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This Spooky Old House

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This Spooky Old House

the house



November 23rd, 2006

Turkey Day

duck tape
Well, I survived Thanksgiving. It took a concerted day and a half of work to "finish up" (i.e. finish enough to use, it's not quite actually done) the backroom and first floor bathroom plus clean up several months of construction clutter & dust, but I did it. I was pretty much working on it non-stop all week and right up until this afternoon, but things mostly turned out ok. The turkey was done a little early, but I did some googling and figured out how to deal with it and it kept wonderfully until we were ready to carve and serve and I must say I'm finally getting to the point where cooking a whole turkey for the Thanksgiving feast isn't actually daunting.

So yeah, I'm exhausted and ready for bed.

Hope everyone else had a good turkey day as well.

October 31st, 2006

So, I haven't had much house related stuff to post lately (work has kept me from making progress on home improvements), but since this is Halloween, I decided to share a home related tale of horror (from this very afternoon).

Now, most of you folks probably have a pretty good idea what a house's furnace does right? I also suspect most of you (even those who don't have to deal with them), if you put some thought into it, would figure that it probably uses either fire or very hot electric elements to accomplish it's task right?

So, ignoring the fact that you really shouldn't store anything near your furnace (especially not one that lives in a small enclosed space), what would you think to stick in there to get it out of the way?

This afternoon, we were winterizing our duplexes and I opened the door to one furnace room. I wish I had thought to take a picture, of it but I found

1 - bin full of assorted tools
3 - fugly wall decorations


2 - 5-quart containers of motor oil
1 - large bag of clean rags and thin plastic bags

and best of all

1 - opened container of paint thinner

all in contact with the furnace and close enough to conceivably ignite if it were turned on.

After seeing the condition of the furnace closet I took a chance and opened up the water heater closet too.

That was jam packed with very nice, clean, folded bed sheets up against the exhaust pipe and a dusty old rug rolled up and put up against the water heater, in contact with the access door for the pilot.

Talk about a recipe for disaster.

I don't think I've ever been more happy to know that our properties are fully insured... although the tenants will be receiving a very stern letter reminding them that they shouldn't put ANYTHING in either of those closets.

September 5th, 2006

Storm Clouds

old phone
It looks like the rain is finally moving away, but I really dig how this particular photo came out.

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August 5th, 2006

Wow a lawn...

old phone
One good thing came from getting 8 Inches of rain in the span of a week. The lawn has almost completely filled in. Now if only the basement would stop flooding...

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July 12th, 2006

Making Progress...

Well after a while (like say, a year) of putting it off, I finally made some time to get the handrails put in on the front stairs. I need to do some more clean-up work on them tomorrow, but as of today, they're actually in and use-able.

Here's a quick shot of how they ended up looking. I'll put more photos up once they're done.

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In other news, the backroom and basement changes are going well. We've sorted out the first floor bathroom situation, built-up the section of the backroom that was lower (and fixed the door so it opens all the way now). Photos and a more complete description of what's going on coming soon.

April 21st, 2006

A House Band-Aid...

the money pit
On Wednesday, my dad was here to help me get the A/C units up and running for the summer. The good news is they're up and running, the bad news is I'll probably need to replace one of them before next summer (oh bother).

While we were up on the roof (which happens very very rarely given how I hate getting up on roofs) We took the opportunity to repair the fascia board on the side of the top corner of the house. This was very much, NOT fun as it's probably a good 30 foot drop to the ground should anything go wrong.

Fortunately, with some caution (and some rope to anchor ourselves with) we were able to put up a new board before we came down to fix the corner of the porch fascia that was also starting to fall off.

As with seemingly all house projects there was good news and band news. The good news being that my roof looks like it should be serviceable for several years to come. The bad news being that the fascia boards all around the house look like they may need to be replaced whenever the roof is. There are countless little problems with almost all of them (some are a bit rotted, others are very rotted, others are warped and coming loose, etc... etc...) and there are even a few small problems with the porch's structure. It's nothing major, but it will be something to address at some point.

Hopefully everything will hold together long enough to redo the roof in a few years, but seeing as this is the 2nd and 3rd repair we've done to the fascia in the last year (the first repair was the front board of the corner we fixed this week, you can see it in the 1st and 2nd photos) I'm a bit worried that I may need to start budgeting to fix roof issues sooner rather than later.


I'm not sure why, but whenever I'm sick I end up wanting to get work done around the house (I suspect delirium or dementia ;). So of course, yesterday, this ended up involving the removal of two old stumps in the front parkway. Stumps that had been there since I bought the house 3 1/2 years ago. I was partially inspired by reading about some other DIY-ers who had taken out some stumps that were only a year old after they found that they were already quite ready to come out of the ground.

