Saturday, June 21, 2008

My new solar cooling system

Summer slammed down on us several weeks ago.  So did a tornado.  On a hunch, we called our insurance company and asked them to send someone over to check our roof for damage.  We have a lot of neighbors who are missing shingles from the high winds, but we didnt.  Still, the roof has been there for 8 or 9 years (they are 20 year, 3-tab shingles) which can be a lot around here.  To our delight, the adjuster came and spent about an hour climbing around our roof, then reported that we need a new roof, new rain gutters, and new wind turbines.  Often they specify a single storm to blame for the claim, but this went down as cumulative hail damage.

     So we hired a roofer with a great reputation and chose our new shingles to install.  The roofer estimated a couple thousand less than the insurance adjuster, so we chose 30-year shingles and had him do some little extras to get his price up to the adjusters.  But heres the thing:  our house is very expensive to cool each summer (no big surprise in Texas), so we decided to take advantage of this opportunity to put in some solar cooling.  We chose the whitest shingles we could find.  They just happen to be top of the line, too, but it was the color that drove the decision.  The old ones were nearly black.  You can see our neighbors roof in the attached photo.  It is a brown tone and lighter overall than our old roof.  Not anymore!

    Weve had the new roof for over a week now and I can confirm that they have made a huge difference.  Shortly after we got it installed, our upstairs a/c unit quit and we just lived without it for 2 days.  It wasnt that bad up there, which was very surprising.  When I go out into my shop on a hot afternoon, it is now about 20 degrees cooler that it used to be under those conditions.  Weve started turning off one of our a/c units at night, because the house has so much less heat load that we dont need it.  I usually turn it back on at about noon.  This passive solar cooling system is marvelous, and it didnt cost us a penny.  What a deal.

    So, thanks to all of you who pay your insurance premiums.  Theyve been put to good use.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

2nd big Storm of 2008

A few weeks ago we had a lot of tree damage from a small tornado that touched down about ½ mile south of us. That one broke trees and ripped shingles off roofs all around us. Today we had another event. It was cloudy and getting quite dark, but no actual storm seemed imminent. We had a crew putting up rain gutters all of them on aluminum ladders except for one up on the roof. All of a sudden high wind hit the house, sending lengths of gutter into the back yard. The guy on the roof headed down the sheltered side and found an overhang to cower under. Sadly for him, the storm was rotating and after the first couple of minutes it was blowing right onto him. The other guys didnt know where he was and were calling for him when I went out and told them to take shelter. They had no English and my Spanish is limited, so I didnt know about the guy on the roof, but they headed for their van. When I spoke to them from the front porch, I saw two trees across the street that had major branches split off and land on the lawn. In the attached photo you can see the tree branches on the ground. If you look through the branches of our mimosa tree towards the left of the photo, you can see the yellow gash where the bigger tree split. The other tree actually had a lot more damage. If you open the photo and zoom in, you can see that it just missed the neighbor's Jeep.


The rain lasted about a half hour and when it was tapering down the roofer we'd hired arrived to make sure the gutters were going on correctly. When he pulled up to the back of the house he saw the guy under the ledge hanging on like he was really in trouble, with wide, wild eyes showing white all around. He was OK as soon as they got a ladder up to him, but he was soaking so the crew took him to WalMart to get him something dry to wear.

This storm damage was very local what they call a micro-burst so those two trees are the only ones damaged in our neighborhood. We had a new roof that was only completed last Thursday, but it was fine. Weve had HOT weather lately and they sealed tight within a day or so. The houses (3 or 4) to the south of us on the same side of the street got enough wind to scatter their garbage cans, but that appears to be all. I dont like these near misses, but Id much rather have them than a full-on tornado in the class 2-4 range.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Techno Disaster

It seems like every other year or so our computer slowly slips away into the land of old computer junk.  This may be related to the fact that I buy used PCs to start with, but still  

The worst thing about that is that it is a pain to try to get all our old data off the nearly dead PC and load it on to the nice shiny, new one.  So, last year I bought an external 160 GB hard drive and put everything we cared about onto it.  I figured we were then safe from computer death and could just move the external drive to any new computer we chose to use. 


The shiny, new external hard drive crashed and burned.  It turns out that when a hard disk crashes there are several levels of how hard it is to recover data.  The worst possible is where the crash destroys the directory that tells the computer where to find files.  In that case, they need to take it into a clean room (expen$ive), disassemble it, and install it into a special drive ((expen$ive) to read it sector by sector trying to recover undamaged data.  Guess which kind ours is?  I got two quotes:  $1,100 and $1,300.   Among other things, all our photo files are on it, including last years photos which I hadnt got a Round Tuitt for writing DVDs for everyone.  I have most (hopefully all) of last years on the old hard drive, so I can recover those.  But at some point, I made the transition to this new, bullet-proof hard drive and all those are gone, gone, gone.  Photos of Roko we took in Calif. gone.  Photos of various grandchildren who have visited us this year gone.  Photos of the great pig hunt where Keith and I took a couple of our friends to a pig-shooting ranch gone.  Photos of this years Dallas Blooms where we took many photos of different kind of flowers, close-ups and landscapes gone.  I still hope to find a way to recover.  Its a dim hope, but the flame still flickers.

