First Home Owner Diaries Volume Four: Plumber’s Putty

It all started with a backed up bathtub…

Slow drain or slow brain?

Over the last six months since we’ve moved into our new home, our main bathtub drain has been getting slower and slower. This is not a new thing if you live with long-haired females. Recently, I was able to take a normal 10 minute shower and have the water rise past my ankles. This was the proverbial last straw.

Original Pipes

At our last house we had the same issue semi-annually and I invested in my very own drain snake. Previously, I would go through the tub drain or through the trap cleanout and snake it until I couldn’t snake it anymore. This would usually yield a large mass of hair-soap-scum nastiness that would leave the drain flowing like the Hoover Dam.

My previous successes gave me the confidence to charm my snake once again on this backed up drain. After a few attempts on what seemed too easy to be effective, I tested the drain. Immediately I noticed there was no change and threw down my champion snake in disgust. I retreated to the garage where I knew there was an access panel in the ceiling to the tub drain. As I was removing the access panel that the previous owner screwed AND glued, water began to drip. At this point I was fearing the worst… 

Old house | Old pipes
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Holy Pipe

To my surprise, under the access panel was an array of old corroded copper piping. Normally this would be fine as most mid-century homes in western PA have this infrastructure, but one of my pipes was missing a chunk. I concluded that my overzealous snaking caused this hole, but when I put my hands on the broken pipe, it almost caved under my grip. This was a ticking time bomb that was accelerated by my prodding. We have another shower in the house, but I decided this needed to be fixed, now. 

“I’m grateful that I have a father who’s not only willing to help on jobs like this, but adds a great deal of knowledge to most projects.”

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No drips

I called my home warranty company (AHS) and they assigned me a plumber whom I didn’t hear from for a day or two. After talking to the plumber’s office and not wanting to pay the service fee, I decided I could do this myself… mostly. 

When it’s cold and rainy, there’s nothing better than plumbing

On a cold, rainy, and boring Saturday my dad and I set out to get this problem fixed. It looks like an easy job, just replace the existing pipes and we’re done! Not so fast… the old plumbing had a vintage drum-style trap, infamous for getting clogged, which also needed to be removed. Our first trip to my local home improvement center yielded a bunch of stuff that might do the job. After careful planning, cutting, dry-fitting, hypothesizing, trimming, and thoughtful staring, we had a configuration that would work.

Cutting out the old piping was easy. A cut here, loosen screws there, and it all came crashing down. We put in a new drain system in the tub accompanied by an overflow down to a new trap and piping. After gluing the first part together we did a water test. No drips, success! The last thing we had to do was vent the pipes through the roof.

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Plumbing complete

Venting the trap and drain to the existing roof vent would require another trip to my local home improvement store, and food. After dinner we assembled the remaining parts our masterpiece of amateur engineering. Another successful leak test and we were done.

Another job well done

The only part that remains is patching the ceiling in the garage where the access panel was. After a few weeks to make sure there are no leaks, I’ll patch this with some removable drywall. Hopefully I’ll never have to open that panel again as long as I live in this house (knock-on-wood).

Plumbing isn’t the easiest task to undertake, but it’s easy to understand. You have to get water from point A to point B, end of story. It’s more of a puzzle than a labor intensive job, you have to assemble the right pieces to get water to flow properly, and away from your house.

I’m grateful that I have a father who’s not only willing to help on jobs like this, but adds a great deal of knowledge to most projects.

More of my DIY posts!

First Home Owner Diaries Volume Three: Electric Garage

This past weekend my father and I decided to tackle one of the more annoying things in our new home. This is my first time having a garage, and as a guy I was really excited to work on projects and cars inside for once.

The Plan

The plan was to hang new lights and add some outlets on dedicated circuits. Of course a plan is a good start, but we had no idea what hurdles this house would throw at us during the process. I purchased four 48-inch LED shop light fixtures from Amazon and had them shipped to out home prior to project day.

After about an hour of planning and strategizing the morning of, we went to my local home improvement store to get the rest of the supplies. This was hurdle number one because my local store had some odd product choices. I was unable to find the outlets I wanted so we decided to go with 15 amp outlets and breakers, and utilize some parts I already had at home. When it came time to get the breakers, they only had twin 15 amp versions in the brand I needed. This was going to have to be fine. Later, at checkout, the twin 15 amp breakers rung up about five times more expensive than a single breaker (which they didn’t carry). Now we were forced to go to our original plan of 20 amp outlets and breakers, while spending more money on materials. Because you can’t just go to a store like this and buy what you came for, we also left with a new leaf rake.

Previous State

Old pull-chain light fixture

The wiring in the garage was about 75% original to the house (60s) and the other 25% was installed around the turn of the century (2000). In addition to the lack of new wiring in the garage, the entire home is only on a handful of circuits. If you’re not sure what that means, basically a lot of outlets go back to a single breaker. Have you ever tried making toast and watching TV and a breaker trips? That’s because the circuit was overloaded. Adding more dedicated circuits means less tripping.

old_switch
Old workbench outlet/switch

I have a beer spare refrigerator in my garage that was previously plugged in to the only outlet in the entire garage, which was also located above my workbench. This wouldn’t be that big of a deal if it wasn’t for the light switch also located in the area. Whoever installed this wired it so that the outlets were only active when the light switch was on. To run the refrigerator I had to keep the only light in the garage burning at all times. That light was now located half above my workbench and half above the refrigerator rendering it mostly useless for working anywhere but the workbench.

