September 29, 2008

Burning oil like it's 1927!

Monday, September 29, 2008 Posted by Ryan , , , , No comments
We've been having some surprising spurts of warm weather lately, today the high is supposed to reach 82, but it is definitely fall. Last week I heard the furnace kick on when I came home from work in the morning one day too. We're still operating the oil furnace and working on the last 80 gallons from the last delivery at the end of last winter. We should have more than enough oil to last us until the new furnace is installed but I'm still worried about running out. I accepted an estimate for installation of the 92% AFEU furnace and filled out my gas agreement with the utility last Friday (the 19th). The agreement with the utility company promises that they will install gas service to my house for free and I will install a gas burning furnace/water heater/insert within six months. I also had to sign that they weren't liable for any damage caused to my landscaping (don't have much), sprinkler system (don't have one), or sidewalk (I'm a little worried about this one because although the sidewalk is in poor shape, I refuse to pay some city contractor thousands to replace it). Since it's been a week + since I started the process in motion and haven't heard anything yet, I called the utility company right now and found that they, just today, logged my request for new service. Add 3-5 weeks for the service installation, 1 more week for the furnace installation and we could be into November before the new heater is in.

Once I find out when the actual installation date is, if it looks like we have plenty of oil left, I might just crank that thermostat up to 71F while I'm at home! (which, btw, is never so I guess I'll turn up the heat for Paul and Yoshi.)

September 26, 2008

Human wrongs

Friday, September 26, 2008 Posted by Ryan , , No comments
I used to work for The City. It was my first "real" job with a salary and everything. Well, not everything 'cause it was only a 1/2 position and I didn't get any benefits. Anyway, I was the Human Rights Specialist for the city and my job was to manage the Human Rights Commission, and complaints against our Human Rights ordinance, and any internal education for other employees to promote human rights - in a nutshell. I only lasted 2 years in the job because in a budget crisis the city laid off a lot of people and I was one of them. In fact the entire Human Rights office was closed (all three of us) and folded into Human Resources. One of the big projects I worked on before I left was the proposal to extend benefits (medical and leave) to domestic partners of city employees. The mayor never had time for the proposal before his term ended, and the new mayor had no interest in promoting the issue*.

After I moved on to other jobs, the city council finally took action and passed a resolution to extend benefits to all employees but without cooperation from the unions (all city employees except the city council and 9-12 other people below to one of the 5 unions) only a few people could even take advantage of the option. Last year the Police guild voted to include the benefits extension in its new contract and finally this month the largest union (local 270) included extended benefits in their contract renegotiation. There are still city employees not included but I think after this the remaining smaller unions will follow. Below is the editorial from the paper (which I would link to, but you can only access articles if you're a subscriber) this morning. I think it sums everything up very well. It isn't very often that I can be proud of the city I live in. But I know I'm not alone.

*He was a closeted gay Republican who was eventually forced out of office by scandal.

Human wrongs
Our View: Benefits shouldn't be based on sexual orientation

September 26, 2008

Let's imagine that from the beginning governmental bodies granted partnership benefits for gay and lesbian workers. What would happen in tough budget years? Would employers target certain workers and rescind the medical coverage for family members? Of course not. Such discrimination would be so outrageous that it wouldn't even be proposed. Instead, if benefits had to be cut, it would be done across the board.

So why is it so difficult for government leaders to understand that it is wrong to balance budgets by blocking benefits based on sexual orientation?

The city of Spokane just agreed to partner benefits for the largest employee union at City Hall. We think the compensation package of salary and benefits is too generous, but the solution would be to pare it for all workers, not to discriminate. The city made the right choice in treating all workers equitably.

That isn't the decision the county made when negotiating with its largest union, Local 1553 of the Washington Council of County and City Employees. The county conceded bereavement and sick leave benefits for workers with same-sex partners but held the line on medical benefits. The county's position is to wait and see how much the new benefits cost before considering medical coverage. Presumably if they cost too much, then gay and lesbian workers will continue to be singled out as budget balancing tools.

This is plainly wrong. Equity and fairness should not be held back until tax receipts are calculated. As is, gay and lesbian workers are a bargain. If the county wanted to base these decisions solely on the bottom line, it would be smarter to discriminate against workers with children or those who are older and sicker. Basic decency would head off such budgeting myopia, but when it comes to gay and lesbian workers, it's somehow OK to penalize them.

In addition, the cost to extend the benefits isn't that great. A grand total of three people signed up when the Spokane Police Guild got partner benefits. Extending such benefits is lost in the churn of other workers getting married, divorced and having children.

County Commissioner Mark Richard opposes medical benefits for gay and lesbian workers but says the new bereavement benefits for gay and lesbian workers were "the right thing to do." Equal medical benefits are also the right thing to do and for the same reason.

He notes that marriage has value. It sure does. You can get better benefits. But that option isn't available to gay and lesbian workers. But that's not what he meant by "value." He was moralizing. Just as City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin did when she said partner benefits are against her core values.

