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How’s Your Winter Going?

February 18, 2013

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Just when I thought perhaps spring was set for an early arrival, arctic air from the north extends its chilly fingers over the land. That dumb groundhog doesn’t know what he’s talking about (lol). It has been in the single digits and by 10am — with the sun shining gloriously away — it was a meager 9 degrees outside. I am SO glad I insulated the downstairs of the house when we gutted the kitchen. I’ve seen a nice drop in our heating bills, although the upstairs of this house is still uninsulated and unrenovated. This past summer, we did manage to install new vinyl replacement windows in all but two bedrooms. This has improved things somewhat, but it’s still very cold up there especially on days like these. Once we insulate, I think it will be much more temperate.

I can’t even begin to imagine how insanely cold it must have been for the original occupants. In the 1850s, most people around here installed coal fireplaces for their houses, although the kitchen here still had a pot-bellied wood-burning stove until the 1960s! But as far as I have been able to tell, there were only four fireplaces in the house– one for the kitchen in the back addition, one for the parlor, one for the dining room, and ONE for all four bedrooms upstairs! It must have been agonizing up there. As a matter of fact, the original builder’s wife died of pneumonia in her icy-cold bedroom. šŸ™ Back then, they didn’t insulate (much) or even have luxuries like atrium windows reviews to find good windows at good deals. Can you believe the leaps and bounds we’ve made in modern home comforts since the 1850s? It’s pretty amazing, I think. Today, we have SO much at our disposal that the choices are dizzying and aggravating. Of course, we can access atrium windows reviews and building products to find out what’s best for our needs and climate, and I am thankful. I’m mainly self-taught by stuff like that.

So how’s your winter going where you are? In the Northeast, February tends to be the most difficult month. This is when the snow is brown, when the cold temperatures are biting instead of invigorating, the air is dry and we are sick of winter. We long for spring and green and soft air again. Many of my peers turn to their gardening catalogs about this time, too (I just got High Mowing Seeds and Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalogs in the mail), but it’s too early for me to think of gardening, ugh. I’m still trying to keep warm so my thoughts go toward atrium windows reviews and fiberglass batting and furnace BTUs!

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Our First Venture Canning Food

September 19, 2012

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Correction: The daughter‘s first venture canning food. I stood back and watched. šŸ™‚

We ordered 50 pounds of organic beefsteak canning tomatoes from FarmshedCNY.com. She finished the job a few days ago. I don’t know how many quarts and pints of tomatoes we eventually got, but it was a lot! Three days work!

Canned tomatoes

The only reason we only canned tomatoes is because our garden was a dismal failure this year. The barrage of flooding we suffered last year (THREE floods) really took its toll on the property. I’m just getting too old to work full time, renovate a house AND clean up the yard all day long. Whew. The kids do help out a lot but they also have their own stuff to do.

Next year, Lord willing, we will have a garden full of green beans, yellow squash, tomatoes, rutabagas….

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Is Emergency Preparedness A Pipe Dream?

November 5, 2011

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I’m reading this very old book, Historic Storms of New England. It was written by Sidney Perley and published in 1891. His narratives go back to the first recorded natural disasters of the year 1635, a mere 15 years after the Separatists (English Pilgrims) landed on the shores of Massachusetts in 1620. The book is amazing, it tells of earthquakes, strange appearances in the heavens, blizzards, hurricanes (although they were not called hurricanes back then), meteorites and other strange events and storms. Some of the stories include eyewitness accounts (one family’s devastating shipwreck is heart wrenching). In most cases, such natural catastrophes drew people closer to God.

As I’ve been reading the book, oddly enough, New York and New England have suffered a year of unusual weather and natural disasters. This year alone, we’ve had THREE devastating floods, an earthquake, two hurricanes, innumerable tornadoes and — a mere week ago — a freak October Nor’Easter that dumped 32 inches in Maine. I was shocked to read the blog of one of my friends. who reports that in Connecticut they STILL have no electrical power. Cindi at moomettesmagnificents.com/blog/survival-guide-102-in-connecticut-irene-was-a-dress-rehersal-for-alfred-day-5 has had to throw out all the food in her two refrigerators and freezers. News reports say the storm killed 8 people and cut power for at least 4 million households. Wow. Cindi said she has a generator, but there is no gasoline available, so they are out of power completely. Because of the immense snow and downed trees, travel out of the area is impossible, So they are stuck in the disaster zone. Wow.

