Birds Are Weird

Kid: “Whatcha doin’ dad?”

Me: “Living the dream kiddo.”

Wife: “C’mon boys, dad’s playing with his birds.”


I walked out the front door on to the front porch this morning to take the trash out when I heard strange noise. Actually it’s the third time I’d heard the noise in the last three days. My first guess was it was some sort of rodent scurrying around, but not sure where. As I crossed the length of the porch I heard it again, it sounded like the gutter.

Was there a mouse in the gutter?

As I stepped onto the drive I heard a lot of chatter. Definitely the gutter. The garage gutter actually, not the porch gutter. That’s weird, I thought to myself. Whatever it was was in the gutter. And it was running back and forth, my eyes following the sounds. Two things in the gutter. Mice not mouse? Rats?

Would you look at those twigs sticking out from the gutter seam. Birds? Why would birds build a nest in a downspout? How did they get in there in the first place? So many thoughts went through my head in such a short period of time. Then I could hear them running to the far end of the gutter, and I figured they must know what they are doing. Sure enough two birds, pretty big ones actually, emerged from the gutter about three quarters of the way down, and flew off. On the plus side they showed me where the hole was, just as I suspected during their scurry along the gutter.

Well that’s no good. Our gutters are a closed system that leads to our water supply, so knowingly having animals inside the system going through the circle of life is not a viable option for this guy’s water quality.

So of course I spent an hour of my Wednesday morning taking the gutter apart to extract the nest, which fortunately was devoid of eggs. Carefully I stuck rags in the openings so my bird friends couldn’t sneak back in during my play time.

I then went and fixed two bird size holes in the system where the debris shield had flopped down. The shield friction-fits up into the roll over on the outside of the gutter. When the ice guards failed a couple years ago they not only damaged the gutters but also the shields, creating those gaps, unbeknownst to me. One gap was above the nest and another was about 20′ away.

Why, how, birds decided a downspout was a good spot to raise a family I’ll never understand. It certainly is an easy spot to defend. But wouldn’t the rain was it out, and clog my water system? In fact this afternoon we had a brief downpour of rain that surely would have wreaked havoc on the nest and any birds inside there.

Well regardless of why, the problem is fixed. I can only hope the rest of the birds stick to the free open accommodations we have on top of the dozen or so porch columns we have provided around the exterior of the house.

I tell you, there’s never a dull moment around here. Can’t wait to see what mother nature has up her sleeve for tomorrow.

 

Tupelo

My first spring walk around the estate today to see how well spring has sprung so far. Not much is happening. Things are budding and turning green but no real flowers are blossoming yet, save for a few dandelions and other yellow ground flowers. If we have daffodils anywhere, I cannot tell for I didn’t see a one.

There is one peach tree with a blossom. Another has green leaves, and the third looks to have died. The apple trees all have leaves budding, but no flowers yet. The cherries have small leaf buds as well.

As we’ve know for some time, the last of our bee hives died out over the winter. We are not getting a replacement hive this year. We’re taking a year off. I really want to get a hive, but the wife is right in talking me back from the edge. I have too much going on and I don’t need the stress and responsibility of raising bees this summer. I will really miss all the work they do around the yard pollinating though, especially if we revive the vegetable garden as planned.

Walking through the woods, everything is very wet. I doubt the ground will dry out any time soon.

In the front yard I noticed something peculiar. One of the black gum trees was cut down or gnawed down or magically fell. The two step break was really weird but I suppose an animal could have done it. This particular tupelo tree was dead on its main trunk so no great loss, just weird. there were shoots growing up from its base so I don’t know…do they grow up to be a tree someday?

Out of the five black gums we planted I think only two survived, so that was a pretty good waste of money.

Right now a walk around the yard is pretty uninspiring. Hopefully by May 1st things will be in bloom and drying out.

Garage Door Opener Bulb

Okay, so this probably isn’t my most exciting written piece, but I’m kinda jazzed I got light bulbs for my garage door openers. We were placing an order on Amazon and I noticed they now offer these great Genie brand garage door opener LED bulbs. I had worked on a project designing several displays for these bulbs and my interest was piqued.

The reason you need a special bulb for your garage door opener is one, they need to be vibration resistant for obvious reasons. And secondly the garage door opener can cause interference with regular LED bulb electronics.

