Sunday, December 30, 2012

Project - Coffee Table

This project was the first where I was building something for someone else.

My brother wanted a new coffee table for a birthday gift, so we traded some e-mails on design features.  He found a coffee table online that he liked:
Altra Coffee Table - the model
The other key aspect of the design was to utilize the sheet of glass from his current coffee table.  The one in his apartment gets a lot of use, and over time, the wood would have a hard time holding up to all the wear and tear as well as food/liquid spills.

For this project, I decided to use S4S pine (squared on four sides) rather than dimensional lumber like I had used on my own dining table.  Dimensional lumber's edges are rounded, so when you join two boards together to make a table top, for instance, you get seams between the boards.  With the dining table, these seams are a key area for food and crumbs to fall into and it is tough to clean out.  Given that the coffee table would use a sheet of glass on top, this wasn't an issue.  It does create a different aesthetic, and in this case, I was trying to closely match what the customer wanted.

The table top and the underside of the table were created using 3 boards joined together to make a flat surface.  The storage drawers sat on an under-mount drawer rail.  I hadn't used under-mount before and they are harder to find - I had to order from Amazon rather than get them at Home Depot.
Something's amiss
If you look carefully, you'll see that the opening I cut in the drawer face is off-center.  I guess I wasn't paying attention and centered the cutout at 11.5" for a 21" drawer face.  Oops.  I had to re-do the faces which wasn't a problem since I had extra wood.

This was probably the first time I've used a protractor since middle school geometry.  I did not calculate the radius, diameter, or length of an arc, so I hate to disappoint any geometry teachers reading this.  The protractor was great for sketching out the right arc that I wanted.  I had tried using an upside down bowl or plate as a stencil (don't tell Pamela), but didn't like the sizing.

The table came together pretty well and I was very impressed with the color that came from the Minwax Polyshades Espresso.  I will be sure to not do much staining in the winter though - it doesn't apply as smoothly and you are a lot more likely to get streaks and build-up.

The last step was adding a felt liner to the drawers.  I got to play with a hot glue gun which was a lot of fun.

Pictures of the final product are below.  I like the way it came out although it took me a lot longer to deliver than I would have thought.  Thankfully the customer was okay with the delays.








Monday, October 29, 2012

Pamela reporting live

The markets were closed and schools were closed, so we've been home all day.  Getting a bit bored...

video

Pamela will likely be back for a future report.

Storm Wall

We moved into our home just over a year ago.  As we were heading to closing, Hurricane Irene came through and flooded the basement causing damage.  Irene caused greater rainfall than Sandy is predicted to generate and the flooding may have been caused by the nearby lake not being appropriately being drained.

Nonetheless, we headed to Home Depot to buy some sandbags to defend the house.  The house's weak point is the steps that lead to the basement.  If the nearby stream floods, our backyard ends up under water and it flows down the stairs to (and through) the basement door.

Home Depot was out of sand and sandbags, so I had to improvise.  I bought weather seal foam and used scrap wood to make this storm wall.

The weather seal foam runs along the bottom to make what I hope will be a water-tight seal against the ground.  Gratiutous use of duct tape helped seal up some holes.

The black hose runs to a sump pump which I hope will be enough should some water get past.  

The whole thing ain't pretty, but I'm hoping it'll get the job done.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Electric Dog Fence

We've always wanted to let our dog Akina roam free in the back yard, but didn't want to fence her in on all sides as it would be difficult to get the car all the way back.  We've since added Lucky, so that makes for a better reason to have the fence.  Without it, we'd eventually have two dogs on leads in the back yard getting tangled.

Pamela found DogFenceDIY.com and we reviewed the entire site.  We decided to give an electric fence a try.  As part of the setup process, we both put the collar on our arms and walked across the boundary to feel the shock.  It isn't fun even on its lowest setting but it needs to be serious to keep a dog from chasing a ball, squirrel, or child outside of the property.

The fence has been up for several months with Akina on it the whole period while Lucky needed to get a bit bigger until we thought he'd be old enough to understand and not be hurt by the shock.  I am happy to say both dogs adapted very quickly and we let them out without their electric collars on occasion (although this isn't a good idea).

Wireless vs. Wired
Wireless fences are easy to set-up and can be the best solution if it fits your yard.  You adjust the radius of the boundary from the device in your home, so the dog will have a circular "safe zone" to play in.  If the dog approaches the boundary, the collar first beeps, then sends an electric shock if the dog doesn't retreat from the boundary.


Wireless wouldn't work for us because we have a small, rectangular yard.  The problem with wireless fences is that they aren't 100% consistent and so they have a larger "warning zone".  If you have a huge yard, it wouldn't be a problem if this warning zone was 10 feet wide.  In our yard, the dogs would be confined to a postage stamp with a warning zone was that wide.

Wired
Wired systems work by sending a radio signal through a wire.  You run this wire around the perimeter of your yard.  You then adjust the "warning zone" width to fit your needs.  You can bury the wire, attach it to a house, garage, fence, etc.  The only requirement is that the wire makes a complete loop.

I spent a long time testing and searching for a method online to avoid running the wire around the yard in a loop as we already had the house and a fence blocking three sides.  The only way to do this requires doubling back but leaving several feet in of space in between the wires, otherwise the signals cancel out and there will be no boundary.

The original plan was to bury the wire along the edge of the driveway, but I decided to take a detour and install belgian blocks along the edge first.

