Posts filed under ‘home’

Fixing Old Appliances: An Update On My Furnace

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Last week my husband and I were hit with two major expenses. First our car broke down on the side of the road. The next day our furnace crapped out on us. The mechanic said our 1999 Toyota was a lost cause, but I had hope that I wouldn’t need to shell out $6000 to $10000 for a new heating system.

This isn’t the first time we’ve encountered problems with the furnace. A year or so ago we had a small part replaced when the pilot light wouldn’t stay on. I’ll be honest I hate calling technicians out to our house. I know they need to be paid for their time and effort, but being told a 30 minute visit is going to cost $150 in diagnostic fees drives me crazy. Doesn’t it seem a little insane to pay $150 for someone to look at the appliance even if they can’t fix it?

I called a number of companies and the price to drive out and look at that big old metal box in the basement ranged from $89 to $150. I decided to call the company that repaired it for us last year. After all, we had previous success with them.

Right off the bat I got a bad feeling about the technician. He didn’t know how many thermostats were connected to it, despite the fact that you can see the wires leading right down the side of it. He said it looked to old to fix, but couldn’t give me an estimate on just how old he thought it might be. He tried to replace one part, showed me that it didn’t work, charged me $89 and went on his way. His recommendation was to replace the entire thing. On the paperwork he wrote, “This appliance is too old to repair. Recommend replacement. Estimated cost: $7400.”

Before replacing that old hunk of junk I wanted to get a few other quotes. I didn’t think the first guy new what he was talking about and I really had no idea if $7400 was the going price to replace it.

I searched my local listserve for heating and cooling recommendations and came across a small, family run business. The owner of the company came out to give me a quote on a new furnace, but he also suggested trying to replace a few parts on the old one.

When he left I called his secretary and scheduled an appointment for him to come back a few days later. Sure enough he was able to fix our furnace, (at least for the time being), for a little over $200. He said the fix could last a few years or a few months, but for $200 it seemed worth the risk. Heck I paid half that much for the other technician to tell me it couldn’t be repaired.

I’m hopeful these repairs will last us all winter, but we have a full stack of wood and a space heater ready just in case it doesn’t.

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October 8, 2014 at 5:03 PM 7 comments

Their House Is Better Than Ours

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Last night my husband came home after visiting with a close family member. “Their house is better than ours,” he said quite matter-of-factly, “They’ve made it feel so much more like a home.” I was surprised by his comment and asked for clarification. “It smells good,” he said. “Their house is filled with candles and potpourri. They have fancy coasters on their side tables and a wall of DVDs. They moved into that house five years after we bought ours and in half the time they made it feel homier.”

I couldn’t disagree with his reasoning. In fact he was absolutely right. Every time I visit their house I notice some new trinket I’ve never seen before. The table and hutch gleam with seasonal placements and decorations.  Beside their sofa are tall wooden candle holders holding warm, colorful, scented candles. They hang new pictures and artwork on the walls. The house has been filled with lots of new furniture; large couches, tables and chairs. It isn’t quite the cover of a home and garden magazine, but it’s a lot better than the hodgepodge of random furniture and accessories that fill our place.

The difference between our houses comes down to options and choices. Unlike our friends we have NEVER prioritized purchases for our house. In fact, we have done quite the opposite; for years we purposely chose not to spend money on it.

We held on to the most hideous couch you could imagine for over ten years. Most of our furniture was and still is mismatched and fraying. Part of the reason is our thirteen year old cat. After all, what is the point of purchasing new furniture when the cat will most likely destroy it. Cheap IKEA chairs and old couches make sense when the arm rests are ripped to shreds every time we leave.

But the cat cannot be blamed entirely. There are other aspects of our home we could have fixed much sooner. For over ten years we delayed remodeling our bathrooms. Those bathrooms included 60 years of ground in dirt that would not budge. For a long time half our windows couldn’t be opened and bugs flew in through the rest. Our doors were drafty, our paint faded and our hand-me-down furniture old and creaky. We use a kitchen table that was owned by my grandmother and a dining room set inherited from my mother-in-law.

