Sunday, May 31, 2009

Truck 'o' Stuff now Carriage House 'o' Stuff

That 20 by 40 feet seems big when empty, but put a household's worth of stuff in it, and it shrinks amazingly.

I ache all over, and I'm sadly behind schedule on paying work, but having the Stuff in place is a great relief.

In other news, I bought a washer and dryer for $50 today. I really like Craigslist. On Tuesday, I'm picking up a fridge for $100 and a stove for $75, and that will conclude my appliance purchases for the present, that being enough to make the carriage house livable. I should really total up my expenses a la Walden. I do have all the Lowe's receipts; it would really just be a matter of putting the details into a spreadsheet, which would be fun.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Carriage house cleaning phase I complete

By which I mean, the entire apartment has now been thoroughly mopped once with copious bleach. Each bucket of water dumped had turned black (and perhaps it was black in the technical sense, too: I didn't analyze the encrustations on the floor). There were perhaps thirty such buckets.

It's still not clean enough to kneel on the floor to do serious cleaning. But it's getting there.

In other news: I walked into the big house tonight for the first time without being hit by a musty basement miasma. I bought the biggest dehumidifier Lowe's sells about four days ago, but for a while the actual dehumidification rate was limited by how often I visited the house to empty the bucket. So I bought a condensate pump for the drain hose. But I didn't have a wrench, so the drain hose didn't drain very well, and the bucket still filled up and stopped the dehumidifier, just more slowly than without the drain hose.

I obstinately refused to buy a pair of pliers when I already have four perfectly good ones. They arrived last night, along with the rest of the Truck 'o' Stuff, and since then, the dehumidifier has run continuously for about 22 hours. And it works. Not only does the basement smell great, the walls are drying out. The entire house smells far, far better.

It's just a stopgap, of course, until I can get proper gutters in place and make sure the window wells are draining someplace other than into the basement. But it's an effective one.

Downspouts, or lack thereof

Whilst prowling around looking at the absence of downspouts, I noticed that there are drains for them. (I should mention that the city has combined storm/sewer drains and that the water in the local river is unsafe for that reason.) But there are no downspouts. My dad says that this is because they've probably been stolen for the metal. I hadn't considered that, but it may be true.

Just thought I'd better post something today, in case anybody was expecting a post. The Truck 'o' Stuff arrived last night, and this diverted me from directly house-related activities, and will tomorrow as well. The plus, of course, is that I now have my own chair again, and I'll have my office set up in the carriage house soon. So even if I don't have things ready to live there, I can at least spend my days there properly and be online while I do it.

Bit by bit.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Rheem RMGT 42PVN tankless water heater

This is a tankless water heater.  It retails for $764.99.  The way these work is that instead of heating water up and leaving the hot water in a tank, they blast the water up to working temperature right when you need it.  This is a tradeoff, of course.  If you want to take two showers while doing the laundry, you're going to have really tepid showers.  But the upside is that it's cheaper (because you heat water only when needed) and if you don't use too much water at once, you never run out of hot water.

So the water heater is shot in the carriage house, and wonder of wonders, I found an instance of this model of water heater on Craigslist, five blocks away, new in the box, for $250.  Of course, I bought it immediately.  I'll install it this week.  I can do the water part, but my dad will help with the gas pipe.  That's something I've never done -- metal pipes.  Or I might (gasp) call a plumber for the gas pipe.  I'll bet the gas company would be happier if I did that.

The only problem with putting this in the carriage house is that I want another one for the upstairs in the big house.  And that one will cost me regular price, and it will hurt to pay that much more.  (I had been resigned to it until now, you see.)


Coming at you live, from The House! The most important utility of all is now a GO.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The carriage house

So this is the carriage house. It's 20 by 40 feet and has an apartment upstairs which I only learned about after we closed. (Buying blind is kind of fun.) I've been calling it my "spare house" and, now that it has water, I can clean it and -- soon -- move into it so I'll be on-site and can switch back and forth between manual labor and paying work. Also, the dog will learn to think of it as home, which will be a plus.

It turns out the linoleum in the carriage house kitchen is pretty decent. I mean, long-term, I'd like a classier floor, but this is more than serviceable for now!

The floor of the entire apartment is just as dirty. It already smells better, though -- I started with the bathroom, of course. Bleach and Lysol are our friends.

The water heater is capped, so I thought it had also been drained before freezing. No such luck -- or possibly it had already frozen earlier. It's leaking, copiously. So I need a new water heater. I'm seriously considering going with on-demand here, too. Or as they call them now, "tankless" water heaters. Way cheaper to run, plus there's a tax credit to offset their higher cost of procurement.

So that was today's progress. I may head back over there later and mop some more, and maybe Lysol-wipe the walls and cabinets. It won't take that much to make it livable for one guy and a dog.  And all our stuff is due to arrive tomorrow, so hey -- it'll be like not traveling again!