I used long zip ties to attach the wire along the top of the fence, then ran it around the front of the house, then finally up the edge of the driveway.

Our System
We chose the Innotek UltraSmart and have been very pleased.
The collars have two metal prongs which need to touch the dog's skin - Akina's thick fur was problematic but Lucky's worked just fine.

When not being worn, the collars sit on a recharger in the kitchen.  They can go many days without charging if need be.

Training
The training process was outlined in a DVD and a pamphlet that came along with the dog fence.

The process is supposed to take a few weeks.  First, you take the dog on the leash to the edge of the warning zone where you planted flags, tell the dog "No!" and pull her back.  This is without the collar on.


Next, you do the same thing, but with the collar on, although you use the plastic caps on the collar so that it does not shock the dog.  This way, she'll hear the beeping and hopefully associate it with being pulled away from the warning zone.

After that, you use the metal caps and have someone walk across the boundary, while you have the dog on a leash.  The expectation is that the dog will follow and receive a shock ("correction").  The next stage of training is to throw a ball or have some other distractions on the other side of the boundary.  At this point, the dog should not want to cross the boundary, even if tempted by distractions.

The dog should then be ready to be off the leash, although still supervised.  If she does well, then you should be able to leave her unsupervised for longer periods of time.

Results
One difficulty we ran into in the beginning was getting the collar properly fitted on Akina.  When you remove the collar from the charger and put it on the dog it is supposed to beep signalling that it is making a connection with the dog's skin and will zap her if need be. 

With Akina, we found that the fur around her neck was too dense.  We took her to PetCo where they shaved two patches for the connectors but this wouldn't work as a long term solution.

Luckily, the collar worked well for the first few weeks and Akina learned her boundaries.  We put the collar on but more loosely.  She doesn't necessarily get zapped, but when she approaches the warning zone, the collar still beeps and that is enough to send her back.

All in all, the electric dog fence has been a great success and improved the quality of life for both dog and dog owner.  Akina and Lucky both love the additional freedom they are afforded, including being able to jump up on the hammock with us in the far corner of the back yard.  We get to open the door and let them out when need be, rather than attaching them to a run or walking them on a lease at all times.  This means more outdoor time for the doggies which they appreciate.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

One year!

October 3rd marks one year since we first moved in.

It has felt like a very busy year and yet I'm surprised how quickly the days have passed.  The past year has been full of big events for us which added to the feeling of time flying by.  Pamela and I got married / had our honeymoon in Hawaii, hosted a reception at our house, I started a new job, we adopted Lucky, and we worked on tons of projects around the house, both big and small.

Built Things:
Desk, Dining Table, Chair, Shoe Bench,

Fixed/Changed Things:
Lawn, Dryer, Painted the Bedroom, Edged the Driveway, Sold a House

There are tons of other small projects that I've completed and a lot more that Pamela has completed but haven't made it to the blog.  Maybe next year she'll be more in the mood to share her accomplishments (she has said she would if I was willing to do all the typing).

This blog has also been a fun project for the past year plus.  It's an evolving project - I had a ton to write about when we were buying the house, then a ton more as we were moving in and building things.  Now, it seems to be more about more regular happenings around the house and things we are working on, or off-topic things I'm thinking about.  We'll see where it goes!

In the Coming Year:
Last winter was pretty tame, we are told, by Westchester standards.  I remember we got a big snow in late Fall, but after that, nothing too severe.  I am expecting we'll get it worse this year and really get to enjoy the benefits of homeownership (shoveling snow).

A big goal for me is to do better with the lawn next year.  I didn't fertilize on the right schedule and I didn't water the grass frequently enough.  The combination led to a lot of weeds when the weather got very hot.  Maybe someday we'll add an automatic sprinkler system.  The first order of business will probably be to get an electric mower to replace the mechanical reel mower.  I enjoyed being eco-friendly, but it takes so much time to do a really solid job with the reel mower, and I think my time could be better spent elsewhere.

We are also starting to realize that two dogs going potty in the back yard is causing trouble.  We might look for a way to expand the grassy area, although this would probably be a big project.

There's plenty to do and I hope you continue visit and read about it!







Monday, October 1, 2012

Prepare Your Lawn for Winter

Late August and into October is a great time to give your lawn some extra TLC to set yourself up for a beautiful lawn next spring.  Here in the Northeast, it seems to rain almost every night with midday temperatures in the 60s and 70s - that's perfect grass growing weather.

Aerate
Aerating is the process of cutting holes in your lawn which allows oxygen and nutrients to flow into the soil and help your grass develop deeper, stronger roots.

I bought a manual aerator at Home Depot for about $20.
Hole-maker

My house is on less than 1/4 acre and the lawn is split into a front and back yard.  I would tell you that even with this small of a yard, aerating was a pain to do manually.  I highly suggest renting a gas powered aerator from Home Depot.

If you do choose to go about it the manual way, do yourself a favor and either wait until a heavy rain has come through or give your lawn a good soak.  This'll make the soil a lot softer and save you from a lot of aches and pains.

The process of aerating is to jam the double spiked device into the ground, stomp it in with your foot, then pull out the cores.  You then repeat every four to six inches.  The cores from the prior holes should pop out as you drive the aerator in for the next holes, but in reality, they'll like get jammed up.  I took a long screwdriver and my hose to unclog the aerator.  If you aren't pulling cores, you can end up compacting the soil which doesn't have the same positive effect.