Backyard Snow2

It won't be long....

And that got me thinking.

My husband and I have discussed “emergency preparedness” before. We have two sump pumps that work day and night to keep water out of our basement. We’ve experienced numerous floods (so many I can’t count anymore), but only once did we lose power in all our years here. If we lost power — especially during a heavy rainfall or hurricane — we’d be inundated with flood waters. So we discussed getting a generator, thinking this would solve our problem. But after reading Cindi’s situation, I wonder if that’s really the cure-all we originally thought. In a natural catastrophe, the gas stations may not pump gas. Then what?

So I don’t know what to do. I feel rather frustrated because everything in our society is SO reliant and integrated with the electrical grid. It makes me feel uneasy. I like to have a contingency plan, but there really isn’t anything. And I thought, “Well, we could get a wood-burning generator, right?” But our chainsaw needs gas to cut that wood. We have SOME wood in the back, but I don’t think we would have nearly enough. And where would I store it? If another flood rages across my land, all the wood is down the pike.

I’m beginning to think “emergency preparedness” is a pipe dream. There’s only *so much* you can do, because no matter what, you are reliant on other people and groups in the community being prepared, too. Which, as we see with the numerous disasters this year, few communities are. I do wonder about my own community. Are they so busy building sidewalks and shopping centers that they forget the other things, too? Like BOATS, lol.

Hm. What do you think?

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Find the Kitty Friday 11/05

November 5, 2010

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Find the Kitty Friday

FTK 11.5

Where could she be?? šŸ˜‰

Right before I took this photo, she was sneakily peering at me through the slats of the blinds. She looked hilarious, like Peter Lorre in Casablanca or something. But as soon as I got the camera, she turned away. Stinker.

The living room is in a bit of disarray these days. Heck, EVERY room is. We’re still not completely moved in (stuff is still in boxes in the garage), and my scads of shelves that I intended to build have still not materialized. Right now, the emphasis is getting the place buttoned up for winter. But it’s been TOO COLD to do anything outside. And looks like we’ll have rain until Monday or Tuesday. :-p I am so sick of rain that I could scream. I’ve been sick of rain now for about 10 years!

Good news is that, once I install the last baseboard heater and we have our other heaters in, and once I parge the holes in the basement and seal the open cracks, I can concentrate on our phone station area. Half the junk you see scattered in the living room here will finally be placed on shelves and in drawers, then. Yay!

The Hubs got called in to work for another week, though. Which means he will not be around to help out with anything. It also means that our gas pipeline installation will have to wait another week. We’ve been waiting for a break in his schedule since June… but it hasn’t happened. I think we’re going to have to call in a plumber to do the job. Winter is just about here and we still have no heat!! I don’t think we can wait any longer. Oh well, maybe it’s all for the best. Thank God, my husband has been working good hours! I’m grateful for that.

Have a blessed weekend, everyone!

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Insulation- DONE!

July 16, 2010

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One of the reasons I am gutting the house is to be able to insulate the walls (the other reason is to electrify the house). Of course, another option is to leave everything alone and have a contractor blow in cellulose insulation…. however, The Attic has cellulose insulation, and I HATE IT. Both The Attic and the cellulose insulation. It is the dirtiest, dustiest, smelliest stuff EVER. The dust particles ooze out from the tiniest cracks and crevices in the home’s walls and ceilings, and coat the entire house with layers upon layers of dust. We could dust every single day, and have a new layer every single day. I am strongly against blown-in insulation. We have had respiratory problems because of the junk.

