Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Outside home stretch

It's been a busy couple of months over the summer and projects have slowed. My bro/sis-in-law have been living with us since before the last post in June while they shopped for a house. With the winter rainy season coming I decided in mid-September to make a push to finish the exterior projects before the storms came.

These little LED outdoor lights were on sale at Home Depot so I thought I'd give them a try to dip into the landscape lighting. They're solar powered and not particularly bright, but do a good enough job in lighting the landscape during the evening-to-sleeping hours. I have one lighting the address number and two accenting the weeping Birch tree in the front. I think with a few more sets, the front and backyards will look stellar in the evenings. But that is for next spring.

The big project has been to create gutters for the downspouts on the sides of the house. In the winter, the heavy rains would splash everywhere and create a racket as well. The splashing definitely contributed to some of the damaged siding I've replaced since moving in and the gutters will alleviate that.

Although all the pieces are slip-fit, its a lot harder than it looks in piecing those suckers together. Thankfully, my neighbor Kevin to the rescue again had a chop saw specifically for metal and made quick work of assembling. Ok not that quick, more like 10 hours for seven gutters, but still quick enough. The next day I primed and painted them and the look great!

For some reason, there were two downspouts that were flush to the house. Every time it rained, they would go drip, drip, drip...right outside our master bedroom and one of the spare bedrooms. It was incessant and sleep depriving. The solution? Four sideways elbows to create an "S" curve to break up the droplets. I'm happy to say that after the first rains this week, the design worked PERFECTLY!

The last downspout was a difficult proposition because of the fencing. When we bought the house, there was simply a PVC "L" hanging over the fence. Everytime the wind blew, it would swing and bang against the house, scaring the bejeezus out of anyone near the guest bedroom. I reoreinted it to fall straight down, but because there was not outlet there we'd get some minor puddling there. When I designed the gutter, I couldn't attach to the house because it would cover up the guest window. So I turned the design 90 degrees and floated the downangle to meet the fenceline. It couldn't have worked better and did not obscure the guest bedroom window at all!

What didn't work perfectly was my sealing job on four of the gutters. I was hoping the side mounted to the house wouldn't need sealing. I pretty much knew better, but decided to let it try first. So the following weekend I took them down to reseal them. Guess what...still seeping in a few places, so they need one more coat of sealer next weekend.

While painting, I finally got around to painting the filter box. Looks fantastic. Now all I have to do on that system is wrap the piping in case of overnight freezes. Rare in Norcal, but happens more than a few times a winter. I like it so much I'm going to scale up the design to build a shed next spring to house our gardening tools, a mower and weed eater. I'll make a few changes to make it appear more Eichler-ish, with a broad beam running along the exterior length of the shed parallel to the roofline.

One of the projects left to complete is the firepit. The delay was caused by an inaccurate gas line installation/sizing.

The contractor simply dragged the gas line from the kitchen to the backyard areas (BBQ, fireplace and firepit) using the same 1/2" line. Unfortunately he never bothered to check and see if that was the right size. After the patio was poured and I had the BBQ running, I noticed the searer burner wouldn't get hot enough to sear and the fourth burner wouldn't light if the other three were on full blast. I consulted with PGE and they agreed that with the number of appliances I had or was planning, a bigger meter was in order.

The BBQ works much better with the bigger meter, but the fourth burner is still a little difficult to operate. A quick check to the internet yeilded the result that with my run distance, the pressure in the line would have dropped by over 60% to the end terminals the furthest away from the meter, URGH!!! PGE recommended an 1.25" gas line replace the 0.5" line down the side of the house. That way, where the .5" line goes underground (and under the patio) the run will only be ~40 feet, which calculates to approximately a 15% pressure drop. This should negate any problems with the gas line in the back yard - at a cost of $900 :( Looks like a few more months till the big screen can make it to the living room.

in the meantime, Lorinda and I picked out some flagstone pieces to set in the fire pit hole. Next weekend I'll mix up some concrete, color it and set the flagstone. Within a few days, we should be able to sit by the fire in the evening.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Last weekend the temperatures were back over 100 degrees, which obviously means I need to work outside and kill myself trying to get some more projects completed.

