Water Supply From The Sky

[Writer’s note: this is an article I wrote last year but was never published. I wanted to share it with my loyal readers. I hope you enjoy. Rainwater harvesting is fascinating and can be utilized anywhere there is precipitation i.e. everywhere on the planet.]

Living with the convenience of “city” water for over thirty years I was a bit apprehensive when my wife and I bought a little piece of rural paradise upon which to build our new family home. As far as I knew there was only one option for our water supply: a well, drilled deep into the ground pulling up water from the earth. As far as I knew a well meant smelly, slimy, water and iron stained plumbing fixtures. I was not looking forward to a lifetime of well water, but the land was so nice I was willing to sacrifice.

We soon discovered that the area of our new land was not a great place to get a reliable water supply from the earth.  So we had to find another source. The only other real option was to get a cistern, which is a large waterproof vault that holds water. Cisterns have been providing safe drinking water to humans for thousands of years. I immediately liked the idea because it meant no sulfur smelling water or toilet rings.

There are three ways to fill a cistern. We could pay a water hauling company to truck in water. Another option is to use the cistern in tandem with a well, the idea being that the cistern would keep ample water available from even a slow producing replenishment well. Lastly the cistern can be filled with free harvested rainwater from the sky. We wanted our new home to be as environmentally sustainable as possible so we decided to go with harvesting.

With the collection decision made, I needed to do some research.  Foremost I needed to know how much water we’d use and therefore need to collect. The U.S. EPA website estimates about 300 gallons per day per family[1] (109,500 gallons per year). Our goal was to solely rely on rainwater as our supply. If we hit a drought (in the heat of summer or the freeze of winter) we could have water trucked in. We selected a 10,000-gallon underground cistern, which meant we could go a month without refilling it. A low level light comes on at 2,500.

I found the Texas Manual on Rainwater Harvesting[2] online and it is filled with a wealth of information. The manual estimates that one can expect to collect 0.62 gallons per square foot of collection surface, per inch of rainfall. The efficiency of the system is about 75% because some water will be lost in the collection process.[3] So for our example, we have about 4,000 sq. feet of roof to collect water from. Our average precipitation (in nearby Akron, Ohio) is around 40 inches per year[4]…. (4,000 x 40 x 0.62) x 0.75 = 74,400 gallons per year we’ll collect. That’s far from the amount we need but that didn’t deter us from our goal of water independence. Our system cost $14,000 installed.

When collecting rainwater for home use, one has to consider the entire system from raindrop to faucet.  The biggest question mark during the design phase was the roof material. Aesthetically we wanted a metal roof, but weren’t sure if we could afford one. Would asphalt shingles be safe for our water supply? The Texas manual recommends metal roofs, sold under the Galvalume trade name for example, are the best for collecting rainwater for potable use. Potable water should not be collected from wood or asphalt roofs as chemicals can leach from them material into the water. Clay and concrete tiles are okay, but there rough porous surface means a less efficient system.[5] Ultimately we stretched the budget and went with the metal roof.

The collection process is fairly straightforward. As rain hits the roof it flows to the gutters, which have a screen on them to keep large debris out. Water is then directed by downspouts and pipes to roof washers located atop the underground cistern. The washers contain mesh and fabric filters to screen out any large contaminants before the water is deposited into the cistern.  As needed the water is pumped from the cistern into the house where it passes through chlorine and pressure tanks. Lastly the water flows through a 1-micron cartridge filter system to take the chlorine out as well as a final step in the purification process.  The filter’s cost about $30 and we change them six times per year.


To minimize water usage we installed plumbing fixtures that use less water. Outside we irrigate the gardens using water collected from a rain barrel. Landscaping with native plants that don’t require supplemental watering helps also. Last year our area saw 33 inches of precipitation through November[6], which is well below average. That being said, our low water light never came on once since we’ve been here. Smaller (and larger) cisterns are available, but we’ve been very happy with the size of our tank.

