Studio Day Whatever – Plus A Trip To Crate and Barrel

I was back at work today. Still no real projects, but still, with a meeting and some office things to do, I stayed busy. I had to run to the office supply store so I stopped a Home Depot and picked up polyurethane for the studio shelves. I got a gallon of the clear coat in a satin finish to match the finish of the paint. I put the first coat on tonight. The plan is to put on three coats total, wet sanding between coats two and three. The polyurethane smells a little but I got the stuff my brother recommended. I’m sure it’ll be fine. It is water based. I applied the clear coating with a sponge brush. Note the can says I have to wait a week!!! before I can use the shelves. Ugh my studio is never going to be done.

Here are my supplies for clear coating the horizontal surfaces of my shelves in the studio: foam brushes, a finish sand paper block and some water based "varnish".

Here are my supplies for clear coating the horizontal surfaces of my shelves in the studio: foam brushes, a finish sand paper block and some water based “varnish”.

One other thing I bought at the store were a couple more LED light bulbs; 60 watt equivalent bulbs. I spend so an inordinate amount of time staring, evaluating and sometime purchasing LED light bulbs. Today’s purchase added to my small collection…just the other day we bought a 60W equiv. “bright white” and “daylight” bulb. Bright white is 3000K. Daylight is 5000K.  Both are around 800 lumens. I wanted to compare to see which I liked in my newly renovated studio. Today I picked up two more “bright whites” because I liked the previous one we bought, when we used it at the art show last weekend. Well turns out I don’t like “bright white”. I compared one to an incandescent bulb in my office and the LED bulb was made the space to lifeless; too bright.  So I’m going to take back the two new ones, and the daylight bulb, and get the “soft white” LED bulb for my studio lights. I did consider the fact that I’d be painting art in the space, but the lighting is only a factor at night and frankly I’d rather paint in a softer light instead of realistic “daylight” or even “bright white” light.

These LED's are going back. The "bright white" is to cold, even at a claimed 3000K. I didn't even bother opening up the "daylight" bulb.

These LED’s are going back. The “bright white” is to cold, even at a claimed 3000K. I didn’t even bother opening up the “daylight” bulb.

Lastly tonight I’ll leave you with pics from our trip to Crate & Barrel. We stopped to look at their plates the other day. And as usual we saw a lot of awesome stuff there. I wish it was like the old days when we both had jobs and could buy whatever at will. Now we have the house but no means to buy anything. That didn’t stop me from dreaming though.  Here are some of the cooler things we saw and loved. ( I think the chest is something we’ll take a stab at making ourselves for the front hall. And I’m on the fence about the metal wall art…even if we’re destitute we may still consider it to cozy up the place…I really like the rusted metal one, though it’s a circle and not a square so not sure I’m digging that.)

This clock looks better in person, though the color isn't quite right for our kitchen. Anyway it is pretty cool.

This clock looks better in person, though the color isn’t quite right for our kitchen. Anyway it is pretty cool.

Neat hanging lamp that would look good in my studio.

Neat hanging lamp that would look good in my studio.

Really awesome rusted metal wall art. Simple thin wall box tube cut offs welded together. Wish it was rectangular...I would have bought it on the spot. Maybe I'll make my own.

Really awesome rusted metal wall art. Simple thin wall box tube cut offs welded together. Wish it was rectangular…I would have bought it on the spot. Maybe I’ll make my own.

Would love to have a new bedroom set. Our current set was nice 13 years ago. Plus I like the idea of a bed that isn't as tall as our current one.

Would love to have a new bedroom set. Our current set was nice 13 years ago. Plus I like the idea of a bed that isn’t as tall as our current one.

These orange chairs would look perfect in our dining room. They aren't cheap.

These orange chairs would look perfect in our dining room. They aren’t cheap.

Cool metal grate art.

Cool metal grate art.

Very cool fish print wall art at Crate & Barrel.

Very cool fish print wall art at Crate & Barrel.

Dinosaur art that would look great in my studio.  I like dinosaurs.

Dinosaur art that would look great in my studio. I like dinosaurs.

Cool Atwood chest at Crate & Barrel. Might be interesting to create a less deep (<20") version for our front foyer.

Cool Atwood chest at Crate & Barrel. Might be interesting to create a less deep (<20″) version for our front foyer.

Gallery Wall Is Painted And The Master Sinks Hate Me.

