Monday, February 25, 2008

Shopping Euphoria

The bad thing about doing a remodel is that, now that I'm looking, I see more and more stuff I want.
  1. Sauna - Check
  2. Steam Shower - Check
  3. LED accent lights - Check
  4. Urinal - Check
  5. Living Roof - check
  6. Xeriscaping - check
  7. High R-Insulation throughout the house - Check

And the list continues to grow...

Thursday, February 21, 2008


I met with contractors and explained the work, I got back quotes ranging from $125k to $270k. I checked the Internet on both contractors I was considering using and one came back squeaky clean, The Gallick Corporation. I checked the BBB and Google, but couldn't find any complaints about them. They've been in business since 1989, so I thought I would find somebody who had something bad to say about them, but couldn't. Their bid was reasonable, so we signed a contract for the design phase.

Their designer was out here today measuring up the place to start the drafting phase. They say it'll take roughly three months to get the job started (permits, approvals, material selection, etc.) and then the construction will start. It should take about 3 months for the construction to get done.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Save The Planet

With the prospect of remodeling the whole house, I started looking into reducing our carbon footprint. Actually, we've been working on that for the past couple of years by buying CFLs and replacing old appliances with high efficiency versions.

This time though, I started thinking about the biggie, Solar Power. Photovoltaics (PV) are notoriously expensive with payback periods of 30 years or more. Generally not worth it unless you're going to be in the house for a long time, but considering we've been here 10 years and will probably be here another 10 or 20, I've been giving it serious consideration. I started buying issues of HOME POWER to keep track of current technology. I've been intrigued by solar domestic water heating. Like PV, you have panels on the roof, but they circulate a fluid through them. The sun heats up the fluid and that gets transferred to your Hot Water Heater. The best part, a system costing $2000 (excluding installation costs) can deliver 90% of your domestic hot water. The electricity to run our hot water heater costs around $500 per year, so after just 4 years, the hot water would be free. The system could also be used to power a radiant floor which would offset heating costs in the winter, again paying for itself in just a few short years. We're also going to install Solar Tube Lights to provide daylight in closets and bathrooms.

Our goal with the remodel is to reduce our electrical usage by two thirds. If we can meet this goal, then a PV system that meets our remaining energy needs could be within our price range.

Minor Repair

ABL and I have done basic maintenance to keep the house standing. I recently replaced all the 1979 faucets in the house because I was tired of trying to fix the originals. I started painting the outside this fall. The house was in dire need of paint. ETC.

A couple of months ago, we noticed that the water was running through the meter, but there were no faucets/showers/toilets running or leaking. My house is on a concrete slab and the water pipes go from our laundry room down under the slab, across the house, and then come up through the slab near the bathrooms and kitchen. I called in a plumber and got a quote over $1000 to locate the leak. The repair could take two routes. 1) They rip up the concrete, repair the pipe, and then put everything back the way it was. Mondo expensive. 2) They could run new plumbing through the ceiling to the bathrooms and kitchen. Less expensive, but the walls and ceilings would have to be opened up.

Besides the plumbing, the HVAC system is pretty old. I believe the unit inside the house is original, and the unit outside the house is about 14 years old. From what I've seen on the Internet, that's about the lifespan of a system. Our unit is running nearly constantly in cold weather and it's not really keeping the house warm.

To complete this perfect storm of major repairs and the need for more space, interest rates have come down significantly. So, as interest rates have come down, I've been interested in shortening the lifespan of our mortgage. We could refinance to a 15 year loan (which cuts 5 years off our loan) AND pull out roughly $40,000 WITHOUT changing our payments. We'll probably need significantly more than $40k, but it's a start.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


My house was built in 1979. The second owners, a couple with two small children did some cosmetic work to the house before we purchased it in 1998. Mostly, they replaced the original carpet, repainted, and installed new cabinet doors. Our first surprise as newlywed homeowners was a massive termite invasion, which should have been caught by the termite inspector. We even had the termite inspector come back out as our fence was rapidly disappearing and they still claimed there were no termites. When a tree broke apart in the front yard, we figured the termite inspector was lying and went directly to an exterminator.

We used a national exterminator, and the salesperson was very professional, he had many years of experience. The person who came to do the work however was another story. He tried to shake me down mid-job for cash. Later, as he was drilling holes in the garage, and riding the drill hard, the drill exploded sending hydraulic fluid or oil all over the walls...Not a fun experience for a new first time home owner.

Much later, I realized that our home inspector was also most likely a fraud. I put the blame on our realtor Debbie Breau, she was doing what she had to to sell the house. The termite inspector and home inspector she recommended deliberately hid major defects from us. We had asked Debbie to be our Buyers Agent and told her we didn't want to see any homes where she was the seller's agent. While she was not initially the sellers agent on this house, the home was being sold through her agency, Linda Sonnhalter Weichert Realtors. After she showed us the house and we decided to make an offer, she magically also became the seller's agent. At that point we knew were screwed (but we didn't know how screwed), but we wanted the house.

That was 10 years ago.