I don’t always love this situation. I am aware of the problems in our house, but firmly grounded in the decision not to do anything about them. After many years we did remodel, replace our windows and paint, but many of the other less-than-perfect aspects of our home remain as is.

Simply put, we used our money for other things. A few years after we purchased our primary home we plunked down a chunk of change on a beach house. Every year for the past ten years we also maxed out our 401ks and Roth IRAs. We spent many weekends at the beach fixing things or working on new projects. We focused our time and energy on our home away from home. A magical place that still makes us happier on rainy days then any sunny day at home.

This particular family member’s home is not the only thing that is better than ours. You could argue that their cars are nicer or at the very least newer than the 1999 jalopies we own.

This may bother my husband. I’m not so sure by the tone of our conversation last night, but it doesn’t bother me one bit. We all tend to spend money on the things that matter most to us. It is very clear that we have different priorities. One is not better than the other. Just very different.

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February 1, 2014 at 9:24 AM 17 comments

Delayed Gratification – We Finally Remodeled Our Bathroom

I haven’t written in over two weeks. Rather than sitting in the house typing onto my keyboard I spent time lounging by the swimming pool, playing with my son in the sand and generally enjoying all of the moments that make up the start of summer vacation. I considered typing up a bunch of posts in advance, but to be honest I felt little motivation to do so. While I was away I took a much needed break from technology. I watched one television show in a two and a half week span of time and spent very little time on my laptop.

I spent almost no money while I was away. I bought groceries twice during that trip, a new bathing suit and two much needed shirts, but otherwise I kept myself out of stores and restaurants. It was easy to avoid spending money. The weather was too beautiful to waste inside.

Since we were gone for nearly two weeks my husband felt that it would be the perfect time to pay someone to remodel our bathroom. It’s actually a good thing that we weren’t home because the contractors ripped the walls out entirely and there was dust and debris everywhere.

Our house was built in the early 1950s and the tile in our bathroom had that ground in dirt that could not be removed. The tiles were tiny and the grout around them was unbelievably difficult to clean. To be honest it drove me a little bit crazy. We asked the contractor to install much larger tiles, which cuts down on the maintenance of cleaning the grout in and around them. I must admit that the bathroom looks amazing and as always as I look at the bathroom now I wonder why it took us so long to complete these changes.

Amazingly enough I’m not sure how much it cost us from start to finish. We kept the toilet, but replaced the sink, lights, medicine cabinet and tub. We also bought the tile, grout, fixtures and of course paid the contractors for all of their time and labor. I bet the final cost was somewhere close to $9,000. I may need to review the Home Depot credit card charges for a more definitive answer. This was one of those projects where we seemed to head back and forth to the store to pick up supplies we forgot on the first, second and third trips there.

Of course, now that I see the end results I really want to remodel the master bath and small powder room off of our kitchen. Our powder room is ridiculously small. We once thought about bumping the kitchen back into the bathroom and moving the bathroom into a small room we use as a study, but to be honest I don’t ever see that happening, so I think we should stop kidding ourselves and just remodel that room too. I asked the contractor for a quote, but unless he comes back with a ridiculously high price I have a feeling I’ll be forking over some more money.

I’ve been talking about remodeling these bathrooms since we moved in nearly twelve years ago. While I completely understand the value of delayed gratification I sometimes wonder if I wait too long to change things for the better. Now that I stay home with my son I look at our house a lot more closely. Since I spend so much more time here I really do want it to look beautiful. I’ve also found that if I’m unhappy with my surroundings I’m generally less happy.

Of course, we’ve been shelling out money lately like a bank. Between the new car and the remodeling work we’ve seen quite a dip in our savings. We waited a very long time before making these changes and I think the wait makes me appreciate much more than I ever would have expected.

June 5, 2013 at 3:04 PM 2 comments

Free UPS Alerts: Know When a Package is Scheduled to Arrive

UPS

A few months back I signed up for UPS My Choice a service that enables you to receive alerts when packages are shipped to your home. I don’t typically promote items like this, but I cannot say enough good things about this service.

