Terrific Broth

Beijinger in Denver | 北京人在丹佛

Five Yard Tools That Make My Heart Sing

Mid-October, we entered gorgeous Colorado fall.




Our backyard looks like a heaven – I love the fallen leaves so much. The pups love to run through them too.




However much I love the leaves, they need to be raked up for a healthier lawn. An early snow and wind also filled our yard with branches:


We have been slowly accumulating gardening tools and gadgets to make yard maintenance easier. Even though I did not know about many of them, I was immediately a fan. Here are a few of my favorites that made yard work more enjoyable:

1. Electric Pole Saw

We have some tall trees on the property. Because of the uneven ground, trimming them with a chainsaw on a tall ladder is not always safe. So we invested in a pole saw when it was on sale. It makes taking down tall branches very easy. But what I did not expect, is how fun it is to use it! Slav almost treated it as a toy. He waved it around the yard taking down dead branches from our trees with such an excitement. None of our poor trees escaped; they all got some kind of haircut one way or another.


This pole saw is pretty powerful – it cuts into brunches a few inches in diameter like butter, and does not bounce much. It eliminates the need of a tall ladder 95% of the time, which made trimming trees a lot safer. Slav used it to trim some big branches off the tree on the side of our house. It is technically our neighbor’s tree, but its canopy shades our side yard and roof. It now looks much better.


2. Portable Branch chipper/shredder


Fall brings so much branches and leaves, especially after we got the pole saw. Branches started accumulating in our yard and we could not burn them fast enough. Not wanting them to suffocate the lawn, we got a compact branch chipper/leaf shredder from Harbor Freight Tools. This one is small and compact, but powerful enough for branches up to 1 1/2 inch size, which is what we needed. Anything bigger than that we usually burn them as firewood.


The chipper came in one piece, so the only installation we did was to put the chipper on wheels, which took me 5 minutes:



We not only use it for small branches, but also for shredding leaves as well. There are tons of videos showing how it operate on Youtube (here and here). Check it out!

The leaves and branches are shredded into small chips, similar to a fine mulch. We do not have lots of plants to mulch yet, so I put them into our compost.  We get tons of kitchen waste and always need more carbon-rich materials. A clean lawn and a growing compost – a total win-win in my book!

3. A Garden Caddy


To transport more things while doing yard work, we found this wheelbarrow caddy in the Habitat for Humanity for $10. I had never used one before – heck, I have never used a wheelbarrow before! For $10, I decided to give it a try.


It is basically a caddy that goes on top of a wheel barrel, so you can put small items inside while transporting soil and mulch. It should fit snuggly onto standard size of wheel barrels. For ours, it does not fit perfectly, but does stay on top.


It is pretty useful to keep small things separated and clean. I listen to podcasts while gardening, and I keep my phone in the middle compartment. The green lid can be closed to keep water and dust out, and the small compartments on each side are great for snacks and speakers. I also like to carry some hot tea in my coffee mug, so the cup holders got used a lot. The big compartment carries a hose, garden gloves, and a set of small gardening tools, which I use regularly.

Coming next Spring, we have big plans of setting up vegetable beds and maybe a green house to raise seedlings early. I am sure the wheel barrel and this caddy will get lots of use.

4. A Potting Station

When we renovated our garden shed, we got rid of an old potting bench to gain more storage. We knew we want some kid of work surface in or near the shed before next spring. One day, Slav spotted this potting station for $40:


It is made by backyard gear as a garden cart as well as a BBQ serving station. Being plastic and tolerates sun well, it makes a great potting station. Similar carts are sold for over $100 brand new, so $40 is a pretty reasonable price to us.

The left side handle can be used to move the cart around as well as hang tools, and there is a fold-able shelf on the right:


It comes with a small drainer that you can put on top:


And the top panels fold out to provide more working surface.


