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Smash Fear, Learn Anything

November 3, 2012

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Have you ever heard of the four-hour work week? I have not until this morning… but I think I’ve been living it for the past 10 years! The four-hour work week is a book, and a blog, run by “productivity guru” Tim Ferriss. Both his books (“The Four-Hour Work Week” and “The Four-Hour Body”) made The New York Times Best Seller List. I’ve also seen his “Smash Fear, Learn Anything” presentation on TED.com in which he relates his childhood fears and inhibitions, and how he learned to overcome them. The “Four-Hour Body” book doesn’t interest me much how to get muscles and etc, dull stuff to most women), but the “Four-Hour Work Week” sounds fascinating! According to Wikipedia: “The book warns against information overload, recommends what Ferriss calls “selective ignorance” and uses the phrase “lifestyle design.”

Oh my word, I think I have been living this way forever now! LOL. Those of you who have followed our blog here and seen how we have built back so much of this house with our own hands have commented on how you can’t believe we have this energy and gumption to do all this. But you know what– we simply do it. And it’s not because we are so special, it’s because we BELIEVE we can do it. We believe we can just learn how and go ahead and do it. I’ve been living my life more and more like this, and it’s very productive and rewarding.

I love how Ferriss warns against “information overload” and “lifestyle design.” That’s excellent advice. One very good example of information overload and crappy lifestyle choices is with the television. I know, I know, I’ve harped on this before… but the TV is so toxic. It does almost nothing to educate but rather forces us to conform — to be “dumbed down” to the lowest level. Public schooling is like that. Public schooling tries to make every child uniform, it’s a cookie-cutter system that makes a kid a jack of a trades but master of none. Human beings tend to “specialize.” Some specialize in many things, but it’s against the human psyche to know EVERYTHING. Children have certain “bents” and it’s up to the parents to know those bents and direct the child to the trade that will make him happy. And make him well-fed, that’s kinda important, too. But this is why, traditionally, children were out of school after 8th grade. By that time, they had learned the basics and could go on to higher education — as learned adults — to learn brain surgery or rocket science or whatever. Back then, the education was far superior because it didn’t need to be watered down and extended an extra 10 years. Kids don’t NEED to be in public schools forever. But the system makes a lot of money for some people and it’s become a “utility” now. Which is why we all love and admire the amazingly educated and socially graceful kids graduating from the schools every year, right? It’s “for the kids,” right?

Anyway, I’ve been called an over-achiever JUST BECAUSE I am so productive. I can’t believe people think I am an over-achiever — I’m not! It’s just that so many people are under-achievers. I don’t mean to be rude or offensive, but it’s the truth. I look back at our forefathers and see ALL the amazing things they did way back when, and I’m a slacker! And my gumption is not a personality trait, either. As a kid, I was horribly shy, miserable and depressed under an abusive and dark childhood. When I was a teenager, I realized that Jesus died to give me peace with God and with myself. I started to read the New Testament and decided to simply believe that I CAN DO ALL things through Christ who strengthens me.

I don’t know much more about Tim Ferriss, but I agree with his findings. Surround yourself with only relevant, healthful, strengthening sources and YOU will become relevant, healthful and strong.

His findings aren’t some radical new idea, they’re actually Biblical, they’ve been around for as long as humans have been around. And God isn’t a crutch as non-thinking people say. God is GOD and He is powerful and He gives us the power to overcome our problems and difficulties instead of seeking drugs, TV, therapy and Oprah to soothe our fears.

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LED Lights: Expensive But Very Nice

July 12, 2012

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I’m fresh from writing an article (for SF Gate) about light bulbs, and it got me thinking about LED bulbs. I got one from Home Depot last year and I haven’t really used it much. But after that article and seeing how much energy LEDs save compared to incandescent, I’m very curious and eager to try more of these bulbs.