My husband and I signed up for Amazon Prime a year or so ago and now buy everything from laundry detergent to diapers from the Internet. Through UPS My Choice we are alerted anytime Amazon sends a package our way.

Our neighborhood has experienced an uptick in thefts in the past few years. In fact, not so long ago a man was caught following UPS trucks around the neighborhood and stealing boxes right after the delivery man left them at the door. A package was actually stolen from us this way too.

With UPS alerts I feel better knowing that a package is on it’s way. It’s an easy way for us to keep an eye out for items we’ve ordered.

UPS My Choice is free for a limited time. If you are interested in learning more about it’s capabilities or signing up for yourself click on the image at the top of this post.

Note: This post contains sponsored content and affiliate links.

March 18, 2013 at 8:35 PM Leave a comment

A Little Bit of This a Little Bit of That

This is one of those random hodge-podge posts. You know the kind where you start writing about one thing and quickly find yourself thinking about another, so rather than breaking them up you toss them all into the same post and call it a day.

It seems 2013 has continued right where 2012 left off. In the year of let’s see if every appliance in our house can unexpectedly break. We started off last week with a broken garbage disposal. An $89 fix, which took the plumber all of two minutes to fix and a broken laptop display on my MacBook Pro. We also need an entirely new air conditioning unit and exchanger at our beach house in North Carolina. That will add a hefty $9000 to this year’s maintenance bills.

After dealing with power outages over the last few years my husband decided to throw in the towel and order a generator. I was already to move to a new house with underground power lines, but alas that doesn’t appear to be in the cards for me. In order to install a generator we required a new meter from Washington Gas, a new pipe that can support the pressure required by the generator and, of course, a new generator. We had three quarters of the work completed last week. My son managed to sleep through the sound of men drilling holes into cement, but somehow wakes when he hears the floorboards outside of his bedroom creak. I’ll never understand how that’s possible.

This weekend my husband and I spent a good two or three hours in the kitchen cooking up new recipes. I’m always hesitant to try new meals because you never know if you’ll like the flavors once everything melds together. I always tweak the recipes ever so slightly based on ingredients we have on hand, for example I skipped the mint in the wrap recipe because I didn’t have any. I’m happy to say that everything we prepared turned out pretty tasty.

Here are links to the three recipes we tried:

—-

Lastly my husband and I are hiring a babysitter for the very first time. Up until now a family member has always been available to watch my son. I have absolutely no idea how much to pay a 14 year old. If it makes any difference my son will be asleep the entire time.

January 21, 2013 at 6:45 PM Leave a comment

Preparing for Hurricane Sandy

Are you ready for hurricane Sandy? I spent the day preparing as best as I could. Here are  just a few things I did to prepare for the storm.

  • I gathered up all of the flashlights and headlamps I could find in the house. I laid them out on the dining room table along with a hodgepodge of candles and a couple of random glow sticks that were hiding in the house. It’s great to leave glow sticks in rooms like bathrooms and the kitchen. It’s an easy way to navigate the house when the lights are out.
  • I moved all of the batteries to the table so they are available if we need them. Of course I checked all of the flashlights to make certain they are working.
  • I prepared a buffalo chicken dish and marinated some chicken. The buffalo chicken can be heated on the side burner of the grill and the marinated chicken can be grilled for dinner. Last time a storm arrived we grilled chicken, but because we couldn’t run the dishwasher or run hot water our house ended up smelling of raw chicken for days. I’m hopeful that these two dishes will prevent that problem from happening this time around.
  • I boiled a dozen eggs. Hard boiled eggs will last longer than fresh ones.
  • I baked brownies. What could be better than waiting out the storm with a batch of freshly baked treats?
  • I cleaned out the fridge. Then consolidated the remaining items onto one or two shelves. I did the same thing for the freezer. I also gathered all of the ice packs I could find and built a fortress around the food in the freezer.
  • I also placed a few bottles of water in the freezer. This will help things stay cold and will ensure we have clean water if we need it.
  • I washed and dried all of the produce in the refrigerator. This way everything is clean and ready to be eaten. This is helpful if we are banned from using water. It’s also nice to know I can grab items and eat them without trying to wash and dry them in the dark.
  • I brought the medical kit upstairs just in case we need it. Hopefully we won’t.
  • My husband raked the leaves in the yard and cleared out the drains in and around the house.
  • He also washed and dried all of the laundry.
  • Before we head to bed we’ll also run the dishwasher one last time.

