Thursday, December 31, 2009

Chez Neumansky 2009 Top Ten List

Ya I know you're totally sick of top ten lists by now but hey, 'tis the season right?

So, in the spirit of the end-of-the-year season here's the Chez's top ten favorite/significant things that happened here this year.

10. This wasn't really a fun thing but a significant thing for sure. Our neighbors wonderful humongous Boxwood Alder tree falling in a storm and narrowly missing crushing us and our neighbor!

9. Cleaning up the attic and moving all our office stuff up there so that we could create a baby safe room on the main floor.

8. Dan took up the sport of 'Knife Catching' and caught a lot of flack about it.

7. Tasha's 2nd Burning Man was great fun for everyone! With no one going up in flames and no one getting arrested!

7a. All the super-fab low-budget ghetto make overs we did on the house.

6. The Super Great 4th of July party we had.

5. We FINALLY, FINALLY got the heat up and running and inspected after many, many, many months of work.

4. Halloween was the biggest, bestest, cutest Halloween Ever!

3. We discovered how much it was going to cost to have professionals redo our house and almost had heart attacks when looking at the number.

2. Learning how to pre-date posts so it looks like we got our end of the year list done before the end of the year!

And finally could #1 be anything else but...

1. Having a new member of the Chez Neumansky team!!!

Happy New Year to you and yours from all of us at Chez Neumansky!!!!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

We've Got Back Door Issues...

That sounds kinda naughty doesn't it? Or maybe I just have a dirty mind.

The back door to the house that enters through the kitchen is in bad shape. An incorrectly installed door sweep had turned the bottom part of the door into mush. The paint was wholesale failing over most of the door also. That's not too hard to believe as this door faces south and gets full sun and all the wind driven rain.

We got lucky and had a week of unusually warm weather-like in the 80's. This was fortunate as it allowed the door to dry out as much as possible before I had to paint it. Actually, by the end of the week the door had shrunk so much that it was easy to open and close against the new bottom threshold where initially it required a bit of work.

Here's the back door after I cleaned, scraped and sanded all the loose paint off that I could.

Here's a shot of the bottom part of the door. Why in the world would you make an exterior door out of this press board stuff? It soaks up water like a sponge and turns to mush!. With the door as dry as it was ever going to be I decided to paint it and hopefully it would soak up enough primer that this area would be protected-ish.

Here's an exciting picture of me rolling on the primer with a super cool mini roller. I used this thing to roll the primer on everything and it worked great and was way faster than doing it all with a brush. Like I thought, the bottom part of the door soaked up paint like a sponge. I think I put 3 heavy coats in that area...hopefully it will all dry before I have to close the door for the night, to keep the cats in and the cold air out.

I waited a week for the primer to dry and then went to work installing weather stripping on the door. As you can see from this shot even though the bottom was sealed up well there was still a substantial gap along the latch side that was allowing a fair amount of air in. Look at all that sunlight!

So, back to Pagano's I went for some weather stripping (man I'm glad that place is literally 3 blocks from our house.) This weather stripping has a flexible bulb on the end. You hold it against the door so that the bulb is evenly compressed and screw it to the door stop.

And here's a shot of all three sides of the door done. Doing this dramatically cut down on the breeze coming from this area. Before doing this make sure your door latch-striker plate are aligned and in good shape. I will need to reset-fix mine up to get the full benefit of the weather stripping. Now the stripping pushes back on the door enough that there is still a slight gap on the handle side of the door. Ah well, live and learn.

With these improvements and the insulation in the floor this area is now quite toasty and the babies room is definitely warmer. We've been using an electric space heater in there as a booster to the radiant but now we don't need it unless its SUPER cold outside.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

We're on the Threshold of...


We've been on a tear here lately at the Chez getting things buttoned up for the winter. One of the things we needed to tackle was our back door. There was an 1.5" gap between the bottom of the door and the rotted out old wood threshold and when it was cold outside an icy wind would blow through this gap. Since this door is right next to the babies room with only a heavy curtain separating it, it was a high priority to get this huge source of cold air sealed up before it got really cold.