Home Depot has a terrific chart comparing incandescent, CFL (those “swirly” bulbs I always complain about) and LED bulbs. While I don’t care much for the CFL (they are so expensive and never last as long as they say), I rather like the LEDs. Look at the comparison!

Chart courtesy of HomeDepot.com.

Energy costs are very, very high in the Northeast so there’s been demand for.. well, for energy costs to go DOWN but that ain’t gonna happen here…. so we’re scrambling to get better bulbs and adjust our lifestyles to save money. That’s really the only choice we have. LEDs are still rather expensive, but the prices are starting to fall. Last year, this bulb I got cost $35. This year, it’s under $20. Other styles and brands are $10. It would still cost me a small fortune to rig up my home with LEDs, but I already pay a fortune in energy costs.

I’m seriously thinking of getting LEDS, at least for the kitchen which consumes the most lighting in the house. To do so would cost me about $180! But they also produce less heat, last longer and save energy. Hmmm.

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Cool Aluminum Foil Garden Markers

June 7, 2012

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Garden markers are so helpful when the little seedlings are just starting to pop up in the garden. All those seedlings look the same and if you are like me, you totally forget what you plant where. In the past, I’ve tried popsicle stick markers (the pen ink fades and the popsicle sticks never go in far enough so they topple over) and skinny tree limbs stuck in the ground with colored string (I always lose that list that tells me what color belongs to what plant!). So when I saw a unique fix at lifehacker.com/5915201/make-garden-markers-with-aluminum-duct-tape, I flipped. This is so neat!

Crafting weblog Aunt Peaches shares how to make inexpensive and attractive garden markers using a bit of aluminum duct tape and a box of plastic dinner knives. Cut out a piece of aluminum tape and sandwich it around the handle of the plastic knife. Then write the plant name in reverse on the tape with a ballpoint pen – this will press out the letters on the other side and you’ll have an embossed metallic garden marker.

The key is using aluminum foil duct tape, the kind used for taping heating and cooling ducts together. I tried it using aluminum foil. It didn’t work out very well.

marker

The duct tape markers should last a while. And they look kinda quirky and cute.

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Soundproofing

May 31, 2012

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I have written a number of articles on soundproofing lately (for online publication SF Gate Home) and here. The science behind it is very interesting. There’s s new product called Green Glue. It’s a “viscoelastic damping compound” that looks like green caulk. Apparently, you spread it between a sandwich of drywall boards, and it converts sound waves to heat. Amazing! According to a number of people who have used it, the stuff actually works.

I’m storing all this information for two reasons. One, when sitting in my office, I can hear a pin drop upstairs, right through the floor. It’s simply staggering, how sound travels through this old house. Two, I’m going to be converting the garage into a family music room, and I’ll want it to be soundproof, or at least somewhat soundproof.

Another reason is that we have dogs. Yorkies. They are adorable dogs but they YIP YIP YIP all day long. Not very conducive to recording music in a studio!

Soundproofing is not very common in homes. It should be mandatory in apartment houses, I think. It isn’t very expensive to soundproof or even muffle noises. I don’t know why more landlords don’t do it. I wish mine had!

So this is my latest venture, investigating the science and construction of soundproofing. I haven’t been able to start my built-in bookshelf project yet….

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How to Move With Less Stress

January 24, 2012

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One of my pals on Facebook recently moved across the country. He mentioned that his “car was on the ferry and the boxes on the plane.” Oh my word, I have never moved out of state but it must be so stressful!

There are ways to alleviate a bit of the stress of moving. Here’s how:

1. Mercilessly throw away your unused and unwanted items.
Those old business suits from the 1980s that don’t fit you anymore? Get rid of them. Chance are you’re not likely to squeeze into them again, and even if you were you’d probably want something much more modern. Consider donating those old Tupperware containers, collection of floor lamps, and stuffed animals from your youth.

When it comes to children, avoid throwing away their things. The move is stressful enough for them, and kids become very emotionally attached to their possessions. So don’t throw away their stuff unless they really, really want to rid of it. Making the kids feel secure and relaxed is well worth the extra four or five boxes of old toys.

