Spring Pine

Happy Earth Day everyone! Today marks our sixth anniversary since we moved in.

Normally we buy a tree and plant it for Earth Day and to celebrate our house anniversary but to be honest we’ve been very busy. After running back from an appointment I just felt like sitting on the porch and writing. We’ll get a new tree here soon enough but for now I’m taking the rest of the day off.

I walked around the yard and took some photos to share. I had noticed a patch of green in the north meadow, as I pulled the car out of the driveway. So I went back there and noticed that along the path to the bees, there was a 2-3′ pine tree. This is one of the trees I planted years ago when we first moved in.

It’s a beautiful day, the sun is out and the birds are chirping. A great day to enjoy the house and all the hard work we put in to live here.

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Ditch Digger

Round three of me working to preserve my gravel driveway. Last year and this winter have been rough on the driveway. A couple years ago I spread out a few tons of 411 limestone. Then last year I had Driveway Dave bring in a few tons and tamp them down where the pot holes are at. At the time Dave said I need to ditch around the perimeter, to route water under the drive. Possibly add a second pipe under the driveway. The surface water is creating and preserving the pot holes. Adding more gravel isn’t doing much.

In a perfect world I’d hire an excavating company to come out and fix the drive. Or in a slightly less perfect world I’d rent one of those kickass little baby excavators and dig my ditches using that. But here in the real world where I live month to month, I’m digging my ditches by hand. And I’ll have five tons of 411 delivered in two weeks (cost about $150-$300 delivered).

It’s really tough to gauge the fall of the land but from far away it looks like if I dig one continuous ditch along the south side it’ll route all the surface water to my one pipe, and under the driveway.

The ground is super wet due to a huge rain storm we had yesterday, so I decided to start digging and see how it would go. It went pretty good. I figured out to dig with the ditch, at one end of it, as opposed to against it or standing to the side. There’s a lot of thick grass and the ground is oversaturated so it was slow going, back breaking work. But the water is flowing along the ditch so that’s encouraging.

Ultimately my goal is to have a nice two track driveway devoid of potholes. We’ll see how well my ditches work once I finish them and it rains again. Maybe I finally found my calling in life.

Mouse!

MOUSE!!” I yelled out.

Immediately I could hear feet shuffle upstairs. I yelled a few more times for good measure but I knew they were on their way. See, the number one rule in mousing, for people at least, is to always keep eyes on your target no matter what. Because a mouse can move fast and a house like ours has an infinite number of hiding spaces. We don’t hunt our mice to kill, we prefer a live capture and release outside. If I kept my eyes on him, I knew our chances were good to catch him alive and get him out of the house.

‘Cause we’d done it before.

An Unwelcome Visitor

Early in December I went down to the storage room to clean the litter boxes and noticed some wall insulation fluff on the ground by the water treatment equipment and litter boxes. Looking up I saw a big ball of fluff on top of our foundation wall. My first thought was that our little cat, Daisy, had gotten up there and was pulling out insulation or maybe there was some lose insulation from when they built the house and she knocked it down. Daisy has gotten into the basement ceiling joists before so it was no surprise tome. I called up to the wife to come down. I was thinking I’d share Daisy’s latest escapade with her, then clean up the mess.

What neither my wife nor I expected to see was movement up there. We both about jumped out of our skin (me more so) when we saw a small, yet plump, brown body dart from one bay to the other, followed by a very long tail.

Holy crap it’s a mouse!

This stunned me because our house is suppose to be air tight, relatively speaking. But it obviously got in somehow. I know I was bringing some things in from the garage over the past few weeks. So maybe as a stowaway in a box. On the other hand the weather had just gotten cold; we had our first snowfall. It is the time of year for mice to infiltrate our homes.

How the mouse got in was secondary to how to get the mouse out though.

Mouse Hunt

I set a humane mouse trap up next to the fluff on top of the shelving unit I had made just a few months prior. I baited the trap with peanut butter. It’s a lever so when the mouse goes inside, its weight tips the lever and the door shuts behind the mouse, trapping it.

