Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Steps Toward Steps

the old carport stairs

I haven't posted in a while, but I have been doing work on the house, the steps in particular. But I've been slowed by frequent rains (those of you who are getting buried under snowstorms have no sympathy for me, I know -- but avoiding that kind of weather is one of the reasons I moved here in the first place).

I tore the old steps down pretty quickly. Once I got one board loose, I could use leverage to loosen others. The fact parts were rotted helped a lot, too. Note to those building exterior structures from wood: water will find its way in, so be sure to treat all sides of the wood, not just the parts you can see after assembly. That goes double for any place with a horizontal surface where water can sit. The rotted ledger also lead to some rot and termites in one of the joists of the carport, so it took me a while to get a clean slate to start from.

After a lot of thinking, measuring, re-thinking, re-measuring, and consulting various stair stringer calculators, I laid out the stringers for the stairs. I managed to screw up somewhere, so one stringer was re-purposed for other uses. After more measuring, thinking and consulting stair stringer calculators, I tried again. This time I was successful, so I spent a couple days cutting the 3 stringers. The bottoms of rest on concrete and/or the ground, and it's a generally wet area (under trees that catch the fog in summer, north of the

new stairs rising

house), so I used pressure-treated 2x12s for them. The added density of the wood from the PT process almost burned out my little skilsaw, even with a fresh blade part way through the process.

I don't have a picture of the current status, but I cut, stained and installed boards up to the landing, as well as the rectangular part of it, so with the addition of a temporary piece of plywood, and the top railing on one side, we now have functional stairs. They're a long ways from finished, as I still have to do the trickier triangular part of the landing, and the rest of the railings, but given all the rain we've been having, it's nice to have functioning steps. That way we can avoid using our neighbor's steps, and tromping through the mud around the corner of the house.

One other note: I said in my original post that "I'm sore, stiff, and with bruises aplenty, but no broken bones." So about that... I've been having some minor but lingering pains here and there after almost two months, so yesterday I went to the doctor. He said if I was 80, he'd worry I had compression fractures of my vertebrae, but at 44, I was probably OK. But he ordered up some x-rays to be sure. I heard from him a little while ago: the x-ray tech failed to do any useful x-rays of my lower back, but my mid back looked OK. However, the odd pain in my ribs in my side is because I have...a broken rib, with a mild displacement. There's nothing to do (except stop doing anything that makes it hurt), but I can expect some pain from it for the next 2-3 months. Sigh. At least it isn't too painful, but 2-3 months more?

rotted post where landing was

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Watch That First Step...

gaping hole...

I've been planning for some time to rebuild the steps to the carport, at least since January. When I had concrete delivered, I put in the footings for the new stairs, but mentally the task has been on the "nice to have" list, not the "do sooner rather than later" or "do immediately" lists.

Last night, it took a big leap forward in priority. K and I took a walk around the block after dinner, and when we returned I stepped on to the landing at the top of the stairs...and kept going. I knew some parts were starting to get a little rotten, but it seems that was considerably further along than I thought. The ledger board that holds up one end of the boards for the landing was completely rotted. I dropped the 7 or 8 feet to the ground and landed on my back.

Today I'm sore, stiff, and with bruises aplenty, but no broken bones. Once I'm feeling a little more limber (and I'm past the current work deadline), I'll build a new set of stairs. Fortunately we have our neighbor's steps to use, but I have to admit I was a bit nervous walking on them at first after last night's excitement.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Remodeling Really Fast

Imeant to post this a while back (say, back when I'd actually finished the work in early September), but didn't get around to unloading the pictures from the camera until today. In any event, here's a sped up version of process of renovating K's office. We tore out the drywall in the outer walls; ran new electrical, phone and Cat-5; straightened out the door; installed an exterior light outside the door; and insulated the walls. And of course repainted everything when we were done.
video
While the walls are open, you can see why blown in insulation as a retrofit would be more difficult. Not only are there diagonal braces between the studs, but there are some horizontal braces here and there, too. So it would mean at least 3 holes in some stud bays.