2. Purchase packing boxes.
I can’t believe that I, the Frugal Queen, am telling you to BUY boxes for you move! But I have moved quite a number of times in my day, and locating recycled boxes is very stressful, especially when you can’t find any. Many stores crush their boxes almost as soon as they get them, so if you get recycled boxes, you often have to rebuild them with glue or duct tape. In my opinion, your time is much better spent packing and preparing for the big move, not duct taping junky old crushed boxes.

3. Rent a truck.
If you have a lot of stuff, it is much, much better to rent a truck to haul your stuff. Everything is packed into ONE or two vehicles, which makes locating stuff so much easier later. Believe me, the last thing you want to experience is rummaging through minivan after sedan looking for the lost “binky” in some box or another. If you have to transport a vehicle, learn about the car shipping process and get a handful of reasonable quotes from several businesses. A website like CarTransportQuotes.com can help.

4. Research your moving company.
If you hire a moving company, look them up online. Get references, call former customers. Get a complete picture of the company. There have been too many stories of people whose possessions were stolen or delivered in terrible condition from a lousy company.

5. Take time to relax.
Moving is tiresome, stressful, and exhausting. Make a schedule break and get away from the site for a while. For example, if you are going to spend one entire week packing and moving, schedule a lunch break at the park every day at 1pm, or go out to dinner every two days. These moments help to break up the monotony and stress of moving, and get you out of the mess for a while. I know, going out to eat is expensive– but moving IS expensive. Your mental and emotional health is just as important as Aunt Ethel’s dishes in bubble wrap, you know. You can opt to eat out at simple places, too– a burger joint or a pizza place. It doesn’t need to be expensive but it does need to be relaxing.

6. Invite friends.
If you have a large family or a ton of stuff, make your packing and move a community event. 🙂 Invite a friend over, one each day. Friends and family can really help lighten the mood as well as lend an extra pair of hands. Make it fun, too– treat your friend or family member to a little lunch or dinner.

7. Give yourself plenty of time.
There is no stress like hurry. Give yourself lots of time to pack and move stuff. Prepare for unexpected things, too, like a rainy day or a sick kid or a delay with the moving truck. The extra buffer of time can really make a difference.

I hope these tips help you. Moving can be such a stressful time, but with a little TLC and preparation, you can make it into an enjoyable experience for you and your family.

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Old Windows vs. Vinyl Replacement Windows

January 16, 2012

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In a previous post, Plaster vs. Drywall, I battled the snob appeal regarding plaster and lath walls. In this post, I’m once again picking up the sword and combating the “old windows versus replacement windows” argument. As an old house owner and a person who has lived in old homes all my life, I’ve had my share of old windows experiences. Most of them have been bad. Yes, people, I HATE old windows. New windows rock.

I love old stuff as much as anyone. My favorite old house style is Federal style, so you know I’m an old house lover. My own house, a Greek Revival, was built in 1855. I have researched the history of the building and its original owner (and owners after that). I know that of the original windows to my house, only two remain. Both are in terrible condition.

Garage Window

One of the original 9/6 windows, behind a storm window.

The other windows to the house were replaced in 1910 or so. Most of those windows are still in place. They are BARELY in place, but they are all still here. The house has a total of 15 windows, and only two windows had ever been replaced since 1910, the kitchen got an aluminum replacement window in 1972 and the upstairs bathroom window got a crank-style Anderson window in the late 1980s.

When we moved here, we could only afford to get 5 windows replaced, the ones that were broken or cracked. We got very inexpensive vinyl replacement windows. They’ve been in place since 1997. Even though they were the cheapest window we could get and even though they are over 14 years old, I LOVE THEM.

Yet among the “old house experts,” old windows are somehow superior to new ones. Old house folks are always saying that old windows are better than new ones because… well, just because. Old windows look better, they say. They say there is no difference with heat loss between the two, that old windows are more historic, and they are just “better.” I say: BAH.

