Making a hole in the wall look pretty while still being accessible

Long-time readers may recall that a while back we got a whole-house water filter.  It was a saga.  One of the things they had to do was cut holes in the drywall, which they then taped back up.   Since one of the holes was in DH’s closet, he decided to make it prettier.  Then he wrote up this post and sent it to me.

Picture of a square hole in the wall and ugly tape marks

The hole

The plumbers had to cut into the closet to access the pipes when they installed the whole house water filter. When they were done, they just used duct tape to stick the drywall plug back in the hole. The duct tape looked pretty hacky, though luckily it is in a really out-of-the-way spot (the corner of a closet, right beside a built-in, right above the baseboard).

I like having access to pipes/manifolds, so I didn’t want to just seal/patch over the hole. I wanted a framed door, and could not figure out how to make one easily. So instead, I glued the frame (really baseboard I hand-cut to fit) to the drywall plug, added a knob (with a large washer in back to spread out the force on the drywall), and touched up the paint.

The resulting “door” looks much better, and it just pulls out. It could almost just stand up by itself, but was slightly tilting forward and would fall out, so I added a small square of velcro to the top of the frame to hold it to the wall.

I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out. If I were to do it again: 1) I found it hard to cut the 45 degree angles on the baseboard by hand since we don’t have a table saw, so I would see if I could get Home Depot to cut at least a couple of them nicely, and 2) I don’t like the way the velcro is visible from the top and it results in a gap between the frame and the wall, so I would probably try removing the velcro and instead placing some kind of foam around the drywall plug so that it would be held in the hole by the force of the foam around it. I should probably still go around that corner of the closet with putty to fill in the various little gaps.

So I (#1) think that’s pretty cool.  I don’t normally pay much attention to aesthetics, but this is a really nice example of form follows function.  We had long discussions about how to make this area look nicer while still allowing access, and, importantly, letting future home-owners/renters know that there’s something important back there should they need access (say there’s a leak or a plug).  Making an actual door would be too much effort and would probably allow drafts in (given hinges etc.), but this looks like a door so it signals that there’s something behind there, while still looking pretty.  We also discussed the merits of velcro vs. magnets, but magnets are potentially more dangerous (given kids and animals), and it’s not like this is going to be opened and closed frequently enough to make the velcro wear out.

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Help me with countertops! (Please?)

Grumpy Nation!  I need your help!

So… we want to have countertops made out of quartz (or granite) that look like marble.

There are… options.

Which one?

Home Depot has two companies that make quartz.  One is Silestone and the other is Viatera.  Here’s the pictures we took at Home Depot and then the one on the right is the two Viatera samples we picked up (they didn’t have any other samples — that third picture shows minuet, a quarter, then rococo, and they’re on top of our current terrible countertop).

The main difference between the different kinds of marble-ish quartz seems to be density and darkness of the grey lines.  Rococo is busier than Minuet.  White Arabesque is busier than Snow Ibiza and so on.

Also there’s two different types of marble that the quartz is trying to imitate.  Calacatta marble is the one with the fat long marbling– it reminds me of bathrooms more than kitchens, and the quartz example counter at Home Depot looked like formica to me (though oddly, there was a great looking formica knockoff– if only you couldn’t see the seams).  I like Carerra style marble instead– that’s the one with the shorter lines.  (I guess there’s also statuary marble, but I haven’t seen any quartz knock-offs for that– probably some of what I think is Calacatta is actually imitating statuary, but without any additional color.)

One problem that I have is that I cannot extrapolate those small samples to an entire counter.  Are the busy ones too busy?  The sparse ones too sparse?

Viatera has a great webpage with lots of pictures of their different options.  When you click on a stone, it shows you a slab and pictures of completed counters.  The Silestone page is a nightmare to navigate.   (I am also really irritated with a half-dressed Cindy Crawford [only wearing a top, for tops on tops, get it?] sitting on a kitchen counter on their first page and if you accidentally click it, you see a guy WEARING SHOES standing on top of another counter.  I MAKE FOOD ON THAT COUNTER.   GET OFF.  Also, WTF, aren’t women making most of these design decisions?  Supermodels are not doing it for me.)

I found a fantastic discussion on a houzz forum with pictures talking about quartz alternatives for marble.

