Archive for May, 2005

Empty Spaces

Monday, May 30th, 2005

I spent today putting the finishing touches on the attic in preparation for getting the air conditioning installed. After perforating my skull on yet another protruding nail, I took the time to pull hundreds of panelling nails out of the rafters. I then set to work pulling up the two pieces of carpet, one of which was attached to the floor with wire nails.

With all the big stuff out of the attic, it was time to tend to the dust, dirt, bits of wood, nails, peanut shells (from squirrels that apparently lived there before we moved in) and general crud that covered the attic floor from one end to the other. We’re talking about 50+ years of filth. To give you an idea of just how filthy it was, here’s a before and after picture of the rear attic windows:

And now, on to the cleaning. Supplies included:

  • 1 Shop VAC
  • 1 Shop VAC HEPA filter
  • 1 2.5″ Shop VAC hose
  • 1 pr. gloves
  • 1 set of grubby-old clothes
  • 1 old hat
  • 1 pr. safety glasses
  • 1 pr. ear plugs

I basically started in the Northeast corner of the attic, worked my way South, and then West. After a while I achieved a zen-like calm as my mind wandered farther and farther away from the mindless task at hand. M. made me lovely lunch which I ate in the backyard because I was so covered in dirt I was sure I’d destroy the kitchen–when I first came down from the attic, I looked like I’d been rolling around in a coal mine.

It took over 6 hours to finish cleaning (including the time pulling all the nails and disposing of the carpet), but this is what the attic looks like now:

You can even see where some previous owners cut holes in the floor for one reason or other (See the before pictures for comparison). While the floor is for the most part sound, before we finish the attic (in a few years), we’re either going to have to replace the entire floor or put a layer of plywood over it.

So we’re now officially ready for the AC guys to install. Woohoo!

Sow What?

Sunday, May 29th, 2005

With all the other work that needs to be done at the Old Man, taking the time to do some gardening feels like an indulgence. Yesterday I borrowed a sod cutter and a rototiller from J. and R. (The folks who took the swingset). J. even graciously seeded some tomatoes and peppers for us–now that’s what I call a friend.

Thanks to a forecast of afternoon rain, M. and I hit the backyard at about 7:45 this morning, fully expecting to spend all day today and all of Memorial day working on the garden.

Our first task was to remove the sod in the part of the yard where we want to put the garden. Since our entire backyard is shaded by a huge 80-foot tall maple tree, we needed to put the garden near the alley about 5 feet in front of the fence so that we could make sure that it gets adequate sunlight. The sod cutter I borrowed from J. is a decidedly low-tech device and I expected it to take a few hours to clear our 5′ x 12′ vegetable garden.

Imagine my surprise when I finished in 15 minutes.

Granted, this thing isn’t cheap, but that’s not really an issue if you can borrow someone else’s! We rolled up the sod and made a trip to the local Garden Center where we picked up herbs for M.’s herb garden, then it was on to Home Depot for 600 pounds of topsoil, 80 pounds of composted manure, and 4.5 cubic feet of peat moss. I first rototilled the garden down to a depth of about 6 inches, then I top-dressed it with the manure, 1/2 the topsoil, and 1/2 the peat moss, and tilled that under until the soil was soft and squooshy.

We took the rolled up sod and resodded the dirt spots where the swingset was and where the electrician dug up the yard to run the new electrical line to the garage. We came up about 2 square feet short, but if this sod takes, the yard should look a heckuvalot better than it used to.

M. planted the tomatoes, peppers, chives, shallots, and even a few leeks while I rototilled the garden that runs along the South border of our yard. After giving it the topsoil and peat treatment, I seeded all 65 feet of the garden with a wildflower seed mix. I really hope the seed takes as I just don’t have the time (or the energy) to plant the darned thing.

Thanks to the sod cutter and the rototiller, we finished by 2:00 and were in bed for a long nap by 3:00.

Naps are so choice. If you have the time, I highly recommend taking one.

Breathe in the Air

Thursday, May 26th, 2005

No pleasure, no rapture, no exquisite sin greater… than central air.

–Azrael, Dogma

Despite the evident Biblical repercussions, M. and I have decided to get central air conditioning installed in The Old Man. After a ton of research and 4 separate quotes, we’ve decided on a vendor to install a Space Pak high velocity system. We never really considered a conventional duct system, so it came down to Space Pak or Unico system, and our chosen vendor does both, but recommended Space Pak.

Quite frankly, even after doing tons of research and asking a bunch of people which they preferred, the jury’s out on which one is better. Our nephew, S., who does HVAC for a living claims that the differences are mostly in the marketing materials. On top of that, we have several friends who have Space Pak, and they love it, so it’s obviously not a *bad* system. As long as it cools the house without sounding like a 747 is landing, I’ll consider it a success. Whatever the case, if all goes well, by the end of June, we’ll have air conditioning installed.

Where Did May Go?

Thursday, May 26th, 2005

Wow, what a month. I’ve been completely swamped and have hardly spent any time working on The Old Man.

