ted & pamela

Archive for October 2009

Home maintenance, part 2

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

Before we bought the house, we knew from the disclosures that the downstairs toilet was loose.  A plumber we had at the house earlier had told us that since the seal wasn’t leaking, we could probably just tighten the screws holding the bowl to the floor a bit, but not so much that the porcelain bowl cracked.  This sounded easy enough for me, so I attempted it one evening.

Well, in the process of tightening the screws, I must have moved the water reservoir tank, because it started leaking quickly on one side where a screw held the tank to the base of the toilet.  To avoid a flood, I shut off the water supply and flushed the toilet to get out as much water as possible, then inspected the screw.

It looked like the screw and the rubber gasket that were supposed to prevent the water from leaking out had come loose.  I didn’t know what to do about the leakage, so I suggested to Pamela that we replace the toilet. Luckily, she quickly shot me down and said that we could probably just replace the screw assembly.  (Now that I’m thinking about it again after the fact, we might have been able to fix the problem just by tightening the existing screw, but that didn’t occur to me at the time…)

Anyway, she was right, of course.  I went to Home Depot (they’ve been getting a lot of business from us lately) and found that they sell replacement parts for exactly this problem.  I bought the little bag of parts (two screws, some rubber gaskets, washers, nuts, etc.) for our brand of toilet.

Back at home, it was a messy but straightforward repair process.  I unscrewed the tank from the base of the toilet and the water supply, cleaned it up a bit, then followed the instructions on the bag to reassemble everything with the new parts.  I was a bit surprised when I turned the water supply back on and everything worked!  No leaks, no bugs, no additional feature requests.  Whew.

I think this makes me a level 2 homeowner.  Still noob, but a little more experienced.

Home maintenance, part 1

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

We haven’t even moved our furniture in yet, but Pamela and I are already learning the never-ending joys of home maintenance.

So far, I’ve had to deal with three main issues:

  1. The shower in the upstairs hall bathroom dumped out water and barely functioned as a shower.
  2. The downstairs toilet was loose and had water leaking from the tank.
  3. One of the garage doors got stuck halfway open.

The first issue was pretty easy to deal with.  After determining that the shower looked like it should fit a standard shower head replacement, we went to Home Depot to buy a new one.  We spent a while standing around confused by the assortment of shower head options from $2 to $80+, but eventually decided on a mid-range shower head with both a standard adjustable spray and a secondary head on a flexible pipe.

Upon returning home, we discovered that we couldn’t actually take the old shower head off.  We didn’t have a wrench that was the right size, and our attempts to improvise with pliers and whatever else we had around just scraped metal off of the shower head.  For a while, we doubted that we had a standard shower head that could be taken off, and we gave up for the night.

The next day, based on a suggestion from Pamela’s dad, who happens to be a plumber, I went to my parents’ place in San Jose to borrow an adjustable wrench from them.  The wrench had no problem getting the old shower head off, and the new one was fairly straightforward to install.  I guess it just goes to show that having the right tools makes things a lot easier.

I tried it out that night, and happily, it was much, much better than that sorry excuse for a shower head that we used to have.

Contractors and more

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

About a month ago (Sept. 9), we closed escrow on the house and officially took over.  Since then, we’ve primarily been dealing with moving all of my stuff from my previous place in Menlo Park to our new home, and researching, calling, and interviewing various contractors.

We decided early on that we’d want to remove the “popcorn ceiling” before moving in because of the mess it would make when removed.  This sort of ceiling has been out of fashion for the last 30 years or so, usually contains asbestos (ours was 3%), gets dirty easily and is hard to clean.  Also, removing a popcorn ceiling and replacing it with a smooth or textured finish typically increases the value of a home.

After calling four companies we found through personal recommendations and online reviews, we interviewed three of them, and eventually ended up going with CertaPro Painters of Silicon Valley for both the popcorn ceiling removal and the painting job.  We chose CertaPro primarily because their owner (Dan Ford) was the only person that consistently returned phone calls and emails within a day, and usually got back to us much sooner.  He was also the one person we interviewed that came prepared with lots of documentation (about his company, contractor license information, insurance information, how the job would be done, how we would coordinate, etc.)  We called his references – none of them gave us a stunning, super-happy review, but they were all satisfied with the work that CertaPro had done.  All of the other contractors didn’t seem as professional, and they were sometimes hard to reach or slow to respond.  For us, slightly lower prices didn’t justify the cost of dealing with potential communication problems.

While speaking to Dan during the interview, I had indicated that the work could start ASAP, and he said that his crews were typically booked 5-10 days out.  However, when I signed the contract, he told me that he could – and he did – have the popcorn ceiling removal start the next day.