We are as ready as we can be. How about you? Will you be impacted by the storm and if so did you do anything to prepare for it?

October 28, 2012 at 7:05 PM 9 comments

Dividing Up the House: Making Space for Ourselves

When I was younger I noticed that my parents rarely lived in the same areas of the house. My dad tended to spend his nights working over the kitchen table and my mom often moved into the bedroom to read or watch television.

My husband and I moved into our house just over ten years ago and we have certainly divided and conquered various areas in our home. My husband works primarily out of the study. It’s where all of his computers are set up and it’s where he processes photos, tracks our spending and works on various aspects of his business.

The living room is my domain. It’s where I play with my son, cuddle up with a good book, write and blog. At only ten months old my son has already taken over a good number of rooms in our house. He has his own bedroom, a playroom (a sun-room we rarely used until his arrival), and over half of the living room.

His stuff has also taken over a good portion of the basement. In his mere ten months on this earth I have amassed four tubs of clothes and a closet full of outgrown baby equipment. With his height in the 95th percentile he outgrew his baby swing, bouncy seat, cradle and co-sleeper long before hitting the six month mark. Those odd shaped contraptions are now piling up in various corners of the basement. They seem to be impossible to stack and all need to be thoroughly covered and wrapped to avoid dust, kitty litter and mold.

Though we all live in the same house I am fascinated by the ways in which each of us finds a space to call home.

I’m happy that we’ve divided and conquered this way. While my husband tends to be a very neat and orderly guy he will let mail accumulate on his desk or keep a pile of newspapers stacked on the floor for days waiting to be read. With his own space he can keep all of this exactly how he wants. It’s out of my line of sight and into his control.

Similarly if my son’s toys are haphazardly distributed all over the living room I don’t much care. I let him play wherever he wants in that room, (it’s baby proofed so he doesn’t need to be placed in a playpen), but I tend to keep his toys in the back of the room out of the path of foot traffic. If he wanders into that space while playing I simply throw those toys into a fabric box at end of the day. I used to pick up all of his toys after he went to bed, but over time I’ve found I’m not so bothered by seeing his stuff on the far side of the room.

Before I had my son I thought this kind of thing would drive me crazy. I’m not the kind of girl who likes to see a lot of clutter laying around, but I don’t seem to mind his toys. Maybe it’s because they are so bright and colorful and I love that we’ve been able to baby proof the living room so he can have free reign of it.

I did find an old basket in the closet that I now use to carry our belongings upstairs. With a little one in tow it’s not so easy to travel up and down the steps as it used to be. If I find items downstairs that need to go up I place them in the basket and take them upstairs at the end of the evening. This has worked wonders for my husband’s stuff too. He tends to take his socks and belt off when he comes home from work. He previously put these on the steps and I had to walk over them anytime I went upstairs. Now he throws this stuff in the basket and no longer worry about tripping over his belongings.

Of course, we do have one area of the dining room that piles up with things. I’m not exactly sure how it happens, but a hodgepodge of miscellaneous items always seems to make it’s way into that corner. Every time I walk by that area I cringe just a little. I do my best to weed through it at least once a week, but I really wish stuff didn’t accumulate there in the first place.

There are also those areas in the basement that I try to avoid including the overflowing storage shelves full of unused computer equipment and other random electrical devices. Or the boxes of hand-me-down toys just waiting for my son to get old enough to play with.

What about you? Do you have separate areas in the house from your spouse or partner? Do you have tricks for keeping your house neat and orderly? Do you have areas in your home that you try to avoid?

September 13, 2012 at 9:00 PM 3 comments

Reflecting On Our Choices

Last week I refinanced my house for what I hope to be the very last time. As I signed and dated the last page of our paperwork I couldn’t help by think about this house and all of the time we’ve spent in it. My husband and I purchased this home before we were husband and wife. We bought it two years after I graduated from college and five days after I turned twenty-four.