I wandered out to the front and checked to see how firmly mine were still in place. I was pleased to discover that I could wiggle them with my foot. They were still going to be a bit of a challenge, but they should come out without too much trouble. I went to the garage to grab the pick, and before long I had both stumps out of the ground and ready for disposal

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Despite how easy the stumps were to remove, they did take up quite a bit of space in ye olde trash can, fortunately today was trash day so they've already been taken away (and since I was sick a good chunk of the week, I didn't have much house trash to get rid of)

Stump Removal Aftermath

old phone
In my delerium, I forgot to take photos of the aftermath of the stump removal. Those trash cans can hold about 96 gallons worth of stuff so that was quite a bit of dead tree...

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March 24th, 2006

Sanborn Maps

light bulb
If you've ever been curious about what your neighborhood was like years ago, take a look at Sanborn Maps which are now available in digital form. Usually you need to be affiliated with some university etc... to access them but I believe it's also possible to find non-digital versions of them in various libraries.

They're amazing. Basically they were maps put out for insurance purposes. They'd detail what was built, what sort of infrastructure the city/town had (e.g. fire stations, paved roads etc...). I looked up my house's map along with the map close to my folk's place and it's amazing to see how much the city has changed in a 100 years or so. I'd ramble more about it, but it's late and I put the files on my flash drive so I'll need to do some image stuff before I can put up some representative samples of what I found. For now though, I just wanted to put that link out there for future reference.

February 6th, 2006

The Board...

manhattan heights
One thing I'd forgotten to mention in the excitement of the last week or so is that I was elected to the Manhattan Heights Neighborhood Association's Board. I'm not 100% sure what this is going to entail, but apparently I was elected to the board 2 Saturdays ago at a meeting that I'd managed to forget about (I was told about the nomination and the meeting about a minute before my first class of this semester and I just spaced on the whole thing afterwards).

So two weeks from now we're going to have a meeting to discuss what "the plan" is for the coming year and to elect officers. I'm not sure that I'm all that eager to be an officer, but it could be interesting. I suppose it'll depend on who got elected and what positions the more established board members want. I was already working on the neighborhood website, but that got bogged down in the approval process. I suppose my big goal would be to get it going again. Being on the board certainly helps since I can take more initiative to get things up on the website (as opposed to feeling like I have to have everything checked and double checked before it goes live). I have no problem with input, in fact I really want/need a lot for the website, but whenever input is slow in coming (remember everyone on the board has jobs, families, lives etc...) it would be helpful to feel like I could put something up "in the meantime" and then change it as soon as someone suggested a different way to present it or different information to make available etc...

Anyways, this should be interesting and I am actually looking forward to being on the board (although jeez, I'm really starting to feel like a grown-up lately, that's kind of bizarre)

January 24th, 2006

... getting ready to sort out bills for the coming month, checking the mortgage website and finding that

a) they've automatically updated their information with the current/new loan


b) my mortgage payment is about $70 less than I was thinking it was going to be (apparently, I mis-remembered the monthly amount from one of the loan packages I didn't go with).

Keep in mind I had been budgeting for the wrong and higher mortgage payment so that was a welcome surprise.

January 8th, 2006

I haven't been as good at posting as I should (I have several entries I'm working on along with some drawings to illustrate what's going on), but this evening I finally got around to figuring out a little bit about the house's heating system.

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January 6th, 2006

Fireplace Doors...

the money pit
I finally got around to picking out a new set of doors for my fireplace. This afternoon I went to Lowe's and put in my order for a satin nickel set of non-folding glass fireplace doors to replace the pair I gave my dad a couple of weeks ago. I think the satin nickel will look a LOT nicer than the polished brass (but that's definitely just my opinion).

This is more or less what it will look like:

December 28th, 2005

Salvaged Fixtures...

one man's treasure...
Now that the big refinance thing is over and done with and I don't have to worry about having the house presentable, I'm going to try and start making some real progress on the 1,001 projects I have in various stages of completion. So you can expect to see a lore more activity here along with more pictures in the coming weeks/months. First up is an easy bit of documentation. In an effort to save a little money and improve the overall quality of fixtures in the house, I managed to score a slightly used (only 40-50 years old) bathroom lavatory and bathtub.