Here's the old wooden threshold and the bizarre gap in the floorboards it was spanning. This gap was full of old leaves, rat poop, and decomposing somethings or another. I got all the gunk out and vacuumed it and the wood underneath was in great condition. Yay for old growth redwood.

If you notice in the top pic at the bottom of the door a door sweep was installed with about 100 screws...Unfortunately it was installed so incorrectly that it trapped water between it and the door. It hadn't rained for weeks but when I removed it, the bottom of the door was soaking wet and spongy! Not check out the failing paint.

Luckily this area was framed with the correct slope so that any water in this area would drain away from the house and to the deck.

The weird gap exactly fits a standard 2by6. Why in the world didn't someone fill this gap years ago?

Since the slope was correct I used some leftover flashing tape to form a sill pan. If any water gets under the new threshold it should drain out the bottom without soaking into the framing and ruining it. The flashing tape is tucked up under the door trim on either side also.

I used a pull saw to trim back the door trim in this area to fit the new threshold. I wish I had a real flush-cutting pull saw but this one worked well enough.

Because of how wide the gap was and how wide my sill pan was I had to improvise a bit. I installed the new aluminum threshold in its proper place and then I used a leftover 5/4" by 6" piece of Ipe to cover the rest of the sill pan. I kerfed the bottom of the Ipe with my SCMS so that any water that runs down the door and down the aluminum threshold will still drain out between the Ipe and the flashing tape sill pan. After this pic was taken I trimmed the flashing tape flush with the Ipe.

Success!!! Here's a shot of the finished product from the inside. The 1.5" gap is completely filled and there is no icy cold draft from this area any more!! Hurray!!

Next up we need to work on fixing up the door to make it through the winter rainy season.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Yay! For Caulk!

So, The front porch area of our house is not in great shape. Lots of dry rot and cracks, old caulk failing and paint peeling up or just disappeared all together. We thought it would be wise to do something about it before these humongous storms were supposed to pelt the area.

What we will have to do sometime in the not-to-distant-future is rebuild a lot of the porch with rot resistant wood and proper drainage detailing...we don't gots no money for that right now so we are going to band aid it through this winter.

What follows is several exciting shots of caulking!!! Hold on to your hats kids!

First off, we had to scrape up all the old paint and hardened caulk off of the porch, the stairs and well everywhere. Here I am cleaning the dust out of the porch board gaps with a chip brush so the caulk would have some chance of sticking.

After scraping and sanding and brushing and vacuuming off all the old paint we wiped down everything with denatured alcohol to get things as clean as possible. To hopefully give the primer and caulk a good chance of working.

The local hardware store Pagano's had this white, fast drying acrylic modified latex caulk with a 35yr rating on sale. So we bought an f-ton of it and went to work. I caulked all the gaps in the deck boards along with all the edges of the steps and well everywhere I thought was needed. We went through a ton of caulk. I gotta say, the quick drying stuff wasn't too bad to work with. It did take more water to smooth it out as it comes outta the tube much stiffer than the regular stuff. But it did dry fast enough that I was able to put 2 coats of a quality primer on with enough time for it to dry before the rain hit.

Here's an example of some badly rotted areas that I bandaided with caulk and backer rod. This part of the porch was really dry rotted so I dug out all the bad wood stuffed the hole with backer rod and filled it with caulk. Now at least the water should run off the edge here and not seep into the garage below.

We also caulked the edges of the steps. It didn't really look like there was any caulk applied when these were built...but we caulked and spot primed and put 2 coats of primer on the treads...hopefully it will get us through the winter.

