Summer Travel Map

Sunday, February 28, 2010

On Avoiding the Tyranny of Self-imposed Deadlines

February 28, 2010
Peoria, AZ

Yes, I wanted to have the house painting done by the end of February. No, I'm not done yet. In days of old, this would have bothered me. Now my reaction is "Oh, well...".

It's not that I don't want to finish up. Oh, I do. It's just that I'm focused on doing as good a job as possible, and not being driven by a deadline.

So, where are we? Well, we finished up the front and sides, except for a few touch-ups that are needed, a while ago. Then I proceeded to the rear of the house, taking down all the patio lights and decorations and handling the dreaded scraping under the eaves. That's when things started to slow down. When I got to the eaves on the roof over the patio, I realized that I really needed to put a soffit in, because the scraping just wasn't getting me clear material to paint. Hmmm, if we're going that far, shouldn't we also box in the beam and posts that hold up the patio roof? The 4x12" beam and 4x8" posts are "rough hewn" lumber, pretty shaggy after years in the desert sun and not exactly a match for anything else on the house.

Off to Home Depot (no good lumber options) and Lowe's (marginally OK lumber options) I go. A few hundred dollars later - no wonder home improvement sales are sluggish, given the prices for simple clear pine boards - and we have a pile of pine and plywood in the back yard. I moved half of the power tools out back and fashioned the soffit from 1/4" plywood (good exterior grade material this time, so maybe it won't delaminate like the cheap particle board stuff the builder used on the roof sheathing), with hand-cut ventilation grates. I picked up a roll of roof vent screen and cut that to fit the openings, held in place on the inside with construction adhesive.

Once the soffit was in place, I started boxing in the posts and beam. With nary a straight or square section, I had a lot of shimming and cut-to-fit work to do. Geri helped me hoist the 1x12" sections covering the beam into place (she's a real trouper, given that she doesn't like ladders). Next steps involve finishing this new wood off with sanding and primer, and then we'll finally be able to paint the back of the house.

So, what else have we been doing? Well, today is another "rainy day" project day, since it's actually raining (some rainy day forecasts are about the "potential for rain"). Rather than spend the day in the study on the computer, today's projects involved putting new shelves in said study and in the laundry room. You can never have enough shelves. I put "desk-to-ceiling" shelves on one side of the study a couple of years ago, so we did the other side to match. The laundry room had one shelf over the washer and dryer, but "stuff" expands to exceed the space available and there was plenty of headroom for another. Next rainy day, we'll add another top shelf to the pantry for good measure.

That's it for now...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

All Caught Up...

February 21, 2010
Peoria, AZ

Wow, I didn't realize how long it's been since the blog has been updated. Of course, since we're not traveling, that's not necessarily a bad thing. On the other hand, we've had some interesting stuff going on over the past two weeks so here goes.

First and foremost, we completed the painting project. Woo-Hoo! Two coats of paint, and the house looks pretty good, if I do say so myself. As with most painting projects, the devil is in the details. In this case, it was all in the preparation. I'm so glad I found our commercial-level airless paint sprayer as a reconditioned "special" at Home Depot several years ago. Once all the masking was done, I was able to spray each coat (three sides of the house - we held off on the rear for a separate phase since we have work to do on the patio before we paint) in under four hours. I had to do a lot of masking since I'm not as adept and practiced as the professionals in using a hand-held block and not getting overspray. At a cost of around $750 for paint and supplies, we're at about 35-50% of what it would cost to have pros come in and do it. Not bad for a retiree on a budget. Of course, our friend Mary Ann had her house done last week and it took three guys two days to get the whole thing done. It took me, with Geri's help managing the ladder work, two+ weeks. Of course, we had the time so, overall, we're pretty happy with the results. Painting wrapped up last Wednesday and we washed all the screens (Geri) and windows (me) on Friday.

Thursday was a great change of pace. I got to work on the coach for a change! I did the annual maintenance on the furnace and had a bad float switch replaced. Unlike most RVs that have forced hot air heat using a propane burner, ours has a hydronic heating system using a diesel-fired burner, just like a residential furnace using oil as fuel. The burner heats a hot water tank for domestic use and there's a coil inside that heats a fluid that's pumped to all the heat exchangers throughout the coach (3 zones). It's pretty neat in that there's a separate coil that circulates engine coolant so we always have hot water after a day's drive. As a bonus, we can use the furnace to warm up the engine for easier starting on cold mornings (this came in handy when we were in Florida last month - brrrr!).

In any event, just like a household furnace, there's an annual maintenance routine that needs to be done. The burner nozzle gets changed, the combustion chamber gets cleaned of any soot and checked for cracks, the igniting electrodes' gap is checked and set, and a small fuel filter is changed out. It's not difficult, costly (~$30 in parts), or time-consuming (~1 hour once you've done it a time or two). This year's maintenance was a little different, since a float switch needed to be replaced. The furnace uses an electronic control system to manage the ignition and burn processes, control the various pumps for the zones, and provide safeguards. One key item is that it'll shut down if the boiler fluid level is too low. Fortunately, this doesn't happen too often. Unfortunately, the float switches tend to go bad; we've had our switch replaced once several years ago, and it failed again last June on our way to Alaska. Although it was easy to bypass the switch and get it operating again, I knew that I eventually wanted to get it fixed. I'm glad I waited, since Roger Berke, one of the best "roving" hydronic heating service providers, found a new solid-state sensor that should be much less likely to fail. I'd made arrangements to have him come out while he was in the Phoenix area, and we worked together to change out the switch. He also gave the burner and chamber a once-over, verifying that we're in good shape at this point.