Monday, October 04, 2010

World Habitat Day

Today is World Habitat Day. Millions of people live in substandard housing, and in particular children are more likely to develop diseases and less likely to graduate from school when they live in poor housing conditions. But this isn't just in developing countries in Africa or Asia, it's here in the United States, too.

There are lots of way to support Habitat for Humanity. Check for your local affiliate to get involved, either by volunteering or donating or both.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Just When You Thought it Safe...

Apparently I can't stop working on the house. K has been out of town with her mom, so we arranged to take advantage of her absence by doing some work on her office. Starting with pulling the drywall off the outer walls, so I can run proper electrical, insulate the walls, and fix the door that sticks now that the house has settled. Other tasks (like work) keep getting in the way, but I've got most of the drywall pulled off and the boxes for the new electrical placed. Hopefully some pictures soon...

Monday, July 05, 2010

Déjà Poo

from the hammock

About 2.5 years ago or so, the sewer backed up into the laundry sinks, the lowest drain in the house. So yesterday when K went into the basement to get the hammock out, then promptly reappeared with an alarmed look and the dire news, I wasn't as horrified because I had some idea what to expect. More importantly, I knew what to do (i.e., call RotoRooter) instead of messing about myself, because the blockage was likely beyond what I could reach with a small snake. Since the problem was discovered early, and it wasn't 100% blocked, we were able to minimize the mess by reducing water usage, and so it wasn't déjà poo all over again.

And not insignificantly, we could schedule them to come today, which is not a Sunday or holiday, and thereby pay normal rates instead. Regular rates are bad enough, but totally worth it. As before, we had to pay for a second plumber, because the cleanout is far enough under the house it needs one to run the machine and one to feed the snake in and out. So yesterday we relaxed in the hammock, secure in the knowledge that help would arrive today.

$350 worth of roots

We actually got 3 guys for the price of 2, which worked out well. I was able to ask the 3rd guy questions while the other 2 were working, and found out a few things. First, we could install a sewer backflow preventer. However, besides requiring the digging of a really deep hole, it means the sewage backup would go somewhere in the yard instead of the laundry sinks. I'm not sure that would be an improvement. Another option is installing just an exterior cleanout. That in theory would allow a single person to run the snake, and probably be quicker, too, since they wouldn't need to snake as far as they do from under the house.

While the two guys were running the snake, we listened around in the yard and got a better idea of where exactly the sewer line runs to the main. Sadly, that info points to our lovely little Japanese maple as a likely culprit for the root intrusion, but I now have a better idea of where to dig if I need to.

The first thing to try though is something like RootX, which kills any roots in the sewer line. The local RotoRooter used to sell it, but changing state regs meant they had to get a pesticide/herbicide license (in addition to a plumbing contractor's license), and it got increasingly difficult to comply with so they no longer sell root killers.

In the meantime, I'm happy because we can use the bathrooms again without worry, and I've got a plan to deal with next time, by attempting to make sure there is no next time.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Rain Barrel Review

Doubtless some of you were expecting dancing rain barrels, with feather headdresses and sequins, or given their watery connections, an overhead shot of them dancing in a pool. That would most commonly be a rain barrel revue. Alas, this post is a bit more prosaic though hopefully quite a bit more useful. We've got two different varieties of rain barrels and I helped some fellow Oaklanders with a third, so when Retro Housewife Goes Green tweeted wanting to know about rain barrels, I decided to finally post this.

Great American Rain Barrel

First up is the Great American Rain Barrel (GAB), which reuses food-grade plastic barrels. We got this one one because I wanted to better control the rain water that comes to the entry side of the house. Even before I built the addition, some construction flaws with the original house led to water being an issue. The GAB comes with all the fittings and parts you need except an overflow hose (it includes the elbow fitting, just not the hose.) It's fairly easy to set up, though fastening the inside fittings takes some doing. (I highly recommend bracing the barrel before you try to wiggle inside it.) I don't like the fact that it's plastic, but I do like the fact it's made from a reused food barrel and that there were color options available. As with most rain barrels available, multiple barrels can be linked to collect more water. The only problem we've had with it is overflow. If it's raining really hard, or if the small holes in the lid are partially blocked with debris, more water comes down the downspout than can get into the barrel. That results in water splashing over the edge rather than making it into the barrel and out the overflow hose.