Well with my birthday over, and my offroading trip finished too, we’ve started this week by settling back into the groove. And as such I have set aside the time to write and let you know what we’ve been up to.  Absolutely nothing productive is happening outside. I just don’t look out the windows at the plant bed that still needs fabric and mulch. Nor do I look at the gum trees that need freedom from the encroaching meadow around them.  And don’t even get me started on the back yard and garden.

Inside though we’re taking baby steps. We pretty much are done painting the upstairs hall “gallery” wall. Here’s what it looked like before, painted Canvas Tan (SW7531):

The hall gallery wall before in tan.

The hall gallery wall before in tan.

We left the rest of hall that color, but for the gallery wall which runs a long way from studio to bedrooms, we wanted something darker to camouflage the closet door cut lines, hinges and door knobs. Also the dark color would make artwork “pop” when hung on that wall. Looking at our Global Spice palette of colors we selected Sherwin Williams GS18 Sable SW6083 which is a dark brown color that goes perfectly with the sage carpet and the aforementioned Canvas Tan.

I thought we’d only need a gallon to cover the 7′ tall wall that runs around…I don’t know….twenty feet long?  And surprise, surprise I was right. Because the walls were already tan we didn’t need to prime them, and two coats of brown did the job. We just have to hit the door edges and closet edges with one more coat and the job will be done. Eventually we’ll replace all the outlets on the wall with brown ones to hide those too.

The gallery wall being painted Sherwin Williams GS18 Sable SW6083.

The gallery wall being painted Sherwin Williams GS18 Sable SW6083.

Do we like it? You’re darn right we like it, a lot.  It provides visual complexity to the space and helps close in the hallway a little, making it more “homey”. And no it’s not too dark at all. Despite not having any windows in the hallway, the space gets enough daylight leaking in from all the adjacent rooms that natural light is not a problem during the day. At night it’s a more engaging space, with a new level of complexity that makes it more interesting. I liken it to a theater set, in that there is a lot more going on visually; an eclectic mix that suits our aesthetic preferences.  This is the second time we’ve painted interior walls in dark brown and we loved it each time. In our old house the entry AND back hall were a nearly black brown and it was fantastic.

Okay, so we banged out that painting project (good ’cause the paint was sitting for like 2 months since we bought it).  Check! No more “paint the hall” monkey on my back. One minor monkey project is the window cranks. The overpriced, but necessary, cranks ($30 a pop!) showed up this week. That means I just need to go around to each window, install cranks where they are missing, and tighten the set screws on ALL the cranks. Then…voila! No more hand crank monkey on my back either.  Only took me 18 months.  Not bad considering my track record for accomplishing things.

While I was emboldened to get things off my list I called up the plumber to check on the Master Bed sinks. As you may or may not know, the little rods you pull to close the drain broke off our overpriced Kohler faucets the first time we used them.  It’s a horrifically (sp?) bad design. I plan on writing Kohler a strongly worded letter asking why they design such garbage and then charge people upwards of $800-$1,000 retail per faucet. The plumber and the sink supplier both tried to get Kohler to provide a fix but the company couldn’t; basically they said “tough shit, there’s nothing wrong with our product” and left us hanging. Well I discovered we had a slick push button drain stop in our half bath sink.  Only took me 18 months to figure that out too. It looks like this:

This is a Kohler push button drain, but apparently it's only available with the nickel faucet in our half bath, not as a stand alone part in chrome.

This is a Kohler push button drain in our half bath.  Yeah, that’ll work.

Well I asked the plumber / plumbing supplier if we could just put these cook push button stops in our Master sinks. Problem solved: push button stops and we’d just glue the old drain stops in place so they looked good but didn’t function. Take that Kohler.  Without looking at anything the plumber and supplier decided I could get two push button stops, and the plumber would split the cost with me; they were $40 a pop. I said “that’s fine” ’cause I just wanted the sink drain monkey off my back. I’ll save my fight with Kohler for another day.

So the plumber came out and changed the drains. I didn’t see them because we had to run the boys to school. When I got back I didn’t think to look at them since I was super busy with work I had to get to. I paid the plumber as he explained something about needing a washer to connect a pipe or something to the new drains….okay, whatever I’m sure it’s fine…I don’t have time to learn all the nuances of being a plumber. It’s tough enough being a neurotic, self-absorbed, design prick…let alone a plumber too. Off the plumber went.

Well nature called so I decided to go check out the drains, expecting to see what you see in the above photo, just chrome.  This is what I saw:

This is ridiculous. Going from bad to worse with our Master Bathroom.

This is ridiculous. Going from bad to worse with our Master Bathroom.

Our new giant push button drains look stupid.

