Category Archives: Home improvement

Nice weather around here huh?

Today marks the first freezing rain patch of the year.  And you can tell it’s the first by all the insane people at the store yesterday.  It’s like these people don’t have enough food in their house to last for a couple of days if they can’t get to the store?  Strange.

Even with a couple inches of slushy freezing rain I’ve seen plenty of people driving around.  I have to wonder what is so important that they would drive on roads covered with ice.

Christmas came early for me this year.  I got my Seed Savers catalog today.  Yeah!  Let the dreaming begin!

We had insulation work done this week, sort of, and we spent the day today putting the house back together, putting up paneling in a room and all the different pieces of trim.  I just wish they would have been able to actually fill the wall since we took all the paneling off.  Turns out there is insulation in the walls.  A pathetically small amount, but enough to cause their machine to shut off if they tried to fill the walls.  Nice.  Our only option now is to do a complete tear down and fill the cavity.

In the rest of the house we have plaster walls.  They tried to fill those walls too, but it took one drill bit for each set of holes.  Given we needed about 60 holes, using that many drill bits to fill our walls with insulation caused our plans to go down the toilet.  I guess that’s the  breaks.  Sometimes when you try to do what you should other forces conspire to keep it from happening.



Monday roundup

Well it’s been almost two weeks since I last posted, but I’ve been doing things.

On the 16th we sent south to spend Thanksgiving with my folks in Arkansas.  It was nice to bring 4 Iowans down and bring up the state IQ considerably for our short visit.

We have insulation people coming to our house this week so I was busy getting things done around the house so they could do their thing without causing us too much pain.  Unfortunately our house is a crazy mess now cuz we’ve got boxes and things everywhere.  But, hopefully we’ll be more comfortable in the future.

I’ve got some things to talk about but I keep running out of time to write them up here.  Stay tuned though.  I’m trying to get to a place where I can write more but for some reason I keep running into more and more things I need to do around the house and they are preventing me from writing as much as I would like.

Insulation party

If you remember from last week I talked about how this weekend we were going to insulate our house, more specifically the crawl space. That plan fell by the way side.

We ended up getting a big to have someone blow insulation into our walls, which was very reasonable and while they were at it they quoted me a good price on the crawlspace. So, we’re going to hire them to do the work and I was able to keep my chunky ass out of the crawlspace. My wife and I did insulate the rim joist area of our house, as well as a few windows this weekend.

11-10-07-009.jpg 11-10-07-011.jpg

We’re having a mid November heat wave right now (in the 50s and 60s) so I can’t test it, but it only took a few hours and it was less than 50 bucks. I think it was worth it.

I also built two window covers from some rigid insulation to cover two of the basement windows. Pending the crawlspace work I might be using the leftover on those two windows. The covers are temporary and made to just fit over the outside of the windows down in the wells and to mostly just keep the cold air from blowing through them when the cold really starts up.

My wife cut the rigid panel up to add some insulation to an attic access space and you can notice a large difference there.

The best thing of all this insulation work is that our heat provider (gas utility) will give us a 70% rebate on insulation. So we’re going to be putting $1800 worth of insulation into our house over the next 2-3 months but it will only cost us about $600 of our cash.


That makes the payback even more rapid. You should check the utility in your area to see if they offer any programs. And don’t forget about the energy tax credits on your federal income tax returns.


This one’s been building a while

I’ve got a lot of stuff I want to fit in tonight so this will be a long one.

Last night we made won tons and ate those for dinner. I know, it’s a strange dinner, but it’s a great way to clean out the fridge and introduce some new foods. Plus, kids like being involved in preparing the food they eat. We boiled some, steamed some, and baked some. I think baked turned out the best followed closely by the boiled with steam being last. Sneakily eating won tons is a good way for me to sneak some greens into our food too. We’ll definitely be eating them again in the future. Child #1 wasn’t that thrilled about them, but we couldn’t keep them out of child #2’s hands. He was double fisting them!! I think we can bring #1 around over time too.

This past weekend we had some friends over for dinner and I cooked up a pork based snipshot_e41fs4tke3b6.jpgbarbacoa with spicy soup and homemade tortillas. I got the barbacoa recipe here. If you look in the comments you can see a link to the rub I used on the shoulder. The meat turned out pretty good. I was disappointed with the soup as it tasted mostly like greasy water. But I will definately make the shoulder again. This was the first shoulder from the pig we recently purchased. The tortillas turned out much better this time around. I took more time to roll them out and also let them rest while I was rolling them. That helped them stretch more and get a lot flatter.


