Eichler Boilers and Math


So, our dreary old boiler (circa 1958) “seemed” to be on the fritz a few weeks ago and now it’s working “fine”.  I say “seemed” because it appears to be working now and I say “fine” because it’s working as well as any 55 year old boiler should work.

The Story: Sometime in December (2012) we were noticing a gas smell coming from the hallway adjacent the boiler.   Obviously, any time you smell gas you should call the gas company. Oh, we also noticed our heating bill was $100 more than the same month last year. So, not sensing any danger, I called a plumber.

The Plumber: (Who, by the way, I trust and would recommend to anyone who asks) The Plumber looked at the boiler and said, “you’re not burning all the gas in your boiler and the orange colored flame indicates the boiler is inefficient”.  There was also pounds and pounds of black carbon inside the boiler that had accumulated over the years. Finally, he pointed out that the boiler (in it’s current state) could be a carbon monoxide problem. He said he could clean the unit to see if this might help.

The Cost: We then talked about boiler units and the cost. He recommended the “Solo 110 Triangle Tube” for our house (our square footage about 1750).  The unit is $3,500 and the install would be about $3,000 (all estimates on the high side). I shrugged, I really don’t have $6,500 dollars just laying around. $9,500 with a new water heater system!!

The Cleanup: I took off the smokestack and the top “dome” lid to the boiler and power washed the whole thing with a garden hose. FYI: There is a TON of copper in these bad boys and they’re probably worth something just for the metal value. Anyway,  I removed about 5 pounds of black carbon caked to everything and after using the shop vac to suck up all the water I used a blow dryer to get the unit dry enough to start up.

The Realization: When I started the unit I noticed the gas was coming out with WAY too much force and the flame was having trouble burning all the gas.  I adjusted the valve “thingy” (photo below) and the boiler burned with a consistent blue flame (mostly). I’m now convinced the unit was receiving too much gas  and could not burn all the fuel efficiently.

THE MATH: My TOTAL Yearly Natural Gas bill is $1,221.  If I subtract $168 to heat my water and run laundry ($14/month) the total cost for the current (old) boiler is $1,053/year. Now, considering this thing is so old I probably need to spend $200/year on maintenance and considering this old tank runs around 70% efficiency, maybe even 60%, my yearly cost to operate is “old bertha” is $1,253…ugh.

Now, replacement cost is $6,500 and the new boiler would be 95% efficient (claims the manufacturer).  So, the difference in cost would be 25% or 35% less per month based on efficiency. I’m sure I can get this down to $5,000 but let’s use $6,500 for now.

On a YEARLY basis a new boiler “could” save $263 (25%) or $368 (35%) per year.

So, best case, I save $568/year (I’m not paying for the maintenance of $200).   Or, maybe the new unit is only saving $263/year because I don’t have any maintenance with the old unit.  My best guess is that it’s somewhere is the middle between $263 and $568, or $415/year.

($6,500 install cost) / ($415 yearly savings) = 15.6 Years to break even but with piece of mind

Now, this doesn’t account for the increased cost of gas and assumes the new unit will be completely trouble free (probably about 90% chance of that).

I also have to consider the new unit won’t last 50 years but I’ll probably sell the house by then.  I think a respectable life on a new boiler is 25 years because they have electronics and they are not as heavy duty.

Oh yeah, there’s the whole environment thing too.


Here’s the Unit (Notice the electrical starter we added, this was about $700 to retofit on the system).



Picture Showing Handle/Lever “Thingy“:



Eichler Beam Repair

One of the hallmarks of Eichler homes is the post-and-beam construction.  When it’s in good shape, it’s a nice architectural feature.  However, when neglected, the beams can quickly deteriorate.  Some of the beams in our house were in such bad shape they needed to be replaced (like in the office and above the garage door).  Others only had a little bit of rot and could be saved after a little beam surgery.  Hopefully we are finished replacing beams and can devote ourselves fully to beam repair.

Here’s the beam over the garage on the corner of our house- my first attempt at beam repair (much of the rotten part is actually inside the garage in a hard-to-see corner).  It’s the same corner that had a serious leak when we moved in and everything but the beam was replaced when we replaced the garage door.  It’s actually a pretty short beam- it only runs about 4 feet into the garage- I think it’s mostly decorative and not so structural.

This is the exterior side of the beam which is still exposed, even with the roof extension.  You can see the bottom was in pretty bad shape (I scraped out some of the soft wood with a putt knife).  The other side of the beam was actually in worse shape.  Luckily it’s now covered by the roof extension (and the roof is no longer leaking).

On the recommendation of our neighbor (another Eichler home owner), we used the Rot Doctor’s Restor-It system.  All together it was about $60 from Jackson’s hardware in San Rafael- but considering the severity or the rot, I don’t think my trusty “everyday”  Elmer’s wood filler ($8/tub from Home Depot) would hold.  Also, $60 is very reasonable in comparison to the cost and labor involved in replacing a beam (and doesn’t require big strong men nor a kitchen table on the front yard).

The first step is to apply the Clear Penetrating Epoxy Sealer- it’s a 2-part mixture (I mixed equal parts in a glass measuring cup reserved especially for chemicals).  It’s supposed to stop further rot and also harden the existing wood.  In theory, if you don’t stop the rot, there could be mold spores in the wood that continue to rot the wood after you fill it, causing a continuous repair cycle.  I know this because I read the entire brochure that came with the sealer.  It can also act as a primer for rotted wood, which I haven’t tried yet.  I can say from experience that paint bubbles when you cut corners and paint directly over rotted wood- even if you use primer first, so I’ll probably be testing this priming feature pretty soon.