Our new giant push button drains look stupid.

I didn’t even know where to begin. All I could see was this giant chrome thing, about the size of a hubcap on a ’53 Mercury in the middle of our sinks, sticking up like a toadstool that small fairies would hide under during fairy hunting season.

“Wow” I thought.

“Those look big, even for a trashy LA mansion, let alone our humble bathroom. Who thought that was a good idea?” I said to my indifferent brown hand towel who witnessed the entire transformation with nary a word.

Ugh, I don’t have time for this.

For shits and giggles I looked underneath the sink to see what was up down there. I chuckled a little bit. On one sink a nut is holding up the drain pipe. On the other it’s a cutoff of copper tube holding that one up. Apparently the plumber couldn’t readily make the connection between drain and pipe so they’re just sort of squished together, propped up by the random bits.

I don't even know why I bother anymore. Here you can see a nut permanently holding up the drain pipe under the sink because something or anther doesn't bond together properly.

I don’t even know why I bother anymore. Here you can see a nut permanently holding up the drain pipe under the sink because something or anther doesn’t bond together properly.

Ugh, I don’t have time for this.

I called up the plumbing supplier and asked him if Kohler made any push button drains like the one in the half bath. They don’t. They sell that one ONLY with that faucet.  Lovely. Of course that is how they do it. A product someone wants, so don’t offer it. Marketing genius. He did inform me that Moen sells something that will work. I did not ask why didn’t we use that part to begin with. No sense asking the universe unanswerable questions. And no, no returns on the drains that were just installed. So after another $80 out of my pocket, I have two of these ordered:

Moen push button drain. We have two on order for $40 apiece.

Moen push button drain. We have two on order for $40 apiece.

I’ve called my other plumber and he said he’d install them once I get them. I told him, even if we have to take everything back to the wall, I want the pipes done properly. No matter the cost.  I think I’ve done more remodelling projects in our new home than I ever did in our last house that we lived in for a decade. I don’t even argue anymore, I just go with the flow.  Get it?  I “go with the flow“. Plumbing humor.

Going back to the upstairs hall, now that it’s painted I started dreaming about the lighting in there. For now it’s just boring ceiling lights. But the staircase is screaming for a nifty chandelier to add an eclectic charge to our theater like brown and tan hallway.  It looks boring now:

Staircase...bookshelves on the left (back) wall and chandelier from ceiling...someday.

Staircase…bookshelves on the left (back) wall and chandelier from ceiling…someday.

Eventually we want to cover the back wall in a shallow bookcase. And cascading down in front of that bookcase, above the landing, sprouting form the current light location, I’m thinking a really cool glass ball or industrial light fixture.  This is the sort of thing I have in mind:

Stainless ball chandelier.

Stainless ball chandelier.

Awesome pipe fitting chandelier from Restoration Hardware.

Awesome pipe fitting chandelier from Restoration Hardware.

Elegant glass ball pendant chandelier.

Elegant glass ball pendant chandelier.

Barn Light Electric offers this simple multi bulb chandelier.

Barn Light Electric offers this simple multi bulb chandelier.

Meteor shower glass ball chandelier.

Meteor shower glass ball chandelier.

Cool rustic ball chandelier.

Cool rustic ball chandelier.

Very cool pipe fitting lighting.

Very cool pipe fitting lighting.

Something like the ‘meteor shower’ or stainless ball chandelier would look perfect there. The space is so vertical, a light fixture that takes advantage of the space will do wonders for the stairwell and hallway. It’s such an asymmetrical space, that the fixture needs to be asymmetrical as well. In my mind the space can become one of the most dynamic spaces in the house. And rightfully so since it’s the main traffic corridor. It’ll be some time before we redo the lighting up there, including adding track lighting for the gallery wall, but it’s never to early to plan and dream. I’m even knocking around the idea of a spiral staircase to the loft, but the will be way down the road.

Alright, I think that brings us up to speed. Hopefully my studio shelves will be done soon so we can start installing them. Which in turn will help us get organized both in the studio and in the basement, which currently houses all of my art business junk.

We’ve kicked out a few monkeys.  This is good.

Case Study: Annual Energy Usage In An Energy Efficient Home

[editor’s note: I changed the title to ‘energy efficient home’ from ‘passive solar’ – this post doesn’t talk about passive solar that much, I can delve into that at another post]

Wow that’s a pretty boring title for a blog post.  I figured “Murdering Fewer Mountains and Trees So I Could Play My XBox” would be a bit to melodramatic for a Saturday night.  My new year’s resolution, which I decided upon last night was I wasn’t going to spend the day on the computer.  Well I made it ’til dinner time before I just had to hop on and fire up an Excel spreadsheet, and for your benefit, a blog post.

