Archive for the ‘Home’ Category

I just installed a new (old/ reclaimed) front door.

Front door after. Left swing inwards. We got this door in very rough shape from a neighbor for $40. After a lot of scraping, sanding, patching, wood putty/ bondo, and new paint, it looks natural in its new home!

Front door before. Right swing inwards.
Ugly old paint and lots of glass as a potential security risk.

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Continuing my DIY series, I’ll show you how to re-glaze old windows.

Step 1: Remove the old glazing. I’ve found that a sharp paint scraper will do the trick. If you must, use an old chisel you don’t care about because there is sure to be metal glazing points buried under there just waiting to wreak havoc on a chisel blade. Once you have removed the glazing, take out all the old glazing points, and carefully remove the old window pane. If you are doing this to replace a broken pane, remove it recklessly 🙂   Just watch out for broken glass. Once you have the window frame prepped, roll a thin rope of glazing onto the ledge where the window will sit (pictured below). This creates a good seal for the window, and also cushions it a bit. Rolling a tiny worm of glazing can take some time, so if you really need to go faster, you can use caulk here if you must.

 

Step 2: Gently place the new window pane onto the rope of glazing compound or caulk. Press with even pressure to smoosh the caulk flat but don’t break the window!

 

Step 3: Take your paint scraper (or even a tile trowel with a nice big handle) and push glazing points into the frame symmetrically around the pane. If it’s a small pane, two per side is fine. Bigger panes need more support, so add more accordingly. Try to get the point as flush to the frame as you can.

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I just finished installing my second hardwood floor, so I feel I have enough experience to tell, at least the beginner, how to do it.

  • First, prepare the sub-floor. This would include pulling out all nails or staples sticking up, sanding down uneven spots, and pulling off baseboards and trim.
  • Second: Lay out your boards in the general pattern that you want. This helps to visualize what the final floor will look like so you can plan out which boards to put where, which ones you need to cut, and to make sure you have enough to finish. Before you do this, lay down an underlayment layer to help with squeaks. Tar paper works for me.
  • Gather your tools: I would say that the most useful tool besides a hammer and nailset, or the specialty hammer you can rent, is a good chop saw. This way, you are guaranteed straight cuts that you can do fast.
  • Next, set the first row: You will need to measure the width of your boards, then take your measuring tape and take 5-7 measurements off the wall you are starting at. Then take a chalk line and snap a good clean line on the average of all your marks. Some old houses were built before they invented right angles, so if you just put the first row of boards flush with the wall, by the time you get across the room, you could be attaching the boards crooked, compared with the other three walls. So line up your first row on the chalk line and install it with brad-headed nails. Put them in at a 55* angle right above the tongue. Use a nailset to push them all the way flush so that the groove in the next board will fit perfectly. In the picture below, the nail in the back ground is set flush, and the nail in the fore ground show the correct angle.
  • Hammer and cut away! If you’re doing a room of considerable size, I would recommend spending the extra bucks to rent a floor installer hammer. This is a pneumatic or hand powered nail gun that will make things go much faster. When you cut boards for the side, remember that you can leave yourself a little space because you will most likely be installing quarter round trim to finish.
  • For the last board, you need to cut or chisel off the tongue so that it will fit. In some cases, you will need to use a table saw to rip the boards down to the correct width. Then use nails and your nailset to fasten them so that the holes will end up underneath the trim. For this particular room, I knew I wouldn’t have enough boards to cover the entire floor ( we bought the wood at a garage sale. 90 sq. ft. for $30) so I planned to build a window seat and built in bookshelves to take up the remaining space.

After several conversations with my siblings, I decided to write this post to give them the sum total of all my financial advice I’ve learned as an under-thirty year-old. So this is for you guys, and whoever else feels like they could get a better grip on their money, and live to accomplish their dreams on their own terms.