It was amazing to take my first shower in the new house and realize that the water that was raining around me had fallen from the sky earlier that day. We’ve been very pleased with the system overall and recommend anyone interested in a self-sustaining alternative, look into rainwater harvesting. It’s a viable water source wherever you live.


Rainwater harvesting mechanics inside the home include chlorine and pressure tanks, a changeable cartridge filter and low level indicator light.

Rainwater harvesting mechanics inside the home include chlorine and pressure tanks, a changeable cartridge filter and low level indicator light.

On the outside, a rainwater-harvesting house looks like any other except for the exposed cistern lid and roof washers. In this example they are hidden amongst the landscaping in the foreground.

On the outside, a rainwater-harvesting house looks like any other except for the exposed cistern lid and roof washers. In this example they are hidden amongst the landscaping in the foreground.

[2] Texas Manual on Rainwater Harvesting, Texas Water Development Board, Third Edition 2005, http://www.twdb.state.tx.us/publications/reports/rainwaterharvestingmanual_3rdedition.pdf

[3] Texas Manual on Rainwater Harvesting, pp29-30

[4] The Weather Channel website www.weather.com

[5] Texas Manual on Rainwater Harvesting, p6

[6] National Weather Service Forecast Office, Cleveland, OH, http://www.nws.noaa.gov/climate/xmacis.php?wfo=cle

A Cursory Glance At Solar Electric For Green Living

We enter week two of new cats.  I took them to the vet and they checked out alright. No major diseases. The do have fleas and worms  but all of that can hopefully be cleared up in the coming weeks. Keeping them segregated from our original cat, Daphne is a pain, but this to shall pass and we’ll be one big happy family in no time.  I’ve got all the Christmas lights and various trees up to, and we even got our first holiday card in the mail. Most of our shopping is done, so we’re all ready for the 25th.

Out of curiosity I took a few minutes today to look at Dovetail Solar & Wind’s website. I wanted to see where the prices were at for renewable energy systems. An article on EcoWatch reminded me of my interest in someday having our estate work off of the grid.

Here is a sample overview Dovetail regarding the cost and size of a typical solar electric system:

SOLAR PV Residential Price Sheet 10-7-2013af.xlsx

If we put in a system, I would want a roof based array, that had battery back up. I abhor the thought of a power outage; we’ve had three in the last three weeks and I hate worrying about the sump pump, water pump, septic and refrigerator. In fact I’d go so far as to consider a bit of redundancy and install a natural gas generator as well. We’d have quite the outpost for the zombie apocalypse.

I took a look at the September ‘Home Energy Report’ that Ohio Edison provided us and it said we used 1,266 kWh which is “good” according to them. Apparently my “efficient” neighbors only used 748 kWh in September, and “all” neighbors used an average of 1,376 kWh. Despite our house being an electricity hog, the advantage of having a virtually all-electric house (we use gas for cooking and heat backup on our hybrid furnace) is that we can, in theory, switch to all solar electric and get off the grid, which is our ultimate goal….especially once the zombies start coming and take out the coal-fired electric plants along the Ohio River.

Let’s say we use 1,250 kWh per month. First we’d want to reduce our usage to a bare minimum – switch all the lights to LED’s, teach my family not to leave lights on, etc. That’s the first rule of being sustainable, get as efficient as you can, but efficiency follows the rule of diminishing returns, so just being efficient isn’t enough; especially if we’re looking to get off the grid. Other areas I need to attack include finding the damn Therma-tru door corner pads to block out the daylight I still see on my exterior door corners (I lost the damn yellow envelope they sent me during studio decorating!!!), and working on the fan board in the crawl spaces, as well as finishing off the basement with insulation on the top 4′ of the Superior Walls. I list these things if for no other reason than to keep reminding myself they need to be done.