First things first though..Thanks to Linda Tsoi and Bank of America - We have refi success!! and in a BIG way, buying down our rate with 2.5 pts, we were able to knock our mortgage down from 6.6375% to........4.25% on a 30 yr fixed loan!! This reduced our payment by a whopping $1,100/month!! Our breakeven for the refi is 19.5 months. Happy Happy Dances all around!

Although most of the nice weather projects have shifted the focus outside, inside projects are also getting shorter too. The skylight is the best thing since sliced bread on 95% of the days, allowing plentiful light, warming the house in the winter, allowing adequate venting in the summer and showcasing the atruim area in general. It is the other 5% of the days that the heat transfer is a killer, especially in a house without A/C. The roof and windows intalled last year have increased the comfort coeffiecient significantly and we have acheived an ~20 degree delta from inside to outside on the hot days, buttoning eveything up and attempting to seal out the heat. But on 100+ degree days like this weekend, this still makes for a pretty hot 85+ degree house. We had investigated some sort of shading system which would allow us to block the skylight on these days and keep the heat gain from the skylight reasonable. The two suggested solutions were a panel of honeycomb shades and a larger motorized covering. Both choices were in the $5,000 range for something that literally would be used 10 days a year. Instead, Lorinda has come up with an ingenious method to shield the skylight heat transfer on the 5% days like this weekend that it is unbearably hot outside. Using the longest curtain rods we could find that match our interior, Lorinda was able to create grommeted curtain panels in plain white to hang a horizontal sail shade. She and Jane (sis-in-law) pulled the curtain as tight as possible to minimize the center sag. The result is a sail shade that still allows a lot of light into the house, but reflects a significant amount of sunlight as well, working to keep the house cooler. In addition, the grommets make it a 1 minute affair to extend the shades to the closed position, while the design keeps them unobtrusive when in the open position. All this for 1.5 days work and $200 in supplies!! That's a $4,800 delta that perhaps we'll use next winter to get a mini-split A/C installed using the Federal tax credits for energy-efficient utilities (note: buy seasonal goods in unseasonal time for best pricing) Kudos to Lorinda!!

First on the list was a filter box to shield the water filter from the sun, which denegrates the filter housing. I had previously purchased the 2x4s for framing and set off to building. Of course my neighbor Kevin came over midway and helped with his astounding number of specialized tools which made the job easier. I also had help from my brother-in-law Hendrick. We also made use of some of the eichler siding leftovers and kept the sides looking like the house. The scraps also came in handy in creating a new enclosure for the siding where there was a defunct main shutoff valve, now has two main exits headed to/from the filter. All that is left is to caulk and paint the enclosure and to get some mounting hardware for the front facade. It was waaaay to hot to caulk - let alone primer and paint the enclosure, so the project remains unfinished.

Last week, Lorinda and I also mounted a number of hose reels to make watering a bit easier since we have not set up the drip lines in the garden area yet and there is no irrigation to the front tree, nor the older tree. It is getting to be too late in the year to plant now and will most likely wait till September to finish planting the front landscape. We did however spend a fair bit of time at Yamigami's in Saratoga planning the landscape choices. So we know approximately what we will plant and thankfully it is a little bit of a wait on the expense.

That said, we also spent time at Peninusla Bulding Supply to get the remainder of the hardscape materials. This includes .5 ton of rocks to border the birch tree, 1.5ton of rocks to fill the walkway and sitting area behind the address sign, 5 gallons of concrete sealer for the walkway, back patio and retaining wall walkway and some firebrick and mortar for the firepit construction. Our neighbor Joseph works there and also has some flagstone extras in his yard that are the right color, so we will construct the firepit out of the extras, yipee.

Finally, I beat the sun and stained the front lattice fence before it was ruined by the lawn watering.

