November 29, 2011

Insulation: it's a Beautiful Thing

Last month we got new foam insulation in the subfloor and the attic. Although there was insulation in the subfloor already, it was pretty halfass: fiberglass hanging down in many places. This was phase 1 of the insulation project. Phase 2 will involve having a guy drill tiny holes all over the exterior of the house to inject insulation, then having another guy come and fix those holes. Then, surely we'll need another guy* (or two) to paint over the patched holes and the pink of the exterior. We might even be able to do that part ourselves.

*Note: I say "guy" as a gender neutral term - even if the painter is a lady, we will most likely call her the Painting Guy.

Phase 2 of this project is a couple years and several thousand dollars away, but in the meantime, we're a little more comfortable inside with proper floor and ceiling insulation. The insulation guy said that the walls in our old house are butterfly walls (I googled that, but didn't have any luck, but I can tell you that a search for "butterfly walls" brings up lots of pretty wallpaper..). The Butterfly walls are supposedly hollow in the middle and allow air to travel, unfettered, from the ground to the roof, taking heat with it. The insulation guy said that although he couldn't fully stop the airflow without first making swiss cheese out of the whole house, he could help the situation by injecting insulation from the subfloor into the walls and decreasing the airflow.

While the subfloor insulation was being installed, I was in the kitchen making a sandwich. I guess there was a hole in the floor in the kitchen, because a stream of spray foam and vapor came shooting into the kitchen. This was smelly and unappetizing. But the good news is that the hole is sealed up now! As you can see in the above pics, there were quite a few gaps to seal in.

So far, we're keeping about 5-10 more degrees overnight, meaning what used to be 45 degrees indoors in the mornings is now 50 or 55 - not too bad! It's much easier to warm up the house to the desired 60 degrees of comfort that we're accustomed to.

And here's a picture of the Thanksgiving table, just so you have something nice to look at:

October 16, 2011


We planted this bareroot apple tree in the Spring of 2009 - and it's taller than me now! As you can see by the green patch at the base of the tree, we water it throughout the summer, but let the rest of the grass die off. So our Apple Tree buddy lives in a damp oasis during the dry months. Someday, we'll pull out all the grass and have a lovely gravel pathway to define the space, along with some landscaping. But in the meantime - at least we have some trees started.

Although this little guy has kind of a weird, gangly shape (plus some leaf rust or leaf creatures - anyone know what that is?). For the first time this fall, it's decided to grace us with 5 apples!  No news on how they taste, yet - standby for an update.

October 7, 2011

Shut the front door, really!

The new front door and transom have been installed, and we're looking forward to a winter full of no rolled up blanket under the front door to keep out the wind. The guys did a great job replacing all the old casing and installing the new frame and door. Of course, it took us forever to do the finishing touch - painting the trim to match the rest of the house, but we're all done now. So nice to have a little more light coming through the hallway, plus - zero draft (from the front door, anyway!). 

Plus, the peephole works (it didn't on the old door), which is going to save me a lot of grief when the Mormons come a knockin'.

The patchy spot to the upper right of the door is where the porch light used to be, until we moved it down where it actually shed light onto the front yard. Someday, we'll paint the whole house and cover up that spot, in a color other than pink. 

August 31, 2011

Nice backsplash!

I just noticed that this $2.49 Million San Francisco house (above) has the exact same (or darn close to it!) tile backsplash we put in our house a couple years ago:

The SF house is gorgeous, but I don't know about the backsplash - it's a bit skimpy. Their kitchen would have been a real knockout if they extendeded the backsplash tile all the way to the ceiling - I'm sure they had the budget to spend an extra couple hundred bucks on tile!

August 26, 2011

Skunk Back-to-School Party Hangover

A little nature in the city

There's a skunk who lives in the backyard/alley vicinity. There are also a few kitties and birds who pass through. So far, we have all lived in harmony and give each other plenty of space and respect. In general, Skunkie only comes out at night, so we watch out for him then. Once I was taking out the trash late at night and found him bumbling along by the Quince tree. He was cute and looked half-blind. I left him the hell alone.

Early this afternoon, the pup and I were doing one of our daily patrols and found something interesting (and disgusting). It was a pile of whole and half chewed worms, grubs, and berries, surrounded in something biley and jelly-like. If you think that sounds gross, just be glad I'm sparing you a photograph. Mattie was so entranced by the discovery, she tried to roll in it and got yelled at.