Repair Grass / Plant New Grass
This was a good opportunity for me to take care of three lawn problems I faced.  The first was a lot of brown or dead areas in the back yard from dog urine/waste.  The only real cure is to dig up some of the grass and plant new seed.

The second issue was an unlevel area in the back yard.  When I ripped up the belgian blocks and garden to expand the lawn, I didn't do a good enough job compacting the soil where the blocks had been.  As the new grass grew in, it seemed to sink over time.  This made mowing more difficult and created a great spot to twist your ankle.  I read that one solution is to dig under the turf at an angle and raise it using a mix of dirt and sand.  The other route, which I chose, was to simply add dirt/topsoil and compact it until it was more level.  I then added seed to grow new grass.  In about a week of regular rain and mid-60s temperatures, I can already see the grass growing in well.

The last issue was a bare patch in the front yard where a tree stump once was.  I had paid to have the stump ground down, the hole filled then new soil/grass put in.  The grass came up, but I could see it was very sparse and it never looked as good as the Scotts seed I use.  My guess is that they skimped on the quality.

I decided to make this an entire weekend project by digging up the area, sifting it to remove rocks and weeds, then drop dirt/topsoil and seed.  I found really large chunks of the former stump.  It had been 6 months, so I don't get the feeling these chunks were going to decompose well given their size - again, probably a low quality effort put forth by the workers.
Making a mess

I placed the sifted dirt down and compacted then gave it a watering.  The next day I added seed and topsoil as well as giving it a new watering.

Fertilize
New grass needs a few weeks of healthy growth before you can put down fertilizer.  I bought plenty of Scotts WinterGuard which is also supposed to help grow grass roots for a better spring.
Food for lawn

If I was really gung-ho, I'd aerate again since it has been a few weeks.  In hindsight, I probably should have repaired the lawn then aerated the whole thing once before dropping the WinterGuard.

The lawn is looking better already and I'm hoping for a few more weeks of good weather to set the yard up for a great spring.

Friday, September 21, 2012

How to Sell a House

In an earlier post, I noted that my brother and I were selling a house in Pennsylvania.

Well, in mid-June we closed on the sale.

It was interesting to be on the other side of the table so soon after purchasing a home.  The process suffered a bit in the same way it did as when I was a buyer - lack of communication.

Because it is a negotiated deal that isn't complete until the buyer has the keys and the seller has the proceeds, neither side wants to show their cards.  When I was a buyer, I became terribly frustrated by the lack of responsiveness from the seller.  It was also impossible to know whether the seller was ignoring me, whether it was the seller's agent or lawyer that was behind the silence, or whether people weren't on the same page in terms of pace and reading / responding to e-mails.

Getting an offer
As the seller, I ran into this again.  We received an offer that we felt was low but we had at least one or two other potential buyers set to see the house before that offer would expire.  We didn't want to counter the low offer without knowing if we might have another offer coming in.  We'd also had a few other showings (although not the volume we'd have hoped), but often the agent for the other side wouldn't leave feedback.  This left us wondering if there was real interest in the house or if people were just using up a sunny Saturday to go "window shopping" through open houses.

In the end, the other interested parties either weren't interested, or cancelled their showings.  So, we were left with a low offer and not great prospects.  If we had regular showings, we might be inclined to think we could let the low offer go since another might be coming.  What really got us moving though was that the current renters let us know they were planning on moving out.

Countering
We eliminated the option of accepting the low offer which left us with two options: #1 Counter the offer with a number that we would be more acceptable or #2 No counter and keep the house on the market.

Our agent was careful to advise us that even if our higher counter offer was accepted, the agreement was still conditional and the Buyers could come back with requests for repairs and such to bring the effective price down.

We countered the offer and were happy yet cautious that it was quickly accepted.

The Sale Process
Pennsylvania thankfully has a standardized template for a sales contract so we didn't need to hire a lawyer.  The Buyers had agreed to our price, but the offer was conditional on an inspection and approval of their financing.

The Buyers also wanted to move in rather quickly, so we needed to have the current renters vacate so that the house would be ready.

The inspection did turn up several items in need of attention.  Some were "musts" - the bank would not approve the loan if they weren't remedied, while others were items where the Buyers were looking for us to pay for or help pay for repairs.

We had supplied the Buyers with our own inspection at the beginning of the process so we were less than keen on the idea of paying to replace the roofing shingles when they should have known they were old before putting in an offer.  We also knew they wanted to move in quickly, so this gave us leverage in terms of what we were willing to budge on.

We did have to pay for termite inspection and treatment, as well as treatment and pumping of the septic system, and for some old lead paint to be removed from window frames.  These were all required items.

The Buyers, given the time squeeze, didn't have much of an option - they could either accept where we were willing to budge or hold out for more, but potentially delay closing.  Again, because of lack of direct communication, I'll never know if they were perhaps furious at us for not budging on these types of repairs, or maybe they just thought they'd try and see what they could get.

Another breakdown in communication did end up delaying closing and I believe the Buyers were out of their previous house and had to stay in a hotel for a few days.  Pamela and I had to deal with this and understand how much of a hassle it is.  Their inspector had pointed out the lead paint on the windows needed to be removed and repainted.  Somewhere between their inspector, our agent, and the handyperson who we hired to do the work, the detail got lost that both the inside and outside of the window frames needed to be treated.

Their inspector came back a few days before closing to do a final walk though and pointed out the inside had not been dealt with.  We got our handyperson to go back, but the inspector couldn't return for a few days which delayed the bank's ability to close on the loan file.

