And more major appliances are breaking…

Our 12 year water heaters lasted 15 years, so I shouldn’t complain.  But they are expensive to replace!

So we bought two more 12 year water heaters from home depot ($1750) and called the plumbers in.

The plumbers opened up the boxes … and the water heaters were severely dinged and damaged, both the “jacket” and a bunch of the valve things.  Not usable.  (The boxes were super dinged up, and I watched one of the guys open the second water heater so definitely no shady business on the part of the plumber.)

So, since our garage water heater was literally dripping, we made the executive decision to let the plumbers sell us some not as good/more expensive water heaters ($3100, but also they didn’t charge for the installation itself, so that must have been built into the price) by the same company (Rheem) that they had in stock (6 year water heater plus 4 year additional warranty and replacement valves = 10 year warranty).  Not necessarily the best decision, but that’s what happens when you are in an emergency situation and DH is making the decision from an airport on his way to a conference and if you weren’t living with DH to do all this stuff you would be renting.  And at least these water heaters wouldn’t be dinged.

While they were out, we got our broken whole house filter (still under warranty) replaced and we got a pressure regulator added to the house so the whole house filter doesn’t break again AND so we stop going through toilet innards so rapidly.  (Plus, in theory, one would not be able to injure oneself with the bidet, though I do not plan to test that.)  That was ~$300 for parts and service.  They also checked to see that our shower stall was no longer leaking after DH caulked it and they determined that the bathtub leak in the children’s bathroom was just them not completely turning the middle faucet that switches between shower and tap and they didn’t charge for either of those.  So I feel less bad about the total bill since it seems like they loaded some of the labor onto the cost of the water heaters.


The moral is that things shouldn’t break when DH is at a conference.  Or maybe if your major appliance comes in a super dinged box you should open the box before calling the plumbers.  I don’t know.

A few years ago this kind of kerfuffle would have made me anxious and worried, but this time it just me tired (so tired, in fact, that instead of finishing making the dinner I was halfway through making, I went online and spent another $40 on pizza delivery).  People say money can’t buy you happiness, but it sure can buy peace of mind.

Ask the grumpies: Have you ever thought about getting solar panels?

OMDG asks:

I kind of love the idea of solar panels on the new house. Having a smaller carbon footprint and being less dependent on the grid seems like a worthwhile investment. N&M have you ever thought about doing this?

#1:  We haven’t changed the roof since we moved here and it’s still going strong.  But we assume that it will need to get changed out sooner rather than later.  From what we understand, right after (or during) getting a new roof is the best time to get solar panels since if you’re getting roof-based solar panels they’ll have to be removed/replaced/etc. when your roof is replaced.

There are online programs that will tell you if it’s worth getting solar panels for your particular house using google maps satellite images.  For whatever reason, these have always told us that it’s not worth it for our house, and since our roof is still going strong, we haven’t investigated further.  (The google project sunroof used to provide more information and be more customizable than it is now.)  We’ve also missed any local area rebates on solar (those expired over a decade ago and haven’t been replaced), there haven’t been state rebates, and we haven’t much been paying attention to federal rebates.

I had been thinking that when we get a new roof we’d just get fancy Tesla roof tiles because I liked the idea, but it sounds like they’re still expensive but not actually delivering on their early promise and there may be concerns with the warranty/customer service.

So… we’ve thought about it but probably won’t pull the trigger until our roof needs replacing and at that point we will re-evaluate.

#2:  Lives in an apartment building, so no.

Grumpy Nation, what has been your experience with Solar Panels?


Ask the grumpies: The mortgage vs. stocks question (in a low interest rate, high inflation environment)

OMDG asks:

We’ve recently purchased a house — yay! I’d always planned on paying it down quickly, but I’ve recently heard advice that given the low interest rate on our mortgage, we would be better off putting the $ in an index fund, since the gains in the market are expected to be higher than we would have to pay in extra interest if we were to pay off our mortgage early. However… as with all things, whether this is good advice depends on the trajectory of the stock market remaining as it has been for the past several years. In the absence of perfect information and me being a risk averse person, I decided instead to split the difference, i.e. half my extra $ to principal on the mortgage, and half in an index fund. I should also add that we are maxing out our 529 and our tax advantaged retirement savings already. Does this seem like a reasonable approach? What would you do differently?