I spent the last hour or two pulling all of our utility bills for the last year or so, and entering them into my spreadsheet.  Also I cracked open a bottle of 2010 Joel Gott California Cabernet…it’s pretty good.  Whoever brought it over, thank you.  You’re welcome back here any time. [editor’s note: my sister said she got me the wine so I wouldn’t have to drink Yellowtail.  Thanks sis.]

2010 Joel Gott 815 California Cabernet Savignon makes everything better.

2010 Joel Gott 815 California Cabernet Sauvignon makes everything better.

So I looked at the energy costs from 2009 at our old house.  This was the last year I have complete records for on a previous spreadsheet.  The records I pulled for this new house span from March last year when we were still finishing the house through this month’s bills.

The old house was a cookie cutter colonial, about 2,700 sq. feet.  In 2009 there were just 2 of us and a baby.  Heating was natural gas, electric everything else including cooling.  The furnace had a humidifier too. We had city water and sewer at the old place.  Why this is important is for two reasons: city water and sewer means water magically shows up and leaves the house and we pay a bill to the utility to make that happen.  This also means we’re not really expending any electricity to get that water and send it back, as far as I know.  The old house also had about half the number of light bulbs compared to our over the top new house and it’s hundred or so light sources.  Cooking was natural gas predominantly.  Washer and dryer were electric just like in new house (we have the same appliances in the new place).  Most of the light bulbs were incandescent but many were CFL’s and a few halogen bulbs; no LED’s. Finally we had a gas fireplace but we never really used that.

The new house is about 3,000 sq. ft. and there are 4 of us in here living.  Heating and cooling comes by way of our hybrid system employing geothermal and natural gas. Our fancy system also had an air exchanger and full house air filtration system.  Water and sewer is handled by our cistern and septic systems.  Both of these run off of electricity to pump water in, filter it and send it back out after our bodies filter it a little more.  The new place also has a sump pump which runs all the time basically to keep us from going under water during wet periods.  Cooking is handled by duel fuel range, and electric appliances.  As I said the new place has a ton of light sources, i.e. bulbs, so that alone is a huge load.  Only 4 of the bulbs are LED’s (not including the range hood’s 4 LED bulbs). The rest are all incandescent light bulbs.  The fireplace is our handy-dandy pellet burning unit, and we’ve barely made a dent in our free ton of pellets we got from Northfield Fireplace. It’ll be 2014 before I have to buy pellets.  We run the fireplace every few nights when hanging out in the family room.

Usage and lifestyle are about the same in both homes, for example in terms of watching tv and play video games.  The new place does not have any electric garage door openers though, not that it matters a whole lot.  I’ve just been too cheap / broke to put them in yet.

R Family Company, LLC estimated we’d use $2,413 annually on gas and electric when they did our Energy Start rating last year.  The engineer and architect estimated the usage to be around $1,500 – $2,000 a year just for HVAC…I think.  I’d have to delve into the paper work a bit more to confirm that.  In reality we’re pretty darn close to those numbers, after considering a few things.  I added up utility costs across the four major utilities most of us pay: electric (E), natural gas (G), water (W) and sewer (S).  Other utilities are lifestyle like phone, cable and internet so they’re not important in my calculations.  So adding up EGWS we’re at about $3,080 for the year 3/12 to 2/13.  Our 2009 total in the old house was $3,129.  So actually a little LESS in the new place.  Now there are some expenses not added into the new house such as septic service like getting it pumped out or fixed if it broke.  Same for the water system and sump pump in terms of repairs.  I did include bleach and filters for the water purification system.  HVAC filters would be an added cost in the new home too (the old place had a washable filter).  There is one bill for electric in March of last year that was $800 when we had the resistance heater in place I believe.  That throws our new house total off a bit.  If you take most of that out of the equation then we’re spot on with the $2,400 estimate Bob gave us from Energy Star.

Here's what we paid in 2009 and what we paid in our first year in the new house (most of the year at least)

Here’s what we paid in 2009 and what we paid in our first year in the new house (most of the year at least)

Our Natural Gas (G) usage plummeted off the face of the earth.  Dropping a whopping 90%, I don’t even think the gas furnace kicks in all.  You can see it rises in the winter, so some heat usage and probably more cooking usage as well.  Most of what we pay for gas is fees, taxes and the privilege of having access to gas.  The geothermal heating is just fine for us.  It’s not too cold or clammy like some people claimed it to be.  The fireplace is offsetting some of this too, so figure if we had to buy pellets (a $100-$250 a year maybe?) our heating cost would go up.