So I install fiberglass batts. This is a dirty, laborious job, especially in the heat of summer when the LAST thing on your mind is January snow. But come January, we will be SO glad we did this. My valiant daughter assisted me with this venture. The other kids helped with chores around the house so that I could turn my full attention to the installation. I have the greatest kids in the world, I tell ya. One daughter slaved away outside, on the asphalt on a blistering day, to hang and then take down the loads of laundry.

Here’s part of the dining room wall. This was the most difficult of the two rooms to do. For one, the studs here are spaced very oddly. You may have two studs 8 inches apart, then another stud 18 inches apart. Fiberglass insulation comes in 15-inch widths, so you can imagine all the cutting and fitting we had to do.

DRinsulation

Also in this room, some of the studs had dry rot, from a very old water problem– the previous owners built a small porch and allowed a leak to drip over the window for many years. That entire section was rotted out by the time we bought the house. I had to try and replace some of it with wood, so that we will have something to secure the sheetrock to, when the time comes. Another corner had no wood at all– back in the days of plaster and lathe, furring strips held up the plaster, and there was no need for the modern-day framing that we see today. Indeed, the hardest part of renovating an old house–where most of the labor occurs– is in form-fitting it to modern-day size demands: 15-inch fiberglass, 16″ on-center framing for sheetrock, 4 x 8 sheets, etc. Back in the olden days, they didn’t have these and so didn’t account for them. It’s a real PAIN to have to do this, believe me.

DRinsulation2

I used faced fiberglass batts AND plastic vapor barrier. It’s a little much, I know. Supposedly, the facing on the batts makes a semi air-tight seal. But not in this house. My home is balloon-frame, AND with all the slicing and dicing of the batts we had to do, there would still be a lot of drafts coming through. So we stapled large sheets of vapor barrier to seal the cavities even more. I had done this in the living room, and the difference that winter was astounding. NO drafts! It was the first winter we didn’t have to wrap ourselves in blankets just to keep warm. (And that goes without saying that the forced-air furnace system was woefully inadequate).

Here’s the kitchen.

kitcheninsulation

If you recall, I had mentioned in previous posts that the kitchen had no walls behind the old cabinets. Whenever we opened a drawer or cabinet, freezing-cold air would blast through. Well, I MADE SURE that this kitchen is going to be air-tight and warm this time! I really can’t wait to see how this system stands up to winter’s cold.

kitcheninsulation2

Here are some tips for installing (or inspecting) insulation, should you need to:

  • Don’t squeeze the insulation into the cavities, if you can avoid it. Because my home has brick noggin between the studs, I did not have enough depth for the thick batts, so I did have to squeeze them in. But squeezing or compressing fiberglass reduces it’s insulating qualities.
  • If you have stud cavities of varying widths as we do, measure carefully. Cut the batts to a perfect fit. While installing the batt, start at the top and tuck in the pink fiberglass from the sides while trying to leave a paper tab so you can staple the paper to the wood stud. This helps to hold the batt up, and to improve the seal.
  • Dust your skin with baby powder before, during, and after working with fiberglass, to help prevent itching skin.
  • Have a VERY sharp utility knife with extra blades on hand. The small bit of tar in the fiberglass batt facing sticks to the knife and dulls it, making the job slower and slower. Change blades frequently.
  • For 2×4-inch framed walls, install the 3 1/2-inch fiberglass batts; for 2×6-inch framed walls, install the 5 1/2-inch fiberglass batts. These batts are specially designed to fit perfectly in the stud cavity; they will fill the depth of the studs appropriately. Also, some municipalities regulate the insulation’s R-value, or quality of insulation you can use. My area regulation says I must use a minimum of R-13 for walls in 2×4 framing, and R-19 for walls in 2×6 framing. The higher the R-value, the better the insulating quality of the material.
  • Most vapor barrier rolls come in 10-foot lengths. Don’t cut the length when you install it– only measure for the width. Hang the sheet up at the top of the wall, and staple down (it’s handy to have a helper pull the sheet tight so you don’t get wrinkles in the plastic). When you come to the bottom of the sheet, cut off the remaining extra length– but leave a 2-inch lip onto the floor. When you set your sheetrock against the wall, the board will rest on that plastic lip. You can caulk the small gap where the sheetrock sits, thus creating a seal against floor drafts.

