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How to Remove Plaster and Lathe

August 16, 2011

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Believe it or not, there’s a system to removing plaster and lathe from old walls and ceilings. Oh, sure, you could simply get your hammer or crowbar and start blasting away. But plaster and lathe demolition is horribly, horribly dirty. Horribly. You think you have the furniture in the next room protected with plastic sheeting? Ha ha ha! Get your duster ready. We live in our house as we wreck it room by room, and try to be very careful with our demolition. And even after all our sealing the heat vents, duct-taping doors and boxes with plastic sheeting, and gearing up in heavy clothing and bandannas, we still walk out of the room at the end of that day caked in dust.  The stuff is just so pervasive.

Plaster Removal UGH

Even so, there IS a way to reduce the mess. My methods are tried and true. :D Someone may have a better method (I’ve yet to see it) but this works, so far, for us.

1. Remove all the plaster FIRST. Then remove the lathe.

If you remove the plaster and lathe on one wall all at once, you’ll wind up with a big, dangerous mess. Lathe will be everywhere with plaster sections collapsed all around it. And since lathe contains nails — if your home is old, the nails will be old and rusty — the material is serious safety hazard. It’s best to first remove the plaster and shovel up the debris, THEN remove the lathe and pick up the wood.

Its Pink

By the way, YES, that IS a salmon pink ceiling. It was underneath a drop ceiling we removed. The trim in this room had once been mustard yellow....

 

2. Start small. then work in “sheets.”

You only need to create a small hole at first, and then a narrow strip. I always begin in the center of a wall, so I can have two people removing plaster from each side.

I start by pounding a hole in the center of the wall with a hammer. Then, I chip a long, narrow strip from the ceiling to the floor.

Wiring 2

3. Use a spade to cut off large sheets of plaster from the lathe.

Don’t use a crowbar or hammer to remove the plaster from the lathe. You’ll wind up with a mushroom cloud of plaster dust over your home! A spade is a small shovel with a flat blade. By the way, DON’T use a typical shovel for removing plaster, either. The rounded end, so perfect for digging holes, will only shear off a tiny portion of the plaster. It’s not worth all that effort.

My spade is very short, about 3 feet high. It has a grippy-type handle, and it’s perfect for removing large sections of plaster quickly and easily. Insert the end of the spade into the narrow strip of plaster you’d made with the crowbar. If the plaster is really sticking to the lathe behind it, you’ll need to ram the spade in. Now chisel the spade in between the plaster and lathe, to separate the plaster from the lathe. You may need to gently push up on the plaster with the spade, to force the plaster to break away from the lathe but not break off. The plaster will fall off in large sheets and the work will go much more quickly.

4. Keep the room tidy.

That sounds like a contradiction, doesn’t it? But the goal here is safety. And morale. NOBODY like slogging into a filthy workplace. Chop off large sections of plaster, and have a few folks pick up the plaster sections as you go along. We used a gravel shovel (another flat-ended shovel, but much more weighty) to shovel plaster into large garbage cans.

If you pick up the plaster as you go along, it will help reduce dust. You will not need to crunch over mountains of plaster to get to the next section. And believe me– shoveling up crunched and compacted plaster is a LOT more difficult than shoveling up freshly-removed sections of it.

DR Ceiling Down

Cleaning the room at the end of the work day did wonders for the morale, too. I found that we were much more likely to start the day with a little more vim and vigor when we entered a clean room to start our work than to begin in a room that was trashed. We lived in the house as we worked, so it was important to keep things clean.

Kitchen Gutted

5. Use a spray bottle with water.

It may sound corny, but it helped reduce the dust for us. When the dust in the air got too messy, we used a spray bottle filled with clean water to mist the air. The droplets of water grabbed the dusty particles and the weight of gravity forced it to the floor. Now, it’s important to go easy on the water, or you’ll end up with a muddy pool of plaster in your home.

6. Set a goal, every day.

My modus operandus for a day was to set a goal first thing in the morning, and that included cleanup. When we gutted our kitchen and dining room, I gave us one day to do half the kitchen (three walls) and a second day to do the other half (the fourth wall and the ceiling). It helps keep you focused, so the demolition doesn’t drag on forever. It’s very physical, laborious work. At the end of the day, we were EXHAUSTED. But settings goals helped, because we knew we HAD to have our house back again, and fast.