Electrical (E) usage is way over the top at nearly 3x the usage of the old house.  But consider: that wild March bill last year, the septic, sump and cistern all running off electric, electric oven and the biggest culprit all the light bulbs…all add up to higher (E) usage and costs.

Water (W) and Sewer (S) costs are a fraction of what they were but once I have to maintain the systems it’ll be a wash I bet….think about replacing the septic tank, field and cistern and there isn’t enough wine in the world to make that not be a major bummer, man.

First Energy now has this cool energy usage graph that customers can utilize to see where they are spending money on electricity

First Energy now has this cool energy usage graph that customers can utilize to see where they are spending money on electricity

Here's another First Energy  graph that highlights electric usage

Here’s another First Energy graph that highlights electric usage

I logged onto First Energy’s site and they have a new energy summary that will show you how much energy you’re using and where at.  It looks pretty good though it works off of a lot of assumptions, I’m not sure you should get too hung up on the exact numbers.  I filled in all kinds of info about my appliances and house.  I like all the color coded graphs and bars.  It even compares my house to the average house.  For electricity we barely beat out an average house ($27 per month) but for overall energy we win by a large margin ($700 annually). It’s actually embarrassing see our costs pegged all the way to the left on the little cost graph……not.  Granted these numbers are just one month’s were of data I think.  I’d have to delve into it deeper to see what a year would really save us.  Also I need to go back and look at our Energy Star docs and engineering docs to see what they estimated and where we landed.  For instance I think the engineer said about $1,000 annual saving on HVAC alone.

By the way, we keep the house at about 70 degrees throughout the year.  The fireplace thermostat gets set at 75 degrees in the evenings just in the family room area.  Personally I need to be in a certain thermal band to be comfortable so I’m not one to dial the temp up or down to far, even to save cost and planet.

I wish someone invented a smart meter, that my utility companies would support and use, that would do all this monitoring for me and just output a report on my computer or phone. Maybe I should design one.

We can save costs in the coming year a couple of ways.  Convert more bulbs to LED’s, especially the bulbs we use the most.  I plan on insulating the hot water tank. I did that in the old house.  We can insulate the basement walls even more, insulating the top 4′ that are at or above grade.  There are some air holes at the corners of some of the exterior doors that I need to close up as well.

One note, when we go to install a solar power system, having this historical electrical usage will be helpful in sizing the system. Right now it’d be difficult to go zero energy (use as much or less than we produce) because we’re at about 17,250 KWH per year.  Let’s say we had 15,000 KWH per year…that translates to a 15 KW solar system.  That would take up about 1,500 square feet of space….our garage roof is probably about 600 square feet (the part that faces southwest).  So we’d have to cover the house bits up too with solar panels.  Cost would be somewhere between $40,000 and $80,000 to install.  Not too bad considering there’s a Jeep I’d love to have that costs $40,000.  Savings over 20 years could be as high as $20,000 to $40,000 (including tax breaks and factoring in the cost of the system i.e. above and beyond).  The system would save between 400 and 800 thousand lbs of CO2 as well.  These are just wild ass guess numbers I gleaned from Dove Solar & Wind’s website while drinking my wine.  Our system would ultimately be smaller; we’d reduce our usage quite a bit and employ other goodies like solar water heating and LED’s everywhere.

Also today we went to the zoo.  They had a cool exhibit talking about collecting rain water and rain gardens.  Around this building there were two rain gardens with a “bio swale” connecting the two.  This inspired me.  We’ve got this surface water problem in the front yard that I’m going to tackle this Spring.  It’s late so I’ll talk more about it in a future episode.  For now you can look at a  couple pictures of the front yard and our temporary pond so to speak.  Night kids.

This is the little pond we get between the lawn and front bed, every time it rains or the snow melts.

This is the little pond we get between the lawn and front bed, every time it rains or the snow melts.

Spring project will be to address the surface water issue by reworking the topography by hand to get the water to drain.

Spring project will be to address the surface water issue by reworking the topography by hand to get the water to drain.