If you look closely at the first picture you can see that these horizontal surfaces are in bad shape. These ledges slope the wrong way so water pools in the corners and they are rotting out! I scrapped off all the old failing paint, sanded it and put a coat of primer on then caulked the bejesus out of it then put on another coat of primer. I admit that I kinda f'd up the last time I painted these stairs as I used a primer not designed for outdoor use and it failed pretty quickly...

Its rained a couple times and the band aid job is holding out pretty well. There is hardly any water seeping through to soak things in the garage.

Friday, November 27, 2009

How Not to Heat Your House With a Super Expensive Radiant Heating System

So, we've got this super spiffy radiant heating system in the house that we blogged a ton about..mostly me bitching about how looooooong it took to do the staple up part. Its worked fine so far but with it dipping down into the high 30's at night I'd wake up at 6:30am and...the house would be cold! Like 64 deg F in the front part of the house when the thermostats were set to 72....not good as this front part of the house is where the babies hang during the nanny share....

I called the guys that designed the system and was like WTF? We went thru all the settings to make sure I had them set right and a couple of the loops were not flowing as much as they should of been...fixed that but the next morning the front room-bath-kitchen was cold!

Back again I go to the phone and the nice guys at NRT said basically, DUH! you're only running 1/3 of the system that's designed to be run as a whole so no wonder it can't keep up. But I said ya but its a nice and toasty 68 in the basement and the slab loops arent even on! They said, 'Double Duh, you're heating the basement with the same loops that youre trying to heat the main part of the house with!'

See, here's what the staple up looks like. The wood floor has an R value of ~1 but hey that open air below the plates has an R value of... 0! So which way was the heat going to flow? Yep that's right down into the basement and not up into the house...

When it was 64 deg upstairs it was actually warmer downstairs in the 'unheated' garage! I jacked up the heating parameters to the highest safest points. We had 140 deg water flowing in the loops and it was better but the rooms were still cold in the early mornings and the floors were not evenly warm. In the hallway, front room, bathroom, and baby's room the floors never really felt warm. With 140 deg water all the floors shoulda felt toasty.

To the plans we went and discovered that they called for these under-floor plates to be insulated to R-19.

Off to Home Despot I went hoping to find encapsulated R-19 batts. No joy, they don't even stock kraft-faced batts? So, I went on down the road to the local 'real' lumber yard Economy Lumber. They also do not stock encapsulated batts. The counter guy there said it was a 'special order' only item? But they did stock formaldehyde free kraft faced batts and I bought as many as I could fit into the PT Cruiser which was really three but I made a fourth fit. Thank granny goodness that they are seriously compressed by that shrink wrap. Its fun to slice em open and they all pop out and expand like crazy.

Now, when working with non-encapsulated batts ya gots to cover up and wear a real particle filter and eye protection. The itty-bitty glass fibers will get everywhere and into your skin and then itch like crazy. I did pretty good with the itching, I think the kraft facing helped with that...I probably should of been wearing pants though as my legs felt a little itchy afterwards.

We started stuffing the batts in the joist bays. This was bringing back all those horrible memories of working overhead for hours on end grinding nails...ugh.

It didn't actually take all that long to do. You just gots to be careful to not compress the batts too much. To get an actual R-19 outta them they have to be installed magically I'm hoping to get like R-12 with my instal. I'm glad I didn't need to use those insulation holder metal rod thingys. The batts are sticking fine in the bays. This shows that we've insulated the bathroom and the hallway.

And here's an exicting picture of more insulation. This shows that we've completely insulated the front room.

This is the little bit in the nursery and edge of the kitchen. We should of done the two sides but they were like half size and we would of had to cut a batt in half lengthwise to fit...that sounded like a huge PITA so we decided to put it off till the next go round. The 4 bags we were able to fit in the car was not enough to do the entire floor so we just did the areas that felt colder than the others. When we were insulating this area we discovered a serious kink in the tubing. I ran over to the flow meter but the loop was flowing the correct amount? I must of dialed up the flow to compensate for the kink when I was adjusting flows earlier.