The Department of Energy has a website with a page on Insulation R-Values recommended for the United States at www1.eere.energy.gov/consumer/tips/insulation.html. And here’s a good Insulation Fact Sheet at ornl.gov/sci/roofs+walls/insulation/ins_16.html, too.

So this project is done. Whew! I am strangely surprised at how terribly tired I am from the job. My daughter is, too. Our bones ache, and we are just plumb tuckered. I’m surprised, because installing insulation isn’t all THAT labor-intensive. Demolition was labor intensive! But perhaps it was the heat (we had a heat wave going on) and high humidity? Or going up and down the ladders? Anyway, I don’t think I can do anymore renovation work today. I’m pooped.

Saturday’s goals are to finish running wiring for baseboard heaters upstairs, and create a PVC pipe shaft for a future central heating system installation. I also have to wire for Ethernet before we close up the walls. And here’s hoping The Hubs gets the PEX plumbing system completed! We start hanging sheetrock in the dining room on Sunday. Today, I get the insulation inspected. I have a lot of work to do for my job today (writing articles), so I think I’ll recuperate from the insulation while working on articles.

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Building Supply Comparison Shopping

March 17, 2010

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Now that the snow is just about gone, I feel invigorated enough to start some planning for the new kitchen, and do some supply comparison shopping. I had this amazingly bright idea when I visited my local Big Box Home Improvement Store— take a camera to snap photos of the products! And to think I used to write it all down on paper with a pencil! No one in the store seemed to mind one bit. Maybe everybody does it, now?? It is extremely helpful to snap photos of the stuff. I can look at the photos and compare with other products online or at other stores.

Sheetrock prices are still steady. I have to find out from what country this stuff originates– I won’t buy Chinese-made sheetrock because of all the health problems it’s caused. I wrote a post about that here, if you are interested: Chinese-Made Drywall Causing Headaches.

drywalsle

I have determined to get Traffic Master Allure flooring. I LOVE the stuff, LOVE it. I wrote more about it, here.

Traffic Master Allure

allure

Of course, I have to plan all the electric, too. Wow, prices have really creeped up on this stuff. I will also *hope* to be getting some help installing the electric this time. I did the Living Room and girls’ bedroom all by myself, but the kitchen has special needs. I’d appreciate an expert or two for this. And just think– soon my entire house will FINALLY have electricity!! It’s almost too good to be true!

electrc

Yep, I’m installing Cat5 Internet wiring in EVERY ROOM. I dislike wireless. I’ll have to build a control panel somewhere, to accommodate for all the ports we’ll have.

cat5stuff

So that’s the latest. I’m really, really getting excited about this. I’m working very hard while it’s still winter, to earn enough money to pay off my bills and save some for this project. I’ll probably have to get a bank loan to fund it all, though. :-p But Lord willing, everything will fit into place. I’ll be sure to have loads of posts with photos as we progress. I am n the process of making the electrical, plumbing, and furnace duct schematic. I figure I’ll start demolition sometime at the end of April or mid-May.

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Preparing for Winter Power Outages

October 8, 2009

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Power outages in winter in Upstate New York are lousy. I don’t have a fireplace! There is a twinge of uneasiness to be so reliant on the electric grid… we have a nice hefty pile of seasoned wood in the backyard should we ever really need it, and I can always gather all the kids together in the same room and make them do calisthenics to warm things up šŸ˜‰ …but I like to be prepared. One thing I am in desperate need of is a battery-powered weather radio. I’ve procrastinated all summer long about the thing, so I’m finally checking specs and prices. Eton FR350 Self-Powered radio looks terrific! I think I am going to get it. It’s like the Swiss Army knife of radio:

  • AM/FM and 8 Shortwave bands
  • Numerous power options: 3 AA batteries, or the AC adapter, or a built-in rechargeable Ni-MH that takes charge from a hand-crank or the AC adapter!!
  • It has an emergency siren, a flashlight, built-in LED lights, and a built-in cell-phone charger
  • Also includes kitchen sink

Well, I’m kidding about that last one. šŸ˜€ But I suppose it would if it could! It looks superb. The price is right ($30) with Buy.com’s amazing Free Shipping bonus. I think I may get a few- this would make a great gift for my sons!