LED Love

Today was a busy day and went by fast.  I was able to get into the studio to paint and frame some new artwork in the morning.  At lunch time I treated myself to a goodie.  I drove up to get everybody in the house some yummy Chipotle for lunch and stopped of at Home Depot for my goodie.  During my crappy week I needed a diversion, and in light of our last electricity bill, I decided to check out light bulbs some more.  Now keep in mind I can spend a half hour in the lighting aisle of Lowes or Home Depot, or easily down a few beers and surf the net looking at LED’s.  The variety is going up and the prices are going down.  The last time I was at the Depot I saw some Philips bulbs that caught my eye.

I find LED’s fascinating because their design goes beyond just commodity item like incandescents.  There’s a lot of technology in an LED bulb, and they also require cooling fins and lenses.  It’s like having an ipod or other high end electronic device in light bulb form.  Who woulda thought, light bulbs that require some real industrial design.  Maybe I can get a job designing light bulbs.  Would be cooler than it sounds. I’ve been looking at bulbs and in my opinion Philips has the nicest looking bulbs, across their entire lineup. The nicest looking bulb is from GE (click to see it). Their 60W equivalent A19 LED bulb is pure light bulb porn, with its sexy cooling fins and old school bulb shape.  It looks like some sort of alien bulb.  It’s really nice.

I had my sites on replacing some of the most used bulbs in our house, this would help save money in the long run, but also I was curious to get my hands on the latest LED technology out there.  One note, for our new house I’m skipping compact fluorescents altogether.  LED’s are better technology and their cost is coming down.  Eventually pretty much everything will be LED in the house so I don’t want to wait twelve years or longer for my CFL’s to burn out.  The two areas I identified that were prime for upgraded bulbs were the Dining Room and my studio. Both use 60W incandescent bulbs now.  My studio you can see the bulbs as their Barn Light Electric fixtures are just raw sockets like you see at….like you see at Chipotle actually.   So in the studio I’d actually want to factor in the aesthetic design of the bulbs…maybe use them as a stylish detail in additional to functional lighting.  Unfortunately I have six sockets in the studio so to save some money my sights turned to the Dining Room.  In there, you might remember, we have the cool pendants from Barn Light Electric that are made from repurposed acetylene tank heads.  With their port holes you can see the bulbs in there too, so bulb style has to be considered again but not to the extent that we have to in the studio.  The Dining Room pendants had one 60W incandescent bulb in each fixture.  The fixtures are dimmable, and we tend to dim them all the time so that’s important.

Home Depot carries Philips light bulbs so that’s where I focused my search.  They have a great set of search tools so I could quickly zero into the bulbs that would work for our application.  I quickly boiled it down to the GE A19 bulb and a 60 watt equivalent dimmable bulb from Philips.  The Philips won out because of it’s warmer 2700K color, 11W energy usage, higher lumen output at 830 lumens.  It was almost as sexy as the GE bulb….actually it’s understated sleekness is probably sexier in a subtle way. Finally the Philips cost about half as much so it was an all around winner. (You know life as you know it is basically washed up when you talk about light bulbs being sexy.)

So for about $25 apiece I replaced the three Dining Room bulbs.  They look great, the light looks great and they dim nicely.  They use a fraction of the electricity compared to the bulbs they replace and should each save $135 over their 22 year lifespan.  Crazy to think my boys will both have graduated college by time I have to replace these light bulbs.  The bulbs have a six year warranty.

Snow Day

Today was the day after Christmas blizzard that wasn’t really a blizzard at all.  It was enough to get me out of work early though so not all was lost. I took advantage of the free time and planted our Christmas tree in the east preservation area.  The tree was in the house for about eight days and was starting to shed needles.  There was a lot of snow falling today but I trudged out with my tree in hand. I uncovered the plywood covering the hole I had previously dug in warmer weather.

tree removed from its pot waiting to be planted.

tree removed from its pot waiting to be planted.

I removed the tree from its pot and took off the plastic I had wrapped the bulb in when we brought it into the house.  Using a utility knife I cut away the fabric covering the bulb and loosened up the roots.

I took my trusty shovel and dug the hole out a little more…the soil was not frozen courtesy of the plywood covering.  I dropped the tree in and adjusted it so it looked fairly upright; the trunk has a slight curve.  I covered up the hole with the soil and even spread out a buck full of mulch around the base.  To help insulate the bulb I also tossed some fresh snow around the base too.  Within a few minutes the trees branches were covered in freshly fallen snow.

