Tuesday, November 30, 2010

At least the rats keep the mice away

There's some sort of mound in a corner of the back yard.  I poked it with a stick.  It's either the previous owner's compost pile or a monster den.  Maybe I can tell by what grows there next Spring.  If it's verdant crops, it's probably compost.  If it's the restless undead, it's probably not.

I saw a big pile of fur out there one afternoon, like a rat had spontaneously shed all its fur.

I ought to turn the mound over and see what comes out.  I need a pitchfork.  And some torches.  And a shotgun.

Monday, November 29, 2010

...then monsters jump out

It's really quiet here.  Often I hear nothing whatsoever.  When the heater clicks off or the toilet stops running, suddenly I notice the lack of noise and get a little scared.  It's not supposed to be so quiet.  Something must be wrong.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

And so it begins

I skipped my first weekly task-list this weekend.  I was playing Dragon Quest IX instead.  I didn't even do the dishes.  There's a stinky stockpot on top of the stove.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Yard work

I'm starting to like working in the yard.  Today, I dug up my dahlias, hoping to replant the tubers for next year.  It was kind of hard work because I don't have the right tools.  No real shovel, just a hand-held soil scoop.

After re-reading the texts on dahlias, I think I threw away the "keep" part and kept the "throw away" part.

Mostly, though, I rake.  If I've got an empty "yard waste" dumpster, it takes about 90 minutes to rake enough to fill.  A little exercise, fresh air, and sense of accomplishment.  The leaves and needles fall faster than I can have them hauled away, so in a way it's OK for me to do a shoddy job.  I can't get it all, so why get it all in one part of the yard?

The rest of the day always feels longer after I've worked in the yard.  I have a theory that novel experiences slow down time, though, so maybe it will become a "times flies" thing after a few years.

Friday, November 26, 2010


The up-front costs of my house left me in a weird psychological state where I keep spending more money.

Between the down payment, loan fees, celebratory beer, quick meals out, movers, electricians, inspections, anti-stress beer, gas, and first-dinner-party-beer; I spent over a year's take-home pay in just a few weeks.  Don't get me started on the capital gains taxes; I funded the down payment by selling my lucky stock.

All that money leaving my bank account created some kind of vortex or spacial rift, and it's sucking still more money after it.  A $70 jacket here, a $40 board game there, and several $20 "special occasion" dinners at that-there Lebanese restaurant in the neighborhood... it's adding up.  I think that spending each dollar hurts less than it used too.  I'm not going to run out of money, but I'm saving less than I intend.

Mainly it's buying "little things for the house", even ignoring the dining room set.  Fireplace tools, cleaning supplies, dishes, yard tools, and so on.  I read about this beforehand, but that didn't make me immune.  At least I've resisted the temptation to replace my furniture... though I could use a new coffee table.

There are some upsides; I'm saving more on my car than I expected.  Adding a homeowner's policy got me a discount on my car insurance.  The discount is actually more than the house policy premium.  I should have insured a house years ago, even if it wasn't mine.  The daily commute is shorter (down from 60 miles daily to 10) and I use so little gas that I worry the gauge is broken.

I'm saving on food by cooking more real meals and taking leftovers to work for lunch.  I always went out for lunch, thinking I was saving time, but really this is quicker because I don't have to drive and wait in line during the lunch rush.  I'm not saving as much as I'd guessed, but I'm eating better, so on balance it's working out very well.

Mint is a great help.  It's the best monthly-budget tool I've found, assuming your have online accounts it can pull transactions from.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

There's dirt and bugs down there

How realistic is it to expect that I can live here forever without having to go under the house?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Spider Sense

Downside to high ceilings: clearing the cobwebs out of the corners becomes a major undertaking.  I hate spiders.  Logically, I know they are usually not dangerous and can be beneficial.  But they're creepy.  I know they're up there, and don't like it.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Leaf Me Be

I have a lot of trees.  I love my trees.  Not only are they beautiful, but they keep my house private and, I hope, cool in the summer.  The problem is they shed like mad.  I've raked up two full dumpsters worth of leaves and needles, and that's doing a half-assed job.  The trash pickup only takes two loads of yard waste per month, so I'm basically not allowed to keep the yard clean during autumn.

Worse, the pickup will be skipped on Thanksgiving.  In this part of Oregon, you work in the rain or the work doesn't get done.  So I have a dumpster full of soggy leaves.  I'm basically brewing leaf-wine until sometime next month.

Some of the neighbors obviously still haven't raked up at all.  I'm not complaining -- a yard full of bright leaves is nice to look at -- but do they know something I don't?  Are you allowed to blow your leaves into the street and let the street sweepers clear it?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Something to Wine About

Now that I have a home that doesn't fill me with shame and bad smells, I'm having people over.  So far the wine I bought to share with friends has gone 90% in my belly.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Something Winterized This Way Comes

You're supposed to prepare a house for winter.  It's mostly about cold, moisture, and the relationship between the two.  It's pretty important in this part of Oregon.  We may not get terribly cold, but we get cold enough, and it rains 8 days a week much of the year.

