Tag Archives: House

Pictures of my wife in the bathtub

Hey, what kind of pervert are you anyhow? Did you really think I would put those kind of pictures on my blog? Well, yeah, I see your point. I mean, with a title like that, what should I expect, right?

Just kidding my blog friends. I thought I would share with you what I got Emily for Mother’s day while at the East End yard sale last weekend. Yes, you read that right, I got her Mother’s day present at a yard sale…the day before Mother’s day. I am that kind of guy.

I have mentioned before that our house was built in 1939. A lot of the house is still reminiscent of 1939 but the main bathroom screams 1985. It was a good year, no doubt, but as bathrooms go, it was not a bright age. There is a gawd-awful garden tub that we can’t even fill with our hot water tank (let alone afford to fill it)! There is way too much wood and a good heaping scoop of ugly on top just to tie it all together. We started tearing into the bathroom just because we were sick of looking at the ugly (plus I accidentally drilled a hole in the waste pipe from the upstairs bathroom that ran through this bathroom…but that’s another story). Anyhow, we have plans to modernize our bathroom in an old fashioned style. The garden tub is out of the question. The ugly bits everywhere must go. We hope to make it similar to how it might have looked when it was built. But before I can fix up the bathroom, I need to jack up and level the floors, install new windows and do all sorts of work on the floor below.

Ok, so that’s a long-winded way of saying that the bathroom is on the list but won’t be getting fixed super soon. Imagine my surprise as I walked down Quarrier Street on Charleston’s East End and saw a glorious claw-foot bathtub out in a front yard. I have seen all sorts of claw-foot tubs around with crazy prices and lots of dents and bruises. I was certain that I was going to have to settle for a beater or else spend thousands of dollars to get a new faux-antique tub which sort of ruined my idea of old and cool (and it especially offended my sense of thrift). I tentatively approached this mirage-tub. Surely my eyes were deceiving me. The price…too good to be true. It’s condition…in need of a new finish but without structural blemish. Did I mention the price? I didn’t want to look too desperate, hoping to get a deal. I ran right up to the homeowner and fell at his knees, begging him to let me buy his tub. He smiled and chomped down on his cigar, preparing to deal. We came to an agreement and I came back later with 3 men and two small boys to help me load this widow-maker into the back of my man-van. If it weighs 5 pounds, it weighs 400.

We managed to get the tub back out of the van and into my front lawn (in perfect style!) where it will have to sit until I get the main bathroom in such condition that the floor will support the weight and there is room to install the tub (i.e. we get that garden tub out of the bathroom and into the front yard). In the meantime, we’ll enjoy our front yard tub and rest easy knowing that we scored the coolest claw-foot tub in the United States!

Installing a window

In our house in TN and our house here in WV, we have been “blessed” with houses that had old, junky windows. When we first bought our place in TN, I wasn’t terribly confident in doing somewhat major home improvement projects, but one December, right after we moved in, I broke the window in Isaac’s room. We couldn’t have my young son’s window broken all winter, but I was too cheap to hire someone to put in a new window so we decided that I should have a go at installing a new one on my own. My first experience at it took a little time and a lot of shaky nerves, but since then, I have replaced tons of windows and tackled all sorts of projects.

(before and after…can you see the width we gained by removing the old framing?  Hover your mouse over the pics for more description)

So, that leads me to the current house, here in Charleston. This house was built in 1939. Because of that, it has all sorts of cool quirks and neat craftsmanship. It also seems, however, that it has some pretty strange features and things that are not really up to snuff. Adjacent to our family room on the bottom floor is a small craft room and a full bathroom. One wall of these rooms is below grade. It turns out that the original builders did nothing to drain or waterproof around those walls. Water has been leaking in to those rooms probably since it was built. I started gutting the room and found all sorts of fun stuff like a rotted wall (which I will replace), crumbling plaster (which I am removing), and lintel-less windows.

Typically, lintels are used to reinforce the span across a window. The floor joists from the room above are spaced evenly and rest on the support of the wall in the room in which I was working. In most houses, a lintel carries the weight of those joists across the window span so their weight doesn’t press on the window itself. Of course, my house is not most houses. Rather than a metal lintel or even a board or two laid on edge (which is strong), my floor joists were resting on a single 2×6 board laid flat (the weak way). “So what?”, you may be asking yourself. The thing is, after 70 years of weight and kids bouncing up and down and too much furniture, the “lintels” and starting to seriously sag and look awful. Eventually, the windows will be seriously affected as well.