Disclaimer:  We are not professionals.  Talk to a certified no-fee financial planner or do your own research before making any major money decisions.  (We could be totally wrong!)

Congratulations on your purchase!

We know a little bit more than when we last tackled this question.

If your interest rate is in the 2-4% range, it is unlikely that the stock market will be less than that over the period of the 15 or 30 years that your mortgage will last, even with risk adjustments etc.  Even if you’re planning on only being in the market for a very short term, the stock market is likely to come ahead when there are really low interest rates.

Currently inflation is high, but not for reasons that make sense in terms of interest rates.  Inflation is high now because of supply shortages.  Still, the federal reserve board sounds like it will be increasing interest rates in the spring, which should cool down the stock market some, but also make your bank money worth more.  It is quite possible that interest rates could continue going up sometime in the next 15-30 years to the point where putting your money in a CD could net more than pre-paying your mortgage if you have a low interest rate loan.

If your interest rate is above 5%, then it makes more sense to pre-pay the mortgage because when you risk adjust things, the stock market isn’t likely to do as well as paying down the mortgage.

Mortgage companies can also provide some protection against insane HOA if you ever get into a bad situation where the HOA wants to take your house.

It is also really important to note that OMDG is maxing out their 529 and our tax advantaged retirement savings– you can always pre-pay a mortgage, but you get a limited amount of space for tax-advantaged retirement savings each year.  If I could go back, I would max out both our 457s back when we had them and not put any of that money in mortgage pre-payments or 529s.  (Being honest, I would probably still round up the mortgage payment to a round number for irrational psychological reasons, but that was never a huge sum.)

That said, there are some other things that could make it more attractive to pre-pay the mortgage.

  1.  Early pre-payments are worth more than later pre-payments because of how mortgages are structured.  They are not revolving debt.  You’re basically paying mostly interest with your regular payments at the beginning of the loan and mostly principal at the end of the loan.  Any pre-payments go directly to principal which can cut quite a bit out at the beginning.  I really like this GRS amortization spreadsheet for calculating what effect pre-payments will have on the lifetime of your loan.
  2. If you are expecting to get any sort of financial aid from colleges, it can make sense to turn taxable assets (like taxable stocks, but NOT retirement stocks) into home equity because they assume you will sell stocks to pay for college but not that you will sell your house.  That is, home equity is not generally included in college financial aid decisions.
  3. If you are EXTREMELY risk averse, or if having the money in stocks makes you more likely to spend it rather than save it and you want to save it, or if you have other emotional kinds of things dealing with not wanting debt.
  4. If you just want to not deal with the hassle of paying a bill every month (and if it’s less effort to pay property taxes once or twice a year instead of having the mortgage company handle that).

After we asked, you noted that your mortgage is 2.75% for 30 years.  With a mortgage rate that low, if your incomes are high enough to not qualify for financial aid, I’d probably just pay the minimum to the mortgage and not split the difference.  YMMV.  There’s not really a wrong answer, so long as you’re saving/investing the money in lower risk assets (stock market indexes aren’t low risk in the short term but they’re pretty good in the long term).

Grumpy Nation, how do you handle mortgage pre-payment vs investing?

It is appliance breaking time!

In the past month:

Our brave little toaster that could (purchased probably for $10 fifteen or more years ago) no longer reliably keeps the lever down.  Sometimes it does if you hold it down long enough, but sometimes I just cannot get it to engage.  So we went on wirecutter and ordered their best rated toaster from Target ($30).