Okay, math time.  Let’s say our efficiency measures get us down to 1,000 kWh per month. 1kW of solar capacity = 100 kWh per month, so we’d need a 10kW system to live off the grid. Well looking at the above chart, that’s not really realistic, or at least it’s not on the chart so lets also look at the roof space we have. If vanity rules then we’d just cover the south-facing garage roof so as not to mar the beauty of Joe’s masterpiece [my word], then we have 576 sq. ft to work with (32’x18′). Looking at the chart above this equals a 6.1kW system. Okay, not bad. We’re still on the grid but it’s a great start. We can either drive down our usage or drive up capacity down the road. Cost? $20K after tax credit, about the cost of a new small car. Not bad at all. Over 25 years (after that I’m dead or in Florida) we save $40K, reduce our carbon footprint, and are no longer at the mercy of Big Energy and their random Autumn blackouts at 12am on a Sunday. Remember, I hate power outages…probably as much as I hate being at the mercy of “the man”.  I have serious control issues, you have no idea, but I digress.

The battery back up is a nice feature because without it, a grid tied system won’t work when the lights go out.  With this system, or a non-backed up system, you can actually “sell” electricity back to the grid if the power company allows it. That way the surplus you might generate doesn’t go to waste, and you can power your “efficient” neighbors with clean solar power. The natural gas generator would come into play if, after 3-5 days without power it was so cloudy that the batteries were drained.

Another cool system that we can get is a solar thermal system that provides our hot water needs. Here’s the Dovetail example chart for that:

SOLAR THERMAL Residential Price Sheet.xls

They also mention solar thermal air heating, which I know nothing about…between our pellet fireplace and hybrid furnace I think we’re all set on that front for the time being.  I do like the solar thermal for the water, and who knows, maybe that’s the system we should experiment with first; would reduce our electrical load in preparation for out solar electric system.  Looks like about $10K for a thermal system, which typically is a series of black tubes on the roof our water runs through and is heated for use inside the house. I’m over simplifying here but you get the idea.

All of this is just speculative, but it’s good to do the homework now, and keep an eye on the prices, as they are coming down and are reasonable for any budget in my opinion; essentially a car payment. In fact one could argue that since we both work from home and don’t have a commute that maybe we should allocate a car payment to this type of system in the future when funds become available. Also, these systems are do-able on any home. don’t feel like you need a special house. I know I’d greatly love to experiment with one or more of these systems.

You know, control issues and all.

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.

Random Thursday Update

I have yet to move my office back downstairs. They finished my studio floor last week, so the room isn’t closed off anymore…I can go back now. But I kind of like it up here in the loft.  The only downside is it gets kind of warm up here in the afternoon. It’s so high up that the HVAC system has trouble getting cool air up here to replace all the hot air that collects in the room at the top of the house. And lately it’s been so hot and humid outside that opening the windows doesn’t really do anything during the day.  Pondering this though, maybe that will be a good thing in the winter time when it’s cold in my office / studio.

The room is a really nice space. I could definitely see a desk up here and a little sitting area. And it’s location means that my family has difficulty finding me at times which is always a plus. The last two days, I’ve turned on to watching the yellow birds fly around the front yard. I hadn’t noticed them before but they look to be having so much fun out there. They love our black gum trees.  Makes getting anything accomplished more of a challenge than it really needs to be. Would be fun to be a bird for a bit. Oh well, I’ll move back downstairs sooner or later.

Now that the laundry room cabinets are in as well as the sink we can finally put everything in its place. Her new organizing book in hand, the wife has been awesome organizing things in there. She brought up 6 boxes from our ramshackle mess of a basement and was able to finally put stuff away. I helped out. We actually threw stuff out, created a box for donation and one box…well…that was for junk that didn’t need to be in the laundry room but weren’t sure where so it’ll go back in the basement.  Next up will be the linen closet and all the office junk drawers.  Rome wasn’t built in a day so to speak but every little bit counts. We should be organized completely on or about the day they put our ashes in an urn. Which is a vast scheduling improvement compared to where we were just a few months ago.

