Tuesday, December 7, 2010

I think we failed our energy audit.....

Today we had a visit from B, an enthusiastic young man who works for an energy auditing firm. His company also does remediation work, and installs solar panels and geothermal systems and the like. But for today, we were simply interested in a complete energy audit of our 137-year-old home. We already knew from last winter that we had some serious issues; drafty doorways, cold floors, closets that felt like ice boxes, and crazy high oil and electricity bills. What we need to know is what is causing these problems and how we can fix them or change them for the better.

We started our four-hour meeting by discussing the house--its age, how we live in it, and what I knew about the current heating systems and how the home was built. We also went over a year's worth of utility bills for the propane, oil, and electricity. Then B got out his infrared camera and I showed him around the house, pointing out areas we had already noticed as weak spots in our energy fortress. R (under the weather and home from school) was roused from the couch long enough to see the dog on infrared, pronouncing it "Cool." I learned that our oldest son's room stays warmer in winter because the chimney for the furnace runs through his wall and emits heat. I also learned that what we had already suspected was in fact true: our exterior walls are NOT insulated. Not at all. Not one little bit. Nada. Zip. Nope. Nothing.

B then spent some time measuring rooms and ceiling heights indoors, and perimeter measurements outdoors. He went to the basement, where he checked the efficiency of our furnace and also inspected our crawlspaces; this was followed by a trip to the attic, from which he returned quite excited about "all the possibilities for improvement!" (Read: Your attic is so leaky you may as well not even have a roof on it!) After this, things got a little magical; B set up a door frame wrapped in red material, into which was placed a large fan. This whole contraption was wedged into our exterior doorway (door open) and the fan turned up to a speed of about 25mph.  B brought out a special wand and we proceeded to walk around the house again as he held his wand around doors and windows and gaps and crevices, and swirly vapor appeared---sometimes it just kind of sat there, indicating normal to minimal leakage, but other times it blew and grew and moved, indicating a big ol' gap somewhere in the wall.

B will now write up a report with recommendations on how to improve our energy efficiency and save some coin. He prioritizes recommendations based on where he believes we will see the biggest improvements; whether that be in comfort or cost, I don't know. I am sure saving money will no doubt entail spending money; the question is how far are we willing to go? One of our motivations in doing this audit was our plan to put in central air in the next year or two. We know this is essentially pointless if our home is a sieve, so we need to have it sealed up enough to make a new heating/AC system worthwhile.

Some of the ideas tossed around today seem quite feasible: weatherstripping, caulking, and crawlspace insulation, for example. Air sealing and insulating the attic. But insulating the exterior of the house? We could get a patchy, but okay result attempting to blow stuff into the walls from the attic and basement; or a better result ripping off a few layers of siding, drilling holes every 16", blowing stuff in, filling the holes, and replacing the siding--but if the siding is damaged, it has to be replaced, and if it doesn't match? Hmm. We'd have what B called a "house scar"--ouch! I have even read about other people with older homes basically building a whole new exterior sheath, with the insulation between the old exterior and the new--but this seems way out of the realm of our possibilities....

When I get the final report I will be sure to share the results, as well as whatever decisions we make in our quest to "tighten" our home.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Accessorize your kitchen

I don't really consider myself an accessory person. I am both baffled and impressed by people who have a bracelet for every outfit, or 20 pairs of black heels, or know how to artfully drape a scarf about their shoulders. But I have to admit I had fun dressing up my new kitchen.

Most of my accessories are actually holdovers from the old kitchen, but I think being in a different kitchen has given them new life:

New cork board from Etsy. The sewing machine was my grandmother's, and we are using it as a telephone table/charging station.

Mason jar soap dispenser

Old glass medicine bottles dug up from the streets of New Haven by my grandfather.

New pot rack holding old copper pans, rendered useless (but still beautiful) by switch to induction

Grandmother's cuckoo clock

Canisters--the off-white ones are from a flea market; the terra cotta ones used to belong to my parents.
On a different topic: we hosted Thanksgiving this year, and were so happy to have my parents, C's parents, and one of C's brothers spend the day with us. Cooking went swimmingly, and I took great advantage of the warming and convection features on my new ovens. Really helped in getting all the side dishes to the table hot and fresh! The turkey, of course, was fried....

Thursday, December 2, 2010


So we had some nasty weather yesterday---high winds, over 2" of rain, even some hail. I was sitting all cozy in front of the fireplace when I heard a sound; a faint crack, followed by a muffled thud. Didn't even wake up the dog. I assumed our outdoor towel rack had  blown over and went back to my knitting.

Imagine my surprise, then, when an hour later I passed by the sunroom window and saw this:

The towel rack is just fine.

This poor tree is not.