On to Closing
Neither my brother nor I had to attend closing.  We had our agent attend and sign the final documents for us.  It was very straight forward for us - we got a statement the day before with the final numbers (which had a mistake), then we got a call after closing from our agent to say that it was complete.  We got a direct deposit of the net proceeds the next day.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Best of the Web

I have a bunch of drafts of posts that I've been working on that relate to buying a home and making it your own.  Lately though, I've also felt inclined to do more "off-topic" posts.  I hope that irrespective of how you arrived here, you find these off-topic posts interesting.

Today, I wanted to share a list of websites that I read frequently.  These sites may not be very well known, but if you are interested in the subject matter, I think they are good reads.

Home
Ana White - how-to site with lots of project plans
This Old House - guide on indoor and outdoor home improvement

News:
Flightblogger - analysis of the aerospace industry
New Fuelist - aggregator of interesting energy / new energy news
The Hill - political news, that in my opinion, isn't slanted
The Onion - satire

Finance:
DealBreaker - finance news but with a tabloid twist.
Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis - daily analysis of key economic news.  Not doom-and-gloom, but a frank take on the state of global affairs.
ZeroHedge - frequent posts on intra-day stock market news.

Golf
3 Jack Golf Blog - one man's blog on golf equipment, the PGA Tour, and his own efforts to become better
GolfWRX - articles and forums for all things golf, but more of a focus on equipment
The Dan Plan - follows the efforts of one man who dropped everything to become a pro golfer

Random
Barstool Sports - city-specific blogs covering news and sports - very funny
Lifehacker - ways to improve your life with a technology focus
The Pen Addict - review site of various pens
Dog-Shaming - we've submitted Lucky



Thursday, September 6, 2012

Off-Topic: Election

How about a quick non-partisan opinion on the upcoming election:  we're kind of screwed either way.

A lot has been made about the US cumulative deficit surpassing $16 trillion this week.  That's $16 with twelve zeros!

$16,000,000,000,000

Here's a site tracking all manner of debt statistics:  US Debt Clock

The upcoming election will provide this country with two candidates who may appear to have very different plans, but the reality is that neither is offering much in terms of a solution to this country's overspending.

This year, the US government will spend a bit north of $1T more than it takes in from taxes.
Candidate A has a plan to get that annual deficit to about $500B per year in three or four years while Candidate B projects that annual deficit to be about $700B in three or four years.  There are a lot of differing assumptions and there's never enough detail, but you can be certain that those numbers aren't a "pessimistic scenario".

Here's a great picture:

Mish at Global Economic Trend Analysis has a great interactive chart where you can compare debt, spending, interest, etc

Again, there are a lot of assumptions in all of these numbers, and in no way am I trying to say that the Ryan budget (not the same as the Romney budget) is the better alternative.

So What?
That's the hard part.  For years, fiscally conservative pundits have decried the annual budget deficits and said that a "day of reckoning" is coming as the deficit surpassed $5B, $10B, and so on.  The US's credit rating was officially downgraded last summer - the stock market fell, but the downgrade had perhaps the opposite effect on the interest rates the US government pays to borrow.

Since the US government can't fund all of its spending from the taxes it takes in from its citizens, it borrows from the rest of the world.  Luckily, the rest of the world is in a real mess of its own right now.  Greece, Italy, Spain, and others are in such poor fiscal shape that they are paying 6% (on 10 year debt) or more to borrow from the rest of the world.  Investors see the US, Germany, and a few other countries as being safe havens so they are willing to lend to them at 1% or 2%.

The downgrade of the US should have made investors more cautious on the US and led to the government paying higher rates.  It hasn't happened - yet.

What will happen, at some unknown point in the future, is that investors will demand higher rates to loan to the US if our deficits continue to grow as they will fear our inability to pay them back.  Like what is happening in Europe right now, this tends to happen very quickly.  If the US government then has to pay 4%,  5%, or more, then more of the income from taxes will go to simply paying off the interest on the borrowings form the past decades.

The ultimate end scenario is a default or devaluation of the currency which has happened in many countries throughout the world, most noticeably/recently in Latin America.  The US could one day simply say "we're sorry, but we we don't have the money to pay back our loans so we won't" which would end the flow of money into the country.  The other form this could take would be through hyper-inflation.  The US government has promised to repay its loans in dollars - well we own the printing presses, so we can always print however many dollars we need.  This would be problematic because the economy is global and when you go to the pump to buy a gallon of gas, if no one trusts the value of the dollar, that gallon could cost $10, $100, $1,000 or more.

The Solution
Spend less than you earn.  So simple, but probably impossible.

The last time the government earned more than it spent was during the mid-1990s due to the internet fueling global economic growth.

I'm not trying to be preachy, but if you want to solve for the deficit (which means not focusing on making life better for everyone):
Defense - a huge annual outlay to protect our interests globally, defend against terrorism, etc.  I am a big supporter of our troops and their hard work, but we simply can't afford it.  The trade-off would be China or someone else growing into the #1 military super power and our country not being involved in global conflicts (this can be good, but you do have situations - Syria- where someone needs to step in when civilians are getting slaughtered).  This would also mean leaving Iran or North Korea to develop weapons if they so desire - again, tough to say we're better off in that situation.

Social Security - those in their 20s and 30s should assume that they will never see one cent from the deduction taking from each paycheck for social security.  We'd probably need to raise the retirement age too, but that'd affect a key demographic that actually votes.