Success!! Here's the temps in the kitchen and outside. It wasnt super cold when we took this but you get the idea.

Here's the temp in the 'unheated' basement after the partial insulation job. This is pretty good as its 52 outside and 64 inside. Point being, its a lot closer to the outside temp than it used to be. I've checked it when its in the 40's outside and its in the highe 50's in the basement.

More importantly this is the temp in the front part of the house when it was in the low 40's outside! In the morning now this room is 70 instead of 64 which is much, much better but still not correct as we have it set for 72.
Whats been super great is that in all the areas that are insulated the floor is super toasty warm feeling. When we sit on our butts in the baby room its nice and toasty. Same with the hallway and the bathroom where the floors were always colder. We'll have to buy another 4 bags of insul at least to finish the job but I'm trying to put that off as in the areas left to do we need to run plumbing and wiring and we don't want to have to yank it all down or wrestle with it when we're doing that.

This has nothing to do with the insulation. We just wanted to show a picture of the fabulous shop lights we just put in. These are plug-ins with pull cords. Holy-moly these are a million times better than those stupid halogen work lights we were using. Look how evenly bright it is! We can't believe we didn't do this months ago!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Its Time to Poop

Or get off the pot!!!!

Or the one with all the words and no pictures.

Visited our local building department recently to ask about how long permits are good for....

There's apparently a new rule. Permits are good for three years from their issuance date period. No exceptions, no way no how! I even pulled the outta work and new baby card and they wouldn't budge!

What that means is, that we have till October 2010 to final all our permits or they expire and we'll have to pay the fee's all over again and go through all the permit B.S. all over again!

The permits we have outstanding are, the foundation-entire bottom floor, the downstairs bath (which is on a separate permit don't friggen ask me why) and the radiant heating system...

Finishing all that stuff up is going to require a lot of time and money....I figure we have till spring to decide whether or not we are going to keep the house and get started on those permits.

The permit situation dovetails nicely into what's been going on with our design-build contractor. They've been sending me bills asking for the remaining balance and they are starting to get testy using words like 'past due' and what not. They're nuts if they think I'm going to pay them their final $2500 without them completing their punch list!

I finally got our project manager on the phone and we had a nice conversation about what deliverables we were waiting on. It was great where we had a difference of opinion where she was saying they owed us more than I thought! How often does that happen.

What's left on their punch list:

  1. Complete design review plan set printed out, 3 copies each.
  2. PDF and Chief Architect files of design review docs.
  3. Complete permit ready plan set, printed out, 3 copies each.
  4. PDF and Chief files of complete plan set.
  5. Their infinitesimally detailed project budget.

This is for the plans for our 'dream house' the plan that is so expensive it will never be built!

What we plan to do over the winter is send out the permit plan set to as many quality framing only subs to have them bid the work. We will have them bid the 'shell idea' where they redo the roof, the earthquake retro-fitting, and all the changes in the exterior walls (changing windows, removing doors, changing doors etc). We will see what numbers they come back with to help guide our decision on what to do next.

If the costs with us GC'ing it and subing out the parts we can't/don't want to do are reasonable then we will seriously think about staying here and doing the dream build.

If reality bitch-slaps us in the face and we find out that we can't even afford to do the above we have yet another option.

Our design build firm is working up a quote to redo the entire process with our super pared down version of the house. They say it should only be an incremental cost because they already have the house drawn and we are not changing the exterior at all.

Super Pared Down Plan:

  • No changes to the roof other than a complete tear off and reshingle-saves a ton in carpentry costs and no expensive earthquake retro-fitting.
  • No bathroom in Tasha's room...she'll have to go downstairs.
  • No changes in the exterior windows in kitchen area and removal of just one door.
  • With no changes in kitchen area windows that means we go back to a simpler smaller kitchen idea.(and therefore cheaper) But we are still going to move the interior wall.