The only downside being that they're PINK

I should be able to fix that particular problem without too much trouble once they're installed and the bathroom is nearing completion. My dad is lobbying for me to keep them pink and go with a funky pink bathroom theme, but somehow I don't see that happening in this spooky old house. Personally I think he's just trying to talk me into it in order to save me the hassle of re-enamelling them white. Curiously enough This Old House Magazine had a spread on salvaged lavatories etc... and according to them even though the stuff I got isn't particularly pricey or rare it's still worth a good $250 or so per fixture and all I had to do was schlep them away from the jobsite (the owner just wanted them gone).

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December 22nd, 2005

Refinance Update

adding machine
It took a little longer than expected, but I finally refinanced the house. I closed on the new mortgage this afternoon and I'm a happy camper. I managed to almost half the interest rate, lock it in for the life off the loan, and there is no pre-payment penalty for this mortgage so if I should decide to sell the house and move sometime in the near future, I can do so with no penalties. Not a bad deal.

Amusingly enough, the new mortgage has already been bought out by....

... my current mortgage company. Yeah, make sense of that. They wouldn't work with me to get me a better deal before (this deal is a decent bit better than the best deal they'd offered me) , but they still go ahead and buy the new note with the terms that I'm happy with. Go figure. I almost wish they hadn't bought it out, but all things considered, I just wanted a better deal, I don't care who I'm paying for it and they do have a pretty well designed website with an easy to use online payment system so that's definitely a plus.

December 21st, 2005

Fireplace Shennanigans

duck tape
So, today, my dad came by to drop off the new salvaged bathtub we scored off of a jobsite (which happens to match the lavatory we scored from the same jobsite, imagine that).

While he was here, he mentioned that he was going to try and make a glass fireplace screen for his house. Now, my dad is handier than most, but for some reason the prospect of having him doing something like that made me cringe. So much so that I decided to offer up the fireplace screen that my house came with.

I had already determined that I hated it (tearing a nice gash on one of my knuckles while trying to open it last week certainly helped to that end) and that it was improperly installed (something improperly installed by one of this house's previous owners? shocking). Plus it was still in good shape and my mom likes the polished brass look (which I'm not a fan of by any stretch).

So for the next few weeks, my house is going to be looking a little bit more ghetto. On the plus side though, the screen fit their fireplace nicely (or so I'm told) and I discovered a long lost chimney flue lever so I can (*gasp*) close the chimney when it's not in use. I also found several likely candidates at the local big box home improvement stores (the only catch will be figuring out what to do about that lever in whatever I do end up using). All things considered, a pretty good deal for everyone involved.


Now I just need to find the fight new fireplaces screen and possibly modify it to account for that pesky lever. Oh, and see the old, dead gas line that used to feed the log lighter? Let's put a gas line and the corresponding cut-off valve inside the firebox, that seems like a great idea.

November 10th, 2005


adding machine
Well, I finally got word that the adjustable rate on my mortgage is adjusting as of the January payment. As expected they're sticking it to me and pushing it up the maximum allowed (1.5%) and that would jack up my payment by about $100 a month.


Fortunately my mortgage broker has already got me set up with a much nicer loan (with an interest rate that's almost half of the adjusted one). Right now the only substantial hoop to jump through will be getting my house to appraise for what I need in order to come in under the 80% loan to value ratio.

I think it could, but ultimately that's up to the guy appraising the house and the overall market. Property values have been going up but I'm not sure if that's enough. Fortunately I have done some substantial stuff to the house (with plans for lots more) and the appraiser is the same person who appraised it originally and he remembers it so he's willing to work with me to make sure I take care of any little things that can bump the value up if necessary.

November 7th, 2005

Flower Photos

another flower
I got some nice photos of the newest additions to my house's floral population.


November 6th, 2005

Four of four...

paint roller
Well, I was finally able to finish painting the fourth and final bedroom. It is now a nice shade of midnight blue which I would take a picture of but I'm exhausted. This will soon be the new exercise room.

More photos to come soon (and yes I know I slacked off and didn't post photos of the library yet, they're a commin') bur for now a little something to whet your appetite:

November 2nd, 2005


the money pit
So today there was good news and bad news.

The good news is that it's very much possible to do the stuff I want to the first floor bathroom and my dad was happy to help me start demolishing stuff, the bad news is I need to get my house appraised in the next couple of weeks and I'm not sure that was such a brilliant idea after all.

The project should be do-able fairly quickly, but there's lots of little stuff that is making it hard to focus just on that. As you might have guessed. After having months of slow day without enough work to do, now that I have a little bit of money to do this with, work and personal life stuff is picking up and that's leaving me less time to work on the house.