C and B have gotten a start on hacking it up.
This sad tree was not very large, and managed not to do any damage when it fell, but you can see it just missed hitting another tree that could very well have been knocked onto the roof of our sunroom. So we are quite lucky in that respect. We knew this tree was in bad shape---losing its bark and infested with bugs--and removing it was on our to-do list. We just hadn't gotten to it yet. Thanks, Mother Nature!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

...And Everything In Its Place

I forgot to give a shout-out yesterday to Gordon and Butch for coming over Wednesday morning to work on the refrigerator. The major wobble has been taken care of and the door now opens much more smoothly. They also finished hooking up our ventilation to the outside (now you can stand on our back porch and smell what's for dinner). So it's thanks to them that I was finally able to move all of our food from the old fridges to the new one. Yesterday the ancient laundry room refrigerator that we bought for $35 on Craig's List last year was picked up for recycling (through a program run by our electric company).  They will take any old (but working)  fridge, freezer, or AC unit and send you a rebate. For the fridge, it is $35, so we are essentially breaking even. I will have to keep track of our bills for the next few months to see how much of a difference the new appliances are actually making; hopefully we will see some change now that the energy hog is gone!

Now, on to part 2 of our tour around the kitchen:

Top peanut: waffle maker, bagel slicer, hand mixers, sifter, and grater

Bottom peanut: food processor and crockpot
Bank of three small drawers next to dishwasher:
Top drawer: can openers, garlic press, ice cream scoops, pizza cutter

Middle drawer: small graters, cake slicers, mashers, tenderizers, basters

Bottom drawer: mostly fruit and veg-related stuff---apple slicer, herb mincers, onion slicer, pineapple corer, peelers

Upper to left of sink: extra white dishes, bowls, nice china

Upper to right of sink: wine glasses, cocktail glasses, carafes, extra mugs (mostly kept for sentimental reasons--my first gallon of donated blood---awww!) 
Drawer bank next to trash pullout:

Top drawer: "entertaining" stuff--corkscrews, bottle openers, chopsticks, tiny spreaders for odd cheeses, wine stoppers

Middle drawer: dish towels

Bottom drawer: BBQ tools, skewers, corn holders, fondue forks

Top peanut: mugs (coffee maker is on counter right above)

Bottom peanut: panini maker, blender, coffee/spice grinder

Cookie sheet/cutting board/metal bakeware storage (I love this one)

French door freezer

French door fridge--it is shallower than we are used to, but you can see everything, and we do have our old side-by-side in the laundry room for items we don't use on a daily basis, like fish sauce and Thai red curry paste
So there you have it! Now we just need our window hardware, a few doors, some thresholds, and the exterior of the windows finished and WE ARE DONE! Phew.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Place for Everything....

For all my kvetching about putting everything back into the kitchen, and in a convenient and practical way that would maximize work flow, I did finally get 'er done. It took me the better part of two whole days, and some "D'oh!" moments where I filled a drawer only to realize something else should go there instead. In the end, however, we are pleased with our new layout; everything is nice and spread out, easy to find, and we even have some space left over to boot! It certainly helped that we did a purge of broken, useless, and otherwise unused items when we cleared the kitchen out before demo, so even with a few new purchases of bakeware, I think we moved less into the new kitchen than we moved out of the old.

Here are some pictures of how the filled drawers and cabinets look; I'll do half the kitchen today and half tomorrow so as not to completely bore you....I myself have never been too excited about seeing other peoples' fabulously organized closets or kitchens (they make me angry, really), so I completely understand if you find my "okay but not even close to Martha Stewart" skills uninteresting to the nth degree.

Also, please ignore any questionable food choices you may see herein; we are still easing out of temporary kitchen/convenience food mode!

Plastic container storage--every container has a lid for once!

Water bottles, cups, and plates for the kids--left over from the temporary kitchen. The comparable cabinet on the other side of the refrigerator drawers holds a trash can for the hole in the countertop.

Refrigerator drawer--the kids can even keep their own milk in here

The ice maker takes up a lot of room, but we can still fit waffles and snacks in here

Liked the look of these drawers in the middle of the pantry, but wondered what to do with them; they are perfect for all of our wraps and bags

Top of pantry with dry goods, teas, snacks and cereals

Bottom of pantry with rices and pastas on top pull-out, canned goods on lower pull-out

Under the double ovens; we also keep a large cast-iron griddle in here

Above double oven; serving platters, mixer, bread maker and fondue pots!

Left of hood--alcohol on a high shelf, liquid measuring cups, and oils/vinegars close by for cooking

Right of hood---vases, infrequently used spices in the middle, commonly used spices on the bottom shelf

Under the cooktop--oven mitts, spoons and spatulas, ladles and whisks (having the drawer right under the cooktop be usable space is awesome!)

