Posts made in February, 2014

We Bought a House

Posted on Feb 5, 2014 in House | 2 comments

If you’re on the great FB, you know this. THE DREAM IS OURS!

Last week, we closed on our “new” home. It was built in 1915 so we’re very excited to be able to hold its centennial celebration next year (look for an Evite soon!). We’re now located in what’s called the Hollywood District of Portland. We weren’t too familiar with the area prior to finding this home because there are great schools in the vicinity, and that had been an indicator of being out of our price range. We did end up paying a tiny bit more than we wanted (our budget was set by ourselves to be artificially low so we’d be able to enjoy life… I’ll just have to drink a bit less beer now, which is difficult considering there are more breweries in this town than any other in the world), but the trick [by the selling agent] was that the home was listed at far below value. We looked, got hooked, and rode the wave upward. We still got a heck of a deal as the home appraised at a car’s worth more than what we paid; when we share that info with local real estate, mortgage, and title people, they’re shocked to hear that as usually it is only less or maybe $1-2k more. So… instant equity. Not a bad way to start. I’ll likely do a full write-up on home buying sometime soon, but for now I’ll talk about home itself.

The listing says it is three bedrooms, one bath, and 2300 square feet. One of those is true. One bath. The third bedroom is a finished attic space that we’ll likely use as a bedroom someday, but it really isn’t one. For now, I’m using it as my office and we’ll call it our hobby/secondary TV room. The square footage counts a massive unfinished basement, which features an existing workbench that I’ve already setup for use, tons of boxes, and a barely functional washer/dryer combo… More on those below. The size is almost too big for us now, but we’ve never had too much space so it’s a welcome predicament. It’ll be perfectly sized with a single kid, and if we go for two, we may need to look at finishing the basement as my office would likely get pushed out of the attic. We could dormer the attic, but we’d need another bathroom and the basement is much easier for that.

The house has amazing hardwoods and Craftsman-style detail preserved throughout. It’s really a place you walk into and say “Wow, that’s nice.” We love the charm… and we have already setup the guest bedroom so we hope you come soon to love it too 🙂

A 99 year old home is a handful. Ours is far better off than most we’ve seen, but over the past week we’ve been going pretty much nonstop between moving, unpacking, and repairs. I can’t speak for Heather (she has been just as busy as me, especially since she started a new job the day after we moved in) as I don’t have her to-do list in front of me, but here’s a glimpse at mine:

Day 3 [after moving boxes for two days]

