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Showing posts from February, 2014

Desitin diaper cream

Desitin diaper cream originally started out as a product for covering the exterior of industrial buildings. Impressed by its ability to repel moisture, a worker brought home a tub of the stuff to use on his new born baby who had diaper rash. The rest is history. In fact, the cream is still sold in the same tubs. True story.

Interviewing contractors

Since I'm new to this game, I have no idea what something costs. Plumbers, carpenters, electricians are all paid much more than I am as far as hourly rate goes, and in my mind, since I am decently handy, if I didn't have a day job, I could be doing many of the tasks I am having to farm out. I would do it more slowly, perhaps not as well, I would need to buy tools and materials at a premium, but I would get it done.

Things like major plumbing and electrical also require licensing. In some cases this is important, since there are complex codes - some of which make sense in terms of safety - that need to be followed.

Some things, like insulating an attic, are quite doable on your own, especially since there are many instructional videos out there, including recommendations from the federal and state governments.

When I need a contractor for a job, I've been looking up "yelp" for reviews to get clues to how the contractor operates. I then like to ask them questions o…

Stork Craft Tuscany 4-in-1 Stages Crib

This is a convertible, full size, crib. It requires a moderate amount of assembly and at one point (where you attach the mattress board onto the frame) it helps to have two people, but I could do it by myself with some creative positioning. We got the natural wood version which looks very nice to us.

The construction of the crib is very good and the design is well thought out - with special consideration because it is meant to be modified at different stages of the owner's life. The main frame members are made of a solid but somewhat soft wood. Each piece is thick and strong, but fairly easy to dent, so care must be taken when working around it with metal tools or moving it. The pieces are joined using metal bolts. The bolts screw on to metal nuts embedded in the wood, allowing for repeated disassembly without wearing down the wood.

The wood was not aired out sufficiently at the factory and gave off a rather strong smell of varnish when we opened the package. I would say it took o…

Some thoughts on photography

The most important tool Online I read a lot of advice about lenses being the most important component of a photographer's kit. Good, fast, glass was the refrain. Which translates to 'Expensive'. Then, I read several articles where people suggested that was old advice from the days when cameras were just light boxes. In the digital age cameras have a lot to say about the quality of photos, from the sensor resolution to the RAW conversion and of course the flexibility of the controls. Then there are the people who say that it's the photographer who mostly determines the quality of the art.

Here's my opinion. All this is true. But I think the most important tool is light. It's possible that most people posting on line are studio photographers who have full control over light, so they are past that and worry about other things, but for me, I like shooting in natural light and in natural situations and the right light beats equipment any time. In this way, I agree …

Chasing the ceramic soap dish

So, the bathroom has a ceramic soap-dish and it has fallen off the wall and broken. All it needs is a new one, some liquid nails (or grout) and some caulk. Easy peasy, no? Well, apparently the ceramic soap dish has gone out of style. My neighborhood hardware store did not have it. I went to home depot. They directed me to bed bath and beyond. Bed directed me to home depot. Target did not have it. Another neighborhood hardware store directed me to a tile company. They did not have it. I did find it on Amazon but it was going to be shipped, and I wanted it soon. I finally found it at Lowes but in the flooring section. I used grout to attach the soap dish. I lathered it liberally on the back and on the green board. I also took this chance to touch up the grout on the tiles, but I think I'll have another go at the tiles. My only tip is to have a plan for holding the dish in place before you slap it on the wall. It can get awkward otherwise ...

Adventures in hiring plumbers

We had a neat 1" hole on the underside of in an exposed 4" cast iron pipe in the basement. The hole was just before a coupling. The pipe was coming from the kitchen upstairs and came down through the floor boards and then bent round and traveled horizontally just above the basement door before heading into the main stack.
Our best guess was that someone had poured drano or some other corrosive chemical down the sink and then not flushed with water and left it for quite a while.The corrosive chemical had accumulated in the dam formed where the coupling met the pipe and eaten away at the pipe. I had an interesting experience with plumbers trying to get this fixed. The first guy I contacted was a contractor for a big plumbing company. He took a look at it and gave me a written estimate for $650. I looked on yelp and found another, local, plumber. I like to get multiple estimates so I can get an idea of where things are. If the estimates are similar I like to go with local, sma…

How much space do I need?

Leo Tolstoy's grim conclusion is that we need about six feet. Now Leo's line of grim thinking led to the Soviet Union and we know how THAT turned out, so perhaps we can give ourselves a little more lee way and luxury. The US census tracks the size of dwellings (ain't that a quaint word?) classified as single family homes. They've put up a readable summary of the data here but you can get the raw data in spreadsheet format on this page (it's this 'Median and Average Square Feet by Location' spreadsheet). Your tax dollars at work folks!