The middle panels folds out to the back and there is a small sink below:


Pretty handy for washing and draining vegetables:


To bring water to the faucet, there is a port at the back for connecting to garden hose:


The bottom cabinet offers shelves and drawers – lots of storage space:


So far, I have kept it on our back patio as a serving cart. The sink can be filled with ice, and it just looks so cute on our new patio.


5. A Compost Update

It has been a little over a month since we first set up our compost.


If you remember it, I layered the left one with grass clippings and kitchen scraps and left it alone, while using the right one for new kitchen scrap accumulation. I watered the left bin well and basically left it alone – I probably turned it twice since setting it up.


And here it is as of today, 5 weeks after:


The pile has reduced to 40% of its volume and I think we are getting some compost:


The cardboard I laid at the bottom has completely disintegrated:


The stuff in the right bin also composted at the bottom, but with new things added every day, the top is still in works:


The back of the shed does not get much sun. Since winter is coming, I decided to move them to the right side of the shed in order to keep the temperature in those bins as high as possible:


I combined all the half-way-ready compost into the left bin and layered some new glass clipping on top – this bin will be left alone again for the winter:


On the right, I laid down leaves and this will be our accumulation bin, which means new things will be added as we go.



These bins worked very well for me – despite the food waste we put in, there was never any rodents. I did not even find bugs in the compost, which means the temperature was high enough in these bins to keep them out. The compost kept moisture well too – I think I only watered the bins once during these 5 weeks and our air is usually dry. But everything broke down nicely.


Here you have it, five garden tools/gadgets that make gardening easier. Do you have a favorite gardening tool? How did you find it? We have big plans to convert this backyard to an urban farm/garden, so there will be lots of gardening next spring!


More Dry Walls Down – Performing Open Surgery on Our Utility Room

Who would knew this little laundry room in our basement has gotten most of our attention? Our bedroom only got a bed, the living room does not even have a sofa yet, and Slav’s office has been a dump ground for all the books and magazines. But this little laundry room, boy, has renovated changed 100%! We sacrificed a whole bedroom to return its old glory, we have installed a new HVAC, and everything else in the room has been replaced, including the furnace, the washer and dryer, and most recently, the water heater.


Above was the laundry room when we bought the house, you can see the old washer and dryer combo to the left and the purple bedroom to the right. Below was after we combined the purple bedroom and the laundry room to make a “new” utility room.


Before we could even do a load of laundry in our new utility room, the old water heater went out. Slav installed a new tankless water heater which marks the last appliance replacement in the room – at this point, every single thing in the utility room is added/replaced by us. However, the pipes and connections hidden in these walls are still old, and we were 99% sure that some of them were leaking. So Slav said, what the heck, let us open it up and straighten things out!


I knew that I’ve praised Slav on this blog before, but this man is really my hero. He has worked for the entire week prior since the water heater broke, and I can tell that he has had enough of this room. But Slav is also a guy who always does the right thing. Regardless if it is work, or life, I have never seen him taking a shortcut, or trying to get away from his responsibilities. He knew that the pipes and connections behind the appliances must be a mess, and that is what brought him back to this room to take down these walls.

And this is what the room looks like now. How could I not praise this man?


To understand everything Slav did back there, let us go back to the same wall a couple days ago, right after the new water heater was installed:


1. Getting rid of the partition wall and soffit

As you can see, there was a wall between the laundry units and the water heater. There is also a soffit above the laundry units. The clear pipe held by metal clips connects the condensation pump to the washer drain, which drains our HVAC, furnace, and water heater.


We decided to tear down the partition wall, dry wall and the soffit entirely. We knew what’s behind the soffit – our dryer vent. But we still want to open it in order to fix the neighboring bathroom vent behind it. We suspect that the bathroom fan vents directly into the wall, instead of carrying moisture outside of the house. It can produce mold in the walls, and need to be fixed before the bathroom can be used regularly. Without a clear renovation plan, we’d rather not open up any walls in the bathroom, so it makes a lot more sense to open up the soffit in the utility room to troubleshoot.

What made things easier is that the bottom half of the drywall here was already missing.


