Patching Concrete: My Favorite Thing!

Not. My basement wall is happier now, but I’m tired. It all started years ago with parts of our basement being a little on the damp side, which we’d been ignoring because there was so much stuff in our basement, we couldn’t even see the dampish parts.

That changed when Allysen’s mom had to move to a place with a higher level of care than us, and we faced emptying the first floor apartment of our two-family house, so our daughter Lexi and her husband Connor could move in for a while. Where was all that furniture, art, books, etc., going to go? Down to the basement, where else? In a way, it’s Allysen’s mom’s fault, for having high standards in art and furniture pieces acquired in a lifetime spent living around the world. Pieces valuable not for their dollar value, but for the cultural meaning and the artistry of craftsmen from Latin America, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere. Stuff you want to keep or at least find a good home for.

Cue the demolition squad, to get rid of our accumulated crap, and even some good things we just didn’t need anymore. We had an amazing giveaway assortment in front of our house for the last week, and a lot of items found new homes. Those that didn’t left the hard way—ceerrrunch!—in the trash truck. Some good electrical appliances left that way, sadly, thanks to the vandal who came along and cut off the cords on everything we put out that had a cord. Why?

Time for more shelves! Ever more shelves! But wait—what about those water-stained cracks where the floor meets the foundation? And the crumbling mortar? And—oh look, we’re having unusual torrents of rain this evening—and is that water running into the corner? Yikes!

Cue the chisel, Quikrete, and trowel. Follow up with sore knees, aching back, and giant blister on big toe from crouching for hours in bad shoes. Finish with an adjustment to the downspout outside, in hopes of redirecting the next big downpour.

I’m starting to feel as if I’m putting myself in the running to be Heinlein’s “competent man.” Not on purpose!

Now, about those shelves….

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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Too Dang Quiet Here—Let’s Have Some Drillin’!

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Because we haven’t had enough noise in our lives… this is the week that New England Ductless arrived to begin installing our upgrade to mini-split ductless heat/AC, as part of our participation in Arlington’s HeatSmart program.

Essentially it’s a town-wide, group discount on energy-conservation installations, similar to the Solarize Arlington program that helped us get solar-electric panels on our roof some years ago. The solar panels have nearly earned back their cost at this point. The ductless heat pump installation probably won’t earn back so quickly, but it will reduce our fossil-fuel usage, increase our comfort, and save me from breaking my back twice a year putting in window-rattling AC units and taking them out. Let’s hear it for that! Oh, and the 0% interest loan through MassSave was pretty nice, too.

The terrifically polite and efficient crew of Renalto and David got to work here yesterday, at stupid-o’clock in the morning, going through the house installing head units like the one shown above, in our living room. Today they were out there in the subfreezing cold, working on the first part of the outside installation. They’re going to be at it for about two weeks, I think.

To calm us all down, I herewith provide some pictures Allysen took, one of our blooming Christmas cactus…

and one of a quirky art installation found on our bike path…

 

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Dig a Trench. Fill It In. Go Solar!

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This is the fill-it-in part. It’s always best if you do it in the rain. Because, I don’t know, squish. No, seriously, the reason I do it in the rain is that we’re having a brief warm spell before the freezing air moves back in, and I need to get the trench filled while I can still move the dirt with a shovel. Just my luck that the warm spell includes rain. That white PVC pipe is the reason for the trench.

The method to this madness is that we’re having solar hot-water panels installed on our garage. Our town and another got together to solicit affordable package deals on renewable energy for homes. The panels have to go on our garage roof because the house roof is already covered with solar-electric panels, so the glycol lines have to go underground to the house. The solar panel guys just laid in the lines, but they don’t do the trench. Guess who does the trench.

Why in December? Because we just squeaked in under the deadline to sign up, and this is the schedule we were given. Stay tuned for updates, later in the winter.

 

Range Remake Done!

When I promised we could get a proper range hood for our kitchen, I did not imagine that the project would take more than three months, and a gazillion hours of my time. As soon as we decided to move the stove five inches to the left (it was placed awkwardly because of where the gas line was), everything snowballed. We needed a cleverly designed shelf unit on the right, and a smaller cabinet on the left. And here it is!

