Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Plum, Plum, Plumbing! AC!

As per the inspector's recommendation, we had to change the route of the temperature and pressure relief (TPR) valve drain. As it was, it went up to the roof, and that was against the code since 2001. The heater was installed in 2005! Shame on you, water heater installer!
So yesterday we gave Lloyd the plumber $385 and this is what he did:

Actually, times two. This is the closet in one of the two adjacent bedrooms that are directly against the water heater closet. The TPR valve drain starts to the left and continues to the right where it goes into the next bedroom closet, and then through a hole to the outside of the house.

Now we have to fix it!

Lloyd also installed a pressure regulator on the main water source because the pressure was too high (as per inspector's diagnosis). This caused a few problems, one of which I will talk about some other time. The other was the evaporative cooler's float that wasn't set up for the lower pressure and started to act up, which caused the cooler to shut down. Temperature in the house got to 96 degrees F (about 35 C?). Mark had to go up to the roof to adjust the float to the lower pressure.

Hopefully this problem will not recur because now we have a new AC! A good, energy-efficient AC, to be precise. The evaporative cooler idea is nice, but it really doesn't work all that well when you need it most - when it's hottest in Tucson it's also the most humid. AC works much better in these conditions.

This nice looking system cost us about $5200, but will qualify us for a $1500 tax refund!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Kitchen Demolition - Part I

We got the estimate back for remodeling the kitchen, and were struck by the amount we'd have to spend for someone to wreck our old kitchen down. Pay $2700 for someone else to have all the fun? No way! So yesterday we started knocking it down ourselves! Yes, we removed all the wall cabinets in just a few hours!

First, we had to put all our kitchen stuff away:

As you can see, a lot of it is not even unpacked yet.

Here's a BEFORE picture:

The doors had to go first:

The hood, on the right, was a pain in the b**t to remove! It was also the black widow's house.
Note the handsome new refrigerator!

Removing the doors from the base cabinets was much simpler - their screws weren't painted over like the wall cabinets, so Mark could use his favorite toy, featured here.

Next, removing the cabinets. Our kitchen was built 50 year ago, and it wasn't the kind that you'd buy from the store and screw to the wall. This one was built on the wall. Which means, we had to remove a lot of nails!

Here's what it looked like AFTER:

We started removing some of the tile, just to get a feeling for it. Next weekend we'll do the rest of the tile and the base cabinets.

After removing all the wall cabinets we ended up with 2 sets of shelves for the garage and a bunch of boards that can be used later for a chicken tractor!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

These Things Take Time

Take for example the ordering of carpets. Our house has carpets in all three bedrooms. They don't look too bad, but also not very good. To start with, they're not very high quality. So we wanted to replace them from the start. Naively I thought that I can get them replaced even before we move (what, we had 3 days from the time we got the keys till we actually moved in!), but I was soon disillusioned when we talked with the carpet person at the Home Depot: first one needs to get the rooms measured, then it takes about two weeks to get the carpets prepared, and only then can they be installed. OK, so there goes my plan to move into a house with new carpets!
Never mind, we can keep all our books still packed in the garage for a few week.
Soon after we moved we visited the Home Depot again, this time the one in Tucson, and scheduled a measuring appointment. We chose a carpet that is on sale now - it is of good quality - with a 15-year wear warranty - we like the way it looks, AND it is made entirely of recycled materials. But of course the main reason we chose it was its sale price:$1.88 per square foot. You can't get any lower than that with 15-year warranty.
The measuring people were supposed to come a couple of days later, but we postponed their visit due to an unexpected problem: ASBESTOS! Yes, we have asbestos tiles under the carpet. This is not uncommon for houses built 50 years ago. What worried us immensely was the fact that the tiles were damaged during the installation of the present carpets. In fact, it is so damaged that we could take a piece for testing ($25, through Environmental Strategies). One option is to completely remove the tile. This is a long and tedious process that is preferably done by professionals who wear wet suits, masks and such. The rooms have to be shut closed with plastic to avoid any asbestos dust getting to uninfected parts. The floor has to be wet before anything else is done, also to reduce dust formation. Did I mention it's also kind of expensive? We got two quotes of $12K and $16K.
We were then advised to leave the floor as is, and cover the broken parts with the material used by carpet installers to level the floor. This makes sense, because once the asbestos is covered and held in place, and protected from damage that can make it friable, it is safe.
OK, so the measurers can now come and measure the rooms.
We measured the rooms too.
The measurers results were then sent to the installing company, who decides how much carpet is needed. Carpets come in rolls that are 12' wide, so it's a matter of how long it needs to be.
We didn't like the way they laid out the carpet. It was very wasteful, and required us to buy 42' of carpet, while we calculated that 34.75' would be enough. So we went back to Home Depot and talked to some carpet guy. It wasn't Amy, who we ordered the measuring through. This guy didn't give the impression of understanding what we're saying. Instead, he just nodded and said: "sure, no problem!" and "I get you". He did not get us, because by the time we got back home there was a message on our phone from him, saying he talked to someone and they explained to him why they couldn't do what we suggested to make the layout less wasteful.
So we had to go again to Home Depot, this time when Amy was there. We talked to her, and she seemed to be more knowledgeable and understanding. But she had to send out our comments to the measuring people, who will then have to approve it and then send it to the installing people, and only then can we know how much carpet we'd need to get.
Another day or two. Finally, last Tuesday we went back, they had the numbers for us, and we'd end up getting 37' of carpet. That's more than we expected, but that's because we didn't include the extra 3" the take for every room (and every closet) just in case. Well, it's better than 42'!
We then chose a pad (the thicker one that comes with a protective layer) and the color (Malt), and finally made our order! Whew! Hopefully in two weeks we'd have them installed!