Next weekend is Fourth of July, so no projects are planned, but I hope to get the rocks in and the pathway/patio powerwashed and sealed the following weekend. I must say, the list of projects is getting noticeably shorter and the firepit/gutters will be the outside projects for the rest of the summer with the front planting happening in the fall. *Edit* I got the rocks in that weekend too as July 4th plans fell though.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Green thumb, sore body

Welcome to the Jungle - Continuing our landscaping efforts this weekend, we wanted to plant the majority of the trees this weekend. I say majority because we are undecided whether we want another tree in the front of the house and we have room for some more along the fence lines in the back, but are undecided as what to plant. At this point in the season, its getting too late to plant and expect things to survive the summer heat. A cool trend over the area recently pushed us to get it done this weekend. Plus there is room for one more tree in the retaining wall, but that area is completely overtaken by the squash/zucchini already planted. Literally, it is Jurassic Park back there with leaves as big as your head!! We will certainly need to spread it out more next year.

Check it out - the leaves are almost as tall as the 3.5 foot peach tree planted in the middle!!

The tomato plants aren't much better, growing like gangbusters. I can't wait for bruscetta this summer - slurp!

But those were planted much earlier in the season, let's get to Saturday's plantings (which correspondingly made for Sunday's pain/misery). All the trees we got from Central Wholesale Nursery, which has incredible prices and definitely a good find for plants/trees.

First up is a purple grassy little thing which I can't remember the name of. We had this small little triangle at the front of the walkway that wouldn't really match with a front border plant, so this goes there. Depending on how big it gets I might repeat the plant up the walkway.

Next is a Prunus cerasifera (Krauter Vesuvius Cherry Plum). There was an empty whole cut in the concrete next to our house, so we decided to fill it with a decorative tree with beautiful foliage. This tree is upright and rounded and will get to 20-25 feet tall. In the springtime, light pink flowers appear before the leaves, which are deep purple. Quite heat tolerant and it does not bear fruit. It was a royal pain to dig this hole deep enough because of the concrete and took the shovel pick ax, post hole digger and digging pole to work down deep enough.

Moving to the backyard, two of the easier trees were the Lemon and Lime trees, as the soil in the retaining wall is only compacted for 6 months and they were 5 gallon trees as opposed to the rest which were 15 gallon trees.


Key Lime (Mexican Lime)

Next up in the retaining wall is a Bacon Avocado tree. I don't know why its called that but we've been told the fruit has hints of bacon flavor and is one of the best tasting avocado trees available for our area. We have one little tiny fruit on the tree so hopefully we'll have a sample at harvest time. The avocado is next to the fuji apple we planted early this spring and will help cover the shed in our neighbor's backyard.

Last up in the retaining wall is two 10-foot Italian cypresses (the spires behind the tomato farm). These will maintain the same overall shape, but grow 3 feet wide and 30 feet tall. Our hope is that they will eventually obscure the utility pole and junction wires, as they grow a couple of feet per year. I really wish I had put these in before the tomatoes, as they were 15 gallons each and there was a very very limited space to dig and plant these two.

Getting tired yet, I know I am...

Last of the fruit bearing trees is the fuyu persimmon tree. This one had to be replanted twice because I mistakenly planted it too close to the fenceline. This one will sit next to the orange tree. we might have to move it once more in the future depending on how big it gets. I don't want to block the sunlight to the tomato area. The fuyu is smaller though and we can control the height so we'll see.

Now for the decorative trees - We chose two different types of Japanese maples. The first is an emperor maple, which grows to about 15 feet and has distinctive red foliage. This one occupies half of the planter area right outside the living room window and is a showcase tree for the living room and serves to bifurcate the two patios.

The second japanese maple is of the green variety, but with a twist. It is called a coral bark maple, which has bright red bark as a contrast to its green leaves. This one is planted on the other side of the master bedroom patio and is stunning to look at.