These gems were about $10 apiece and are a 10w bulb (60w equivalent). So they’re not the most efficient bulb but then again how often are the going to be on. They put out an amazing 800 lumens each. They are 3000K, so fairly warm for a garage, and will last 22+ years. The bulbs are also rated for cold weather (it’s 60 degrees in January today so maybe that’s not as much a concern anymore in Ohio), and damp locations, so no worries with their garage environment performance. I believe the bulbs are also smaller than a typical light bulb; I think they are considered A19.

 

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Update on my upstairs hall LED’s: one of the bulbs flickered and went out. I think I need to remove the CFL ballast and direct wire the bulbs. I call the store I bought them from and they referred me to MaxLite. I left a message at MaxLite but haven’t heard from them yet. I may just try and do it myself and use the bulbs I have as opposed to sending them back. I’ll keep you posted (yes, I know, it’s all so thrilling).

My 2017 (Home) Would Like To Do List

As the calendar flips over and coming off of a slower couple weeks during the holidays, it’s a great time to establish a mental game plan for the house in the coming year.  The live Christmas tree is planted, and later this year we’ll celebrate our fifth house anniversary in the house. So far everything is holding up splendidly. Here are some of the “roll up my sleeves” projects I envision I can take on next.

Laundry Room

This would be low on my list, but it’s at the top of the spousal unit’s list, so who am I to argue. We need to clean out the laundry room, and get it organized. I’ll make a couple sweater drying “racks” to put in the alcove along with straightening the clothes drying rods. A fresh coat of paint in the room should brighten things up a bit as well.

Basement

There is a lot I need to do in the basement. Much of the tile still needs grouting, and all of the trim needs to be caulked, sealed and painted. These are all dreadful jobs that I have no desire to do myself, but I will have to do regardless of my personal wants or needs. What I would like to do is get the suspended ceiling materials bought and installed. The basement is very dark right now with only a handful of lights and no ceiling. I will be trying my best to make the space more appealing for living, since we have the space we may as well use it. I would like to get a television and some comfortable furniture as well. Create a movie watching, and video game playing space.

Storage Room

Also in the basement, the storage room could use a workbench like structure so the wife can spray glue her artwork, possibly even a spray booth. I’d also like to create some hanging clothes storage as well, for winter coats and bee suits in the off season.

Garage

The garage needs to be cleaned out and organized. What I would like to do is build a “loft” platform over the workshop area for storage. I’m thinking a framework of 2×6 or 2×8 with five quarter deck boards on it. Maybe build in some overhead lighting to illuminate the workshop area below the storage loft.

Beyond that I don’t have any other major projects I can think of that I want to do in the coming year. I figure focusing on a few good projects will be better than trying to do everything at once.

What’s on your home to do list this year? Let me know in the comments.

-Chris

Garage Door Openers

After four years, we finally pulled the trigger on buying garage door openers for our two garage doors. With our fifth winter looming and a “twelve month same as cash” deal at Lowe’s now was as good of time as any.

At our old house we had a Genie garage door opener installed shortly after we moved in. This time around I researched openers a bit and decided to switch brands and go with Chamberlain because they got better customer review ratings from the various sites I looked at online. We purchased two 1/2 horsepower belt driven Chamberlain Whisper Drive openers at about $168 apiece. Since our garage doors are 8′ tall, not the normal 7′ tall, I had to buy two extension kits as well as some hardware, and L-shaped steel material to create a hanger for each opener, about $164 in extra materials. Also turns out I had to spend around another $20 for longer power cords, but we’ll get to that later.

Lowe’s offers installation starting at $119 per opener plus any extra for materials, or extra labor. After talking to the guy at Lowe’s I decided I could probably handle it and save some money. That’s kind of a funny thought in hindsight but first, the installation…

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Metal L-channel for hanging the openers from the ceiling.

What I thought was going to take a couple hours per door quickly turned into a three day ordeal over the course of the last month. Every little thing that could go wrong sort of did go wrong; although catastrophic deal breakers were limited and obviously I did get the job done. Eventually.