The prices in the first picture are mostly the “non-sale” prices because apparently there’s some kind of sale going on, but it isn’t an easy to explain one, so I don’t actually know how much they cost or even their prices compared to each other.

What should I be thinking about as we decide on a countertop design?  How are we going to decide among all of these different kinds?

How thick?

The internet thinks I should be choosing between 2 cm with 3 cm edging or just straight up 3cm.  But home depot only seems to have 2 cm and 4 cm?  I’m not really sure that’s true though… How should we decide on thickness?

Edging?

Almost all the kitchen countertops we’ve seen online have either sharp rectangular corners or softer “eased” rectangular corners.  But there’s a huge wealth of different edging options. Should we just do what everyone else is doing or are there benefits to other forms of edging?

Other recommendations?

We have no idea what we’re doing.  Any suggestions on counterops would be highly welcome?

Grumpy nation!  Help a grumpeteer out!

p.s.  Several of my colleagues have built their houses from scratch and that sounds like a nightmare.  I get anxious just imagining it!

Time to think about the kitchen remodel again

We took out the broken trees and put in new trees, so it’s time to think about remodeling the kitchen again.

house 049

The gingham wallpaper is long gone. I swear!

Here’s our master plan:

1.  Keep the flooring and floorplan as before.

We decided that it isn’t worth the additional expense to do something that might make things worse.  If we had a contractor/architect we trusted we’d be more likely to be willing to mess with this, but we don’t, so we’re going to satisfice on this dimension.

2.  Replace the countertops.

I want quartz countertops that look like marble to replace the cheap white laminate or whatever it is that turns yellow if you bleach it.  Quartz and Granite have a lot of properties that I like– easy to clean, tough to crack, great for pastry (currently we do all our pastry stuff on a granite-top bureau in the dining room).  DH also looked into “dekton” which is “in” but it doesn’t look any better than quartz and has a tendency to chip/crack according to consumer reports.  I want quartz instead of granite because it is easier to get quartz that looks like marble!  (I’m leaning into being forced to have a white kitchen.)

3.  Get a new sink that is under the countertops (instead of having a lip) and doesn’t get that irritating water puddle.

I’m thinking stainless steel, keeping a double sink.  I like double sinks.

4.  Remove the ancient ice-maker (near the sink) and replace it with a cabinet.

We’re not sure that home depot is going to be able to handle making a custom cabinet, but our previous house-painter had someone good that he uses (who replaced a bunch of kitten destroyed cabinetry in our bathroom) so we might be able to get that figured out separately.  Absent that I guess we could put in a wine fridge or something in that empty spot, but that would only be for increasing the value of the house, not something we would actually use.  (We already have one of those hidden garbage drawers that we never use next to the sink.)

5.  Replace the 30 inch electric stovetop.

This is our current sticking point.  I feel weird replacing it given that it you know, still works.  But DH doesn’t like electric (electric is slow to heat and cool… you get used to it, but it is easier cooking with gas) and says it’s rusting, which I guess it sort of is, but only around the burners not actually on top of them.  If we were better about cleaning you’d never know.  And it’ll be easier to replace it when we’re getting new countertop anyway.  DH thought about expanding it, but then we might have to cut into our cabinets which we don’t want to do.  Besides, we never use all four burners at the same time anyway.

We thought we were going to just get gas.  We have a gas hookup under the range that has never been used, but in theory could be easy to get in working order.  At least, it’s more likely than if there wasn’t a gas hookup there.

But then DH started looking into induction stovetops.  I was initially hesitant as I thought you had to buy special cookware.  Turns out you just need to have *nice* cookware with magnetic bottoms, which our le crueset and caphalon stuff already have [UPDATE:  our caphalon stuff is at most marginally magnetic on the bottom… if we went with this option we might have to get a new “induction ready” set, or we’d just be down to two le crueset and the cast iron skillet].  Induction stovetops are also safer– no open flames, no carbon monoxide, etc.  And they’re way faster than electric at heating things up.  But they might hum, which would be annoying.

DH is thoroughly investigating each of these options and has been instructed to come up with a top choice from gas and a top choice from induction.  This will probably take considerable time, knowing DH.  Right now he’s annoyed by how everything he’s been looking at seems to have a combination of 5 and 1 stars (and nothing in between)… quality control is not a priority for companies.