I’ll be heading to NYC this weekend for the annual NFL football draft. A friend of mine won a free trip to go to it so we are heading out Friday morning. It should be a good time. It’s my first time in NYC. On top of that we are hitting a Yankees/Red Sox game Friday night (tickets are hard to come by) and we’ll see Dice K’s amazing gyro-ball. (or not so amazing from what I’ve heard)

I checked out purchasing some carbon offsets for the plane flight (they are only $10) but I’m still determining what to do. I can’t figure out how they can offset the emissions from my flight for $10 when it’s almost impossible to buy a single tree for less than $10, and they would have to plant 36 of them according to my calculations. Can someone explain that math to me? It sounds like Enron math to me. I’ve got one opinion that thinks the $10 might buy a bunch of seeds to start but the failure rate is rather high on trees and no one is sure if they take that into account. On top of that, those trees would take forever to get to a large enough size to even make any kind of difference.

I think I’ll use the free links at this site to get my 36 trees for free and call it even. Plus I’ll click on the other free things and it will cover even more area. I would much rather prefer to save already existing forests that are working their magic than plant new trees that will take 30 years to get to full majesty. Plus I’ll keep doing what I’m doing to reduce my footprint.

Tomorrow is child #1’s birthday and since I’ll be out of town we’re celebrating it today. We don’t really do a whole lot for birthdays around here, but we decided it was time to get the little guy one of these…


This one will replace the yard sale bike he’s outgrown…

I wish I could say that the picture was taken at a grandparents house but no, that’s our 50s style paneling in our family room. ..

My wife and I recently purchased a new dryer. I know, I know, that’s nothing special really, but the funny thing is we spent a month agonizing over it before we did it. Our other dryer works, it just makes a god awful squealing noise while it’s running, and the cost to fix is only $50 less than to buy a new one. We could have lived with it even, except the dryer runs at nights most often, or during nap time, so we can’t run it and worry about waking kids up. So after much consternation we decided to buy the cheapest one we could find. We figured this will work fine for us since we typically only dry 2 loads of laundry a week, and the extra amount we are saving will allow us to get a better washer that is extremely efficient when that needs to be replaced. Did you know that a front load washer uses 16 gallons of water rather than the typical 54 gallons a top loader uses? Interesting fact that came out of this. But I’ll be tossing the dryer up on freecycle or craigslist soon for someone to come and get. So at least it’s not hitting the landfill.

Our ducks have recently been joined by another male. I’m not sure what kind of crazy love triangle is going on there, but my experience with Grey’s Anatomy tells me nothing good comes of love triangles. I hope the female isn’t using the yard to lay eggs or anything. I’m not prepared to be a foster parent.

We also spent the past few weeks agonizing over our house. We appear to have some water leakage problems in our garage around some windows. So we immediately started worrying about what was happening in the rest of the house behind the walls we couldn’t see. We must have had 6 or 7 contractors look at it and while they all had different opinions and ideas the most consistent idea was that the windows were horrible and needed to be replaced and all the rot fixed. We’ve decided to go with that and we’re very relieved about that. We were considering yanking off the siding, checking for rot around the house, blowing in insulation and residing the house. While I really, really want to insulate the sidewalls, the cost of the siding work was around $13K, not including any damaged that needed to be replaced. Our pocketbook is much happier with this solution. Unfortunately my plans for a solar water heater will be put on hold while we tend to this immediate need. And our house is still poorly insulated on the walls (the ceilings are all R-38 and up so they are fine) but we’ll get to that eventually. I just have to figure out how to do it without leaving pockmarks all over the walls from drilling the holes.

My friend Aaron has a great post up today. Check it out. Make sure to check out all the links he provides.

So does the Expat Chef. And Ka-Bar at the Moral Equivalent of War has yet another good one up. Perusing my Bloglines account Ka-Bar wins the award for most posts that I’ve marked as “keep new”. He’s up to 23, which is even more than Treehugger.

Now I’m spent. I’ll talk to you after the weekend.


Visitors at our house

This week we had a couple of visitors at our house. We seem to get two of these each spring and fall. It’s kind of strange.