  1. Install new dryer cord – Our dryer was left here unplugged and the plug that was left with it was not correct for the house. Odd. $20 at Home Depot buys you a new appliance cord. You just need to make sure you know what your outlet looks like. Take a picture with your phone. The differences have amperage details associated, but just match the prongs. Three machine screws are all that are involved. One of ours was cross-threaded and I ended up tearing it. We jury rigged a nut and bolt to work for now, but…
  2. Diagnose dryer not blowing hot and order part – I had never worked on a dryer before. They’re actually pretty simple devices if you can look past the half dozen failsafes they have. You’ve really just got a motor, blower, and a heating element. If you’re not blowing hot air, it is because a sensor has tripped (and they usually aren’t resettable/must be replaced) or your heating element/coil is shot. To test, you grab your multimeter and go to town testing continuity through each sensor and the element. My sensors all tested fine so I broke open the heating element and travelled down it until I no longer received a reading. Sure enough, the coil had burnt out and was severed. Hop on Amazon, order that $20 part, wait, plug it in, tie it all back up, and you’re good to go. Note: I seem to have gotten a crazy deal. You can expect to pay $50-100 for an element. If I had been looking at $100, we may have considered a new dryer.
  3. Repair lazy susan – Someone ripped the hinges out of the cabinetry while touring. Luckily, the cabinet wood was not damaged too badly and I was able to simply reattach.
  4. Figure out cabinet hinge popping – When you open our cabinets all the way and close them, you’re shocked with the nastiest plastic popping noise in the world. Fix? Read the label on the hinge. Blum. Do some Googling on “Blum hinge popping noise” and find that these are the original design of the hinge and are defective. Blum is an American company, they offer lifetime warranties, and these hinges will all be replaced for free.
  5. Cabinet shelves fall down – Some turkey lost the plastic pegs that hold them in place. Order those. Find that their peg is too deep for your cabinet. Buy some others at Home Depot. Find that their peg is also too deep (you weren’t paying attention when you bought these, were you, Michael?) and too narrow. We need another trip to Home Depot.
  6. Drill entertainment center cabinet hole. I use an antique dresser [sans its legs] as our entertainment center. In previous residences, I left the top drawers out of the unit and placed all my equipment in them. It was a pretty nice solution, but a bit unrefined so I was aiming for better. This time I chose to stack equipment on the dresser (we have much less equipment now), but needed a place to hide wires and power bricks. A CABINET. Except the cabinets are so tight fitting that it wouldn’t close. Solution? Pick up a nicely sized spade bit and cut half of a round hole in the top edge of the back of the cabinet. Wires run through that and we’re good to go. I did have a bit of a heat issue with our cable amplifier so I ended up removing that and tucking it behind the whole unit. We’re good now. Note: a 9.6V drill is good for very little. My grandfather’s corded Craftsman drill that predates me is a beast. I’m now shopping for a badassed cordless drill. If you’re looking to buy us a housewarming gift, look no further than here (need a battery and charger too… what’s another $hundred+?).
  7. Setup Xbox and cable – The Xbox One means to be your media center. Your cable actually routes through it and the Xbox provides its own interface to your cable experience. It is a much quicker UI than your cable box’s (most of them, anyway) and can be voice activated, which has very mixed results.
  8. Clean grease stain off of sofa – Our cross-country movers were terrible. They damaged quite a bit and that included a massive grease stain on a visible portion of our sofa. Oxiclean gel stick is the bomb. I’ve treated it once and the stain is nearly gone. I need to treat again and I’m sure it’ll vanish.
  9. Hook up new stereo system – We had an awesome 5.1 system previously. Amazing receiver, big towers, really nice sized surrounds, pumping sub… Except we don’t want the stereo to dominate our living room anymore. That stuff will all be for sale shortly. To replace it, we picked up on open-box Vizio S451w-B4 5.1 sound bar. I know what you’re thinking… no sound bar is 5.1. You’re correct. 5.1 is a physical description of what you’ve got going on (five speakers and a subwoofer). The catch with this is that it is the only [as far as I could find] sound bar that has rear speakers. Retail is $300. I honestly feel it is the best stereo money you could spend today. Not only is it minimal and pretty good looking, but the subwoofer and rear speakers are wireless so no drilling or running cables under your rugs. There is a little static when you hold the rears to your ear with no signal pumping through them, but if you have them any further than that or have good signal (volume not near muted) going to them, you can’t hear a thing. I’d like a bit more fine tuning of the settings (bass seems to differ greatly when you switch between optical and Bluetooth inputs), but again, for a $300 setup, this cannot be beat.
  10. Install test/cleanout cap/plug on sewer drain – The first time I attempted to do a load of laundry, I discovered a small flood surrounding the test cap of our sewer drain. This particular sewer pipe only serves the washer and our kitchen so there was no concern of human waste or cleanup, but still… that ain’t cool. A couple of things going on here. First, our test cap was non-functional. It was old and corroded. Remove it, measure the inner diameter of the pipe, head to Home Depot, and $5 later you have a brand spanking new cap. Install it, run a load of laundry, and… Only a minute overflow this time. The cap itself is sealed, but I think the pipe may be damaged. No worries, for there is another fix that I had planned anyway. A utility sink. Old pipes cannot handle the water output from modern washers. Fact. A utility sink regulates the water flowing down the drain by letting gravity do the work as opposed to the washer’s pump. Much more controlled. How this house didn’t already have a utility sink, I don’t know. One is on order. I’ll cut a foot or so off the pipe that the washer currently drains into, route the sink into it, route the washer into the sink, and voila. For now, the sink will simply be a drain. When I feel up to it, I’ll redo the plumbing at the washer (the taps need to be replaced so while it could be as simple as a couple of Y-adapters and hoses, I’d rather do it correctly and all in a single effort) and put a spigot on the sink.
  11. Secure the electrical panel – It wasn’t secure. Every man should have a couple bins of various fasteners. If you don’t, go to Home Depot and buy their multipacks of metric and standard nuts and bolts, washers, machine screws, and wood screws. Also pick up a few boxes of various nails. A couple of longer new bolts and washers here did the trick.
  12. Convert 2-prong receptacle to 3-prong – This is a hack and does not meet code, but as long as you know you’ve done it, there’s really no harm. Don’t use the outlet near water or with ancient raggedy old equipment. This is an outlet halfway up the wall in the living room. Rather than have use an adapter and deal with a loose old 2-prong, just swap it out. Turn off the power, unscrew it, note your positive and negatives (take pics with cell phone so you can reference), and put it all back in the wall. Most newer electrical devices don’t even use the third terminal if they fault. NBD. My solution certainly beat fishing a new cable to the outlet.