Now, if after all this and us GC'ing the project we still can't afford it, or it would still put us into the house for waaaaaaaaaay more than its worth, well then....we'll cry a lot until we figure out what to do next. We can always just pull the plug on this place and sell it as-is and try to buy a place that's 'done', but if you've read any of my 'knifecatching' posts you'll know that we apparently have very specific needs that are hard to meet.

I would like to have a nice livable house by the time Tasha is really running that gives us like 1.5 years...

So, that's the plan so far.

Monday, November 16, 2009

This is Halloween, Everybody Make a Scene!! Part 1

Well not everyone but we sure did make a scene...

The Haunted Pumpkin Patch was open Fri and Sat night. Irene was super bummed because we had a crazy wind storm that blew over the cemetery hours sign and broke it. She was bummed that was until a child asked us, 'What ate the sign?!?!' Which we thought was super awesome so that's what we told people. We had some technical difficulties on Friday night. Crappy mic that made the main effect impossible to understand. We solved it and Saturday night went off without a hitch. We had...uh, hundreds of kids and adults stop by to enjoy the show. What we've decided is that for next year we need minions! Irene and I just can't do it all alone anymore. So, we're taking volunteers for next year! It's a super fun wholesome time, scaring the poop outta people.

When driving down our street this 'carved stone' sign was the first thing you'd see. It would be hard not to since Irene attached it to the telephone pole out in front of our house. Much to the chagrin of our neighbor who is a little protective of 'his' power pole...

Irene attached a battery powered strobing string of LED's to the sign to be sure to bring kids in from far away.

Here's our good friend Shannon giving Irene a break from baby duty. Notice the bench on the sidewalk. It was full all night with people watching the show. We even had some neighbors come over and sit down and hand out candy from our bench. If you were a kid you could get 3 houses worth of candy from just one stop!

Irene made this super awesome Lost posters. Last year we had a lost zombie so this year she changed it up a bit and did a 'Lost Zombie Pumpkin'. I have no idea what that would be exactly... Irene put these posters up ALL OVER THE PLACE!!! I think she printed up like 60 of them and put them all up around our neighborhood, around the local grade school and in the fancy-pants Halloween neighborhood. They totally worked we had tons of people who came by just because they saw the poster. One thing we didn't think of, was, a bunch of kids asked us all these serious questions about our lost zombie pumpkin.. Like, when was the last time we saw it, what did it look like exactly, where did we think it had wandered off to! Cause, they were going to find it! It was super-precious and totally caught us off guard... I think next year if we advertise the same way we'll have to make a costume up and have someone peep out at the kids every once in a while...oh wait, brainstorm...maybe we'll take pictures of someone in the costume at different famous spots all over the island and post em on the blog during the month of, 'Last Scene in the vicinity of the aircraft carrier hornet...' or last scene prowling Franklin Park looking for a snack...

Here's the completely done graveyard during the daytime...not so scary huh? The kids had to walk down that path defined by the bricks to get the candy and to talk to Bob.

What do you think about it now? You can see the ghost in the window and Bob the giant floating head of doom that appears in the enchanted spider web every Halloween to talk to children. Bob, as always, was the run-away hit of the night. The kids love talking and interacting with him. Bob is a 'digital puppet' from the folks at imagineering and is controlled via laptop.

Here's a shot of some teenagers talking to Bob, they were telling him silly Halloween jokes. I gotta say, that the teenagers in Alameda are pretty well behaved.

Another arty shot looking through the lock.

Daytime shot of the graveyard to show detail.

Same shot at night....spooooooooky. Actually, the graveyard at night was super spooky. HauntNerd Alert-Irene figured out how to author Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks with Adobe Premiere. She burned a DVD with a video of a pumpkin burning and then 4 separate sound tracks. For the graveyard we attached sonic transducers to the tombstones and used 2 of the tracks to output what's called a 'whisper track', which is a spooky track of ghosts whispering-think the others from lost. When you walked through the graveyard you were surrounded by the whispers that seems to move around you as the stereo track panned left and right. When the kids would ask what that was I would say its the whispers of the disturbed dead. They wouldn't believe me of course but I would tell them to bend over and listen near the ground and, viola, the whispers got louder! Cause when they bent over their heads got closer to the tombstone which was actually where the sound was coming from. This freaked a lot of kids, and adults out.