Bank accounts: Some of the best advice I ever got was from my two older cousins Tim and Kevin. They said I should always have at least $5,000 in the bank. This was a hard feat for a fifteen year old, but once it was in the bank, I vowed never to dip below that mark. So far, I have succeeded. Everyone says that you should have between 3 months and 6 months living expenses saved up for an emergency. So if you lost your job tomorrow, you could survive in your current lifestyle for half a year. I say, why stop at six months? At one point, we had 19 months livings expenses saved, so when my wife took 15 months off to care for our first son, we were living on my smaller, non masters-degree-having job. A few months after that, I got cut to part time. So we went from two full-time incomes to one part-time income. That chunk of savings saved our lives, and our house. We were able to keep up with all payments, only because of our emergency fund. You need one, so start saving today.

It almost goes without saying, but I may as well spell it out. You need a checking account. And, you need a savings account. These cannot be the same account. After putting up with ridiculous fees from M&T, I switched to HSBC and have been pretty happy with them. The main reason I switched was because I was looking for a better savings rate. I checked on Bankrate.com and saw that HSBC offered an online savings account with 5.05% APR. This was a heck of a lot better than the 0.25% rate M&T was giving me. When I switched, (which takes a bit of work, verifying micro transactions, etc.) my monthly interest payment jumped from $1.25 to $52.25. Pretty awesome. I made $500 in interest the first year.

If you have any kind of regular employment, get direct deposit. Figure out generally what you think you’ll need each pay period, and have that amount put into your checking account. Anything left over goes into the saving account, automatically. For example, I had $400 go into checking and whatever was left, say $150 go into savings. You must think of Savings as being untouchable. If you want to save for a specific trip, a new car, etc. set up a third saving account and put $25 or $50 into that each paycheck, but your main savings should remain untouched. Not that it can’t be used. Just not regularly. We used a third account as a wedding fund for the year before we were married and it worked quite well. I also paid off my car using my savings to pay $2,000 chunks down when I could, while keeping up with the regular payments.

Retirement: Even though you’re 21, 25… you need to start thinking about this now. Time affects the amount you end up with much more than how much you put in. This is the beauty of compound interest. A 25 year-old putting in $5,000 a year for 10 years would end up with close to a million dollars, whereas a 55 year-old putting in the same amount over the same time frame would only have just under $80,000!

If you can manage it, contribute money to your employer’s plan as soon as they let you. Most employers will have a matching contribution, but the really good ones will contribute based on a percentage of your salary, even if you put in nothing. After a period of time, typically 3-5 years, you become vested and get to keep all the money that they put in too. An optimum goal for contributions should be 10% of your  salary. It took me several years to build up to this level, so don’t push it if you can’t afford it now. The best part is, my employer matched 7.5% so I was really putting in 17.5%!

The thing about the stock market is…you have to be in it for the long haul. Even if the market is tanking, keep contributing. This is when you can buy up lots of stocks for cheap, so when the market finally rebounds (even if it takes several decades) you’re in the position to make some serious chop. Just think, long term. Not day trading, or even decade trading. If you start when you’re young, the market will surly have grown over four decades, and you can retire wealthy.

Loans or mortgages: First, don’t get one if you can help it. Shakespeare said, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”  The Bible says that the borrower is a slave to the lender. But if you really must get a loan, which most people will end up doing at least a few times in their lives (car, school, house), be smart about it. If you have a good credit score (from paying bills on time, etc.) you can qualify for a good (low) interest rate. Make sure you get one that has no pre-payment penalty on it. That way, you can pay extra principal on it if you want to, with no worries.

Once you reach 21% equity in your house, you can drop the PMI (private mortgage insurance) that you have been paying every month. This will get you an extra (for us) $35 a month that you can add to your Principal payment.