Healthcare/Medicare/Medicaid - medical care is too expensive and we can't afford to provide even basic services to our citizens.  Ain't that sad?  Both parties have talked about reforming the system to bring down costs - ObamaCare versus the Republican plan to privatize/create exchanges.  Neither solution is enough.  Perhaps we should require all high schoolers to take some basic training in medicine?  Your friend gets a big cut, hand him a beer and stitch him up rather than going to a doctor.  The problem in the long run is that while we are making real advances in medicine and technology that can help people live longer, most can't afford it without government assistance.  So do you want healthcare for all that the country can't afford or allow only the rich to be able to afford modern medicine?

The recent healthcare debate also talked about "Death Panels" - the reality is that an immense amount of spending on healthcare comes at or very near the end of someone's life.  My grandmother spent most of the last months of her life in the hospital getting treatment.  In some cases, treatment can save a sick person and add decades to their life.  In others, millions of dollars are spent to maybe add a few months.  How do you ration spending?  Who should make the decision whether it makes sense from a fiscal standpoint to operate on your grandparent to add a few more years to their life?



Conclusion
I would like to end this little rant with some serious decisions/solutions, but I don't really have them.  I think this is also perhaps the core of why our Presidential candidates are quite similar.  If you want to win an election, you can't take out-of-the-box positions (see Ron Paul).  If you want to change the way our country spends, you have to upset a lot of people and make this country "suffer" for the long-term good.

Therefore, I think we need a Dictator, and I am ready to toss my hat in the ring.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

How to fix your dryer... maybe

A Little History
A few weeks before we closed on our home, a hurricane hit the northeast.  We found out the basement was significantly flooded due to overflow from a nearby stream.  Until the day of closing, we were told that the basement was treated and all the important equipment was fine.

At closing, we were told the dryer didn't work.  While it took some work, we were credited with what we believed to be the fair amount for the dryer.

The dryer actually worked fine at first, but conked out within a few weeks.  We used the money to call a appliance repairman and he identified a broken igniter as the problem.  Time and parts cost a bit over $200, but we were still in the black.

Flash Forward to Today
Pamela and I returned from our honeymoon with loads of laundry to do.  Pamela went first but noted the dryer was taking forever to dry her clothes.  Because we'd been through some issues before and I'd sat with the repairman, I knew a few things to check.  The latest problem was different, but I am happy to report that I was able to solve it.  I figured I'd write a few points below that might help you save on repair costs.

How to Maybe Fix Your Dryer
This really applies to the following symptoms which seem to be the most common:  your laundry either takes too long to dry or doesn't dry at all; you open the dryer while it is running and you note that the air inside is not hot.  I am also more specifically referring to a gas dryer.

  • Your dryer likely has its own diagnostics that you can run.  Find the directions in your owner's manual - if you don't have the manual, they are often posted online on Scribd or elsewhere, so just do a search
  • Diagnostic
    • The diagnostic may point you to the problem right away, but in my case, it did not
  • Run the dryer with the door open by pressing in the door switch
    • Put your hand by the lint trap - if there's no suction, you may have a clog in the lint trap, in the exhaust pipe within the dryer, or in the exhaust exiting your dryer going outside
    • You can disconnect the exhaust pipe in the back to see if air is flowing smoothly within the machine
    • If so, check the exhaust vent outside of your home - have birds made a nest?
    • Clogged exhaust can lead to overheating or to your dryer shutting off the heat pre-maturely
  • If that doesn't solve your problem, take the top cover off the dryer
    • Turn the dryer on and look down into the machine (best to do in the dark)
    • Do you see a glowing light come on?  If not, your igniter is likely broken and you'll need to buy a replacement
    •  
    • If your ignitor does glow, do you hear your gas come on?  If not, the most common failing piece is the gas valve coils.  Many companies sell these parts ($10 to $15), but some only sell the entire gas valve assembly (>$100) and you'll likely need a plumber to come in because this will require messing with your gas connection
    • If your ignitor comes on, and your gas comes on, but quickly turns off, this means one of two things.  Your gas valve coils may be bad - they may turn on but under electrical load they fail.  Alternatively, this could be a signal that your thermostat needs resetting or replacing.
    • Ignitor
      • Resetting the thermostat is the simplest.  You'll need to take off the front cover to access the thermostat which is likely near the heat tube.  Search on Google for your specific model and replacement parts.  Sites like Appliance Parts Pros have the schematics of your machine (which can also be found in your owner's manual) which should help you locate the thermostat.
      • Be sure to unplug the machine before you reach in there, then find the thermostat button and hit it.
  • You'll find on the web that there are additional tests you can run on the individual parts to see if they are malfunctioning, but they most often require a multimeter.
When our dryer broke the first time, we never got any heat.  The repairman showed me the broken ignitor - the coil was clearly broken about halfway up and therefore electricity wouldn't run through it to heat it up and ignite the gas.

This latest foray was luckily solvable by resetting the thermostat.  I ended up disassembling almost the entire dryer and ended up with 6 spare screws once I had pieced it all back together.

Sidenote
The internet is incredible - I couldn't even figure out how to remove the cover of the dryer on my own.  I'd like to note all the helpful sites, but there were too many sites that added just a little bit of info which helped me along the way.  One thing I will gripe about though - Fixya.com is the worst website ever.  It can contain good information, but it is difficult to navigate and it seems they just want you to click a lot to sell ad impressions.

Monday, June 18, 2012

On the 31st Day

This is a picture I took back in April and a quick blog I wrote but never posted.

