December 31, 2006
Last post of the year, for obvious reasons. Got a bunch done today, and
a bit covering the last couple weeks. Had a tree, it's gone now. Once
it left the living room we finally put up curtains. Pictures of
Got most of the sprinkler system ripped out today, just the feeder pipe
up to the attic is left. Pictures of where the sprinkler heads WERE
Lastly, Amanda has been asking for bookshelves in the kitchen for a long
time, with some ludicrous argument that cookbooks are more useful in the
kitchen than on shelves in the living room. Thus, there are finally
shelves in the kitchen. It really helps, actually... makes it feel more
like a real kitchen having the shelves there with books and stuff on them.
December 4, 2006
Wow, I really need to get more done on the house. I need to come into
a million dollars, that'd make it easier.
However, I did get a few things accomplished in the last few days. I'm
finally getting a security system as soon as the various companies I'm
trying to contact get back to me. That prompted me to call my insurance
agent - this'll save me $150/year on my homeowners' policy. That also
got me to ask some questions about the discounts I've already got... turns
out the sprinkler system doesn't get me a discount at all. If it goes
off, the house doesn't burn down. However, everything in the house is
destroyed by water instead of fire... net zero. I just started ripping
the sprinkler system out so I'll no longer be afraid it's going to go
July 23, 2006
Amazing the break the summer party forces on this. So, a bunch of
news all at once. First, the friday the party started (10th?) I was
interviewed by someone doing a documentary on Mame Fay. She found
my mention way back at the beginning of this page that rumor had it
Mame Fay lived in this house at some point. Two people doing the
documentary - one doing the real history aspect, the one I met doing
the "stories are bigger than life [was]" part. We'll see if anything
ever comes of it.
Next, I finally had some weather conducive to working in the attic -
70 degrees and pouring rain. The only problem with it was finding
another leak in the roof by having it drip on me. But, I finished the
second phase of the electrical project (no electrician pun intended)
yesterday by getting Justin's room moved over to the new panel,
my room and John's room moved to the new panel, and setting up the
new circuit for lights on the second floor. Justin's room is the only
light on the new circuit, but it's progress... slow, but
On the topic of the roof, one of the guests at my party works for
Weatherguard as a leak finder. He just goes out when people complain
about leaky roofs and fixes them. He wandered around on my roof at
the party and found some amazing problems... and came back a couple
days later with the appropriate bits and fixed them. Too bad I
found the new leak AFTER he was here. I'll have to get in touch with
July 9, 2006
Today we got all the temporary posts in place to hold the roof. The
2x6 braces have all been removed, things are supporting themselves
the way they're supposed to. The new posts need to be painted still,
but that's not a big deal. Also, I still need to get some temporary
railings in place and get the drain from the gutter dealt with before
the party. Pictures
July 7, 2006
Got a bit done tonight, one of the four posts that used to hold the
roof up above the porch has been replaced with a new "post" (2 2x4s
in a bit of a box) to get the roof back onto the deck. I made up
the rest of the new "posts" and they're ready to go... as soon as
my knee decides to play nice with the rest of me.
Oh, and I was still premature in deciding the porch was dry... there
are now footprints in the stain that I'm not quite sure how to get rid of.
After a week. Geez.
July 3, 2006
It's noon, but I'm not going to do much today. The deck is done and
the stain is wet. Makes it hard to move on to putting the roof back on
and turning my deck into a full porch again. I'm actually expecting that
the stain will be wet through tomorrow if not Wednesday (the stuff I put
on last Friday is still tacky in spots... the weather sucks.)
Time to clean for the party, I guess. Oh, and put up new
July 1, 2006
I'm glad the party got pushed a week this year, otherwise I'd be in full
panic mode right now. We got the front stairs on the porch today, but
they aren't sanded or stained. We also got a bunch of the last bits
of structure in the very back done, in preparation for putting
the last couple feet of the deck on - these are where the old back
stairs were, I'm going to try and make that space useful this time
Sounds like I didn't get much accomplished today, but I had to make
a trip up to Curtis lumber to get joist hangers and more decking
screws, that's a 30 minute drive each way. While I was there I found
they were having a 4th of July sale, and ended up coming home with
a DeWalt table saw. It's been on the shopping list for a long while,
and it really made the front stairs a breeze to do. I should have
bought one a while ago.
AND, new pictures.
