Terrific Broth

Beijinger in Denver | 北京人在丹佛

Category: Live Green (Page 1 of 15)

The Coolest Kids On The Block – Decision Making

Q: How do you become the coolest kids on the block?

A: By installing the best and the newest central AC!

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LOL I know, this is lame. But I am apparently very excited about the new central AC and you can definitely tell by how my voice raised in this house tour when I mentioned the condenser!  There were tons of decisions we had to make during the installation process, and I am looking forward to sharing them with you today. We learned so much during the process about the house and ourselves, I think it is worth to memorize the whole process here since this blog is more or less a renovation dairy.

1. Do we really need an AC, NOW?

The first decision we needed to make was whether or not to install central AC this summer. We knew that adding a central AC would make our house more valuable, and we definitely planned to do it as some point. But we also knew that we would likely have to replace the furnace when we install the AC, and we have a handy one-year insurance on our furnace. So it is more economical to wait until the furnace fail, which will probably happen in the next year or two.

Then this historical heat wave hit us in July, just a couple weeks after we moved in. We thought it would not be a big deal – it is 5280 feet at where we live, and there is always cool breeze at night from the mountains. We also have a basement that is at least 5 degree cooler than the main floor. It actually worked for me, since I am comfortable in 80 degree range. But for Slav, this heat wave was a nightmare. It was literally a “night”mare because this guy just could not get a good night sleep. Even though he hid in the coolest room in the basement with a mattress on the floor, the night temperature was just a few degrees above what he needed to sleep soundly.

We all knew it was just a few weeks and he could probably be fine after that. But I still brought up the topic on getting it done THIS SUMMER – why wait another year if we could make Slav more comfortable now? After all, we did not buy our house to slave for it. We bought it to ENJOY it. So our (including the pups’) happiness and comfort should always be the first priority in all the renovation decisions we make.

2. Decision on choosing a local installer

We researched all the big box stores and found that they actually do not have their own tech team, so all the installation and future services would be done by local contractors. Then why not being local companies to begin with? City of Arvada actually gives rebates for installing high-efficiency units, and a few local companies are listed as trusted installers. So I made calls to four local companies for free estimates. They all came in within a few days and we picked one appearing to be the most knowledgeable, the most detail orientated, the most customizable, and with the best customer reviews – Go Green heating and air conditioning. They are not the one with the lowest quote, but they provide high efficiency units which are worth the price.

We also picked this company for the spectrum of their services – they  not only install central AC, but also furnace and water heaters. Since these three units are very much connected and compacted in a small space, we would like to have one company to replace/service them all.

3. Picking the features of the central AC

One other thing that made us feel better about the company we went with, was that they performed a load calculation during the free estimate visit. I know that our house is simple and a lot of people probably can tell what size of AC we need based on experience, but seeing a load calculation done made us feel that these guys were thorough.

Apparently, per Square footage has very little relevance with what size furnace or air conditioner you need. The relevant factors are your attic, wall insulation, the quality/size of your windows, the orientation of windows and doors and the whole house, and how many appliances you have in your home that give off heat. The ceiling height also matters, which indicates the overall volume of your home in “cubic” feet. Equipped with information in the load calculations, we Felt much more confidence to go with a 2-ton AC with specific features that would benefit our size/type of house the most. At the end, we went with a 2 ton, 1600 seer, high efficiency TXV indoor coil AC, paired with a 60000 BTU, 95% AFUE, single stage furnace but with ECM motor. We think it is a good balance for our small house with limited amount of people, and it is the most efficient and environmental friendly combo that we could afford.

4. Decision on replacing our furnace at the same time

Our furnace is about 17 years old and it is on its last legs. During house inspection, we were notified that it needs a cleaning/tone-up, which will cost us a few hundred bucks. Even through it could handle a central AC unit we wanted to install, we still decided to take the opportunity to replace our furnace at the same time. It does not only give us the peace of mind about our furnace, but also insures that our central AC is properly powered and performs as it should be. Changing both of them also saves us money on the service time, since replacing a furnace with an existing central AC on top of it would require much more work than replacing a standing-along furnace itself.

5. Location, location, location.

During the free estimate, we were asked where we would like the AC condenser unit to be, and whether we wished to relocate the furnace/AC. We totally choked – did not think we had the choice of either!  Apparently, we can locate the condenser unit anywhere around the house – it is just a matter of running a longer refrigerant line. Same thing for the furnace and AC cooling unit, it is just a matter of adding duct and connect to the gas line.

We tossed lots of ideas around, and decided that we are fine with where the furnace was. As I’ve shown you in the basement tour, the furnace, water heater, washer and drier are all side by side along one basement wall, so it is very easy to enclose all into a utility closet down the road. Remaining the furnace at its original location also saved us a lot of duct work (and money!).

