Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Power of Not Thinking Negatively

After cutting in panels of insulation for most of today and getting help for a few hours from Team Molly/Eric, ninety percent of the insulation is in place. What's left is fastening the full panels to the studs; this should go quickly relative to the tedious job of cutting to fit. The drywall guy is supposed to come early this week with a contract. We'll walk through again to make sure everything's in place. Danny didn't dump as much rain as expected, but the two-plus inches we got was more than enough. Everything was dry inside thanks to the plastic covered openings. With a little luck, we'll be just about ready for drywall by the end of the week.

I've been hearing a lot lately about how I need to relax about the pace of things. It is true that a variety of issues over the last few weeks have got me not very optimistic about getting things ready enough soon enough. I've been so focused for the last three and a half months on what needs to happen before October that I really didn't think about a plan B. So, absent any alternative, I allowed stress to muddy my thinking, and I passed off some of this anxiety to my electrician who's not accustomed to working under such conditions. (Sorry, Michelle) I'm feeling better about it all for reasons not entirely clear, and if we have to rent the little red house up the hill for a month or so it won't be the end of the world.

Tomorrow will start by bringing Chloe to school for her first day of kindergarten.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Marvin, Meet Danny

I spent most of this morning getting ready for 4 or 5 inches of rain courtesy of tropical storm Danny. I put up plastic over the 12' hole where the slider should be courtesy of Marvin. After earlier assurances that someone would be out to see the slider at the beginning of the week, there's still no sign of them. When I received this month's invoice, two thirds of which was the slider, I made the deduction and sent off a check noting that the missing money would be forthcoming when Marvin fixes (or replaces) the sliding glass door. Nonpayment has a way of getting people's attention.

Our entry door is in and operable. I got Thermatrue energy star rated doors. Half light for the entry door and full light for the door to the porch. (Half light means half of it is glass, in this case, insulated glass.) Michelle is done rough wiring, and after a little testing, we'll be ready to wrap up the insulation. I tested out my low expansion foam gun a couple days ago. This is a professional version of the polyurethane foam you can buy at the hardware store called Great Stuff. I'll use it to seal around all the windows and doors and around the gaps between the rigid foam and the studs. It's tricky to use at first, but I've got the hang of it now. I ordered the tankless hot water heater that will operate in conjunction with the solar system and also help heat the floor, (Another energy tax credit, 30% of $1200!) and Dave, the system installer, may start running pipe for it next week.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Pig Escapes!

When I returned from a trip into Blue Hill, Chloe yelled from the barn loft window, "A pig got out!" I thought she was pulling my leg. True, though, a pig had gotten out and, then with Michelle's help, back in. She and the girls had stepped out for a cone of ice cream at the Bagaduce Lunch, and when they returned, there was the biggest pig on the wrong side of the fence looking for a way to get back in. The grass, apparently, is not always greener on the other side. It's my lack of attention to the fence that allowed the breach, be it intentional or accidental. I know I'm supposed to walk the perimeter frequently to check for signs of mischief, and I haven't. Absorbed in other pressing matters and possibly a little too cocky that my pigs are so content that they'd never think of escaping. (After all where else could they get their snouts on five gallon buckets of garlic mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese.) Perhaps the biggest pig was just being curious and wound up on the other side. Michelle found a place where she could lift up the bottom of the fence and the pig scooted back under. And just in time too; I hit the jackpot at both the Co-Op and Table and returned with two days worth of tasty stuff.

I'm still waiting for the guy from Marvin to pay us a visit. Michelle is pretty close to having the whole place wired; she's got the phone and internet stuff left and that's about it. Then I can get in there and finish insulating. Since the truth is already out there, I suppose it's time for me to tell about Michelle's freak accident with a drill. The day before Chloe and Hazel returned from RI with my parents, we were both working away when I heard a sort of startled yelp and then a call for help. Michelle was inside drilling holes for wires to pass through the studs and using a rather long speedbore bit to get into a difficult to reach spot when somehow some of her hair got wrapped around the shaft of the spinning bit. When I arrived on the scene, she'd already removed the bit from the drill and was holding it in her hand along with the hair it had torn from the side of her head. The sight was something of a shock for me; she had no idea what she looked like and appeared to be in a state of disbelief about what had just happened. She claimed at the time and still does that it didn't really hurt. A whole patch of hair from above her temple down to her ear and back maybe five inches was ripped out right down to the scalp. She's really, really lucky that hair was the only thing that came away. It could have been much worse. That said, she is missing perhaps a third of her hair on the right side of her head. Since she didn't quite know how to deal with this, she swore me to secrecy and wore a hat or scarf for about a week, and then slowly the news leaked out.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Big Chunks of Money