I'm going to need to talk to whoever my mortgage broker got to appraise the house so that I can see what (if anything) I should get done in order to help the appraisal come in at what we need.

October 14th, 2005

How do I know this?

Well, I've been working on various house projects, and one of the most exciting things to develop was finally making progress on refinancing this place. My mortgage has a variable interest which is due for it's first adjustment (in the upward direction) next month, so I decided that it would be in my best interest to talk to the mortgage broker who got me into this spooky old house in the first place and see what she could come up with.

Lo and behold, she found a deal that would knock 3 points off of the interest, and it would finally bring in an escrow account (so I don't have to deal with setting aside $$ for my insurance or property taxes). All told, I end up saving about $100 a month even though I throw in some of my old debts. So, all in all, a good deal.

It's nice knowing people who can track down good deals for you (and it's nice knowing enough about mortgages and such that I can look at a deal and actually understand the various terms and numbers they throw around).

Now I just need to see what the fine print is and what information they need from me (I also need to time it right so that I can refinance the loan at the right time so that I don't get hit with prepayment penalties from the original mortgage).

Still though, I am getting old... I was actually giddy when I was looking over the good faith estimate she emailed me earlier and I gleefully pulled up my amortization spreadsheet so I could play around with the numbers a bit. I mean, you can't gleefully pull up a spreadsheet without realizing that you really aren't a kid anymore ;)... but that's ok. I get to play with much cooler toys now ;)

September 15th, 2005

After a very long time, I've finally, almost finished my guest room / library.

It's a little hard to get a picture of the actual wall color, but it's a very very very dark purple (remember though I live in the desert and that room has six full size windows along 2 of it's walls (apparently the 1930s version of picture windows). Check out how bright the purple looks when it's under direct sunlight (bottom left corner of photos).

The big things left to do (aside from cleaning up the drop clothes) would be to:
  • finish cutting in wall color along the floor molding
  • paint/touch-up floor moldings
  • touch-ups for the rest of the room
  • paint and install the new bookshelves along the 2 non-window walls

Heh, no problem right? Well I figure if I'm lucky, I'll get everything but the last item finished after class tonight and with a little luck, the shelves could be up tomorrow or Saturday (fingers crossed).

Morning Glory

the house
My dad gave me a morning glory plant for my birthday last month. With all the rains we got the last month it really took off.

This morning, I found it's first flower

August 15th, 2005

Satellite Mural

light bulb
This is a great idea for how to make a random wall look more interesting. I don't know that I have the patience or motivation to do this just yet, but I definitely want to keep it in mind:

Satellite Map Mural

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August 9th, 2005

The Great Flood...

the money pit
Edit: I set the time on this post back to when I was going to post it. I hit post and minimized the window and logjam decided to give me an error message and not post... so here we go again...

I live in the desert. Our average precipitation for the year is less than 10"

So imagine my surprise when I got up this morning and found a very large puddle of water on the floor of a bathroom I don't use (it's queued up for eventual renovation... eventual being the operative word).

Even better, I found this waiting for me downstairs, in the dining room:

Fun right? Yeah, I didn't think so either. Apparently the tank in that bathroom's toilet decided to start leaking sometime during the night and by morning, the dining room ceiling looked like this:

After a brief moment of panic over my laptop (which was sitting on the dining room table but was far enough from the water to emerge unscathed and more importantly unwet) I started cleaning up the mess and I shut off the water to the upstairs toilet. That seemed to fix the problem of adding new water to the mess, but it didn't do anything about all the water already making it's way through the floor, into the ceiling and onto my formerly gorgeous hardwood floor (it still pains me to think about it).

Since I knew I wouldn't want to drink from any thing that was catching water that had filtered through my house's floors, I broke out the disposable cups and proceeded to catch the water from the remaining drips in them:

Fortunately the water stopped dripping after a couple of hours and none of the glasses had to be emptied in a rush. I proceeded to start mopping up the mess and collecting wet plaster, drywall, and papers from my dining room table.

While I was waiting for the drips to die out, I took stock of the actual condition of the dining room table:

To my relief, the mess looks a lot worse than it is and I was able to clean the table relatively easily. It still needs a new coat of furniture polish, but that's not exceedingly urgent.

Once I'd sorted out the situation on the first floor, I trudged down to the basement to see what was going on down there. To be honest, I was afraid that I was going to find a new indoor pool down there and I was understandably relieved to find very little damage. The ceiling was pretty wet:

but aside from that it wasn't too bad. I'll need to let it dry out before I know what the total damage is, but it shouldn't be too bad. really the only significant damage was the floor in the dining room and even that isn't too bad. The dining room ceiling is also in bad shape, but I'd been planning on removing it eventually (there's that operative word again ;) because I really hate popcorn ceilings and that one was damaged from previous upstairs leaks (which is one reason I wanted to rip out everything from that bathroom and start over with new, leak-free plumbing).