But for the location of the condenser, Slav has a very clear demand – it has to be out of sight from our back patio. All the AC estimate guys told us that we could just put it under the kitchen window (which is ON our back patio) to save money, but Slav insists to have it on the side of the house. Fortunately, the distance is just under the limit for additional charge, so it did not cost of more money. The unit we choose is also pretty quite. So even it is just on the other side of our bedroom wall, we hardly notice it.

Here are the biggest five decisions we made before the installation started. Did you have to make these decisions? I will come back with lots of pictures next week and tell you all about what we had to tear down in the basement in preparation for the installation. At meanwhile, Roxie and Charlie are enjoying this:

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Lucky pups!

The Small Project Continues

Hi friend! Happy Monday! We had another busy weekend here in the ranch house. We got a fire pit off Craigslist and picked up some free firewood in the area. Loading, splitting, and stacking firewood took a lot of time! Slav definitely got his workout in this weekend.

I, on the other hand, am recovering from the first week from work. Not working for 5 months really made a difference on my energy level, and driving 45-minute each way has taken a lot out of me. My did manage to take the Basic Life Support (BLS) and got certified! The BLS classes at my work are offered by American Heart Associations (AHA) and teach people how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and how to use automated external defibrillator (AED) on adults, children, and even infants. I hope that I would never have chance to use my training – because that would mean someone is in trouble – but if there is an unfortunate situation, I could potentially save someone’s life!

Without my help, Slav still did plenty of updates on the ranch house. Some are big and some are small. I adore small updates, which could really make our life easier (I’ve shared you some before here). So I am excited to share the second round of small updates with you today!

1. Upgrade the backdoor lighting

Since we moved in, we have improved the function of the back entrance a lot by installing a new storm door. Demoing the old patio and metal covers and building a new concrete patio certainly helped too. However, the porch light next to the back door was till this giant stadium lighting:

It is 600W (!) and lights up not only ours, but also our neighbors’ backyards.

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Because of its blinding power, we tried very hard not to use it. Slav finally could not take it anymore and bought this light from the Habitat for Humanity:

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It can be mounted in three ways. We decided to honor the wall mount tradition. Since it was never used, all we needed to do was to install a LED light bulb (also from habitat for Humanity, for only $1.50 a pop!).

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And this was what it looked like 20 minutes later:

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Easier on the eyes, right?

2. Moving Dog leashes to the garage

As I told you before, our kitchen is a high high high traffic zone. From basement to the main floor, from garage to the living space, going out of the back door… to get anywhere, you would have to pass the kitchen. So it quickly became a messy drop-off zone. To keep the kitchen neat, I decided to find everything a designated place. That means shoes off in the garage, keys and wallets goes to the front entry, etc. This week, we moved the dog leases out of the kitchen to the garage. Our kitcken immediately looked cleaner, from this:

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to this:

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The leashes are now hanging on two hooks next to the garage-kitchen door , on the garage side:

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I picked up these two lovely hooks from IKEA last time we stopped by:

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I wanted these hooks years ago when they first came to the market, and finally had an excuse to get them! Yay!

3. Hang the closet door in Slav’s office

When we first moved in, we took all the main floor carpet out. And we removed the closet doors in the bedrooms to make things easier:

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After we removed the carpet, we did not bother to put back the closet doors. In our bedroom, we hung a pair of IKEA curtains instead of the doors:

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But in Slav’s office, it looked like this for quiet a few weeks:

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The closet is organized, but it still made the room look busy. So we decided to add the doors back on:

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As you could see, I painted them white to match the wall color. Eventually we will reverse the closet to face the bedroom and dry wall this side, so I wanted to create a feeling that there is not a closet from the get-go. Now when we walk into the room, our eyes no longer land on the clothing in the closet, but more focus on the desk and the computer. I hope it will help Slav to be more focused when he works here.

4. Switching out all the baseboard vents and grilles

We have 6 baseboard vents and two return grilles on the main floor, and they all looked like this:

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Two baseboard vents

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Return Grilles

Since we were in the process of installing a central AC, we replaced all the old metal vents and grilles with these plastic ones from Lowe’s:

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Slav spent a couple hours switching them out. The old metal ones were rusted and some screws were stuck. So it took some force to wrestle the old vent covers off. There was also a lot of dust tucked in these vents! So Slav vacuumed them all out. It made me feel so good knowing that we are no longer breathing these dust!