I got a contract for the installation of the solar hot water system this morning. After an early morning visit to the plumber's, the choice seemed pretty clear to me. First he'd quoted the wrong system. Then he dragged his feet getting me the information on what I'd wanted until, finally, today I presented myself once again for information. When he produced the quote the number was considerably higher than I'd expected. It may have been considerably higher than he expected. The problem is that I know more about these systems than he does. The benefit of having our plumbers install the solar hot water system was supposed to be a break on the installation since they'd never done one before. While he dragged his feet, I called a guy who's done many of these installations (I'd spoken to him way back when the house was still being designed.) His systems are custom while the plumber's system is a package he's buying from a distributor and simply installing. The difference was a couple thousand dollars in the custom/experienced guy's favor. So I decided to quit dillydallying and sign on with the guy who knows what's he's doing. There's $14,700. I also called the low bid on the drywall. At $6,700 well worth it. The giant slider, once it's fixed, comes to $4,100. After we pay for all these things, we'll be ready to eat into our home equity line of credit. At that point the house will have all its doors and windows, all the walls will be ready to paint, and it will have a top notch solar hot water system that's also capable of heating the slab. What's left is buying the kitchen from Ikea, appliances, the stuff of one bathroom, and a woodstove. Just a roughly educated guess on cost is somewhere between $17 and $20 thousand. The rest can be finished in the not too distant future. With a lot of this stuff we're racking up the energy tax credits. At 30% of the cost we're looking at about $5000 in tax credits. We'll have to take the credits over more than one year; we usually pay little, if any, federal taxes. I may have to make more money just to take advantage of the tax credits!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Say It Ain't So, Marvin

The delivery of the big slider has been hanging over my head for a week or so, and this morning it finally happened. When I ordered a 12' patio slider, I'd expected it to come disassembled. The sliders I installed this past winter had to be put together frame first in the rough opening and then the glass panels fit into place. Slider assembly is no fun. So I was pleasantly surprised and a little intimidated when I learned that the slider I'd ordered from Marvin came pre-assembled. It came ready for the rough opening just like a window, nailing fins and all. The intimidating part was handling such a large piece. When it arrived this morning, the two stationary panels were fixed in the frame and the middle operating panel was in it's own box to be installed once the frame was in place. With the help of Chris, our neighbor, we got the slider off the truck easily enough. Within 20 minutes of delivery, it was ready to go in the hole. That's when I noticed something a little funny. At the bottom corner of the left fixed panel there was an eighth of an inch gap between the edge of the panel and the frame. When I put a straight edge on the frame it showed the same 8th inch out of straight. After a few hours of trying to figure out what, exactly, was out of whack, I finally realized that I could withdraw the screws holding the frame to the panel. That allowed the frame to go straight. The gap, however, remained; now it ran from bottom to top, an 8th inch to nothing. The screws had been flexing the frame in the middle making it look like the bottom was bent out. The real problem is that the panel was fixed in the frame but the frame wasn't square. Unfortunately, this isn't an easy fix because, though the side of the panel was free after I pulled the screws, the top and bottom of the panel remain siliconed in place. The three hours I spent figuring this out also involved back and forth phone calls between between me and Eric at Viking Lumber and Eric and Marvin Windows. In the end we decided that I'd done enough investigating and that a Marvin representative would come and fix it early next week. Chris, Michelle and I carefully moved the slider into the house, and what could have been an easy hour's worth of successful installation had wasted an entire morning.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Short Lived Experiment

My test run with a rented diamond abrasive concrete grinder lasted less than a minute. That's how long it took to know that it wasn't going to work. The grinder worked well enough; that wasn't the problem. Just under our solid surface of dark concrete sits the stuff that holds it all together. A few seconds with the grinder wiped away the hardened creme surface and exposed little bits of sand and gravel. Together with the black surrounding the aggregate, it looked pretty awful. I loaded the grinder into the trailer and took it back to Ellsworth. We don't want a floor that looks like a patch of polished highway.

My inquiry into the possibilities of heating water with an electric tankless heater and PV was also short lived. If it made any sense at all to do it that way, people would be doing it. Electric instant hot water heaters use a tremendous amount of electricity. So much juice that I'd have to have about $35,000 worth of PV panels on the roof just to produce enough electricity to run the system for a half hour a day.

One drywall estimate is in: $7800 all materials and labor. That's a lot of cash but I haven't figured out what the material cost would be for me if I were to do it myself.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Zero Balance Invoice

This morning I signed and dated an invoice with a zero balance at the bottom. After pressing the issue a few days ago the folks who poured our floor finally addressed the problem and decided that, if it was fine with me, they'd relinquish ownership of the floor in exchange for a relinquishing of responsibility. In other words it was going to cost them more to fix it than I was going to pay them. It was in their interest to let it go and in mine as well. I expected to pay $4100 and now I won't. Tomorrow morning I'm going to rent a walk-behind diamond abrasive grinder (like you'd rent to take down an old wood floor but this is for concrete) for $150 and test it out under the stairs where it won't be visible no matter what happens. If we like the results, I'll take down the whole floor. This was an option for the floor installers, but they couldn't find someone to take on the responsibility. If they were to hire an outfit to grind down the floor (this is not something they'd do themselves) and in the end the results were unsatisfactory to me, then they'd not only be stuck with the first job but also the second. There are two unknowns complicating the whole mess: the depth of the defects and the depth of the aggregate. If grinding to fix the defects gets into the aggregate, then I'd be able to say, "That's not what we paid you $4000 for." So in the end it was better for them to chalk it up as a loss and let it go.