You are supposed to apply it with a natural bristle brush (I used a foam brush which it says NOT to use, but I didn’t see that instruction until after I did it- everything seemed ok though).  When you apply it, it soaks in quite a bit and leaves the wood looking wet:

It really stinks (I used a respirator when applying it) and takes a few days to dry.  At this point you could prime and paint- but it wouldn’t be pretty given I dug away the soft wood with my painter’s tool … so the next step is to apply the flexible epoxy filler.  Again it’s a 2-part system where you mix equal parts from 2 separate jars:

I used a plastic putty knife and eyeballed approximately equal amounts of the two parts (cleaning the putty knife in between), applying it to a piece of scrap wood (my palette).  It says you can be off by up to 10% in your 50/50 (by volume) mixture, so it seems to be an inexact science.  The cream colored part (A) has a plasticy texture and the blue part (B) is a little more paste-like.  I used the putty knife to thoroughly mix the two together.  For some reason, I’ve been afraid of using a 2-part wood-filling system, but I actually like it a lot- every time you mix up some new filler it’s like getting brand new container of filler (no crusty old filler)!  It is a little bit more work though- you have to mix each time you need more (In the end, I used about 4-times what is shown in the picture, so I had to mix it in about 4 batches- the instructions warn against mixing more than you can use immediately- I really took that to heart).  Application is very similar to any other wood filler- I just used my metal painter’s tool (a putty knife with a funky shape)- though my neighbor uses a plastic sheet and a squeegee.  The texture is a bit more like bubble gum or silly putty than regular wood filler, but it takes enough time to dry that you can really work with it without worrying about it hardening on you right away.  It dries a bit harder than regular wood putty (which I guess is a good thing)- but that means it’s more work to sand.  I used my trusty Rigid R2300 random orbital sander and it seemed to work pretty well.  Here it is after I applied it:

On this side of the beam where the hole to be filled is a little deeper, I considered filling it in 2 stages, letting the first filling dry first before doing a second filling- but because it’s mostly hidden once the siding is installed (the left/back part of the beam is inside the garage), I just did my best with one application and the sander.  Here it is after sanding, priming and painting:

Here’s the other side of the beam:

It definitely looks much better- and I have high hopes that it will stay looking this good for a long time.  As we continue to replace the siding we’re finding spots in the fascia that need the same treatment, so maybe I’ll try our neighbor’s squeegee method next!

Removing water marks from stainless steel applicances

We’ve replaced all of the appliances in our kitchen with stainless steel appliances.  We started with the refrigerator (Samsung) when we moved in about a year and a half ago, then the range (Electrolux) about a year ago and finally the dishwasher (Samsung) about 6 months ago.  We really like the look and function of everything, but I noticed the refrigerator and dishwasher started getting “water marks”- some looked like splashes, some like water drips, some like the marks left after cleaning with a wet sponge.  The water mark’s would not wash clean, even after repeatedly scrubbing- even when using special stainless steel cleaner.

We had the same sort of marks on the dishwasher (more like long drips though).  The range top was fine, but the front stainless steel on the range door had similar marks.  After trying to live with these for over a year, I finally did something about them.  After a little googling for ideas, it turns out to have been tarnish.  Though stainless steel won’t “stain” (rust) it WILL tarnish- and I think this depends on the specific type of stainless steel that is used (for instance the range top was fine and I know some appliances have a special finish where you don’t even see finger prints).

The solution? Silver polish!

I used the Wright’s Silver Cream that I have for my silver candle sticks- it actually says on the jar that it can be used on stainless steel too.  You apply it with the hexagonal sponge included in the jar, then buff it off with a paper towel and THEN use the stainless steel cleaner to remove all traces of the silver cream.  As you can see by the black paper towels, there was quite a bit of tarnish on our appliances.  After an hour or so of cleaning all of our kitchen appliances, they looked BETTER than new!

Eichler Face Lift

In mid September we started working on replacing the siding and painting- our biggest project to date.  We decided to do one side of the house at a time, starting with the front, which we figured would make the biggest impact.  Andy began by removing the top layer of siding, which was yellow painted pressboard (basically cardboard):

Under the pressboard was the original plywood siding.  It was rotted so badly there was no way to save it (we were hoping that at least SOME was salvageable- maybe in the protected area by the front door, but no such luck).  The yellow pressboard was also rotted in many places and even had some green moss growing on the outside of it.  Besides being the absolute cheapest type of siding available, It was installed incorrectly (horizontally instead of vertically) which caused water to seep in at the (poorly caulked) seams.  That caused the pressboard to rot and buckle.  Wet cardboard on top of rotted ply wood… not good.  The insulation in the walls was in bad shape too (which we knew from re-doing the walls in the office)… so we replaced that as well.