I checked that trap for five days and nothing.

Meanwhile our two cats were spending a lot of time in the storage room. Obviously they could tell we had a new visitor that week. My personal policy was that if the mouse got in the trap, great! I’ll let it go in the yard. Now if the cats got the mouse that would be okay too. In fact, with a certain degree of pride, I was hoping the cats would get the mouse. Poor mouse, but then at least the cats would finally be earning their room and board. I recently read though that well fed house cats usually don’t make for good “mousers”.

Well, during those five days the cats didn’t catch the mouse as far as I could tell. They’d sniff around the storage room. Daisy seems like more of the mouser than Dixon. She’d be in there every day but seemingly nothing. If the mouse was dead, she’d hid it’s little corpse deep in the stacks of crap in the storage room.

Point of Entry

There is an air intake and exhaust port on the back of the house for the air exchanger. I thought one of those might be the culprit, but upon inspection both looked fine. Though, as a side note, the exhaust vent was clogged shut with lint so at least the mouse-ca-pade prompted me to clean that vent before any more long term damage was done.

exhause-vent

The air exchanger exhaust vent after I took a wire brush to clear it.

One day, after the snow melted, I was outside setting out our live Christmas tree. I noticed along the foundation in the back yard, blue foam debris on the ground. The debris corresponded with where we’d seen the mouse inside the storage room. There you go, I now knew that the mouse was not a stowaway, rather he had broken and entered the house illegally.

I used a mirror to see if I could figure it out. As best I could tell, the mouse slipped between the siding and the termite flashing, then gnawed its way through the blue foam and from there somehow into the house through the rim joist apparently.

I put investigating the entry point and sealing it up on my “to do” list and went about my business for a few more days. I figured maybe the cats got the mouse or he left on his own accord.

Things That Go Bump In The Night

It was about midnight. I had just settled into bed and was dozing off. Dixon was asleep next to me. All was quiet.

Then he perked up.

A pause.

Then he jumped off the bed.

A moment later I could hear him by the window sill fussing with something. I knew right away what was going on because I’m pretty attuned to my cat (best friend really). Clicking on my bed light sure enough.

Dixon had the mouse cornered on the window sill of my bedroom.

dixon-and-mouse-on-sill

Dixon corners the first mouse on the bedroom windowsill.

I texted my wife, hoping she was still awake. I wanted to keep my eyes on the mouse and I needed backup. A minute later she was on the scene. The mouse darted into the closet. We closed the bedroom and bathroom doors. With her a one end of the closet and me at the other, Dixon in the middle spotting the mouse’s location, we had it pretty well contained.

We then spent the next half hour working to capture the mouse. I created barricades at both ends of our otherwise open closet. Dixon eventually lost interest but I kept putting him in there. We called for Daisy and eventually she came on scene. We placed her in the closet. She’s definitely the more aggressive mouser of the two. She hunted up the mouse quickly and gave it no room to escape. Almost to the point where we thought she’d hook it good if given the chance.

daisy-in-closet

Daisy and the mouse in our closet

Eventually we were able to chase the mouse into a paper box. I then scrambled to the front door, out into the yard and dumped the mouse out into the freezing cold night. I don’t know if he survived or not (he ran off but it was cold and he was surely scared), but I didn’t really care at that point.

Congratulations were given to Dixon for discovering the mouse in the first place, and to Daisy for hounding the mouse to the end.

Mouse Hole

For the couple weeks after the successful mouse capture things returned to normal. The cats didn’t spend as much time in the storage room. I didn’t notice anything out of place. This past week Daisy has been spending more time in my office, which is adjacent to the storage room, while I work but that didn’t seem out of the ordinary. After all I feed the cats treats regularly when I’m working.

Finally an open Saturday came around so I decided to clean up the fluff and see if I could discover the mouse hole. I gingerly poked around and vacuumed up the mouse debris. The last thing I wanted was a mouse jumping out at me. I hate how they dart around and I will easily scream like a little kid should one get within my proximity unexpectedly.