Popcorn removal and texturing took three workers four days.  The first day, the foreman overseeing my job (John) and the main worker doing the popcorn removal and ceiling texturing (Alfredo) arrived promptly in the morning.  After talking about how the work would be done, John left and Alfredo and two guys that came after him (random hired goons?) started working.  They started by bagging up all of the upstairs rooms with 9-foot wide sheet of plastic, taped together loosely with something that looked like masking tape.  Alfredo was calling the shots, but the two other guys seemed to have some idea of what they were doing.  After bagging up the rooms, they connected a pump they brought with them to our outside water supply, and soaked the popcorn with it.  Then they just took a long scraping-tool and the popcorn came right off, onto the plastic covering the floor.

Pamela and I were under the impression that the popcorn was going to be treated as a hazardous material since it contained asbestos (that was the impression given to us by Dan as well), but the workers didn’t do anything that treated the ceiling material as anything but goop that could make a mess.  They didn’t have ceiling-goop fights, but they did manage to track it all over the front steps, and leave little bits of it everywhere after they left.  They didn’t ventilate the house either: when I came back in the evening to look at their work, I found the entire house steamy, presumably because they sprayed all of the ceilings with water.

We complained about the mess to the owner and foreman, and John came over the next day to look at the work.  He was significantly less concerned about both the mess and its possible toxic attributes than we were, but to placate us he spent about 40 minutes cleaning the place with a vacuum, rag, and hose.  It looked significantly better after he was done, and we agreed that as long as the place was clean and looked great after the work was finished, we’d be happy.

Four days later, the painting crew, Raul and Carlos, came to do the priming and painting.  Raul spent about half an hour with me looking at the place and going over how the job would be done.  During that time, he discovered that we didn’t know what color we wanted the ceiling.  Oops.

Pamela and I just kind of figured we would paint the ceiling white, but unbeknown to us, Kelly-Moore sells dozens of slightly different shades of white, with names like Pale Face, Acoustic White, New Linen, and White Dove.  Our house already had Antique White, Navajo White, and Swiss Coffee – which sounds like it should be a brownish color, but is actually a bright shade of white.  Apparently the Swiss like their coffee with a lot of cream.  This was in the morning and Pamela was in the middle of teaching third period, so it was up to me to select a color.  With Raul’s help, and a little bit of wandering around with color cards trying to figure out what colors each shade of white matched/clashed with, I settled on a shade Kelly-Moore calls White Shadow.

While I was deciding on a paint color, Raul and Carlos prepped the work area.  They placed large cloths on the ground so that paint wouldn’t fall on the floor, wrapped furniture in the same kind of plastic that the popcorn removal guys used, and taped sheets of paper over baseboards, railings, wall light fixtures, etc.  Next, they caulked the edges where the ceiling met a painted wall – according to Raul, this makes it so that they can get clean lines and avoid cracking where the ceiling paint meets the wall paint.  After caulking, they went over the center of the ceiling first with primer on large rollers, then primed the edges with a brush.  Then they did the same thing with the paint, and touched up everything with paintbrushes.

Their original estimate for the paint job was 2-3 days, and they barely managed to finish all of the painting the third day.  However, John had also asked them to put up all of our light fixtures, drapes, blinds, etc. when they were done.  Apparently this isn’t something that painters normally do, because they spent the next few hours, with my help, figuring out where each object went, how to attach it, and then attaching it, often incorrectly the first time .  By 7pm, we were all exhausted, and mutually agreed that we’d leave the rest of it for another day.  John came back the next day with a helper, and managed to get everything back up in a few hours.

Overall, the job took eight working days over two weeks.  It wasn’t perfect – there’s a spot of popcorn behind a railing they missed, and some of the texturing isn’t smooth – but overall, I’m pretty happy with the job.  I’m lucky that my work hours are flexible enough that that I could take off some mornings and afternoons to watch the contractors.

Back to full speed

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

About a week ago, we noticed that tedandpamela.com had slowed to a crawl, but we didn’t have time to investigate until recently.

Well, tonight, Eric made two changes that seem to have dramatically improved performance.  First of all, he increased the memory for our virtual server (hosted by RimuHosting) from 96MB to 160MB.  Still not much, but because of this change, our server isn’t using swap anymore.  Secondly, apparently  RimuHosting’s DNS servers changed, and our server couldn’t resolve hostnames.  Oops.  It’s possible our web server was trying to do something like resolve the ip address for incoming requests to hostnames, and wouldn’t respond until after DNS resolution timed out.

I also made a few changes to speed things up a bit.  I installed the wp-cache plugin for WordPress and enabled mod_deflate for text content.  For good measure, I also installed WPDB-Profiling, a plugin to break down where WordPress is spending its time, and enabled MySQL slow query logging.

Please let us know if the site still seems to be slow.