KitchenGutted

7. Be prepared for surprises.

I suppose every old-house home owner has stories to tell about what they find in their walls– old bones, newspapers, wayward toys, etc. We’ve seen all that. I was surprised to discover very old Art Deco wallpaper (hand painted!!) behind the chimney, though.

Wallpaper ddown

Wallpaper Display

We also discovered some less encouraging things. Someone years before had “capped” the exhaust to an old stove pipe with plaster, inserted a few old broken brick bits, and plastered over that. Over time, the plaster capping the exhaust vent cracked, allowing carbon monoxide from the furnace and water tank to seep into the room. *sigh*

Stove Pipe Hole

We’ve also found a rainbow of weirdo colors, a kind of historic home diary left behind by previous homeowners.

Be prepared for other strange things, too. I found studs filled with soft bricks on all exterior walls. No contractor or carpenter I spoke with knew what it was. They attributed it to “old timers” and their odd building practices… but I later found out that this brick is called “noggin.” It may have been used as a insulator (unlikely, in my opinion), but most probably as a fire stop, since my home is a balloon frame home.

I hope these tips have helped you some. Good luck on your project!

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Vinegar For Sunburns? My Conclusion

August 4, 2011

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I’ve heard vinegar touted as the miracle product for everything: bad breath cure, tonic for long life, fabric softener for washing machines, rinse aid for dishwashers, and sunburn soother. Sure, vinegar cuts grease and is useful for many things, but I’ve been discovering that vinegar is no miracle cure for everything. It has its pros and cons just like everything else.

For one, while vinegar makes a good rinse aid for dishwashers and a cheap (but mediocre) fabric softener replacement for the wash load, vinegar does corrode some plastics– including some of the plastic seal parts that line our appliances. I recently did a little research into the effects of vinegar on rubber seals and my article was published on eHow. See my article at ehow.com/facts_10006845_vinegar-ruin-rubber-seals-appliances.html Will Vinegar Ruin the Rubber Seals on Appliances?

So vinegar is cool, it’s great for a lot of things. But it certainly isn’t the miracle cure for all the stuff I’ve heard about.

My curiosity was piqued this time when I heard about Rose Vinegar for Sunburns. I wrote the post too late in the rose blooming season to make rose vinegar, but I read that others tout plain, diluted vinegar as a superb homeopathic method for soothing sunburns. Some folks left comments that their very severe burns cleared up in HOURS, that the pain subsided instantly and that there was no peeling at all! The new miracle cure!

After reading all this, I thought, Gee, I’ll have to go get a sunburn and test this out!

Hoh boy, I got a sunburn. A bad one. It’s a surprise, because my skin has an olive complexion and I rarely, rarely burn. But I’ve been helping fix a flat roof and it’s been super-hot here in New York… and I got me a lobster-like shine, I do. Well, at least now I could try out the vinegar thing.

I poured a small amount in a bowl and diluted it with an equal amount of water. I’m not 100% sure if I was supposed to dilute it, but my burn is pretty bad and I didn’t want to put full-strength acetic acid on it! So I dabbed a cotton cloth in the solution and patted it onto my arms.

The vinegar cooled the burn. Or maybe it was the cool water. While it hurt to place anything on my arms, the coolness was refreshing. I did the vinegar thing for two days, until I got bored from lack of spectacular results.

My burn is still bad and it still hurts. No miracles here, no instant tan. The burn is peeling, and the skin is still very warm (after five days now). The vinegar did very little for the burn, except make the skin a little softer which provided some instant comfort.

My conclusion: vinegar does next to nothing for sunburn. It’d be easier to smear raw aloe vera on the skin, since the aloe is creamier and will stay on the skin to be absorbed. If you have a sunburn, save the vinegar for the salad.

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Name That Weed

July 19, 2011

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Befuddled by the billions of weeds cluttering your yard or garden beds? Curious about that odd-looking herb or a nasty plant that stubbornly resists your weed-thwarting efforts? Check out the garden.org/weedlibrary National Gardening Association Weed Library for identifying that plant. This is a very valuable resource for me. Not only do I have a lot of plants around the homestead, particularly weeds, but the kids are always doing something or another for their science courses.

I haven’t done ANY gardening (yet) this year. It’s just been too busy. Hopefully, we’ll do some major weed-pulling in a few weeks. This is what lies ahead of us….

weedsgalore

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Break Out the Blowtorches, Hogweed is Here

July 11, 2011

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Even the name insinuates the most noxious, insidious killer to lately crawl out of Asian cargo ships onto our purple-mountain majesty coasts: The Giant Hogweed!