So, as a part of the process of fixing the room, we decided to replace the windows and to install a proper lintel. If you ever get a wild hair to replace windows in your house, it is very easy…and you can save a ton of money! Anyhow, Saturday, I ripped out the old window. We had preordered a special sized window to fit in the opening. There are many ways to measure a window depending on your fit. You’ll need to remove the interior trim to see exactly what you want to remove/leave so you can get a proper measurement. Professionals sometimes will leave the trim when they measure. That’s usually a giveaway that they will be leaving a lot of the old window’s framing. The old framing as well as the frame from the new window often leave you with a much smaller piece of glass than the original window. It usually looks ok, but you get a lot less light through. I measured the exact opening without any of the old window to maximize the size of the window.

I rough fit the window (to make sure I hadn’t screwed up the measurement) which fit, and prepared to jack the floor joists of the room above so I could install a proper lintel. Jacking up a floor is a bit of a big deal so if you do it, be sure of what you are doing. The actual weight of a house in a given spot is actually not too great (I mean, you wouldn’t be able to hold it, but Superman easily could). I used two 2-ton bottle jacks to lift the 3 1/2 foot span of the window. Part of the key of jacking a house is to spread out the weight. The jack has a quarter-sized piston that carries the weight. The pressure of the jack’s piston, if applied directly to a piece of wood, would punch right through the wood. I had a few pieces of steel to spread the weight of the piston across the 4×4 wooden post I used to lift the house (see the pics). The nice thing about wood framing is that you can hear the house and wood fibers as they move. They are not likely to fail all at once. I felt at ease operating the jack directly below the area I was lifting.

Anyhow, I lifted the house slightly and slipped the new lintel in place. I slowly let the house settle again and the new lintel was level and eliminated the sag above the window. After that, installing the window was a breeze. I just set it in place, shimmed it as necessary to make sure it was level and plumb, and installed the four screws through the sidewalls of the window into the brick (you do the same thing if you have a wooden house, by the way). After that, I caulked around the exterior, applied expanding foam insulation in the gaps on the interior and reapplied the trim, window sill, etc.

It truly is as simple as that to replace a window. Every bit of the work can be done from the inside (though if you can get exterior access, it is much easier and more fun). Of course, anything I say here is how I do it and your experience may vary. I am not a professional so don’t take my word for anything. Still, with a little research and some effort, this is definitely a job anyone who is a bit handy can do!

It’s not easy going pink

I had great plans for the weekend…mostly revolving around my laying out in the hammock under a shade tree, sipping an ice cold lemonade…WAKE UP WARREN!  You live in a 70 year old money pit!  Plus it’s winter and snowy…you’d freeze your…toes off in a hammock!  So, back to reality – I don’t think I have a free weekend between now and 2017.  

Like all projects on this house, they never are as easy as they should be.  Let me tell you about my latest project.

First, remember back a few weeks.  I had just finished insulating my crawlspace under one half of the house.  We’ve had a pretty cold winter and our house has virtually no insulation.  Under the house, there was no question about the insulation…there just wasn’t any.  But our attic was another story.  When we first moved in, the flooring covered all but the edges of the attic floor.  I spotted old rockwool insulation so assumed that it ran in the space between the edges as well.  We noticed, however, that the master bath and the extra bedroom were always cold.  You guessed it, someone, sometime had cheated.  They insulated the edges where folks could check on the insulation…but nothing in the middle, you know, the other 85% of the attic under the flooring.  

So, first off, we started by pulling out all of the junk that we hauled from our attic in Nashville where it was stored and never used.  Most of that, we finally pitched this time around.  I pulled up the tongue and groove flooring in the 10’x20′ attic and started installing r-38 insulation.  Why is all insulation pink, by the way?  Does anyone really know?  Anyhow, while I had everything torn up, we decided to move a light in the extra bedroom into the center of the room rather than it’s previous location, 2 feet off center.  Do youknow how distracting that was?