Specs:

60 gallon capacity, linkable, ~$169

Pros:
  • includes all fittings
  • colors available
  • reused food barrels
Cons:
  • pricey
  • lid clogs easily
  • doesn't include overflow hose
  • shipped from MA


Rain Water Solutions

Next up is the Moby from Rain Water Solutions. These barrels are made from recycled plastic, and have a custom shape. There are some color choices available though the non-black options cost a bit more. I got two of these through a City of Oakland program which sold them at a large discount (22% of list and no shipping) to residents. The design holds slightly more water, but the big difference to me is the lid. Instead of 16 small holes to let water in, the entire lid is slightly funnel shaped and leads to one large hole in the middle. There's plastic screen over the hole to catch debris and keep insects from breeding in the water. But the large hole makes it much less likely to clog, or clog enough that the overflow doesn't work. Again I'm not wild about them being plastic, but at least it's 100% recycled plastic. Reuse (theoretically at least) is better than recycling, as it uses an item that's already been manufactured, but recycled is better than made new.

Specs:

65 gallon capacity, linkable, ~$199 (black)

Pros:
  • includes all fittings
  • colors available (though cost more)
  • recycled plastic
Cons:
  • even more pricey
  • shipped from NC

Obviously given the program through the city, the price was much more attractive for us, and the shipping was theoretically more efficient since they shipped a whole truck load of them.

DIY solution

Last, but not least, is the DIY solution. Given the title of my blog, you might have assumed I'd try this first. I probably would have, but I kept putting it off because of other DIY projects (like the addition and the kitchen remodel), and in the back of my mind I've been planning a larger, more elaborate system to store more water since it doesn't rain all summer here. That didn't happen, so my experience with DIY rain barrels is more limited. I did help the good folks at City Homestead with a platform for their converted wine barrels. These are locally sourced (less than 50 miles), reusing materials, and non-plastic. Others have used reused food grade barrels (very helpful, step-by-step instructions) like the ones the GAB uses. There may be other options in your area depending on where you live. The hardest parts of the DIY option are (1) finding a source for the barrel (2) getting the fittings to work with it. But the upside is that not only can you get the barrel locally, you may be able to get it for free or at least for very cheap. You'll still need to get the fittings, and those will cost you $10-$25.

Specs:
55-80 gallons, linkable, free-$120

Pros:
  • cheap!
  • sourced locally
  • reused barrel
Cons:
  • finding a good source can be hard
  • you have to find and install the fittings
  • wood barrels won't last forever
  • may not handle high volume well
So there you have it. As with many things, there are trade-offs to the different approaches: cost, greenness, difficulty, et al. With any of these, some may be more important to you or not an issue (e.g., if you live in MA or NC). But hopefully this provided a useful comparison.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Dual Flush Toilet Conversion

The rains finally seem to have stopped for the summer. This winter was an El Niño year, which helped make up for the previous years of drought. But that means that it's time to get ready for fire season, so I've been busy pulling blackberries and weed-whacking the yard. Each year usually gets a little easier, but this year the growth has been above normal with all the rain we've gotten.

I took a break from that to fix the toilet in the original bathroom. It's a 1.6 GPF toilet that I installed some years back that's worked fairly well. Lately the fill valve sometimes doesn't shut off, which can waste a large amount of water if it goes unnoticed. I decided to replace the flush mechanism at the same time with a dual flush conversion kit.

I saw a similar product at West Coast Green last year, then saw them install one on Ask This Old House. On the HydroRight website they claim it can be installed without tools in 5 to 10 minutes. That's true, though it requires a pencil and a measuring bucket plus a few minutes to calibrate for optimal water usage.

Replacing the fill valve with their HydroClean valve took a little longer, though not much. The hardest part was removing the old fill valve and required a wrench. Installing the new one was very easy. The nut to attach the new valve underneath is even self-calibrating: you just turn it until it clicks once or twice, and it's properly tightened.