And that’s it.  We already replaced the fluorescent lighting and we already have fancy under lighting.  The cabinets already have all sorts of fancy drawer choices.  The pantry is still amazing and will not be touched.  We might replace the refrigerator, but that’s something that can be done separately given there’s already a big space for a fridge.  We decided not to do the ovens because I like having a double oven and even though the top oven is a really bad height for me, it’s a great height for DH.  So I can just keep using the bottom one.

Once DH has finished his researching, we plan to make an appointment at home depot and get them to hire contractors from the nearest city to take care of everything.  That worked well with our bathroom flooring.  We’re not going with a local contractor because all the ones with webpages have horrific looking “after” photos.  I mean, I get that some people have really bad taste, but that’s not something you want to advertise on your website!

Tell me about your stovetop.  Or any kitchen renovation thoughts.

 

 

Trees fall down

One of our big oaks got some kind of borer beetle and had to come down.  Then two weeks later during a big storm, our last ornamental pear tree fell over (fortunately it did not take either our deck or our fence with it, though it did grab some of the wisteria off our fence on its way down).

So we paid $335.58 to get the oak taken down and the stump ground, along with trimming back our crepe myrtle so it would stop hitting our roof and grinding another stump from a tree the previous owners had removed (the stump had been bothering DH for lo these 12 years, who knew?).

Then a few weeks later we paid another ~$200 to get the pear tree taken out of our backyard and its remaining stump and roots ground.

Next month we’re planning on buying another oak to replace the beetled oak (apparently the beetles are only a problem when the trees are distressed, so that won’t be a problem with the new oak) and a cherry tree for the back.  DH also wants to buy a few more experimental fruit trees for the remaining places in our lawn.  (Every year he buys a few and one will take root and flourish even if it never fruits again and the other two will die.  I think he’s going to keep doing this until he runs out of spots.)  This year he’s gonna get a crabapple, which I love.  We’ll see if it survives and fruits.  Cost:  ~$300 all told, including mulch.  (It’s way more expensive if we get the tree company to do it, but DH has found a nursery he likes, and we’ve had better luck with keeping cheap younger trees alive than expensive older.)

*Activism Update*

Speaking of things on your lawn being removed… All of the democratic signs in my neighborhood for a specific race were stolen Saturday night.  If that happens to you, be sure to file a police report.  The police can’t do anything based on rumors.  They are more likely to investigate if they see a pattern.  And an entire HOA losing its signs is a pattern.  We went to Target and got materials to make our own sign.  Then we bought 30 signs at the Dem HQ when they opened and gave them to people whose signs had been stolen.  And a few for local candidates while we were at it.  Make some good come from evil.

This weekend we also did postcards from postcards to voters:  https://postcardstovoters.org/

and letters from votefwd.org

And I’ve been hooked up with a post-card service that only sends stuff in my state.

Do you have trees?  Have you ever had problems with them?

Replacing more light fixtures

A few years ago, we had an energy audit and replaced all our bucket light fixtures with cooler, more efficient ones that would allow us to insulate the holes they created in the ceiling.  (The electrician DH tried to hire basically told him that was the best option and to do it all himself instead of paying the electrician, so he did.)

This year one of the fluorescent ballasts in the kitchen sort of broke (it could still be used, but even with a brand new bulb, it took a long time to turn on and then still flickered and after some observation DH suspected it might be dangerous).  The fluorescents in a couple of the other rooms, including my closet, weren’t in that great shape anyway (nothing like a strobe effect to trigger migraines…), and DH wanted to move to LEDs, especially since the fluorescent hum was driving him crazy.  Although LEDs fit in the sockets it wasn’t clear that just swapping them in was safe given the various electric ratings.

Given our track record of the electrician coming out only to tell DH how to do small jobs himself, we decided it was time to get rid of all of our fluorescent lighting (make it a big job!).