Anyhow, I had to go buy a junction box…and then back to the store to buy another since the project got slightly more complicated than I had planned.  I had all the power in place and we had planned to just put the old light back up.  With the economy as it is though, we decided to do our part and help stimulate the retail sector.  We went back out to buy a ceiling fan as a replacement.  If I am counting correctly, that is trip #3…today.  I got home and prepared to hang the new fan and discovered that I had to buy different  screws (trip #4) as the ones I had were not long enough to do the trick.  I got everything installed and flip…nothing good.  The fan made a heck of a noise.  I know it was wired and installed right, but I wasn’t going to wait for flames to prove any point…back to the store..still counting?  Trip 5.  The bad fan came with bulbs by the way – more on that later.  So, I got everything re-wired and insulated.  I patched the hole from the old light and got everything cleaned up.  I was so excited to turn on the new lights.  Remember the first fan…the one that came with light bulbs.  Well, the second one, the better looking, higher end, more expensive one, didn’t come with bulbs.  It requires the small base bulbs which, of course, we don’t keep around.  One more trip out to the store – yup, #6.  It’s not easy going pink…

Finished in the bathroom

Nasty old bathroom

When I first started this blog, I mentioned the bathroom on the top floor of our house.  During my vacation around Christmas-time 2007 (yes, 2007!), we decided to tear out everything in the bathroom and start over.  The house was built in 1939, but I am pretty certain that the bathroom had been there since 1743.  Anyhow, we pulled out what appeared to be 265 year old nasty and started over.  Of course, nothing in the room (or the house for that matter) is level or square.  Welcome Warren to the story.

Nasty old bathroom Nasty old bathroom

We had installed bamboo flooring in our place in TN and had a box of it left which we brought to WV when we moved.  Of course, I measured and determined that we needed one more box…rats.  So we ordered one more box and started about re-flooring the bathroom in bamboo.  If any of you have ever installed solid wood floor, you know it is pretty easy – if you have a level and square area in which to lay it.  No such luck in our place.  Actually, it is still not hard, even with a mobius strip-like room…it just takes a little longer.  That’s my story and I am sticking to it.

Bathroom nirvana!

So last weekend, I finally finished the last of the work in the bathroom.  That’s right, a mere 393 days later and the bathroom is finished!  Now the floor got installed in one day, but I had to wait a year to…uh…make sure it settled properly.  It is such an incredible improvement over what we had.  As I looked back over the pictures of the original, I am shocked…mainly shocked at how awesome I am for fixing it!  Well, actually, I am shocked at how awesome my wife is for living in the craziness until we got it done!  Bathroom nirvana!

I guess I am on a cute little program kick the last few days, but here is a program that will tell you the number of days between 2 dates or the date a certain number of days from today.  That’s how I knew how long it took me to get the bathroom finished!  Anyhow, as always, this program is free, but not to be used for anything but fun.

Stuff that sucks

Mosquitos suck

So yesterday really sucked.  This post is a vent as much as anything else…so, mostly, you should probably ignore me…

I design and write computer software for a living.  I am around computers all day.  You’d think I would be somewhat immune from viruses as I mostly understand how they work and how one gets them.  Still, somehow I got a really really nasty virus on my main development machine (i.e. my bread and butter) yesterday.  I spent all day and half the night chasing down and fixing the mess that it made.  Of course, I really need to be working on the demo of the new project on which I am working.  It is due Monday.  This is not the time to be jerking around with a virus.  I don’t hate much, but I hate computer viruses and the people who create them.

I love sauerkraut.  I had some last night for supper along with some Polish sausage.  I am starting my training for the New Year’s day kraut feast.  Anyhow, about 15 minutes after eating it last night, my throat started to swell and blister.  I guess I had some sort of an allergic reaction to the kraut.  I also drank a Mt Dew with supper but I doubt my reaction was to it.  Mt Dew makes up 22% of my blood so I don’t think I suffered an autoimmune reaction.  Anyhow, an hour or so later, my throat was fine.  I still love kraut and I hate the thought of being allergic.  I will certainly try it again and soon, but I will be cautious too!  I can’t really figure it out, but I’d rather not get a trip in the ambulance over eating kraut.  I read that the Dutch eat donuts for good luck on New Years’s day so I may have to call upon my Dutch ancestry (or make some up) and cash in my kraut for donuts.  That’s a tradition I can get behind!

We also got word that our house is indeed racing down the hill to the river.  A structural engineer recommended 6 helical piers be inserted under our house.  It may take 3-4 more depending on what they find.  “Gosh, that sounds expensive”, you might say.  “You are correct!”

Solar Furnace – Results

Solar furnace installed

We finally had a sunny day yesterday and I was able to get some real results from my solar furnace .  I had to make a few changes for success though…

First of all, I discovered that the mercury switch was not sensitive enough to really work.    The cold air outside was messing up the way it functioned.  I could not insulate the part of the air box where the switch was since the switch has to be able to move (if you’ve never seen the setup, a mercury switch is placed on a temperature sensitive metal coil which moves and allows the mercury to open or close the switch).  I decided to experiment with wiring the solar panel straight to the fan which actually worked very well.  The fan only came on when the sun was out and shining pretty brightly which was precisely when the best heat was being made.