My only concern is the long-term durability of the valve and flush mechanism. They seem well designed, but they're all plastic. That's pretty common for toilet parts these days, but does give me pause. The manufacturer, MJSI, offers a 5 year warranty on both, though hopefully it will last longer than that.

enjoying the sun

As usual, Star was unimpressed. She was too busy enjoying the warmth and sunshine.






Hey, FTC! I didn't receive any thing in exchange for this review. Though I'd be happy to if MJSI wants to give me something :-)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Wedgewoodium Leviosa!

my familar, Rosie

Installing the cabinets and moving back into the kitchen before putting down the flooring had one big advantage: we had a working kitchen sooner rather than later. It had a number of disadvantages, not the least of which was dealing with our antique Wedgewood stove. It weighs a frakking ton (or in honor of the proposed term for 10^27, it's hella heavy.) Back when I bought the house and moved from an apartment in Berkeley, the movers complained about the weight. But one of them complained about everything, so I didn't think much of it. When it came time for K and I to move it out and then back into the kitchen, I thought a lot more about it.

So when I installed the linoleum, I cheated. Rather than move the stove out and back in a second time (moving it out made more difficult by the space being made to exactly fit it), I rented a couple of small house jacks and lifted it out the way. The minimum time for them was a day, but it was still very much worth it. Hella easier than moving the hella heavy stove twice.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Linoleum!

100 lb. roller

After much debate, some shipping delays, and yours truly moving slowly, we finally have real flooring in the kitchen and dining room!

I picked up the order last week, and rented the one tool I didn't have, a 100 lb. roller. I've been working slowly but steadily since then, and installed the last pieces under the antique stove today. A couple things slowed me down (the antique and very heavy stove not the least of them), but overall linoleum tiles are pretty easy to work with. The aforementioned antique stove was a challenge to work around (or more to the point, under), and the irregular shape of the dining room by the back door made for some interesting shapes to cut, but the real sticker was that we'd decided to do a pattern with the tiles. And not just a pattern, but a pattern involving partial tiles. Whole tiles would have been a snap, but we decided that the size of the room wasn't large enough to look right with whole tiles, so we decided to do a border with half tiles.

cornery goodness

Let me just smack you upside the head if you're thinking of doing such a pattern yourself. It's not impossible, but it does add a ton to the work. Even after I figured out to make a jig / miter board for cutting tiles in half, I still had to note which were 'left' halves and which were 'right'. The error in my jig was probably a 1/32 of an inch or less, but when all the full tiles are exactly the same size, and you don't have grout to hide the differences like with regular ceramic tile, that 1/32" adds up to a noticeable difference when you start putting halves together.

begin in the middle

If you're not doing some sort of insanity like a pattern with partial tiles, the layout for the linoleum squares is exactly the same as with regular tile. Find the middle of the room, adjust 1/2 tile width if necessary, and then snap some perpendicular lines.

After I got past the 1/2 tile border in the dining room, things went pretty quickly. Except for the angle by the back door and the space under the stove, of course. But we're pleased with the results, and I even had enough energy left today to install the toe kick under the various cabinets (I'd measured and cut it ages ago, and temporarily taped it into place until we had flooring.)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Home Energy Efficiency

blower door

Greetings if you're coming from Jetson Green! An article of mine on home energy efficiency was just published there. I had a home energy audit done recently and wrote about the results. In short it was well worth doing. For DIYer types, it includes links to some useful docs on the Energy Star website for better sealing your home.

Friday, March 19, 2010

power usage: first observations from PowerMeter

We've started getting data from the TED 5000 and Google PowerMeter. They display the same data, but in different ways. The TED 5000 web page gives more detailed info, but PowerMeter makes it easier to compare your current usage with past usage.

First, let's look at a fairly typical day's usage in PowerMeter:

In the wee hours of the morning, you can see a regular spike about every hour or so. That's the refrigerator coming on. Around 6:30AM you can see the radiant heat in the bathroom coming on, lights, the coffee maker, etc.