The grass has come in, although it isn't exactly what I'd hoped for.

The picture is a decent indication.  The brown areas do have grass, but it's much more sparse.  Various weeds have popped up too, which I then pulled but that killed some grass too.  Mint plants that were part of the garden from the past fall also started to sprout.  I probably should have done a better job of sifting through the old dirt to remove old plants.  I continue to water the newly planted areas twice a day and hope for better results in the near future. 

That was April.  Today, that grass is full and lush.  In fact, I've come to learn that once temperatures rise, the sun comes out, and we get some rain, the darn grass won't stop growing!  I mow every weekend but I still feel that isn't enough.

I may post later on lawn care tips, but new rule #1 when planting new grass:
Wait until it is decently warm (above 70) with plenty of sunshine.  Newly planted grass will take root and start growing with little effort in no time.  If you do like I did and plant when it is still cool, you'll be out there watering twice a day for weeks, only seeing minimal results and probably second-guessing yourself the whole way.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Edging the Driveway with Granite Stones

This post could also be known as "The Mother of All Projects".

Background
We bought an electric dog fence for Akina.  I'll detail the installation in a later post, but after laying out the wire and testing it, I realized Akina would see a lot of tennis balls roll off our property and if she chased, she'd get zapped.  Also, given that our property ends right by the driveway, there wasn't a good way to demarcate the "warning zone" for her which would make training more difficult.

Pamela and I went to Home Depot and looked at small plastic garden fences, but I wasn't too fond.  I also had extra belgian blocks left over from the garden / grass project, so I thought edging the driveway would not only utilize existing materials but also look very good.

While I knew this would be a big project, I had no idea what I was actually getting myself into.
Looks simple, right?
Last block goes here
Just dig a little trench, right?
Surprise
At the advice of my neighbor, my plan was to cut the edge of the asphalt along a straight line and bury the beglain blocks in a trench.  This should have been pretty simple.  Unfortunately, as I was digging the trench, I found that there was an old concrete curb that had been buried underneath several layers of asphalt.
The concrete curb was probably 8" deep and was held in place by a larger base of concrete.  Removing the curb would be a huge project itself.
Plan B then became cutting the asphalt on the opposite side of the curb and laying the blocks there.  I started cutting the asphalt but then found there were many layers that had been laid on top of each other over the years.  This would have also shrunk my driveway and created more wasted space between the property line and the driveway.  Not ideal.

Demolition
I rented a demolition hammer at Home Depot.  It cost $75 for a 24 hour rental.  I felt I needed to spend the money in order to see how easily I could remove the curb, but I wasn't sure if it would still be too much of a project for me.
The demo hammer worked like a charm.  I put my weight into it and the hammer broke apart the concrete like it was nothing.  Even Pamela got in on the action.
Making Progress
I ended up leaving a lot of the concrete curb in place, as it was inside the property line and would act as a good straight edge.

I started laying the blocks into place.  To set them, I first mixed up some Sacrete Ready Mix Concrete powder with sand and water and created a base to sink the blocks into.  I then used a rubber mallet to push them into their final place.  It would have been smart for me to then add mortar in between the stones at this point, but this whole project was about discovery.

For a real step-by-step guide on how do edge a driveway with belgian blocks, follow this link to This Old House.
Whoa, halfway there!
I ran out of belgian blocks halfway through.  I drove up to Bedford Stone in Bedford Hills to purchase the rest.  They had a huge selection of belgian blocks and other stones.  The added weight in the car didn't slow me down enough, as I got pulled over for doing 83mph in a 65mph zone.  Thankfully, the kind officer only wrote me up for an expired inspection (9 days past inspection).

Adding mortar between the stones was also less than fun.  There are a bunch of tools and such, but I found the best way for me was to put on rubber gloves and use my fingers to jam mortar in between the blocks then use my fingers again to smooth and shape the mortar.
Those are hockey shin pads

Driveway Repair
With the blocks in place and mortar dried, the last step was to repair the asphalt.  I had cut out a few sections and the old edges were worn and no longer straight.

I used Sacrete Cold Patch, which you simply pour into place then tamp down.

Finished Product
Well, I'm still patching up parts of the driveway, but the blocks are done and the dog fence is up.

Friday, March 23, 2012

On the Eleventh Day...

Boom!  Grass is sprouting like a pro!
Reach for the Sky!
I still don't get why the first new grass I saw poked up in clumps.  These small shoots of grass are what I had expected.  I'm not complaining though.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Introducing Lucky

The newest addition to the family:
Lucky is a poodle / something mix.  We got him this weekend from the Little Shelter in Huntington, NY.  Pamela had randomly searched shelter websites and found her picture and description last week.  We made the +1 hour trip to Huntington on Saturday (St. Patrick's Day) to see him and fell in love.  We couldn't take him home that day due to their 24 hour waiting policy, so we drove back on Sunday with Akina to make sure the dogs would get along well together.

Lucky and one brother and three sisters were left at a different local shelter, who passed them along to the Little Shelter.  The employees at the Little Shelter said that they were told the mother was a poodle, and they guess by the marking that the father was a terrier or sorts.  They believe, given the paw size, that Lucky will be approximately 30 lbs fully grown, a perfect companion for Akina!

Lucky and Akina are having so much fun playing!  Lucky is still getting acclimated and can be intimidated by Akina's attempts to play, but he's a playful puppy and comes back for more.