Outside the yard has gone to complete shit.  I can’t remember the last time we were out there. The weeds are loving it and the veggie garden is all but abandoned. Bees?  Oh yeah we should check on the bees. This weekend we’ll strike back and try to wrap up some things out there….finish the front bed, mount bat houses, turn a blind eye to the back yard and even cut the grass. Bees will get their time in the spotlight this afternoon. Hopefully they’re filling the upper frames. If so we can may just eek out a jar of honey before season’s end.

One thing that did get fixed outside is a broken spigot on the back of the house. Now we have a fancy new 1/4 turn spigot that works great. I’ll have to take a pic and share the info with you when I get a chance. With that I think ALL the plumbing stuff is added / fixed that was on the list other than the master bath sinks which are still broke – their water stops rendered useless. One thing our plumber pointed out was we have a push button water stop in the half bath. Very cool and I didn’t even know we had that. That may be a solution for our master bath, but would involve buying new drain hardware. Not that important right now. And I’m still waiting to hear back from our other plumber on the status of fixing the water stops on the Master Bath Kohler faucets. You’d think $700 faucets would be a little better quality but I guess not. They’ve been looking into a solution for the last 4 months so I’ll give it a few more months before I blow my brains out.

Speaking of blowing my brains out, Whirlpool claims that they’ll just credit me for the 4-way dryer vent that I didn’t need and wanted to return. I don’t have to return the vent kit. So if anyone wants a 4-way dryer vent kit, let me know. It’s worth $50.  That only took 3 months to resolve…or at least claim that there is a resolution in the works. Customer service is clearly dead across the board. Take what they give you and smile cause this is as good as it gets.

I’m battling a painting in my studio and it’s winning. Looks like garbage on canvas, but I’ll rescue it. It’s a commissioned piece so hopefully my buyer likes it in the end. Work has been hit and miss but we’re not starving just yet. I think we’re done with house projects or at least the expenditures for a while…need to get out there and finish these projects actually. We’ve got gallons of paint, boards of wood and whatnot waiting to be added to the house. Just need to get ‘er done. Fragmented days add to the excitement but also the feeling of living life on a treadmill.

Enough of my ramblings, I’ve got a painting to go battle in my studio.

Sunflowers are just so cool. I wonder when we can harvest sunflower seeds....

Sunflowers are just so cool. I wonder when we can harvest sunflower seeds….

Something ate our watermelon.  They didn't like the seeds though. Our veggie garden is in such disarray I've been chucking stuff over the fence when no one is looking. If I see one more zucchini I'm gonna puke.

Something ate our watermelon. They didn’t like the seeds though. Our veggie garden is in such disarray I’ve been chucking stuff over the fence when no one is looking. If I see one more zucchini I’m gonna puke.

Plumbing Day

Today we knocked some more things off of the list. Our plumber came over and installed sinks in the laundry room and studio. Before he could do that though we installed the new counter tops in each room. We measured the sinks and cut out the rough openings with a jig saw. We then attached the counters with a screw through the corner cleats in the base cabinets.  Once the counters were in place installing the sinks didn’t take too long.

We also had the plumber raise the hot and cold water outlets for the washing machine in the laundry room. This will allow us to turn off the water in case of an emergency without having to move the washing machine out from under, the yet to be installed, counter top. We decided to leave the electrical outlet above the future counter too in case we ever want to use it to plug in an iron or crafting tool. By the way, the washer weighs a ton so when we do the counter top over it, we’ll make the counter removable. That’s the only way to man handle the washer in and out; if the counter isn’t in the way. One last thing, we’ll just cut holes in the counter for all the hoses and power cord from the washer. It’ll look fine.

Now I just have to patch up the drywall in the laundry room and that project should be done for now.

laundry sink faucet includes a sprayer which will be good for cleaning the litter box.

laundry sink faucet includes a sprayer which will be good for cleaning the litter box.

Our linen patterned laminate top with the sink installed.

Our linen patterned laminate top with the sink installed.

We moved the washer shut off box up to clear the counter top we'll install above the washer at a later date.  Now on my to do list is fix the drywall.