In spite of all the projects going on, we have been able to squeeze in a bit of fun. Friday night, we caught up with some colleagues (Pat, Sharon, and Leslie) from my Aetna days that I haven't seen since 1993. We reconnected via Facebook, which is actually turning out to be a reasonably good communication tool. Pat and Sharon were in town visiting with Leslie and spending some time with family they brought along from Connecticut. We met up at an interesting "burgers and beer" joint, Greasewood Flat, over in North Scottsdale and had a great time catching up.

Of course, the other thing we had going on was our annual "celebration week": Valentine's Day on the 14th, our anniversary on the 16th, and Geri's birthday on the 17th. We had cards galore, Geri got a Kindle, we had a great dinner with our friends Ana and Larry (Chateaubriand and Penfolds Grange - how can you go wrong?) and their pups, Molly and Tsunami, and generally enjoyed the idea that we made it 30 years. I still own her a lobster dinner since we ended up ordering pizza on our anniversary due to the painting project.

So, we took advantage of the break in the El Niño weather pattern to get a lot of things done, and now we're in for a couple of "showery" days. No matter - plenty of "rainy day" projects like filing the taxes (refund time - Woo-Hoo!), paying bills, updating the blog, etc. This week, we'll probably wrap up painting the rear of the house (it's just the body color since the trim is all done), so I'll be able to put all the painting equipment away.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Almost ready...

February 6, 2010
Peoria, AZ paint the house, that is. This project has been everything I expected, and more. Emphasis on the "more".

All in all, we had a good week. I've got everything mostly prepped and washed, and will be ready to start spraying next week. As with any good do-it-yourself project, there's a "pride of process" effect that grows as you realize (or theorize) that you're doing a better job than anyone you could have hired to do the work since you have the desire (and the time) to pay attention to all the little details. Extra scraping and sanding here, more stucco patch there - you get the idea. Of course, this also means that every time I walk around the house I find a new "little thing" or two that I should address.

Much of the time this week has been spent addressing things on the roof. Huh, what does painting the house have to do with the roof, you ask? Good question! Part of the answer has to do with the design of the house, which has several roof levels and associated eaves. All of the eaves have their own fascia, so that all had to be sanded. Our foyer is a 10' round area, and the ceiling there is raised to 16' height. This yields a round "turret" for lack of a better word that extends above the normal roof line, with its own fascia (eighteen two-foot sections angled together). All of this had to be sanded and then washed. Since the house hasn't been painted since it was built in 2001, and builders are notorious for watering down the paint, sanding the fascia has resulted in taking most of it down to bare wood.

And then there are the birds. Surprisingly, since we have very few flying insects here in the desert, there are a lot of birds in the area. We have a hummingbird feeder in the yard, and there are various sparrows, wrens, and finches (OK, I'm not an ornithologist, so I'm guessing here) around, along with a few doves. More prevalent are pigeons and quail; they're everywhere. And, we have a group of white-tailed hawks that nest in the neighborhood and hunt quite successfully.

So? What do birds have to do with painting? Well, birds make nests. Some eaves are good places (according to birds) to built nests. So far, I found two spots where nests have been made. Up under the turret eaves, which are only 4-7 inches deep, I found two small nests. Over the garage, I knew there was a pigeon nest, since we've seen them out the kitchen window for two years now. So, I pulled out all the nests (including all the pigeon poop and one hatchling carcass) and custom fit wire mesh into each opening to prevent further access. Closing up the eaves on the turret was actually easier than over the garage. I used 24" wide 1/2" coated wire mesh and cut the eighteen sections to length (4 to 7 inches wide - you didn't expect the builder to actually make the thing even all the way around, did you?), and then worked each into place. Air stapler in hand (have to have the right tool for the job), it was easy to staple each piece to the bottom of its associated fascia board. A few gaps were filled with small pieces wired in, and it was done.

In the front of the house, the hip roof from the house meets the angled roof over the garage. This provides a great place for birds to nest. I can tell because it was most difficult to prevent. I used small pieces of chicken wire mesh, cut to fit to close off the opening between the ceiling joist and the roof, and stapled them in as best I could. To actually see, I had to lay down on the roof "upside down", feet high and head low. This was not a comfortable position to be in!

While I had the ladder in place, I took a can of flashing sealant and treated all the various vent pipes and chimneys (hot water heater and furnace, both gas appliances). We don't have any leaks, but why wait for that since I'm already up? It's part of that attention to detail thing.

I've concluded that I no longer like being on the roof. When I was younger, it was no big deal. Now, while I don't really suffer from acrophobia, I'm much more cautious. I had Geri out "spotting" for me while on the extension ladder, and I was very careful, especially when near the edges. Since I've got the whole thing sanded, patched and washed, the only time I need to get back on the roof is to actually paint. I'll be glad when that's done.

Geri's been keeping Facebook updated with pictures.

So, today, I'll finish up the stucco patch. I noticed some cracking and deterioration (and some crappy stucco work) along the bottom edge of the stucco, right above the foundation, pretty much all the way around the house. Given that I'm working to make this the best job it can be, it didn't take long to convince myself that I had to take the time to fix it, or I'd be kicking myself afterwards. It's supposed to "shower" this afternoon and tomorrow, so I'll hold off on painting until it clears. With the El Niño pattern still in effect, we may get more cloudy/rainy days than usual. I set a target to have the house done by the end of February, so I can afford a few "off" days.

In other news, the big deal is that Geri found a small local house cleaning service for a reasonable price. They arrived in force (four cleaners) yesterday and spent 3½ hours scrubbing the inside of the house. Next week, the carpet cleaner will be here. Soon, I'll be done with painting and will wash all the windows and screens as part of the clean-up process. It'll be like having a new house!