Sunday, July 19, 2009


First thing we noticed on the first night we moved in, is that the house is already occupied -- by hundreds of roaches! Not the kind I'm most familiar with, my friends from my PhD, the German roaches (though I probably would NOT consider them my friends if they came to visit), but brownbanded roaches. The pretty ones. I don't think they're pretty when they're in my kitchen (and, in fact, all over the house!). So we immediately declared a war, and filled our house with anti-roach WMDs.

What looks like shelters and tanks for roaches are actually COMBAT gel baits in roach motels and liquid baits (don't remember the brand), respectively. The white powder is a mix of flour, borax and sugar.

Boric acid goodies: The solution is based on one of Chad's papers, the "cookie" is a mix of the ingredients described above for the powder on the paper, with some water to make it stick. I don't think the roaches could eat it once it hardened.

We still see a few of them every now and then. I think we'll have to use the professional gel baits that Rick sent me.

A few days later, probably because of the potential for extra prey, we found a black widow dangling from inside the above-the-stove hood. [It looks like the perfect place for things to hide. I'm glad we're going to get rid of it soon.] She spun her webs directly onto our pots (which we kept on the stove, because we don't want to use any of the cabinets for the following two reasons: 1) there's no point in unpacking the kitchen boxes before we get our new kitchen installed; 2) there's too many roaches running around!) She didn't last very long... It wasn't easy to catch her in a jar, because of the position she assumed (though I did try to persuade her to get into a jar, baited with a roach -- it didn't work), so we just had to squish her -- well, Mark did it -- with a rolled piece of newspaper.

The black widow's hiding place. Nasty!

Another thing we noticed as soon as the sun went down on our first day in the house, was a hoard of beetles attacking every wall and window that happens to stand in their way. They looked familiar to me, and sure enough - they are Khumeini beetles (better known as Maladera matrida). It reminded me of my days in the dorms in Rehovot, when every summer the hallways and window sills were covered with beetles who did not make it in the fight against the hard surface... We don't see quite as much of them anymore - they were mostly abundant on our first few nights in Tucson.

One of the few we still see around - still banging into walls! One website described these beetles as a non-intelligently-designed specimen used as an example by non-creationists.

Here are a few more creatures we found and got to take pictures of:

A wiser black widow decided to build her web outside

A newly eclosed sphynx moth

Same moth, a few minutes later

Ha! Feels much better with some air in the wings!

Palo verde beetle -- one of the largest beetles in North America!

A cat, belongs to one of the neighbors, but spends a lot of time in our yard.

** I really shouldn't pretend I know all that much about insects... Turns out the scarab beetle I identified as
Maladera matrida does not really exist here in North America. Instead, there are apparently similar scarabs here that behave in a very similar way.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Our Little House

We moved into our new house last week, on the July 4th weekend. We got everything loaded on a U-Haul truck, thanks to the help of my hard-working (former) lab members the night before. When we got to the house, first thing we needed to do was to clean it up a bit, before we bring in stuff. For that, I needed a vacuum cleaner. I knew exactly were it was in the truck. I climbed on the truck to get it, but there were too many things in the way. I jumped off the truck (the ramp was latched) to call Mark to help me, and hit my knee on the towing bulb. Ouch! It really hurt, because it hit the knee. But then there was also blood coming out. Yuck! Mark came and thought he'd have to take me to the emergency room. It didn't look good. After a short while it didn't hurt much anymore. We wrapped it with a bunch of bandages (thankfully the box that contained the first aid kit was pretty accessible!) and I was ordered to sit still. How long can one sit still when there are so many things to do? Mark got the vacuum cleaner off the truck, and I went back to work, doing at first only light work. In the meantime, the Cox guy came over and started working on installing the internet and phone, and Martin, a custom-home builder who is also a handy handyman, came over to rekey the doors. Soon after that Mark's brother, Gregg, arrived and helped Mark unload the truck. I had a great excuse not to go on that truck again. I am now convinced that trucks are not for me. Last year I slipped as I came down the ramp. Yikes! Next time we move I'll be sure to get pods. They are so much nicer! Anyway, Here's a photo of my knee, as it looked a couple of days later.

Now enough about me! Let me tell you a bit about the house!
It's a 1000 square feet (90 square meters) 3 bedroom house, with a good-size back yard, and a nicely landscaped front yard. It is old, exactly 50 years old, and with age, as you know, come problems. This is one reason to start the blog - I wanted to write about all the different projects we're gonna be doing in the house. Maybe it can be helpful to others who plan to do similar things. Who knows? Later, when all the problems are solved, I plan to get started on some more interesting projects, like installing rain-water collection system, getting chickens, starting a vegetable garden, landscaping the back yard, etc. These things will surely supply me with plenty of writing material!

And now, finally, I stop babbling and show you some pictures!

A view of the house from the street.

A view of the back yard from our porch - plenty of room for a garden and a few chickens, don't you think?