The biggest challenge I faced was that our garage is 14′ tall inside. Which means I only had one ladder tall enough to even get close to the ceiling. It was a precarious job often spent with me on a tall ladder envisioning, not my death, but rather my breaking my neck, peeing myself and laying hopelessly on the cold hard cement until hours later when my wife comes out to see if I’m “okay”.

I managed to get the first opener assembled. I mounted a board to the header above the door to attach the track to. That was it for day one.

first-opener-halfway-done

Late in the night of day one, I finally have the track attached to the front header. I had to scrounge wood, and then attach the board to a seemingly stud free wall. All in an attempt to get the height just right.

The next day I propped the opener up on the ladder and realized no way could I prop the opener on there and still be able to access the ceiling to install the L-shaped metal channels that create the hanger assembly. So I spent an hour fabricating a wooden stand, about ten feet tall to rest the opener on while I attempted to mount it. Here are some pictures to behold my craftiness.

Okay, with the opener finally resting level, it was time to install the metal hanger assembly. This took awhile because I kept dropping hardware; up and down I went on that ladder about a million times. I could just barely reach the 14′ tall ceiling to find ceiling joists and mark them without falling over. One way or another I got the hangers installed, including one at an angle to keep things from racking.

Next up was wiring the unit and plugging it in.

The only problem there was the electricians who installed the garage wiring totally screwed me. The outlet was too far away from the opener. So I’d either have to get the outlets moved, or, after some thought, put longer cords on the openers. Turns out I went the longer cord route. But in addition to that they didn’t run the low voltage wires long enough to reach where the openers needed to be mounted. They basically installed everything for a standard 7′ tall door, without actually accessing our garage’s real world situation. So there I was four years later cursing up a storm to empty air.

So I adjusted the ladder and clambered on up into the attic hoping I wouldn’t have to run new low voltage wires or have to splice anything. Turns out what I did was undo the staples that held the low voltage wires in neat ninety degree runs from the walls to their holes in the ceiling. This allowed enough slack in the lines that they would then reach the garage door openers. So while it may not look pretty in the attic, and I don’t know if that breaks some code, I truly do not care because the problem was solved and I didn’t have to splice or re-run wires.

I am, by no means, an electrician but eventually I was able to figure out how to wire the wall switch as well as the electronic eyes that prevent the unit from closing if something like a kid or small animal is in their way. I plugged the first opener into an extension cord and sure as shit it worked. I was as shocked as anyone.

End of day two.

Only one opener to go.

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The first wall button installed.

I took a few weeks off to mentally prepare for installing the second opener. In the meantime I went to Lowe’s and bought two 8′ long appliance cords. I asked the guy if I could simply change out the cords on the openers instead of fussing with moving outlets. He was a older gentleman, and I just loved his response of “Let’s not overthink every damn thing. Just change out the cords.” So that was good enough for me. The cords I got had three wires to match the three wires on the units – green ground, and white and black.

After assembling the second unit I started to mount it, but then realized quickly that it’d be easier to change the cord on the ground.

What a royal pain in the ass.

Once again I was soon bitching out my electrician for putting the outlets in the wrong spot as I worked over my perfectly new garage door opener; taking it apart, having it flop around in my hands. By the way, the cover is held on with eight screws that can only be removed with a 1/4″ wrench because they are so tightly secured. Eventually I got the cover all thinking: “There’s no way this is 1) ever going back together, and 2) ever going to work again. $168 dollars down the drain.

I spent a good fifteen minutes trying to free the cord from the unit. An injection molded grommet had a death grip on everything. With a little flat head screwdriver love I got the grommet out.  The wires on the original cord were nice because they had little loops and prongs for easily connecting them. My generic new cord just had wires, but I did the best I could to attach them. I even got the grommet to go back in, using a big pair of pliers to squeeze it tight as can be on the power cord, allowing it to re-enter its hole. Eventually the cover even went back on and everything looked okay.

Don’t forget, I still have to install the new cord on the first opener, except that one is ten feet in the air. Not looking forward to that.

Once the power cord was installed, the rest of the installation went relatively easily. Having installed the opener once already, the second install was infinitely easier. Plus I had prepped a lot of the wiring ahead of time when I did opener number one.

Does it feel good to have garage door openers?

Yes.

Was it worth it?

Monetarily? No. If I worked billable hours for half the time I spent playing with the installation I would be way ahead.