We moved the washer shut off box up to clear the counter top we’ll install above the washer at a later date. Now on my to do list is fix the drywall.

My studio faucet is just a simple bar faucet.

My studio faucet is just a simple bar faucet.

Now I can clean brushes in my art studio.

Now I can clean brushes in my art studio.

Today's vegetables picked from our garden - we made big salads for dinner tonight. Yummy.

Today’s vegetables picked from our garden – we made big salads for dinner tonight. Yummy.

Home Alone

This is my bachelor weekend.  The wife and kids left to go visit her sister so here I am left all to myself. As anyone who has a family and hectic lifestyle knows, being alone for an hour, let alone two days, takes an act of congress. I’m not sure I’ve been alone in the last four years. And frankly it’s not all it’s cracked up to be really. The life is kind of gone out of the house with just me and the cat here. I had grand plans to get all kinds of things off of my “to do” list but in reality I’ve accomplished very little.  I guess I’m finding value in the freedom that accompanies not doing anything constructive. Which if you know me is also an extraordinary feat: doing nothing. Eating unhealthily, watching non-family friendly movies (e.g. Django Unchained) and playing video games is about all I’ve done.

One thing I knocked off the list was going out and finding sinks for the laundry room and my studio.  Finishing both rooms is contingent on getting the sinks installed next so it is imperative that I picked out a couple sinks. So after sleeping in until 9:45am this morning (which I haven’t done in over a decade) I contemplated what to do with my day, and decided to drive up to an area plumbing supply showroom. I had previously struck out when looking for sinks at Home Depot and Lowes. Looking online was daunting and would require a long wait for sinks to be shipped out. So I took a chance by hopping in the Rabbit and seeing what I might find at Welker McKee.  After waiting a while a nice sales woman helped me pick out the perfect, simple white sinks made by Mustee.  One sink is sized for our 30″ laundry cabinet, and the other for the 24″ cabinet in my studio.  They are simple fiberglass construction and they do not have faucet holes in them. I’m assuming my plumber can cut the holes for the faucets. And yes, I still need to pick out faucets for each. I think the sinks are a deal at about $70 each, and both were in stock so we’re back in business. Just need to get my studio floor finished (I have to remove the cabinet to finish the floor) and get the laundry counter made. Then I can get the plumber out to hook them up.

Other than my sink buying adventure I’ve done pretty much nothing. No bat house has been erected, and the upstairs gallery wall remains unpainted.  No yard work (though maybe water the plants like I was supposed to do yesterday), and no design work.  There are a ton of things that should or could be done but you know what? I don’t really care today. I need a mental health day to be lazy. Although I am working on a painting for a client of mine here and there today, so that kind of keeps the ‘not working’ guilt at bay a little bit. Maybe tomorrow can be bat house day. So here’s to random ‘lost’ Saturdays devoid of work or play.  And to Sundays when your family comes back home.

Studio Rough Plumbing and Light Bulb Change

We’ve been busy decorating for the holidays so not many posts lately…and no I don’t have many decorating pictures to share tonight.  What has been going on is we made some progress on the plumbing for my studio project.  The pipes are rough plumbed now for my sink so up next I can start installing drywall and sub flooring in that area.  I just need to find the time.

One strange thing I discovered as a result of a burnt out bulb in the bathroom.  I reached into our fancy light fixtures to remove the T10 incandescent bulb and the bulb came undone.  It was just hanging there with the screw part still in the socket, but the glass didn’t break; it was kinda cool.  What wasn’t cool was the fact I didn’t know how to remove the glass shade.  Luckily I found the answer online at the Restoration Hardware website and it referenced using a tool to remove the nut way up inside the shade.  Well that explains the strange wire thing that was laying around when we moved in.  With the wire tool I easily removed the shade.  I then used pliers to remove the bulb base.  The T10 bulbs are hard to find in 60W so I’ll have to order some online.  At least I figured out how to remove the shade….and I didn’t throw out that wire thing.

here’s the instructions, highlighting the light tool.