June 30, 2006
I have a deck. OK, mostly. But it's out there. All the decking was cut
yesterday, screwed into place, sanded, and stained. Today I need to finish
up the structural work in the very back bit, get decking on that, and try
and finish up the front stairs.
June 29, 2006
Forgot to update yesterday, but since I didn't get anything done tonight
yesterday's content will instead of todays. Got the two stringers trimmed
for the front stairs fairly easily. Then I set up and started cutting
decking. I'm now debating the wisdom of laying the boards out in place
and leaving them there in the rain, but the first 1/3 of the deck is
sitting out there. The boards are all upside down to avoid walking on
the part that I need to take stain and none of them have been attached,
but they're out there.
June 27, 2006
It didn't rain on me today, so I got a bunch done. Actually, I got all
the beams measured and cut yesterday in the short gaps in the rain, so
I had a stack of pre-cut beams waiting for me when I got home today. So,
I got all the joist hangers measured out, tacked into place, and all the
beams installed. I even got one of the three stringers for the front steps
in place, then discovered that between the slope of the sidewalk and the
lack of light (9:30 pm) I couldn't manage to trim the other two stringers
to be level with the first. Tomorrow... if it doesn't rain.
June 24, 2006
A lot of work done today, but not as much as I would have liked. All 5 of
the cross beams are in, and the first batch of floor joists are in place
in front of the kitchen door. It gets easier from here. Also, did a bit
of mortar touchup, levelling the top of one of the posts in back, repointing
a bit at the front under the stairs (where I'll never get the pros in to
do it right) and a small retaining wall along the edge of the sidewalk where
the ground under the porch is 6-8" below the level of the sidewalk itself.
New pictures here.
June 24, 2006... early
Late yesterday I got the first cross beam into place. All the beams
are built (triple 2x12s) and most of them have joist hangers attached,
but they all will need to be notched to fit into the holes in the
brick, then installed. I'm hoping to have at least 2 more of them in
today, plus the stair stringers at the front of the house. Then I
can work on either more cross beams OR the deck stringers and decking.
June 21, 2006
Not a whole lot to report at the moment. A bit of cement was used tonight
to clean up the edge of the sidewalk where it goes under the porch steps
so I'll have a clean landing surface for the stair stringers. Also, I went
over the tops of two of the pillars with mortar to smooth them out and level
the surfaces; so, now the beam will sit on them a lot more evenly.
Also, more pictures.
June 19, 2006... early
Made a short day of it yesterday, in the interests of recovery. One
task was completed - the main beam was cut, assembled, and put into place.
It took 6 people to lift, and wasn't a pleasant job for any of us to do
it. But it's there now.
June 18, 2006... early
OK, MY definition of "early". Yesterday was long and painful, but the
demolition is done and all of the pillars have been rebuilt. We even
built the last pillar up to the height of all the rest, significantly
simplifying the structure at the back of the porch. Today we start
structural work. We're actually BUILDING now. Too bad this is what
I wanted to do Friday.
New pictures on the Porch page.
June 16, 2006
After today, we're yet another day behind. Turns out that rebuilding
the pillars A) takes longer than expected, and B) mortar is more caustic
than I expected. I got the first two pillars rebuilt, but the demolition
isn't done around the last two so I can't get at them. Also, there is
a lot less skin on my hands now, so that'll slow me down. But two of
the pillars ARE rebuilt, and we replaced a piece of wood embedded in
the wall that one of the main beams was notched in to. Progress is
still being made.
June 15, 2006
And now we begin to slide behind schedule. Two different reasons, and
we're not so far behind that I mind that much. First, we didn't quite
get all the demolition done today. What's left I was hoping would be
easy, but I forgot that the basement door has walls and things around
it... that were part of the porch structure. Second, the brick pillars
the porch was resting on were partially destroyed by the unintended
forces the porch was putting on them (they'll hold up to vertical force
forever, not so much sideways). The other part of the partially destroyed
was the old mortar I could remove with my fingers. I ripped a pillar
down to the ground one brick at a time with my hands. Tomorrow we finish
the demolitions AND I learn to rebuild brick work. I'd love to get the
masons back, but I just don't have the money.
Oh, the final tally at the end of today is probably 90% of the demolition
is done. Not *too* bad.
To add insult to injury, this evening it was raining in my basement. I've
got a major drain line clogged beyond my skills to do anything about it.