Our homes have been getting fatter with us! I doubt the number of people per family has been rising like this. (That fit is amazingly good, by the way. It's almost like the National Association of Single Family Home Builders has a chart for how large a home should be with year). Does government legislate how much space a person needs? I could not find a federal number during my brief websearch (though I found mysterious r…

Life insurance = sleaze

I get auto and home insurance from a particular company. I like the company because of their reasonable premiums and decent customer service. I recently decided to add on life insurance. Naturally, I went to my existing insurance company. Instead of dealing with the central office, I was sent to an 'agent'. "The agent writes the policy" was what I was told. This turned out to be significant later. So I got on the phone with the agent. The agent spent a lot of time with me. I think I wasted about 30min on that call. I got NO useful information and got the distinct feeling the agent was trying to ingratiate with me, asking me about my family, name of my children ("Oh, those are beautiful names!"). And the rates quoted were much, much higher than that on the website ("This is the cadillac plan.). This was a completely different experience for me, from when I bought their other products. After the call I did a web search for life insurance. I found some i…

Refrigerators

When purchasing a refrigerator keep in mind that It will have the large surface exposed to everyone, perhaps two surfaces (front and side) - pick a finish that you like. We've gotten used to the wooden cabinet/metal appliance look, but plain old white works fine. Black adds a level of heaviness to the kicthen, but all this is very personal.People will be touching it very often - matte white is the most resistant to this. Silver finish needs to be wiped down often to hide fingerprints.The door will swing out very often - the side-by-side design is interesting, but I find the regular single door the best. Locate it where the door doesn't block an entrance way when you open it.It will be sitting in a place (e.g a dine-in kitchen) where the family might gather to do work or talk - attention to the noise the fridge makes when starting and running is in order. In general, however, one gets used to fridge noises very quickly.It will work 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, gulping elect…

Title Insurance

Title insurance protects you against challenges to the title to property by forking over legal fees and in an extreme case, compensating you for lost property. The boston.com article gives an estimate of $3.65 per $1000 of home value (which is somewhat steep, but it is a one time fee). You can get direct estimates of title insurance costs from insurers websites, e.g. First American. This Boston.com article says that even though Title Insurance is not regulated in Mass, the rates across companies are fairly uniform. A large chunk of the premium is apparently kick back to the lawyer. It's an annoying, big-ticket item - the cost of title insurance for both lender and buyer add up. We got it, but it felt like a scam.

GFCI

A lot of old houses have fuses and regular two prong outlets. GFCI sockets are a boon to a no fuss DIY rewiring of the house to make it much safer. A nice description of GFCI sockets is given here (In general stackexchange is awesome and I would recommend joining). A nice description, with pictures, of how to rewire a GFCI socket is given here. The GFCI protects against ground faults. This means that if there is some problem with the equipment you plug in and any part of the wiring becomes, effectively, exposed, you are protected against getting a shock from that. However, nothing can protect against a deliberate touching of the live and neutral lines. GFCIs are cool because you can use them for two prong outlets (with no ground). You still need three prong outlets for surge suppression - the surge suppressor redirects the surge to ground (which is basically a fat, extremely low resistance line, allowing the surge to flow past the equipment and into the ground beneath the house). The…

Oliver

You want to know about OLIVER. This is Massachusett's GIS tool which is long form for magic. Basically you can find various pieces of information about the land, zoning, buildings and infrastructure. I would have really liked a sewer map, but I could not find it. What I used the GIS for was to find the plot plan for our property. I went nuts looking for it in the assessors documents and then in the ministry of deeds (or whatever they call that place) and found references to maps that were 70 years old. I finally found the plot plan on this website.

A Dishwasher in an old kitchen

We have an old kitchen that does not have a built in dishwasher. There is an existing disposal, so from what I read on This Old House that makes it a little easier to install a built in dishwasher. However, we would still need to run a 15A breaker circuit to the kicthen. A call to Gray's appliances resulted in advice that we would need a plumber and an electrician to take care of the water and power aspects of this. However, the sales rep continued, we could consider a portable dishwasher. I had seen this, and indeed the spouse suggested this, but I wavered thinking that the capacity was smaller. The rep said that the capacity was the same as a builtin, and we only needed to hook it up to the sink and the regular power outlet. So I looked a bit into portable dishwashers. From this page from Sears we have: Modern portable dishwashers have the same capacity and cleaning power as built-in ones and cost about the same. (From my brief search, however, the cheapest builtin was about hal…