One of the worst areas of rot was around the spigot:

After removing the 2 layers of siding, Andy discovered that the studs were also rotted- apparently the spigot had been leaking at one point.  This is a pretty tricky spot to work in- it is where the water line enters the house from the street- directly behind the spigot, inside the garage, is the water pressure regulator, an emergency water shutoff and an electrical receptacle.   Andy removed the small section of fence next to the spigot and then started “carefully” using his sawzall to remove the existing studs.  However, there is no such thing as careful when it comes to a sawzall- it nicked the water line extending down from the spigot in the picture above (which was plastic) causing water to gush out spraying everywhere at about a gallon per second.  Andy ran to the sidewalk to shut off the main water supply (forgetting about the emergency shutoff 6 inches away) and I ran to the electrical panel to shut off the power.  Honey was confused.  Andy got the water shut off and rebuilt the wall… it’s a good thing he gets paid so well (in Racer 5 IPA)

Here’s what the new siding looked like once it was primed (which we did in the garage) and hung:

So beautiful!  We kept the windows and the trim around them in place while Andy worked the siding around them- which was a bit tricky but saved having to replace the windows.  After the siding was up, it was time to prep for paint.  That involved a lot of caulking (where the top of the siding meets the beams and the eave and where the fascia meets the eave), digging away the dirt around the foundation, power washing and then scrubbing the foundation with a tri-sodium phosphate solution (basically a strong soap that melted my cute pink rubber gloves), doing some beam repair, and repairing around the front door.  The previous owners had installed the lovely (sarcasm) orange door which was a pre-hung door, meaning it came with its own frame… so they “carefully” (probably with a sawzall) cut out the original framing around the door to get the new door frame in- then covered up the gap left between the two with some trim.  When I removed the trim pieces, the gap was so big you could see into the atrium through the 1/2″ crack all the way around the door.  Nothing some wood shims and a couple tubs of wood filler couldn’t fix though:

I just used some regular Elmer’s wood filler… we’ll see how it holds up… so far so good.  One thing we did notice is that if it gets wet (like when your husband sawzalls a water line 3 feet away) it swells… so be sure to prime and paint it right away.

Painting Eichler siding is SO TEDIOUS!  Because of the thin grooves, the paint has to be applied (with a super wet roller) then the paint worked into the grooves (and the excess paint removed from the grooves) with a brush… so you basically need to brush the whole house… twice (2 coats).  The cheap, fast, easy way to do it is with a sprayer, but that doesn’t get as good coverage and doesn’t get the paint worked into the grooves, so isn’t recommended.  Diane and I did most of the work- it took 2 of us about 5 hours each to get the first coat on (excluding the garage door), then about 7 more hours for me to do the 2nd coat and paint the garage door by myself.  Diane was paid in Racer 5 IPA:

Shawn also helped paint for about 20 minutes.  He’s better suited for siding work though:

We used flat exterior Behr Ultra paint in “Amazon Stone” (one shade darker than “Creek Bend”, the color we used in the Atrium) for the siding, garage door, and most of the trim.  The underside of the eaves and the beams are semi-gloss exterior Behr Ultra in the un-tinted ultra white base.   It’s a fairly new product so doesn’t have a full review from Consumer Reports, but the preliminary review is very good- and it’s about half the cost of Benjamin Moor Aura paint, which many pros swear by.  Interestingly, our neighbor is painting his house in almost the same color with Aura paint… so we’ll have a good real-life comparison of the 2 products.

Here’s what that spigot looks like now (we plan to remove the fence at some point- it’s just there for now to keep my sister’s dogs from escaping the front yard)

The vertical PVC pipe attached to the old spigot went nowhere (probably a defunct irrigation system), so we simply removed it.  Andy custom-made the corner trim pieces with his table saw using 2″x2″ lumber.

Here’s what the doorway looks like now:

(We have plans to replace the front door and paint it a new color… still deciding on hardware and color though)

And here’s the full frontal view.  Maybe we’ll trim that giant maple tree this winter… now that we don’t need it to block our ugly house.

Here you can see the newly painted foundation.  We used Behr’s concrete and stucco paint, also in “Amazon Stone” for the foundation.  It’s not a perfect color match to the house color, but it’s formulated for concrete, so I suppose that’s worth the slight mismatch

(Still working on the grass… probably a lost cause)

Quite the face lift, eh?  We’re REALLY happy with how it’s turned out… and with how much money we saved by doing it ourselves (contractors charge $300 per 8’x4′ sheet just to INSTALL the siding… not to mention the materials, insulation, priming, painting, and re-constructing rotted studs… That works out to about $100/hour- a price we’re not willing to pay).  It was REALLY hard, time-consuming work though… and we have 2 more sides of the house to finish- so we’re not even 1/3 done 🙁 … but at least the house looks really nice when we come home to it 🙂



The Atrium

One of the features of our house that we really like is the center atrium.  We never really had a vision for the atrium though, it just sort of evolved.  Here’s what we had to work with when we moved in:

(view from the office):

The very first project we tackled in the atrium was to lower the planters. The dirt was held in by the bricks and the level was almost flush with the top of the bricks- a few inches HIGHER than the siding and window sills.  Our pest inspector had pointed out that having dirt up to the wood window sills and siding was not good (burying wood in dirt eventually turns the wood into dirt… and it makes it easier for termites to get to the wood)- the soil level should be 3-6″ below the siding/sills.  Before we could lower the dirt, however, we had to remove the white marble rocks that surrounded all of the plants.  Andy’s mom did this project on the weekend we moved in (she is very industrious!).  Next, we started de-foresting.  We began by transplanting the ferns to the back yard but we kept some of the tropical plants including all of the birds of paradise plants (we moved two from the back yard into the atrium). Our de-forestation efforts cleared enough way that we could start removing dirt.  As we did this, we noticed quite a bit of wood damage.  The bottom 2-3″ of the east wall of the atrium (the one next to the long planter) was rotted, as was the windowsill on that wall. There were also a couple patches about 12″ square on that wall that had rotted. Our initial plan was to replace the siding on the entire wall- and since that would be about $400 worth of siding, we put the project on hold.