Lucky is a lot like Pamela - all he wants to do is get/give love, snuggle, and sleep.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

And On the Fifth Day...

Starting to see some grass breaking through!
 I am still surprised by how many grass seeds seem to just be sitting in the dirt doing nothing.  Hopefully in another week I'll have more than just little clumps of new grass.

Monday, March 12, 2012

How to Plant New Grass

What spectacular weather, eh?

The prior owners of our home had a 22' by 4' garden in which they grew different spices and had a nice rosebush.  Because of the layout, we tore up the garden last fall when we moved in - the garden blocked access to the rest of the yard for our dog and even when she did get by, her cable would get caught in the plants or the rose bush.

The garden was separated on one side by landscaping stones, so the first job was to remove these.  Ugh, what a pain.
Say goodbye to a fun weekend!
The prior owner had made a frame of concrete and set the stones in the frame.  He then added mortar to join the stones together.

The first step involved using a trencher to dig up the garden and the yard by a few inches on each side of the stone.  I then started jamming a gigantic railroad spike into the mortar between stones to break up the mortar.  My neighbor suggested I simply use his sledge hammer, slam it into the stones, and this would break up the mortar and free the stones from the concrete base.  He was right - I wish I had talked to him about this prior to spending my Saturday jamming away with the railroad spike.
Hello sore back
The culprit
Each stone weighed 40 or 50lbs would be my guess. 
That took up my Saturday.  On Sunday, I spent the day preparing the former garden area for seeding.
Add caption
I was surprised at how rocky the soil was, even in the area where the garden was.  I quickly built a sifter out of some metal screen and left over chair legs.
Searching for gold
I then dug up about 6" of dirt across the entire area, dropped it into my sifter, and sorted out all the rocks (I also found some old paper, pieces of glass, and some brick).  I then used the good dirt which had fallen into the trash can and spread it back out over the entire area.

It's important to try to level out the area where you are planting new grass as any mounds or depressions will likely remain once the grass has taken root.  This can cause uneven drainage.  I used a shovel to pat down the dirt and create a pretty smooth plot.

New grass needs to be left alone to sprout and grow roots, so I also needed to put up a fence to keep the dog out.  The prior homeowner had left 24' of fence which was about 4' high, so I cut it in half and used spikes to create a perimeter.
Off limits!
I bought a small bag of Scott's grass seed along with Starter Fertilizer.  I was convinced I would just spread it by hand, but I read enough warnings online to decide otherwise.  I bought a hand spreader for $15 from Home Depot and I think the results were very good.

Once the grass seed was spread, I used the back of a rake to push the seeds down gently.
This had better work!
I used the spreader to then distribute the Starter Fertilizer, then hit it all with the hose.  The best recommendation I found online was to keep the ground moist - don't create puddles, but also realize that if it dries out, it'll die.  I plan to water the lawn twice a day for the foreseeable future and hope the grass fills in nicely.

I'll plan to post a new pic of the lawn every few days so that everyone can see the progress.  My real concern is keeping our dog off the area for long enough for the grass to grow in.  Different sites say it can take 5 to 30 days for the grass to really grow in earnest.

Update: June 2012 - save yourself a lot of time and effort and wait till it is warm to plant new grass!



Monday, February 20, 2012

How to Paint a Room

We decided to spend our President's Day Weekend re-painting our master bedroom.  The project really did take three days including all the prep work, painting, watching paint dry, etc.

Here's what our bedroom looked like soon after we moved in:
Before
 The previous color was something like a yellow-mustard-orange-brown mixture.  It wasn't terrible, but wasn't our first choice.

We first took a trip to Home Depot and bought some paint samples.  HD will sell you Behr 8 oz sample bottles for $4 in any color you want.  If you live close enough to a HD, as we do, it's worth it to pick up a color or two but come back for more.

We painted a small square with our first set of colors, but realized the employee had mixed one of the samples incorrectly.  It took another trip to HD to pickup more samples before we were even ready to begin really painting.  We did buy a bunch of the other supplies we needed on this trip so that we could begin prepping the room.
Decisions, decisions
We ended up choosing Behr Tropical Splash (540D-5) for the accent wall behind the bed and Frost Wind (540A) for the rest of the walls.

Preparing the Room
Now that we've painted an entire room, I'll let you know what you should do, not necessarily what we've done.  First, go to Youtube for some basic videos on how to paint - did you know that rolling paint sideways is more likely to leave streaks than painting up and down or at an angle?

Another good suggestion is to clean the trim around windows and along the baseboards.  At the end of the project, you'll have a nicely painted room and dirty baseboards will really stand out.

Applying painter's tape around the room is a painstaking task, but you'll really be doing yourself a favor if you do this very carefully.  I suggest ripping smaller strips of tape, maybe 18" long, and applying to the wall rather than trying to apply one solid piece that goes all 8 feet up the wall.  The slightest gaps can lead to paint on your trim or leave old paint showing.

If you are painting the ceiling, which we did not, you'll want to move everything out of the room and cover the floor with dropcloths.  We moved most things out and used old plastic furniture covers from our move to protect the carpet section by section.

You should take this time to spackle any old nail holes and gouges in the wall.  After the spackle has dried, you'll want to sand it down, then wipe with a damp rag to pick up the dust.  Sanding any significant scuffs is also a good idea.

Remove all the wall plates from your switches and power outlets.  Many websites will say to cut the power to these receptacles, but I didn't think that was necessary.