Here's our Scare-Crow. Check out the corn behind it. Our neighbor on the corner grew this crazy corn that literally grew as tall as a two story house! He let us have as much as we wanted!! Doesn't it make the Scare-Crow look uh, more Scare-Crowy? One of the 5.1 audio tracks was for the scarecrow. He pleaded for people to unchain him, that he would be good unlike last year, and that he wouldn't eat anyones brains this year... The Scare-Crow had a single acting pneumatic cylinder in his back that was controlled by the person handing out candy. When his audio track got to the scary part or just whenever the person felt like it they could activate him and he shook and looked like he was trying to free himself from his chains. It worked okay but I shoulda used a double acting cylinder with a longer throw to really get him shaking. It did really scare my VERY pregnant neighbor....which I realized after the fact probably wasn't the smartest thing to do.....

Mr. Scare-Crow at night. This alone was so scary a lot of kids wouldn't even walk down the path past him to get to the candy! Its all about the lighting.

Here's the far side of the house and the 'Hell Hole'. We went crazy this year for the 'carved stone' signs. I love this sign as it can be used year round for our house because it is an unfinished, 'hell hole'!! Actually, Irene was a bit peeved that I used the word Hell, she thought that it was kinda swear-wordy for the kids.. The big demon is kinda the backdrop and up on the right are two smaller demons that fly into view over the 'hell mouth' which was two fake fire bowls and a string of orange rope lights.

The Hell Hole at night! Spoooky, You can see the demon in motion overhead and the orange flames flickering on the white walls. I initially just wanted 'something' on this side of the house so it wouldn't look bare and of course got a little bit carried away... We think it turned out really great thought.

Big shot of the house during the day time. You can see the spiders that took over the front of the house and another winged demon flying over the driveway...and our trash cans, not very goth Azazel...

The house at night with everything on. Love that moon in the upper right corner. You can just barely see in the middle window this giant eyeball that would appear and look around. We back projected a couple of avi's onto the white lace curtain and it looked pretty good. Notice the rats on the stairway again.

Here's me in my madscientist get-up getting the spiced cider ready for the big night. We put a table in the driveway with healthier snacks for the adults and hot spiced cider for everyone. It was a big hit with us going through a ton of cider, it was a little chilly that night so people seemed pretty grateful for the warmth.

Another night time shot with everything 'on'. The avi in the window has morphed into this creepy demon face where spiders came out of his mouth.

Here's our lazy grave digger Slappy, he's new to the graveyard this year. You can see he's taking a break from digging the poor fellow's grave. He's snoozing on his shovel! One of the 5.1 tracks was just a snoring loop for slappy. When you got up close enough you could hear him snoring. Also, notice at Slappy's feet the half drunk bottle of Thunderbird! We actually found this in the house when we were cleaning it out after we bought it...and now its a Halloween prop! He doesn't look so scary in the daylight but...

At night it was a different matter! The poor fellow at Slappy's feet would spring to life, jumping up at the people talking to Bob. Bob called him his pet zombie Zack. Zack scared the bejesus out of a lot of kids...and kid literally went screaming down the street! Which I felt kinda bad about...not!

Here's the obligatory shot of The MadScientist, and Misses MadScientist and Baby MadScientist!!! This was towards the end on Halloween night, we were tired but happy.. also a bit outta focus!

Another blury shot of the family MadScientist at the end of a long night...did I mention that we need minions!

This is Part 1 Part 2 will have more pictures and videos of the big night and maybe some 'making of' stuff...