Except for the base cabinet, this was all made from wood I found in the basement and garage. Mahogany pieces salvaged years ago by Allysen’s dad turned into the shelf unit, with the help of some butcherblock leftover pieces for the top. And there was just enough butcherblock left to glue together to make the countertop on the left. We are very happy.

 

Chaos at the Star Rigger Ranch, Pt. 2

Range Hood Update!

So, they didn’t bore the hole in the wall for the range hood for another week, which was ample time for me to cut open the inside wall and discover that a stud lay squarely in the path of my projected hole! Gah. After regrouping and consulting, I changed the plan and took down the slim-profile rectangular duct that I’d worked so hard on, and switched to round duct all the way—just enough difference to slide past the stud. It worked! But it left me with an ugly rectangular hole to close up. Oh well, we eat problems for breakfast here at the ranch. I applied myself to the problem, and the ugly hole is gone! And the range hood is operational!

A lot of finish work remains. For example, I had to cut a hole in the side of the gleaming stainless steel chimney (that’s what they call the decorative shroud around the actual exhaust duct). Me and my Dremel (and several expendable cutting wheels), we did it. Did good, too. Except one thing: the chimney is too short! It doesn’t reach the ceiling! How did I not see that before?

The manufacturer offers a chimney extension piece—for $165! That’s almost the cost of the whole unit. I am now hoping to find a local sheet metal worker who can fabricate a piece for me for less.

Sitting tight on that for now. We love having a real exhaust vent for our smoky cooking! Plus, I put up the re-cut pegboard, and Allysen now has a new hobby of figuring out what to hang on it and how.

Oh, and we now have a working porch lift in front of the house. Did I mention?

(Also, I’ve had enough home construction to last me the year.)

Chaos at the Star Rigger Ranch, Pt. 1

Because things weren’t crazy enough around here, we now have two major construction projects going at the same time.

A porch lift is going in beside our front steps, so Allysen’s mom can come and go safely. Here’s the concrete pad that got poured today. The lift will be moved from its previous owner and installed here over the next couple of days.

Meanwhile, on the inside, I’m completing my birthday present to Allysen (her birthday was in February): a range hood for our kitchen. We have needed a range hood and exhaust since we bought the house 26 years ago. But the stove is on an inside wall, and that makes it hard. Why are we insanely taking on this job at the same time as the other? Because the guys installing the lift have a big ladder, and they’re going to cut through the wall for me, and install the outside vent—which is located nearly three stories up!

Here’s our original (and still working) exhaust fan, which lemme tell you is chilly in February! And our smoky stove, with a pegboard holding everything:

Here’s the new hood, up for testing:

And here’s proof of progress (except I just took everything down so we can paint the wall):

Tomorrow they cut the wall.

Driveway Chronicles, Pt. 3 (Finale)

Previously on Driveway Chronicles:

When last we saw our intrepid heroes, the paving crew had departed and our heroes were left to reinstall the fence that just one year ago, they had fashioned from raw lumber with their skinned knuckles and calloused hands. Groundhog Day all over again. This might have been a job for a short afternoon break, if everything still fit as it had originally. Of course, nothing did, and so putting it all back took a little longer. But now it is done!

Those are permeable pavers, by the way, in “Beacon Hill Blend.” It’ll be interesting to see how they work out for draining water when Ma Nature hits us with the snows and whatnot.

Here’s the Before and After:

 

 

Driveway Chronicles, Pt. 2

Day two of the driveway rebuild. A tale to be told mainly in pictures.

Here they work on the permeable concrete pavers near the garage:

The first of two layers of asphalt gets its start:

Loading up the paving machine for the straight run down the drive:

Steamrollered!

Starting the top layer:

Here’s the final result!

Tomorrow, I hope to put the fence and gate back up. They need to come back and tweak one thing. And then it will be done.

I learned from this project: a) that there are still people out there who do really good work; and b) that no matter how good they are, you still have to be there, checking every detail. Details have a way of getting lost in the dust cloud of construction. If I hadn’t been there looking in every couple of hours and asking for corrections, we would not have been nearly as happy. But we’re delighted with the final product!

 

 

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