Here's a view of the front room, from the hallway. Note the boarded-up window, which you can see in the outside picture above, too. My dad and I were downstairs in the garage area, removing the 2x4 frames that the previous owner had started installing (to make the downstairs a habitable area as well -- but of course I want the garage area). The window being open, a guy walking his dog in the alley asked us whether we were fixing the place up. I allowed as how that was indeed the plan, and he asked, "Upstairs, too?" I said especially upstairs, and he said, "You know who used to live there, don't you?" I shook my head (I knew the person living there had been mentally disabled). He said, "Crazy Cabot, that's who," and told me how he would break the windows out when he was angry. So I guess that's why so many windows are missing. Or maybe that's just gossip, who can say?

This is a neighborhood with some bite to it. I suspect Garrison Keillor has taken the scriptwriter's job for my life. But suburbia it ain't.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Water to the carriage house!

So! As I said yesterday, I found the pipe to the carriage house hiding under the kitchen floor. Today I relaid the entire pipe from the kitchen cutoff over to that pipe, and like magic, I had water in the carriage house -- well, for a couple of minutes, before the pressure blew one single fitting under the bathroom sink, with a very impressive jet of water into the garage area below. That's fixed now, but not yet tested. The pipe glue says to wait two hours before applying pressure, and I've been careful to do so.

Anyway, so the main part of the day's work was under this little riser in the kitchen:

Unsurprisingly, that riser turns out to be there because the floor under it was pretty much demolished in order to fix frozen plumbing. Why, you ask, did the plumbing freeze so often under the kitchen floor? Simply because the crawlspace there had openings to the outside for ventilation -- so the pipes were outside. The response of the previous owner, of course, was to stuff lots of fiberglass in and put an electric space heater under the floor. Actually closing the holes in the foundation would probably have been more effective. And safer.

At any rate, he didn't do that. Instead, he repaired a lot of plumbing there. I pulled most of it out of the rubble today, just to make space for the new pipe I laid. But the first step was to take out the floor. The carpet in that picture, of course, had already been pulled back -- it would have been in the dumpster, but the present sink and cabinets are on top of it, so it has waited so far (but not much longer). At any rate, here's our worksite:

And here's a shot from down in the basement:

As you can see, it's really just a couple of feet through the basement wall to the kitchen crawlspace. (If only it were a crawlspace, but instead there's no room to crawl through it at all.) So it was an easy matter to cut three lengths of pipe, attach a connector to the black pipe, glue it to the cutoff, and there was much rejoicing! Until the fitting in the carriage house blew, anyway.

Here's a picture of the shiny new pipe. The shot turned out a bit blurry.

The pipe I just laid is the one going along the edge of the hole and under the drainpipe there. The other one is the one I just bypassed; I'll remove it later. The bowl at lower right was a serendipitous find; it had obviously fallen under the floor somehow. Poltergeists, maybe.

Here's a shot of some of the plumbing debris I pulled out from under the floor, along with the bowl:

So tomorrow, I'll hook up the water heater in the carriage house, and have the gas turned on so I'll have hot water. Then my new ISP should eventually hook up my broadband, and when ABF gets my stuff here, at the end of the week, the dog and I can move into the carriage house! Woo!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Argh! %(*&(*@#$(&@3!!!1!

OK, so having sorta fixed the first leak, it was on to the next.

First, we expose the leak by cutting into the floor (this is the fun part, and the part that really brings home to you that you own the house, and nobody will yell at you (except you) for breaking it).

But when we examine more closely, we see that a longer section of this pipe has burst. Here's a picture of the leak in action:

O mama! So this calls for a super-duper pipe repair clamp. This is real hilljack work. After a second visit to Lowe's for today, here are my weapons:

That red square is a six-inch by six-inch piece of neoprene. I'm going to cut a patch twice as long as the three-inch pipe repair clamp, and use both clamps together to make a long patch. To make it even better, I'm wrapping the whole thing in repair tape before applying the patch.

Here's the new super-duper hilljack patch:

Tightened to a certain point, it's still drippy, but I'm excited. I go out to the carriage house and throw the cutoff -- and ... nothing. So I go back and investigate. Here's what I just spent two days fixing:

Looking on the bright side, I no longer have to worry about those drips.

Yeah, it turns out that the black pipe to the carriage house starts under the kitchen floor. When I looked a little more carefully, I could even see where it had been buried. After debugging, things always seem obvious.

So it's back to the ol' drawing board again. That was all I could take for today, though.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Not quite

So I gained relatively accessible access to the pipe break, applied the pipe repair clamp, stood on my head in the dirt and rat droppings to get both hands in (one for the wrench, one for the screwdriver), and finally flipped the switch!

