Thursday, August 27, 2009

Closet Disaster?

Our closet originally had two shelves and a single closet rod in it. Since we don't use the shelves to their capacity anyway, it seemed like a good idea to remove one of the shelves and add a second closet rod. I went to the store and bought this closet tension rod. You can see the results above, after Lindsay "was just trying to hang up a skirt." Clearly we have a problem -- a closet rod with skirtaphobia.

Since I already had a grudge against these stupid closet rods, I had kept the receipts and packaging in the event I would gleefully be able to return them to the store (which I did). With the proceeds from that transaction firmly in hand, I trudged to the next store to get this closet rod. I also had to pick up some nails, some Liquid Nails Interior, and some spray paint.

Since these closet rods mount to a wooden lip, I had to construct a wooden lip. Not too terribly hard -- I picked up some rough cut wood, cut four 18" sections, and sanded it smooth. Have I mentioned how much I love having a power sander? Love it. By the way, I would definitely recommend my Porter Cable ROS Power Sander if you are in the market. I decided to go with one that had solid reviews, and I do not regret it.

Anyway, after sanding, I spray painted those suckers white to match the white. 3 coats did the trick.

Next, I put both boards on the wall and moved the rod so it was level. Then I positioned the boards so they were level on the wall. After applying Liquid Nails to the back of the boards, I put them on the wall. Then I proceeded to nail them in.

Horray, finished! And with much more storage. You can see who gets the bottom rod :P

Monday, August 24, 2009

Electric Dryers Suck

I had a guy come out to give me an estimate for a fence in the backyard. He hasn't gotten back to me yet, but if he gives me a reasonable offer I think I'll take it. Either way, he is a former engineer turned entrepreneur. We "talked engineer" for awhile when he was surveying the backyard. We were lamenting that the problem with engineers is that we are overqualified and underexperienced for every construction job. I'm not even a "real" engineer (biomedical engineering!), but I've still taken classes on circuits [electricity, wiring, design], thermodynamics [vents, ducts, flow], materials [stone, metal, ceramics, etc.], and industrial design. Unfortunately, I've never actually done any of that stuff -- like pouring concrete, for example. But I know the principles, and so that is enough. Right?

I have put the patio on hold for a bit. Lindsay was doing the laundry the other day, and noted that the clothes weren't as dry as she would have liked. We had planned to replace the old gas dryer with our own electric dryer sooner or later, so now seemed like a good time. (As it turned out, the old gas dryer is working fine -- it just needed the lint traps and vents cleaned out.)

However, there was no 220V electrical outlet near the dryer. Luckily, I am an engineer :P Having watched my experienced-and-handy father-in-law install the 220V outlet for our new electric range, I felt fairly confident that I could splice a new outlet into that line. Doing what I do best, I started by faithfully googling "How to install dryer outlet" and commenced reading for awhile.

I started my journey over the weekend by purchasing all the parts I would need -- a junction box for the splice, 8 feet of wire to make the connection, a new outlet, and some wing nuts. Although the dryer was already set up with a 3 wire dryer cord, I decided to upgrade it to the new 4 wire dryer cord. I figure this will be more appealing to future home buyers. Here's what my tools and parts looked like before I started.

Since the wire from the range is coming through the floor in the kitchen into the basement, I had the brilliant idea of mounting the junction box on the ceiling in the basement, so the wire would come into the box from the back. Supply would come from the east, and the new outlet would go out the west. Beautiful, and elegant. From the outside, it will just look like a pass through!

Lindsay doesn't like when I work on electricity when she's not home, so I waited until she got home from work on Sunday to start -- about 9pm. First, I tripped the breaker, made sure the power was off, and cut the supply wire to the kitchen range with my garden shears. (I had to use 6-3 wire, because the circuit breaker is 60 AMP. Yes, you read that correctly -- AWG 6 gauge stranded wire. It is a real pain to work with.) With a little help from Lindsay, I screwed the junction box into the ceiling -- it fit into the hole like a glove! See the wires poking in from the back?

