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.

Lemon

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 :)