Thursday, August 6, 2020

Researching the history of an old house

My partner and best friend of nearly 2 decades wrote this reply to a post on NextDoor. It really sums up the woes and rewards of owning an old house: 

My partner’s house (and my home) is 105 years old. I love it. To me, it’s more than a fixer-upper; it is representative of his scholastic/career achievements and sometimes I think I may have more of an emotional attachment to it than he does. I’ve seen what it was when he bought it, and the time and effort that he has put into it. I’ve also seen the signatures of the care (or lack thereof) of previous owners, and appreciate the narrative of how it’s changed through time. 

Trust me, I am no stranger to old homes— and I can tell you that they’re *huge* pains in the derrière...but worth it. 

I’ve sanded, puttied, and painted more than I ever thought I could do in a lifetime in only the past year. 

The lives that were here (like the 2nd owner that accidentally shot himself in the front room and now rests in the cemetery down the road) play into a larger picture. 

My Best has mapped out every inch of this place; researched the gas, water, and sewer lines; requested obscure documents from the city in order to determine boundary and property lines, and knows more about the layout of our neighbors’ plumbing than even they know.

 I’ve learned more about railroad right-of-ways, encroachments, and federal protection of raptor nests than your average chick. 

Old homes are not simple things.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

You know you're an old house owner when...

  1. ....the guys at the scrap metal yard are constantly astounded by the amount of aluminum siding you bring in.
  2. take scrap metal to the junkyard so often that the attendants start asking how your week has been.
  3. wear your respirator like a backwards baseball cap so often that you often forget to take it off for trips to the grocery store.
  4. ...earplugs are always dangling around your neck, even when you're doing the dishes.
  5. ...white t-shirts are no longer white
  6. buy gloves as frequently as you buy toilet paper.
  7. know the employees at the city Environmental Service Center on a first-name basis.
  8. ....the local grocery store is nicknamed "Combat Kroger."
  9. ...while removing rotten wood from the backyard, you are disappointed to find a post that no roaches came running out for you to stomp on.
  10. realize that picking an exterior paint color is one of the toughest decisions you've ever made.
  11. "You have 17 extra doors, and none of them fit any of the door-frames that are missing doors in your house!" (from my blogger friend Daniel Meyer,
  12. despise people who only build new and won't even consider reusing materials.
  13. wonder why people pay so much for simple things like drywall repairs
  14. neglect your friends and your job just for a few extra hours to work on the house
  15.'re no longer petrified of crawl spaces
  16. you trade out your car for a pickup
  17. start selling junk on Craigslist, just to get the few extra bucks for building materials
  18. the ladies at the salvage warehouse keep a running list of things you need
  19. priorities are set based on a) what's sparking* b) what's leaking c) what's causing you to trip all the time
    [*just kidding about the sparking part—thankfully haven't had, nor ever expect that issue to arise]
  20. you constantly find yourself saying, "yea, I was working on that but... [then X happened]"

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Go big or Go home: Tips for DIY LED landscape lighting

Lessons learned:

Big trees deserve big lights. Sounds simple, right? 

Yep, it really is that simple. I initially installed a smaller *ahmmm, cheaper* transformer and 20 watt floodlights on each tree in the backyard. I thought it looked amazing, stellar, fantastical, etc etc:

1st attempt, using a 45 watt transformer and 20 watt food lights on the trees

But you know what looks even better? BIGGER LIGHTS.

It didn't just end up like this overnight. The backyard, or backyard junkyard as I liked to call it, looked like this when I first started on it:

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Now the postal service knows how to find me

Workshop upgrades

New floor! Picked it up on sale for $65 at Northern Tool:


Installed that cute cast iron Kohler sink I bought for $60:

Added an outdoor storage cabinet that I picked up for $4 and built a little roof for it out of free materials we scavenged from heavy trash piles:

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Monday, March 9, 2020

How annoying.

Bought these at a local salvage warehouse.
Later realized they didn't match....

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Attic insulation

Got the attic insulated today! Clint from Mitchell Insulation added about 14 inches of blown-in fiberglass insulation into my attic today. It had only an inch or two before. Looking forward to a cooler house this summer.

Update # 1
The insulation made a HUGE difference. Also had the HVAC man out to tune-up and clean the a/c, which is a new unit he installed when I moved in. The temp inside the house has remained about 20 degrees below par. Prior to the insulation the house would have been over 80 degrees at this time of summer. Now that the insulation has been added and lots of gaps sealed up, the inside temp has remained steady at 71-73 degrees.