I proceeded to put the supply wire and the dryer wire into the box, and found out that I had a lot of big cables in a little box. On top of that, the cable coming from the kitchen was way too short. I messed around with the wires until about 2AM, trying to get it to work. It just wouldn't go, my hands were full of cuts, my wing nuts sucked, and I was fairly demoralized. What to do? Of course, I went to the internet and read up. I went to bed with a lot of good ideas.

On Monday, I put my plan into action. First, I replaced the cable coming from the range with a longer one that I had left over from when we first installed that line.

Next, I went to the store and bought the three items that were key to my success. First, I got wire strippers. Although you can do electrical work without them, I would find out that they are a HUGE boon. Second, I got a junction box extender. I didn't know they made them until I did my late night googling on Monday. Turns out that junction boxing is a science, not an art. My junction box was too small for the size and amount of wires I was putting into it -- it just wouldn't fit. A junction box extender is just a junction box without a back. You can screw it right on top of your old box to make it twice as big! Lastly, I got some appropriately sized wing nuts that were not filled with insulation.

Shortly thereafter, I was able to clean up the now-larger box, and make all the appropriate connections. Horray!

Next, I had to install the outlet on the concrete foundation wall. I used TAPCON screws along with the bit they provide. Although they recommend using a hammer drill, I found that a normal drill can be used as long as you have a bit of patience. I ended up having to drill an extra hole, because I'm a dummy. I also put some Liquid Nails behind the box (belt and suspenders!), so that outlet isn't going anywhere soon.

As I said in my previous post, having the right tools is really the key to any job. In this case, having wire strippers and a good set of needle nose pliers was very helpful. Since the wire is so big and unwieldy, doing anything "by hand" is impossible. Anyway, here are all the tools I ended up using (besides the garden shears). In case you are wondering, the dryer passed its first test this evening with flying colors.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

To the Patio...and Beyond!

The last line of your home loan paperwork should say "I affirm the tube as the ultimate vehicle for home improvement products." It seems EVERYTHING comes in a tube -- a cartridge for the real fun stuff.

Anyway, I had a semi-productive morning -- some yard work, lawn mowing, etc. My wife also took me to see puppies for adoption -- as luck would have it, the one she really wanted to see wasn't here. Huzzah!

I discovered this awesome product the other day at Ace Hardware -- Pour-N-Restore. Basically, you pour it on a stain, such as oil, tar, etc., and wait for it to dry. It sucks up all the stain, and then you sweep it away. It pretty much works just like the directions. It works better on stains than deposits, and it continues to work for awhile after you sweep it away. Recommended.

Here's a time lapse of one part of the patio. You might be able to tell where I put it down. Obviously, an unlimited supply (relative to the size of the stain) is best, but it costs $13 a bottle.

After 1st treatment:

After 2nd treatment:

One of my main frustrations from home improvement projects comes from trying to do something without the proper tool. Instead of going to get it, I'll just try to finish the job with whatever I got laying around. Typically this results in stains, rips, and broken finger nails. Today, I got started right, by laying out the appropriate tools for filling in the patio cracks with concrete. I got those three masonry tools on the left at a sweet estate sale (where I also found this gem).

I am using a watering can to put sand in the cracks between the slabs, so I don't have to fill as much. And yes, even the sand comes in a tube. No, I am not kidding.

I got a lot of work done on the patio (approximately 3/4 finished), but I had to run to the store to get more Quikrete and I ended up taking a break to organize the basement. My wife and I started on it the other day, but I was finally able to clear out enough space between the extra drywall and the Christmas tree for this:

My drumset has made a long-awaited revival. Although the music corner isn't really set up yet (still got a trumpet, two guitars, and a keyboard to put up), it's great to have my drums out of storage finally. Also, I got the 6'x9' carpet for $22 -- I've played on stages smaller than that! Being an "adult" is pretty fun -- sometimes, you get to buy what you really want and put it where you really want.