The result: the pipe clamp isn't tight enough, and still drips, and now I can hear another jetting break under the floor in the other back room. So I'm not quite there.

But at least I don't have to disassemble the entire house brick by brick. And I can see some light at the end of the tunnel. Or actually, light shining through into the basement from the crawlspace -- but it's the same principle.

Update: here's the pipe repair clamp in situ:

Moving house: an inspirational story

How a little old lady spent 23 years single-handedly dismantling her house, brick by brick, and rebuilt it 100 miles away. It's crazy people like this who make this life worth the living. Makes my plumbing problems look pretty trivial.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Pipe repair clamps

Ah, Mr. Google.  How did I live before you were invented?

So for breaks like the one I have in my galvanized pipe out to the carriage house, Lowe's carries a gadget known as a pipe repair clamp.  For $2.74 and some cutting, I should be able to fix my leak.  This one.  Which leaves plenty, but hey, you have to take things one day at a time.


This here is $20 worth of sinks: $10 for the kitchen sink, and $10 for the bathroom sink.  Garage sales are something I actually kind of missed about Indiana.  Certainly I just saved something over $200.

I've gotten water as far as the galvanized pipe out to the carriage house -- but that galvanized has a hole in it in a very inconvenient spot -- right under here:

I can cut an access from inside the little cabinet under those stairs, which won't be too much of a pain, but my Dad had a good idea. The pipe coming up in the carriage house (i.e. the pipe that's been buried in the back yard) is black PVC pipe, so there's a junction between the galvanized and that black pipe somewhere. If the galvanized section is straight, we might be able to dig up the junction, unhook it, then pull the entire galvanized section out, repair it, and put it back.

So tomorrow, I'll try getting to the break in situ, but if I fail, then Tuesday we'll try Dad's idea. And if that fails, I guess we'll just lay a new section of pipe through the same place or something.

One little gripe. This section is in the "crawl" (which is about five inches high) under the back rooms -- that has a grate open to the outside. So again: it was really, really not surprising that pipes in this area might freeze. You just have to wonder what people are thinking.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Plumbing epiphany

Whilst walking the dog I realized that I really don't need to fix that pipe going to the second floor.  It's a dumb place to put a pipe anyway, going up through the wall between the parlor and the entry hall, under the front bedroom and above the stairway, then along the middle of the house, taking a right turn at Albuquerque to the upstairs bath.  How it gets to the blue room bath I don't yet know.

What I realized is that it would be just as good to take a pipe upstairs from the kitchen to the wall between the blue room bath and the main bath.  This would solve the entire problem.  And since my goal is to install on-demand water heating, there's no real reason to run two pipes, either.  Less to break is good.

So there's the reason to have a dog.  Walking her gives you time to think.

Go figure

The cap I put on the line to the hot water heater did, in fact, cut off the water leaking from the hot water lines.  So it appears I'm not crazy after all.  Now I just have to replace one cutoff and I might have water out to the carriage house.

Upstairs will be a different issue.  Just for laughs I tried turning that on -- water came gushing out above the entry stairs on the first floor.  So I'll be taking up the floor in the front bedroom upstairs to fix that.  Later.

Here you can see where I mean.  Clearly this isn't the first time there's been a leak there.

Plumbing (sigh)

Well, the good news is that the plumbing in the carriage house looks pretty good, so if I can get water out there, and clean it, I can move into it, at which point I won't have to keep driving across town every time I get the urge to do something, or need to check my email.  (Assuming my new ISP gets the broadband turned on -- they were supposed to have called already to set up a technician visit.)

The bad news is that when I tried to turn on the section in the basement to get to the carriage house, water came out in unexpected places.  So I'm not 100% sure I understand what's happening there.

Debugging sucks in any medium.

Also, one of the shutoffs I just installed has a leak -- when I opened it, it dripped on the downstream side.  So I have to replace it, meaning I have to go to the store first because I've already installed all four of my shutoffs.  And after I do that, I have to figure out why water is coming out of the hot water pipes even though when I cut the line to the hot water heater to cap it, it wasn't wet.  That, I don't get.

At least I have lots of cutoff valves, though!  Most of which don't leak.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Did I say it was obvious where the leak was?  Well, this pipe had actually split all the way down to the cutoff valve.  Ah well.  So it was back to the old drawing board.  After another half hour's work replacing that valve and the tee:

VoilĂ !  This is plumbing already under pressure -- I have a working toilet (now much cleaner) and a working hose tap for my bucket.  I have returned to a good deal of civilization.

Next plumbing target: the carriage house.  The water enters the house on the east side, and the supply line runs down the entire middle of the basement, to exit at the west side, bound for the carriage house.  If I'm really, really lucky, the buried pipe between the main house and carriage house didn't burst.