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New vent in the bathroom

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New vent in the kitchen

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New return grilles in the living room

The crisp and bright white vents and grilles certainly made the floor look a lot worse. LOL. That is the story when you renovating an old house, anything new just makes the old stuff next to it 100 times worse! I am not bothered by the floor as much as Slav is, but we definitely want to refinish all the floor on the main level soon. More furniture we have here, more difficult the refinishing would be. So before we start knocking down walls or work on any build-ins, we will have to work on the floor first!

Here you go, four recent small updates! We are discovering small stuff to do everyday and I will come back to tell you more when we have a few done. Don’t you just love these small upgrades? Have you done any lately in your home?

 

Getting Into the Slav Zone – Ranch House Garage Tour

Welcome to the last tour to our ranch house! I should have asked Slav to write this last post, since garage is totally his zone. He was the one who requested two-car garages, and he is totally the master mind behind how we are gonna use it.

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Without further ado, here is our garage:

Our garage is a little less than 18.5′ x 21.5′, a “compact” two-car garage. Since it is not over-sized, we decided that we would not use it as storage from the beginning. here are the plans we have for the garage:

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A workshop and shelter for both cars

We want to be able to park both cars here – Denver gets snow and ice storms in winter and hail in spring, and we want to be able to protect our cars against bad weather. Slav also wants to be able to maintain our cars here, which means having plenty of space around a car when it is parked in the garage. Because of its size, there is not a lot of room on each side when we park two cars inside at the same time (you can see from the video how little space we have on each side of the garage door). That means that we cannot set up deep work benches or store bulky items on the side of the garage.

Limited by the width, the only space for a work bench in this garage is at the back. When we got our electrical work done, we asked our electrician to put in a series of outlets along the back wall:

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We already had a chest freezer, which was settled in the corner of the garage. We then taped the floor to determine the size of the work bench:

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The future work bench will be 3′ deep and 40″ tall, and run between the freezer and the garage door area. It will look something like this:

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You can see the outlets right above the bench, the garage door to its left and the freezer to its right. The cylinder next to the freezer is Slav’s winter tires, and the rectangle block indicates the bench seating we inherited.

All the tools and the Shop-Vac will be stored underneath the work bench. For small tool storage, Slav got some pegboards from Habitat for Humanity for only $8 a pop (the small one is only $3)! They will be mounted above the workbench and rest of the wall will be covered by drywall.

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A garage for work, not storage

The second plan we have for the garage is not to use as a storage. but rather delicate it to car work and DIYs. All of gardening stuff including our lawnmowers will be stored in the backyard shed, and we will try not to accumulate clothing or decor more than we can display.

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Aside from the work bench and Slav’s tools, we plan to mount a couple narrow shelving along the right wall, directly under the garage door track. All our paint cans will be organized on it. In this way they will not longer occupy floor space, and it will be easier for us to see what color of the paint we have. When we need to paint something, we just need to put some drop clothes down on the floor and it will become a paint corner.

Create a functional mudroom for winter

The third important function of this garage, aside from parking two cars and tool/paint storage, is to serve as a mudroom. In winter, we will be driving in with snow gears with lots of dirt under our shoes, and we need an area to unload wet gears and muddy boots before entering the house. To use the least space to gain the most function, we mounted our shoes on the wall next to the door going into the kitchen, and put down a big outdoor mat in front of the step.

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The wall space under the garage door track on the left will be dedicated to snowboards and skies.

Insulation and ceiling

As I told you in the video, the garage is mostly (but poorly) insulated on two sides, but not on the door nor the wall facing the kitchen. We will add insulation into the kitchen wall to make the house cooling in the summer, and patch the missing insulation on the back wall. We will also add some light insulation panels on the garage door and see how much it would help. The goal is to insulate the garage in the way that it can be comfortable with the help of a space heater in winter and a window AC in summer, without breaking our bank.

The last big project we would like to do is to vault the ceiling of the garage. Currently, there is no insulation above the garage ceiling. The current ceiling is just random sizes of dry wall taped together, which is weak and ready to fall on our heads. The lighting situation here is also terrible – all tube lighting with wires interconnected because they did not want to pay for installing light sockets on the ceiling! When the inspector came in to see the electrical work, he gave us a green light to take down ceiling in the garage because “it only makes it safer”, especially if we clean up the electrical system and install new lighting here. We think having a tall ceiling will make this compact-sized garage feel a lot bigger! It will be such a cool place for Slav to work on the cars and for me to DIY.

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There you have it, our garage tour and plans. We need to take down the broken ceiling/attic ladder, add new sub-roof and insulation in between, add new lighting for the garage, put up pegboard/drywall the back wall, build a work bench for Slav, hang shelves on the right side for paint can storage, and hangers on the left wall for our winter gears. There are plenty work to do but getting the garage in good shape is something we both very excited about!

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