The message to gay and lesbian workers is clear: Turn straight, get married and then – and only then – will you be eligible for the same compensation. Oh, and it would be helpful if you did that in a good budget year.

Such a position is embarrassing, but fortunately it is on the run.

September 16, 2008

Floors: Bath

Tuesday, September 16, 2008 Posted by Ryan , , , 1 comment

The one thing we did inside the house before we moved in last year was replace the floors in the bathroom and the kitchen. I knew that it was something that would never get done once we were living there. Both rooms had old vinyl flooring over the original linoleum and in the bathroom both were in super bad shape, discolored, rotting, generally yucky. The kitchen had some 50+ year old vinyl that was super heavy duty, but split and peeling up at the seams.

Paul started the task of pulling up the old flooring, which in the bathroom turned out to be rather difficult. The linoleum was rotted and crumbling so it came up in tiny pieces and the tar paper backing was glued on there tight. Like most bathrooms I've seen the floor under the toilet was in the worst shape. I knew there would be issues since there was substantial water damage, missing plaster and rotten lathe, in the basement under the bathroom. So it shouldn't have been a surprise that the sub-floor and the sub-sub-floor were both completely disintegrating as well as part of the wall in the corner. It's kind of a miracle the toilet didn't fall through the floor actually since there wasn't much support. See the drain pipe for the toilet? This picture is from before we removed most of the rotted sub-floor and wall. There just wasn't anything there. My dad helped us out with fixing the floor with bondo, a 2x8 and some chip board.

After the sub-floor was structurally sound, a layer of cement board and ceramic tile went down. We went with the octagon and dot Dal tile instead of hex tile because Paul liked it better--I think that's a good enough reason. We also used a grey grout instead of white and I like the contrast with the white field tiles and will probably do the same with the wall tiles, and it avoids the future issues of dirty looking white grout everyone complains about. It took over a week (two weeks?) to do this since we could only work Sunday-Tuesday nights or Saturday day.

We ordered the tile from a local tile shop and had excellent customer service. I know the same tile is also available at HD or Lowes but after ordering the kitchen tiles from there I'm loathe to special order anything there again.

September 12, 2008

Year 1

Friday, September 12, 2008 Posted by Ryan , , , , No comments
Yesterday was the 1 year anniversary of our purchase of the house on Newark. After we bought the house last year it was still another 6 weeks until we moved in. Not becuase of renovations so much, but we just didn't have time to move. Both Paul and I were in South Pacific and with performances five days a week until the end of October it took a while to get packed and moved. We did a little work to the house before we moved in, namely the kitchen and bathroom floors. After replacing the bathroom floor in the other house while we lived there (only one bathroom in the house), I knew we should do floors before we were living there. Apparently my wisdom didn't motivate me to get the wood floors refinished in the rest of the house, which I regret because how am I going to remove all the furniture from the house for a week now?

In the first year we have:
1. Tiled the kitchen floor
2. Tiled the bathroom floor
3. Replaced the roof
4. Ripped out existing Giant junipers
5. Removed sod from front yard, parking strip, and veg garden area
6. Planted perennials in the front/side yard
7. Hung curtains in bedroom (to replace sheet in window)
8. Installed bedroom closet organizer

Things I thought we'd have done by now (still to do):
1. Rewire the house
2. Build new cabinets for the stove side of the kitchen
3. Build new counter tops for kitchen
4. Scrape/paint all cabinets in kitchen
5. Paint living room / dining room / bedroom / bathroom / other bedroom / kitchen
6. Re tile bathroom walls
7. Unpack boxes in back bedroom and attic
8. Sew living room drapes (have fabric already)
9. Have a washer/dryer

Maybe I was unrealistic about what would get done the first year. I know we could have done more. If we had spend weekends and weeknights and really pushed to get things done. But we're busy and I guess it wasn't a priority. Some things are starting to be come a priority again, like the kitchen and bathroom, but it's that time of year when I don't have a lot of time again, so we'll see.

September 9, 2008

What is better, old or new?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008 Posted by Ryan , , , , No comments
While removing the old shingles from the house during the great re-roofing of aught eight ('08) I also started the process of removing the aluminum trim added with the last roof. I think the last roof was possibly installed in the late sixties or early seventies. I meet some resistance when I insisted the aluminum be removed with cries of, "but it's low/no maintenance. You'll never have to paint." Yeah, but it looks like aluminum trim. Metal trim will never look like wood. I walk past houses and can immediately see that the house has vinyl or aluminum siding. That sheen, the false clapboard shadows, the siding width inconsistent with the architecture of the house. It just looks fake, it looks wrong, and I don't want that on my house.