Electrifying

My father, a retired electrician, decided it would be best to tackle the lights first as they posed the most unknowns. His foresight was very appreciated later in the day. The garage had some old pull-chain type light fixtures randomly placed in the ceiling in two places. We leveraged these as junction points for our new lights. Above the workbench we cut in a new box in the ceiling to power a new light in that area. The entire ceiling in the garage is plasterboard and insulation which makes it very hard to run new wires. Using a metal wire fish tape we ran a wire from one of the pull-chain locations to the newly cut opening, then ran another wire back to the other pull-chain location to link them all on a switch. The new LED fixtures were a breeze to install. They were flush mounted to the ceiling using plastic anchors and then we cut off the plug and wired them to the junction box. There was an existing switch by the garage entrance to the house which we wired to all four lights. By the time we did all of the wire fishing, wiring, hanging, and testing, it was dinner time.

New workbench power

After dinner it was dark enough to test the lights and wow were they bright. The locations we chose were perfect to balance the room and make future work a lot more convenient. Now we could use the new lights for phase two. Next it was time to run new circuits for new receptacles. We ran two wires from the electrical panel to the workbench, each on their own breaker. The first one was to power the refrigerator and existing radon remediation system. The other was a quad outlet for the workbench where I can plug in almost anything. While we were working, we decided to add another outlet directly below electrical panel, close to a garage door, for use outdoors. This was also on it’s own dedicated circuit. After more wire pulling, stapling, wire twisting, drilling, and testing, we had 4 new fully functioning 20 amp outlets in the garage.

Completed lights

Now that the work is complete it can only mean that I will do more work in the garage with the proper power and lighting. I went from one small florescent fixture and two incandescent bulbs to four very bright LED fixtures. I also upgraded our power outlets from one on a shared circuit to four spread over three circuits. All in a days work.

Check out more DIY posts

SUV Search: Complete

Most new SUVs are good, but none are perfect.

suv-search

My wife and I are in the market for a new SUV this fall. We are looking to replace our 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee, not because we hate it, but because our lease is about to come to an end. There are so many options out there that fit our needs, which could be why this segment is becoming the most popular among car manufacturers today.

Feature Rich

We have a very specific wishlist for this next SUV, mainly because of what we have already been accustomed to. Most of the items are luxuries or technology based goodies that we feel every car should have.

  • Remote startpullquote
  • Heated / ventilated front seats
  • Large panoramic sunroof
  • Heated steering wheel
  • Apple CarPlay compatible stereo
  • LED daytime running lights
  • Factory-installed hitch
  • Powered lift-gate

Not that bad of a list right?

In addition to those refinements, we really need a car that has an engine that can really move when we need to. We previously had a vehicle with an undersized engine and while it was good on gas, merging onto the highway proved to be somewhat dangerous. Some of the options we’re looking at vaulted us into the luxury SUV space which we didn’t want to tread in. Companies like BMW, Lexus, and Jaguar have great offerings but we did not want to get in on the low-end of their trim levels to meet our budget.

Narrowing It Down

In January of this year, we traveled to Detroit for the North American Auto Show to take a look at some potential new models. We came away from this show mostly disheartened by the fact that our beloved Jeep was not changing and thus not keeping up with the influx of technology in this space. The early leader leaving the show was the newly redesigned GMC Terrain. Remember that car I mentioned earlier that had a very underpowered engine? That was a 2013 GMC Terrain with a 4-cylinder lawnmower engine that would redline going up the slightest hill. Needless to say, we only owned that car for about six months. There was some hesitation to lean towards the new Terrain, but the new 2.0 turbocharged engine seemed like a good upgrade that we’d be happy with. Leaving the show I was just about set on getting the new Terrain, in fact, if they would have offered a trade right then and there, I probably would have taken it. They didn’t offer me a new 2018 GMC Terrain on the spot, so we decided to sleep on it.

Fast forward eight months and we’re still looking at new cars coming out and deciding what we’re going to do. We have a slight deadline because our lease is set to expire sometime in October of this year. Lots of time ahead, but we aren’t taking this decision lightly. While the GMC Terrain is still in the running, we’ve had some other potentials come into view. The 2017.5 Nissan Murano checks all of our boxes and looks pretty cool too. We took a Sunday trip to our local Nissan dealer (because they are closed on Sundays) and eyeballed some new Muranos. This spelled bad news for the Murano because it just doesn’t look at good in person as it does in promotional photos. Now back to one again, the original GMC Terrain that started courting us in January.