I looked up by the air exchanger outlet and I could see a cobweb moving in the “breeze”. Sure enough there must be a hole to the outside up there. I got up my ladder and “voila!”. Mouse hole.

the-mouse-hole

I could feel, see cold air coming into the house through this 1″ round hole in the rim joist.

I then hopped over to the big fluff pile on top of the wall, above the water filtration system. The fluff was from my actual walls. The mouse had gone up into the wall through a hole between a heating duct and the plywood floor above. I’m not too worried about the loss of insulation in my wall. There’s not much I could do about that, but I could clean up the fluff and seal the opening with some expanding foam. I vacuumed up the fluff after poking it a bit to make sure there wasn’t a mouse inside the fluff ball.

After everything was swept up I grabbed my trusty expanding foam and sealed up the hole where the heat duct went up into the wall. It looks like this after:

Then I don’t know what the heck I did, I think I stepped out for a second then back into the storage room. But as I went to reposition my ladder to spray foam the mouse hole at the other end of the foundation, I saw this:

mouse-2

Mouse number two. He has wet spray foam his side. I had just cleared out the area and was foaming the vent, not sure where he came from.

I don’t know where he came from but there was another mouse, or maybe the same mouse from a couple weeks ago. Anyway, actually I know where he came from because he had wet spray foam on his fur. He had been hiding out near the vent duct while I was spraying it. That’s when I yelled “MOUSE!” and the wife and kids came down with the “mouse box”; the same paper box from the last time we did this.

The mouse went back and forth on top of the work bench then inadvertently fell to the floor about six feet. I was able to corner him and in about five minutes got him to run into the paper box. He was covered in debris. I felt bad but there was absolutely nothing I could do for him. There’s nothing that will take that stuff off, short of taking the mouse to the vet and having the vet shave the mouse fur off. I’m crazy, but not that crazy.

My kids and I took the box outside and let the mouse go on the porch. The mouse scurried under the porch, out of sight.

I went back inside and spray foamed the mouse hole. I put everything back the way it was in the storage room. I’ll keep an eye on it but my fingers are crossed that our mouse encounter is over.

To fix the hole on the outside of the house, I really think I’ll have to hire a handyman or siding guy to take the siding off, and figure out exactly how the mouse got it, and seal it up. Also have to close that gap between the siding and the termite shield. There needs to be a gap but it needs to be just a few millimeters, not a full inch.

I’m definitely over the excitement of having rodents in our house. Having a tight house was always a source of pride, so when a mouse gnawed its way in, it sort of dinged my pride. More importantly though I was able to figure out where the mouse or mice were getting in at, and I am hopefully able to prevent it from happening again.

Now I just hope Dixon isn’t waking me up like that again.

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Electricity Usage 2017

 

Cut The Cable?

Our cable company, Spectrum, recently notified us that going forward we need to get a special digital box for any televisions that simply connect to the cable outlet instead of through a DVR or cable box. Basically the cable signal needs to travel through something like a DVR or receiver to make it all digital or unscrambled or whatever before it reaches your TV. I don’t know why watching television has to be so complicated but it’s not surprising that once again I need to do something that involves another device just to watch cooking shows on TV. And of course that device will eventually require a monthly fee after a free year. Well, whatever. Our family has five televisions total and we regularly only watch one of them, the TV in the family room. Soon though I’m going to get new televisions in the family room and basement, as both of those TV’s are over ten years old. So I could use this digital box thing in the basement I suppose or maybe in my studio.

The allure of a free digital box had me driving to my local Spectrum store to pick one up and get some questions answered on a Saturday afternoon.

Recently Spectrum jacked up our monthly bill to $190 a month for cable, internet and home phone. I not only wanted to find out more about this digital box, I wanted to discuss ways to save money on my cable bill.

DVR vs. Digital Box vs. Cable Card vs….

I’ll preface this with what my plan is. I’m going to take the family room television and move it downstairs. The HDMI port is broken on it and it causes the TV to flicker. I asked a guy at Best Buy a while back and he said that if a TV is over five years old no one really fixes them anymore and they don’t make parts for them.