Mentally? Not at the time because it was a headache I didn’t need.

But now that it’s over it was rewarding to finish the job. And now I know how to install garage door openers. Still I’m not that quick but I do know the ins and outs of them and how they are installed. So that’s a worthless skill I can add to my heap of worthless knowledge.

I will get the satisfaction of knowing I did it all by myself whenever I go in and out of the garage. So I’m ultimately happy. And now after four years we finally don’t have to manually open our garage doors which will be great in the winter time. Now I just need to clean out the garage.

-Chris

 

House Design Tips

Yesterday I had the privilege of participating in a critique for fourth year architecture students at our local university – Kent State. Seeing the student’s project work, talking with them, faculty and with fellow reviewers was inspiring to me as a designer and a homeowner. The university houses their architecture program in a brand new building that recently opened with the start of the school year. I had seen photos of it in the newspaper, and had driven by it during construction. It was impressive and rewarding to see the building completed and in person. The scale of the building is a bit juxtapose in my mind. The exterior looks grand in its simplicity – conceptually it reads larger but physically my first impression was that it was smaller than I anticipated. Like 7/8th scale. Inside its wide open, which makes it almost seem smaller and large at the same time. Ultimately there is a lot of “unexpected” since the design transcends decades of traditional big university building design thinking – or at least the buildings I’ve had experience with.

So let’s talk about today’s topic. At the end of the crit the evaluators had an opportunity to mention their take aways and advice. This got me thinking on the drive home, what advice would I give as a homeowner who lives in a house that follows many of the tenants the students are learning about – space planning, energy efficiency, environmental sustainability…and also as a homeowner (I was drafted to bring that perspective to the afternoon’s festivities).

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The new Kent State Architecture building as you approach from the northwest.

ksu-arch-building-interior

Open studios foster collaboration across experiences and disciplines.

Without further ado here are seven of my off the cuff tips for anyone building, buying, remodeling or designing a home, based on our experience living in our current home for four and one half years.

  1. Rainwater collection is by far the smartest thing we did. This includes the gorgeous steel roof on the house. While pricey (~$20K+ for the roof and $13K+ for the rainwater collection system including cistern) it’s without a doubt the way to go in my opinion for your entire water household water supply. It provides independence from questionable city water supplies. The only maintenance cost is changing filters ($30-$50 each) every few months, and keeping the chlorine tank filled (a gallon of bleach a few times a year). Combined with an on site wastewater treatment solution ($300/year maintenance), it’s off the grid living that allows you to be a responsible steward for how water comes and goes from your property.

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    Rainwater harvesting schematic shows how we collect rainwater for ALL of our water needs.

  2. Central living space – kitchen, dining and family rooms – is the way to go for today’s modern family. These three “rooms” are clustered together in our house and we spend 75% of our family time there I suspect. Preparing meals, eating dinner, watching television – our family of four is always in this space. The only downside is it looks like a tornado hit it with all the dishes, toys, papers, etc. but hopefully as the kids get older we’ll be able to reign in the clutter. And they are not huge spaces individually but as a whole we get a high performance livable space without the complexity of the typical new home floor plan. I only wish the family room space was about 2′ longer, maybe a square bay window. Arranging furniture in that space is a minor challenge. As for quiet time, there are other rooms to get away, so there is balance – opportunities to be in the middle of the action in this central space or not elsewhere.

    central-space

    This is where we spend all of our time essentially – kitchen, family room and dining room. Design these three spaces small and combine them for an effective everyday living space. Bonus points for the adjacent screen porch.

  3. Office space doesn’t have to be a dedicated room or even much more than a strategically placed built in. My office, I work from home 24/7, is literally a 5′ x 9′ space that is technically a hallway between the front hall and my art studio. We recently built a 15’x15′ space in the basement for my new office but laziness has kept me from moving down there just yet. I don’t mind my small office that I have now. I have a handy pocket door that I can close if I’m on a call. The rest of the house is “far away” so the kids are usually making noise somewhere else and early do I have to yell “shut up” during the course of any given day. There is built in storage and aplenty and even a place for our fish tank. When designing a house you can carve an office into virtually any space. And more and more people are working from home either part of the week or all the time. Get creative with office space.

