Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Latest addition to the home!

Renae says she'd been wating 12 years for yesterday to come.  (I only count 10.5 years, but I'm not about to argue!)

We dubbed yesterday "Two Kitty Tuesday" and tried to convince everyone we knew that yesterday was the day for everyone to go out and adopt two kitties.  As far as I know, no one took us up on the offer.

Our day started a little after 9:00 am at the local Petco.  We had decided on a litter box that looked easier to clean than traditional litter boxes, and we knew that Petco was the only store around which carried it.  As we were loading up with other supplies, we realized that the only litter box they had in stock was the smaller sized one.  The store manager looked up all the other local stores and found one store in Romeoville which had one larger litter box.  We checked out and headed over to that Petco.

After buying our larger litter box in Romeoville, we headed back home to unpack and set up.  While at home we got a delivery from Amazon of the clumping litter which works better with the litter box.  After the food and litter box was all set up we went to the humane society after grabbing a quick lunch.

The humane society had some really cute (Renae's words) kittens featured on their website (and petfinder) but it turned out that all the kittens had holds on them.  We weren't too interested in putting a second hold on the kittens (just in case the first hold fell through) so we went off to the second shelter, across town.

At the next shelter we looked at kittens, but most of them were domestic shorthairs, which we were sort of leaning against.  Then, we looked at the younger adults.  There were a few medium to long hair cats there, which were surprisingly friendly.  We weren't ready to commit at that time, so we went off to the TAILS shelter in Sycamore.

TAILS was really neat, and had a lot of cats, but none of them could compete with the cats back at the previous shelter, so we went back to ADOPT, the second place we had been to.

ADOPT is where we found and adopted two cats: Sheldon and Emmy.  We're still getting to know them, but we're happy to have them in our house now!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Another reason not to paint your vinyl siding

This past summer, when we were looking at the house we ended up buying, we discovered that the vinyl siding had been painted.  I wasn't really thrilled with the vinyl siding on the house to begin with, but was even less thrilled that it was painted. I have no idea what the expected life of paint on vinyl siding is, and it seems that by painting the siding another layer of maintenance was added.

One of the things that I learned a lot about from volunteering with Habitat for Humanity was how to hang vinyl siding. One of the many things you have to consider is that vinyl siding will expand and contract as the temperature increases and decreases.  To properly install the siding so that it can expand and contract without buckling you don't nail the siding tight to the house. It has to be able to slide.

You can see from the photo that the house was painted in warmer weather. The piece on the right is a full 12' length of siding. The piece on the left is a shorter piece which goes up to a corner. The right piece has contracted and exposed the original color of the siding. (The longer piece will expand/contract more).  I suppose that the painted color is better than the original color, but I still wish it hadn't been painted.

The take away message is that if you're going to paint vinyl siding, do it in the coolest weather possible, with the house in as much shade as possible.  Or just don't paint it at all.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Leveling a shelf

I don't know if you can tell from the photo, but the shelf on the wall in the dining room area was a little slanted. It was so slanted that vases sitting on it slid off the shelf when I accidentally bumped the shelf as I was clearing off the table.

This is one of the floating shelves that Ikea makes. It was there when we moved in. We don't exactly love the shelf, but we don't have anything better for the wall right now, so we're using it.

I took off the shelf by loosening screws on the bottom holding it to the bracket.

The picture quality is pretty poor, but I think you can see that the bracket was not well secured to the wall.  Drywall anchors had been used, but only two screws on each side were holding it up, and both of the top screws were not tight to the wall.

I marked the spot for two more screws. Then I took the shelf down, drilled holes in the drywall, and popped in two more drywall anchors.  I think that the shelf is now better secured to the wall and more level than before.

Lesson learned: get the furnace inspection!

If you saw my tweet today, you won't be surprised that I am now a huge believer in HVAC inspections.

Before we moved in, we had a home inspection.  Our inspector examined the air conditioning and the heating, although he informed us that, especially since it was summer, he wouldn't really be giving us a thorough check of the furnace.  He found that it worked adequately: provided sufficient air flow and temperature of the forced air, and that the furnace properly exhausted to the outside.

Before end of the summer, I installed a programmable thermostat. (One of those projects I've been meaning to post here.  Grrr....)  I've installed programmable thermostats at the last two places we rented, and we never had problems with them.  We love them, since they automatically set the temperature to your work schedule, the heat is never on when we're not here. This time, we chose a programmable thermostat with slightly more options, since it was going to go into our house. I had never installed this type (or brand) of thermostat, but it seemed to go okay.

By the time I installed the new thermostat, summer was giving way to fall, and we didn't really need the AC as much.  So, although the thermostat seemed to be working, we weren't really sure.

Fall came, and Renae was trying to hold out as long as she could before turning on the heat for the first time. She finally broke down on October 30th, since it was a Saturday, and we were going to be home all weekend. We figured we might as well be comfortable.