 

our christmas tree

our christmas tree

Now as you drive up the driveway, if you look closely out your passenger side window….just over there by the cherry trees, you’ll see a little blue spruce.  The first Christmas tree we ever had in our new home.  Hopefully, long after I’m gone, that tree will be standing there full grown, greeting guests and visitors.  It’s not to far from the birdhouse I cleaned out today as well, so I’m sure it’ll provide some nice refuge for birds through the years.  The tree stands in a pathway I cut out with my trimmer just about 18 months ago.  How far we’ve come in a short time.

 

We also took the opportunity to play in the snow today too.  The pond berm proved to be a most agreeable sledding hill for two wee little boys.  The berm doesn’t offer any real vertical drop but enough for a little orange sled to give them a thrill.

 

sleeding today.

We did have a nice holiday.  I took advantage of a Saturday off to tackle a couple of nagging issues around the house.  The studio door knob’s key hub was super loose and driving me crazy.  Every time one keyed the door it jiggled and the large gap invited ice and rain in my opinion.  So I took it apart to see what was up.  The other exterior knob assemblies didn’t have this problem so I think it was just an install anomaly.

I used a couple of flat head screw drivers and took the back face plate off.  Sure enough there are a couple of screws inside that hold the key hub in place.  And sure enough, neither of them was tight…the one had worked it’s way out about a 1/4″.  I easily tightened them up, making sure not to over tighten them and bend the door knob internal assembly.  One fixed up I re-installed  the rear face plate.

loose lock hub on exterior door knob

loose lock hub on exterior door knob

 

loose screws cause the lock hub to be super loose.

loose screws cause the lock hub to be super loose.

The

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The master bed door inexplicably doesn’t close so I attempted to fix that.  After accessing the situation I figured out the problem. The strike plate doesn’t have any adjustment in it so I’m stuck with where it’s at…..what I would need to do is take it off, somehow fill the screw holes in the frame and then remount it in the proper location.  Alternately I could elongate the strike plate mounting holes so it mounts further out, allowing the door to latch…either way I didn’t feel like dealing with it on my day off.  The wife said “Oh that’s not the door to worry about, I wish you’d fix the bathroom door.”  Apparently she prefers her bathroom door to be able to lock, which it currently doesn’t.  So I took a look.

It’s a pocket door, and we love pocket doors for their space saving properties.  The biggest complaints about our pocket doors are 1) the weight – we shoulda got fake instead of real wood, 2) the hardware – the expensive matching bronze Emtek hardware for the pocket doors totally blows, making it impossible to operate the doors without a lot of effort, and 3) everything has to be spot on else they don’t close….which in our case means every door has an issue.

trim plate removed reveals the issues with the bathroom door.

trim plate removed reveals the issues with the bathroom door.

 

All three issues combined mean that from at least one side of every door it’s impossible to get the door closed all the way….the door pushes out or in and contacts the trim before the strike plate.  The handles give hands nothing to grip or push on, in order to move the super heavy doors.  Well apparently my wife doesn’t like the idea of any one of the men living in her home to be able to open the bathroom door while she’s butt naked or do her whatnot in the bathroom.  Go figure.

I measured a few things and figured the strike plate needed to be moved over about an eighth or quarter inch.  I removed the plate and discovered at one time it was moved over as there were two mounting holes down low.  Cool, I’ll drill a new hole up top.  Well, buried in the frame, right where my other mounting hole needs to go is the remnants of a broken off screw.  Ugh.  I fussed with it a bit and came to the conclusion that I’d have to perform major surgery on the door frame trim…possibly taking out a block of the trim and replacing it with fresh wood…..filler, paint, etc….more than I wanted to do on a Saturday morning. Well the wife’s just gonna have to live with the “freedom” that comes with non-locking bedroom and bathroom doors.  I went 1 for 3 on fixing doors on Saturday.  Good average if I were a baseball player.

That’s about it.  I’m going to play with my toys for the next couple days then get back to work.  I have those studio cabinets to finish installing, then onto my next project.  Also I’m starting to work on maintenance tasks like managing the water system chlorine and filters.  I also have a call into the HVAC guys to check the system and give me the nickel tour on how to maintain the filter systems.  One last thing, I can’t find any LED replacement bulbs for the bathroom vanity lights…it’s a rare T10 60W bulb, like you have in your fridge (though yours is probably 25W or 40W)…..and I’m hesitant to use incandescent bulbs since they use about $7 of energy annually and there are six of them in our bathroom.  I’m thinking CFL’s which I was able to find online.  I guess I should have thought of that before I ordered my fancy Restoration Hardware light fixtures….but I really love those fixtures and their old school Hollywood appeal.  Eventually someone will invent the bulb I need, until then I’ll get some compact fluorescents.