Chloe and Hazel are back from their fun in RI with Meme and Nono so it's back to business as usual here. We accomplished a lot in their absence and are grateful for the opportunity. Thanks Meme and Nono! Just before the girls and I drove off to go swimming this hot afternoon, a drywall guy showed up to check the place out for an estimate. I gave him a tour and an explanation of the quirks of the place and left him to take measurements. Not only is drywall my nemesis on jobs past but we're pressed for time at this point and could really use a boost from another sub coming in and getting a big job done quickly.

We also had a very pleasant and informative consultation with Terry Wessel, the electrician who set up the intial installment of power the house. He didn't have much to correct with Michelle's work and gave some helpful hints on a number of wiring issues. He also noted that he does solar electric installations and that our house would be perfect. He's going to work up a proposal for us. I went to the plumber's this morning to press them on the solar hot water and did get some new and not entirely welcome information. The price he gave me a few weeks ago was for the wrong (flat panel) solar system and that the one I wanted (evacuated tube) was a few thousand dollars more. The solar system with tankless water heater would run a little over $11,000. It got me thinking as I did a little more reading on the Houseneeds website; why not install PV panels instead and get an efficient electric tankless water heater and take propane out of the equation altogether. With a roof full of PV we could net meter back to Bangor Hydro in the summer and use credits in the winter and do away with one more system that uses fossil fuels. I'll have to look into it.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Painting trim

More Occupants of the House That Are Not Us

Dead mother spider and tiny baby spiders leaving the wood shavings nest, just before I drilled a hole right next to them. (Click on photo to see tiny babies.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Drilling for Electrons

Michelle gave me a little list of things to do this morning, the last of which was drilling holes in the mudroom studs for running wires. With a touch too much enthusiasm I drilled right through the first stud and on through the conduit holding the LIVE wire carrying power to the barn. My error produced a small spark when the drill bit hit the wire but no shock. Perhaps I was grounded by my rubber clogs. So I had to go and confess to the electrician that I'd cut power to her computer. Michelle made a splice, and everyone was back to work in no time.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Electrician Returns

Michelle is back on the job in her role as electrician. She's finding that this house is bigger and more complicated than the last. Nothing that her diligence and superior organizational skills can handle though. Got another visit from the heating engineer concerning the solar hot water system. We've got to get the ball rolling on that job, or we won't be seeing hot water for several weeks. Still no response from the floor guys. Tomorrow morning I'm going to try contacting the owner of the business since his employee hasn't returned my calls.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Window Trim Exhibition

Yesterday I spent the morning mocking-up two windows with different trim treatments. Michelle and I both chose the simplest trim, but when a group showed up later that afternoon for snacks, beer and house tours, most chose the other. There was much discussion of the merits of either choice, and in the end I thought a small modification to the simple version is the way to go. While the kids are in Rhode Island next week, I'll trim all the windows and help Michelle wire. Mark the plumber (a real licensed plumber) showed up today and ran most of the vents. We talked about the possibility of installing the instant hot water component of our solar hot water system. We could hook up an outdoor shower; Michelle likes this idea. With no call from the concrete guys today, first thing Monday morning I'm going to call and tell them their decision making time is up. We need a resolution; the sliding glass door is coming in a week and we need to install it asap.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Another Empty Nest, Pigs, Home Equity

When Michelle and I stepped out onto the deck of the porch this morning, four startled fledglings flew to a new perch and eyed us warily. In a matter of a couple hours they were gone, another crop of phoebes hatched and away. While it's possible that the parents will try for another round, I think it's time they found a new nest site. We'll see if I can persuade them to do so. In pig news the largest one (they still have no names) seemed to be having a little trouble getting around, limping maybe, and then a few days ago he seemed to have a little trouble getting up. Sprain? Bruised hoof? Pulled hamstring? I called friends who have a farm and got more or less a wait and see approach. Sure enough the next day he seemed a little better, and today he was just about back to his old self again. The biggest is the boss; the other two had a too brief vacation from his tyranny.

Tomorrow afternoon Michelle and I are closing on a home equity line of credit. Why we're eligible for this sort of financing is mystifying considering all that's happened over the last year. It certainly wouldn't have been possible to get a home equity line of credit on an unfinished house through a major national bank. Wells Fargo admitted as much and suggested we seek local financing. And voila! We have about $50,000 to finish the house.

After several calls to the plumber and none in return, I showed up at the office at quarter to seven for a face to face chat, and as a result they'll be on the job in a few days. We've also started in on the wiring on the first floor. The solution to the concrete problems is still up in the air. Talked to the guy today, and he said he was waiting to hear back from a company that specializes in fixing this sort of thing.