Thats it for the planting. We left the house at 9:30 am and by 8:00 pm all those trees were planted - whew... Sunday was a ball of pain from all the digging and lifting, but the results are great. I leave this post with pictures of the Q that we purchased from Costco about a month ago. We opted not to make an outdoor island for two reasons. 1)BBQ's fail - its a fact of life that things aren't made the way they used to be made and if a bbq ever failed and it was a built in, there would be no guarantee that a same size would be available, costing lots more to replace. 2) The winter ranis would accelerate the againg and with a portable one I can roll it under the eaves for the winter and just cover the gass.electric connections. We piped natural gas/electric to it so no running out of propane mid cooking. It has a separate searing burner which is really cool as you can sear your meats and then cook on low heat - delish!! Also has a mini frig for parties. Don't know how useful that is but whatever, it will be turned off 90% of the time.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Its about sodding time!!

Well my last post I really haven't had time to stain the privacy screen in the front, which has to be done before we can plant anything there. But I have a really really good excuse. First, May and the first half of June have been insame with work and travel and I have woken up in as many different cities in a 3 week timeframe as I ever have. Part of the new job reality, fun for part of it, tiresome near then end and missing family throughout it all. On the positive side is the travel allows me to catch up with family/friends/colleagues spread out accross the country. Second, other projects have taken much higher priority as spring sprung.

Exhibit A

What the *?(!#)* is that you ask? Well in planning the landscape I knew I wanted to have an irrigation system put in so we wouldn't be constantly chasing a watering schedule to keep the grass green and the fruits/veggies/trees watered. We're just way too busy with work and life for that :)

To accomplish this though we had to tap into the water supply at the main to get enough pressure to feed the various sprinklers. I also knew that despite fairly good water quality in Cupertino, it could be improved by an order of magnitude and in hardness so I decided to put in a whole house filter system at the same time, copying my handy neighbor and incorporating a bypass for the irragation to be unfiltered ;). The structure involves tapping the main and creating a bypass system to put three filters (25 micron + 5 micron + radial carbon) in line to feed the main house. It also had to have shutoff routing in order to change the filters and flush-in new filters. Of course My neighbor Kevin and I chose the hottest day of the year for the project and was sweating copper in 100 degree heat. I still have to build a cover for it, as the filter housings are not sunlight resistant and can crack with age.

This is the left side, which shows the routing from the main water line (we had to cut an opening). It also shows the second part of the project, which involved cutting the other side of the wall to bring a power outlet outside (black box) and to power the sprinkler timer (grey box). Although easier, we found that the power was reversed on the inside outlet. Subsequent tests showed that the contracter installed about half of the new outlets backward and I have to go through the rest of the house now to fix..grrr.

The white pvc is the irrigation tubing with a one-way valve at the main junction and a shutoff for the system downline in case something ever goes bad. The black pvs in the foreground is a downspout (temporary). I will tackle a gutter system project later this summer before the winter rains come.

This two weekend project (still unfinished in repairing the walls) allowed the gardeners to install the irrigation tree and prepare the soil front and back for sod and planting.

And finally...let's say it all together...IT'S ABOUT SODDING TIME!!!

The first two picture are the front yard. We still have to choose plants for in front and behind the tree, and we are planting another tree on the other side of the driveway. We do know that we are putting a rosemary bush in front of the sprinkler valves.

And now the backyard.

To the left in the first picture is where the orange tree is. We'll plant a few more things there along the fenceline and put landscape back around the whole area.

On the right side we already have a fig and a lowquat planted and we're going to put a coral bark japanese maple where the pvc/shovel is in the picture. We'll leave the back corner open for Kiera and some sort of playset. On the left side which the living room looks out upon we're going to put a red-leaf bloodgood japanese maple.

That's it for now - the trees will go in this weekend and I hope to finish patching walls and build a cover for the water filtration system.

Kinda looking like a house we live at now, which brings a smile to us all :)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Well its raining off and on this weekend so there's not much we can do as far as working on the house. Even the inside projects require being outside, so its a bit of a break for us this weekend. Here is the privacy lattice I built last weekend. Can't stain it though, maybe next week when the weather improves.

What I could do is hang the rain chains we've procured during a break in the showers. In case you're wondering, Japanese rain chains enable water to fall off the downspouts and cascade down a series of buckets. In addition to the show it puts on, it also softens the splashing from heavy downpours. They come in copper and are supposed to patina over time.