It’s heeeeere! It’s native to Central Asia and it’s spreading toward the northeast. It’s already established in Michigan and Indiana. New reports are showing the unwelcome visitor arriving in Pennsylvania and New York State.

The Giant Hogweed is an invasive species, a member of the carrot and parsnip family. (I knew there was a good reason why I hate carrots!!). However, this family member grows to be a lot taller than Bugs Bunny’s meal of choice. The hogweed can grow to be 15 feet tall and 15 feet wide. It produces a disgusting number of seeds, too, to ensure that it ruins as much property as possible. *sigh* The British initially brought the hogweed home from Asia in the 19th century, planting it as an “ornamental” plant in special gardens. But like The Blob, Jurassic Park, and Killer Bees, things *kinda* got out of control and the species escaped captivity. Oopsie.

The hogweed has lace-like flowers very similar to Queen Anne’s Lace. The leaves resemble large, jagged dandelion leaves and the plant would almost be pretty were it not for one small problem: it’s viciously poisonous.

The plant produces a sap that burns human skin. God forbid it should get in the eye, or blindness can occur. According to the University of Illinois Extension:

Characteristics include hollow stems, between two and four inches in diameter, with dark reddish-purple splotches and coarse white hairs. Leaves are compound, lobed, deeply incised and may grow up to five feet in width. Flowers appear from mid-May through July. As with other members of the carrot family, the flower heads are umbrella-shaped, up to 2½-feet in diameter across a flat top with numerous small flowers.

The Giant Hogweed is sometimes mixed up with other members of the parsnip/carrot family. My husband came home wondering if he’d seen a hogweed planted by a mailbox, but the flowers were yellow. I think he probably saw wild parsnip. Other very similar plants are cow parsnip, wild carrot, poison hemlock and angelica.

Giant Hogweed has a thick, tuberous stem with very wide white lace flowers. It exudes a clear, sticky sap that causes photodermatitis. Skin contact followed by exposure to sunlight can cause severe burns and blisters that become purple or black blotches and scar the skin. VERY nasty.

I just don’t know how the Chinese manage, with all these horribly toxic plants and bugs that float around over there. In my opinion, I’d rather manufacture our goods here in the U.S.A. and avoid all the extra baggage in the cargo crates. :|

Anyway, the Giant Hogweed is a “federal noxious weed” and therefore it is illegal to propagate, sell, or transport the plant. Do not pull, mow, or chop down the weed with a weed whacker. Doing so will release the sap. And, since the plant is a perennial weed (which means it will grow again even after the entire planet has been decimated by nuclear war), the Giant Hogweed will just keep coming back for more. Think of this plant as Bishop Weed from hell.

If you see the Giant Hogweed, alert the authorities. Who ya gonna call? The GIANT HOGWEED HOTLINE! I’m putting this number in my speed dial, people: 845-256-3111. If you see hogweed, call them. A hazmat team will arrive via black helicopters and blow the smithereens out of the noxious weed. YEAH, BABY.

OK, I jest. A hazmat team is *probably* not required. Nor are the black helicopters, but hey– black helicopters have descended upon DVD pirates in the local ‘hood, so ya never know….. this is a “federal noxious weed,” after all….

Some photos and information courtesy of hyg.ipm.illinois.edu/article.php?id=80

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The Silent Summer: No Crickets, No Peepers!

July 5, 2011

114 Comments

Something very strange has happened. I realized it the other night while I outside in the backyard during twilight. The entire yard and forest and small creek that runs next door is completely silent. Completely silent!

No crickets. No spring peepers. Nothing. I have never experienced anything like it since I’ve lived here. Besides the mosquitoes quietly whirring around us, the only forest activity was the lightning bugs, blinking their lights in utter silence.

This is my backyard. Behind that scraggly brush is a small rivulet that fills with peepers every spring. There’s no sign of my beloved musical friends there this year.

closedeer2

At dusk, the area is usually ablaze with sounds. The crickets usually chirp so loudly that they challenge the sounds of the busy streets. And the peepers– those tiny little frogs that exhale high-pitched raspy whistles– are gone. Everything is SILENT.