Update # 2
Something weird is going on. We live in a hot swamp (otherwise known as Houston) where summer temperatures commonly reach 100° with 80% humidity. While the house is indeed cooler after adding the insulation, the difference has not been quite as spectacular as my *fairly-extremely comprehensive research efforts* indicated we should expect...

Yes, Mr. Holmes, there was an investigation into this quizzical mystery. 
Upon investigation I discovered that the attic was waaay cooler than the house. 
FRIGID COOL.  Much unlike the interior living quarters. 
In fact, the temperature is much more comfortable in the attic.
That's bizarre.

We troubleshooted:
      Is it an unconnected duct blowing cool air into the attic?

      Is it a leak in the air duct system?

      Is it anything else that a reasonably seasoned and knowledgeable homeowner should be able to identify?
          Apparently not. 

      So what is it????
            Beats me. Not a clue. 

So riddle me this:
Why—in a hot southern swamp—would a previously boiling attic become a freezer after blowing in one-metric-ton of insulation?

I have no answers. 
The internet—it seems—has no answers.
Or does it?


Friday, November 30, 2018

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Building the front porch columns

Here's what the original porch columns looked like when the previous owner moved in:

Unfortunately, the original wood columns were in disrepair, so he replaced them with brick. I'm perplexed as to why he chose to install brick columns, since he was such a skilled carpenter.

Step 1: Sledgehammer out the bricks

A local laborer was able to knock this out in about 20 minutes. I piled up the debris and posted it on the free section of Craigslist, along with the note 'You must load.' Like magic, it vanished.

The original support posts were just (2) 2x4's sistered together. The support on the inside column was not bearing any was just kind of...floating there.
Step 2: Replace rot on the frieze board, grind down concrete base caps

First, we jacked up the header beams with 4x4's placed on bottle jacks and used a long level to ensure the beams were straight.

While the jacks were in place, I used a diamond grinding wheel to level out the base caps so that the new wood base would sit flush on the concrete caps. Using the grinder, I slightly tapered off the edges of the caps so that rainwater would drain away from the wood:



The frieze board (that's the underside of the porch that rests on top of the columns) was rotted. This meant the porch was in danger of collapsing down if not repaired, since the support beams need a solid surface to bear the load. So we repaired the rotted sections:



Step 3: Install new 6x6 supports

Then, we measured and marked where to place the 6x6 metal beam holders, which lifts the wood off the concrete, thereby preventing rot by keeping the new beams dry. Next, we cut the new 6x6 supports and test fitted them for level. We then removed them and drilled the metal lifts into the concrete caps. Finally, we placed the new supports, checked for level again and lowered the bottle jacks:

Step 4: Build column base

Gabriel gave me dimensions for the wood base pieces, so I was able to tackle these while he was away:

Step 5: Build column housing

Gabriel and I prepped all the pieces that make up the actual columns. He was the brains of the operation. Couldn't have done it myself without him!

Step 6: Glue, nail and trim them out


Project Cost

Demolition labor - $20
Brick debris removal - $0 (gave away on Craigslist)
Lumber - $200
Metal supports - $35
Screws and bits for metal supports - $20
Carpenter's labor - $60 (bartered for trade of the contractor saw I bought on Craigslist for $60)

Special thanks for my friend, pro-carpenter Gabriele for helping with this project. He was a great teacher and fun to work with!

Monday, July 30, 2018


My reply to a post on my favorite website,, was featured as the comment of the day runner-up. It's an awesome and often hilarious blog about Houston real estate news.

 “There was a blackout in my area, East End of Downtown, that night (July 23, 2018). We were without power for nearly 2 hours. Per a neighbor, CenterPoint relayed that over 900 homes were without power. There wasn’t a light on within visibility. Suddenly there was silence, except for my scream of ‘Nooooo!’ that apparently was heard all the way down the block. I called CenterPoint, whose automated message stated ‘A power outage has been reported in your area. The estimated time for repair is 11:45pm.’ Power was indeed restored at about that time, though can’t say that we enjoyed the heat through the wait.” [Corbin Dodge, commenting on Texas Electric Customers Are on a Record-Breaking Power Usage Spree]

and in a later reply I posted:

The day after the blackout, an expert at Texas A&M Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering issued a statement to KBTX News of Bryan, TX that: “It’s an incredible amount of energy used but luckily engineers are doing their jobs so that we have enough margin to stay over summer,” said Le Xie with the Texas A&M Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “So I think all things considered we are having a stressed power grid but we’ll make it through it.” Electricity dropped dead again, twice on July 29th and once on August 1st. Perhaps he was just referring to Bryan/College Station?

See the full post here