Next, we replaced the lighting in the atrium- previously there was a one fixture that was wired with an old extension cord that went through the boiler exhaust vent to tap into the light in the laundry room, and another that piggy-backed off that one (again, hard wired with an old extension cord) that showcased the fountain in the corner.  Both were replaced with two matching minimalist fixtures (Home Depot Clearance) centered on the long wall of the atrium.

Once it started to get hot last summer, we quickly learned that our atrium was serving as a green house (hence the lush plant life).  One particularly hot July day it was about 90 degrees outside and 120 degrees in the atrium.  Since we were borrowing my brother-in-law’s truck and the atrium cover was old, cracked, and leaky anyway, we decided it would be a fun afternoon project to remove the covering of the atrium.

Not only did that make it much more pleasant on summer days, it also gave us a view of the hills from our dining room.

The next project we tackled was the sliding door between the garage and the atrium.  You can read about that project here.  This picture shows how you could see into the garage from the atrium (it’s also a regal picture of Honey Brown staring at her food!):

To patch the atrium side of the wall, we got 2 sheets of thinline Beckenridge Eichler Siding from Jeff, the Eichler Siding guy.  It was a bit tricky to install and we ended up with a 1/2″ gap between the new and existing siding- but it was nothing that a fresh tub of wood putty couldn’t handle 🙂

A pretty painless project was to add some privacy to the tall narrow window adjacent to the front door.  Previously it was completely transparent allowing someone to see clear into our house from the street:

I simply covered it with transparent contact-paper using a spray bottle and squeegee method:

Clearly, a new frosted window would be nice- but you can’t really beat a $6 fix (from Target) that takes an hour!  It even fooled a neighbor (who has an AWESOME house in our model) who was tempted to try it on her own window!

Speaking of contact paper, we needed to find a slightly classier solution to our don’t-run-into-the-glass-door problem than what we currently had in place:

(wait for the solution, I don’t want to give away everything yet!)

The biggest transformation came in the spring when we decided to plant hops (the kind that goes into beer) along the long wall in the atrium.  We had limited time before the hop vines would be climbing up the wall, so we had to do something to repair the wall of siding which had several rotted spots and a rotted bottom.  Rather than replace all of the siding, we decided to do some patching.  We had extra siding from where we replaced the sliding door on the other wall, so the smaller patches were pretty straight forward.  For the bottom 2-3″ of siding that was rotted all the way across the wall (from having dirt against it for years), Andy simply trimmed off the rotted part (plus about 1-2″ for a total of 4″) with his circular saw, installed a long strip of wood (that looks like a baseboard) and siliconed the heck out of everything.   Andy is a master at carpentry and I am a master at wood putty and paint, so once everything was painted, it was hardly noticeable as a “patch”.  Once we got that wall patched and painted, Andy installed some steel wire for the hops to climb and I got to work prepping (scraping and sanding away a LOT of old paint and caulking lots of gaps) and painting (Behr “creek bend”) the rest of the atrium.  Here she is now:

As you can see, it’s a perfect place to relax, drink some coffee and read.  Especially with some machine generated relaxing nature sounds.  We thought about getting a fountain for ambient noise, but this is much cheaper and easier to maintain!

Here’s our new view of the hills from the dining room:

You’ll notice that we don’t have nearly as many tropical plants as we started out with… some were badly sun burnt when we removed the plastic top from the atrium, some died from a combination of neglect and cold temperatures over the winter, and lots were trampled with my ladder as I was painting.  Oh well- at least the hops survived!  I also planted an herb garden- the basil, parsley and mint (which I transplanted from the side of the house) are doing really well.  The parsley is ok, but the cilantro died by a combination of getting paint spilled on them and being trampled by the ladder.  I think this little patch of dirt is quite perfect for plants- last year we had some MAMMOTH tomato plants growing there:

The brick perimeter to the planters is not the most beautiful or sturdy thing (in some areas the bricks are simply staying in place from gravity, not mortor), but it provides enough of a barrier to keep Honey Brown out (too bad we can’t say the same for my sister’s dogs!). Speaking of Honey Brown, she really enjoys the atrium too- mostly because we spend time there now too:

Though Honey enjoys baking in the sun, we’re a little more fair-skinned, so we brought in an umbrella ($50 from Home Depot) and the umbrella stand (which came for free with the house) to provide some shade and some nice cheerful color:

Oh, and here is our more classy solution to our running-into-glass-doors problem:

More contact paper!  I used a circle punch to make a bunch of dots, then stuck them to all of the sliders at eye level.  So far, so good! They’re on every sliding door in the house (except the ones with the plastic grids that look like fake window panes).  Before we have our friends with toddlers over again, I think we’ll have to stick more up at 3-year-old height (and maybe even Dog height).

Another quick project was to doctor up our door stop (we like to keep the front door propped open so that Honey Brown can explore the front yard).  We had been using an old brick but it started crumbling, so I make a quick “brick cozy” for it by wrapping it in some scrap fabric and quickly stitching it together.  It took all of 10 minutes:

Some day we’ll have a nice solid door…in a different color… some day.  The third project that made its way into the atrium is our stump table.  It’s a remnant from the giant oak tree we had cut down last winter:

It’s the perfect height for our chaises.

That’s all for now- I’m sure the atrium will continue to evolve (as I slowly kill more and more plants).  We’d like to add some outdoor speakers, replace the tile floor (it’s cracked in many places and also uneven), maybe put in a big dining table and some outdoor heaters instead of the chaise lounges and maybe even build a retractable cover.  For now, the atrium is good enough and we have bigger fish to fry anyway (like replacing the siding)!