I will put a brand new 49″ Sony 850E unit in the family room. Eventually the basement will get a new 65″ Sony 900E TV.

So, my current ten year old Sony TV in the family room (the “broken” one) has a slot in the back for a cable card. Which got me thinking instead of a digital box couldn’t I simply get a cable card and pop it in the back? Then I wouldn’t need the new digital box in the basement. I asked the guy at Spectrum and yes theoretically that sounds right but they don’t carry cable cards in store. I would have to call their 800-number and see if I could get a cable card. Weird, but whatever. I confirmed at Best Buy later in the day that the new Sony’s have a cable card slot. So if I can get my hands on cable cards I won’t need to rent the digital box for $12 a month next year.

This is where is starts to get really weird. The Spectrum guy said if I get a Roku for my television, I won’t need the digital box or cable card, I will be able to stream my cable from the Spectrum app. Ugh, what the heck is a Roku and what does it do do for me? I’d find out later in the day at Best Buy. Basically it’s a device that I would buy for $50-$75 dollars and I would avoid the digital box rental fee. Roku also allows me to access various streaming television apps, but get this, both Sony televisions I’m looking to buy are “smart” TV’s which have all the popular apps built in. So the only reason, for me, to get Roku is to access Spectrum without a cable card, DVR or box. Ok, I’ll consider it.

Streaming TV Content

This leads me to the “wild west” of accessing television content that we are living in in right now. It’s not like the old days where you plugged in cable and watched what they gave you to watch. With antennae, cable, and smart TV apps I need a spreadsheet, or a few websites, to keep track of where to watch what I want to watch.

Wouldn’t you know it, as I’m writing this (over the course of what was a couple days, and now a couple weeks) some interesting things have come to my attention. Here I was learning about Roku, lo and behold my parents of all people had already implemented my “Roku in place of cable box” plan with the help of my brother. I took the family over to my parents house for dinner and they had a Roku remote next to the TV. They explained it all to me and I got to check it out first hand. With that knowledge I went ahead and ordered a Roku Streaming Stick + from Amazon (on sale during cyber week). The stick can be easily switched from TV to TV in our household and should cover us as we rarely have more than one or two TV’s on at any given time.

New Family Room Television

One other thing transpired while I have been lazily writing this post: we got a new television for the family room! Once again taking advantage of holiday sales season, I went to Best Buy and bought a 55″ Sony 900E. I originally wanted a 49″ but my wife and the guy at Best Buy convinced me 55″ was the size to get based on the size of our room. Apparently the latest train of thought is you can get a larger television and not have it feel overwhelming. As for the model, I was the guy who decided to get the 900 series instead of the 800 series. My logic being that I hope to hold on to this TV for 10+ years, and the 900 does everything extremely well. The extra $200 would be a distant memory 5-10 years from now.

The Sony is a smart TV so it has a ton of apps built in including Netflix and Amazon, so I no longer have to go through the Xbox to access those. The TV also has apps like SlingTV, Hallmark and others so if I want to cut the cable I don’t need to fuss with even a Roku for that set. The 900E was relatively easy to set up. It has voice control so I can say “Hey Google, turn on Captain America” and the TV will show me when that movie plays next or may even turn it on for me if it’s available to stream.

I love the look of the set, and the picture is fantastic. There was some disturbing “soap opera” effect while watching 4K content on Netflix but with some setting adjustments I was able to get the picture looking for warm and personal versus jittery and too “good”. I love how the set is connected to my streaming apps and the internet. I love how it is basically a free Google personal assistant. The only thing we’re thinking of upgrading is the sound by virtue of getting a sound bar at a later date. DVD movies and video games look great on the set too, by the way.

One other note, I got three new HDMI cables to hook my DVD player, Xbox 360 and cable box up. The kids at Best Buy convinced me I needed 4K cables, which is fine. The problem is I found the same certified cables, in the 6′ size I wanted for $12 at Walmart instead of $25 at Best Buy. Point is, don’t buy your HDMI cables at Best Buy. You only need spend $9-$12 on HDMI 4K cables.