The plumber will be calling at 8:00 am tomorrow to make sure he can find
the house. And Amanda just pointed out my Roto-Rooter reference above...
how ironic. :-P
June 14, 2006... much later
We hurt. A lot. The porch looks even worse than it did, but the center
three posts are now supported by new lumber instead of... how the heck
DID that much rot hold that much weight? I only put my foot through
the porch twice. No deaths, no major injuries.
June 14, 2006, morning
I was too tired last night to update, so I'll start with yesterday's
acommplishments. Under the porch is completely cleared out, other
than the bits that are currently attached. As long as we were at it,
the entire alley got raked out and is now mostly cleared. The City of
Troy is also scheduled for a mongo trash pickup on Monday. I expect
they'll balk at the pile and make me pay to get rid of it, but they *will*
I started on getting the front sidewalk caulked, using a pressure washer
to clean the crud out from between the cement squares. Unfortunately,
I then discovered that I threw away my caulk gun last year and haven't
replaced it. That'll be this morning as soon as I get moving. (Writing
this right now is a serious challenge - not enough caffeine and too much
More white on the roof, it's a good thing. Justin has a temperature
sensor in his computer that he can read that normally ran 5-10 degrees
above outdoor ambient. Now it runs about even with outdoor ambient
temperature. That is a *huge* win.
Starting getting real new circuits run from the new panel upstairs. First
is getting some convenient outlets on the balcony, around the panel, and
in the attic, then tieing Justin's room in to it. The circuit breakdown
will be - lights for the whole floor, bathroom, 1+2, 3+balcony, 4+5, 6+7,
something I'm forgetting. So after that first circuit, 4+5 move to
the upstairs panel from the downstairs (easy cutover) and the lights in
Justin's room and on the balcony move to the new lighting circuit. The
rest come a bit later.
This morning, just as I was dragging out of bed, a flatbed of lumber pulled
up. I sprinted down the stairs to meet him, and now I have a mountain of
new porch. Pictures later. Now to take car to dealer for some work. Fun.
June 12, 2006
This is the more later. Not much, actually. I have a mountain of lumber
showing up on Wednesday, I have a plan for getting things done tomorrow,
and I need to pick up some minor pieces in order to make progress on the
electrical projects. How I can manage to not have any duplex electrical
boxes around I just don't know.
Oh, later comparisons of black parts of the roof and white have so far
shown a very noticable temperature difference.
June 12, 2006
There will be more later, but for now a couple minor updates. First, I
AM replacing the porch. The bathrooms have problems, but that work can
be done at night, when it's raining, in the winter, etc. The porch is
beyond where it should have been done and is only going to get worse. And
can only be done in nice weather. I'm going to be ordering the materials
as soon as I finish the materials list and drive to Curtis Lumber.
Also, I painted the top 1/3 of the roof white. I could feel the difference
on the roof while I was putting the second coat on. We'll see how big a
difference it makes in the house. Also, the thickness I was applying is
definitely less than was recommended, at the rate I was using it I have
enough for the whole roof. Which I think is preferrable to doing 1/3 of
the roof the way they recommend.
June 11, 2006
Lots of picture updates of the porch, the
masonry work, and the
exterior of the house.
Also, Curtis is about 10% cheaper than HD, has cedar decking, railings,
balusters, 2x4s (at $2.50/ft... ow) and will deliver here for less than
the amount I'd save. Win, win, win. Now I just need to figure out whether
I'm going to actually try to replace the porch prior to the summer party.
June 10, 2006... later
Back from HD. Structural stuff for the porch is going to be ~$750,
HD doesn't carry decking that isn't hideously ugly. So I went to Curtis
Lumber, much to my chagrin. The exit from the highway is ripped out,
so I went up to Saratoga just to get there. And they were closed. Trying
HD *DID* have roofing tar and roofing white stuff and patch supplies. So,
I'm going to make the porch roof not leak, the main roof not leak, and
parts of the main roof be very white to cut down the absorbed heat.
June 10, 2006
Now that I'm actually on vacation, ready to get some good work done,
I started by cleaning. We're going to be getting a new grill, and
there was a pile of other crap built up around it on the porch, so
we cleared just about everything off the porch. Including pieces of
the porch. Err... yeah. It's in *much* worse shape than it was when
I bought the house, to the point where I wouldn't be surprised if it
let go within a year. I'm debating whether I'm changing my focus this
week. The bathrooms are bad, but they're not going to fall off. The
electrical work is important, but it can be done at night or while it's
I'm going to go measure things on the porch and head to Home Depot to see
how much unexpected spending this could turn into...