Always pay the minimum payments on all of your loans. Then, pay as much as you can afford on the one with the smallest amount in it. For example: you have three loans, $2000 ($50 payment), $8,000 ($150 payment), and $35,000 ($400 payment). Pay the $2000 loan off first. Then, when you are finished with that one, add the $50 to your next smallest loan so that you can put down $200 towards the $8,000 loan. When that’s done, you can add the $200 to the $400 for a $600 payment. If you do it this way, you will see progress much sooner than if you just focus on the loan with the highest interest rate. Dave Ramsey calls this the Snowball method because it grows as it gathers momentum. Using rough estimates, I figure we can pay off our $64,000 of debt in 6 years. This is not including chunks that we plan to slap down from our previously mentioned savings account.

Credit Cards: No. That’s it. No. They are off limits. If there’s an emergency and you need cash…well that’s what your six month emergency savings account is for.

Insurance: A higher deductible will mean lower monthly fees.

For homeowners/ renters insurance, walk around and take picture of all your most expensive things. Also keep a list with all their serial numbers and purchase price. This will help if there’s ever a burglary of fire.

Taxes: Use free software to do your taxes yourself. A local news channel did an experiment and found that people who paid a tax professional $90 got the same refund when they spent a couple hours online doing it themselves for free. (One person got an extra dollar, but they spent ninety to get it). Speaking of refunds, you should try not to get one. Adjust your exemptions on your W-4 form at your job so that you break even at the end of the year. This way, you get to use more of your own money throughout the year and don’t give the government an interest-free loan with your money.

Life: Simply put: live below your means. If the most you can afford is a $300,000 house, do NOT buy a $300,000 house. buy a $50,000 house. Otherwise, if something goes wrong (like a job layoff), you are already at your threshold and can’t afford the payments. Hello foreclosure.

If you can deal with only having one car to share between two people, do it. If you can live without internet at home because you get it free from your job or school, do it. Get movies from the library for free, don’t rent them at $5 a pop. If you live close to where you work, ride a bike instead of drive. That way you save on gas money and get in shape too. (No gym fees either.) If you have a yard, grow your own food. This is rewarding on many levels, one of which is that your grocery bill goes down. Just try to really distinguish between needs, and wants.

Recommended reading:

“The Total Money Makeover” by Dave Ramsey  Great book. Takes you through seven “baby steps” to become debt free and ultimately wealthy. The author has a no nonsense style and admits that the plan is easy but the execution is hard. I will be following this plan for the next six years at least, maybe my whole life. READ IT.

“The Automatic Millionaire” by David Bach is all about setting up your accounts and things so that you accumulate wealth…automatically! Basically set up a 401k early and contribute at least 10 % of your income for as long as you can. Second, buy a house, don’t rent. You will never get rich renting. Also don’t use credit cards. That’s about it.

“The Millionaire Nextdoor” This book goes through how real millionaires live. No, not rap stars and movie stars, real people. The roofer who owns his own business. They wear $30 Timex watches, not $500 Rolex. etc. Interesting book.

“Good debt, Bad debt” by Jon Hanson. Very good book about money management. He wrote it when he was on his death-bed. Basically, don’t go into debt unless it will pay off for you later. Ex. Debt for a school loan which will allow you to get an $80,000 a year job. Good debt. Country club membership and a brand new Mercedes AMG. Bad debt.

Some other posts I’ve written about money:

Living-below-the-poverty-line

Inspired-to-build-wealth

I may be getting a job. Since I left me last job in August, I have been watching my son two days a week and working on the house the rest of the time. Also lazing about a bit. Since my wife had 15 months off while I worked, I don’t feel bad about this.

I had planned on looking for a job after I  finish my degree at OCC in December, but after talking with a friend, I submitted my resume to the place he works. I went in for an impromptu interview last week and got a job offer today. Unfortunately, I have to watch my son these nest two days, so I was unable to act immediately. This may have cost me the job, but the manager said that he has a few other positions open as well and I may still be able to start Monday.