So I’m here to debate the “old window” snobs. I think new windows are great, and old windows — especially MY 100+ year old windows — need replacing. And there’s nothing wrong with replacing old windows with new ones.

Snob appeal says: When it comes to insulation factors and heat loss, old windows play a small part and do not lose THAT much heat.

Reality Check: What planet are you from?!

My old windows rattle, shake, and leak. Cold air in the winter and hot air in the summer blow through the holes all around the frame. True, the glazing on parts of the window is flaking off (another problem with old windows) so air leaks through some of the windows (but glazing is not the problem with some of the others). Old windows are made of glass– thin, 1/8-inch thick glass. This house has 15 windows that are 32 inches by 62 inches– that’s 13.78 square feet of windows for the entire house. Which means that approximately 207 square feet of the walls here was covered by 1/8-inch glass. Brrr. Just yesterday with temperatures falling into the single digits, the old windows were caked with a thick layer of ice. The ice melted during the day and water was everywhere. I have to lay a towel on each windowsill to prevent the water from running all over the floor. Even with storm windows on some of the old windows, we still get thick ice on the glass. So for me, ALL my old windows, the ones that have storm windows and the ones that do not, develop thick ice on the glass when it gets cold. None of my vinyl replacement windows have EVER developed ice, not ever.

oldwindowicile

My old window. Don't let the snobs tell you there's no measurable heat loss difference between old and new windows!

Vinyl replacement, on the other hand, has two panes of glass in each sash. When we installed vinyl replacement windows in our dining room, the change was remarkable. Before, my hair would blow around at the dinner table on a particularly blustery day; new windows stopped that. Before, we could almost hear our neighbors in their homes discussing with each other how to kill my flower gardens and hack at my trees; after the new windows were installed, I live in blissful ignorance of their schemes. Windows will never really be very good at keeping out the extreme temperatures, no matter what kind of material they are made from. But vinyl replacement performs better than the old glass. That’s a fact.

Now let me temper this argument with a few points. YES, storm windows installed over old windows help reduce heat loss. YES, vinyl replacement windows will most likely not last 100+ years. Old wooden windows were *usually* made from “old-growth” wood, the hardiest and strongest part of the wood. I don’t know if the original builder of my home made his windows from old-growth. This home was always a “middle income” home in a “middle income” community. The biggest expense the owner made was to install black walnut trim in the living room (which, incidentally, had to be removed because it was soaked with lead-based paint from other owners who had painted over the wood!). Everyone’s mileage may vary because everyone’s house and windows and weather is different.

But in my experience, I have noticed a considerable difference between the old windows and the new. The old windows would stick in the summer and freeze up in the winter. The glass is thin. In all the windows, the glass is so old that is has melted and has drooped from gravity and weather changes. Some people like this kind of “character,” but I don’t. I like to SEE out of my windows, thanks.

Snob appeal says: Old windows look better than vinyl replacement windows. It’s better to keep your rotten old wooden windows than replace them with vinyl windows.

Reality Check: I don’t care how ugly vinyl windows look, rotten wood windows look worse.

It’s true that most “old house” building materials were build with better quality than the trash manufactured today. But there does come a time when you just have to say goodbye to certain things. Moldy plaster and rotten windows are some of them, in my opinion.

I KNOW! I KNOW! I am going against the entire old home snob community when I say these things! But please realize that I am addressing the 99% of us who are middle-income and who own non-state-historic-site houses. We just don’t have the cash to pay for elaborate repairs to old windows or spend millions on new custom wood windows. Those days are gone. For most of us old-house homeowners, vinyl replacement windows are terrific. They are more weather-resistant, easier to clean, have screening, and open and close easier.

Snob Factor: Vinyl replacement windows might look ugly and out of place in an old home. Old windows have more character and appeal.

Reality Check: Character and appeal are code words for “expensive” and “high maintenance.”