Removing all the 40-year-old aluminum trim exposed all the weathered trim with flaking peeling paint - which is why the aluminum went up in the first place. I have to re-paint the trim and soffits soon but the windows can wait. I can't take the aluminum off until I remove the aluminum storm windows, which will wait until I get new ones. Since the house is brick (tan with red accents - not white brick like I mistakenly told someone looking for my house once) I won't be changing the body color ever. No, no, no on the painted brick. The top layer of chipped paint on the trim is white. It's petty, but I don't want white trim. Everyone has white trim, it just seems so easy, so common. The bottom layer (original) paint on the trim is off-white. Okay, that's a little better. I tried thinking of other trim colors that would work like tans, and browns but that could get heavy and could be hard to match to the dirty/filthy creamy tan color of the brick. So off-white/lite cream it is.

The main trim wraps around the bottom of the roof and the soffits. One of the surprises was that the fascia board has an ogee profile (think crown molding) and the soffits are bead board. Fancy, but scraping the old paint will be a little more of a pain in the ass. Although I'll carry the cream paint to the window trim I want to do something different on the window casements - you know, the window part of the window. The house has inward swinging casement windows instead of the more common double-hung sash window. While scraping the interior of the bathroom window last weekend I hit the exterior of the window with the sander to knock off some blistering paint and noticed that under the bright green top layer was a more subtle light green paint. I'm starting to think the exterior of the house was only painted the two times - when the house was built and then again in the 40s or early 50s - and then came the aluminum.

While I hate the current green color (type "bright green" in Google image search and the first four results...that's the color of my windows right now and with 8-9 panes each that's a lot of green)I am still open to the light green option. However, originally the roof was green too. Green stained cedar shakes. While ripping off the layers of roofing we found:
1. Green shakes
2. Red diamond shaped asphalt shingles (French Method)with an embossed wave pattern
3. Green interlocking (T-lock) asphalt shingles with a large embossed wood grain pattern
4. Red (w/ black & green flecks) 3-tab shingles

If you are interested in the history of asphalt shingles, I found this engrossing article from Old House Journal.

So now that the roof is red, I'm thinking of red for the windows too. Perhaps like the persimmon shade I painted the back door (I'll get a picture of it soon.)


I found an excerpt from The Household Painter (1923), by A. Ashmun Kelly on the Old-House Journal website with some advice on selecting house colors:

  • Color choices should not be made by personal preference alone.
  • Exterior colors should be chosen according to the style of the house.
  • Location of the house and the surroundings should weigh in on the decision.
  • In suburban settings, colors should harmonize with nearby houses, not duplicate them—cooperate, don't compete.
  • Large houses painted in medium to dark colors recede into the background.
  • Large houses painted in light colors stand apart from the background.

September 8, 2008

How to stay warm all winter with one log*

Monday, September 08, 2008 Posted by Ryan , , , , , 1 comment
I've always been a bit of an energy control freak. Given total control of the thermostat has resulted in a 65F temp while at home and 55F while sleeping or at work. I know, that's cold. I don't heat the finished attic and closed the vents in the unused back bedroom and in the kitchen since we're in there infrequently. We have a friend who demands the heat turned up if she comes to our house. Despite my strict controls over the 7-day programmable, touch-screen thermostat We still paid $945 for heating oil last year.

When we bought the house last year I had mixed feelings over the oil fired furnace. I've never had oil heat and it's not that common here on the west coast. I did a little online research and heard a lot of people touting the comfort of oil heat, the competitive price of oil vs natural gas and yet we were already seeing rising gas prices so I knew it wouldn't be cheap. I planned on replacing it (it was 20 years old) but I thought I could hold out though, for a little while. Just a few years of oil might be okay and give me time to make a decision on the next type of furnace. I didn't want to jump to the default of natural gas (the most common choice) since we do have inexpensive electric on the west coast too. None of that mattered though when I saw No. 1 heating oil prices nearing $5/gallon this summer. The price has come down some since (to around $4/gallon) but that could still cost us an additional $430 this winter and believe me, the house is never really warm.

I had a sales rep from a local heating company come to the house to do a quote last week. I wanted to know what all my options were so I could compare the price breaks between the regular, efficient, and super-efficient options. I asked around to get a ball park idea of what it might cost but I was still scared it would be more than I thought, or that I might be required to replace duct work throughout the house. So 80% efficiency is considered normal or average for a furnace and then there's a jump up to 92% efficiency which is energy efficient and if you add a variable speed fan you get another 3%. The price break from 80% to 92% is $450 and then from 92% to 95% is $1100 + $212 for a new thermostat.

I want to be super efficient. I want that variable speed fan. However, that $1300 could be better spent on other things like weather stripping, new storm windows, insulation for the attic. It would take so long to see a return on that additional cost but just moving from the ~60-70% efficient oil furnace to a 92% gas furnace, we will recoup our money in less than 6 years (and I hope that is a conservative estimate). oh, and the local utility company offers a $400 rebate for any gas furnace over 90% AFU making the price difference between the 80% and 92% so small I don't see how anyone could choose the less efficient one. Now I have to call and schedule the installation I guess.

*Carry the log upstairs and throw it out a window. Retrieve the log and repeat.
-Farmers Almanac