Here’s what that consisted of, according to the electrician’s quote:

CHANGE LAMPS IN 3 GARAGE FIXTURES TO LINE VOLTAGE LED
REMOVE WRAP IN UTILITY ROOM AND REPLACE WITH DISC LIGHT
REMOVE WRAP IN 4 CLOSETS AND REPLACE WITH DISC LIGHT
REMOVE WRAP IN PANTRY AND REPLACE WITH DISC LIGHT
REPLACE LAMPS IN TWO KITCHEN FIXTURES WITH LINE VOLTAGE LED LAMPS

The quote for all of this was $925.  That’s a lot!  But it’s also 11 light fixtures.  (Some of the big rectangular fluorescent lights were actually two ballasts next to each other.)

According to DH, two of them worked for three hours, installing 5 fixtures’ worth of line-fed tubular LEDs, removing 6 fixtures and replacing with disk lights.

$12 per tubular LED Keystone KT-LED15T8-48GC-850-DX2
$30 per disk light SunSet 15W LED by Luminance

5*2*12 = $120 for the tubulars.
6*30 = $180 for the disks.

So $300 in parts, let’s round up to $350 for incidentals (ex. wires, putty for the holes left by the fluorescent ballasts, extra screws. etc.).

The quote was for $925. So $575 in labor.
$575 / 2 / 3 = $95.8/ person hour.  Which is a little high but is within a reasonable range of going rates for the area.  And it helps assuage a little of the guilt I had for us calling the electrician out twice before only to have him give DH good advice and detailed instructions for what to do in exchange for no money.

Overall we are really happy with the results.  One exception was that the light in my closet wasn’t bright enough and left eerie shadows.  Fortunately that was an easy $30 disc light swap that we could do ourselves.  Though now we have an extra light in case one of the other ones breaks sometime before the 22 year expected life of the new LEDs…

What kind of lighting do you have in your place? 

(Hopefully) the Conclusion of the Water Filter Saga

We have been trying to get a whole house water filter installed in our house since last summer.  Last week we finally achieved installation.  You can read about the saga from Summer to January here.

We finally got the plumbers to come out again after the shed misadventure.  This time the owner said he’d come out himself.  So he did.  And he said that there was no reason that the side filter stuff had to be spread out horizontally, with some high tech plumbing it could be stacked up vertically.  He’d get back to us to schedule in the next week.

He didn’t get back the next week, but a week or two after that either he got back or DH called again.  The new estimate was $1700, which is about $700 more than the original estimate, with a promise that it would cost less if it ended up taking less time.

The plumbers came.  It took a day and a half.  We also had them replace the guest bathroom faucet while they were here since we noticed the old one flaking when my in-laws were visiting and DH had tried and failed to install a new one himself.  There were many surprises, like the water line doing another split where it was not expected to, and so on.  In the end they had to cut holes in a couple of walls which they did as unobtrusively as possible and then taped back up.  And we got the final bill of $1570, including the $30 to replace the guest bathroom sink faucet (it would have been $80 for that if they’d done it in a separate visit).  So they must have been expecting even more surprises than the ones they got!

Of course, there was no difference from the filtered kitchen sink tap or my filtered shower tap.  But the flavor of the water from the main kitchen tap is now unnoticeable which is a pretty big deal given how awful the water tastes around here.  And my hands didn’t tingle after washing them in the sink faucets.  DC2 has taken a few baths and hasn’t broken out in rashes after.  So zie doesn’t need to use our shower anymore unless zie wants to.

So… do I still wish I hadn’t bothered buying this?  I don’t know.  I’m glad we have it now (and given our current financial health, I don’t mind the ~2.5K it cost), but I’m not sure I’m so glad that it was worth 9+ months of hassle (unlike the amount of glad I have for other 9 month projects, say, my children, though I guess this was really just intermittent hassle and we could have pushed harder to get this done quicker, unlike babies where pushing only works right near the end).  If we didn’t have the under the sink filter and the shower stall filter, then I might be feeling differently about this, but it would have been so much easier just to get $80 shower filters for the other two showers.  At least this one isn’t supposed to need to be replaced for another 10 years…

Next up:  Kitchen renovations.  We plan to dip our toes in that water this summer.  We’ll see what happens.

Ask the grumpies: Pay for renovation in cash or take out loans?

