Terrific Broth

Beijinger in Denver | 北京人在丹佛

Category: Projects (Page 1 of 11)

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:

01 start from bedroom closet

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?

 

Ranch House Tour – Our Yard

Ladies and gentlemen, it is house tour time!

Since moving in mid-June, we have been working very hard on our ranch. It has been 7 weeks today! I am happy to report that we had just reached a sweet spot yesterday, where all the major eyesores of the house were gotten rid of, and our main living area was cleaned up. That means we can sleep and cook in a clean house like a normal family, instead of just creating more dust and more chaos each day. I am sure that the pups appreciate it! Charlie and Roxie were really not fans of loud noises and sharp tools.

Our timing could not be better – I will be starting a new full-time job tomorrow, and Slav is picking up the pace of his business. For the next month and half, we will focus 95% of the energy on our work – the work actually brings in money rather than burning holes in our pockets! We also cannot wait to experience our neighborhood – shop at our neighborhood farmer’s market, start doing yoga again (for me), subscribe to local newspapers, and have Sunday brunches. You know, like actually live in our home, not just working on it.

But do not get me wrong, the projects are still happening. There has been so much we’ve done and I’ve still not told you yet! To be clear, I am not holding any information back intentionally, it is just that we’ve done so much and so quickly, and this one-person blog could not keep up.

Now the ranch house no longer offends people’s eyes, I think it will be fun to shoot some video tours and show you what it looks like now. This is the “after” to the “destructive” part of our renovations, but a real “before” to any of the “constructive” renovations we will be doing. I will show you our yard and exterior of the house today, our main floor living space tomorrow, and our basement and garage through the rest of the week. I will also share with you our plans for each space. So get cozy, grab a cup of coffee, and read along – it will be a fun week!

Without further ado, this is our back yard:

I made a mistake around 1:15 in this video calling the chain link fence “east side”, it is actually facing west (the front of our house). You can see our site plan (and floor plan) here:

Ranch Site Plan

The back patio has changed since I made the site plan. Here is what the site looks like now:

Ranch Site_2017 Summer

Since move-in, we have

  1. trimmed the dead trees and random bushes and gotten rid of weeds;
  2. power-washed the back fence;
  3. gottten rid of the satellite dish on the roof;
  4. installed a new back storm door with a doggy door on it;
  5. Installed new electrical panel at the back and raised the electrical pole on the roof;
  6. demo-ed the old patio and the metal awning;
  7. replaced an old window well; and
  8. built a new concrete patio and brought in a new grill and patio seating.

Slav also started to refresh the shed we inherited, which was badly rotten and used as a construction trash dump:

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And this is the backyard now:

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Yesterday, after the video was filmed, I spent 12 hours weeding in the backyard and probably got rid of 1/4 of the ground coverage there:

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See all the weeds on along the fence? All gone!

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The northern side of the yard were taken over  by little tree sprouts:

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And it gets really bad near the shed:

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After 12 hours of work:

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It was not cool to see bare dirt, but not all the green plants are good and some of them just had to go.

Roxie does not seem to care about the dirt – this girl just needs her sunbath:

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Besides finishing shed, our plan for the back yard this year is to replace the chain link fence. Here is our foreseeable backyard to-do list:

1. Mowing and weeding the yard to maintain the sod we have;
2. Renovating the garden shed;
3. Replacing the chain link fence;
4. Fixing the wooden fence on northern neighbor’s side so we can take off the chain link fence there;
5. Starting composting;
6. Fixing faucet leaks;
7. Grading along the back of the house;
8. Finding an outdoor sectional and a fire pit for the patio;
9. Landscaping and gardening next spring.

We have also done a lot to the front of the house and front yard. Shortly after we moved in, we trimmed the pine tree so it stopped scraping the roof, weeded the yard, and got rid of a problematic flower bed.  More recently, we improved our curb appeal by cleaning up our porch, taking off the metal awning and demoing the old patio. Just last week, we refreshed our front entrance, which really made a difference of our curb appeal! And here is what the front of the house look like today:

I totally choked on words towards the end of this video, because we really did not have a clear plan for side and front yard. We knew that we would like to bring in evergreen shrubs – arborvitae and red berry holly would be lovely. I would also love to have climbing roses on trellis as well.

After the fence is complete, the side yard next to the garage will be enclosed into the backyard. We will put in a big gate in the front and potentially make a side patio next to the garage for Slav to park his trailer. We also tossed around the idea of a trellis roof for growing grape vines:

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The northern side of the yard slopes down significantly to our neighbor’s driveway. It would be nice to plant a line of arborvitae along our property line to add some height.

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This side of the foundation are exposed due to the yard slope, providing an opportunity to carve out a private entrance to the basement suite or installing egress windows:

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We constantly walk around this tree at the corner and you can already see our footprints on the lawn. It is a natural choice to build a stepping stone path here:

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We love holly trees and the red berries they put out in winter. It would be nice to have them as a low hedge along the sidewalk.

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As far as flower goes, I love the simplicity and elegance of an English garden. One thing Slav and I both want is climbing roses on window trellis and potentially above the garage doors. It will soften the long straight lines of the ranch as well as bringing some colors to the front yard.

The whole landscaping thing is really new to me. Fortunately, Slav’s mom has a magical green thumb and our neighbors all have lovely landscaping and free plants to offer. If you guys have good ideas and suggestions, help me out!

Here you have it, our yard tour and garden to-do list. Come back tomorrow for our main floor living space!

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