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.

 

G24Q-3

Our nightmare is over! No, Donald Trump is still president. What I’m talking about is that I am finally  successful in changing the upstairs hall lightbulbs after three months.

The family unit was cleaning the upstairs hallway and it reminded me that I still needed to get bulbs for those ceiling fixtures. And as you’ve surely read, the LED bulbs didn’t work with the ballast. I couldn’t remove the ballast myself, so the LED bulbs went back the manufacturer. The replacement CFL’s I followed up with had the wrong base, G24Q-1, so they wouldn’t connect to my light fixture. Back those went.

Well today I ran out to my favorite light bulb retailer, Home Depot, and purchased G24Q-3 CFLs from my favorite lighting manufacturer Philips. They are 2,700K and use 26W (which is high) and are 1,800 lumens (also high).

The packaging opened easy enough, and is fully recyclable. I popped the new bulbs in and “voila!”

Light!

One thing off of my “to do” list.

 

G24Q-1

We’ve been without proper lighting in the second floor hallway for like three months now due to the ongoing light bulb saga. As it turns out, raising the white flag on the LED bulbs by switching back to fluorescent bulbs still didn’t shield me from problems.

Apparently there are three types of G24Q bulbs – type 1, type 2 and type 3. Each has it’s own subtle little differences in the base (look at the little nibs on the diagram below from LightSearch.com) – and if you get the wrong one you’re screwed (although they are a “push in” and not a “screw” base).

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image from LightSearch.com

The ones I ordered from Amazon were a “type 1” and apparently my light fixture is anything but a type 1. Somewhere out there are product designers smarter than me who felt it necessary to not land on a universal standard.

I think the LED bulbs I had were universal though, fitting any type of socket, and that is why the readily fit the light fixture.

Now I have to figure out which type bulb socket I have and then order new ones.

Here’s a handy guide from LightSearch.com

http://www.lightsearch.com/resources/lightguides/cfllampid.html

 

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).

G24Q LED Bulbs

[Update: these bulbs didn’t work for my application without removing the ballast, and that was “no bueno” when I tried. Read about it here.]

The upstairs hallway lightbulbs have been burning out, so it was finally time to replace them. I took the opportunity to upgrade the bulbs from compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs to new modern LED bulbs.

The biggest challenge was the light fixture takes four pin G24Q style bulbs, which I’ve never even seen before. So I searched the internet and sure enough there were some options for LED G24Q bulbs. Even just a year or two ago it might have been difficult to find this form factor in LED technology, but now that LED’s are mainstream so to speak, I believe you can find them as a replacement for virtually any bulb you’ll find in your home.

I wanted an LED bulb that matches the warm 2700K glow of the CFL’s (the higher the number the colder or blue the light gets all the way up to 5000K). The LED bulb also needed to work with this CFL light fixture, which means it needs the built in electronics to run without having to modify the fixture’s ballast or wiring. I discovered just what I was looking for at Energy Avenue online.

There are three reasons why I chose LED replacement bulbs versus CFL bulbs. One is CFL’s contain Mercury, so if you break a bulb you have a major problem to clean up. Mercury is a huge health hazard if you inhale, touch or otherwise are exposed to it. Secondly LED’s use less energy. In this case at 8 watts, they use less than half the energy of a CFL. Lastly the LED bulbs will last 20 years compared to around 5 years for the CFL’s which means I don’t have to get up on a chair and change bulbs in this enclosed fixture very often, saving me about an hour of my life.

Switching the bulbs was easy and they provide an equal amount of light and color as the CFL’s did. The LED bulbs I selected are unidirectional which means they cast light down only, not all over like the CFL’s. This does create visual hot spots in the fixtures when they are on, which can be distracting, but in the grand scheme of things I don’t care too much, plus I don’t go upstairs that often. You can get LED’s that shine in all directions, I just didn’t think it would be an issue and I’m too lazy to send them back. The MaxLite bulbs I bought do have a cool swivel action so you can rotate the lens to where you want it. This is helpful because with the G24Q four pin base you can not always plan on which way the bulb will face.

By changing these four bulbs upstairs the number of non-LED bulbs we have falls even further down. Pretty soon we will be 100% LED light bulbs in the house which has always been a dream of mine. This really reduces our electric bill, saving us money and reducing how much our family is polluting the environment.

I’d love to hear if you’ve been trying LED bulbs in your home or office.

Have you discovered any interesting or uncommon LED bulb shapes or applications?

Share in the comments below.

-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.

Rural Driveway Options

As you may have read in a previous post, we’ve been forced to research driveway options beyond our existing driveway. We share the driveway with two other homes, which means if those two homes want to put in another driveway surface besides our gravel driveway then that’s basically what we have to do whether we like it or not.