I found a video recording of peepers in the northeast. This is what my neighborhood SHOULD be sounding like:

I’m devastated!! What happened?! I have lived here for over 14 years and nothing like this has ever happened. Was it the awful April flooding that swept my critters away? Is it some kind of pesticide or toxic chemical that has been sprayed in the forest and has descended into my neighborhood? Is there some evil raccoon gang or other monstrous creatures that have eaten all my precious nightly musicians in some kind of perverse thuggery??

This spring and summer has been weird, simply weird. I feel forlorn, bereft of a very necessary ecological foundation. It just ain’t summertime without the peepers. :(

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Rose Vinegar for Soothing Sunburns?

June 23, 2011

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I’m not going to wait until somebody gets sunburn to try this out, so I’m mentioning it here now in case any of you have heard of such a thing: rose vinegar for sunburns. Some gals in the natural herbal section of the blogosphere are praising it’s benefits. I am definitely going to try it. I’m curious like that.

Here’s how you make rose vinegar:

  • Fill a glass jar with fresh rose petals and leaves.
  • Fill the jar with apple cider vinegar.
  • Cap the jar with a PLASTIC lid! Vinegar will eat through a metal one and discolor your vinegar solution.
  • Allow the glass jar to sit for 3 to 6 weeks.

To treat a sunburn, pour 1/4 of a cup of rose vinegar into a bowl. Mix in a few cups of fresh, cool water. Dip a clean, cotton cloth into the rose vinegar and wring lightly. Dab the sunburned skin with the rose vinegar. Apply as needed. Rose vinegar also helps cool insect bites and stings and heat rash.

I am definitely going to make it! I’ll have my scientific results for you in a few weeks. :)

LivvyDarling1

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Renovation Tips for the Older Folks: Safety First

June 17, 2011

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installbutcherblock3

Get help from the young folks.

I’m only in my early 40’s, but I’m starting to feel the effects of getting older. Maybe it’s not age as much as very hard work. I’ve always worked rough, tough physical labor all my life. When I was a kid, my body seemed invincible. Now, however, I hear it complain from time to time. It’s not very loud complaining, but my body is hinting to me that it’s not as supple as it used to be. So I’m starting to pay attention more often.

Renovation is hard work. That’s why I love my power tools so much. :D It’s great to build muscles the size of cantaloupes, but it’s harmful to abuse your body for the sake of a renovation. Here are a few tips for taking care of your body– no matter what your age– that I have learned along the way.

1. Don’t forget to eat. And eat healthy foods!

I’m a tad obsessive when it comes to big projects. I tend to focus very narrowly on that one goal, even to the point where I skip meals or eat “fast foods” so I can get back to work. When I was younger, my body could cope with such abuse. But not anymore. With our living room renovation in 2007, I stuck to a rather rigid schedule of working on the house for 6 hours a day, then cooking dinner for the family. And I rested every night.

When we were working on the kitchen, it was a much larger project with many more things involved (wiring the entire house, replacing the plumbing system, etc). And I was on a time schedule. I HAD to finish the kitchen before the kids began school in the autumn.

I felt rushed and figured I could work and work and work. I skipped meals and lost sleep and also was working my writing jobs at the same time. It was really too much for my body. I lost some hair (it’s growing back as white), I gained weight (I never lose weight, ever), I was exhausted. Looking back now, I could kick myself. I just didn’t take care of myself like I should have.

12yds

We filled this dumpster. THREE TIMES.

So if you have a very physical job ahead of you: eat regular meals (no heavy meals); take your whole-food vitamins, as your body absorbs them better; eat healthy foods like fresh vegetables. Increase your protein intake, too. Nuts are good. Fish is good. Red meat and chicken are good, but I didn’t like to eat heavy meats every night, as they are more difficult to digest.

It really will make a difference!

2. Use safety equipment, when it’s safe to wear them.

This is another area where I tend to fail miserably. I wear glasses, and I just can’t stand the safety goggles! When it’s a hot summer day and I’m at the power tools, the goggles fog up. The plastic lenses are cloudy and blurry and I can never see clearly with them. How can it possibly be safer to wear those things?? My opinion is that it is not. I don’t wear safety goggles unless I’m working with caustic liquids.

I do use ear plugs, now. I didn’t during most of the renovation, but the piercing screams of the circular saw really started to bother me. Ear protection is important, use it.