By the way, I've been busy with some other stuff too. I re-fixed the drain -- apparently moving the drain up on the tub misfit the pipe, and it leaked a bit. I had to take the drain off, put some sealant on the joint, and screw it back together. I also repaired some of the grout in the shower and kitchen. I only did the parts that really needed it, as we might be removing the tile in the near future.

Sorry for such a long update. Lindsay and I have been goofing off a lot lately because it was our anniversary on Tuesday, I passed my qualifying exam on Wednesday, and she had four days off from work. As of 4:45 this afternoon, at least one of us is back to the grind. Lame!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Patio Part 1

The patio is four square concrete slabs. They had been caulked together with a variety of substances. Looks like round 1 was tar. Round 2 was that black stuff they use to repair driveways. Round 3 was a poly-urethane-type deal. All together, it looked pretty bad.

I went to Ace Hardware and bought "De-Solv-It Contractors' Solvent" to take up the tar. Its one of those orange-smelling cleaners that is "100% Guaranteed" to work on a variety of substances, including but not limited to tar. It actually works really well. Unfortunately, I have a metric ton of tar in stupid places on the patio. I got a lot of it off, but there is still some on there. My solution is to get enough tar off so its level, then cover it with a skim layer of the Quikrete stuff I bought. More on that in Part 2 -- coming soon!

In another episode of "righting other people's wrongs", I am using PL Polyurethane Concrete Crack & Masonry Sealant to fix the side stairs. Basically, the concrete stairs were pre-poured somewhere else, then plopped down next to the house when it was built. Unfortunately, they have separated, and I'd rather not have water sitting right next to my foundation. It is supposed to dry and look like concrete. I'll post part 2 of this as well.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Insurance Sham

July 20

Our insurance agent ("Laura") calls me to let me know that they will need some inspection paperwork to issue our homeowner's insurance policy. The story unfolds via emails! As my dad would say, "Everything is negotiable."

July 21


Here is the inspection we had done before we took occupancy. We have since mitigated some of the issues (licensed plumber fixed the kitchen stack issue, GFCI protection in kitchen/bathroom, smoke detectors installed, new drain tubes, and plaster repair on ceiling and walls), but it should shed light on the electrical system (page 11-12). Let me know if I need to do anything else.


July 25

Hello Ryan -

Thank you. I have forwarded the inspection info to the underwriter.

Nationwide Sales Solutions
Hours: M - TH 12PM - 8:30PM SAT. 12PM - 8:30PM EST

July 27

Hello Ryan -

I have updated your phone numbers through customer service.
Also, I received an email back from underwriting stating that we will need an inspection from a licensed Electrician no later than 8/18/2009.
I apologize for any inconvenience that this may cause.

- Laura

July 27

Laura --

It is no inconvenience, but it is a considerable added expense. Since I have already had (and paid for) a comprehensive home inspection from a qualified inspector, I think it is somewhat redundant. Will Nationwide reimburse me for this expense, or otherwise incentivize me to obtain this inspection?


August 4

Hello Ryan -

I apologize for the delay in response, but it took me this long to get an answer to your question. Unfortunately the answer would be no. Nationwide will not provide reimbursement to your expense.

Nationwide Sales Solutions
Hours: M - TH 12PM - 8:30PM SAT. 12PM - 8:30PM EST

August 4


This is not an acceptable resolution. I feel an inspection from a certified home inspector (in addition to the municipality's inspection!) would be sufficient for other insurance companies. Please call me at your earliest convenience.


August 5 or 6th

Laura calls me. I tell her that a third inspection is ridiculous, outrageous, egregious, and an infringement on my constitutional rights. Well not really, but it did sound something like the first 9 seconds of this video: -- either way, I threatened to cancel my homeowner's policy and my auto policy. She told me she would continue to "look into it." I also told her that she needed to give me a list of the things the underwriter wanted, not just a blanket "Get an Inspection!" The story continues via email.