The week before last, M. and I spent some time out in the yard: I turned over most of the garden on the South side of the yard (which is nothing but a 90 foot strip of dirt) while M. weeded the yard. We’re basically struggling to make sure the lawn doesn’t die from neglect while the rest of our neighbors seem to be competing for the cover of Home and Garden magazine. This weekend we’re hoping to pull up some sod in the back corner of the yard and get some semblance of a vegetable garden started, but that might be a little ambitious for two people with as little free time as the two of us.

The attic is coming along nicely. Last weekend M. and I managed to get the rest of the panelling and framing ripped out (and thrown out of the rear attic window). So now our attic is mostly empty except for a few hundred pounds of dust and dirt, so this weekend it’s back up there with the Shop Vac. And the Advil. Another few hours of work and we should have a relatively clean attic ready for the air conditioning installers to do their magic.

The Big Red Fan of Death

Wednesday, May 4th, 2005

Last year, a mere two weeks after we purchased The Old Man, I was at a conference in Oregon. At that conference I ran into my friend Chris who I hadn’t seen or spoken to in months, mainly because he had moved to England earlier in the year. We greeted each other and when Chris asked how I was doing I told him that we had finally found a house and we were really excited about it. And he blurts out,

“Oh yeah! I heard about The Big Red Fan of Death!”

Now seeing as Chris has been living in Europe and I haven’t spoken to him about the house AT ALL, much less about THE BIG RED FAN OF DEATH, my brain pretty much stalled and proceeded to do flip-flops for a moment.

How did Chris know about The Big Red Fan of Death? Was he a spy? Was The Old Man bugged? Was my neighbor with the tin-foil hat really onto something?

The only people that knew about The Big Red Fan of Death were (the four) people who had actually been to my house, and Chris did not (to my knowledge) know any of those people, nor was he one of those people.

I looked at Chris and drooled intently for a moment.

After regaining my voice, I managed to stutteringly ask Chris how on earth he knew about The Big Red Fan of Death.

“Err, um… how di.. did… fa-fa-fan???”

To make a really long story only slightly shorter, it turns out that he found out about The Big Red Fan of Death from Greg, a friend of mine that Chris didn’t even know.

Greg had been in town the month that we closed on the house, and he had stopped by The Old Man while I was ripping out the basement ceiling. Greg had been so very impressed by The Big Red Fan of Death that, upon returning to the West Coast, he regaled an entire party with a story about his visit to The Big Red Fan of Death. Chris had, of course, met Greg at that party.

And so The Legend of The Big Red Fan of Death was born.

When we first saw The Old Man, we noticed that he had no central air conditioning. We knew that we’d want to install central air, but figured that the ceiling fans would help keep us cool provided we could get some breeze through the windows.

When we opened the door to the walk-up attic, we were greeted not by a light switch, but by a strange clock-like protuberance on the wall:

Odd, but not the strangest thing we’d seen in a house–perhaps some sort of light timer? However, eight steps into the attic, we found ourselves facing another door. After opening the second attic door, I stepped up into the attic, and before I could vocalize the question of why anyone would put a second attic door halfway up the stairs, I saw why: I saw The Big Red Fan of Death.

Now it may be hard to get a sense of scale from this picture, so here’s another picture with my cordless drill (fearing for its very life, I might add) sitting in front of The Maw of The Big Red Fan of Death:

For those of you who are counting, that’s a whopping thirty-six inch diameter, twelve inch deep fan blade. It’s powered by a small motor that’s mounted to the base of the fan. This remarkably quiet motor drives the fan by means of a fan belt:

So, by opening the main attic door and closing the second attic door (on the steps), you effectively make the fan the only means for air to pass into (or out of) the attic. Open the attic windows and a few windows in the house, and you can turn on The Big Red Fan of Death, and draw a profound amount of Fresh-Air through the house. I know it’s Fresh-Air because The Big Red Fan of Death says so:

If you stand in the attic doorway while The Big Red Fan of Death is on, you can actually feel the air pulling you into the stairwell. Since we don’t have any kids (or small pets, or birds, or elk), we used The Big Red Fan of Death a few times last fall before we moved in (despite the fact that our home inspector wrote DO NOT USE in HUGE letters on our inspection report). It works amazingly well at drawing the hot, stale air out of the house. Whoever installed it was obviously a genius.

Except for one small detail–the small detail that puts the “Death” into The Big Red Fan of Death.

It has no safety features. None. At. All. You could easily lose a finger in this fan. Or an arm. Or a small child. Or a Zebra.

It has no screen, no grill, no grate, no bars, no warning label, no nothing; zero, zip, nada, a big fat goose egg. What’s the international symbol for “decapitation hazard” anyway?

This is the kind of fan that would make Darwin proud.

But maybe I’m being short-sighted here–if you had kids in this house, you could really take advantage of having a Big Red Fan of Death handy:

Mom: Eat the rest of your vegetables!

Son: Plblblblblbttt! I don’t have to!

Mom: You will eat your vegetables right this minute or I will feed you and your vegetables to The Big Red Fan of Death.


Dad: Pick up your room!

Son: I don’t wannnnaaaa!

Dad: Remember what I did to your former sister when she didn’t clean up her room?

Son: Sir! Yes Sir! Picking up Sir!

And that’s the story of The Big Red Fan of Death.