Dust masks are indispensable. I forced the kids to use them at all times. They were a real pain, especially when it was very hot and humid, but they are necessary. Unfortunately, most of the dust masks available are for men– that is, they fit large faces. I am thinking of petitioning companies to consider women and teens when they make masks– we work, too!

DR Ceiling Down

Another little-mentioned safety tip is to use braces. Boy, these came in handy! Going up and down stairs, carrying buckets of bricks and plaster and stone… crawling around in crevices trying to wire the boxes…. my son developed a knee injury from all the activity, so we got him a knee brace. It worked wonders and he wears it whenever we do heavy physical work.

3. Create a quitting time and relax in the evening.

As mentioned earlier, I tended to want to work obsessively until the job was done. It was like my mind was on overdrive but my body was in neutral (and in reverse, sometimes!). I am aware that this is an area with which I’d still struggle if I was still renovating.. and I’m going to have to really force myself to cool my jets when we gut the upstairs of the house. But I do realize how important it is to rest after a hard day. Not only is it good for the body, but it helps your mind to recuperate, too.

LivvyConkedOut

Take a clue from the cat: REEEELAAAAX.

 

4. Keep the worksite clean.

I learned this from walking into my son’s room while he slept at night. When he was younger, he used to leave his Lego pieces all over the floor. Oh, those things are nasty when your foot finds them at 2am!

So when we created a few workbenches and brought in all the tools from the garage, we HAD to clean up everything before bed. No tools left around! If something like a Lego feels so awful, I could only imagine what it would be like to slam a toe into a pipe basin wrench! Oooo! >.<

Work1

Having a place for the tools also makes it easier to find what you need during the job!

5. Get someone else to do the gardening. :-p

Don’t overwhelm yourself with a zillion other projects during this time. I did the spring planting before we started the renovation, and had the kids manage the garden during the renovation. Toward the end of the season, the garden was filled with weeds, but I didn’t care. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

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10 Things About My New Kitchen I Am Thankful For

June 14, 2011

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I’m taking my dear friend Carole’s suggestion. After a particularly harried day fussing over a plumbing cob job problem, Carole said, “Go get a cup of coffee and look at before and after pics of your kitchen and cheer yourself up…” Hey, who am I to pass up a cup of coffee??

So I did. And I figured I’d write about the amazing things about my new kitchen that I am SO thankful for. Our kitchen renovation was a BIG job. I don’t think I’d ever tackled anything so intense, except maybe childbirth, lol. Even the 2007 living room renovation paled in comparison to last summer’s big kitchen blitz. We and some folks from our church rebuilt everything on our own– electrical, plumbing, heating system, insulation, drywall, flooring, cabinets and counters, and appliances. Whew, it was a very intense year. In case you missed all the tremendous fun from last year, you can check out some of my blog posts here.

Here are 10 things for which I am very thankful.

1. We’d gutted the kitchen and dining room to the bare bones. I am thankful for that because I’m a rather fussy person. I don’t like to inherit another person’s “disaster.” Old houses are almost never disasters– old houses are exceptional in that they are solidly built with superior craftsmanship and quality materials. In this, they have new construction beat. However, the common “disasters” that strike an old home is usually sub-par remodeling or neglect. My house has suffered from both, but especially from terrible “remodels” in some of the rooms. Much of my turmoil comes from fixing previous remodels. So I like to gut the walls and start from scratch. I don’t like patching up previous owners’ disasters. And I also like to see exactly what’s behind the walls. I’m still looking for those gold dubloons somewhere.

Kitchen Gutted

2. I am thankful for my dishwasher. My daughter and I STILL give thanks regularly for it. We used to wash loads and loads of dishes by hand. When I used to babysit kids, I was washing dishes for ten people three times a day.

dishwasher90273

I got a cheap dishwasher, too– the kind without the electronic panel and no fancy features. I’d heard that fancy dishwashers break easily. I got this cheapo model in case it died early– then I wouldn’t feel so bad if it broke on me. But it’s been going like a champ. And we LOVE it.

3. I am thankful for my vinyl plank flooring. My first choice was hardwoods (whose isn’t?!) but it was too expensive and I didn’t think I could install something like that myself. So I opted for easy care vinyl plank flooring. It really is very easy to take care of, and doesn’t look too bad!

DR flooring2

4. I am thankful for my kitchen window. I love this window. It’s so big, more than twice the size of the previous window. I can see the entire backyard through this thing. And when I open it, all the breezes come in. I love the woodwork and the pendant light!