Here’s my tool! You jam it up into my glass light fixture and turn. Then the nut comes off and voila! light shade is off and you can replace bulb.

Strange broken light hangs by a thread.

careful use of pliers make short work of removing the broken bulb.

New shut off valves installed as part of the studio project.


We bought a live real christmas tree. For now it’s planted in a shallow hole, we’ll bring it in ten days before Christmas.


Here’s the rough plumbing for my sink.


Framing Walls (and Installing a Sink !!!)

I spent this weekend working on my office cabinet project.  The goal was to frame the two walls so that I could call the plumber and get the sink pipes extended.  All went well I can safely report tonight.  I even got a bonus project done with my free time on Sunday.  Before I go into the play by play, I’ll share something with you; throughout the process of building the house it seems a lot wasn’t going as well as planned.  As I work on each subsequent project, I have found that if I take my time, think things through and remain calm these projects are going easier.  And they don’t seem to take much longer (compared to just barreling through them), so there is value in taking my time.  Knock on wood of course.

The walls I’m building are add-ons so the first order of business is to get some solid nailing blocks in the existing exterior wall.  If I was smart I’d have had a “pocket” framed into the wall when we were rough framing the house, before the drywall went in, but realistically I wouldn’t have been able to devise where the pocket should be so the chances of getting it right back then are slim.  I spent some time marking out the location of my wall, taking into consideration my already made countertops, cabinets and even factoring in the existing steps in my studio.  Once I was comfortable with my marks on the wall I used my oscillating tool to remove the drywall and create two horizontal openings.  I devised my game plan on the fly and am fairly happy with it, looking back on my handy work.  The plan was to install two 2×6 blocks, anchored between two existing wall studs, to provide  a solid anchoring for my perpendicular wall.  After the drywall was off I scraped away the insulation inside.  Our insulation is made from recycled newspaper that was “damp” blown into the wall cavities.  Suffice to say I had to “scrape” some off to make room for the 2×6 blocks.  I then inserted the blocks and worked them down behind the drywall.  See the pics for my trick on getting a grip on the blocks.  I came up with that after scratching my head trying to figure out how to get the block into position.  The insulation, drywall and studs had a firm grip on my block so snaking it into place was tough, but the trick made it do able.  Once in place I mounted a 1/2″ block which I’d eventually mount the new wall stud to.  Finally I replaced the drywall pieces I’d cut out earlier.  Ha, after about two hours everything looked basically like it did when I had started.  But I knew I could now start building my walls.

I cut a couple treated 2×4’s, covered their underside with adhesive caulk, and fastened them to the studio’s cool cement floor with blue colored masonry screws that I picked up at Lowes.  I then cut all my studs, to about 98″ and mounted the first one to the exterior wall, screwing into the 1/2″ blocks and ultimately the 2×6 blocks I’d hidden behind the wall hours previously.  I used screws and a drill for the entire project.  I don’t have a nail gun and hand nailing is fairly quick but laborious.  Screws seemed to work just fine and I had a lot left over from other projects that I could use on this job.  Once that first stud was up I continued putting up the rest of the studs and finally the top plates.   The design I came up with meant that both walls would stop about a foot or two from the ceiling.  I capped the wall design off at the top of the upper cabinets.  This created that open air space above the  cabinets which will help keep the art studio feeling airy.  One bad thing with the design is that the walls are only attached to the floor and the one exterior wall so they’re prone to wiggling.  I nailed a filler board down low at the end of the one wall, where it meets the steps, and this helped stiffen and level the wall.  Putting in the new floor framing extension would stiffen the walls more.  Finally the drywall, cabinets and shelving should stiffen everything up as well.

