front of me when I was parking the car.)

I laid the blue and white hex tile all afternoon, which really sucks. Those are a lot of sides to line up, and they look like they can go down 2 ways, but it's really only one way, because of the fiber mat that the tiles are attached to. I also had a few minor panic attacks because the walls weren't square (but Aaron will shim out the wainscoting to make up that difference), and because a couple of tiles wouldn't squish down perfectly flat because some of our nail heads from the backerboard didn't sink properly (we used 1.5" Ramset fasteners in there, but switched to 1" to avoid this problem again this weekend). It was worth all of the hard work, though, because it looks great. There is a slight undulation in the line of blue tiles under the tub, but if you are laying on my bathroom floor with a level looking at the row of blue diamonds under the tub, then you've got bigger problems than I and you may want to check yourself into some sort of treatment center.

As long promised, pictures of the hex tile in the bathroom:



Tiling adventures continued this weekend. We're finally getting the planning for the weekend part of the equation down... although I really do need the workweek in my nice, air-conditioned office to recover from our weekend warrior activities. We had all of our materials in place, as well as diet Coke and sandwich supplies, so I didn't go to Lowes or Home Depot once all weekend long! Isn't that awesome. I don't think that we've ever accomplished that feat before.

Saturday we were up early (thanks to the five windows in our east facing bedroom, it's very difficult to sleep in on a sunny day), which was good, because we're really starting to get some hot summer weather. We got started laying out all of the backerboard in the basement. We were disappointed to find that due to the various corners, angles, and bumpouts, every single piece needed cutting. We ended up spending all day on Saturday fitting the backerboard around various objects in the laundry/bar area. At 4:30 we optimistically rented a tile saw from Rentals Unlimited. We rented Mixmaster Mike from them so many times that they actually still remember us, even though we haven't been in there in about 4 or 5 months. We walk in, and the guy at the counter said "Hey, do you need the cement mixer AGAIN?", so we told him no, now it's the tile saw, to which he replied, "What next, hardwood floors?" No, I don't think so, not over concrete- although I've pointed out to Aaron that they would have been easier (we did them in our old house). Sunday morning, we used the thinset to stick down all of the backerboard, and the Ramset to secure it all to the floor. We used 1" Ramset fasteners this time, as opposed to the 1.5" fasteners in the bathroom, and this worked a lot better. If you are questioning why we didn't just stick the tile on top of the concrete, the answer is that pouring your own basement floor is much harder than we expected, and we didn't get the floor perfectly level. The backerboard helped this a lot, although we still have to be very careful as we install the tile to get everything even. A couple of high spots remain. Sunday afternoon we got over 1/3 but less than 1/2 of the tile installed by 7 pm, when we decided to stop for the day. I wanted to water the flowers and clean up the yard a little bit before it got completely dark. Also, my fabulous neighbor Kelly gave me some impatients that she couldn't use, so I wanted to get those in the ground before dark, too. I made up some nice little containers with them, they will help the barren wasteland of a backyard that we currently have until we can get the patio contractor lined up.

We've decided to keep the tile saw this week and work on the floor all week long. We're through several of the worst areas, around the closet, the transition into the living room area, and around the stairs, so it may move faster now. The saw is very loud, so we'll only be able to work until about 8 pm every night, as that is our neighbor's little boy's bedtime. Our neighbors have been very tolerant of the noise that we make all the time, so we really try to keep from upsetting them too much and stop hammering, sawing, etc. at 8 pm every night. No pictures of the tile yet, I'll keep you in suspense until it's more complete.

Friday, June 16, 2006

So true...

According to my sitemeter stats, someone searched "The Money Pit" on the search feature, and ended up here! How true...

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Unresponsive contractors

Aaron and I have been trying to find a contractor to put in a patio in our backyard since early April. This has been one of the most frustrating projects we've ever undertaken, and no actual work has occured yet!

Contractor 1 showed up the first weekend in April, as scheduled. We had a written estimate from him emailed by the end of the weekend. So far, so good.
Contractor 2 did not show up. Three weeks later he called to try to reschedule, we didn't call back.
Contractor 3 showed up the middle of April, as scheduled. I had to call him to get our estimate, which he insisted on presenting in person in early May. When the estimate turned out to be 2.5x the amount of the first estimate, I sent him away, and he laughed at me and said that no one would do it for the price we wanted (which was bull, because we had Contractor 1's estimate).
Contractor 4 showed up in mid May, gave the yard a cursory glance, and gave us a very low, verbal estimate. Has not returned any subsequent calls.
Contractor 5 showed up in mid May, gave a detailed analysis, and promised to contact us with an estimate. We called several times, and received the estimate this week via fax. We have some questions, and our calls have not yet been returned.
Contractor 6 showed up in late May, and gave an extremely detailed analysis. He caught the fact that our porch is build on a over 6" deep concrete slab which cannot be removed. However, he works alone and cannot start until September. (Oy!) We have not heard back from him on price.