The Office

Before we moved into our house, we knew we had some damage to one of the beams in our office (the front room off the atrium).  Our $400 pest inspector made this clear when he stuck his screw driver into the beam and left the lovely holes to remind us of his $400 bill:

This beam runs from the wall adjacent to the atrium, across the office, through the front wall of the house from which it extends another 3 feet, for a total of 16′ in length.  It was also clear that the exterior of the beam had some damage and it was starting to sag (due to damage to the post holding it up) which was affecting the siding:

Apparently this is a very common problem with this model of house- water intrudes around the beams which stick out from the front of the house with no eave to protect them.  We have a neighbor a few houses down who apparently faced a similar situation since he is now missing one of the beams that should be sticking out of the front of his house- it’s pretty obvious that it rotted and simply fell off (there’s still part of the rotted beam there).  Anyhow, this is the main reason we chose to extend our roof– to prevent this from happening again or to another beam. However, before we could extend our roof, we needed to replace this beam since the roof would be resting on top of it.

We thought about hiring this work out and talked to a contractor about it when we were shopping around for contractors to extend the roof.  After having one of them explain the process to us, Andy felt confident that he could do it with the help of the best brother in the world, Tim.  We also knew that if it got to be too difficult to handle, we could call the best contractor in the world, our friend Kevin Sullivan who helped replace the beam above our garage last summer.

The first step (done by Tim with close supervision from Honey Brown) was to build a false close to where the rotted beam was in order to support the roof while we replaced the beam.

Once the false wall was up, Tim started removing the drywall around the beam.  Like most of our house, the dry wall was applied directly to the existing paneling, making for extra laborious demo.  As soon as we started, we realized the damage was REALLY bad- the entire post holding up the beam was rotted.

Next came the fun part of taking out the rotted beam.  The exterior part came out pretty easily.  It was less attached to the rest of the beam than to the flashing!

The rest of the beam was attacked with the sawzall in about 3-foot sections.  As we (and by “we” I mean Andy and Tim) removed the old beam we came to realize that the ceiling was holding the beam up rather than the other way around (as we removed each section of beam, the ceiling seemed to breathe a sigh of relief).

While Tim and Andy were removing the old beam, I was busily priming and painting the new 20 foot beam (which was delivered to our driveway that morning by Golden State Lumber).

As Andy and Tim moved the beam from the street to the front yard, they started to get a feel for just how heavy a 20′ douglas fir beam is.

Our original plan was to simply insert it through the hole left by the old beam until it hit the opposite side of the office (13′ away) where it would rest on another post. We quickly realized that is much easier said than done.  Our first modification was to insert the new post on the exterior wall as clearly, the 2 layers of siding would not be enough to hold up that side of the beam.

Then, the boys built a “shelf” to rest the beam on which would prove to be extremely helpful as we slid it across the room:

Being scientist types, we decided to use some tools of physics to help us out, such as a lever created by our little giant ladder.  We also realized that our other ladder, a  4′ aluminum ladder was not nearly as sturdy as the kitchen table. On our first attempt we (and by “we” I truly mean myself included- though I lent more “advice” than muscle) got one end of the beam resting on our newly installed post like so:

At this point, we realized we would need to enlarge the hole that the beam was to slide through.  This meant removing the newly installed post and putting up a temporary one that was a few inches shorter.  We also learned that taking the beam down from that position is much harder than getting the beam to that position.  Trial 2 involved Andy on the roof with a harness.  The beam sustained some grass stains and I though we broke Tim.  Trial 2 was a failure.  Finally, at the end of the day, as many of our neighbors drove very slowly by the house taking in the scene that was unfolding on the front lawn (and likely wondering how long we were planning to keep the kitchen table on the front lawn) we had success!

Once the beam was pretty close to its final resting place, we simply had to re-install the permanent post and attach the beam to the post on both sides of the room.  We used some steel brackets as well as some 2x4s.  We later screwed through the roof into the beam, but not until just prior to getting the new roof. We also had to trim the beam on the exterior to make sure it was even with the others (we left it a foot or so long on purpose so that we could be assure it wouldn’t be too short).

This is also about the time we realized we may as well remove all of the walls in the office.  This would allow us to check the posts supporting the other beam (it was in good shape-phew!), install an overhead light in the center of the ceiling, ground all of the electrical:

replace and add insulation to all of the walls:

And remedy some of the sloppy trim and drywall work like this (notice the crack in the corner of the wall and the way the window casing is inset in the drywall):

Tim had gone home (exhausted and sore) so Andy hung the new drywall and I was in charge of the taping and mudding (apparently this fell close enough to the realm of painting which is clearly my territory). I was very nervous about the taping and spent many hours researching online how-tos (http://www.familyhandyman.com has some great how-tos, as does youtube).  Luckily enough, I procrastinated long enough that Uncle Joe took the initiative and did all of the taping for me (during his vacation no less!), leaving just the mudding.  It turns out you can do a pretty god job with drywall mud even as a novice, it just takes LOTS of time and sanding.

For the wall color, we chose Behr’s “Reflecting Pool.”  In the Home Depot, the color looks very grey, but in the office it is a very pale blue, which Andy likes very much (I had voted for “Dolphin fin” which is much more neutral, but got vetoed).  Ultimately, the office doesn’t look TOO different from how it started (the light fixture is way too small for the room- it’s just a place holder until I find something better), however the temperature difference from the insulation is quite noticeable- it went from being the hottest room in the house during the summer to the coolest!