Day 4 [after moving a cargo van of our remaining items out of storage]

  1. Assemble new bed.
  2. Assemble new dining room table.
  3. Repair back door latch – Remember what I said about every man needing various fasteners? For real. If wood is stripped out, go with a longer wood screw. That was the trick here.
  4. Secure workbench shelf – There was a shelf installed at some point on the workbench. It was barely secured. The person did a nice job making it, but missed what seems to have been the final step. VARIOUS WOOD SCREWS. Sink ’em. Secured.

Day 5 [Super Bowl… take it easy]

  1. Build my fancy heirloom/family lamp – A tapped piece of this broke in transit. Threads were damaged and the “bolt” was bent. Cover a vice grip in a towel, CLAMP, and keep trying. After about thirty minutes, I got the piece nearly back to round and was able to get enough threads to engage. I hope to never have to move this lamp again. Every man, in addition to their sets of fasteners, should have multiple rolls of blue paper shop towels. Not only do they clean stuff up, but they’re great for applying a lot of force to things with pliers and not damaging them with metal on metal contact and force.

Day 6

  1. Install heater element in dryer – Buttoning the dryer back up was cake. And the fix worked. Hopefully we bought another few years from this unit.
  2. Install new machine screw nut – Remember that one of the screws on our dryer power input was cross-threaded and I ended up ripping it? Well, that also means the nut was no good. They’re available for roughly $.20/ea at Home Depot. A little tricky to install yourself as it is a job much better suited to three hands, but I got it done.
  3. Replace dryer hose – Measure before you do this. Ours was full of holes and likely full of lint. We bought an 8′ replacement, which doesn’t have an inch to spare. We’ll likely need another once I install the utility sink because I’ll need to shuffle the machines over a bit. No, we didn’t measure.
  4. Install new dishwasher wheel – Ours was missing two. We only thought it was missing one. Amazon has these. Search for your brand and match up the picture. You’ll pay about $5 shipped unless you have something fancy or buy a complete set. I ordered another.

Day 7

  1. Install shower head – The one that came with the house is very nice and also brand new, but it is too low for me. I installed our old one, which angles upward. Unfortunately, it’s now about 8 years old and leaking. The washers look good so it may simply be time to replace it. I’m pretty sure the one that came with the house is also not low-flow, which was contributing to our hot water issue that I’ll mention later.
  2. Install Nest – The house had a pretty good programmable thermostat, but… Nest. Thermostats are so easy, and the Nest is even easier than most. Cut the power, take a picture of the old wiring (just in case you fail or the new thermostat isn’t compatible with your system and/or your wires are colored incorrectly), pop off the old, measure your mounting holes, mount, plug in wires, and do what it says. Usually it’ll say you’re money. Ours said our yellow wire had no power. Uhhh. Quick search of Nest’s site tells me that the yellow wire is for cooling. We don’t have cooling. Can I just tell it to ignore this? No. I pop the wire off and tuck it away. Done. Our Nest seems to have seized up a bit in transit and storage, but the company is great and while it doesn’t greatly affect our use of it, they’re going to send a replacement.
  3. Stop up hole at back door – We have a mouse-sized hole right under our back door. With the most mild climate in all of the US (~25 degree swing between winter and summer averages), sealing doors and windows isn’t a great concern. But a hole at ground level? Animals. I like ’em, but not that much. My long-term solution will be some caulk or a piece of wood. My short-term solution was a balled up bit of packing cellophane. Don’t judge.

And I also work full-time…

My to-do list is shrinking, which is awesome. There’s still plenty to do, but the low hanging fruit has mostly been picked and the house is feeling much more comfortable for it.