June 6, 2006
Two pieces of update. First, I spent about 4 hours last night and
ripped the old fuse box out of the wall upstairs and got the replacement
circuit breaker panel in. We went from 240V/50A of antique wiring
scariness to 240V/60A of ready-to-go goodness. Now I can start moving
bedrooms from the old scary circuit (2 circuits on a single run of
14-3 wire. One hot for each circuit, they share the neutral) to something
rational and code-like.
Quick explanation of just how ugly that shared 14-3 thing is. First, the
breakdown is rooms 1, 2, 6, and 7 on one circuit, 3, 4, and 5 on the
other. So, all the occupied rooms are on one circuit. There's a lot
of computer equipment in 3 and 5, plus fans and the occasional A/C. All
sharing 15A. John has extension cords running under his door to plug
in over in 6. Second, with any circuit, when you draw current you effect
the voltage on the line... both wires of it. If you measure voltage from
hot to ground it will drop as you draw more power. However, if you measure
the voltage from neutral to ground is will be getting pulled *UP*, closer
to the hot leg. Two circuits with a shared neutral wire are pulling in
opposite directions - think of one circuit as +120V and the other as -120V
and the neutral line as 0V, even though that's a gross simplification.
SO, when Justin turns on his laser printer, the voltage on his circuit
drops to about 95V, and the one John has plugged his computer in to (over
in 6) goes UP to 130V as the neutral line gets dragged around in between.
If they were run with separate cables (and separate neutrals) this wouldn't
happen, OR if they were run with cable significantly larger. Since the
new panel is run with 2 gauge cable, that effect will be *much* smaller.
Once I get the bedrooms moved over to it, that is.
Finally, new photos up of the masonry work and
the electrical work.
June 2, 2006
Another week, a bit more progress. Since going to Balticon ate last
weekend, nothing got done then. However, last night I made a couple
important bits of progress. First, I finished removing the piece of old
conduit I started on the 24th - it was bent in a couple odd ways going
through a major beam, it took about 30 seconds with a my TigerSaw to
finish it off. That was important because the holes it went through were
where I wanted to run the new feeder cable from the basement... and
now that cable is in place. Just roughed in, a couple clamps in key
places, coil of extra in front of the main panel and another coil hanging
out of the wall on the second floor. Yay, progress.
The other important bit I accomplished last night was trivial to do, but
very key to making more progress. I ripped open a couple light switches
on the first floor that are getting their power from the panel I'm
removing and verified that neutral really IS showing up in the switch
box even though it doesn't really have to. (For those not familiar with
this bit of electrical code, 1) you ALWAYS SWITCH HOT not neutral, and 2)
since you aren't switching neutral you don't need it at the switch at
all.) Since neutral does appear at the switch, I'm just going to run a
new lighting circuit for the first floor by pulling new wire to each
switch and running it all down to the basement. This was the goal anyway,
I just didn't expect to be doing it so soon.
May 24, 2006
I managed to get a little more done last night, ripping out a bit of
ancient conduit that wasn't doing anything except being in the way. I'm
trying to figure out how to redirect the circuits that cover the first floor
lights down to the basement - a non-trivial task since they're in old-style
conduit and thus are not easy to relocate at all. I was really hoping for
BX/flexible cable, but I should have known better. I'm actually debating
pulling new cable to each light switch on the first floor from the basement
and just retiring the old circuit entirely. Assuming they didn't do something
silly like run the neutral only to the light fixture and the hot only to the
switch... a great way to save a little money on expensive copper wire back
when it wasn't ubiquitously packaged in matched pairs as Romex.
May 22, 2006
It's that time of year again, I'm actually starting to make progress on
the house. Since the show closed, I've ripped out the walls in the foyer
and balcony along the line from the basement up to the fuse box on the
second floor and picked up all the supplies to rip it out and replace
it with a breaker panel and rerun all the electricity for the second
floor. I've traced out the three live circuits from the old fuse box
and found that they are 1) a single sconce on the second floor, 2) a
sconce on the second floor and the dining room lights, and 3) the foyer,
living room, and study lights. This is important because I need all these
things to work when I'm done and I have no intention of powering the
lights on the first floor from the second floor panel.