During the past few years, my wife and I had gotten used to never worrying about money. She had a teaching job and I was making a much as I could hope for with only a High School diploma. We had saved up quite a chunk for a newly married couple ($25,000) and planned on using this when she took a year off with the baby. This saved us because midway through that time, my position was cut to part time. We basically lived off savings for the rest of the summer. Now she is working again but I am still home. Money is still tight although we have never missed a payment on our mortgage or school loans. I wouldn’t say we argue about it, but we can order anything off the menu at restaurants anymore. We can’t go out to eat at all anymore. Maybe twice a month, max. No movies, only free DVDs from the library.

But now I have a chance at a job. I realize that this is rare in this economy, especially for someone who has no practical experience in the field that this company is in. So when the interviewer asked me what salary I think I should receive, I told him that any dollars/hr is better than no dollars/hr.

This job will be different than anything I have done before. More of a factory position than working at a desk. This is part of what attracts me to it. I enjoy working with my hands and want to be able to leave work at work at the end of the day.

I am looking forward to the sense of security that this will bring to our finances. I would also like to say that I never worried about money because I knew God would take care of our family. There have been a few times we were low on funds and out of the blue, a check would come in the mail from some obscure thing we were not expecting. Like an alumni fund or extra cash from our escrow account. Anyway, I hope to post a positive update soon.

Along with my new roof, I just installed a Solatube skylight. Our bathroom is the only room in the house with no windows. It had one originally, but someone covered it up with a tub-surround years ago. The room is a cave. Even in the middle of the day, you need to turn on the light. So I thought it would be an ideal application of a small tubular skylight. Now it’s bright enough that we only need the light in the mornings and at night. Hopefully we can recoup the money in energy savings, but it will take some time. I went with Solatube and not Suntunnel by Velux or another brand because from everything I’ve read and seen, Solatube is the best. I was certainly impressed with the quality of their product. The inside of the metal tubing is like a mirror! I thought it would just be painted silver or something, but it is literally a mirror. Plus they have good customer service. The day I got home and opened the box, I found that the dome had been cracked in shipping. I called and they were very nice over the phone and I received a new dome in two weeks, free of charge. I got the more expensive model because you can take a 30% tax credit this year. So really, the $300 model is less expensive than the $250 model that does not qualify for the credit. Here are the before and after pictures. Each picture was taken around noon without a flash. Keep in mind this is November in the Northern hemisphere and the Solatube is on the North face of the roof. I imagine it will be brighter come summertime.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We just got a new roof! The previous owner of the house bought it in 1983 and never put a roof on, so we know that it was at least 26 years old. It had three layers of shingles on it and the original boards, no plywood. So we got six quotes. Some were as high as $15,500 and the one we eventually went with was $7,500. Our house is 1,500 sq. ft. and we’ve been told our roof is 17 squares. We got Barkwood (color) 30 year architectural shingles made by GAF Elk. It’s nice having a new roof over our heads, but not so nice having hardly any savings left in the bank. We got kinda used to having a $10,000 cushion. Well, not anymore! Here are some pictures. Before and after. Now we just need to paint. I put in a new skylight too, but that will be its own post. If anyone has any questions, just let me know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Climate change. Does it exist? Yes. Can we do something about it? Maybe. What the world needs now (besides love, as they say) is concerted action. We need to educate people on the true consequences of their actions, and what they can do to reduce their impact on the planet. For a few things you can do individually, check these out:

1) Live close to work & play. I know that for many people, they are settled in to where they are living. But the average American only lives in a house for seven years. So you still may be able to do this at some point in the future. Look at where you live now, and how far you commute. Can you live closer to where you work? Can you get a new job closer to where you live? When my wife and I were buying our first home, we took this into consideration. We decreased her commute time from 30 minutes to 20 minutes, and I was close enough to ride my bike to work most days.

2) Ride a bike. If you are physically able to ride a bike to do short errands, do it. Many car trips in the U.S. are for distance of less than a mile. Have to run down to the drugstore for something small? Take a bike. This alone will reduce your carbon footprint a great deal. Plus it may be quicker. What? you ask incredulously. Yes. My commute was 12 minutes by car and 7 minutes by bike…because of all the traffic. I can always go to the front of the line at a ed light, and speed by cars that are bumper to bumper.