We found a few more piles of half-worm grossness that led to the big pile. Skunkie must have over-partied on grubs and worms last night and was feeling a little hungover this morning.

August 12, 2011

New Green Waste Bin Changes my Life

*photo credit: Fred
I was going to blog about our new green waste/compost bin from the City, but my neighbor beat me to it.

I was reluctant about the green waste bin - I don't know why. I didn't to pay for it, or have it take up room in the backyard. But now that we actually have growing things in the yard, it's been amazing. I've already filled it up the minute they've emptied it! I love it!

We have a compost bin already - but the last time I stirred it, a mouse and I scared the crap out of each other. So I'm giving him some space.

July 21, 2011

Mid-summer Garden update

Cauliflower a success! We've been eating cauliflower soup for days now, with plenty of it still in the freezer!

Delicata squash (a volunteer plant that germinated via the compost) is the healthiest thing in the garden.

The Zucchini is honestly a little puny. Any suggestions?

July 10, 2011

Interesting finds during front door demolition

The house was only front-door less for about a day, which was an exciting one. We found some cool stuff while ripping out the hated old front door and gappy trim. There was really weird linen lining (for insulation? moisture resistance?) between the old front door trim and the wall. Looks like it was nailed in place on top of the original redwood before they put on the trim. I wonder why? I doubt it had any insulation purpose - if so, it failed miserably. But it's nice to see that under that is solid old-growth redwood, a little weathered and darkened, but holding up pretty well after 105 years.

Also notable were the rusty old nails that that came out when ripping out the old door casing. They're square-headed iron(?) nails. Look like they're handmade. One one hand, these are fascinating and historical. On the other, it's not all that reassuring to think that the nails holding together most of the house look like this.

June 22, 2011

There goes the neighborhood!

Our neighbors have an amazing rose garden on the other side of our hedge/fence. We been making bouquets out of the little yellow flowers that bloom on our side, but they're nothing compared to this bouquet that Connie brought over today from their amazing rose bushes! Check out Fred's blog for a bit more on their garden, and a little bit of teasing about our dumb home renovation projects...

May 6, 2011

Backyard Planter Box Build & Installation

The last two weekends have been devoted to acquiring lumber, building, and filling a couple of raised beds for growing vegetables. A project like this always takes a little longer than you would think (and is not without its highs and lows!)

Weekend I
We found some great instructions on "The perfect raised bed" in Sunset mag online. I liked how the plan didn't involve a ton of cuts, which was great for 2 reasons: avoiding excessive math, plus minimizing use of power tools that can take off your finger in a fraction of a second. The raised beds are a couple feet off the ground, which will keep the pups from running afoul in the garden, and keep us from having to bend over so much when planting & harvesting.

We bought lumber & supplies at Piersons, got a little help making the cuts (thanks, Papa!) and were pretty amazed at how easy it was to put these together. Not super easy, like sitting on the porch drinking a beer easy, but easy like: wow, we constructed something useful out of wood using power tools, and it didn't take all day! In fact, I'm inspired to build a deck later this summer. But more on that later...

By the time we put together the frames and speced out the locations, it was sunday afternoon. So our 9-5 (or should I say 8-6) jobs demanded we abandon our hands-on project for a few days.

Weekend II
After the suprise ease and simplicity of building the boxes, this weekend, full of mindless manual labor (loading and hualing several hundred lbs of dirt) ended up being the "oh crap that was a lot of work" suprise weekend.

It started with pulling up to Wes Green Landscaping in my dad's truck (sans the dad). The cashier took one look at us smallish women and said, "You do know you have to load the soil into the truck yourselves, right?" Bitch, puh-lease. Do I really look like that much of a princess? or maybe more likely I look like a shrimp.

Then we backed up the truck and shoveled, shoveled, shoveled what seemed like a billiondy lbs of shit into the back of the truck. And the truck complained as well, as we struggled with the heavy load to reach 50 MPH on the freeway.

Then, we unloaded the compost to find out yep, we were about 1/2 way there. Good thing we were so good and shoveling manure and didn't mind another trip (or 2) to the landscaping supply yard.

And did i mention that when we installed the boxes, we had to rip out the grass by hand, and that it was $43 worth of greenwaste? (that's the last time I take greenwaste to the dump in Eureka!)