Some day we’d like to replace the flooring and maybe the desk, but for now it’s good enough.

The Saga of the Weed Tree

One day, a weed started to grow next to our house.  It was left to grow for a very very long time.  This weed grew for so long it became a tree: the weed tree.  It grew big and tall and eventually came to shelter the house’s chimney from the cold.  A short time after Mary and Andy moved in, their homeowner’s insurance carrier sent them a letter: the weed tree had gotten too dangerous.  You see, insurance companies are very very picky about what they will insure, and they happen to dislike flammable things (such as trees) being too close to things that could emit flames (such as chimneys).  So it came to be that Andy had his first encounter with the weed tree.

From afar, the weed tree looked innocent enough- like an ordinary deciduous tree.  But up close, Andy could tell that the weed tree was not that innocent- it was armored with mega death thorns. This is when Andy realized that the weed tree was a villain and he must be destroyed at once!  Andy hacked and hacked with his sword (actually, his sawz-all) until the weed tree rose no more- off to the green bin it went… or so Andythought.

The weed tree was very menacing though and started re-growing himself.  Every few weeks a new weed sprout would grow from where the weed tree once stood (now a weed tree stump).  For a while, Andy or Mary would pluck off the new sprouts.  Then one day Andy covered the weed tree stump with a few tons of cement chunks from the old sidewalk, but once the cement trunks were hauled off to the dump, the weed tree reared his ugly head, or sprouts, again.

This is when Andy knew he had to call in backup- from Timmy.  Andy and Timmy, the brothers whose parents once had a layover in Indiana, dug and hacked with their sawzall, pickax and shovels

They broke a shovel; Honey Brown expressed her dismay.

They brought out the car jack.

They borrowed a jack hammer from Kevin Sullivan.  Mary brought them lemonade.

They sweat, bled and cursed.  Then, finally it happened!  The weed tree was killed once and for all.  A giant void was left in its wake.

Andy an Timmy hoisted the carcass into the back of the Green Machine and hauled it to the dump. Hasta La Vista weed tree.

The end (or so we think).

Roof-a-palooza 2012: Part 4 (The Roof is finally on!)

After living with roof that leaked during EVERY rain storm for the past year, we have a new roof- and it’s water tight with R-9 insulation value!

The re-roofing has been a 4 day process. On day one, Abril‘s team arrived at 8:30am on the dot and got straight to work.  About 4 men of the 6-or so person team went straight up to the roof to start removing the gravel and old fashing.  Another 2 guys (including Al, who was the day’s project manager) came into the house and started taping plastic to our ceilings to collect any dirt and debris that seeps in:

Believe me- dirt seeps in… see:

They were very thorough- even getting plastic up in the closets.  Unfortunately, the tape didn’t hold very well- by the time we woke up the next morning, about 1/4 of the plastic had fallen.  Not a big deal however, because when it finally came off the next day, Andy did a good job at cleaning up.  My guess is that Abril’s team would have come in and done the same, but I going a little nuts having plastic everywhere so Andy took the initiative to take it down.  He’s a good husband.

After the taping, the whole team focused on the top of the roof and removing the gravel.  They used a giant vacuum cleaner that was connected to a dump truck.

It was loud- like they were running a lawn mower on the roof.  That commotion is what created all of the dirt in the house- and even loosened a light fixture in the office (probably my fault for not attaching it tightly after water seeped into it during the last rain storm).

They added new 4″ flashing (8″ in the atrium)- which is primed gray (we’ll most likely paint it white with the rest of the trim):

Finally, they added a black primer to help the foam adhere to what was left of our roof (tongue and groove wood, tar, a little gravel):

Notice they left the satellite dish up there as long as they could so we could continue to watch tv through the whole process except the middle of day 2! They also dug up quite a bit of the old tar, as you can see in the foreground of this picture- in some spots they dug down to the wood ceiling.

On day 2, Abril’s team arrived again at 8:30 on the dot.  We had a new project manager, Jose. Jose was the lead foam applier, as you can see by his shoes (he says they’re his foam shoes- I’m glad all his shoes don’t look like that).  I took this on their well deserved lunch break (and my lunch break).

Before they got to spraying the foam however, they finished up flashing (Andy decided to extend some fascia he added during the roof extension after he got home from work on roofing day 1- so they just had that small area to finish up), disconnected our 7 down spouts and added new flashing on top of the roof for them.  We decided to have them enlarge the down spouts on the recommendation of Kevin Sullivan, our favorite contractor.  They also removed the skylight in our hall bathroom and built up the base a bit so the new sky light will sit well above the foam.  Then they started spraying on the foam:

They were very diligent about protecting everything around- our gate and mailbox, our lawn furniture, every car in a 3-house radius, the entire atrium etc.  Luckily there was very little wind so there were no accidental over sprays that we’re aware of.

On day 3 the team added sealant and granules to the foam roof, and replaced the 6 existing 2″ down spouts with new bigger 3″ ones and added a 7th down spout, all to help aid drainage:

Before we reveal the new roof, here’s what the old tar and gravel roof looked like before:

(sorry, we don’t have a good wide angle shot)

And here she is now.:

Isn’t she beautiful, like a pristine snowfall in the Sierras?

(On day 4 they replaced the bathroom skylight which you can see in the photo above- the one they had on day 3 was the wrong size).

The best part?  It’s currently 91 degrees outside and only 77 degrees inside!  Not bad for a house with tons of giant single pane windows and no insulation in the walls (last summer it would have been about 98 degrees inside if it were 91 outside).  We’re in looooooove and can’t wait for the next downpour!


