Sunday, March 29, 2009

odds n ends as we get closer to heat

We really are getting down to the last little bit of work for the heat.. just finishing up running gas line to all reaches of the house.

Here's Dan with his favorite harbor fright toy - the right angle drill - drilling holes in the studs to run the gas out to backyard. That's right, natural gas bbq here we come! That bbq has been our oven for the last couple years, so I'll be very happy to not need to get propane.. well, we'll still need it for our stove, but one thing at a time..

Ok, two things at a time :D
There were a couple repairs to make to the fire pit, like plumbing it into the gas line! More on this later..

This is where the laundry room will be, and then the line splits off to the backyard on the left.
No leaks here!

Pressurizing the system indicated that it was still leaking from somewhere though..

.. and lo and behold, the last place I would've thought to look, the line PG&E installed between the gas meter and the emergency shutoff valve! Look at that leak!!

We disassembled that whole section and taped and gooped it up, and the pressure holds! Unfortunately, there's still a slow leak somewhere at the manifold, so there's a bit more sleuthing to do before we can have the system inspected

A couple small leaks have been eliminated, but it still loses about a quarter pound of pressure an hour.. every connection has been checked and rechecked, and Dan even found and fixed a leak in one of the cast valves! Still a slow leak though..

There's a bit of wiring to do too. The control panel needs to be connected to the sensors and the boiler..

The boiler seems so small, it's extra crazy how much open space there is inside. Lots of coils up inside those cylinders though, which explains why it could look this empty and still be so heavy!

Couple circuits had to be run too. This one is for the tankless hot water heater.

Here's the other end of that circuit, approaching the heater.

A very exciting prospect of the brand-spanking new subpanels in the house is that as a line gets run, we can note it. Which means that we have an excellent chance of having all the circuit breakers accurately marked with the actual location the circuit is run!! Isn't that exciting?! (that sounds sort of sarcastic, which is completely unintended.. it's really an exciting prospect!)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The fun with gas never ends

Each Saturday morning we wake from our dreams of the cavalry riding in and doing a large amount of work for a reasonable price and head downstairs, turn off the gas, and get back to the pipes..

I've been lagging on posting pictures and details because it all looks a bit monotonous: a run of pipe, a piece of pipe being threaded, pipe wrenches tightening the new piece in, cutting the next obstacle out of the way. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

The fun and exciting part is how every 5 feet there's an old unused gas line, or something unimportant like the main water line coming into the house, that's completely in the way of the gas run and has to be moved before we can continue.

Here's a selection of pix of threading gas lines

Here's a little slice of one section of the room.. It's a bit busy, but a decent representation of how much is involved in running not all that much pipe.

This is getting close to the end of the run to the new tankless water heater.

It may seem like hooking up a new water heater is a distraction from the work to get the heat up and running, but a) we need to complete the entire gas run for this floor so we can pressurize/test it and have it inspected, and b) our current water heater I bought on craigslist goes out at random with increasing regularity. Like last night right before shower time.

Moving on to to some of the cutting of unfortunately placed pipes.. This is a hot water line running to the lone bathroom in the house

We need to replumb the water lines in the house and Dan has been trying to get the permits approved to use Pex tubing instead of copper (it's better in 100 different ways.. Dan should do a post on that at some point.), but has been turned down several times. Pex is legal and approved, but until August is at the discretion of the local building official.

This is what that pipe looks like on the inside. It was so gross I absolutely couldn't convince the camera to focus on it!

This is one good reason for redoing the water lines, which we would do right now if we could just get that permit..

This is one of the more interesting action shots of cutting random pipes out of the way. My dear husband takes the most flattering pix of me working

Here we had not only pipes, but also walls in the way of the gas runs.

There were notches already in the joists, but they were for a smaller diameter pipe that was apparently bent here and there because they were only sort of aligned.

I widened the notches a bit and made them just a smidge taller - they can't be any more than 1.5" into the joist, which is just barely more than what they need to be for the 1" gas line to fit, so I had to be pretty careful not to cut outside the lines.