Lastly, if you have a floor fan you may want to move it into the room.  Air flow will keep you from succumbing to the fumes and will help aid in paint drying.

As you can see, before you are even ready to paint, you've already spent hours on trips to the store, cleaning, and preparing the room.  I'm glad we chose a 3-day weekend.
Hours of prep
Paint! or Prime, then Paint!I conferred with the internet and then asked the Home Depot employee whether we should prime first.  Most of the internet will tell you "Yes, you must prime first!" while select sites, with people who seem a bit more knowledgeable will tell you that it isn't always necessary.  New walls must be primed first.  If you are painting a wall that is currently dark and want it to become a light shade, you'll probably need to prime first.  If the change in shade isn't that significant, you could either use a paint + primer or skip priming all together.  Cheaper paint is thinner, so keep that in mind if you are undecided.

Painting shouldn't be too difficult, but it is tiring and there's a lot to cover.  If you went to Youtube, you probably saw that you should cover your rollers in paint, apply it to the wall in a "W" or "M" shape, then use the roller to fill in the paint in the shape of a box.

For the trim, I would suggest using a small roller and a device that is specifically for trim.  We started the project using a paintbrush for the tight areas, but we found the results were less than ideal. 

As you are painting, remember that you will be applying a second coat.  In a few areas, I think we kept rolling on more paint to get 100% coverage the first pass, but this can lead to streaking. 

In between coats, you need to let the paint completely dry.  Keep windows open, fans blowing, and it shouldn't take all that long.

For the second coat, take a quick walk around and identify if there are any areas that need fixing.  We found that the cheap paintbrush we used left some bristles.  We were able to pick these out with our fingernails and they didn't require sanding, thankfully.  If there are any big streaks or globs of paint that have dried, you may want to sand over these areas.

Apply your second coat, let dry, then... more work.
Getting there!
Finishing
Unless you are a real pro, you'll find that some paint may have soaked under your painter's tape or that you touched the white ceiling with your blue paint.  It's hard to avoid little mistakes like these - I imagine that you could avoid them, but it will probably add significant time to the job.

So, after we thought we were "done", we removed the painters tape and found there were a bunch of areas in need of touch ups.  We poured a little bit of paint into plastic bowls and went around with artist's brushes. 

Some of the light switches and power outlets took on some paint, but this was easy to scrape off with a fingernail.  The same was mostly true for the trim around the windows, doors, and baseboards. 
Boom!  Looking good!
Those are ruffles on the bed, not a wet spot!

Shopping List:
I would guess we spent between $150 and $200 on all of the supplies.  About $100 of that was on the three gallons of paint we bought.
  • paint
  • primer
  • paint rollers - buy a few semi-smooth rollers for the first coat (and don't try and use one roller for the entire room even if it is the same color) then use a smooth roller for the second coat
  • edging device (something like this)
  • drop cloths
  • extender bar to reach high places
  • step stool (you'll need to be able to reach the ceiling with a short paintbrush for final touch ups)
  • disposable paint trays
  • metal / hard plastic paint tray to hold the disposables
  • painter's tape
  • artist's brushes


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Shoe Bench

Building a shoe bench was one of the first projects I wanted to complete.  I needed a place to sit when I come through the door where I could change my shoes.  The shoe bench would need to have a drawer of sorts so that our dog couldn't easily get to the shoes and potentially destroy them.

My original inspiration was a Shoe Dresser on Ana-White.com.  The dresser was narrow and would fit along the wall of the foyer.  The drawer essentially tilts outward and is kept from getting over-extended by a piece of belt attached to the bottom of the drawer.

The shoe dresser was tall though, and wouldn't provide a place to sit.  I started the project by sketching out a project design on paper.  I knew the length and width of the project were limited to the space behind the front door.  Given the narrow space, a slide out drawer was unlikely to work, as the back of the drawer would take up valuable space.

I decided to use two 2x6 boards along the top, sides, and bottom.  All boards were joined using a Kreg Jig.  I think using boards along the bottom, rather than having four legs, makes the bench more solid.  I would say the hardest part about this project was fitting the face inside the frame.  Dimensional lumber is close to straight, but not 100% perfect.  This meant I had to sand down the edges of the face in several places where it just wouldn't fit into the frame even though the dimensions indicated it would.

The face of the shoe bench is make of two 2x8s, again, joined together by a Kreg Jig.  I fastened the face to the frame of the bench using three hinges I bought at Home Depot.  This enables the face to tilt forward.  I had to drill through part of the face to attach the handle, then screwed on plates for the magnetic closure.

Attached to inside bottom of the face is a 1x8 that goes along the length of the bench.  This serves as the floor where the shoes rest against.  As the face is pulled / tilts open, the shoes move along with it.  There isn't enough room inside the bench for the shoes to fall behind.
Akina: "Wow! Great idea!"
The face is held in position by a drawer magnet.  I love the lock/click sound!  I added bungee cords as a restraint so that the handle on the face wouldn't fall forward and ding our floors.  I added this kind of last minute, but it adds a nice touch.  The bungee cords are attached to the base of the frame and to the base of the face.  They are also run through another eye hook attached to the side of the frame so that the cords wouldn't get caught under the face when it tilts closed and to generate enough distance so that the cords would have enough pull.

I used some left over white paint to finish.  I thought I would stain it, but I think it looks better matching the floorboards around the front door.  I still might attach some sort of protective coating to the inside of the face, as dirty shoes might leave lasting marks otherwise.

Another project complete!