August 10

Hello Ryan -

the message I received from the underwriter states that the inspection paperwork that you had sent has a noted statement "Not on Code". He states that your inspection paperwork shows that the wiring in the home is 60 Amp, and Nationwide requires at least 100 Amp.
He asked me to call him to discuss. As soon as I get a hold of him I will let you know if there is anything more I can do.

I just wanted to keep you in the loop of what I have found out so far.


- Laura

August 10


Thanks for following up with me.

In regards to the 100 Amps service minimum, please pass along the following information: Inspection paperwork, page 11, please find "Service Size Amps: 125"

I am also sending along the Brentwood occupancy permit along with the Brentwood inspection checklist, indicating our service is in excess of 100 Amps (which the city also requires). Its the 5th item from the bottom, in the second column. Let me know if there are any other issues. Also, the underwriter is welcome to call me to discuss.

Since the deadline for getting an electrical inspection was originally 8/18, I would like to request that this requirement be suspended until we finish this discussion to my satisfaction.


August 12

Hello Ryan -

I had forwarded your last message to underwriting and he responded that he has ISSUED the policy.

Looks like everything is taken care of.

Sorry for the inconvenience.

- Laura

August 12

I post this on my blog. Victory is sweet. Names have been changed to protect the guilty. I mean greedy. I mean innocent. By the way, there's nothing wrong with our electrical system. The inspection paperwork even includes a picture of the breaker box. ::bonk::

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Outside and Inside

Man did our grass need a trim. The lawn was nicely manicured before we bought it, but it has been awhile now. We decided to get a reel mower (commonly referred to as an "old" mower) for a variety of reasons. For one, its a lower initial investment as well as lower maintenance costs. It's better for your grass (scissor instead of rotary cut), and we can safely leave it in the basement without the fumes bowling us over. Of course, no gas required, better for the environment, and a good workout. The downsides? It's a tool, not a machine -- effort is required. Luckily, our yards are not very large. I'm expecting this will be the "hardest" mow, since the grass was a bit of a jungle. See the picture!

We also decided to tackle the back line of our property. It is ... overgrown. I got back in the brush and chopped, and Lindsay was in our yard pulling it out. It was actually kinda fun. I'd say we are about 50% done with removing gross stuff. Then we're gonna add 1) a privacy fence 2) our own plantings 3) both. I'll post something on the final result.

Stupid drain stopper wasn't working so good. Basically, it doesn't open as far as it should. As you can see from the picture, its basically a little lever. You push it down to make the drain stopper come up. Since it wasn't coming up far enough, I pulled the cover off and played with it some. Originally I thought it was rusty, but I think the real issue is that its too long for where the drain hole is. My solution was to move the drain up on the tub and screw it down. I'm not sure if that's a permanent fix -- I guess we'll see. If it annoys me again, I'm taking that sucker out.

Stupid garbage disposal wasn't working so good. Every time I would run it, it would seize up and quit. This time I finally took it slow and figured out the real issues. Before I go much further, here's the rundown on garbage disposals:

1) Water goes into a little cup with holes along the bottom edge.
2) The motor runs little cutting things that spin along the bottom edge of the cup.
3) If the motor gets too hot (ie gets caught on something), the circuit breaker will trip.
4) If the circuit breaker trips, you can't reset it right away -- gotta wait for the motor to cool down.
5) You can use an allen wrench to spin the motor from the bottom.

So to fix one that's stuck on food, you stick an allen wrench in the bottom and spin the blades. If you can make a complete revolution, you've fixed it! Reset and run. Unless you have a little plastic button in it. In this case, you keep fixing it and it keeps breaking. Why? Because that thing doesn't flush away, nor does water break it down. I finally tracked it down today, dislodged it from a hole, and pulled it out with my hand. Voila -- fixed!