November 14, 2008

Tea Fire hits home

(Photo courtesy Santa Barbara Outdoors, Voskuyl Library on Westmont campus)

I woke up this morning to some devastating news. My alma mater, Westmont College, was in the midst of a raging wildfire that has engulfed much of Montecito, CA. The campus was fortunate enough to only lose 8 buildings, including one dormitory and several classrooms, and at least a dozen or so faculty homes have been lost or damaged. My heart goes out to all those who have lost their homes and I thank God that there were no lives lost. I'll be keeping the entire Montecito community in my thoughts and prayers tonight and for weeks to come.

November 10, 2008

Insulation blues

When I first purchased our home back in 2002 I noticed that our upper 1/2 story was fairly frigid during the cold weather months (roughly 9 months out of the year here in MN!) and broiling in the summer. I wasn't overly concerned about the temp disparity seeing as this level wasn't connected to the main heating system (radiant baseboard) and had a supplemental electric baseboard system. We just turn the heat on when we're using the room (which is any time we want to watch TV) and turn it off when we aren't (yay, energy conservation!). It doesn't take long to heat up as it's more like a 1/3 story than a 1/2. For lack of a photo, picture the highest point of the ceiling at roughly 6'5 for a span of 24 inches and then sloping down to about 3 ft. in height. It is indeed a cozy little nest!

But over the years this difference in temperature has been gnawing at the back of my mind. Take, for instance, this morning. After the chilliest night of the season so far (the overnight temp dipped into the 20's) and our main level thermostat set at 62 degrees I ventured upstairs only to find the temp was hovering around 57. Not too bad, you might think, except for the fact that the electric baseboard was left on its lowest setting overnight. Under normal circumstances it would probably have dropped to somewhere around 52 degrees. That's a difference of 10 degrees, and considering the fact that a) heat rises and b) we leave the doorway leading upstairs open all the time that's a pretty significant drop in temp! So I decided it was time to do a little investigating.

I've heard that the easiest way to find out whether your walls suffer from lack of insulation is to remove the switch plate from an outlet and take a look behind the electrical box. I did the next best thing and peered behind an unused phone jack. And what I found, or rather, didn't find, amazed me. There wasn't any insulation. None, nada, zip, zilch, ZERO!!! Seriously?!? Who finishes an attic, and even goes so far as to add a supplemental heating system, and doesn't insulate even an inch of the space???

Of course, now all the tell-tale signs are falling into place. The ever-increasing amount of cracks in all the seams, the darkening of all the screwheads through the mudding and paint (yes, we can easily identify each and every screw in this entire room!). Perhaps having been raised by DIY parents who built the house I grew up in themselves (aside from the foundation and framing) I naturally assumed that no able-minded person in the last quarter of the 20th century would simply forgo insulating their attic, especially in Minnesota!! Greg suspects one of the PO's was just trying to finish the space on the cheap. I think I'll stick with my conclusion of complete and utter idiocy.

That being said, we are now at a crossroads. How do we insulate this space? Do we go the seemingly easier route of blowing in insulation? Do we tear down the already craptastic walls and ceiling and start from scratch? And on top of all this, do we even dare attempt any remedy this year seeing as how I recently became a victim of the economic downturn and, like so many others, am currently out of a job? (I know, I know. I can hear so many of you screaming "hello!! no job, no income, no house projects!!" But in this case I see more of an urgency with the rising cost of utilities).

So house bloggers, I am reaching out to you all and asking for your advice. What were your remedies to insufficient insulation? Pro's, con's, things you would or wouldn't do if you had to do it over again? Oh, and if you know of any job openings in the Twin Cities area you can drop me a line as well ;)

November 5, 2008

Ch, ch, ch, changes

Wow! What an amazing 24 hours this has been! We have a new president (elect) and new sidewalks!


Yes, it's true. The city finally got around to repairing the sidewalks in our neck of the woods this past week.

We received notice that this would be coming earlier this summer and of course, two days before Halloween, the construction crew came along and ripped out the offending portions of our front walk.

Then they came back the next day and pulled out some big roots. And then they did nothing...for 4 days (granted, there were a few weekend days involved).

But yesterday morning we awoke to freshly poured concrete. What a great way to start an election day!

Now, if only the city would foot the bill instead of us....but I won't even get started on that topic!

September 2, 2008

Labor(ious) Weekend

After the busy summer we've had we decided to spend this Labor Day weekend actually working instead of resting. So many projects that we meant to complete over the past few months were crammed into 2 days and, whoooo-doggy, did we get a lot done!

First on the list was touching up the paint in the bathroom. We've only been meaning to do this, oh, for the past two months. And by meaning to do this I mean the blue painters tape has been up on the wall for TWO MONTHS. You'd think staring at that awful tape day after day would have motivated us long ago - oh no, we're great procrastinators here at Nokomis Bungalow. It's something we excel at!

Next, we hung another cabinet in the kitchen. This one above the refrigerator. Now, for some people this may not be any sort of great task. But when you combine the math skills of Mitzi & Greg you get somewhere around the equivalent of asking a 3-year-old to finish your algebra homework. Yea, we're that good! Once I get the camera back from my sister's house I'll post the pic of Greg's ingenius measuring techniques. It really is a sight to behold for sure!