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The Last Few Projects

October 7, 2009

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We’re attempting to wrap up a few things around the house and yard before winter’s icy grip. It’s been raining non-stop for a few days, and the garden is a large patch of mud right now. I managed to get out between showers and dig up some potatoes. We still have about 10 hills of potatoes, waiting for us to pull them out.

Potato Harvest

I’m also very happy to say that the living room now has window trim! I pulled it off when I gutted the living room two years ago, and we never installed new trim. My husband did the work. He’s very good with detailed work like this; unlike me, who is a “big picture” person. Doing meticulous stuff like trim work drives me nuts!

Window Trim1

I have to caulk the gaps and paint the trim yet… […]

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Preparing for Winter

November 10, 2008

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There’s a cold front expected to blow this way this week in New York. We haven’t quite finished our winter preparation, and boy we’d better finish it before it snows! As I was thinking of our list, I thought it would be nice to blog about it. Maybe my list will give you some ideas, and perhaps you have some ideas that would help me that you could leave in the comments.

1. Rake the leaves.

Why do we bother raking all those leaves?! Leaves on the grass suffocate the grass. You don’t want to kill your turf, because weeds will take its place. We used to have a beautiful front lawn of green turf, but one year I didn’t rake, and then a few years we had massive flooding (which covered the grass with silt and weeds seeds). Now my yard is all weeds and I am trying to get the turf back.

2. Turn off all outdoor hoses.

The hoses must be turned off (most houses have a turn-off valve in their basement). If you don’t the water will freeze and the pipes will burst. Yeah, that happened to us one year, too. Oops. In New York, it’s very hard to remember this– we might have snow and bear-freezing temps for a week or two, but then the temperatures will bounce back up to the mid-60s and stay that way for a few weeks. We might still need the hose, for washing the cars, cleaning out the wheelbarow, etc. And then, BLAMMO, a hard freeze. I just hate having to turn off the water… but I hate replacing burst pipes even more.

3. Take down small gutters.

We have a small gutter system in the front of the house. And our house has a gabled roof with two steep pitches. All the water and snow from the front of the house careens down that pitched valley, right in front of the steps. I have NO IDEA why the home builder did this. In order to walk up the front steps to get to the door, you have to pass by this 3-foot by 10-foot icicle that stands next to the steps. That icicle takes our gutter system down every year (usually in the middle of night). So now, we remove it.

4. Clean up the garden beds. Make note of any new plants you’ve put in.

I have the kids weed the vegetable garden before winter. And then we dead-head just about everything. It looks nicer in the winter, and in the spring. And it makes us more motivated to get the garden thing rolling when the snows melts. Who wants to start a garden when you have to clean up the sloppy, watery winter mess? And I also have this problem of forgetting what new plants and bulbs I’ve planted. When spring rolls around, unless I’ve made notes of what I planted and where, Ihave forgotten; I practically have to do DNA testing to see if it’s a weed that must be pulled or a new plant I can leave.

5. Place outdoor furniture and appliances in storage.

Sounds like a no-brainer, but I have actually forgotten to do it. We have a barbeque, six chairs and a table, a lawn mower, countless games and toys, and more… winter preparation occurs at a busy time for me (school starts, insurance recertification process, the holidays, etc) and I forget. I have found that if I have the kids survey the entire yard, and then I take the time to do it once, we manage to tidy the yard and garage before snow hits.

6. Make sure your winter tools are working– BEFORE the big Nor’easter hits.

Our shovels used to last us a good 6-7 years. Now it seems they break every year. Is it cheaper manufacuring?! Nonetheless, I have to check all our shovels and make sure they work. It’s nasty to have 5 feet of snow in one day and not have a working shovel in the place. Same thing goes for boots, gloves, etc.

Those are the main things I do before winter hits with all its force. How about you? Got any tips?

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