1) Block the crawlspace vents.  This seemed weird to me, but the guy who gave me the advice had a confident look on his face at the time.  I've always associated airflow with drying, and poor ventilation with moisture buildup.  Stores sell Styrofoam blocks shaped for this, for about $2.50 each, which is 10X what it would cost to buy a large chunk of foam and cut your own.  I bought the pre-cut blocks, but at least I'm savvy enough to feel bad about it.

2) Unblock the attic vents.  My attic vents are partially blocked by insulation, and there's a small (probably not deadly) mold outbreak already, so I should have done this weeks ago.  Every weekend I climb my ladder, stick my head in the attic, and climb back down.  Last time I even had a headlamp.  The attic just seems like a really unpleasant place to be.  I need a taller ladder anyway. 

I'm still not sure why I want to block one set of vents and clear the other, but oh well.

3) Drain outside faucets.  I turned them off and covered them with foam insulation, but I can't figure out how to drain them.  There's supposed to be an interior valve.  Maybe it's under the house.  I pretend the under-the-house doesn't exist because I expect it to be worse than the attic.

4) Put up storm windows.  Until five minutes ago, I thought "storm windows" meant screens, which is the opposite of a true thing.  So this isn't done either.

5) Trim back plants.  I clipped a few bushes to keep moisture from being trapped against the siding, but the real danger is large tree branches.  My yard is dense with trees.  I really ought to have a professional check this out.

6) Inspect and clear gutters.  I can't figure out how to get access to the gutters' guts, because they have leaf guards.

I started this post to document how I winterized my house, something I was proud of.  Now I realize I'd better do it for real this weekend.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Things That Made Me Feel Stupid

It took me over a week to find where the air filter for the heater goes.  It couldn't have been more obvious if the previous owner left me a note... which she did.

My thermostat is too complicated for me to program.  I am a software engineer.

I locked myself out of the house my 2nd day here.

I was surprised that insects live in my yard.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Squirrel Attack

I think the squirrels knock nuts and branches down at me when I walk by.  I never see them fall when I'm not around.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Patch the Gutter

There was a gap in my gutter, over the corner of the deck.  During heavy rain, a constant stream would flow out the bottom of the gutter.  More gutted than gutter.  It had eroded a low spot into the yard.

I decided to shoot it up with silicon caulk to seal the gap.  I would smooth the silicon with a scrap of cardboard, and paint it later to match the gutter.

I already had a caulk gun (used once), so I bought the first caulk I saw with the word "gutter" on it.  This would also be the first real job for my ladder, a 6 ft step-ladder which I bought because it's tall enough for me to get into my attic, which it isn't.

It turns out that owning a caulk gun is not the hard part.  Nor is realizing it's "caulk gun", not "caulking iron" and being laughed at at Home Depot.  The hard part is being patient.

I didn't let the interior of the gutter dry out completely before applying the silicon.  I sealed most of the gap, but water slowly dripped through and ruined the bottom of the seal before it cured.  For reasons I still don't understand, I couldn't get the silicon smooth.  It either scraped away from the gutter or turned into drippy stalactites.  The leak is slowed, but I'll have to go up again when it stops raining in a few months.  I also dripped silicon onto my ladder, giving it a cool "distressed" look.

I'm trying to fill the low spot in the yard by dumping fallen leaves and twigs in there.  I assume fallen leaves and twigs turn into dirt somehow, otherwise the earth would be made of leaves and twigs instead of dirt.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dining Room

My parents generously helped me buy a dining room set.  It hasn't been delivered yet.  I have a temporary solution.

Customizable gaming tables are usually very expensive, but you can see where we kept score during games of Spades:

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Why I Live Here

 In my last apartment, my bedroom window was about 100 feet from a state highway.  Noise was a problem.

Here, it's quiet at night.  If the heater isn't running, I hear nothing whatsoever.

It's nice.

Friday, November 12, 2010

If it's trash, put it in the trash

I live by habit.  If I get into the habit of leaving trash wherever it lands and letting problems fester into disastrophes, I'll ruin my house.  If I get into the habit of cleaning as I go and making repairs promptly, I'll still have a nice house in 70 years.

I also live by procrastination.  If a job's worth doing, it'll be worth doing tomorrow.

So I set up weekly chores.  I use Remember the Milk to organize these.  RTM is flexible enough that I can schedule these "every 4 weeks" or "monthly" which is slightly different.  RTM also has a good app to run on my phone.

I'm trying to form good habits while accomodating my procrastination.  It's gross, but I'm going to leave snotty tissues on my desk and say "I'll clean that up later".  That needs to be OK, and it is, so long as I'm religious about tidying up every weekend.  Some things need to be cleaned up promptly (dirty dishes), but what can wait can wait.

