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...

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 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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.