The pipe made it all the way through the field of joists only to knock right up against the top plate of a wall, so I took a notch out of that too..

..only to get the pipe to the other side of the wall where it knocked up against a water pipe!

Take that little story and repeat it over and over, and that's what the last month or so has been like

This is the far side of that water pipe after it was removed.. it's extra special because from this point on it's a single pipe that goes all the way to the kitchen sink. With no joints, our two options were taking the whole thing down and replacing it, or threading a cut end in place to attach a fitting and connect to a temporary line. Since our goal here is to get the gas done in order to have heat sometime before midsummer, we went the thread-in-place route

And it worked great! Here Dan has it all threaded and hooked up to a shutoff valve, which was then hooked up to the previously mentioned on-its-last-legs soon-to-be-retired water heater.

We've been agonizingly close to done with the pipes for awhile, but now we're actually close enough to start thinking about pressurizing the lines and testing! So I made a little test fixture that has a pressure gauge with a quick-connect to hook up to our air compressor, on one half of the same size union that connects the main gas line into the house up to the gas meter.

<-- action shot of me disconnecting the gas meter

And here's the little gauge sitting at 10 psi


until it went to 9

then 8..

I should've taken a picture of the giant air bubble that appeared the second we got soapy water on the fitting at the end of the main run right where it splits in 3 directions.. but it was a little too depressing. Basically, one of the pipes I threaded, conveniently located in the dead center of everything so that a good half the piping needs to be disconnected in order to repair it, was leaking like crazy.

This being the end of the day Sunday, we disconnected everything past that point, and attached the temporary flexible line to the current water heater to that point and called it a week.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What Things Cost in the SF Bay Area

As a follow-up to our previous post I thought it would be a good idea to discuss some of the costs we've had with this place. What we thought we paid for, and what we got for our money.

First off, 'The Kitchen Designer'

Irene did all the right stuff. She checked Angie's List and a couple local lists and got three names for us to talk to. We interviewed them all and settled on one that seemed to be what we needed. She said she did all her work in Chief Architect, her prices seemed reasonable and we liked her initial ideas.

I sent her .dwg files of the house and scaled pdfs for her to start her designing process. She couldn't figure out how to get the .dwg files into Chief which really annoyed me. When I got my copy it took me like 5 min to do it without reading the manual. This makes me think she only had the light version of the program which does not allow you to import files.

After waaaay too long and a lot of back and forth we met with her to view her initial designs. All she had done was printed out a copy of our floorplan and put a couple pieces of tracing paper over it so she could doodle out some ideas. About 20 min into this meeting I realized that she had maybe spent the hour before this meeting whipping out these 'designs'. Designs that ignored the things we told her were important to us and designs that were impossible to do in reality. She had things like the stove in a spot where you couldn't open the oven door while someone was seated at the dinner table? I was mostly annoyed because we told her specifically that we wanted to see things in 3-d done in Chief. Come to think of it I never saw any proof that she had the program or knew how to use it. It literally takes 10 min to whip out a basic kitchen in Chief if you know what you are doing...

So, for her three designs she did, we got one useful thing - switch the fridge to a new place to make the prep sink easier to use.

Price tag for one good idea $600

Kitchen Cabinets

We shopped around all the local quality cabinet shops, and for the cabinets in our initial kitchen design the prices ranged from $17-$37,000 for just the cabinets, installation and counter tops would be extra.

Next, we turn our attention to the idea of an architect to help us design out our master plan for the house.

Architect Costs

We went through the same drill and came up with three names. We interviewed them and were again shocked at what it costs. The arch. who showed up in the brand new $100,000 Por-shaaaaa wanted $24,000 to do the design and permit ready drawings. The two other guys were not much different. They all want a % of the building costs or budget...which I think is an inherent conflict of interest as the more expensive the house is the bigger their fee.