Fast forward to the end of weekend, and after all the building, positioning, shoveling, and hauling, you can see that we have a couple of lovely planter boxes! And those zuchinni, green beans, and strawberries might look tiny now - but just give them a couple months and we'll be begging people to take the zucchinis off our hands!

March 25, 2011

Shut the Front Door

Our front door has always seemed ok. It's solid and has some beautiful historical hardware. And in the warmer times of the year, it's completely up to par.

But last Thanksgiving when my mother-in-law came to visit and was staying in our office/guestroom (which is nicely insulated), I moved my mobile office into the living room. It's a little chilly in there in November because there are high ceilings. But I didn't realize until I sat all day near the front door just how drafty it was. There was a full-on breeze coming in from the front door, and this is AFTER we installed weatherstripping to the bottom of the door. So I sat there working at the computer with fingerless gloves on, cursing the massive gaps and general crappiness of the front door.

The leaky front door explains why when I get up in the morning during the winter, the thermostat in the hallway near the front door usually reports a temparature in the low 50s, and sometimes in the 40s. The low so far was 42 degrees. 42 DEGREES INDOORS! Not that I'm complaining - I put on some slippers, crank the heat, and it usually warms up to a balmy 59 degrees in a couple of hours.

The door frame looks wonky as well. You can see in the photo that it's visibly crooked with an inch at the top on the right, but slopes to about a 1/4 inch gap on the left. We do the rolled up blanket trick to slow down the draft little, which helps. But not so much. Plus, after the quake of January 2010, an additional crack has appeared on the left adding to the depth and character of the draft.

And then there's ye olde historical window transom above the door. Even before we moved in, we noticed it had a crack in the glass, which detracts from the charm of the etched glass with the house numbers (that you can't even see from the street anyway). We bought the place anyway (suckers!)

So the big project for Spring: replace the front door, casing, and transom.

Today we ordered a new Simpson door with a built-in insulated transom on the top. Not to sound like a commercial, but this door kicks ass. It has a frosted, insulated window pane in the top of the door that's 3/4" thick. Plus, the door boasts "Maximum Weather Resistance" which sounds pretty good to me! So in a snappy 4-6 weeks, our contractor (the heroic Jake Larson and crew) we'll be on site to make this the beautiful, shuts-all-the-way door we've always dreamed about.

And a shout-out to my buddy Nick, who accused us of "putting on airs" by getting a new front door that shuts all the way and doesn't look like hell. What can I say - we're uppity, but we've earned it!

March 9, 2011

Increased security at the Manor

So it's not exactly a beautifying addition to the house or one that is going to make us warmer in the winter, but adding a security system has been a significant upgrade. Although it's a great neighborhood... After hearing that a friend of ours a few blocks away had their house broken into and had to chase the intruder down the street with a vase (holy shit!), we decided a security system was a must. Motion detectors, glass break sensors, the whole deal. I'm already sleeping better at night.

Now, if I can only remember to disarm the system before letting the dog out first thing in the morning, I will stop scaring the bejeezus out of myself (and the dog!)

January 17, 2011

Choking out the grass

About 75% of our 1/3rd acre yard is grass. It's green and lush, but incredibly boring and requires a ridiculous amount of mowing. We are gradually ripping out the grass and replacing it with shrubs, trees, and pathways. Digging out tough grass with a shovel is a ton of work and not my favorite activity. I can do it, but I'm tiny so it takes forever.

I recently read about an alternative method to digging grass out square foot by square foot. My architect buddy and landscape "coach" told me that he's had success with the method of placing layers of newspaper to choke out the grass/weeds. This method starves the unwanted groundcover of light while protecting the worms and happy compost creatures that live under the newspaper.

Trouble is, it takes a TON of newspaper to stand up to rain and wind for the several months it takes to choke out the grass. But I just read that cardboard works too, and is a lot easier to come by in the volume it requires to block out the light. So I'm testing this method in a small (2" x 15") strip alongside the foundation. I trimmed back the grass as low as I could, placed several wormy buckets of compost over the grass, then layered cardboard/newspaper over that. Then I covered it with mulch and bricks (to keep the cardboard from flying away). It should take a few months, but ideally in about April I can sweep back the mulch and cut through the cardboard, and then plant some shrubs (in this case, blueberries), then add more mulch. And never mow that area again!