The furnace had worked all right, when it was on. But the main issue was that it did not turn on immediately after setting the thermostat higher. And more frustratingly, it would seem to take a lot longer than it should to reach the set temperature. The furnace would cycle on and off seemingly randomly, sometimes for very short durations. But, eventually, it would always reach the right temperature. We figured it was a combination of the new (unfamiliar) thermostat with the new-to-us furnace.

Finally, though, we couldn't take it any longer. I've been working from home sometimes since the Fall quarter ended, and Renae worked from home once last week. So, I called around and got a few quotes for furnace checkups and cleanings.

The serviceman showed up on time and took a look at the thermostat first. He saw that it was installed correctly (whew!) so we went downstairs to the furnace.

When I opened the door to the utility room for the first time in a few weeks, I immediately saw water on the floor coming from the furnace!   Whoops.  I had given up checking on the furnace, since every time I looked at it, I decided I didn't know what was going on with it. The only thing I know about the furnace is that it is a auto ignition furnace, meaning there is no pilot light that stays on forever.

It turns out that the water was condensation from within the furnace. It is a by-product of the high-efficiency design. The condensation is supposed to drain out via a hose, but there was a blockage preventing the water from draining. Further, the technician found that the hose runs about twenty feet (!) to the french drain in the workshop. He said he had never seen a drain system like that, but he believes that if it stays unblocked, it will work. (Although, he did admit that the probability of it clogging again is pretty high.  A pump will cost $500 to install.)

I'm really happy we got the furnace checked, cleaned and serviced.  It was cheap (less than $100, just like This Old House promised), and it may have saved our basement from water damage that I would have not caught for a long time.  We're probably going to get a service contract with the company that came out, so that we get a spring and fall check of the heating and cooling system on a regular basis.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Electrical woes!

One of the outlets in our main bedroom has been hanging out from the wall for the past couple months. It was a real frustrating problem to fix, which required an order from Amazon, a trip to the home improvement store to get a replacement outlet, a call home, an hour of crawling around in the attic and a 35 minute conversation with the electrical guy back at the home improvement store.

One of the surprises with our house is how easily we trip the breakers. Renae discovered pretty quickly that while the microwave is in use we can't run any other kitchen appliance such as the panini grill, can opener, blender, etc. She also determined that it was best to vacuum with all the lights turned off!  Except, one day in late August, having all the lights off was not enough.

She had the vacuum plugged in to the outlet in the bedroom, but was using it in the hallway and the room across the hall.  The power to the vacuum went out, and the ceiling fan and light wouldn't come on, either. She yelled downstairs to me that the breaker had been tripped.  

When I went to the panel, none of the breakers seemed to have been tripped.  I tried flipping a few of them anyway, but the lights didn't come back on. The vacuum was tested in an outlet in another room, and it still worked.  Something was wrong with the circuit.  

I took the cover plate off the wall outlet and unscrewed the outlet from the box.  It looked okay, but I figured I wouldn't be able to tell if anything went wrong with it just from a visual inspection.  I noticed a lot of wires in the box not connected to the outlet, but didn't want to touch them in case they were still live.  

As I looked around the room I saw that the clock radio on the other side of the room was still working. This made sense to me, since I believed that the breaker had never been tripped. At this point, I knew I was going to need some more equipment.   

I ordered a Fluke non-contact voltage tester, and it arrived a couple days later. I discovered two things with the tester: first that the wires stuffed behind the non-working outlet were live (!) and second that I couldn't really discover much else.  I called home to ask Dad for advice.  I crawled around in the attic and tried tracing all the wiring in the bedroom from above. (More on the attic in a future post.) I replaced the outlet with a new one. (Doing that I discovered that the extra wires in the box were on a totally different circuit! They were both shut off at the box while I switched the outlet.) 

Nothing worked. I was about to give up. We had started asking around for recommendations for electricians to call when I decided to hunt down a replacement light switch.

I figured that if the only things not working were the outlet and the light, then I should try replacing the light switch since I had tried replacing the outlet and that hadn't worked.  We were going to the store for stuff anyway, so I thought I'd wander through the electrical department and hunt down a similar switch.  

I got to the lighting section and a friendly face in a red vest asked if I needed help finding something.  I told her that I wanted a switch to try to fix a problem.  The switch had a button for the light and four buttons for the ceiling fan. She took me to the aisle with all the switches and brought me to a switch that had a button. A button.  ONE BUTTON.  This was not the switch I wanted.  She asked if I could explain the problem I was trying to fix.  I did.  She asked if I could wait while she went and found someone else.  I did.  Someone else came and asked me to explain the problem.  I did.  That person asked if I could wait for Ken the electrical expert to finish helping another customer.  I did.  Ken came and asked if I could explain the problem.  I did.