I am all for curb appeal and beauty in an old home. But just because SOME replacement windows look ugly, it doesn’t mean that ALL replacement windows are ugly. I have seen some wooden windows installed improperly and look horrible. Just because a window is wood or old doesn’t make it beautiful by default.

I think that my vinyl replacement windows look great. If a millionaire dumped brand new, gorgeous wooden windows into my lap, I’d take it. Heck, yeah. But that hasn’t happened, and I have some kids that need to eat. So we buy vinyl replacement windows and they look pretty good!

DiningRoomNewFlooring

My 14-year old vinyl replacement windows still look fabulous! This photo taken after we had gutted and were restoring the room, in 2010.

 

Snob Factor: Removing painted old windows contaminates the house with lead dust.

Reality Check:
Painting new coats of paint does not cover the lead, it chips off and exacerbates the lead problem.

Lead paint removal is a touchy topic. Every state regulated lead-based paint in old homes differently. Here in New York State, a homeowner can remove lead-based paint articles VERY CAREFULLY from the home. If you hire a contractor, expect to pay tens of thousands of dollars for the high-tech removal and disposal system.

I have tried both methods: leaving the old windows with their lead paint AND removing them for vinyl replacement. Removing them — WHEN DONE CORRECTLY and SAFELY — is much, much better than keeping the toxic articles. I sleep better knowing that those old time bombs are out of my house and far away from my kids.

Most windows in old homes were painted with oil-based paints that contained lead. You try to slap new paint onto those old windows, that paint is going to come off in no time. And every time you open and close the window, the paint is scraped and lead dust goes into the air. I don’t care what the “experts” say– all that opening and closing the window removes the new paint and just makes dust spew everywhere.

I personally believe it’s best to get rid of the stupid things altogether. No more dust, no more peeling, no more painting every couple of months…. Old windows that are coated with lead-based paint are best removed, in my opinion. The windows MUST be removed safely, however. Make sure you know your local regulations. Some towns even offer financial aid for the removal of these toxic items.

So if you decide to replace your crummy old windows with vinyl replacement, I say good for you. Don’t let the Window Snobs influence you! Shop wisely– get high-quality windows from a reputable company and install them properly. They will last a long time. Mine have.

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The Benefits of Wiring for a Home Network

October 28, 2011

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When I gutted the living room in 2007, I bit the financial bullet and networked the room for Ethernet wiring. Except for drilling a small hole through a 12-inch support beam and 4-inch thick studs, the experience was pretty enjoyable. What I essentially did was create one Ethernet port for each wall in the living room. I ran Cat5 Ethernet wiring inside the wall studs and created a “port” or “Ethernet station” on each wall. One of the walls I made into the “master station.” This area would hold the master computer, the router, and the face plate that would hold all the Ethernet port cables. I scratched a rough diagram showing one of the ports and the master area. It’s pretty rough, but it gives you an idea of how simple it is to network a room.

networking32

As you can see from the diagram, I basically created “extension cords” of Ethernet wiring within the walls. Previously, the other computers in the room were connected by wires that I had to string on the floor, across doorways and through the living room. It was terribly messy, and dangerous.

This is the face plate after I had wired the Ethernet. The top two ports are telephone (RJ11) jacks. The others are Ethernet (RJ45) jacks. I left one blank because I didn’t need it filled at the time.

Modular Face Plate

Ah, but now I have cable Internet, with coaxial wiring. I had fun yesterday, and learned how to wire a coaxial cable jack to my master face plate.

networking

You’ll notice that the other two ports have Ethernet cables. These cables go to the router and to the switch, which is a device that acts like an extension cord for the router. Most routers have only 4 ports in the back, but I need many more connections. The switch is a big box that can hold more connections. The one I have holds 16 more Ethernet connections!