3) Get an energy audit for your home. Many companies that deal in windows, insulation, or heating will offer these for free. A technician will come in and go around your house check for leaks. Not leaks from water in pipes, places where heat is leaking out. They seal off your front door with a big plastic gasket with a fan inside. This creates negative pressure in the house, so any place where heat would have been going out is now coming in. They use a thermal IMG_0251imaging camera to spot areas of cold. (white is hot, black is cold. You can see in the picture that the bottom panel of our back door is very cold, and cold air is seeping in underneath the door.) It was very cool to follow him around and see cold seeping in through the baseboards and around the door to the attic. Then I knew exactly where to seal with caulk or expanding foam. We also got our furnace replaced with a 95% efficient model and insulated all the exterior walls with blown-in cellulose insulation. This cut our utility bills in half! I wrote in more detail about that here.

There are so many other things you can do, so I will say that the biggest one is:

4) Read. Educate yourself on how you can live a better life for yourself, and the environment. You’re doing it right now! There are tons of simple things you can do. There are also things that many people believe will affect the climate a great deal, but actually don’t.

I focused on only one small part of the climate change issue, but there are myriad facets to this. I expect to read posts from other people doing Blog Action Day today about how coastal regions may be affected, our food supply, desertification, water shortages, international policy changes, new advancements in science, and much more. So just try and do your part, and we can make some change for the good of us all.

For more info, go here:

http://www.blogactionday.org/

Break-in

burglar

My garage was broken into last night. Whoever did it had vehicular support because they stole my lawnmower, my 80 lb. truck jack, and saddest of all, my bike. Now I can’t ride around the neighborhood with my son on the back in his child carrier. (one of my favorite pastimes). They did my nextdoor neighbor’s garage too and got their mower as well. The garage door was padlocked, and the two side windows were boarded up, but they stood on a trash can and broke in the rear window, taking it entirely out of the frame.

If you have ever had a break-in, you know how it feels. Awful. You feel violated. You feel watched, like they might just come back the minute your back is turned. You feel regret at the things you lost. You feel apprehension at having to report all this to the police and your homeowners insurance. You feel stupid for having a $1,000 deductible. You feel ineffective at keeping your home and family safe. So what do I do now?

I made a list of things missing and their replacement cost. $2,090. I boarded up the back window, and changed the padlock around so that someone from the outside can’t access the screws. What else? Reassess security.

Please do this now before it’s too late for you. Go outside. Now look at your house/ garage/ property with a burglar’s eyes. Where would you break in? What looks like the easiest way or the weakest area? What is stored where? Thankfully all my expensive rock/ice climbing equipment was left untouched, due to the thief’s ignorance. But you may not be so fortunate. Go out to your garage and write down the serial numbers of the most expensive things there. I did not do this to my bike, much to my frustration. Keep this list in a safe place. Realize that if someone really wants to get in, they will, but do not make it easy for them. A single-pane window held in by rusty nails ended up being the weak link in my garage. Make sure you know yours, and then do something about it so that this does not happen to you.

This is just a quick life update. I am now a stay at home dad for two days a week. The others are spent doing projects around the house that we haven’t had time to do in the last few years. Like: ripping down the wall between the kitchen and dining room, replacing broken window panes, stripping paint, fixing the leaky basement, etc.

I have received 3 rejections from agents about their interest in my novel so far. I’m waiting on 2 more. I may start sending it out to publishers too, but I’d rather have an agent first.

I’m starting on my last semester of classes for my A.S. in Business from OCC. I like my guitar class the best so far. I know how to play, and have for years, but it’s fun remembering all the old Metallica songs I used to know and jamming with the other advanced students.