In other news, we’re getting the attic in our house drywalled, finally. It only took three years after move in. We tore the original junk down to insulate the attic as well as we snipshot_e4e7l3q2i6d.jpgcould. The space will be quite different that is for sure. I’m also excited to have the option to send the boys up there too when they get too loud.

While I would like to say I’m the one doing the work that would be a lie. But I have been creating my own mess outside.

snipshot_e41akqdis3xl.jpg I cut down these ugly evergreen bushes and planted two blueberry and two blackberry bushes in their place. Tomorrow morning we’ll be putting in some strawberries to act as the ground cover in that area. Hopefully everything works out really well. It’s such a pleasure to work in the dirt around here. I know I have it good compared to most people, but it takes hardly any effort to break up the soil and dig holes and move stuff around. It’s really great. Of course there are a few areas that are still tough to break up occasionally, but that’s usually because they’re hard baked from the sun.

After these bushes are planted that leaves me just one more 100 sq ft spot to dig up and get planted. Those are all after the last frost plants though so I’ve got some time. This is fun stuff!!


Update on insulation

My insulation piece yesterday generated some questions so I thought perhaps I would get more detailed here. There are a ton of great resources available on the web and I’ll try to compile a few here as well as inform you from my experience.

First things first-rebates

One rebate I mention is a sale that Lowe’s is having currently where they will give you a $100 gift card if you spend $300 on insulation. Each household is eligible for 2 gift cards. The sale goes on until 11/29. (Their site is down so I can’t provide you a link to their site but it was in their adsheet.)

I also mention the energy tax credits. This is part of the recent energy bill that was passed into being and exists for 2006 and 2007. The cost of your energy efficient upgrades can count on your income tax statement as a tax credit. (This credit doesn’t approach the billions that oil companies get while they are extracting billions in profits from consumers, but it’s a start) It applies to energy star rated items, like insulation, windows, doors, etc. Click here for more info and make sure to ask your tax person.

One other place you can check for rebates on energy efficiency upgrades is your local utility. My local utilities give out plenty of rebates, which I have used plenty of times. Check with your local company to see what they offer.

The thing to remember is which company will appreciate your efficiency gains and check with that company. A new natural gas furnace or water heater would be the gas company. But a new A/C or fridge would be the electric company. For things like windows, doors and insulation you’ll have to check each to see who covers it, if you have more than one company like we do here in Iowa.

Second things second–installation

I had a plethora of questions asked about installing the insulation. I hadn’t thought about installation questions in my previous post because I’ve seen so many This Old House, HomeTime and other home improvement shows that this is old hat to me. (Between those shows and the History Channel it’s a wonder I got any studying done in college) But it’s not old hat to everyone and I should remember that. So here goes. This is what I know about insulation, which may or may not be right, because I’m no expert, that is for sure. But I did stay at a Holiday Inn last night. (Sorry, couldn’t resist the chance to slid that in there)

Vapor Barrier
If you are insulating a room you need to pay attention to the vapor barrier issue. If you are insulating a space that doesn’t have any insulation currently then you want to buy insulation that has a vapor barrier. Install the vapor barrier towards the living space portion of the house. The vapor barrier is supposed to keep the moisture in the house to prevent water from condensing in the insulation and ruining it, and your walls.

If you are placing additional insulation into a space (like an attic) where insulation already exists you want to use unfaced insulation because adding an additional vapor barrier to the insulation is unnecessary (the original insulation should have a barrier). If for some reason the original insulation doesn’t have a barrier you don’t want to install new stuff on top with a barrier that will cause water to condense at the barrier on the new insulation. Water is bad news for just about everything related to a house.

Installing insulation
If you want to add more insulation to existing insulation you can buy unfaced insulation and just put it over the top of the old insulation. There is no need to remove the old stuff. It’s that simple.

Additionally, you want to make sure to buy insulation that fits the space you are placing it in. If you are doing an attic this isn’t as critical because, in theory, you have unlimited space towards the attic space and you can buy the thickest you want. But for a wall it is critical because you don’t want to compress the insulation. If you compress the insulation it will lose it’s insulating properties. So if you have a 2×4 wall use R-11 or R-13. If it’s 2×6 use R-19. Don’t shove R-19 into a 2×4 space because you’re just wasting your money. The airiness of insulation is what causes it to be insulating and if you compress the insulation it won’t be airy anymore.