I expect I'll manage to start ripping out some of the already deprecated
garbage running from the old panel tomorrow and/or wednesday, but since
I'm going to Balticon I won't get to anything real until after I get back
from the weekend.
May 16, 2006
I just paid off the last of the masonry work. It's gorgeous. I have some
photos from the masons themselves, I expect to get more later. I'll get
those sorted out and posted as soon as I finish surfacing from the show I
May 4, 2006
I should be updating more often, but I'm swamped at the moment. First, an
update on the break-in. They took a lot more than I thought - digital
cameras, Amanda's laptop, PDAs, change jars. Most of it had no real-world
value at all, it was all too old. Unfortunately, that means no new pictures
on here until I replace the camera. Which I can't afford at the moment
Masons. I've got masons crawling all over the back wall of the house
and have for the past couple days. The back (west) wall was the worst in
some ways - several large cracks running mostly vertically, including
one that was ground to roofline and was wide enough we had something
living in it under the 2nd floor bathroom window. Not any more. They're
going to be starting on the north side alley wall tomorrow, top to bottom
going over. This is costing more than my first new car did (or my second,
for that matter) but these guys do gorgeous work. And this will fill some
holes that go all the way through the walls... and make it hard to heat the
house in the winter.
April 19, 2006
Well, my first really bad experience in Troy. We were broken in to today,
by what has to have been the stupidest moron ever. There is probably a total
of $0.37 in loose change left in the house, and from what I can tell they
didn't take much of anything else at all. Justin had an old prescription
for painkillers taken, I may be missing a box of business cards... but that
would be just strange. The police are en route.
April 3, 2006
While cleaning in preparation for houseguest this coming weekend, a couple
minor improvements were made. First, I finally got around to swapping the
dimmer in the study for a switch, then replaced all the bulbs in the
chandelier with CFs. Discovered that one of the sockets holding a dead
bulb was actually shattered, so it has been made permanently dead (wire
cutters and electrical tape) and a dead bulb has been put back in as a
placeholder to keep the thing balanced.
I appear to have birds nesting INSIDE the exterior walls in possibly two
different places. In the 2nd floor bathroom walls I've been hearing
scratching against the back of the plaster, and in bedroom 7 I've found
nesting material under the window. I think a mason is going to be turning
up in my near future.
I'm taking the second week in June off to do electrical work and replace
beams. I'm expecting that the summer party (July 7-9) will have a big
hole in the wall where people will be able to see how household wiring is
March 13, 2006
Oh, no sign of mice in quite a while.
We've had a new kind of excitement today. Troy, NY has water mains that
date to the mid-nineteenth century (I think) and are big, rectangular in
cross-section, and made of WOOD. Oak, to be specific. Well, the major
water main for more than half of the city turns out to run down Old 6th
Ave, the block behind my house. (You can see where this is going, can't you?)
Yep, it broke at the corner of 6th, Old 6th, and Jacob St. The corner
with the Corner Store at it, within about 20' of the corner. I'm guessing
that they're going to be ripping out 50' of the street tonight to get it
fixed, because most of the city doesn't have water - it feeds south, but
the shutoff is just north of me so I lose, too. They only had to evacuate
that block right there, but I watched a firefighter carry someone from their
house, he was up to his knees. I've been hoping they'd repave that street...
January 4, 2006
Well, we've been fighting a war for some time now... with the mice.
Everything in the pantry is now in heavy plastic, nothing gets left out,
we can't leave unwashed dishes around at all... Problem is, the mice
I've had Orkin coming in here since very early on because
of roaches, so he put out traps. Orkin policy is that they can't use
snap traps, so they use glue. I don't like them, and I'm amazed the ASPCA
hasn't crawled up their butts with big lawyers about it. The mice have
learned what these things are. I've watched a mouse stick its nose into
one, pause, and back out. I've seen a mouse put one foot on the cardboard,
then back out. Today I watched a mouse jump *over* and keep going. We've
bred them to be smart enough to avoid glue traps.
Today, I upped the lethality. Snap traps abound, and we'll see how they do.
The next step from here is felinus domesticus and I know that will
be effective. Problem is, having a cat around the house would significantly
change the way we operate. Especially in the area of Orkin. We'll see
how it all goes.
2005 Archived Commentary
2004 Archived Commentary
2003 Archived Commentary
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