What to look for on a tour

A random list of objective things to pay attention to when looking at a house. This is completely different from how the home looks. Now, we are emotional creatures: even if the house is beat up, out of code and a fire hazard we might fall in love with it. You should do what you feel, since you only live once, but it is good to know all the warts of the house, since you'll be the one writing the checks and standing in knee deep water with a pair of waders. When was it built? If it was built in the 1900 beware of lead paint. If it was built in the 1960s there may be lead paint in the trim and the outside. If paint is peeling in scales, be careful. It it is very recent (2000s) is it built well enough? Can you find out anything about the company that built the house?Is it copper wiring or aluminum wiring? Some houses built in the 1960-1970s had aluminum wiring. This by itself is not a problem, but mixing copper and aluminum can lead to a fire hazard. Look into COPALUM for ways to int…

Lead

Lead paint is a scary topic, especially in Massachusetts where a lot of the housing is old. Lead paint is also a complex topic. Because the effects of lead paint on children and adults are dire and since many children have suffered permanent disability because of exposure to lead paint, state and federal governments take a very proactive and cautious stance regarding lead paint. The authoritative sources are your state and federal websites dedicated to lead paint issues (some links are below). Apparently lead was added to paint because it enhanced its longevity and was government sanctioned. This same website states that the dangers of lead paint began to be realized in the 30s and 40s and in 1955 paints that were to be used in home interiors were restricted to less than 1% by weight of lead. Lead paint was also expensive and used mostly for living rooms and window sills and other locations where durability and quality were important. From the EPA and state materials (which, again, ar…

Sunlight

The only way to judge natural lighting in a house is to go there at different times of the day and at different days of the year. Houses rarely stay on the market that long (but in this market ...) and realtors might get annoyed at the 10th or 20th showing. In general, if you like the house in winter, you'll probably like it in summer. Also, in our Northern Hemisphere, and in these Northern latitudes "South Facing" is a good bet. The sun spends most of its time shining from the south east to the south west and those are the rooms that get most of the sun. There are a few tools, however, that can give you an idea of sunlight in a location. One of these is NOAAs Solar Calculator. This website allows you to see the direction of the rising and setting sun for different dates. You can't enter an address directly and you have to zoom in to your location. Another tool that looks remarkably like NOAA's calculator but allows you to put in an address directly is Vladimir …

Picking a home inspector

In Massachusetts the home inspection is mandatory before you sign a purchase and sale agreement. I'm sure you could waive it, but you should not. At this time (2013) a home inspection costs around $500. Your realtor will probably suggest a home inspector for you. Even though your realtor is a buyer's agent it is probably wise to arrive at your choice of home inspector independently. Like picking any other service provider, you should put yourself in the position of an employer and do a short interview and get a feel for what the person is like. If you 'click' I would say pick that person. To get ideas about what to ask during the interview you can do a web-search for "picking a home inspector". I did go through those websites to get an idea of what to look for, but when I phoned up the inspector I asked questions that I had when I toured the property I was looking at. So, I asked very specific questions about plumbing and electricity as I saw the fixtures in…

Property and Privacy

Interestingly, in Massachusetts you can find out the (fairly) complete property records for any address. This includes the names of the owners, sale price and sale history. I'm split by this transparency and efficiency in government. On one hand it is a great way to judge if the price of a home is within reason (by comparing it to similar homes nearby). It also allows you to trace the provenance of a plot of land (in the particular case I was handling the trail ended in 1949) which gives some indication of how clear the title is. However, this looks to me like an alarmingly public release of very personal information. No one has any business knowing how much you paid for your home, or in fact, going to an address and figuring out who lives there. At the very least you should be required to give up YOUR identity to the authorities and the owner of the property should be notified that somebody is looking them up - openness should work both ways. In California, interestingly, you ca…

Central Vacuum Systems

We have a Nutone range hood and need to replace/repair some parts. I was looking over the Nutone website and I came across a reference to "central vacuum systems". A quick web search (with images) caused jaw drop. 

In case you haven't caught on already (or have caught on but are thinking, "No Way! They got people to install this in their home?") , this involves installing a powerful vacuum motor in the house and then running a system of vacuum ducts into different rooms terminating at vacuum outlets. You then attach a hose to the outlet and vacuum the rooms.

Of course, you could do this. Is it genius? I think it's genius that you can get people to install yet another set of ducts in the walls of their home. Another set of ducts that can clog up, needs maintenance and, when things go wrong, as they will, dry wall cutting and replacement and repainting.

What are the benefits of doing this? Well, you could install an amazingly powerful vacuum motor that you could…