Window1

5. I am thankful for my wood countertops. I bought them online and had them delivered, can you believe it?! 350 pounds of countertops! Laminate might have been a little cheaper, but it would have been too much work to custom make it to fit my large space. The wood is just so wonderful. I am just starting to relax a little about the countertops. Before, I was rather hyper about any scratch or swelling. But now I’m not as fussy, because if the wood gets a scratch or swells, I can simply sand it down and recoat the surface with oil.

BevAreaCounter

6. I love my dining room. :)

DiningRoomDone2

7. I am SO thankful for insulation. Maybe that sounds kind of weird, but if you have ever lived in an old, uninsulated house, you know exactly what I mean. The insulated walls make the house so, so much more comfortable. I can’t wait to have the upstairs insulated.

DRinsulation

8. I am thankful for new electric. For several years, we had no electricity in many of the rooms. After we gutted the living room in 2007 and saw the condition of the 100-year-old knob-and-tube wiring, I disconnected it for fear of fire. We were without electric in the kitchen except for a small ceiling light and one outlet. It was a pretty miserable room to be in, so dark and ugly.

When we gutted the kitchen and dining room, I wired new electricity throughout the house. I also wired Ethernet. Of course, in some of the upstairs bedrooms we only have one working outlet and a switch-operated ceiling light, but it’s one NEW outlet and a NEW light operated by a switch (before, the ceiling lights were pull-chain, ugh). I am very, very thankful for our new electric. I sleep so much better at night now.

electric2242

9. I am thankful for drywall. I adore the inventor of drywall. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. There are some “hard core” old home owners who install plaster and lathe in their homes, but not me. Plaster is dusty, dirty, ugly, it cracks, it’s lumpy and bumpy and did I say it’s dusty? It also smells. :-p I like my drywall.

DR ceiling sheetrock

10. I’m thankful for my new cabinets. They cost me a verrry pretty penny, but I love them. They are solid plywood. Beautiful doors. I love the color and they are so durable.

Window2

Can you believe I’ve counted to ten already?! I could keep going on and on!

In case you’re wondering, this is what the old kitchen looked like.

Ugliest Kitchen1

Ugliest Kitchen2

Now you see why I am so thankful. :)

It’s rather easy to see only the things that go wrong when you have an old house (mostly because things are always going wrong in an old house!!). But there’s a lot of marvelous benefits to living in an old home. And I am grateful to have a home. I shudder when I remember apartment living!

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Old Home Owner’s Malaise

June 13, 2011

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Maybe this is normal. I don’t know.

I’m suffering from a severe case of the Old Home Blues. I have absolutely no energy to tackle any projects around here. Not the garden, not all the undone little projects from the kitchen renovation from last summer…. and when I encounter a “new” problem, I just want to go to bed and pretend it isn’t there. Right now, if I could sell and make a profit, I would. I would get a new house (in old-house speak, a new house is one that was built post World War II). ALL the plumbing and electric and insulation and windows would be done. Maybe even have nice carpeting and a deck and a downstairs toilet that doesn’t bubble when the upstairs is flushed… It would be the next thing to heaven. yeah.

Oh, I’m down in the dumps about another plumbing problem. Honestly, I kinda thought we were over the plumbing problems, last year after we replaced everything—well, ALMOST everything, and that’s the problem right there.

The handle to the bathtub faucet broke off yesterday. I dropped a small plastic container of hand soap on it, and BOOP it snapped. Just a handle, though. Tub handles are replaceable, easy– you screw off the old and screw on the new!! EASY!!!

*violent sobbing*

The faucet handle stem is plastic. The stem is the rod inside the handle that turns the water supply on and off as you spin the handle. Every single diagram I have ever seen shows metal stems. The screw off. EVERY SINGLE ONE.