The pipes that run from the furnace to the house were white originally but it seems that enough cooling took place in the pipes to make the system not work as well as I had hoped.  I painted them flat black like the rest of the system and it worked like a charm.  The pipes absorbed heat from the sun while transferring the heat through the system, thus helping with the whole “hot air rises” thing.

Solar furnace installed

I also discovered that I had a few air leaks around the pipes and in the holes for the air pipes in the furnace.  I used silicone caulking (which will actually cure in about any temp regardless of what the instructions say) to patch all of the holes/gaps/leaks.

Once I made those three changes, I took temperature measurements of the cool air pipe from my family room floor and the warm air pipe from the furnace.  My floor air was 63 deg F and my warmed air was 84 deg F!  Hee-haw!  Eureka! Ding Dang, y’all!

Ok, so I was pretty happy with the results.  The fan kicks on and off with the sun which manages the heat pretty well.  I still need to boost the power to the fan to get a little more air flow.  I did some experimenting and was able to get a better temperature rise with a bit more air flow.  I will probably add another cheap-o solar panel to run the fan better.  I also need to find a better way to prevent backflow.  I really don’t like hanging a piece of plastic in front of the vent.  For now, it is working but I don’t like it as a long term solution.   I have glass to build one more furnace so I will probably build it out then figure out some way to deal with both systems.  Anyhow, for now, I am pleased with the solar furnace!

Solar furnace installation

Solar furnace thermostat

I last posted a week or so ago about my solar furnace.  I mentioned that I needed to install the system in my window and get the fan/thermostat working.  Well, my friends, wait no longer!  This weekend I finished the installation of the solar furnace and even powered it with a small solar panel…but I am getting ahead of myself.

Solar furnace entry to house

My downstairs family room has 5 windows, 3 of which face southward.  A south facing panel is optimum because it gets sun almost all day as the sun progresses across the sky.  I read that 20 degrees from due south results in a 5% decrease in performance.  Luckily I have south windows but if I didn’t have due south, I would still try the furnace.  A 5% decrease would still make things interesting.   In addition to the direction, you have to consider the angle from horizontal of the panel so that it gets optimum sunlight in the winter when the sun is lower in the sky.  I have read various thoughts on the optimum angle but the easy one for me to remember is “latitude + 10”.  Here in Charleston, our latitude is 38 degrees.

Solar furnace entry to house

According to this calculation then, the optimum angle from horizontal is 48 degrees.  Using my trusty eyeball, I leaned the solar panel along the south wall of my house and tilted it at precisely 48 degrees.  To be more exact, you should consider doing a site survey to make sure you really have things right. I will probably just mess with it until it gets the best sun. In a more permanent installation, you would want this to be much more precise. Mine is easily movable.

Anyhow, I built a box (which I insulated) to run a warm pipe and a cool pipe through my window.  The thermostat and fan are inside the warm pipe inlet so the warm air should automatically rise and slowly flow across the thermostat.  The rise in temperature should kick on the thermostat/fan and move the air a little better through the system.  As the warm air evacuates, it will cool the thermostat and turn off the fan.

Solar furnace entry to house

I mentioned in the last post on this topic that I could not drive the fan with a super cheap solar cell.  I was rummaging through the junk bin at the office when I found a pair of fans (actually, quite a few fans) that were lower amperage than my original one.  Anyhow, my new fan is rated at 12 volts and  0.16 amps.  I know it will run at 9 volts so I figured I needed a solar panel that would produce 1.44 watts (i.e. 9 * 0.16).  Harbor Freight sells a solar panel used for trickle charging auto batteries for $19.99.  Actually, the website has it for $14.99 but in the store it is more.  If I would have taken the printout to the store, they would have reduced the price.  Apparently the store and website are somewhat independent.  I didn’t have a printout and it wasn’t worth driving back for it so I paid $19.99.  Ok, back to the story – it will produce 1.5 watts which will run my new fan.  I don’t know if it always just produces 12 volts and the amps vary (because it produces differently depending on the strength of the sun) or if it produces 0-12 volts and constant amps, etc.  All that is to say, I don’t know exactly what wattage is driving my fan but it turns it.  Solar furnace entry to house

It occurs to me as I write this that I should measure the output with my mulitmeter…but really, for now, I don’t care.  The fan turns fine in sun and that is my main goal.  Unfortunately, the fan will not blow the dryer vent louver open. I had planned to use a dryer vent to close the inflow when not in use.  I will have to resort to the “plastic over the hole” method I mentioned in the earlier post, to prevent back-siphoning.  And let me tell you, back-siphoning is real and a problem if you don’t deal with it…I quickly learned a lesson on that topic!