By the way, the floorplan featuring the kitchen island and long front hallway is perfect for bike riding.  We have a toddler loving life riding his bike on the hardwood floors, which in most households is probably a hue no no, but surprisingly for me (if you knew me) I don’t really care.  I’m keeping an eye on things and there appears to be no ill effect….except when he says “I am mad at you” because I tell him to slow down.

Christmas deer in our yard.  So cool to see them almost every night right out our window.

Christmas deer in our yard. So cool to see them almost every night right out our window.

 

Photo Update

Today I’ll treat you to a photo update.  There are various and assorted things going on at the ranch.  The painters are cranking away despite me getting them in trouble. They just don’t talk to me anymore. 

We bought out first LED bulb for the house.  It’ll go in a table lamp in the Family Room.  $30 at Lowes.  A bit pricey but I’ll write it off as an experiment. (no, I’m not literally writing it off like a tax thing or anything).  Elsewhere art is starting to hang, mantles are cracking and I even built a shelf.  I’m also enjoying my Garden Weasel, though some rain would be awesome.  Mother nature washed away all our seed, then whatever seed was left over sprouted and is now dying at the hands of a drought.  It’s rained once since the lawn went in.  Our cistern water system lacks the water pressure to sprinkle the lawn much.

By the way, speaking of art, check out these two guys and their great art.  Edward Park paints fantastic landscapes. Paul Fletcher’s encaustic paintings have to be seen to be believed; they’re made from bees wax. We’re fortunate to have original pieces in our new home.

Finally I saw the most awesome medium sized turtle in the backyard the other day, while I was watering the hazelnut trees.  I’m amazed by how many cool animals call our land home.

Cleaning Windows

I’ve been getting progressively more exhausted with each passing day.  Mentally I’m just about shot.  The house building process has gotten the best of me; I thought I was strong, this house proves I probably am not.  Thankfully for my sanity, the windows need cleaning and I’m just the guy to clean them. 

We spent the weekend cleaning up the new house (and cleaning the old one to show it to prospective buyers).  I finished cleaning all the windows last night and spent tonight working on hanging towel bars.  As it stands now, the house is an incredible cocoon, isolating myself from the rest of the world.  Methodically washing each of about thirty windows is the perfect meditation.  Scraping off the labels and overspray.  Wiping the crud out of the crevices.  Spraying a mist of fresh smelling Windex across each glassy plane.  Working alone in silence.  The last time I experienced this degree of peace, solitude and quiet was when I was cutting out foam blocks from my shiny new foundation in the dead of the summer heat.

Now in the dead of winter grey, albeit an unseasonably warm winter, it’s difficult to feel more than a fractal degree of optimism.  But at least in one night’s (or one night and a day’s) washing windows I at least got to be alone with our new home.  That is reward enough for now I suppose.  Best to get this project done, move in and spend our time, at our leisure, fixing all the little idiosyncracies that beg to send me into a fit of whatnot.

I did reflect on the permanence of what we’ve created.  Or at least my hope that there is some degree of permanence to what we’ve done.  Hopefully by documenting this project, someone a hundred years from now will appreciate what we’ve tried to accomplish; reflect on all the details we tried to turn into reality.  What we’ve done in terms of energy efficiency is ahead of its time frankly.  And I say that only because it was so foreign and difficult to execute.  It really should be common practice but alas not a lot of people value things the same way as we do I suppose.  In a fleeting and disposable society, our hope is that we’ve created something that will last for a very long time.  Soon the bank will come out and put a value on the place.  On paper we’ve input a lot more money than we planned. And on the surface the house is not necessarily remarkable or even “worth” all the money that’s been used to construct it.  Even so what is rendered in wood, steel and glass should reflect a value that should appease the bank (at least enough for a loan).  But the house is so much more than the sum of its parts.  Only time will reflect this project’s true value in this world.  Our society’s current methods and models of assigning value to “things” is disappointingly out of touch with the realities of how the world (and universe) truly operate.  What we’ve built will be compared side by side to traditional houses.  Bonuses will not be given to our abode for the fewer number of mountain tops that will need removal to power it.  Just as demerits are not levied against typically built cookie cutter houses that work hard at degrading us and our communities.  And our project is not immune from negative effect.  For example, the amount of waste generated during the course of our project is staggering.   We’ve could have fallen out of bed and found ways to reduce waste.  But alas only so much can be done by so many in so much time.

Anyway, enough of my social tirades.  On to the eye candy.  Enjoy.  We’re almost done.