Contractors 2 and 3 are out. That leaves Contractors 1 and 4-6 to consider.
After much analysis, Aaron and I decided on slate. We told all the contractors that we wanted slate with varied results. Most have tried to dissuade us from slate in favor of pavers. I HATE pavers. I think that they would look silly with our old, brick house. I went on a garden tour of Frederick in mid-May, and saw dozens of beautiful slate patios. I want slate, dammit, and it's my patio. Contractor 6 was especially forceful about the pavers. He also addressed himself mostly to Aaron and not to me, which pisses me off.

So, what do we do? I'm kind of leaning toward Contractor 5. He was very professional, and his estimate was around the same as Contractor 1. I have tremendous concerns about Contractor 6 working by himself. Installing a slate patio by yourself doesn't sound like a fun job (or we would just do this ourselves). I don't like his September timeline either. However, our friends installed a patio themselves with the help of Contractor 6, and they've been enjoying it for weeks now. Theirs is made of brick pavers, and it looks really good. I'm embarrased to even contact Contractor 1 since he gave us his estimate over 2 months ago, and it's just asinine that we're still without a patio at this point. I don't understand why these people don't just call me back. I want to give you money to do something for me, I want to give you business, why not just call me back? Is my job that small? My business that unimportant? I just don't understand this business model that these people work towards, but it seems to be how all of these companies work. We'd appreciate hearing your thoughts in the comments section.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Rain- Nature's best air freshener

Aaron and I cleaned the house this afternoon, using all sorts of cleaning products trying to rid the place of the fragrance of three dogs. I was just sitting down to check my email when I noticed cool breezes and fresh fragrances from the front windows. Due to our generous eaves and awesome front porch, we don't usually have to close the windows during a brief summer storm, which is what has just blown in. It's a wonderful "natural" way to air condition the house, and as an added bonus, the whole house smells like rain for a few hours afterwards. Mmmmm, rain. If someone could truly bottle that scent, they'd have a winner. It's much better than Febreeze.



Thursday, June 08, 2006

Front porch floor painted and some landscaping shots

A few weeks ago, we had our fabulous painter Tom back to paint the concrete porch floor. We settled on the color "Copley Gray" from Benjamin Moore. It was a few shades lighter than the gray that we had used on the thresholds, and I thought that it tied in nicely with the brick. Tom used an oil based paint (as he always does) and mixed in a sand product to keep the steps from getting slick in the rain. If you wonder why we pay good money to get someone to paint, but we'll do our own A/C repairs, it's because Tom does such incredible work. It makes such a difference because the paint is the first thing that most people notice.


The weekend after finals, I redid the flower bed right next to the porch. It had been bugging me for some time... the bushes were small and ugly, and there was too much room for annuals (too much to keep replanting), and not enough visual interest in the winter. Apparently, I really felt that there was no visual interest, because I can't find any before pictures on the site- I was sure that I took one when we made the new lattice. Oh well... here is the front bed as it currently looks- almost. We trimmed back the red branched (for color in the winter) dogwood after it finished blooming earlier this week.


And finally, I share with you a picture of the street flowerbed this year. I no longer need the lantana to fill up the bed. All of the perennials are thriving! I'm very happy with how this has turned out, and only see about two places that I need to tuck in a another plant. I can't belive the growth that I've seen in just a year. I may be cursing that yarrow and evening primrose next year!


Finally, this year I'm trying out a new product- a self watering hanging basket for the front porch. Every year, I try to grow something in the hanging baskets on the porch, and every year they die midsummer because I can't water them fast enough to keep up with the heat. I found these from Gardener's Supply Company, (link takes you to the product) and they were relatively inexpensive, about $11.00 each. They have a reservior that holds the water in the bottom of the pot, and it is released to the plant by a wick system. It's been a couple of weeks, and the ferns are still green despite the extreme heat we had last week, and I've only refilled them 3 times. I'll keep you posted as to how they're doing.


Fantech Dryer Booster Fan

Thursday we both ended up having to go in to work most of the day (some vacation! at least we were able to get the leave we had requested back). However, we came home after work and knocked out a HUGE project, the installation of our Fantech Dryer Vent Booster Fan.

The last time we moved out the dryer, when we disconnected the vent, we found a big ball of damp lint inside. We cleaned this out, but it kept coming back. (I'm a religous lint trap cleaner, too- so we knew that it wasn't due to that.) I did some searching, and it turns out that if you have more than a 14 foot run of duct, you should install a booster fan on the duct.