There has always been one wildcard in our race, but it only had the support of half the votes. I have really admired the Volvo XC60 since it’s redesign last year, and even added it to my list. Volvo is a great car company, and they know it, which is why the are now moving up the price list and becoming more of a luxury brand than ever before. My wife has never been impressed by either the XC60 or XC90. “Volvos are for old people, and I’m not old yet” exclaims my wife every time I mention the Volvo SUV. I’ve realized that’s a fight I cannot win, and thus we move on.

The Winner

A strange, almost divine series of events have unfolded lately that lead us to pick our next SUV. I was doing more research as I always do and found that the 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokees were soon entering production. I thought to myself, “I wonder what’s new on the 2018 model year?”, turns out, just enough. The upcoming Grand Cherokee updates included one key feature that was missing from all previous Grand Cherokee models, Apple CarPlay. This was the one feature we had to have, not because it’s cool, new, and easy to use, it’s because most car infotainment system are downright horrible. The ability to essentially mirror your iPhone on your car’s screen for music and maps is monumental. Along with the addition of CarPlay, Jeep brought back a new special edition trim called High Altitude which fits our styling tastes perfectly. The basics of this special edition are removing all the chrome accents, including the Jeep badges, and replacing them with matte finish dark accents. This creates a very modern take on a more luxurious trim.

If all goes well with finances and timing, we will be leasing a 2018 Jeep Grand Cherokee High Altitude in white.
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How I Did The Research

Over the last 10 months I’ve been researching mid-size SUVs as they are announced and adding them to a spreadsheet to compare the specifications. I have posted it here so that you all can see the various types of specs I was comparing and how the different vehicles stack up. You’ll also notice that I went after specific trim levels on each SUV and only cared about certain features. This was mostly due to the fact that almost all SUVs in this class are going to perform the same and have the same overall sizing.

I hope you have enjoyed reading about my research and hope this will help someone else make a decision on a very large purchase. I will definitely post an update once we finally get our new SUV.


Click here for spreadsheet

First Home Owner Diaries Volume Two: Pressure Mounting

We got a new toy in our home, a new electric pressure washer

Why a pressure Washer?

What home isn’t complete without a pressure washer?

Today we went to our favorite home improvement store to look at pressure washers. I felt like it was a great time of year to buy one of these and of course, they were having a sale! The idea behind the pressure washer is to forcibly apply pressurized water to a surface in order to clean or renew the material. This is especially effective on patios, walls, and driveways, all of which we have.

What to wash first?

As soon as we got home, like any man does, I immediately rip open the box and attempt to assembly the system without reading the instructions. Several moments later I had a working electric pressure washing machine. Now I need something to wash…. I immediately started spraying the driveway, then on to the garage door, and eventually the front exterior stairs. To my amazement, our front concrete entrance is not dark brownish-green. The pressure washer began to reveal what looked like a bright gray slightly-aged concrete finish. This led me to prod further and clean the entire area. I didn’t have enough foresight to take a before picture, but I took the picture below right before I finished. You can see a stripe below the bottom step which shows what the pressure washer can do. Cleaning this entire area took about 30 minutes, and would be easy enough to do every year. I hope I can see the same type of results from other areas of the house.
stairs

Product Review

I decided to go with an electric model as opposed to a gasoline engine for a couple of reasons. The gas engine can be very loud when operating and while it does provide more pressure, it requires fueling and ventilation for proper operation. The electric model has a 35-foot cord and plugs into a standard outlet allowing me to wash from just about anywhere. The noise level on this particular model is very low and only emits a sound when water is being pumped. A traditional gas model runs all the time. The particular model I purchased was the highest pressure and water flow I could get at my local store. It is the GreenWorks GPW2000 which boasts a 2,000psi motor that pumps out 1.2 gallons of water per minute. So far, I’ve only used this model for about an hour or two, but everything is great. I’ll continue to update as I use it more. The only downsides are hose locations for both the input and outputs. I feel like they could be better located for easy connecting and storage.

What should I wash next?

My next pressure washer project will probably be our back patio and rear of house. I’m sure I’ll find a lot of other things to wash down before winter. What else can I use this thing for besides the obvious?

First Home Owner Diaries Volume One: Intro

First Home

My wife and I recently purchased our first real home in May of 2017. Previously we were staying in a family home which felt like we were renters most of the time. After being married for almost six years we felt like it was the right step to being successful adults. Being first home owners comes with a lot of new adventures, and we’re looking forward to most of them. As most home owners would agree, remodel, repair, and rejuvenation projects suck any extra money out of adulthood. Because of that I’m starting a blog series about my successes, failures, and discoveries being a first time home owner.

Do-It-Yourselfer?

Being raised by a crafty and handy family, I consider myself to be a Do-it-Yourselfer. This means I’m willing to attempt almost any house project myself before hiring outside workers. Between the internet, HGTV, and the people around me, I think we’ll be able to do a lot of “damage” ourselves.

Future posts

Please follow along on our quest to beautify our home. I’ll be posting progress photos, step-by-step guides, and what not to do. This should be fun for us and I want to share it with the world.

Volume Two

My next volume, coming very soon, will be my time with our new pressure washer. This piece of heavy machinery should play in to a bunch of future projects to come.