The toddler is adapting well to his first major life transition: Mom at work, he’s in daycare or with me, I’m gone at night at class. That’s it for now

So we need to get our roof done soon. The previous owner bought the house in 1983 and never put a roof on it. Rather than wait until our cielings cave in on us, we want to do some preventative maintenance. What does this have to do with chimneys you ask? Well, most of the roofing companies we got quotes from said that we need to have our chimney repaired before they would do the roof. One offered to do it for $600. I said I could probably do it myself for just a bit less than that. How about $30. Yeah, that’s right. $6 for some mortar, $24 for two ceramic flue liners, and a bunch of free, trash-picked bricks.

I borrowed some books on it and got to work. First I had to chip out all the old mortar and clean up/ remove the loose bricks around the top. Then I removed the old broken flue liners. Whoever repaired it the last time put the larger one in crooked so that the small one that serviced the furnace and hot water heater only fit when they broke one of the sides off. Then it was just a simple matter of carrying all my supplies out of our bedroom window and up to the chimney. Being a rock climber, I’m used to heights, so I didn’t tie off or anything. I was comfortable with that but you may not be. It was my first time working with bricks and mortar, so there was a learning curve. It’s not real pretty, but it will do the job. Here are some before and after shots:

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I found these Napa Valley wine crates at the Rescue Mission Thrifty Shopper for $3.00 each. Then I got some thin oak and made wider shelves so our spices could fit. I just had to cut the oak to length, drill some holes, and cut in from the edges so that the shelves can twist in between the dowels. They’re just held in by tension, but it seems to work well so far.

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My life is going through some rather large changes at the moment. The biggest of these is that I have just given my two weeks notice at my job that I have had for the better part of a decade. Yes, after nearly ten years, it is time for me to go. So…I’m crazy right? I just quit my job in a terrible economy. My wife is also not working. We have a one year old who still needs to eat. What am I doing?

Who knows? I just knew I could not stay at my job any longer. What started as a great career leading groups through a ropes course, being outside and working with my hands, has led to me sitting behind a desk for 8.5 hours a day, filling out government forms and shuffling papers around. Enough was enough.

While I am not naive enough to think that I can make it as a professional writer (seeing as how I’ve not been paid for one single word I’ve written so far) I still hope to get my novel published. I’m sending it out to agents right now. That would be super cool. But it will continue to be a side hobby until it really pays off.

I imagine I will just do odd jobs until I can find one I really like. I always liked working with my hands, but I don’t have a trade, per se. I can do carpentry, but I wouldn’t call myself a carpenter. If you have a specific set of skills, you will almost always have a job available to you. But I don’t like my skills as a Workers Comp and Disability form filler-outer. I want something new. I am blessed with a smart wife with a good job, so I can afford to take a little time to look for just the right fit for me. I will also be finishing my Associates Degree in Business this December from OCC. This will help me if I ever want to get another desk job, which at the moment, I do not.

The other big change, or area of weakness on the fault line of change, is church. Ahh church. The peaceful serene escape from our worldly life and a bright shining respight from our toils on Sunday morning. Yeahhhh, or not. There are several issues that we are dealing with, but the biggest of these is childcare/ nursery. To make a long story short, our congregation was kicked out of the building we had used for over a hundred years by the Episcopal church. We are now in a storefront space. The people who own the space are very gracious and are letting us have church there for free. The space next door is available with the same situation. However, it was never meant to be a baby-safe nursery. There are big metal bookshelves with exposed edges, a carpet that is so dirty it turns Andrew’s knees black when he crawls on it, and a door leading out to a busy street that a baby can push open and crawl out of.

Due to many factors, we don’t see this situation improving much, so we are kind-of looking around at other churches right now. The sad thing is, we like the service and the teaching there. But there are other issues I won’t write about here that contribute to the fact that we are looking elsewhere.

So I will soon be out of a job, and possibly going to a new church. Big changes.

My wife loves to entertain but one of her rules about food is that you have to make it pretty. So I thought I would show some of her prettier (and tastier) displays.

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