We did a lot of analysis of different options for our situation, and ended up buying the Fantech RVF 4XL exterior mounted fan (there was no good way to mount a fan inside of the house), a Fantech Dryer Booster Lint Trap Model DBLT4 to catch any lint that made it past our dryer's lint collector), and a switch to activate the fan by sensing pressure from the dryer called the Fantech DB10 Switch kit, all from the RE Williams online site. I was very happy with them- they provided excellent tracking information and the parts arrived quickly, packed sturdily, with all instructions and everything necessary.

The hardest part of the whole process was locating where to put everything. We ended up taking out the basement window that the dryer exhaust used to go through, removing the last remaining pane of glass, stripping the window (it was so hot that I boycotted the heat gun in favor of finishing up the old chemical stripper that I had bought last year, but it stripper dried completely in less than 5 minutes! I WAS still able to get most of the old paint off of the window.), and replacing the glass with plywood on Tuesday. Then we debated for 2 days on how to run the duct (we used flexible insulated 4 inch duct for most of it (like one would use for regular HVAC purposes- this was recommended on the Fantech site, and turned out to be the easiest way to get the duct to run where we needed), with a few regular sheet metal elbows, and a straight piece in a location where the flex didn't make sense). Finally, Thursday, we bit the bullet and connected everything together. A big area of debate was where to install the pressure sensing switch. The instructions say upstream of the first elbow, but that was technically right behind the dryer where the duct went into the wall before the lint trap so we ended up choosing a location about three feet from the second elbow, but the system works fine- thank goodness! Words cannot describe how sweet the sound of that thing kicking on the first time was!!! It runs exactly as it should, and the time to dry clothes has now been cut in half! We're thrilled with it, even though it was a bear to install. And it's fairly quiet, just a small whooshing sound over the regular sound of the dryer. (If you're wondering why I'm being so specific with the model names, etc. it's because I had a hard time finding info. on this, and I want someone who googles Fantech to be able to find this, in case it might be helpful to them.)

The big white box is the Fantech RVF 4XL, I still need to paint the window.


Here is a better (manufacturer's) picture of the fan itself

Here is our new Fantech lint trap. We've been amazed at how much lint we get out of it after every load. We're wondering if the dryer's lint collection system is working properly. Please no comments on the hole from the screw that I tried to drive in a stud-less location next to the dryer vent. Ooops!


Finally, the Fantech DB10 pressure sensing switch we had such a hard time locating. Fortunately, it works. I had no clue how to turn this picture, so adjust your head to get your desired view, whatever that may be.


It's not a very good picture, so here is a picture (again from the manufacturer)
of the DB10 switch

If you're having problems with your dryer not acting properly, and you've got a long run of duct, this fan may be an excellent solution. I will keep you posted on how well it continues to perform.

And they call this a vacation????

I've mentioned before that Aaron and I were planning to take the week after Memorial Day off to work on the house. We were treated to a visit by Aaron's lovely sister Christy and her husband Tyson 5/26 through 5/29, so we were able to do some "normal" enjoyable weekend activities, including taking in a Washington Nationals game, and having a crab eating, off-track betting contest at the Cracked Claw in Urbana, MD. (For the record, Tyson won by one crab, which I think really constitutes a tie! And everyone lost on the horses.)

Memorial Day, we took Christy and Tyson back to the airport, then got to work on the basement. We've had pegboard, shelving, and assorted hooks and hangers to organize the shop for several months now, and we decided that we should tackle that project first to get more organized for the other projects to come. Here are a couple of pictures of our hard work on the shop. It makes a big difference not to trip on the air compressor, ShopVac, and assorted wood while trying to find a screwdriver!

These may not look like big changes, but I assure you that they are:



The wire hanging down in the second picture is our temporary phone line. We've run the new one, just still need to hook it up and pull the old one out.

In the process of all of this shop cleanup and organization, we developed a huge pile of things to return to Lowes and Home Depot. We went through and cross-indexed things to receipts, but most of them ended up being too old to get us money back. Store credit is good enough though- it kept us from spending a dime at either store until Friday June 2!