For example, check out the picture to the right. This is a picture of our upstairs living space. We have a story and a half house and when we bought it we ripped down the wallboard to insulate this space. (Unfortunately we ran out of money for dr10-30-06.jpgywall…but that worked out well for this picture…2 years later…)

What you see here is R-13 (white stuff) installed in the areas that are 2x4s, basically the walls and the ceiling. The brown paper insulation is R-39 which is installed in the kneewall areas where there is sufficient room available for the insulation. Behind the kneewall is the attic space that acts as the ceiling for the downstairs living areas. Between the joists I installed R-39 as well.

All the home improvement stores have huge charts up that will show you want to use for your area of the country and for the type of space you are trying to fill.

Another thing to remember is air flow. If you are installing insulation into a cavity that is on the underside of a roof you want to either install baffles for air to flow behind the insulation, or leave the insulation out far enough that air can flow under the roof between the insulation and the bottom of the roof. This air flow cools the roof and keeps your shingles from getting cooked on hot days. It extends the life of your shingles by at least twice what you can expect with no air flow. Here is an example of what I mean.


Air infiltration
You can insulate until the cows come home, but if you don’t keep the warm and cold air where you want them you aren’t going to get ahead much. So, when you are insulating a space make sure to look for any holes that poke through the area and fill the holes with caulk or insulating spray foam to stop the air leaks. Plumbing pipes, electrical pipes and vent pipes are common culprits. Insulate (or caulk) around the pipe first to stop the air leak by plugging the gap between the wood and the pipe. Then cover the area with insulation to stop the temperature passage from the outside wall.
(Click here for example pics from the manufacturer)

They call this stuff Great Stuff and it really is great stuff.


Honestly, that’s all there is to know. Installing insulation is easy. Usually people try to make it seem harder than it is, which is a normal human tendency, but the basics aren’t hard at all.

I have some links below that can help you out even more.

This Old House (great site)


Simply Insulate (also great)

How to cook an overweight cyclist

When you’ve decided that you want to cook your overweight cyclist the first thing you need to do is build a good base of low level exhaustion. You can do this by having your overweight cyclist play some softball, swim for a few hours, do yardwork for a few hours and play basketball in the days leading up to the day that you want to cook your cyclist. Also, make sure he gets up numerous times each night to assist with children having nightmares about bugs and smoke detectors and other nonsensical scary things.

Good, now that you have a nice base established let’s get started.

1.) On the day you want to cook your cyclist have him get up early and ride his fixie to the market, load up his messenger bag with about 12 pounds of goodies, strap it on his back, and then pedal back home (uphill home you know, the market is along the river…he he…) to stock up the fridge.

2.) Allow your cyclist to rest for about 30 minutes.

3.) Then put your cyclist out in the sun for about 3-4 hours while he works on scrapping paint around windows at his apartment building. Then allow him to rest for about 30-60 minutes, but no sleeping. It is suggested that you add some food and water to him at this time to assist with the cooking process.

4.) At this point your cyclist might realize that he has free time in his afternoon and rather than taking a nap he’ll load up and go to ride the mountain bike trails for 2 hours. It’s important that you allow him to do this on his own so that he can contribute to his cooking and thus, will be more thoroughly cooked when completed, and you hopefully won’t hear any complaining because it was his decision to ride in the afternoon.

5.) When your overweight cyclist gets home from riding his bike pick him up with a quick blast of cool water in the shower. And then take him outside to play baseball with his kids.

6.) At this point your cyclist should be pretty darn tender and very moist from the extreme amounts of water he’ll be drinking. If further cooking is needed you can play cards with him for a couple of hours.

7.) Now your cyclist should be very well cooked. He should be like putty in your hands at this point. The best thing to do now is to place him in a car for 30 minutes so he can get some rest.

If you think you’re cyclist needs more cooking prior to step 6 or 7 repeat steps 2, 3 or 4, but not all of them. You run the risk of seriously overcooking your cyclist and then he will be very bitter and crabby.

CAUTION: When your cyclist is completely cooked you run the risk that he will be prone to serious overeating when presented with food. You must monitor his food intake unless you want to deal with the aftereffects of the massive food intake. Side effects may be: lots of groaning, drowsiness, irritability and shortness of breath. Cyclist may also be prone to complaining when in this position and suffer from an enlarged stomach.

When your cyclist is completely cooked make sure to enjoy promptly as the leftovers the next day are not very pleasant.