Eventually, I want to make the entire house wired. Currently, the computers in the upstairs rooms use wireless. While wireless is pretty handy, I don’t like using it for main computers. It takes up a lot of bandwidth when everyone is on together. Wireless is also a PAIN to configure and if there’s interference from airplanes, CB radios, microwaves, whatever, it can be frustrating when downloading stuff. Wireless is also less secure than wired connections.

The hardest part about home networking, in my opinion, is getting the wiring through the walls. Even when we gutted the walls, it was still hard to drill holes through such big, old lumber. Wiring the upstairs is easier because you can string the wires up into the attic and simply drop them down into the wall cavities without drilling horizontally through studs. When we renovate the upstairs, I will be adding a few Ethernet ports to each of the bedrooms.

Cat5 jack wired

We’ve had our home network system for a few years now, and I’ve never regretted it. The only thing I regret is not adding more ports!

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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. 😀 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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What I Learned at the Home Depot Lighting Showcase in New York City

August 3, 2011

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I attended the Home Depot Lighting Showcase in New York City last week, to learn more about light bulb technology. I have previously expressed my dismay that the federal government and my state (New York) have passed legislation sharply restricting and eventually prohibiting incandescent light bulbs in the United States. Some of you have (like me) really detest the compact fluorescent light (CFL) “swirly” fluorescent bulbs and are stocking up on incandescents for the future. When the folks at Home Depot invited me to check out some new bulb technology, I was keenly interested. Here are a few things I learned from the showcase:

The old bulb with metal filament.

1. Incandescents are not outlawed by the government.
This news was rather surprising. According to one of the gentlemen at the showcase, the federal government is requiring that incandescents be “energy efficient.” On display at the showcase was a very unique incandescent bulb that had — of all things– a halogen bulb inside it!

Now, regular incandescents, the ones we’ve been using since Thomas Edison, work this way: a glass bulb is filled with inert gas and contains a thin metal filament. When electrified, the filament heats up until it glows, producing light. Unfortunately, about 90 percent of the energy generated is wasted, emitting heat and not light. Since energy is a precious commodity, the incandescent is considered very wasteful.

Now, I like the light that incandescents emit. It’s warm, cozy, comforting. CFLs are terribly harsh, ugly and some of them do not fit in my lamp fixtures. It seems that many of us are convinced we are being forced between choosing soon-to-be illegal incandescents or the ugly and expensive CFLs. But this is not so! Read on…

2. Manufacturers are making our beloved incandescent more energy efficient.
At the showcase, the Home Depot dudes showed me a new type of incandescent, a bulb with a small halogen bulb inside of it. This is the sample they gave me.

EcoVantageBulb

I was very impressed with this bulb. According to the packaging, this new incandescent offers 28 percent energy savings, 1000 hours life cycle, a light output of 1490 lumens and all for 72 watts. The bulb is brighter than a typical incandescent, and shines a very pleasant, clear light.

The new bulb with halogen insert.

Obviously, such a remanufactured bulb will cost more. In my location, I can purchase one package of regular incandescent light bulbs that contain 4 bulbs for about $1.50. These new EcoVantage bulbs come in packs of two, and cost approximately $3 per package. That’s a jump, but realize that the bulbs save energy and reduce your energy bill somewhat.

3. Manufacturers are making a slew of new kinds of bulbs. The key is “energy efficient” lighting.

These EcoVantage bulbs are only the next step up from incandescents in energy efficiency. The CFLs have better efficiency than the EcoVantage, and the Halogena Energy Saver bulbs are better than them all. The most energy efficient of all are the new-fangled LED lights. This is a totally new technology that has been long in coming. I’ll have much more about those in future posts.

So we do have some choices here, and we are not merely relegated to a war between incandescents vs. CFLs. Manufacturers are truly stepping up to the plate to offer more palatable choices for us. The bad news is that we will all be paying a lot more for light bulbs. The good news is that the bulbs last exponentially longer and save energy.

I’ll have more information about the developments of new bulbs and about the Home Depot Showcase in posts to come. So come back for more! 🙂

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