So, thats whats new from sad ole Grandpa.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The NeverEnding Project.

It was about a year ago that Liz and I first started thinking seriously about building a kids play room in a convenient corner of the attic. When Joe and family decided to move here and stay with us until they could locate a place of their own, the project went into high gear. I thought it would be an easy project, but it turned out to be a major, huge, daunting, complicated, tedious, expensive, meticulous, and lengthy project. I came home from work day after day and worked in there until 1 or 2 in the morning. My body was slowly breaking down from it and by the time Joes family got here I could barely use my hands. The big, heavy, framing nailer was the worst. It really put a lot of pressure on my wrists. Heres how it went.

· Phase 1: Rerouting wires and a/c ducts passing through the space. Many wires were too short to be lifted out of the way, so they had to have special handling: cut & splice, special passageway built into the room, etc.

· Phase 2: Framing and putting down a floor. I thought it would be a matter of laying plywood across the joists, but it turned out that the joists were all at different levels and had to be built up or cut down. Also, Phases 1 & 2 merged when I nailed a piece of plywood down and the nail penetrated the insulation of 3 out of the 4 wires in a duplex 120 volt cable. Fortunately I have a friend who is a licensed electrician and he was able to help me find and fix that little booboo. The ceiling didnt leave enough room for a full-size door. We had to get the narrowest door available (24 inches) and I cut off the bottom. This made the door handle lower than normal, which made it better for kids to use. Even with that, there isnt enough clearance and I solved that by making a jerry-rigged recess into the ceiling where the door needs to swing.

· Phase 3: Insulation. I hate putting up insulation because it is so itchy and irritating, so you have to bundle up and wear a respirator, which makes it unbearably hot and hard to move around. The good news here is that I noticed HD had some neat foil-covered bubble wrap. It doesnt itch at all, and it made a huge difference in how hot it got in the attic. Its a reflective barrier, rather than much in the way of insulation, so I still had to put up bats of fiberglass, but it was a pleasant start. Last summer was relatively cool through July, which helped a lot. It meant I could get the insulation in before it got unbearably hot.

· Phase 4: Sheetrock. We were running out of time, so Liz had one of her guys from work send out a sheetrock person, and sometimes 2. I had no idea that sheetrock guys were so specialized, but I expected this guy to help me hang sheetrock, then tape and bed and finish it all off. He kept telling me he wasnt a sheetrock guy, he was a finish mudding guy. Where he did hang sheetrock he did a lousy job worse than me by far. He didnt like taping and mudding. When it came time to finish the surface he was great, but the costs were skyrocketing and he just wasnt that much help. He was here for 2 weeks and we still werent done, so we finally told him to go away. That left us with the job about half done, but the front half of the space was sufficiently far along that Joes children could use the room.

· Phase 5: Paint and finish. We primed and painted the front half blue, and I got the electrical outlets ready for use, even though they were mostly messed up from the sheetrock guy. Joe helped us lay glued-down carpet squares when he was here. We put the toys in there and the kids loved it.

It was a delight to have Joes family living with us, even though we were a bit crowded even with the new room.

After Joe moved into his new house, we settled into a routine without worrying any more about the new room, but that back half still needed work. Angelas planned visit next month spurred us back into action. Joe brought one of his mudding guys over and he helped with the sheetrocking. That worked great! We knocked the sheetrock off in 2 days. I ordered a new window for the dormer, because the old one was too small, single-pane, and broken. The back room actually went much smoother and it is almost done now. I bought oversize switchplate covers, and that solved some of the worse issues with the lousy sheetrock help from the first half. I still have some molding to install and the faux fence Liz is so excited about. It is cute. The only thing we havent been able to complete is the wall murals. That will have to remain for the future. Forgive me the tools and work paraphernalia in the photos, but we are still working.

1. <<

...>> This was taken from the closet into the back room that has never been inhabited. You can see the window dormer and the blackboard (magnetic, too).

2. <<

...>> This is from the back room into the front room, and you can see the fence. We only have this small section up, but it will go fast. The little door goes into Moms attic.

3. <<

...>> This view shows the door with the clearance groove into the ceiling. Its an insulation issue, but it couldnt be helped and still have enough door for an adult to walk in.

We are excited to have bunches of grandkids in here next month, and getting a chance to see the whole space fully utilized.