Having had this sprung upon us a few weeks ago, there hasn’t been much time to react. The neighbors were nice enough to give me a few days to research all of our options before we just knee jerk go and put in an asphalt driveway. So in addition to my day job and in lieu of spending excessive time with my kids I spent a week researching options and gathering estimates.

So now I’m sort of involuntarily a driveway expert, or at least as expert as I can be in a week and one PowerPoint presentation later.

Here’s what I found out…

Our Driveway – Existing Gravel

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Current driveway is an almost cement like finish, despite technically being a gravel driveway. It is prone to pot holes.

Our property came with a gravel driveway already leading to it from the road. For the purposes of the neighbors intent, we’re just looking at changing the driveway material along the first 1,700 feet (about 17,000 square feet for a 10′ wide driveway). There’s a shared utility easement that the driveway resides upon. Neighbors are each responsible for 1/3 the maintenance and upkeep, while maintaining the existing material (gravel).

The biggest complaints are dust, pot holes and gravel being pushed into the grass.

Personally I think it’s congruent with the rural atmosphere of the property and our country setting.

To maintain it we got quotes from a gentleman who has an apparatus on the back of his Jeep that “rakes” the driveway to get help prevent pot holes. Driving slow on the driveway helps prevent pot holes as well.

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The knives aren’t on the rig in this shot, but the bar lowers down with metal posts on the end and rakes the gravel driveway

My recommendation is that we try maintaining the driveway properly and professionally. In addition to the raking, we could hire a landscaper to cut the grass in the utility area, as well as put a definitive edge on the drive; possibly even a hardscape paver edging. Raking is $300-$500 per year. Not sure how much a landscaper charges to cut and trim during the growing season. A hardscape edge would be a couple grand I suspect.

Pros:

  • rural look
  • low cost to maintain
  • indefinite lifetime

Cons:

  • prone to pot holes
  • compacted surface is impervious can lead to flooding or erosion
  • difficult DIY maintenance

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Asphalt – This is the preferred method of our neighbors. Asphalt is made from oil and crushed limestone. It’s put down in two layers, #57 stone makes up a base coat of about 2.5″ and at top coat made from smaller stone creates a smooth ~1.5″ driving surface. The driveway has to be sealed ever year or two at a cost of about $1,500. Installation cost for our driveway is around $30K-$37K, or around $2 per square foot.

Another option is just to install the 2.5″ basecoat, which is only $25K. This saves money but results in a rougher surface because it’s just the #57 stones. And it’s not recommended for drives that will get truck traffic such as from UPS or FedEx trucks.

Asphalt can be salted in winter (which is bad for the environment) and it’s dark texture radiates heat year round – melting snow in the winter, and making it unbearable to walk on in the summer.

It’s important to know what kind of sealant the contractor puts down. Coal Tar is a highly toxic chemical that causes cancer in children and adults, as well hurt wildlife and contaminate water supplies. Click here for more info on sealants.

Pros:

  • relatively inexpensive
  • fairly low maintenance
  • 20 year lifespan

Cons:

  • oil based product
  • looks urban
  • impervious so it can lead to flooding and erosion

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Cement

Cement driveways are pretty ubiquitous in America. They last a long time and are virtually maintenance free. The down side is they’re expensive to install and repair.

We got two quotes from $50K up to $95K for our driveway, or about $3 per square foot.

With all the water on the surface of our land, we want to make sure that the cement is reinforced with mesh and possibly rebar. Thickness quoted was 4″ total.

Pros:

  • estate look and feel
  • no maintanence
  • 30 year lifespan

Cons:

  • expense
  • can’t drive on it for 7 days after install
  • impervious material prone to causing flooding and erosion

Chart from Angie’s List weighing pros and cons of asphalt and concrete:

Prosand Cons_ConcreteVsAsphalt.jpg

 

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Pervious Cement and Asphalt

These are identical to their non-pervious counterparts, but they leave out some of the stones in the mix to create voids that water can pass through. This makes the surfaces better for the environment by allowing water to pass through and not run off and cause flooding. The surface also acts as a filter to clean oil and auto residue through the material, filtering it before it gets to the ground water supply.

I could not readily find any local contractors for the materials though. And the biggest down side is you have to pressure wash it regularly to keep the voids open, otherwise they clog up.

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Grass Pavers

I love the look of these cast cement pavers. They have large voids that can be filled with pea gravel, and even allow grass to grow through. The biggest challenge here is the cost of $10 per square foot installed. Although for smaller areas they could be perfect, and even be a DIY project. Belgard Turfstone is the brand name we checked out.