So how was your day? ;)

August 7th, 2005

A search of the big box home improvement stores turned up nothing in the way of acceptable rose bushes so I didn't get to do any planting this weekend.

I'll need to swing by some of the local nurseries to see if they have anything reasonable left. If they don't, I may have to wait until next summer to get the rest of the front planter planted.

That kind of sucks, I was really looking forward to having it looking good this summer.

August 1st, 2005

My dad is cool. He was doing some work on his yard recently and he decided that he had a spare rose bush that would look great at my house. Earlier he had gotten it ready for transplanting it and today he helped me plant it.


Now the plan is to pick up a few more rose bushes so I can fill out the rest of the front planter (which I can hopefully do this weekend).

July 5th, 2005

More neighborly "fun"

the house
Fucking grrrr....

Well, after months of being a pain in the ass, it looks like my neighbor is finally starting to do things that are actively illegal.

Yesterday morning, I went outside and I found one of the mesquite trees bent. That's right. The tough guy who won't actually come over to start a fight (although he keeps trying to get me to go to his property to fight) and who goes out of his way to not be spotted when he starts in on his verbal abuse, will wait until the early morning hours to launch a manly attack on a defenseless tree.

What a putz. Fortunately he was too incompetent to actually damage the tree. Since it's young it wasn't actually hurt and I was able to straighten it out with a minimal amount of effort (heh, if only it was that easy to the same to people).

So, as you can imagine this has gotten me thinking about ways that I can improve my home's security and the overall safety of myself and my things. Mostly I'm considering putting up lights with motion sensors for the backyard and possibly the back gate/garage. I'm also going to start videotaping the feeds from the security cameras on a regular basis now. There's not a whole lot I can do right this moment about the tree thing because I didn't actually see him, but after Saturday's exchange, I think it's quite likely that he's the most likely culprit.

It's funny, but I can't help but hope that my neighbor (or whoever messed with the tree) gets a nice fat dose of payback for taking out his aggression on a helpless living thing. I just hope he doesn't progress to attacking anything else (like say Zhaan and Saks).

April 21st, 2005

Planter v2.2 (i.e. clean)

I spent last weekend and part of this week dismantling the forms, and clearing out dirt and rubble from the sidewalk area. I now have a semi-finished product to show. This is ready for the addition of some brick pavers, plants, and (eventually) a fence.


One of the reasons I wanted to post these pics is so that folks could get a good look at what someone had done years ago and what I did as a sort of comparison. Keep in mind that I'm planning on plastering the vertical surface with some cement, so all the mess is going to disappear beneath it. That's largely why I didn't worry about making the bricks nice and neat. I just needed something solid to make up a vertical surface with, I knew I had to plaster part of it over anyways, so I figured I'd just do the whole "wall" (such as it is) that way.


I'm also going to repair the old damaged planter border so that it matches the section we made with the sidewalk.

April 14th, 2005


So, after all the Fuss (tm), I was talking to one of the neighbors who lives across the street. I was telling him how I was going to put up a wrought iron fence on my sideyard (for various reasons) and I mentioned how I liked the fence that one of his houses had (he owns a few houses on my street).

Out of the blue he tells me that it was from an old hotel that got demolished some 35 odd years ago and that he installed that wrought iron fence. Not only that, but he had some leftover pieces that had been sitting next to the garage since then. My ears perked up upon hearing that and I was thrilled when he asked me if I would be interested in using any of the scrap pieces he had. He said that he had no use for it and that he'd been thinking of throwing it all away, but he hadn't because it was really heavy (and being mostly solid iron, you can imagine why that would be the case).

Last Friday, I had the worker that was helping me with the landscaping take our work truck to the house (all 3 houses down) and we loaded up a lot of really really heavy wrought iron. It took a while to load and unload but eventually we got it unloaded and after a lot of thinking, measuring and wrestling the pieces around the yard, I decided that:

+ =

Which makes for a very nice freebie that I hadn't really planned on having anytime soon. It'll be a big help when my folks come to visit (they're definitely getting to the point where those things matter a lot more) and they'll make the whole entrance look even nicer (once they're sanded and painted a nice shiny black).

Plus I get to do some welding and stuff (which is always fun). I can't wait to get them installed.
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