When we obtained a mortgage the first time around the closing agent remarked on my age. I was so proud of my decision to purchase a property. I always dreamed of owning my own home, but to buy it just two years after graduating seemed rather crazy. My mom and dad thought I was in way over my head.

My employer provided me with an employer assisted housing loan which helped me foot the closing costs. I had $30,000 in the bank and a steady job that I thought would last a lifetime. My husband, (boyfriend at the time), was making what seemed like a ton of money working for a very small dot com.

A few weeks after buying this house we went out and bought a brand new wrought iron patio set. A large table with six chairs and a hole for an umbrella. We followed that purchase with a mid-sized Weber grill.  If my parents didn’t think I was crazy when I bought the house they certainly thought I flipped my lid when I spent over $2000 so quickly after closing. My mom reminded me that I wasn’t made of money. That my boyfriend was making a lot more then I was and that I shouldn’t try to keep up with his spending.

Interestingly enough we didn’t buy much after making those first two purchases. We brought a hodgepodge of furniture from our previous apartment and received a bunch of hand-me-downs from various family members.

Over the years we’ve added a few things. We bought a china cabinet and a new bedroom set. We bought two televisions, (which we rarely watch), various lamps, desks , tables and other office equipment. For a time our house swelled with chotchkies and knickknacks, but over the years we’ve dramatically pared down our belongings. A cat with urinary control issues forced us to get rid of a lot of things and the rest just didn’t seem to add much value to our home.

I love that our house feels sturdy and strong. It has thick plaster walls and a brick exterior. We replaced the windows last year and can now open and close them easily. Right after we moved in we pulled out the carpet and refinished the hardwood floors. Last year we repainted every wall in the house and it now feels bright and cheerful when you walk from room to room. I love that there is a school within walking distance of our home, that tall trees line the streets where I walk with my son and that playgrounds and tennis courts are just a hop, skip and jump away.

This house has been quite contentious for my husband and I. While I love many things about this place I don’t like the layout at all. The house came with a lot of familial baggage, the kitchen and living room are worlds apart, the bathrooms are ancient and the closets are small.

Still had we not purchased this house when we did we would not have been able to purchase the beach house that followed. We bought our home in 2001, just before the market began to take off, just before housing prices rocketed and long before the crash that ensued.

Our home cost $260,000 in 2001. Today it’s worth is estimated at $470,000. If we waited to buy this house, (at the peak of the market is was estimated at $650,000), we wouldn’t have been able to afford a second home.

I think buying this house was both the smartest and dumbest decision I ever made. From a financial standpoint it was a pure stroke of genius. (Okay call it luck.)  From an emotional standpoint it was pretty horrific. My husband and I had fight after fight over this place and the family ties he has to it.

Do I think we would’ve been happier somewhere else early on in our relationship and marriage? HELL YES! Do I think it made us stronger to start here? MOST DEFINITELY!

Today we signed the (hopefully) last settlement papers at our dining room table while our 10 month old son sat in his high chair and smiled. Eleven years ago I could never have pictured that taking place. Sometimes things don’t work out exactly the way you think they will, sometimes that’s good and sometimes that’s bad. In this case I feel so fortunate that things worked out just the way they did.

September 12, 2012 at 9:00 PM 3 comments

How Could I Forget?

How could I forget that my husband and I cannot shop for furniture without arguing with one another? I have written about our disagreements and debacles quite a few times before. There was the infamous coffee table that was recently shipped off to good will and before that arguments over bed frames and china cabinets.

It seems that most of the high end furniture stores have gone out of business in our area, so this weekend we ventured out to IKEA in the hopes of finding a new rug for our living room. The trouble is our living room is a hodgepodge of mismatched furniture. We own a plaid sofa bed that my husband bought for his first apartment. A purple chair and ottoman gifted to us from a renovated beach house and two IKEA chairs with brown and blue slipcovers.

With a cat who likes to claw at furniture there seemed no point in updating the living room. Despite the fact that neither of us was particularly comfy or cozy we decided to keep things as they were for the time being, but the minute we reached the rug department of IKEA all hell broke lose.