We have three of the five chains we'll need, but the other two will have to be done as we complete the irrigation because I still have to dig and put two more drain lines in.

Here is the rain chain for the front of the house. This is a bucket style and is a bit masculine, fitting with the address fence nicely I think.

The two rain chains in the back fit between the sloped portion of the roof and the flat portion of the roof. Because they are so close together, we thought it best to use the same style. Plus these are visible from the living room and serve to help separate the space between the main patio and the smaller patio outside our master bedroom. They are a petal flower style.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

De-rednecking the landscape

Well its been a little while since I had cause to updates the blog - and for good reason. In November, right after we completed (and paid for) the major inside construction, I was laid off from my job at FTI Consulting as a part of a larger RIF. So immediately all projects that required any outlay of capital were tabled until further notice. Being down on to one salary in Silicon Valley is almost the equivalent to the financial kiss of death with the high property values and correspondingly high mortgages. Luckily, by pulling Keira out of daycare, cutting of all non-necessary expenses and general belt tightening - we were able to get by unscathed until I found a new position with Intersil, an analog semiconductor company in Milpitas.

During the winter, we tore out the remainder of the old landscape and I had put in a drain for the front of the house downspout. The nice thing about my time off and doing my best Michael Keating impression as Mr. Mom was the ability to spend a lot of time with Keira and that was really great, feeding the baby chili and all.

Now that we're back to two salaries and spring has arrived, we really wanted to get cracking on the landscaping so we have a nice place outside to enjoy the nice summer weather, especially with Keira on the verge of walking.

The first step was in building a space for the address. I had seen a post on Lotta Livin a mid-century modern website I look to for ideas. I wanted to do something with a floating Richard Neutra typeset for the numbers, but didn't want them on the garage post (too squished) or by the mailbox, as there are two supporting posts that would partially obscure them. The solution was this address board, which I made out of redwood and sealed. The horizontal lines break up the vertial siding grooves nicely and provide a little area behind which we can have a sitting area to read in the late afternoon sun (there's a beam to hang a floating chair from). I think it turned out quite well. From the picture below you can also see the two posts that a privacy lattice is being put in create this little oasis and we're thinking of growing fragrant jasmine there. I plan to light the address from the side, which will also cast a nice shaddow from the numbers.

The bendy board will separate the walkway/sitting area from the rest of the yard and will have some sort of pebble/river rock filling to create an island effect for the walkway path seen in the next picture. So YES, this weekend we jumped into the hardscape stage with both feet and had the patio poured. We chose concrete over pavers due to the cost savings (50% cheaper!) and the low maintenance aspects.

The next pictures show the back patio being poured with colored concrete. Here the main patio is in process of pouring

Here is the side patio off our master bedroom and walkway poured and troweled smooth with just the base color. We chose a mocha color, which is a brownish-grey as a base color, which is a brownish-grey as a base color.

The second top color, a sunbaked clay orangeish color is being worked into the top of the cement to try to achieve a mottled slate look. The result is quite orange, but as it dries the orange has faded quite a bit (good).

And here is the almost finished product! The concrete guys laid out thses big rubber stamps in the pattern we chose - a slate ashlar stamp - and pounded out our pattern. There were six different stamps that fit together in varying orientations so the pattern wasn't a uniform repeating sequence and it came out quite well.

In case you're wondering, the post sticking up is a natural gas line we had installed for a future bbq area and electricity. We also plumbed the gas close to the fireplace in case we want to convert in the future - and the open circle? It's the beginning of an area for a firepit, also plumbed for natural gas - decadent -no?

We have to wait about 5 days to even walk on the pavement. You can see the orange has already faded a good bit and I'm told that after it completely dries in about 2-3 weeks, we will powerwash and seal the concrete, which will bring more of the grey base color up top.

Lastly, Keira had to jump in with two feet - and hands too, as her 'lil paw and footprints are now immortalized in the backyard patio.