Roof-a-palooza 2012: Part 3 (Extending the roof)

Aside from making all foreseeable protrusions to the roof, we had another major project to complete before the roofers arrived- and that is extending the roof line in the front of the house.  This is arguably the most exciting of the roof projects as it’s the biggest impact.  Here’s what we were starting with:

Notice how there are 8 beams sticking out from the front of the house topped with a trellis?  The problem with this set up is that the beams themselves and the areas surrounding them are very susceptible to weather, specifically water intrusion (the white one in the photo above was in such bad shape the entire beam needed to be replaced).  There is also no eave on the front of the house to protect the siding from weather.  For these reasons and aesthetic ones, we decided that now is the perfect time to extend the roof line (by 33 inches to be exact) all the way to the end of the beam.  Several of our neighbors with the same model house have done the same thing- so we had plenty of examples to look at before we committed to this very large project.  Also, the back of the house has an eave over the extending beams, so it made sense to us for the front to be the same way.

I should mention that we considered hiring this project out, but after talking to several contractors, Andy decided that we would do it ourselves (by we I mean Andy and his little brother Tim with advice from our favorite contractor, Kevin and a tiny bit of help from Mary).

First, we removed the trellis.  Although several neighbors have added similar trellises and they are definitely better than nothing, they were not original and do not do a good job at protecting the house, so we wanted something better.  Judging by the condition of the wood, ours was probably about 5 years old.

This picture nicely demonstrates several concepts

  1. The siding on the front of the house is in really bad shape- notice the green tint and the horizontal seam?  I’m no siding expert, but I’m guessing those things are not good.
  2. The house is pretty ugly “naked” like this (in my opinion).  Some neighbors have naked houses and seem happy with them while others have gone a step further and completely trimmed back the beams so they are flush with the house and do not stick out at all- I’m personally not a fan of that either (although it may solve some of the water intrusion problems).
  3. We did this job (yes We, as in Andy AND Mary) after work one evening- hence the bad lighting.
  4. Andy really loves his Sawz-All.  It’s probably his most used tool after the drill.

Removing the trellis actually took a bit of engineering.  See, it was attached to the beams via nails so large they are better classified as stakes.  To pry the trellis off of the beam we used a combination of a steel post, the car jack and a sledge hammer.  Safe? No. Effective? Yes.

Next, Andy ordered the lumber which consisted of 1.5″x6″ tongue and groove, 10″ fascia (which we later trimmed down to 8″) and lots of 2×4’s (we had to make a second trip to San Rafael lumber for the plywood). He ordered all of the lumber (except the plywood) from Golden State lumber in San Rafael who delivers directly to our driveway.  Even though Andy has a truck now, this is still much more convenient considering the tongue and groove came in 16′ lengths and the fascia boards came in 20′ lengths and his truck bed is nowhere near that long.

Because my least favorite thing is painting tongue and groove ceilings, I decided to prime and paint the tongue and groove before it became the ceiling of the eave (so that once it’s installed, it will just need touch-ups).

Honey Brown was very curious about the 24 16′ boards that were taking over her back yard.  I only painted one side (the only side that will be exposed- as the under side of the eave).

Once the wood was prepped, the protrusion projects completed and Tim (Andy’s little brother) was in town, the extension officially began.  The first step was removing the flashing:

then the siding and finally the berm at the front of the house.  The berm basically extends about 4″ up above the tongue and groove that comprises the ceiling.  This step was nerve wrecking because it meant that we were seriously opening up our house to a complete soaking if nature decided to rain.  I believe a sawz-all, wedge and sledge hammer were used to remove the berm.

Once the berm was gone, the tongue and groove went directly on top of the beams (just like in the back of the house) and they started building a new berm from 2×4’s:

Plywood was added above the tongue and groove to try to bring the level of the eave up a bit so it wasn’t a low spot of the roof (we are enlarging our existing down spouts but did not add any down spouts to the eave):

And a fascia board was added.  This took a lot of debate over how to compensate for the un-levelness of the roof line- the fascia could be level or it could follow the roofline but not both- so we came up with a bit of a compromise.  Andy, Tim and I can see precisely how it’s not level, but hopefully it’s not as apparent to others.  We also confirmed that there are neighbors whose rooflines/fascias look way less level than ours.

And finally, the fascia board got topped by a new piece of flashing (this step was done by the roofers):

Sure, it needs a top coat of paint (everything is at least primed) and our house still needs new siding and paint, but we think it’s a huge improvement- both aesthetically and functionally!

Roof-a-palooza 2012: Part 2 (Planning and Making Protrusions)

One day, Joseph Eichler said to himself, “I like roofers- they are nice guys and do hard, back breaking work.  Because I like them so much, I will plan my developments so as to give them as much work as they can handle.”  That is when he decided to

  1. Make all roofs flat or very low pitched
  2. Ensure any changes to plumbing, electrical wiring, HV/AC or ventilation require penetrating the roof creating the potential for leaks.  He did this by building all of his houses on solid concrete slabs (which house the radiant heating systems) with no attic or overhead crawl space.  Effectively, any new plumbing, electrical wiring etc has to either run through the minimal wall space or through and over the roof.

Thanks to Eichler’s collusion with the roofing industry, we’ve been spending the last 3 months planning for and doing anything that we foresee needing to penetrate the roof.  The advantage of doing this just prior to getting a new roof is that the new roof mitigates the potential for leaks around the protrusions- they just seal everything in with the spray foam (same theory for tar & gravel).