Ellie asks:

I am moving to take a new job and have been fortunate enough to be able to buy a house in New Town right off the bat. There is, however, some fairly significant work to do on said house, also right off the bat. I will have enough cash from the sale of my house in Current Town to cover the cost of this work, but am wondering if I should. Given what’s going on with interest rates, would you pay for renovation work in cash? Or take out a second mortgage/HELOC to cover reno expenses and invest the house proceeds? Once moving expenses work their way through the cash flow pipeline, I would be able to pay off a second mortgage pretty aggressively.

I feel like this should be a relatively simple opportunity cost calculation, but somehow it doesn’t feel as simple as it feels like it should. Secondary question: Is there any way to blame the Ongoing Unpleasantness for making this a harder decision that it ought to be?

Well, if you’re asking what we would do, we would pay in cash.  It’s possible you could open a HELOC in case of emergency and then just not use it unless there’s an emergency. But, we also left carpet in the childrens’ bathroom until our mortgage was mostly paid off (and #2 doesn’t even own a house), so we may be too risk averse.

In terms of what is optimal:  If this is just a short term cash-flow thing, then you won’t be wasting much time not being in the market and can put the moving expenses into it once they’re done.  Second mortgages are a hassle and sometimes you are not allowed to prepay them or you still have to pay for mortgage insurance even after you’ve hit 20% loan to value ratio (this will depend on the mortgage terms– some of them are pretty nasty).  HELOCs tend to have interest rates that are higher than your first mortgage and make the uncertain gains of the stock market less attractive compared to the certain losses of the HELOC.

If this were a longer term thing in terms of repayment, say, more than a year, you’d want to look at the bigger picture more carefully and it might be more worthwhile to take out some additional debt (probably the HELOC rather than the second mortgage just because the hassle factor is smaller, but intelligent people will disagree on this).  Mainly the margin I would be looking at would be an employer match for retirement.  If paying in cash for renovations means that your retirement savings isn’t going to happen, then I’d take a long hard look at that– what renovations need to actually happen, and what are interest rates on loans?  Getting an employer match will blast past most interest rates, even high ones.  Then after that you’ll have to think about whether you’ll remember to set up more retirement savings once you have money again– if not, then you might want to set that up and take out more loan just so you don’t lose out on retirement savings by not getting around to setting it up.

The Ongoing Unpleasantness makes long-term planning difficult for many people.  Uncertainty at large makes things difficult at small.

So:  tl:dr

If you’re going to have the money in a few months, pay in cash.
If it’s going to be longer, make sure you get your employer match for retirement and take a loan if you have to.
Then: think about hassle, interest rates, and how likely you are to set up retirement savings later.

Update with some numbers:

The total cost of the work will be in the neighborhood of $40,000. So a very decent chunk of change that could do a lot of things. Once the down payment on the new house is made, I should have about $59,000 left of the proceeds from selling my current house and I have $40,000 or so cash in savings. I don’t have any other debts that would be logical first priorities—student loans and car are paid off, and credit cards are paid in full every month. But there will be some decently expensive travel & transition costs in the immediate term, as well as some concerns about cash flow because the new job pays 9-month contracts over 9 months, without the option of distributing payments over 12 months. So there will be a couple of months between the last paycheck from my current position and the first paycheck from the new one.

It looks like the local credit union there is offering home equity loans at 4.75%.  [No numbers for a second mortgage.]

Investing options are… my Roth [IRA and] my TIAA-CREF [presumably a 403(b) through work].

One thing to remember is that you’re most likely not going to have to pay all of the renovation costs upfront.  So it is possible that some of the bills will not come due until after your reimbursements have come in, possibly after your paychecks have started (depending on how long things drag).  You won’t need to decide on the IRA until April.  It sounds like you will have enough leftover that you should be able to start your retirement savings via direct deduction from your paycheck without worry when school starts.

Given the numbers above– the HELOC rate isn’t terrible, but it’s not low enough to make investing the difference a slam dunk.  Personally I’d figure out how much you intend to contribute to the 403(b) and get that started with the school year (so that it goes on auto-pilot) and then decide on the IRA after all the renovation stuff stuff has been figured out or April happens, whichever comes first.

#2 says:  Pay cash because it takes time to open a HELOC (apply, get approval, etc.) and you want the reno done ASAP so you can move in and not go insane.

Grumpy Nation:  What are your thoughts?  Any experiences with HELOC/2nd mortgages/renovations/etc.?