Anyway, this plumbing, and cleaning the first toilet, was all I got done today, house-wise.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


One of the benefits of CPVC pipe, in addition to being cheap and easy to install, is that when it freezes, the damage is entirely unsubtle.  No more wondering where that leak is!  No, with CPVC you know.

I fixed this today, with a little sleeve and ten minutes' work.  It took me longer to open the primer and glue cans, actually -- I had to take them to my mother's house, since my pliers are sitting in the port in San Juan awaiting loading.

Emboldened by my success with the sleeve, I replaced a tee, put in a ball valve, and spliced in another sleeve, and that should take me to the downstairs half-bath and a hose tap outside.  Tomorrow, after it's all had time to set, I'll test it for the first time, and hey -- I may be able to start cleaning!

In other news today, I got my third carpet out and two more windows open.  The air really is getting better in the house, step by step.

A word to the curious -- if you were expecting breakneck speed, you will be sadly disappointed.  I have to keep up with the paying work first.  My goal is to do at least one task per day with The House, to keep the momentum rolling.  This week is just plumbing and cleaning, and getting to know the property.  Next week, who knows?

A note on infrastructure

I think maybe the best way to judge the age of a house, like counting tree rings, is to look at its basement and see how many generations of infrastructure you can identify.  This picture doesn't show all of them, but it does present a pleasing array of pipes of various description.

Also note the bit of insulation tacked to the wall -- to keep air out? -- and the apparent vine to the far right of the picture.  I didn't notice it when taking the shot, but ... when you have a vine in your basement, it's really kind of a warning bell when it comes to air entry.

Another good way to judge airtightness (or dire lack thereof) is to go into the basement during the day with the lights off.  If you can see, you might have a problem.  I found a one-inch hole in the foundation just today.  And gaping holes into a crawlspace under the kitchen which has a grate to the outside -- and that was just a casual note.  At any rate, I'm not having troubles seeing why the pipes tended to freeze under the kitchen.  (How could they not?  They were basically outside!)


I thought I'd share one more picture of the outside of the house, before getting down to brass tacks about the house itself.  The main house was built in 1890 by a local industrialist.  At some time later, this porch was added -- it's similar to some other porches on the street, so it must have been all the rage at the time.  Also at later times, the dining room and sunrooms were added, along with the upstairs bathroom, then the present kitchen addition and blue room, along with the back stairs and the stairs to the attic.  The carriage house was built in 1920, according to the tax records.  The final addition was the mudroom in back, which features the only fully functional door.

From 2003 to February 11, 2009, it was used as a boarding house, effectively, for very low-income people.  The ministry in question has fallen on harder times in the recession, and has shrunk from five houses to two; three were subject to foreclosure, and this was one of them.  Very low-income renters (some actually paying no rent) are hard on a building, but the damage they do is largely superficial.  While there's a lot of dirt involved, the basic structure of this house seems to be just fine.  No leaks in the basement, a new roof (or at least, a new layer on the roof), and no broken windows.

So while I certainly have plenty of work ahead of me -- it could be worse.  It could be far worse.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

South side

The south side of the house may be its best presentation right now.  The front (the east) needs some work, as there is some rotting of the wood on the porch.  But on the south, everything is in pretty decent shape!

Heat is going to be problem #1.  The foundation is drafty, the floors are drafty, the windows are drafty -- and the furnaces are broken, the ductwork largely removed (leaving big drafty registers from the basement).  So after cleaning, and replumbing the shattered frozen CVPC pipes, and getting a working kitchen assembled, I will be working with my good friend Mr. Urethane Foam to start plugging up every possible gap in the foundation.

There is a missing window in the east side of the basement, which is now an opening to the crawl space under the porch (the porch is a later addition to the original house).  There are actually two, but one has been bricked up.  The one that hasn't been bricked up is wide open, allowing cats into the house.  (Said cats have contributed greatly to the poor air quality, I can assure you.)  Along with the cats, I'm pretty sure it's letting a great deal of cold air in.  And that's just the biggest opening I've found so far.  There will be more.

There's a lot to be said for proper insulation.


So hi. I bought a house in March, and I'm now actually present on site. And as promised, I'm blogging it, and to save us all a great deal of headaches, I'm blogging it using code somebody else maintains, as opposed to writing my own. Again. Because between the paying work and The House, I think I can identify writing my own blogging code (again) as an unnecessary distraction.

I have lots of photos now, although they're still in my camera. So you can't see them until later.

I saw the house for the first time on Saturday evening, after driving from Miami. The air quality overwhelmed me immediately. But today, I ripped out my first carpet, and opened lots of windows, and by golly, it already smells better in there.

More later. I have lots of updates to add -- I should have set this up on Saturday, in retrospect. But at least I've started.