One pesky task that I decided to tackle during this project was the “hidden air vent” buried under the office platform.  I knew it was there ’cause I had photos.  From what I remember it was there and no one ever hooked it up during construction.  They just built the platform over the top.  I’m not sure why.  I’m sure it sat there untouched, with some blue foam stuffed in it from when they poured the concrete floor (the foam kept the cement out during pouring). My concern was that the blue foam may have been pushed down into the air duct and was causing blockage, or maybe conditioned air was leaking into the cavity under my office.  Either way I wanted to fix it and possibly route the vent into the floor of my office and finish it off.  I started by prying off the drywall that capped the platform.  The platform is only about 14″ off the ground which meant that the 2×6 joists left only like 9″ of vertical space underneath the platform.  Ugh.  After finding a real flashlight (my boys seemingly steal all of the working flashlights and hoard them in somewhere secret) I peered under to find a mountain of insulation.  I guess when they blew the insulation in the wall cavities a  lot of it exited out down here until the cavities were full.  I chickened out a few times before talking myself into getting under there.  It was the right thing to do.

I crafted a cardboard insulation pusher on a stick and did just that, started pushing the insulation to the far side of the space under the platform.  Based on the pic I shared the other day I thought the vent was way in there.  I glance up at the exposed wall studs and decided to check my photo again; so I’d know how much insulation I’d have to push away. I was pleasantly surprised my sense of scale was off and it turned out the vent was about three feet in instead of eight feet in.  This was great news cause being under there was like being in a coffin.  And I was breathing heavy with the prospect of having to go way back into there.  So I brushed away the insulation and sure enough, there was my vent.

There was no way around it, I had to get in there.  My head barely fit and then my fat gut and waist did not fit.  Talk about hyperventilating…but with a twist I was in.  The wife handed me tools and the vacuum hose like a hygienist helping a dentist.  I pounded away at the cement overhanging the vent and carved away at the blue foam blocks inside.  Pulling the last one out of the metal vent shoot I reached in….and much to my dismay….I found…..all was for nothing.  They never cut the 8″ green air duct open at that vent.  They must have never planned on finishing that vent.  I could have just left it; I didn’t have to get all freaked out by the claustrophobic space, eat insulation or fish around for the vent.  Oh well, knowing that nothing was wrong from an air flow standpoint outweighed any frustration I would have felt going through all these theatrics. Back to the work at hand then.

I wrapped up the framing at this point by roughing in the “floor” extension.  I just used 2×4’s and set it up for a 1/2″ piece of OSB board to cap it off.  This area will just hold up the cabinets and should be plenty strong enough.  I’ll install the OSB and some 1/2″ flooring once the plumber is done extending the pipes.  So that’s it for that project for now.

With an hour to spare I decided to get the sink in Christine’s studio installed so the plumber could hook that up too when he comes out.  We bought a small stainless steel bar sink, that included a faucet and drain for only $109 at Lowes.  It was easy to install. See pics below for step by step.

Ok, I’m exhausted and need my beauty sleep.  Stay tuned, hopefully next weekend I’ll be doing some drywall.


Studio Plumbing Moved

Happiness this week is in the form of the plumbing in the upstairs studio is finally moved.  This means that I can finish up the cabinets.  The hot and cold water lines were inexplicably just poking out of the side wall, so I had them moved by a pro to go back behind the knee wall and resurface inside the sink base.  There was some debate as to whether the lines were in a freeze prone zone, but I contend that there is enough insulation behind the knee wall, in the roof and floor, and the heat ducts run through there, as well as an access panel that the space should be considered conditioned space from a thermal standpoint.  If it gets below thirty-two degrees in there then I have serious thermal issues, frozen water pipes would be the least of my worries.  Just to be safe the plumber used flexible water lines that are more forgiving to temperature changes than the yellowish white PVC plumbing pipes. Once complete the sink will be a great addition to the studio so our resident upstairs artists will be able to clean brushes, make coffee and water down apple juice.

I’ll have to patch up this drywall before the cabinet goes in. You can see the transition here from rigid white PVC plumbing pipes into the fancy less rigid hot and cold water lines. The fancy pipe is less prone to damage from temperature changes.

















here are the chrome tipped water lines emerging into the sink base. As soon as I finish installing the cabinets and countertop we’ll install the new sink in the studio.