The other thing of note is the darker green band at the bottom. That's the "always on" power consumption I mentioned last time. It's only about 85 watts, but since it's always on, that adds up -- over 2kWH per day, which is more than 20% of the 9.7kWH per day we averaged last billing cycle. With our other source of info, the Kill-a-Watt, I've found about 25 of the 85 watts so far. Unfortunately nothing in that 25 is easy to get rid of, but I'll keep checking to find the other 60 and see what I can eliminate.

Now let's move to a less typical day -- laundry day:

Note that the scale has been stretched from 0-1.5kW up to 0-5kW. That's because running an electric dryer causes a huge increase in power consumption. You can see the dryer running for two loads, plus a little secondary run after each to get rid of the last bit of dampness. This is a big vote for line drying your clothes to save energy. It takes longer than just throwing everything in the dryer, but clearly can save a bunch of power consumption since the sun is free.

For more detail about power consumption, you can also view the TED 5000 web page for your device:

There's a live dashboard that shows your current power consumption, power used since midnight, etc. You can also view historical data. But the most useful is the graphing tab, which lets you see your energy consumption in near real-time, with more detail than the PowerMeter gadget shows. You can click on the graph to show the power consumption at any given time on the graph; that's how I determined the "always on" power was about 85 watts. The fourth tab allows you to set up load profiles when certain equipment comes on. My first trial with that wasn't very successful, but I'm going to try again to profile the refrigerator and some other appliances.

So we haven't saved any energy yet, but we've got a lot more data about how to go about doing that now. Some of it, like line drying clothes is even pretty easy to do (at least when the weather permits) -- no fancy gadgets required.

Monday, March 15, 2010

So I Forgot...

Today I finished insulating the attic. Or at least finished getting one layer down. If you've been following for any length of time, you may be surprised that I'm only now getting to that. When I bought the house, there was no insulation (except for a bit of Kimsul around the main vent stack). Over the years I put insulation in most of the attic, but about the time I was getting to the dining room and kitchen area was when we were deciding to build the addition and remodel the kitchen. So those parts of the house have sat without insulation in the attic, and well...I forgot about it.

On Wednesday we're having a home energy audit, and it occurred to me that I'd never finished insulating the attic. So after a late start (thank you, Daylight Saving Time), I went and measured to figure out how much more insulation I'd need then made a trip to Home Depot. Ideally there'd be R-30 or better everywhere, but the odd joist spacing means there are some gaps, and the design of the roof means it gets pinched (as well as divided oddly, since the rafters don't match the ceiling joists) at the edges. But now there's at least R-25 in most of it except an area I used up some R-19 in. My plan is to put a second layer across the whole attic (well, except the edges where it won't fit) cross-wise. The energy audit should be detailed enough to give me some idea of how much that will help. But regardless, it's nice to know there's finally insulation in the whole attic, after 16 years of living here.

Berkeley zoning board member admits flouting city building rules

Getting drawings and permits for your home improvement too expensive and onerous a process? Then just do what a zoning board member in Berkeley (just north of Oakland) did: don't. Ryan Lau, assistant to Berkeley City Councilman Darryl Moore, recently admitted breaking the law by tearing down his garage and building a new one without getting zoning clearance (from the board he sits on!) and pulling the required permits. Hopefully he'll have to pay the requisite increased fees that are normally charged when someone gets a permit after the fact, and face some other punishment, because of all the people who should have known better, someone sitting on the zoning board ranks right up near the top.

The story was first reported in The Berkeley Daily Planet.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Blast from the Past

Edis at work 4.5 years ago

This morning I had a blast from the past: Edis, who worked with me frequently while I was building the addition. He stopped by to say hello (we'd long since lost each other's numbers), and not surprisingly given the economy, see if I had or knew of any work for him. He's currently working part time at Target and doing some painting, but there isn't much of the latter work for him these days.