After that 2-hour long task we moved on to less-taxing chores like hanging the curtain tie-backs in the bedroom, changing out the AC filter (yes, I know I was supposed to do that at the beginning of summer, not the end. See above reference to procrastination) and finally putting the switch plate on the bathroom light switch (that last one took us only 5 months to get to!)

All in all it turned out to be a very productive weekend for us, topped off with a whole family furniture move-a-thon at my sister's house Monday evening. We Minnesotan's are nothing if not, well, as I like to put it, a crazy bunch of hard workers that don't know when to take a break.

July 29, 2008

Keep a knockin' but you can't come in

What do you get when you mix a 2-year-old's non-stop penchant for getting into things with a 1920's era door lock? Nothing but trouble! My nephew is at that age where he can't seem to be satisfied until he's fiddled with every last little item in the house, including this:

You see those two little buttons on the top? A 2-year-old fiddler's dream! Push one button the other pops out - how much fun is that?! Repeating that 20 times - even more fun! Not paying attention to the last button pushed - not so much fun. When we came back from our walk this morning we couldn't get into the house, and I knew why instantly. Fortunately, there's always the back door.

Once said nephew was down for a nap my 4-year-old niece and I decided to figure out how to get the door unlocked. "Use the key!", she said. Well, that might work if we had one. So we went with the next best thing, a screwdriver. The lock wouldn't budge. So I tried taking off the inside door knob and plate. Really? What did I think that would accomplish? So I went to the computer and started searching. My niece went to her books and started searching. Halfway through Curious George she found a solution. "Really?" I asked. "Yep!", she said. I told her we might need a few more solutions and we should both keep looking. About 10 minutes later I was feeling hopeless and my niece wanted a popsicle. So we consoled ourselves with frozen treats.

Eventually 5 o'clock rolled around and my sister arrived to pick up the kids. I asked if she had any bright ideas. "Do you have a wire coat hanger?", she asked. Yep! And with one quick push our door was once again open. Omigosh, I cannot believe I hadn't thought of that! What kind of policeman's daughter am I? Needless to say I was quite relieved. And guess who snuck right in and started pushing buttons again? Dude! You are so lucky you're so darn cute!

July 24, 2008

Meanwhile, back in the bathroom ...

Wow! I can't believe how long it's been since we lasted posted. Never meant to take that long of a break. But, like many of you out there, we've had quite a busy summer. Of course, very little of that busy-ness has to do with our home. So, for lack of new content I'll wander back to one of our previous posts - the bathroom renovation!

Let's see, when last we left our little bath we were just beginning the deconstruction phase. It looked a little something like this:

And then we started doing this:

Which brought us to this:

That would be the old laundry chute you see above. The useless laundry chute. Useless because it deposits our laundry directly on top of the basement shower. So we ripped that puppy out of there!

Oh, and look at what else we found:

Our house once had a gravity furnace (or at least that's what we suspect). We can only thank our lucky stars we never had to deal with that! I did have a short-lived dream that we could use the existing hole as a possible location for the new laundry chute but we plan on expanding the basement bathroom sometime in the future, so there went that plan. If you take a close look at the wall you can see the original "faux" tile lines underneath all that mastic. Lovely! And why that mastic is even there we'll never know, unless one of the PO's ripped down a different tile job before putting up the existing drywall/tile.

At this point in the deconstruction phase we had high hopes for our first-timer skills. The wall tile came down so easily (granted, when you remove it drywall and all it is quite a breeze). But that was before we attempted to tackle the floor tile. Which I'm not quite ready to talk about....stay tuned!

May 21, 2008

Garden mystery

The weekend before last Greg and I decided to walk to one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants, Buster's, for beer and burgers (and what a great selection of beers they have, let me tell ya!) While walking through the alley behind our house we notice that one of our neighbors had three large garbage bags filled with some sort of greenery sitting by the trash can. They turned out to contain these:

I was baffled! Who would just toss these beautiful hostas out with the trash?? Of course, we promptly grabbed all three bags and tossed them in our backyard for future planting, which I finally got around to doing this past weekend:

I think they make a nice addition. And I still have 1 bag left! I think I'll deposit that with my sister because lord knows I don't need any more hostas in my gardens!

As I came around the far left edge of that border I ran into some grass that had started growing into the bed, so I set about digging it up. Suddenly I hit something hard - a rock? Well, that's what I thought at first, so I dug a little more. "Geez," I thought, "this is one big rock!" And then, as is the case most of the time, my curiosity got the best of me and two hours later I uncovered this:

At first I thought it might be an old base for the clothesline, but the diameter of the hole is about 7-8 inches wide. I dug down as far as my arm would reach hoping to maybe find some sort of buried artifact (I think I've been watching way too many episodes of "Cash and Treasures" !). All I came up with were 4 3-inch long rusty nails that had bits of decomposed wood fragments still attached. I found them in this little space:

You see that dark rectangle towards the top? After I cleared out some small roots I noticed that I could fit my finger into either side of that little compartment. It was almost as if some sort of drainage system had been cut through the interior of the ring. I have no earthly idea what the heck this thing is!! Greg thinks it might have something to do with an early septic system but I have my doubts, what with it being only two inches below the surface. Perhaps a well? I really don't know! So now I'm relying on you housebloggers out there - any ideas? The curiosity is killing me!