Life of Leisure at Home

Yeah, right. The two weeks (feels like two months) since coming back to Boston have been a carnival of people working on the new porches, installing the new boiler, installing and fixing electrical stuff, and starting today at 7:30 a.m. putting new insulation into the attic. Oh, and did I mention hunching for hours over Quicken, pulling together a year’s worth of numbers for the tax man? God willing, by this time tomorrow, all that will be done, or mostly done. And then I’m going to leave it all behind to return to Puerto Rico! (This time for some actual leisure, and writing I hope.)

Here are some pix of the porch! Those round columns, by the way, are made of a resin-stone composite with a permanent finish. No painting required! And the railings are powder-coated aluminum. If there was one theme to this design, it was “low maintenance.”

Happy New Year?

Covid. That’s how we started 2024. Allysen has it; most of the family has it. Jayce and I are the only two left standing, still testing negative—and feeling okay, if you don’t count the queasies from overeating over the holidays. No one is enjoying their virus, but also no one got deathly ill, and all are getting better. Jayce and I are grateful for the updated vaccine that may have helped protect us. Allysen is really annoyed to have lost her status as never having gotten Covid.

That’s not the best intro to a new year, so let’s start over.

Happy Three Kings Day, everyone!

Also, work has begun on building the new porch.

This Time I Really Mean It

Did I say the porch project had begun? That was several weeks ago. Then nothing happened, as we waited and fidgeted while the town building department sat on the permit application. (According to the contractor, this was extremely unusual. Generally it’s in, stamp, you’re done.) Meanwhile, possibly the last of the mild weather was going by, and we have concrete that needs to be poured. Frustration all around.

Two days ago, the permit finally went through, and the dumpster moved in. First up, jackhammer the concrete steps to pieces. That started yesterday, and is only half done. Those steps were built to last! Anyway, work has started. Let’s hope the weather holds for a few more weeks!

Electrical Schmelectrical

posted in: home improvements 0

We’re just emerging from one of the big house projects, which is a major upgrade to our electrical service, taking our whole two-family house from 200-amp service to 400A. This involves bigger meters on the outside, bigger panels on the inside, and an even bigger payday for the electrician. Also, bigger and better circuits and power in the house.

And the first of the two new meters…

One of the things this is making possible is getting rid of our 30-year-old Caloric gas range with its accompanying hydrocarbon fumes and replacing it with a GE Profile induction range. We’ve been wanting to do this for a while, but the driving factor was to spare our lungs from the insidious pollution of natural gas and replace it with the mind-altering effects of strong electromagnetic fields… no, wait—I mean, replace it with a cleaner, more climate-friendly, and better-controlled cooking experience. Seriously, we’ve been doing at least half our cooking for the last six months on a portable induction “hot plate” sitting on top of our gas range. We love it. Cleaner, safer, less waste heat, and way better control of the cooking. The only downside was having to buy a couple of new pans. We’ll be getting a nice rebate for the induction range.

Also part of this project was putting in some switching to make possible the use of a backup generator in the event of a prolonged power outage. For now, the backup is the little generator in our campervan, but in the fullness of time, we’ll upgrade that, as well. (But while the power was off during the work, I did keep two refrigerators and a freezer going with the camper gen. And it should keep the heat on, as well, since the gas-fired steam boilers only require a small amount of current to run.)

The job took so long, I thought we were going to have to offer the electrician a room to stay in. The major work is done now, though we still have a couple of small things for him to do. In the meantime, I think we’re close to agreement with the outside contractor to build new front porches on the house. I’m not doing any of this work myself, but I feel tired!

Here’s our new range. It will go downstairs with us when we move.


I’m an animal lover and a softie, and I hate to thwart critters from living a normal life. However, I do have my limits. When they repeatedly chew electric wires and go after my house and my solar panels despite my efforts to keep them away… well, it’s game on, you little fockers.

As I mentioned last time, the solar panel guys found yet more squirrel damage last week, even after an expensive tree trimming behind the house, laborious tree-trimming in front of the house (by me), an expensive installation of “critter guards” around our solar panels, and serious efforts on the part of a pest-control expert to get the little pests off the premises.

I thought I had pruned the tree out front sufficiently to eliminate the threat. I basically made it a bas-relief of a spruce tree. That was basically wishful thinking. I don’t think anyone was living in the tree last winter, because our Christmas lights survived the season unchewed. But now I come to find a big summer home nestled in a tangle of branches near the top, on the side facing away from us where I couldn’t see it. I had not observed the rascal itself, but Lexi and Connor downstairs had. And apparently it could get up onto the roof from there.

Yesterday I got out my vorpal sword, the extensible tree-trimmer, and strove mightily against the Fortress of the Squirrel. In the end, its great house fell. And our tree is now a couple of feet shorter, and I hope no longer within leaping range of easy roof access. I still need to do some restorative sculpting.

Did I feel like a heel? I surely did. If this had been a talking-animals animated feature, I definitely would have been the evil developer felling the homes of the lovable critters.

Thankfully, this was not such a movie.

Squirrels 1, Humans 1.

Will the series be renewed? Too soon to tell.

Chimney on a Hot Tin Roof

Okay, my roof isn’t tin, but I’m certain it was blazing hot up there in the sun yesterday. Our chimney has been in need of rebuilding for some time, as evidenced by leaks when it rained and pieces of old flashing falling into our attic. We finally had it done. The able team from Best Chimney that did the work had the bad luck to work up there with the temperature in the mid-90s, as we along with half the U.S. and most of Europe endured a massive heat wave. I did not personally labor in the sun, but I got hot enough just squinting up at the guys who did. As far as I could tell from way down on the ground, they did excellent work.

Here’s the teardown:

And the finished chimney:

A downside of having solar-electric panels on the roof is that we had to pay another team to come and take several panels down, and come back next week to put them back up. As luck would have it, they discovered yet another chewed cable under one of the panels—even after the installation of critter guards to keep the squirrels out. The little buggers are just determined to cause mischief. Sigh. Steps will be taken, perhaps in another post.

Solar Hot Water!

I took a shower today with water heated by the sun! What a feeling! Our solar heating panels went up on the garage roof last week, and our aging 40-gallon hot water tanks were removed, and replaced by a humongous 119-gallon lifetime stainless steel tank that feeds both apartments in our two-family house. Primary heat is the sun. Secondary heat is an electric heater in the tank. Our expectation is that about 75% of our water heating requirements will come from the sun, annually. More in the summer and less in the winter, obviously. But even in the winter, plenty of heat comes from the sun. The excellent work was done by New England Solar Hot Water.

Remember, back in December, I told you about the trench I was digging? That was for this.

Solar hot water panels on garage

Speaking of home heating efficiency, our ductless AC/heating system was finished a few weeks ago by New England Ductless, and now (in moderate weather) we’re heating more efficiently with electric heat pumps. We’re still figuring out the best way to control them (which we do using our smartphones), or rather to balance them with the legacy steam heat in the colder weather. These condenser units are kind of dominant on the outside of the house, so I guess my home project for this summer will be to build some kind of privacy fence around them.

Ductless condensers outside house

This was all made possible in part by a two-town group discount, various tax credits and rebates for renewable energy installations, and a 0% interest loan program run by a state agency (MassSave) and funded by utilities. All that brought the net cost down considerably. The hot water installation should pay for itself in 4-5 years.


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