We talked for a while (his English is much better), and I showed him the kitchen (which I did after he worked with me). I told him that I'd ordered linoleum for the kitchen and dining room floor (yes, that's right -- after lots of hemming and or hawing, I finally decided to go with natural linoleum). I'll call him when it arrives, but if any of you in the Oakland/Berkeley area are looking for a hard worker with some basic carpentry skills, email me at designsinlight and I'll hook you up.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Habitat Build-A-Thon 2010

I'll be participating in Habitat for Humanity East Bay's annual Earth Day build-a-thon. It's not just a blitz build to kick start the construction of homes for deserving families, it's also Habitat East Bay's biggest fundraiser. Any amount you can contribute is appreciated! Or if you want to participate, check out the build-a-thon page.

Friday, March 05, 2010

I got the power!

Google PowerMeter widget

Actually, we got the Google PowerMeter. K is a technical writer for Google and we're now the proud owners of a TED5000 and using PowerMeter.

There was a control period where we weren't seeing the data, but now that's passed we'll be able to use the PowerMeter to figure out more of our electrical usage. We haven't had data long enough to get much yet, but one thing is clear already: we should try to reduce our "always on" power. It's not super high, but well, it's always on, so it adds up. I was trying to think of everything that contributes to that:
  • thermostat
  • water heater thermostat
  • various clocks
  • DSL modem
  • router
  • microwave (clock)
  • TV
  • cordless phones
  • assorted wall warts
The TV is EnergyStar rated so hopefully doesn't draw much when off, but it's probably non-zero. The water heater is a gas-fired on demand heater which has circuitry to decide when it needs to come on. In any event, between the PowerMeter and our Kill-A-Watt we should be able to figure out what's using power and cut back some.

Installing the TED5000 was fairly simple, but it does require opening your electrical service panel and attaching clamps over the main feed wires. It was a little tricky to get it to fit and still get the panel closed, but not too bad. Google and TED recommend hiring an electrician for the hookup, but given I've run most of the circuits in the house, I felt comfortable doing it myself.

TED dashboard


I'll be posting more as I figure things out. Much of it should be applicable to your electrical usage, too.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Thank You, Blood Donors!

Long-time readers may know I regularly donate blood platelets (I got back from the Red Cross a little while ago.) I'd just like to thank all of you out there who donate blood. My sister-in-law is recovering from open heart surgery to repair an aneurysm in her aorta. It was considerably more complex than a bypass, as they had to put her on a heart/lung machine and cool her body down. So she received numerous units of whole blood and platelets from donors like you.

If you don't donate blood but can, make an appointment at your local Red Cross to donate blood.

Thank you!

Friday, January 29, 2010

With a Little Path Running Down the Middle...

3 big piles

Wednesday morning I started working on the front walk again. Gravel and sand were due at 10AM and the pavers some time after that, but I wasn't sure how long the break in the rain would last, so I worked at a faster pace than I might have otherwise. The gravel and sand arrived as scheduled, and then I went and rented a plate compactor before the pavers arrived. In short order I had 3 big piles of materials, a heavy machine, and a flight of stairs to take them all down.

the machine

I lost track of how many buckets of gravel I carried down, but eventually got the space filled and then turned to compacting it. The compactor made quick work of compacting the gravel (actually, "engineered fill", which is recycled concrete that's ground up into something like gravel) to a good level. I checked the level of things with my screed, and added some gravel where needed, then recompacted.

At this point my arms were tired enough that I was happier bringing down the sand one bucket at a time instead of two like I did with the gravel. And I didn't need as much, since it was about 1" of sand vs. 3" or so of gravel. Laying the pavers went fairly quickly, but even for a 32' long walkway it takes a lot of pavers. So I only made it about 1/3 of the way down with pavers before it was too dark to work, and waited for K to come home to be sure she saw the piles in the carport and could fine her way down the path in the dark.

screeding

Thursday I started up again early, hauling more sand and placing more pavers. On one of my countless trips up to the carport, a couple of guys drove up in a pickup asking if I had any work for them. We talked for a bit, but I was somewhat distracted because I wanted to get back to work. They were really hungry for work, so we settled on a wage and they got right to work. They brought down more sand and pavers as fast I could place them, so in short order I'd placed all but the pavers needing cuts at the end. While I worked on cutting the last pavers, Rene and Raul put some gravel along the edge opposite the concrete berm and spread sand over the top of the pavers to fit into the cracks. I fired up the machine again to help work the sand in and to firmly set the pavers into the sand under them.