My husband didn’t want to purchase a rug that matched neither the sofa, chairs or ottoman. We walked around and around the rug department in search of something that was both big enough to fit the room and plain enough to match at least one piece of furniture. We were frustrated by the selection and the awful setup of our current space. Cat or no cat it just doesn’t feel comfy in there.

We walked out with a $99 rug that fit the space, but was unlikely to match anything inside our living room. He was mad and I was mad that he was mad. I know that seems ridiculous, but it’s absolutely true. I was as frustrated as he is about the situation, but I wasn’t willing to shell out a ton of money knowing that our cat will likely rip the new furniture to threads.

So we threw the rug into the back of the car and started off on our next set of errands. We barely spoke to each other on the ride other than to say neither of us was happy and for me to remind myself yet again not to go to a furniture store with my husband.

Next stop Costco. Well low and behold that trip to Costco solved all our problems. We found a new corner sofa that cost $799 and included an ottoman. It matched the new rug and two of our slipcovered IKEA chairs perfectly. I’m still not convinced that the cat won’t rip it to shreds, but for the price I decided to hope for the best and give it a try. At night we’ll cover the cushions with sheets and in the day we’ll have a water bottle on hand if the cat starts scratching.

We set up the new space and the room feels unbelievably homey. The rug is perfect for our son to crawl and play on. The sofa is soft and comfortable and helps define a space for us to enjoy each other’s company. Our living room is quite large and the sofa helps cut off some of the excess space. In that excess space we placed the purple chair and ottoman. They don’t match the sofa, rug or IKEA chairs, but they are slightly out of view when you are sitting on the new sofa and can eventually be slipcovered or replaced. Right now that’s the cat’s seat and we’re hoping it stays that way for awhile.

Our moods definitely softened once we donated our old plaid couch and sat down on our plushy, new sofa. At the end of the day I realized it wasn’t just about how the furniture looked. Given our issues with the cat I was okay with the fact that things were mismatched and ugly. What I didn’t realize was how the overall look of the living room was impacting our mood.

Clutter and cleanliness have a direct impact on my thoughts and feelings. If things are out of order I can’t seem to concentrate. With the furniture in disarray, shredded by cat claws and old and faded it felt less homey and comforting. With the new setup I love reading books to my son in the corner of the couch or chasing him around the ottoman. When my husband comes home the couch is large enough for all three of us to lounge and rest and for our son to climb over, around and between us.

I do know that it’s hard to teach an old cat new tricks. I sure hope he leaves the sofa alone. Step one make sure he knows exactly where the scratching posts are located. Step two trim, trim, trim those claws and hope for the best.

August 15, 2012 at 3:13 PM 3 comments

$4,700 to Rid Our House of that Awful Sewage Smell

A few weeks ago I wrote about the ever-so-pleasant stench of raw sewage that seemed to be invading our home. After spending nearly $1,000 on repairs and hoping the problem would go away I’m afraid to say that it did not.

This time the plumbers showed up with a giant ladder and a smoke producing machine that poured black smoke down our vent pipe in search of leaks. When I asked about the amount of smoke that would flow into our house I was told it would be minimal. Unfortunately that was not the case for us. The minute the test began the house began filling with smoke so thick I could barely see.

In order to isolate the issue the lovely plumbers proceeded to bust through the plaster walls and ceiling in search of cracks in the pipes. Two rooms will need plaster repair. One is relatively minor, the other is missing half the ceiling and a large chunk of one wall.

But what’s a girl to do? If the 60 year old pipes in your house have cracks in them you have to bust through the walls, find the cracks and repair them. In our case we’ve decided to replace the entire stretch of pipe while the ceiling and walls are open. Otherwise we risk opening everything up again in a few months or years when the rest of the pipes decay.

The cost for all of these repairs: $4,700. That doesn’t include the cost of hiring a general contractor to fix the plaster walls and repaint once the plumbing job is complete. (I’m so happy that we just had the entire house painted less than 9 months ago.)

Ahhhhhh… The joys of homeownership.

July 12, 2012 at 9:31 PM 2 comments

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