Up next, we have our chimneys being repaired. This is being paid for by the seller via closing costs, but we opted to have a fancy cable-operated cap/damper installed since the house doesn’t have any sort of protection at the top already so there will be a few bucks out of our pockets. Our main chimney will be heavily repaired and our vent chimney will be removed from the roof up and replaced with a small pipe. We’re planning to do something creative with the removed bricks… Fire pit?

And then our roof needs to be replaced. Again, paid for by the seller as part of closing. We just need to get around to scheduling it and picking some shingles.

As far as work for us to do, I have a leaking washer to diagnose and repair (much more difficult than a dryer… maybe just replace?), install the utility sink when it arrives, install and repair some GFCI outlets, repair some regular outlets and switches, continue unpacking, and finally clean. Getting rid of all our boxes and materials will be a fun little mission too.

Long term, we don’t have much hot water despite having a relatively new water heater (only 40 gallons, but we’re definitely not getting that out of it since it is maxed on temp and we can’t get two showers back to back), the water line coming into our house is very restricted by corrosion so we’ll need to replace that and might as well schedule redoing all of our clean plumbing with flexible lines at the same time, and last but not least, the home’s electrical is rather dated so we’d like to do a full replacement of that eventually too.

In response to “How do you know how to do that stuff?” Google. There is answer for everything out there. Many of them come with videos. Supply a part or model number and explain your issue, and you’ll find an answer nine times out of ten. With a nice set of tools (not Chinese, store-brand, or off-brand) and some patience, anyone can save themselves a ton of money and fix nearly anything they own; homes, computers, cars, bicycles, etc. Very few repairs I’ve encountered require a learned skill or special tool. Sure, you can likely get them done 3x faster with proper experience, but that’s for you to decide… Do you feel like a challenge? Is the item you’re going to work on even worth your time? Is it worth someone else’s time? With practice, the bar of what you can do and how fast is constantly improved, your wallet is made heavier, and your wife will give you more thanks.

Yes, I realized I have been all “man,” and “husband” in this post. This is my blog, I’m a man, and my experience is that most of the above is stuff that men do. SEXISM! No, just an observation. Women can be handy and I think it is awesome and sexy when they are. Heather is eager to watch me get my hands dirty in order to learn and isn’t afraid to get hers nasty too, but… I’ve digressed like I like to do so back to the subject at hand.

We’re loving the house and the neighborhood. It is really starting to feel like home. We’ve met a few neighbors so far and they’re all incredibly friendly, and one even came over and helped us carry a heavy load! You don’t see that in NoVA! The little things are slowing down and we’ve been able to start to get back to living after only a week. I can’t wait for more of it all.

How To: Turn off a MacBook’s internal display when using external monitor

Posted on Feb 3, 2014 in Tech | 0 comments

WARNING: Only attempt this with a laptop that has an SSD. If you do not know what SSD means or need to check a manufacturer’s website to find if you have one, read no further.

There are certain things that nag many Mac users that seem like simple fixes, but Apple never seems to address them. For me, that’s using an external monitor with a MacBook.

Yes, you can use clamshell mode. You hook up your monitor and then close your laptop. That’s a nice and clean solution EXCEPT that it causes your wireless throughput to cut in half. Such is life with a unibody metal design. When you close it, signals have a heck of a time getting in and out.

Yes, you could dim the display until it turns off. Unfortunately, that’s not actually off and you’ll lose your mouse from time to time when it wanders over into no man’s land. Good luck getting it back without looking like you’re having a seizure at your desk.

The best solution that I’ve found? A magnet. Get a small and low powered magnet. Somewhere on your machine (it seems Apple has been putting it near the audio jack lately), and with a certain polarity (you may need to swipe around and/or flip the magnet over, you’ll get the laptop to think you have closed it. The screen will turn off, you’ll still have full wireless signal, and you’ll be able to leave it open and not worry about losing your mouse. In order to turn the screen back on, open and close the laptop, or flip the magnet over and the “open” magnet should trigger somewhere around the same place as the closing one. You do not need to leave the magnet sitting on the device. Once you trick it, you can put the magnet away.

Why the warning? Oh, only because magnets and computers do not mix. With a machine that is entirely solid-state (I have a MacBook Air), you’re fine, but you really do not want a magnet anywhere near a traditional spinning hard drive because “OOPS!” there goes your data.