I ended up doing a local jobs stimulus plan, paying two workers for half a day instead of renting the machine for a second day. Besides the path, I had them move the leftover gravel and sand to various places around the yard, move some stuff, and they even helped me carry an old stump up to the carport for eventual disposal. I was pleased with the trade-off, and they were pleased with the paying work. I got Rene's phone number in case I have more work for them later.

final results

With their help to speed me along, I even had enough time to rearrange some of the low voltage lights along the path and add a new one at the bottom of the stairs. I'm very pleased with the final result. Well, almost final. I'll need to add more sand to the cracks as what's there settles, but it's a joy to have a smooth, level, sturdy path to walk down now instead of the lumpy, wobbling brick path that was here when I bought the house 16 years ago.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Rain Barrel Ready!

rain barrel

One of the things planned for the new front porch was a place to put a rain barrel. Given the weather patterns here in California (rainy winters, dry summers), there's a limit to the usefulness of a barrel as it won't get refilled from roughly May to October, but every little bit helps. Today I cut the downspout and added an elbow to get it ready.

Eventually I'd like to have a big tank under the deck that gets fed from multiple downspouts, but for now I'll have to settle for this 50 gallon one. It should get its first test Saturday night, and the overflow system some time after that as the forecast has rain on and off all next week.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

What's at Stake

stake puller

Today I stripped the forms and pulled the stakes. Or at least most of them. The ones for the steps are hecka difficult to pull, even with the rented stake puller. But the path is ready for gravel, sand and pavers, and the drain for the overflow from the rain barrel is connected. Tomorrow I'll deal with those last stakes, and cut the downspout to feed into the rain barrel. More rain is due Saturday and beyond, so I doubt I'll get the path dealt with, but it's finally starting to look like a porch instead of a hodge-podge of construction detritus.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Concrete on the Way...

Which is a good thing, as rain is due for Tuesday and Wednesday. The total should be around 2.5 yards, which isn't that much in the big scheme of things. But it would be around a hundred 80 pound bags, which is way too much to mix by hand alone.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Breaking Up...

busted bricks

Actually isn't so hard to do, at least if it's brick and a bit of mortar and you've got a jackhammer. It's even easier if said brick and mortar has spent years in damp ground. There was a bit of concrete, and even a clay drain pipe (full of dirt and roots), but nothing like the über-thick layers of the front walk I'd taken out before. As is usually the case, cleaning up the debris was more work than busting things up.

As happens with many DIY projects, this has gotten bigger than when it started. Initially I was just going to pour concrete for the front porch area. It was more than I could reasonably mix by hand, but not enough to get a concrete truck and pump. So we added in the steps to K's office. Then I decided I should take out the brick steps down from the walkway, as they were a bit sloped and would surrounded by concrete. Then I realized I could do the footings for new steps up to the carport, too. Now after busting out the steps, I'll need to build a little retaining wall above the area, too. I haven't calculated how much concrete I'll need altogether, but I'm pretty sure it'll be at least a truck load now.

the front walkway

The plan for the walkway is to have a concrete berm along the side to keep things in place, and then use permeable pavers (over a nice bed of gravel and sand) for the main part of path. That'll lead down to a couple concrete steps down to the front porch area. The porch area will be home to a 50 gallon rain barrel, and the overflow from that will go into a drain pipe through to the downhill side of the house.

Eventually, I'll build some new steps up to the carport. The current steps are getting a bit rickety, and they've always been a pain for moving large items (like refrigerators) up and down, both because they're just barely wide enough to hold such items, and there's a 90 degree turn to navigate. The new steps will be a straight shot (basically the hypotenuse of a triangle with the current steps being the two sides), and about 8" wider. But first things first -- a decent walkway. Rain permitting, that should happen Friday or early next week.