See the wall cavity between dryer vent and the washer? That is the inside of our bathroom vanity. Yep, you can put an arm through the wall, open the vanity door, and grab someone’s leg when he/she washes hands in the sink. It will be the best Halloween scare ever.

So Slav went to town and removed the partition wall (not weight bearing), the soffit and the dry wall in between. Now we could see all the connections, and things were messy:


For one, the water lines feeding into the washer were not fixed to the framing. The connections are supposed to be bolted onto studs to prevent water pipes from vibrating when water comes in, which could cause leaks at distal connections.

Behind the dryer, the vent pipe was a mess. It consists of three different sections, all in different material, and they are only loosely attached to each other.


And it is definitely snapped open in the middle, which means some of the hot and moist air was pumped into the walls whenever the dryer was in use.


Slav peeled off the dryer vent completely to reconnect the pipes properly. See the duct tape on one section? Oh boy.


2. Switching/Reconnect Merry and Pippin

I have requested to switch Merry and Pippin around, so their doors can open to each other, instead of against each other. So Slav dragged them out, vacuumed clean between the studs, and relocated Pippin (the dryer) to the right side and Merry on the left.

Since Pippin is now next to the exterior wall, Slav shortened the dryer vent pipe and mounted it neatly:



See the bath tissue between Merry and Pippin? Hello bathroom vanity!


Everything is taped shut and properly secured to the framing:


The washer water lines are cleaned and reconnected as well.



Ans this is what Merry and Pippin looks like today – how neat!


3. Fixing the bathroom vent

As expected, we got to peek into the bathroom soffit from this side. This is the view of bathroom vent pipe, and it was – wait for it – not connected to the bathroom fan at all.


With sufficient lighting from the utility room, you can also see the pipe from the bathroom too.  Yes, there is a hole at the bottom of soffit, directly above the shower. And no, we did not make the hole. It came with the house.


Slav reconnected the bathroom vent pipe to the fan and clamped down the connection. Now our bathroom fan is venting to the outside as it is supposed to, and no moisture, either from the dryer vent pipe, or from the bathroom fan, will accumulate in the wall anymore. 🙂


The Current Utility Room

After 6 hours of work, this is the “new” new utility room we now have:


I love how clean, and organized this room is. Everything works and there is no mystery. We plan to keep the utility wall open like without drywall over, which makes it a lot easier to renovate the bathroom down the road. For appearance, we might build a closet to conceal all the appliances down the road. But for now, we are enjoying the easy access and clean sight. No other room in this house gives me such sense of proud, victory, and peace – we own it, 100% – our “new” new utility room!



Installing a New Tankless Heater

Meet the beauty, who now lives in our home:


And here she is, undressed:


The other side of the room however, now looks significantly worse:



With PVC dust that is impossible to clean:


Following the breakdown of our water heater last Saturday, we got the insurance company straightened out and the old water heater pushed aside. We decided to cash out of insurance claim and invest it towards a tankless water heater. To save some $$$, Slav decided to install it himself.

Wednesday night, Slav and I went to Lowe’s and picked up the only gas tankless water heater they have in stock, along with a few supplies. It had been five days without hot water at this point; the cold showers really motivated us to push forward.


Slav did some research and determined that the Rinnai one Lowe’s has in stock is sufficient for our house. It has 7.5 gallon per minute output, which supplies a couple sinks and appliances (washer, dishwasher, etc) and a shower at the same time. It has temperature settings from 120 degree to 150 degree, which is similar and above the temperature we have set our tank heater in the past (~125 degrees). This unit also qualifies us for $100 X-cel energy rebate being high sufficiency (>90% energy factor), and we received a tax-free wavier from the Arvada city hall for purchasing it locally.


The water heater is $899 in Lowe’s now. With all the rebate ($100) and tax waiver, this unit now costs us only $800. We are getting about $550 from our insurance company, and Slav is installing it himself with a permit ($69) from the city. So for the heater itself, the price is about $320. We did need a bunch of fittings and PVC pipes, which cost a couple hundred dollars in total, but with tons of left overs for future projects. In the end, I think we are paying out-of pocket ~$500 for this heater.