What’s Next?

I’m so excited we got a new TV and my Roku should be here soon. I think we are set (pun intended) for the foreseeable future. I got a new modem (Netgear C700 on sale) so that will take $10 off my cable bill. We are going to experiment with the various apps. I really think my goal will be to cut the cable and just pay for internet, and any specialty apps like the Hallmark one for instance. With our busy schedule we’re not even DVRing shows that much because we know we can find them on demand.

Anyway, I hope my miscellaneous ramblings have helped those of you who may have been as lost as I was.

Do you have any pros and cons that you’ve experienced in regards to cable, streaming, etc? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments.

I thought 55” would be too big but it doesn’t look to big in our family room

For now we decided to mount the TV on its stand. We may wall mount it at a later date but honestly we don’t want the TV to be to high off the ground. We like it at sitting eye level.

These HDMI cords were just $12 at Walmart and perform the same as the ones you get at Best Buy for 2-3 times the cost.

Cats enjoying Happy Yule Log on the new TV

The cats enjoying Happy Yule Log on the new TV

Garage Storage Planning

Now that I have the storage loft in the garage, here comes the fun part. I’m starting to plan out the storage shelves and “counter tops” I’m going to build for the back wall and work shop area.

Construction will be 2×4’s mostly, just like the work bench / spray booth I created in the basement. 

I still have to measure the area and inventory what I want to store, and what I want to use the spaces for, but that didn’t stop me from starting to sketch out my ideas on what I envision it looking like.

Once I have a plan I can work up a lumber list and see what the cost will be. I’m hoping to do this this fall or winter because I’m chomping at the bit. I really enjoy working on this type of project. And of course the organization will be awesome and mind-easing too.

-Chris

work-shop-elevation

Concept sketch of the work shop elevation.

garage-sketch

Garage Loft Day

I’m really happy with what I accomplished today, with a little (a lot of) help. Today was “Garage Loft Day” and the garage loft is complete!

Cost was right around a thousand dollars, and took two people (my brother and I) five hours to complete start to finish. It’s about 7′ x 21′ in size. All the framing is 2×8’s except for a 9-1/4″ LVL header across the open end of the loft.

We started out by chalking a level line on all three walls. Then we located the wall studs and transferred those measurements to the main long rim joist. With the joist on saw horses we installed metal joist hangers and predrilled holes for our 3×5/8 Ledgerlok Screws. The Ledgerloks were used to attached the long rim joist to the studs. We also used them to fasten the two LVL’s together. After everything was marked we installed the long rim joist against the wall studs.

Next we installed the first two floor joists, the ones that go against the short run against the wall. We used a blind joist hanger at the one end and a couple Ledgerlok’s at the other end to secure these shorter rim joists. They only need to bear the weight above them, not the whole assembly so no need to lag them into every stud.

With the LVL on the  saw horses we attached the remainder of the joist hangers to the board. A blind joist hanger at each end. The LVL was then lifted up and secured to the shorter rim joists with nails and ultimately a pair of lag bolts at each end.

To support the LVL header we installed three pressure treated 4×4 posts. Each post rests on a metal bracket that was mounted to the cement floor using 1/4 x 2-1/4 tapcon bolts. A 3/16″ x 4-1/2″ tapcon bit was used to drill the holes.

Once all the framing was complete we installed treated 5/4 boards, 12′ and 16′ lengths minimized the number of joints we had to deal with. We used #8 x 2″ deck screws to fasten the floor boards. The boards will shrink creating gaps between them which will help when I go to sweep the floor up there, allowing debris to fall through the cracks.

I’m very excited to have completed this project. It give us an “attic” that is easily accessible via a ladder. The loft has great capacity for holiday decoration and flea market bins, as well as other items that we don’t need that ofter, or can’t bear to get rid of. Looking at you original Jeep rims, when I say this.

The next project will be to design and build storage shelves along the back wall, as well as work benches and shelves for my shop below the loft.

Check out the photos below to the various steps in pictures.

-C