After I explained the problem to Ken, he patiently explained to me that I needed to go to the circuit box and flip the switch that would reset the outlets in my bedroom.  I told him I didn't think that was the problem.  We talked some more and I asked if they had any switches with push buttons on them.  He hunted around the aisle and found me a few options, none of which looked anything like what I wanted.  I tried explaining that I wanted a switch with 5 buttons: one for the light and four for the fan.  He suggested that I need to know which breaker goes with every circuit in the house so that I could just flip the right breaker to make everything work.  I told him I was pretty sure every breaker was on correctly.

I was about to give up when I asked one last time if they had ANY switch that had buttons for the light and buttons for the fan and fan speeds.

From Drop Box

He asked if there was a remote control involved.  I said, maybe, but I wasn't sure.


Right by the ceiling fans was a shelf with the exact switch I had been describing to the three different people in the electrical department.  I took it and ran to the cash register.

Actually, before I ran Ken told me that he wasn't "...saying that they're poorly made, just that the manufacturer only guarantees them for a year, and that they're made in China..."  So, I guess the switch has that going for it.

It turns out that every room with a ceiling fan in our house uses this switch, and at least two of the rooms have remote controls for the light and fan.  The reason I'm guessing that the rooms all have this switch is that it simplifies the wiring.  There are only two wires to the switch to control the light and fan. The switch sends an RF signal to the light/fan via a control box which had to be replaced at the same time I replaced the switch itself. 

Twenty minutes after cracking the switch packaging open, I had a working light, ceiling fan and outlet.  I'm not saying it's easy to replace, I'm just saying it was easier to replace than to find at the home improvement store with three employees helping me out.

And I didn't even have to call the electrician.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Our own colors!

Having rented for the first 10 years of married life, Renae decided that it was time that we took the color palette of our home into our own hands for the first time ever. One Saturday in October, I arrived home from a weekend physics conference and she was waiting with a roller and a bucket of paint. 

The goal was to paint one wall each in the dining room and living room sections of our great room, leaving the original color on the other surfaces as an accent color.  Renae had taped most of the edges by the time I arrived.  I know it's doable to cut in without taping, but it really didn't take too long to tape everything off.  She started cutting in, and I followed behind with the roller.  

I was surprised how easy and fast it was to complete.  We were done in about an hour and a half, and then spent another half hour walking around hunting for spots needing a touch-up.  Cleanup was a breeze, since neither of us dripped anywhere other than the plastic sheet on the floor.

The color coordinates with our new furniture.  More on that later!  (That's a tease, baby...)  

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Moved in - photos

It's the return of the home improvement blog!

I have been keeping up with documenting all the stuff we've done since we've moved in. I have just been slacking on getting it up on the internet. My plan was to go in chronological order of all the projects we've taken on, but now I think I'll just post them as they are written.

Our first floor has bedrooms in the back and a great room (kitchen/dining room/living room) all in the front. These are some photos of what the great room looked like in August after all the stuff was moved in and the boxes were (mostly) unpacked.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Setting up the entertainment system

I have to admit it: I like watching TV.  One of the ways that makes me feel less guilty about watching TV is that we have had a TiVo for about the last 7 years or so.  The great things about the TiVo are that you don't watch as many commercials, and you never care about when a show is on, because you know you're not going to miss it.

The new house came with a big high-def television set on the wall in the basement, so we got a new TiVo for it.  The new TiVos have cool features, like dual tuners and access to YouTube videos.  We haven't done much tweaking with the new unit, since the old one is still setup on the old TV.  But, we love having more space for more shows!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Housewarming present

This was the first housewarming present we received.

(That's a plumber's best friend, in case you can't tell against the hardwood.)

Our family has the best sense of humor!  But, really it's a practical gift knowing some of the...skills...of some of our relatives.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The story of our last weekend in photos...

Last week these people...

...helped us move these boxes... that these people...

...could help us put together...



...bookshelves so that this person...

...could help us unpack many of our boxes.

BIG THANKS to our families!  We appreciated all the help!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Rewarding the moving crew!

I like to say that we didn't buy a house, but that we bought the world's most expensive keg fridge. After getting all the furniture moved, the best thing to do was to track down a keg to put under the bar. The gas tank looked full, so we headed over to the local liquor store and picked up a 1/6 barrel of Goose Island's seasonal brew.

It seemed like the CO2 tank was set a little over-pressured.  We turned it down quite a bit, but the first pour still has quite a large head.

Bottoms up on the first pour!

Sunday, August 15, 2010


After five days of hauling stuff with two cars, Renae's dad came with a truck and trailer to help us move the furniture.  We got it all done in two days and just over three trailer loads.

Backing the trailer in.

Heavy lifters.

The last load!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Right after closing!

We bought a house, so I thought it was only appropriate to start a blog about it.  I look forward to running another great unread blog.

Closing was last Friday, and we've been moving boxes ever since.  Tomorrow Renae's dad is coming with a truck and trailer to help us move all the furniture.

More later!