These are for every weekend:

.  Clean Kitchen
   . Clean oven, in and out
   . Clear funky stuff from fridge, freezer, pantries
   . Wipe down all surfaces, including in fridge
   . Dust
   . Sweep & Mop
   . Clean windows
   . Clean inside microwave
.  Mow Lawn
.  Tidy Up
   . Wipe down anything sticky, smelly, or furry
   . Clear any spider webs
   . Vacuum all carpets, including in closets
   . If it's trash, put it in the trash
   . Check light bulbs
   . Don't forget the garage
.  Pick Up Yard
   . Pick up any trash, dog poo, dead leaves, fallen branches, fallen fruit
   . Clear any spider webs or serious bug habitats
   . Pull any weeds

These rotate on a 4-week cycle, different chores every weekend:

.  Clean Bedroom
   . Wash & change bedding
   . Dust, including in closet
   . Check closet for organization, clothes to donate
.  Clean Guest Bedroom
   . Dust, including in closet
   . Clean windows
   . Check bedding for freshness
.  Clean Living Area
   . Dust, including in cabinets and closets
   . Vacuum upholstery
   . Clean windows
   . Check & clean around fireplace
.  Clean Office
   . Dust, including behind monitors and in closet
   . Clean windows
   . Throw out useless crap
   . Store potentially useful crap
   . Clean screens
   . Blow dust out of cases
.  Yard Work
   . Check & clear gutters
   . Trim back everything
   . Clear dead branches
.  Clean Deck
   . Sweep
   . Clear spider webs
   . Clean exterior windows
.  Check Attic
   . Clear any spider webs
   . Clear any other trashy, buggy, or nasty stuff
   . Check for mold; scrub with bleach if any
   . Dust?
.  Clean Garage
   . Sweep floor, including around washer & dryer
   . Dust, including shelves
   . Check for fluid puddles from car
   . Clean window
   . Check / clean air filter
.  Clean Bathrooms
   . Scrub toilet
   . Scrub any mold and soap residue from shower
   . Clear drains
   . Dust
   . Sweep & Mop
   . Clean mirrors, windows
   . Wipe down all surfaces
   . Wash mats & toilet seat covers

There are a few other oddball items scheduled, like winterizing the house and heater inspections.

So far, I'm doing pretty good, except that I haven't been more than neck-deep in the attic or thoroughly checked the gutters.  I'll probably pay somebody to work in the attic because I hate tight spaces.  I have no excuse for neglecting the gutters.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Aluminum Wiring

Aluminum wiring is perfectly safe so long as it's not connected to anything.  Unfortunately, my house has aluminum wiring and it is connected to things.
I found out during the home inspection. If you Google "aluminum wiring" you will find all sorts of horror stories, which is exactly what a stressed-out house-hunter loses sleep over.  Which is what I did.  There's some controversy about aluminum, but it seems to be well settled that it's a fire hazard.  The controversy is over what to do about it.  I won't vouch for the source, but Inspectapedia sums up the issues.

I couldn't afford to totally rewire the house.  I also couldn't afford to die in a fire.

Eventually I was comfortable that aluminum is "safe enough" if all the outlets and switches have some mitigation in place.  You have to use outlets and switches that are made for use with aluminum.  They're a little more expensive.  Some devices aren't available in aluminum-compatible varieties.  I wanted several GFCI outlets (the ones that don't kill you if you drop your toaster in the bathtub) installed, but there are no aluminum-compatible GFCI outlets.  The electrician would have to "pigtail" copper wires to the end of the aluminum, then connect the copper to the outlet.  Pigtailing is its own mess.

The only unambiguously safe pigtailing technique is the steampunk-inspired COPALUM, which is expensive and not always available.  AlumiConn connectors are promising, but don't have a long track record.  The most commonly used is Ideal Twister #65 purple wire nuts, but some of the scarier anecdotes suggest problems.

The electrician didn't know of any problems with the Ideal wire nuts.  In a flurry of smugness, I decided that made me better informed than him.  So I told him to use AlumiConn connectors even though he wasn't familiar with them.  I'm the kind of customer I hate when I'm dealing with customers.  Me with my two nights of Googling, and him with his something more than that.

Eventually, I realized that my opinion is rubbish, and that having people use equipment they aren't familiar with isn't how you make things safe.  So I told the electrician to use his own judgment, which was the Ideal wire nut.  I haven't died in a fire.

It cost about $900 for two guys to A) verify that every switch is aluminum-compatible, B) replace every outlet with aluminum-compatible, and C) install several GFCI outlets.

I bought a house. Now what?

I am 31 years old, and I have never used a hammer in its intended fashion.

In October, 2010, I moved into my first house.  From the first day, with only a microwave and a sleeping bag, I loved it.  From the second day, I realized it was going to be a heck of a job to keep up.

The house, built in 1975, was in good shape.  The previous owner had maintained the yard beautifully, and she left me records of home repairs and improvements.  The home inspection was good.  It needed some modest repairs and upgrades, but of the sort I'd call "implementation details", not "architectural problems".  So I wasn't worried about making the house better, I was worried about not making it worse.

Since leaving my parents' house, I've always lived in rented apartments.  I made the apartments worse.  Why wouldn't I?  Why try to maintain the appliances if there's a guy paid to repair it when it breaks?  Why clean if you're going to move someday?  Why clear the cobwebs and dead spiders off the balcony if... actually I should have done that, it was  nasty.

But my house is a house, and more importantly my house is my house.  I intend to live here for 10-70 years.  I'm going to take care of it.

I expect to make a lot of mistakes.  These are their stories.