Ice Maker Problem Solved

My wife should be an appliance repair person she says.  She proposed to the repairman what was wrong with the ice maker and it was deemed to be a viable culprit.  Twice now the repairman has been out to repair the ice maker on the Sub Zero 27″ integrated freezer we had installed new.  The water line is freezing up when the water is shut off as the unit attempts to suck air and the last little bits of water up from the supply line.

The culprit we suspect is our meager water pressure.  The pressure is okay if you do ONE thing water related, but if you flush the toilet, water a plant, run the washing machine, etc. the water supply system basically dies out.  When that happens the freezer is starved for water and must be causing some sort of failure in the ice making system, i.e. fresh new water keep water line from freezing.  This is all in theory but it stands to reason in my mind.  Our high-end freezer brought to its knees by low water pressure apparently.  The technician did show us how to clean out the line if it freezes up again.  We’ll run the ice maker at nite only which should solve the problem.  Nothing like spending a fortune and having to employ a “work around”.  Not the first or last for a house that hates us I suspect.

Water pressure is so low in our house because the filter that keeps microbes and chlorine out of the water supply also saps it of a lot of pressure.  A new filter should help but every 2-3 months pressure will start dropping.  Long term there may be some things we can do.  For now we’ll just hit the “ICE” button before going to bed and turn it off when we wake up.

Cabinets are ordered for the studios finally, after last night’s Lowes cabinet ordering fiasco.  Finish wise all the cabinets are Espresso colored which should go with the tile downstairs and the laminate floors upstairs.  We wanted white upstairs in Christine’s studio but white ended up costing nearly twice as much.  I’ll take Espresso maple and paint them down the road if need be.  Crazy world we live in where that’s the pricing structure.  They’re Shenandoah cabinets by the way.  The wife and I will install them ourselves when they show up in a few weeks.  Countertop wise we’ll finish hers off in Hardrock Maple laminate to match some other tables she has as well as the hardwood downstairs, and mine will be some sort of faux cement color laminate to match my studio floor.  We wanted to wait but the storage will be awesome to have early on and be a stress reducer as we settle in.

The forecast is calling for rain tonight and tomorrow which would be incredibly awesome.  The cistern needs to be filled up and all our plants are on their last leg so to speak.  We’ll move some more stuff over this weekend in preparation for closing on the sale of the old house.  Randon mitigation on the old place will only cost $800 which is good.  It’ll be an outdoor system which is less expensive.  Basically a fan and pipe running up the side of the house.  I’ll have to put getting a test on the new house on my “to do” list.  In theory the new house is so tight nothing should be getting in but technically there is a uncaulked seem between the concrete slab and the Superior walls.  Plus we have a sump pump and a crock for pumping the sewage up to the septic tank.  So plenty of places for radon to get in.  Not sure how much the radioactive earth is decaying under our new house, I know blue clay is decaying shale (I think) but that doesn’t sound radioactive to me….anyway….

This project has taught me enough to be slightly more dangerous at Jeopardy and definitely more of a bore at cocktail parties.  I can, and will, tell you everything you should and shouldn’t do when designing and building your eco-friendly new house.  This project cost me a lot, and I’m not just talking about money.  But it also taught me a few things.  Don’t ask me if I’d do it again just like we did cause the answer would be “no”, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad thing.  Just means I know more now than I did then.

Alright enough of this nonsense.  Here are today’s pics

Very cool contrails awaited my return home tonight.

house is painted urbane bronze from Sherwin Williams. Can’t wait to get porches finished, they’ll be white and bring it all together visually. Note, that gutter….we should have hidden it with the white corner trim. Boo, poor planning on my part.

Okay, in my top five is going to the movies, esp. here at the Cinemark in Valley View. Nothing soothes the soul like some Thursday evening escapism. We saw ‘Dark Shadows’ tonight . I liked it. By the way theater design at this location is head and shoulders above most other places, inside and out. Yay asymmetry on facades.