Except mine. Mine’s plastic. And they don’t screw off.  Nope, the system is all integrated. The chrome sleeve escutcheon, the valve body inside the wall. All integrated. So we can’t just screw off the old and screw on the new. We have to GUT THE BATHROOM WALL and replace ALL the copper pipes to install a new valve, stem and faucet fixtures.

tub faucet plastic stem1

You can see the plastic stem end that broke off.

tub faucet plastic stem2

The chrome sleeve will NOT budge. I think it’s welded to the valve (inside the wall). There’s no threaded flange to screw on and off. We managed to remove the plastic cartridge from the sleeve. I’ve never seen anything like it in a tub handle, but then again, I’m no plumber. I can understand the cartridge inside as plastic.. but plastic for the STEM?! The rod that sticks out upon which the entire handle spins? It’s born to fail.

tub faucet plastic stem4

tub faucet plastic stem3

I don’t think this type of tub handle set is even made anymore. We would kinda like to modernize the whole thing, but we’d have to replace the whole thing, a monumental task. This is the valve from the “access panel” behind the shower. Note that the panel covers the right side of the plumbing. There’s a wall stud there. We can’t replace the valve, anyway, unless I hack through the wall with a reciprocating saw.

tub faucet plastic stem5

Do you hear that banshee-screaming-like sound? That’s not the wind. That’s my whining, all the way from New York State.

Hey, if any of you old-timers have any advice to offer me, please do. :)

Update: I’ve done more research online, and it looks like the plastic cartridge is replaceable (the brand is Universal Rundle). I even found an online store that sells them!!!!! That’s encouraging. The Hubs is going to decide whether he wants to simply replace the cartridges and leave the cob job cobbed, or replace the entire valve system to something more modern. We’d have to rip out part of the wall for that…. it’s not a large portion of the wall, but I foresee some issues. I only pray that all the twisting and shaking we did yesterday to get the handles apart has not broken the seals around the copper pipes! Pray that we don’t get a leak!

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Emerald Ash Borer: One Little Bug, So Much Damage

June 2, 2011

5 Comments

There’s a new bug in town. And yep — you guessed it — it’s a native of Asia. With all the bugs and diseases that comes from Asia, it’s any wonder that there are even ANY trees there. Yikes.

The latest news of doom to come from the cooperative extension is the emerald ash borer, a tiny, iridescent green beetle that kills ash trees. I love ash trees. They were a hearty replacement for the gigantic elm trees that one graced Main Street America. They died off by a beetle, too, in the 1950s and 60s. So now you know where the name “Elm Street” comes from and why there are no elms. The ash trees also grow to be giants. When we moved here, there was an enormous ash tree in the front yard. It must have been 40 feet tall. Unfortunately, it had been planted smack dab on the property line, and the neighbor took it down. :( So he could put in an asphalt parking lot. :(

Photo from Wikipedia

Anyway, between chainsaw-crazy, asphalt-loving neighbors and the emerald ash borer, the ash tree looks like it’s in trouble. Really, there doesn’t seem to be anything we can do. It’s a BUG. We all know how pervasive bugs are– there’s no stopping them when they smell fresh meat.

The emerald ash borer is native to Russia, China, and Korea. It was first detected in North America in 2002, lurking in shipping containers brought to Canton, Michigan. The bugs (in containers) spread to Maryland and Virginia, and it really hasn’t taken long for the bug to reach the surrounding states and up into Canada. Now, it’s here in New York State. There are 7 billion ash trees at risk by this dumb little bug. The emerald ash borer has already chewed through millions of trees in the Midwest.

The ash tree is a commercially important tree to us. It’s a very versatile and dense hardwood. We use ash tree wood to make guitars, baseball bats, furniture joinery, flooring, milled products, tool handles, and millions of other materials where strong but flexible wood is needed. The sugary sap from ash was even once used by the ancient Norse in making their “Mead of Inspiration.” The ash tree is also an important shade tree since it grows so tall so quickly. The Northeastern White Ash can tower to heights of 100 feet.

The emerald ash borer kills ash trees by strangulation (called “girdling”). The bug lays its eggs beneath the surface of the bark, where the larvae tunnels around the sensitive phloem and cambium layers of the tree. The tree, unable to transport nutrients from its roots to upper trunk and branches, dies within 2 to 4 years from infestation. Good Lord. Since 2002, the bug has killed 50 million trees in North America.

The only thing we can do to stave off the pandemic is to be VERY careful about firewood we carry to camp sites and report the beetle should we discover it in our area. The Department of Environmental Conservation is taking this threat very seriously and has quarantined several counties in New York State (see maps below). See their page dec.ny.gov/animals/7253.html for more information.

Image courtesy of DEC

Image courtesy of DEC

As far as we know, there is no natural predator to the emerald ash borer in North America. I read a story that a certain type of wasp was discovered on ash trees in China, so that may offer some help. I wish there was some kind of easy solution. Who knows what problems imported wasps will bring….

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