Ok, lots of words to describe all this.  The only problem is, I have not had a sunny day since I got this thing installed.  I wanted to post about this progress but I don’t have any real results yet.  I will have to post again with results.  I know it will make a difference, but I don’t know the extent.  Stay tuned!

Going Pink

Installing insulation

In an effort to make our house a bit more comfortable and to save on the energy bill, we have begun to add insulation to the crawlspace of our 70 year old house (which is otherwise uninsulated for the most part).  Our place is very odd in design.  We have a many levels in our house and all sorts of nooks and crannies.  Half of our basement is walk-in and finished while the other half is sub-surface and unfinished.  Even within our basement, there are two levels.  The crawlspace in question is under the formal living room and dining room and measures 33×13.  That’s lots of words for “it’s a pretty big space and pretty dang cold in the winter”.

Installing insulation

So, we headed to the home repair place to get insulation.  Abigail saw all of the pink and some of the blue foam insulation and insisted on getting pink (which was the appropriate type for our application luckily!)  So, I have been installing insulation in the crawlspace of the house.  In spots, I have 5 feet of headroom while in others I have 18 inches.

Cobwebs on my head

Of course, I don’t think anyone has dusted under there and spiders have enjoyed the landscape.  I came out several times to breathe, covered in cobwebs.  My bald head somewhat attracts them I guess, though I prefer bald to hairy in that situation.  I also discovered that one branch off of the main trunk from the furnace was unconnected and heating the crawlspace.  No wonder I have cold spots in the house!  Anyhow, I reconnected that and sealed it up so that it works as it should.  I have lots more to do but I have not yet worked up the courage to venture into spiderland again!  I expect the weekend will see me back fighting the arachnid army!

Summer home…or my new shed

Start of the shed

Our house is pretty fair sized but is seriously lacking in storage…especially “dirty storage”.  Most of our basement is finished and the unfinished part is small so I have no place for my air compressor, turkey fryer and shop vac.  We have an outdoor shed but it was pretty small too.  I have been threatening to build a shed and Emily finally called my bluff a few weeks ago.  We decided to make the new shed sort of match the old.

Walls going up

I figured that I am as likely as not to have to spend one or more nights in it so I decided to add some nicer features to the new shed.


Most notably is the addition of a “sun roof”.  Most of the thing is roofed with galvanized metal but one section across the back is covered with polycarbonate that one would use in a greenhouse.  It matches in pattern with the metal so they make a great weather-proof joint.  It’s amazing how nice it is to have light enough to see the shovel falling off the wall rack and headed for your mellon!

Sunroof in my shed!

Emily’s granddad helped me get the floor and walls in place and Emily helped me get the rafters and roof up as well as the siding hung.  She painted the last bits of it this weekend so I can move in…I mean, I can move my stuff in!

Finished shed!

I don’t think my kids learned too many new words on this project so I’d call it a success!


Rain Barrels

This was the first rain barrel we installed. I went to a seminar put on by DNR and the city. They discussed the need, the benefits, etc and subsidized the cost. The best part about it was that it started out white. No need to paint it! I don’t like the bottom drain so much but it surely works.

My parents got some blue barrels that were originally full of vinegar. I painted them (is it that obvious?!) and hooked them up. Both drain to the location the down spouts originally fed.

Don’t forget to install a drain! I didn’t have drains at first thinking that it wouldn’t flood too bad…well, I got a lesson in how much rain runs off of a roof in a downpour. Drains are critical unless you don’t mind the water running down your foundation.

I hooked two barrels together on the side of the house where the gutter drains the largest amount of roof. I could probably use 10 barrels on that area but it wouldn’t look too hot. Anyhow, I also saw some other folks who had a contraption built to allow the first several gallons to pour out rather than go into the barrels. Basically, on mine the water goes down into the big pvc pipe which holds a small plastic ball. As it fills, the ball floats up to the neck between the big and small pipes. When it reaches the top, it seals the large vertical pipe and redirects water into the ‘y’ and down into the barrel. There is a small leak in the big pipe so it drains ‘automagically’ between downpours. The two barrels are joined together by the hose that connects the two via their spigots. I just leave both spigots open most of the time (but I can close the individually when I want to use some water). Water will level itself between the two barrels without my intervention.

I could probably use some lessons in spray painting but it blends with the house from a distance…unless you ask Emily.