So we completely gave up on that idea....until Irene found this guy. He's a local architect. Lives in Alameda on a boat and is a retired professor of archetecture. He works in auto cad and knows the people at the Alameda building dept. He could read our .dwg files and was able to do a couple of designs...He made a couple of stabs at the top floor and the kitchen. I think he made one good suggestion in the kitchen...uh it was the tall pantry cabinet in the sunroom I think.

After weeks and weeks of weird lame excuses from him, he could never come through with any kind of finished design. He finally came over one Sunday afternoon and.....he was drunk....yep, we picked ourselves a drunkard for an architect.... We asked him to not come back after that.

Total cost for one good kitchen idea? $200

What really burns us is that we lost like six months to this process.

Quotes from Design-Build Firms

We covered this in an earlier post but to refresh: We've heard from 3 design-build firms so far and the prices they are all quoting are around $300-400 /sq ft. Heck, two of them said that doing a simple bathroom would cost $40,000.

Not to defend these numbers but we are talking about quality contractors, the kind that get their work in magazines like Fine Homebuilding.

So, thats what some of those things cost...I could do a run-down of all the costs for all the major projects we've done but that feels like TMI.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

It Costs How Much!!?!?!?!

I mean really its going to cost that much!!!

As all our loyal readers know (both of you) we've been kicking around ideas to redo our kitchen area and the top floor of the house.

To refresh, we've got a design for the kitchen area we love.
And a decent working idea for the top floor of the house.

We've recently decided that with a baby on the way that there is no way in heck that we will be able to do much (as in none) work on the house ourselves while attempting to work full time and raise a baby. To this end, we've been interviewing quality (usually meaning high-end) design-build firms to do the work for us.

In our dream we find a quality firm that we can just write a check to and everything is magically done while we maybe rent an apartment somewhere else....

And Then Reality Hit

Interviewing Design-Build firms was interesting...things like if they paid enough attention to take their shoes off when entering our house and if they paid attention to our portfolio from the last Victorian we redid ourselves were telling.

The costs these people are coming up with have totally caught my wife and I off guard. A semi-consensus view from the firms that made the short list is....

wait for it...


That's for the top floor and the kitchen. Half a million it just really blew us away...

Thing I can't understand is how in the heck are these people going to stay in business with prices like these? I don't begrudge anyone making a nice profit but wow....with the market in free fall you can buy a really decent house in Oakland for that kind of money. They are talking construction costs of like $400 /sq ft... A bathroom costs $40-60,000 dollars they say...and the $40,000 number is for a 'simple' bath..... wow...

Couldn't we get a new house built for those kinds of per sq ft numbers?

This is forcing a major rethink on our part.
All our budgets were based on two things...

  1. We'd be doing the lion-share of the work ourselves.
  2. The housing market wasn't going to completely fall on its face.

Our new situation is now causing us to rethink our future path with this house...

Yep, we're considering selling the place as-is and getting out while we still have most of our sanity. We figure we'd take a ~$200,000 bath on the house (what we could sell it for vs. what we've put into it). Heck we even hired a pro appraiser to give us 'real' numbers to help us make this decision with and THAT was more expensive than we were expecting...

One working plan is to do just that and rent a 3 bedroom place in Alameda and bide our time while the market falls and we attempt to save as much money as possible. One issue with this is that we've now decided that we REALLY only want to live in one neighborhood in Alameda-The Gold Coast- of course, and houses in that 'hood hardly ever come up for sale. Plus, finding a house that meets our needs-size, garage, shop, storage makes for even slimmer pickens.

Another idea is to just say screw it and put more money into the house than we'll ever get out of it-don't think our current 'hood will ever be a $1,000,000 house neighborhood and just stay here forever as planned and enjoy our perfect for us house in not the perfect neighborhood (but the best school district and still a great hood) on not the perfect size lot.

Yet another idea we are mulling around is still fixing the place up and keep it as a duplex, live in it for like 5 years while saving up a downpayment on the 'perfect' place and then renting the current place out...

Any thoughts loyal readers?