We started out in March (very naively) thinking that we could seal around our protrusions with Henry’s wet patch.  Because none of the bedrooms nor the living room have overhead lights, we wanted to add one to the office and one to the master bedroom (all other rooms without overhead lights have beams in or near the center of the room which makes things difficult- so we ignored these rooms for now).  In theory, this was a pretty easy job.  First, we (and of course by We I mean Andy with some ill informed advice from Mary) drilled a hole through the roof in the center of the room and another directly over the wall containing the pre-existing light switch.  Then we ran some Romex (2-12 for the office, 3-12 for the master- we wised up and thought we may some day want a ceiling fan which requires 3-12) encased in Schedule 40 (looks like gray PVC) which we set in a small trench dug in the tar on the roof between the two holes then attached to the roof via brackets.  We connected one end to the switch and the other to the light fixture then “sealed” the roof with some Henry’s.  This is the same basic concept they used when originally wiring the house, the only difference is that the original wiring wasn’t grounded and was set under long metal teepees (or upside down V channels).  The other very crucial difference is that they didn’t use Henry’s- they immediately applied the roof (hot tar).  Turns out, our sealing job wasn’t so successful.  This is what our bedroom looked like after the first rain:

(pardon the iphone picture- this was taken at 4am).

Needless to say, we couldn’t live very long with makeshift rain chains in our bedroom.  We called Abril roofing the next morning and they came out and fixed the leaks (and the similar problem in the office) the day we called.  In retrospect, we should have postponed this project until much closer to getting the new roof, after any threat of rain- but otherwise, we’re happy with how it turned out.

After the rain-chain-over-the-bed incident described above, we were hesitant to penetrate the roof- so we put all other protrusion projects off until about a week ago (about 10 days prior to the new roof).  Next up was adding an exhaust fan to the master bedroom which only has a window.  Although having a window in the bathroom meets the minimum code requirements, in order for it to be effective it has to be opened after showers and such- which doesn’t always happen, especially in the winter.  The house we rented last had the same set up and the bathroom had so much mold and water damage that it had to be completely gutted.  That’s not to say I wouldn’t mind gutting the master bathroom, but once we do that, we don’t want to have to worry about mold- hence the exhaust fan.  We chose the Panasonic Whisper Ceiling (80CFM).  For the install, we followed the tutorial provided by Marin Homestead which was consistent with the instructions provided by our roofer.

1. Cut a hole in the roof just a hare larger than the vent fan:

2. Mount the vent fan to the ceiling (ignoring the fact that rather than being in your attic like it should be, it’s now on top of your roof) .

3. Attach a 4″ elbow to the side exhaust then a 4″ stack (so the exhaust is now directed towards the sky).  Scrape away tar around the fan (down to the wood ceiling).  Surround with a rectangle made of 2×8″ douglas fir nailed together (we made this in our garage) and attached to the wood ceiling with screws.

4. Open the bathroom wall around the light switch and drill a hole up through the roof:

5. Run 12-2 Romex from the switch (through the hole you just drilled in the roof) to the box containing the fan (we like to encase our Romex in Schedule 40 sunk into a trench through the tar for protection).  Drill a hole through the box (to let the Romex in) and connect the romex to the fan:

6. Attach a plywood cover to the box (with a 4″ hole cut in it for the stack) with screws.  Add a flashing piece (we got the kind with the rubber ring that is supposed to replace the need for caulk) and a China cap (that’s the name on the tag) and you’re done:

Andy did a very similar install in the hall bathroom- the difference being there was already a fan there (it a was super loud and inefficient NuTone ).  Even though there was already electricity going to the fan, he re-ran the wire so it could be grounded.  We’re very happy with the fans.  They’re super efficient- I can take a shower without the mirror fogging up and they’re so quiet you can barely hear them!  Here’s a view from the inside:

We installed timer switches so the fans stay on at least 5 minutes (I think I read somewhere that you should leave the ceiling fan on for at least 30 minutes when you shower):

(The switch on the left controls the light above the vanity- the fan is on the independent timer on the right.  As you can see, I haven’t yet patched the drywall around the switch.)

The next protrusion we made was to move the kitchen exhaust fan.  Originally, these fans were installed on the opposite side of the beam from the range, which means they basically don’t work.  We moved ours so that it’s directly above the range.  Well, I lied- it’s shifted by 18 inches from the center of the range.  The reason for this is that we someday hope to move the range 18 inches to the left so that it is not against the wall/window.  We may also replace the original fan with a proper vent hood, and when we do, we’ll have the hole for the 6″ vent in the perfect spot.

(Old location on the right which we still need to patch and new location on left)

The final protrusion we made was actually 104 protrusions… we had to secure the beam we installed in the office to the roof.  We had the option of screwing up through the beam or down through the roof.  Of course the disadvantage of screwing down through the roof is that it opened an opportunity for water to leak in- which is why we waited until just before the new roof came on (sorry no pictures- but it’s not much to look at- just another trench through the tar with 104 screws in it).

That’s all!  We considered doing the kitchen vent hood now as well, but there’s no real advantage to that (plus it may look a bit weird not being centered over the range, whereas it’s harder to detect the off-centeredness with the original flush fan).  We also considered running some speaker wire throughout the living room for surround sound- but we couldn’t figure out exactly where we wanted it (and we ran out of time).  It took a lot of planning to figure out exactly what protrusions we wanted and where we wanted them- but the hope is it will save us a lot of effort down the road, and hopefully keep us as dry as possible!