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Pea Gravel

The one landscaper I talked to didn’t recommend cement or asphalt because we have so much surface water – which would but their lifespans in half potentially. His recommendation was edging the entire driveway and laying down pea gravel. Cost would be $7,000 year one, and then $7,000 a year to refresh. The cost seemed a little off but there’s no doubt the look is great. This would have to be investigated further. And there’s the potential that snow plows would trash it in the winter.

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Chip and Seal

This is when they just lay down the base coat of asphalt then finish it off with decorative stones. I love the look of this. The challenge is finding a contractor in northeast Ohio that will do it. Also there are concerns with the amount of surface water we get as to how well it would hold up. I think there’s a lot of stigma at play here. If it were up to me, it’s definitely an option I would consider versus ugly black asphalt. Cost was around $27K or $1.60 per square foot.

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Permeable Pavers

Just like grass pavers, but no voids for grass. Can be anything from stones, to bricks and cement blocks. Cost is probably around $10 per square foot. Looks super high end though.

Here’s an article from This Old House that walks you through the DIY install process for permeable pavers.

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image from NDS website of their grid product for stabilizing driveways while allowing water to flow through.

Permeable Driveway

Companies like CORE Driveway and NDS make these plastic grids from recycled plastic that interlock and create a substrate upon which you can place pea gravel or even let grass grow through. Cities often use this for parking areas or emergency response centers where there isn’t alway vehicle traffic, but it can support traffic if necessary.

This is the most environmentally responsible driveway in my opinion, because it allows water to pass through, grass to grow through it as well. Plastic lasts indefinitely so it shouldn’t really need replacing if maintained properly.

One installer recommended against it for anywhere where cars will turn around, as that might damage the grid over time.

It’s expensive at $44K in material alone, $2.60 per square foot. Though installation could be DIY, plus the cost of preparing the base and topping it off with gravel.

This is definitely what I would put on my driveway, and even the parking areas around the homestead.

My Recommendation

After I researched everything, my proposal was to implement a maintenance program on the driveway, including landscaping. Also we could explore the pea gravel solution, with possibly some hardscape edging. This is a very nice look and would cut down on dust.

Ultimately a gravel driveway is congruent with the rural look and feel of the properties. And it’s the material we all knew we were dealing with when we bought our various parcels. I believe it can be maintained economically and effectively with a comprehensive, competitively bid program.

If money was no object I’d go the permeable pavers or driveway grid solutions, which are the most environmentally responsible solutions.

Lastly hard surface wise, if we had to, my preference is cement because it would eliminate maintenance altogether and it would last 30+ years, longer than I’m likely to be alive. It can also be budgeted for long term repairs and will increase property values quite a bit.

Would be interesting to explore chip and seal some more too.

Asphalt just doesn’t seem to make much sense to me environmentally, economically or aesthetically. It still requires cost to maintain, looks ugly and cheap, and is resource intense with the possibly of poisoning the environment. I think it’s just a typical suburban “this is how everyone else does it” response to a problem, which lacks elegance or thoughtfulness. But in this day and age it’s not surprising at all.

Here are some additional links for your reference:

Why Should You Consider a Stormwater Friendly Driveway?

https://www.burlingtonvt.gov/sites/default/files/DPW/Stormwater/Driveways/SW%20Friendly%20Driveways_web_v2.pdf

Permeable Pavement

http://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/DEP/water/permeable-pavement.html

Pros and Cons Asphalt vs. Concrete – Angie’s List

https://www.angieslist.com/articles/pros-and-cons-asphalt-vs-concrete-driveway.htm

Coal-tar sealcoats pollute nearby soil and water

http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/newscience/coal-tar-sealcoats-release-pahs

University of Maryland Permeable Pavement Fact Sheet

https://extension.umd.edu/sites/default/files/_docs/programs/master-gardeners/Howardcounty/Baywise/PermeablePavingHowardCountyMasterGardeners10_5_11%20Final.pdf

Rainfall as a Resource – Connecticut Guide to Pervious Pavement

http://www.ct.gov/deep/lib/deep/water/watershed_management/wm_plans/lid/what_is_permeable_pavement.pdf

California Pervious Pavement Design Guidance

http://www.dot.ca.gov/hq/oppd/stormwtr/bmp/DG-Pervious-Pvm_082114.pdf

Could Your Driveway be Poisoning Your Kids?

http://ww2.kqed.org/quest/2014/01/23/could-your-driveway-be-poisoning-your-kids/

Coal Tar Free America

http://coaltarfreeamerica.blogspot.com

Alternative Asphalt Sealants Getting Mixed Reviews (4/11 – Columbus Dispatch)

http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/home_and_garden/2011/04/10/alternative-asphalt-sealants-getting-mixed-reviews.html