Left drawer--metal mixing bowls, funnels, measuring cups, and measuring spoons in a flatware tray laid out by size (no more searching for the elusive 3/4 tsp!)  Right drawer--glass baking dishes

Left drawer--glass mixing bowls, more baking dishes, casseroles. Right drawer--pots and pans with lids
Bank of three drawers between cooktop and blind corner cabinet:

Top drawer--flatware. This drawer is in a convenient location to the dishwasher for putting clean utensils away.

Middle drawer---casual cups and glasses. I plan on putting some cushy shelf liner in this drawer to keep the glasses in their places and cut down on chipping.  I made this decision to put the glasses in a drawer because it is more convenient for the kids.

Bottom drawer---ditto the plates; much easier for the kids to help set the table, or get a bowl of cereal with the dishes in here.

If you made it this far, thanks for sticking with me. I'll post the rest of the kitchen later. Off to make my beloved granola for the first time in eight weeks---yum!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Whistle while you work

With most of the work completed, and the house empty of tools and shop vacs and spare pieces of trim and the like, I finally had an opportunity to CLEAN. I'm embarrassed to say that, aside from wiping down some toilets and sinks and attempting to dust and vacuum during a parental visit last month, I haven't really done much cleaning during this remodel. There hasn't been much point; I would wipe down a shelf, and literally 20 minutes later it would be covered in dust again. I felt like Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight, with a little Charles Boyer dumping tiny bags of dust on my bookshelves and kicking it around with evil glee.

Besides the sunroom/temporary kitchen, the worst hit room was the purple room where C and I like to hang out. Everything went through this room--appliances, workers, paint, pieces of lumber---and a lot of sawing was done on the porch right outside. This room looked like the Sahara, and I couldn't wait to get it clean; I just didn't think it would take me 6 hours to do it! Granted, I did a pretty thorough job, moving couches and tables and lifting up the edges of the rugs, cleaning all the knick knacks and picture frames and doors....but 6 hours of dust in one room? Crazy. Fortunately for me, the rest of the first floor went much faster; second floor is up later this week after everything is finished tomorrow.

Today Kevin was here doing some touch ups and door trimming, etc. Butch was also here working on the refrigerator (if this appliance does not put me, and possibly everyone involved in this process, into therapy, it will be a miracle). It looks great, but the freezer door is all wonky and wobbly and scrapes on one side. If G and B can't get this hunk of metal in line, I may have to call in the cavalry (otherwise known as "service guys from the store where I purchased it") to come take a look. I really want to move stuff into this fridge, especially since our old laundry room fridge (currently in service in the temp kitchen) is being picked up for recycling on Friday.

Both pocket doors now installed

Both doors up--microwave had to be elevated because the plug was in the way

Fridge with panels and cool handles

Another view of fridge

We moved our tables back in!

View from sink toward pantry--you can see my Grandmother's old sewing machine in the corner, now in use as a telephone table

Kevin will finish up tomorrow, and as soon as the vent cover arrives (hopefully tomorrow) Gordon and Butch will return to finish up all of their work and tackle the refrigerator. My next battle: organizing our kitchen gear into all these new drawers and cupboards. I don't even know where to begin!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Close, but no cigar

I know it's been a few days since I've posted, but we are at a point now where the big stuff isn't happening so much and the lots of little things that are happening aren't very exciting to look at (yay! quarter round!). I used my oven again tonight, and yesterday I made pasta on the new induction cooktop. Everything went well--I did have to play with the controls a bit once the pasta was in the boiling water, but it cooked quickly and no boil overs. Also tried out the new vent/hood; it sucked the steam out well and miracle of miracles, my cabinets didn't look like they were sweating.

Today the crew was hoping to be finished, but alas it was not to be. I think tomorrow will have them 99.8% done; all they have left is a little bit of paint touch up, trim around the windows inside and out, crown molding for the snack station,a vent cover,  and thresholds for all four doorways. The .2 % that will necessitate a return trip? New oil rubbed bronze sash locks and cranks for the casement windows, and finishing up with the fridge panels, one of which needs to be remade and will arrive Monday with Kevin. Kevin will be spending Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning finishing up his detail work---paint touch-ups, sticky doors, installing some knobs and shelves and soft-close mechanisms and the like. So hopefully by Tuesday afternoon, we will be completely finished!

Now on to something momentous that did happen today---the top of the snack station arrived, and it is big and beautiful! C is in love with the copper panels:
Pocket door on left is where microwave will go, pocket door on right will be installed later

Door up, waiting for microwave

Wooden cover for trash hole

I think we are going to put up of those touch lights on the ceiling of the trash chute cubby, as it is pretty dark and difficult to see where to butter your waffle. We are also thinking about putting a toaster in there for said waffles, bagels, etc---with their own fridge/freezer drawers too, the kids should be all set for breakfasts and snacks!

Not as pretty to look at but certainly important--the insulation was put up in the basement today and now our radiant floor heat should be ready for a trial run. Today was too warm, but this weekend we are expecting highs in only the low 50s, so I'm sure C will be wanting to crank that baby up!