The two metal pipes ($10 each) on the right are for cold and hot water. Slav also purchased a pair of isolation valve ($99) to connect them to the water heater. The yellow pipe at the bottom (similar) is for gas. We could use black iron pipe, but this flexible pipe makes the final 2 feet of connections much easier. We bought 25 feet and the leftover pipe will be used to connect the future gas stove in our upstairs kitchen.



Slav also bought some PVC pipes and elbows for fresh air supply and exhaust. The building codes dictate how long the PVC pipes could be between the heater and outside, and the use of any elbow will count towards the length. Therefore, it is important to check the installation manual and local building codes to make sure that the heater is not installed too far away from an exterior wall. Our ranch is very narrow, so it is not a problem for us to install the heater right at where the old one was.

Slav opened up the ceiling a bit more to make the PVC pipe installation easier:



And he worked through Thursday to install the heaters on the wall:


Our initial plan was to fit in an utility sink underneath, but unfortunately, the installation manual and building codes prevent us from mounting the heater any higher. I guess we would still do an utility tub if we want to.


The heater is connected to the cold and hot water lines and the gas line from the bottom. The yellow flexible gas line is connected to the black iron gas pipe with a shut-off valve:


It is a big upgrade from our old gas line, which is no longer up to code in our city:


Later on, we learned that by code, we needed to establish electrical continuity between the black iron pipe and the new flexible metal pipe. So Slav connected the piece of copper wire between them using two clamps:



The clear pipe coming out of the heater is for condensation. Tankless water heater like ours requires two condensation pipes, one from the heater itself and the other one from the exhaust pipe. You can see in the picture below a skinny PVC going straight down from the exhaust pipe to the condensation pump.


We installed this condensation pump during the HVAC installation. It has four receiving ports, one for AC and furnace, the other two are occupied by the heater. This pump is connected to the washer drain, which directs any condensation down the floor drain in the utility room.


The cold (blue) and hot (red) water lines are connected to the bottom of the water heater, with the two isolation kits in between. The isolation kits are technically not needed – you can connect the hot and cold water pipe directly to the heater. But they make future diagnose and maintenance a lot easier. The side valves on these isolation kits function as drainage and an access point for flashing the heater, which is a recommended yearly maintenance.

The copper pipe on the side of the hot water isolation valve is an emergency valve. If there is a buildup of hot water for some reason, this valve will open itself with certain pressure to let the hot water out, so we are not risking an explosion. We are not sure at this point where we should connect it to yet, a question for our inspector.


Connected to the top of the heater are fresh air supply and exhaust, which are two 3 inch PVC pipes.


They are directed away to the heater, running parallel to the PVC pipes of the furnace:



These pipe runs out of the back of the house, from the opening of the old fresh air supply:



Slav mirrored the furnace pipes. Now it looks like an art! A metal panel leftover from our furnace was cut out to cover the hole on our brick:


One of the good outcomes from this installation is that the exhaust vent is no longer needed. It actually came out of our roof, which was just reinstalled. It could be covered if the water heater was down just two weeks early! Oops!


The real advantage of removing the pipe is to save space in the neighboring bathroom. See the triangle shape of soffit on the very right corner? It encloses the exhaust pipe you see in the picture above.


We think the big bump next to it is for accommodating the exhaust pipe as well. We are pretty sure by this point that there are two pipes behind the soffit in the bathroom and the utility room above the washer and dryer, which are for the bathroom vent and the dryer vent. But these pipes are not supposed to take so much space.



We hope by capping the exhaust pipe and opening up the soffit in these two rooms, we can consolidate the pipes to make at least the soffit in the bathroom disappear. That will add so much head space in the bathroom!

With the momentum going strong in the basement, Slav is opening walls left and right in the utility room. 🙂 I am looking forward to showing you what we’ve found after the cleanup!

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