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    Office space can be carved out of a hallway; they don’t require a lot of space.

  4. Pocket doors are a fantastic way to partition spaces. When we had our house designed there were several small spaces along the main north-south corridor. All the spaces (laundry, bathrooms, office) have their doors open 95% of the time.If we would have put traditional doors we be walking around open doors all the time and losing wall space. Pocket doors afford us a lot more flexibility in staging the house for when guests come over, need privacy , sequester cats or just don’t want to look at clutter. My tip though is get hollow pocket doors. The solid ones we have are just too damn heavy and difficult to use. Also note that the door needs space inside the adjacent wall to live when they’re open. You won’t be able to hang towel bars in those spaces as well because of the reduced depth behind the drywall.

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    Pocket doors save space and provide more options for partitioning spaces than a traditional door.

  5. Kitchens can be small and don’t have to be traditional. We stole our kitchen design from a picture I saw in a magazine. It basically looks like three pieces of furniture instead of a traditional stock cabinet design you see in every house ever. And because the kitchen is part of that shared space with the dining room and living room, our kitchen is small (8’x13′) but doesn’t act small. Two chefs can work the room without bumping into each other. There’s a deep integrated pantry space (with pocket door) keeping supplies at hand without taking up much space. The island is big enough to serve off of and stand around, and that’s about it. Exposed overhead beams and a painted ceiling define the space and add interest without a lot of cost. Lastly there’s an alignment with the dining room table that really amps up the repetition and flexibility of horizontal surfaces.

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    Three piece kitchen looks more like an assemblage of furniture than a kitchen.

  6. Open kitchen cabinets add an eclectic touch while making life easier. A minute a day spent opening and closing kitchen cabinets? Six hours a year? Four years of living here and I’ve saved a day of my life not spent opening cabinets, right? We never got door installed on our cabinets due to circumstances, and frankly I’m kinda sold on not having them. It doesn’t look too cluttered. If you’re Martha Stewart you can go crazy with really nice dishes and keep everything organized. If you’re us you have a collection of random cups and glasses and it all seems to work anyway. Go for it, live a little and simplify your life while standing apart from every other cookie cutter home experience out there.

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    Open cabinets make getting, and putting away dishes a breeze and add an eclectic feel to the kitchen.

  7. USB wall chargers are a fun little add on. Replace an outlet in the office or kitchen with one of these USB outlets and you no longer have to hunt for adaptors to charge your electronic devices. Eventually everything will probably wireless charging or whatnot but in the meantime you can go old school by installing a couple of these in your house.

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    A USB charging station allows you to plug devices directly into the wall socket without hunting around for adaptors.

 

Some other personal thoughts that I won’t go into detail this time around but keep them in mind – low maintenance is great, low cost / simplicity to keep construction costs down, character in finishes and details, a screen porch / outdoor spaces, circular staircases are your friend, and 4″ diameter ceiling lights as opposed to old school 6″ ones.

There you have it, some quick tips for your home or your client’s home to make it more useable, flexible and enjoyable.

What are your home design tips? Share in the comments below, I really want to hear them.

 

-Chris

New Roof Washer Filters

After four years of living here, our roof washer filters really needed changing. The roof washers wash all of the water that comes off of the roof when it rains. There are two fiberglass chambers in our front yard that the water flows into. As the chambers fill up with water, debris like leaf parts, bugs, and dirt stay on one side of the filters and the water flows through to the center of the filter, into a pipe and down into the cistern for storage.

I had previously taken the filters out twice, they’re like a cotton material, and washed them. I tried getting new ones last year, and through circumstances didn’t successfully get new ones until this year.

I’m very glad the new filters came with new mesh screens inside and out. The screens give the filters their circular shape. The old screens were rusting out. To install, I simply took off the top caps and threw out the old filters, and inserted the new fluffy white ones.

I’m still waiting to get an invoice for the filters, but I don’t imagine they cost too much.

Elsewhere not much is going on. In the 90 degree heat this past weekend I cut the grass and finally spread a few bags of mulch I had purchased in June; spreading them around some of our smaller younger plants we planted in the meadows. The mulch will help them get some breathing room from encroaching meadow grasses and golden rod.

 

 

For a link to one time when I cleaned the roof washers click here.