At some point on Monday we realized that the condensation pump for the A/C was running nonstop. We turned off the A/C and kept working, since it was still quite cool in the basement. Aaron spent some time trying to fix the pump, taking it apart, cleaning contacts, checking switches, etc. but it was all to no avail. On Tuesday, it was close to 100 degrees factoring in the heat index (of course- it knew that the A/C was out). It was incredibly hot in the house- the dogs just laid around and panted. I just laid around and complained. Aaron continued working like a trooper, but I just couldn't do anything. So, Tuesday (May 30) did not end up being a productive day at all. Aaron did finish the last of some of the plumbing. At some point on Tuesday night, we had a violet thunderstorm that cooled things off slightly, but neither of us slept much. Wednesday (May 31), I had a (FIVE HOUR! plus one hour prep time) conference call for work, so Aaron went to Noland's to see if they had replacement switched for our condensate pump. Turns out that they don't stock parts because the pumps are relatively inexpensive, around $40. So, Aaron just picked up a new pump, which solved the problem. Ah, blissful cool air. Wednesday afternoon and evening we made some excellent progress, finishing up the last few things to get to drywall since I wasn't laying around the house like a limp rag (I'm pathetic- I'm from South Carolina! This Maryland weather has spoiled me.)

Here is a picture of my new best friend, the condensate pump! It was only $40! I'm sure a service call would have been over $100!


Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Organic Pest Control With Ladybugs and a Rose Mystery

This year, my roses seem to be growing not just gorgeous blossoms, but a bumper crop of aphids as well. Due to our proximity to the Chesapeake Bay, and my newfound aversion to all things chemical (except in cases of last resort), I explored the option of using organic pest control to take care of my aphid problem. Now, I know that growing roses is probably not organic, or sustainable or whatever, but I really enjoy them- working with them and watching them thrive, watching the buds open, the different fragrances of the different varieties, and of course, the cut flowers to bring in the house and share with my friends. I have a big rose garden in the front yard, which even contains two roses that we inherited with the house and moved to a better location. So, anyway, back to the ladybugs. I ordered 4800 ladybugs (that was way overkill for my yard, but I shared with my neighbors) from Gardening Zone. The price was right (about $12.00 for the ladybugs) but the shipping notification system from this company was abysmal. Also, although I paid for expedited shipping (the only option with live insects), the poor guys didn't show up for over a week after I ordered them. I think that I may choose a different site for subsequent orders. It wasn't all bad, though, because I did get the ladybugs, and the majority of them appeared to survive their journey unscathed.

The ladybugs arrived in a small cloth bag on May 19 (post is a little late, sorry), shown below. It was kind of freaky, how many ladybugs they had managed to cram into that little bag. This is only the tip of the iceberg!


Here is Aaron, dealing with spreading the ladybugs (there were just so many... it kind of freaked me out)


Here are some of the ladybugs on May 20th, doing their thing on my Shasta daisies.


And here are some roses that I cut last week from my Mr. Lincoln rose, which was pretty badly invaded.


The aphids are much diminished now, but not totally exterminated as they were a few weeks ago. I don't know where most of the ladybugs moved on to though- I have only seen the occasional one in the garden. I am considering ordering another batch, as well as some beneficial nematodes to control the Japanese beetles that I expect to show up next month. Does anyone have experience with the Nematodes? I'd love to hear about it.

Finally, a few gratuituous shots of probably my favorite (it's between this one and the Bellaroma) rose in the whole garden. This thing was a half dead little stick when we moved into the house, and Aaron moved it into the rose garden for me, where it has THRIVED! There were COUNTLESS blossoms on it during its last blooming cycle, which went early May to around Memorial Day. It wil continue to bloom in gorgeous spurts throughout the summer. Does anyone know what it is? It also has a beautiful shape, a very lush, full bush. If you have any info, just comment below!




Monday, June 05, 2006

7 lessons from a week of vacation

I will post details from our week long home improvement marathon later, but really quick today, a list of the things that I've learned...
1. Dryer inline fans (such as those from Fantech) are very difficult to put in, but there are no words to describe the joy one feels when they hear that thing kick on for the first time! (And when the clothes actually dry in like, an hour.)
2. Densarmor (the paperless drywall, which we ended up installing), is completely impregnated with fiberglass, and after working with it for a few hours, you will feel like you were very intimate with a cactus.
3. Don't ever install that tile with the white octagons and the little blue diamonds. This will be a separate post entirely. Frustration, cuts, chemical burns. It does look nice. No mad tile skillz like Home Improvement Ninja, but anyone can line up SQUARE tiles... (just kidding).
4. Wonderboard smells like Playdoh, but that is where the fun ends.
5. An organized shop really does make it easier to work.
6. It's better just to pay someone to finish drywall.
7. Laticrete BURNS!! I have huge burns down my arms from reaching into the bucket. I can't let my arms touch my desk. Ow! (As a disclaimer as to why I didn't wear protective gear, I've worked with regular fiber reinforced concrete and mortar and never ever had a problem. I don't know what they put in acrylic modified thinset, but it hurts. Wear the darn gloves! OK, OK, I am a scientist, I should have understood the importance of personal protective equipment.)