Our refrigerator fan started making chunking sounds again, which usually means it is going to need to be replaced soon.  I swore the last time this happened we would replace it and then *buy a new refrigerator*.  But it’s stopped chunking so we didn’t replace the fan.  But who knows how long that’s going to last.  (Estimated cost:  Who knows!  But probably closer to $2000… which is crazy since our first refrigerator was the cheapest full-size refrigerator at either Lowes or Home Depot almost *20* years ago… currently that’s still under $500.)

Our dishwasher has a new and different problem.  It’s definitely hitting the “planned obsolescence” stage.  This time there’s some kind of spring on the door that has failed and the door can either be all the way open or all the way shut and doesn’t gracefully move between the two states or have the ability to stay slightly open like it used to.  We have no idea how to fix this and even looking into it was pretty gross because the area where the door hinges is corroded and just plain icky.  DH is making noises like it might be time to get a Bosch, though we are definitely willing to wait until they are easily available and we don’t have to worry about people in our house.  It’s on the horizon.  (DH is also willing to put up with this for two years and just sell the house without a dishwasher.)  Somehow it is easier to replace an engine than it is a spring.  (Estimated cost for a new dishwasher ~$1000.)  Update:  After some research, it wasn’t the spring, it was the thing the spring attaches to.  Cost to replace:  $40.

Our microwave has started shutting itself off for safety reasons if we microwave too many things in a row.

It’s hard to know what annoyances we should put up with and what we should just spend the money to replace.  Replacing things also often comes with its own frustrations and annoyances since new things don’t always work and lemons are a pain in the rear to deal with.

Not an appliance:  Our fences are falling apart and last year the HOA made it clear that they’re in charge of the stone (which isn’t falling apart) and we’re in charge of the wood.  DH called 4 places and nobody returned his calls.  Then we got an email from the HOA (to everyone, not just us) saying that fence repairs needed to be made so DH was like, Help we need a fence repair place, do you have any suggestions.  So he got 3 suggestions and called the first two and they came out right away to look at the fence.  And… then they disappeared and we never got estimates.  So now we’re not sure what to do.  I mean, call that third company, but after that.  DH has already walked all over the neighborhood and gotten the names and numbers off actual fences.  He thinks they’re just busy what with Weather and almost our entire HOA fencing needing to be replaced and so on.

My spice rack

Many areas of my life are not at all organized. But I do have a bit of (undiagnosed, probably colloquial in nature rather than clinical) ocd. When the world is falling apart, I get some relief from having certain things organized. Alphabetical books in the bookcases. Pens organized by color. Clips in their appropriate bins by size. Silverware, stationary etc. separated by type and organized in appropriate places in their appropriate drawers.  When I went into work and the supply cabinet was kept stocked, I would make sure the teas were organized by type (caffeinated one shelf, greens together, etc… after one botched restocking, I explained to the student workers the system I had put in place. Luckily they like me!). Many of these things are things you can’t see and maybe it doesn’t matter that I have piles of work papers all around me optimistically organized by vintage (newest stuff on top).

One of the things that must be organized alphabetically (and that makes me yell “Who has been messing with my system?!?” when it gets out of order) is my spice rack. Back when we were living in an apartment, spices lived alphabetically on set of cheap shelves in the living room because our kitchens were tiny (or, for two years, shared). When we moved here, I decided I wanted a rack like I’d seen on the backs of doors. Our pantry has enough room that we didn’t need to put it on the back of a door– this is screwed into the wall. I picked out wire rack modules at Home Depot and DH installed them.

Here are the top few shelves (currently I don’t have any little spices sticking out on top– we used up a few of the containers we had duplicates of [like Northwoods seasoning which is my favorite replacement for spice mixes like Emeril’s, blackening, cajun, etc.] so I was able to spread things out.)  The holes in the wall above the spice rack pre-date us.  I’m not sure what the previous owners had here because whatever it was they took it with them.  (They used the walk-in pantry mostly as alcohol storage!)

Here are the bottom three shelves where we keep bagged spices, also in alphabetical order.  It’s mostly Penzey’s but they were out of ground cardamom when we needed it (cardamom is one of my favorite spices) so I got some from  (In the jarred spices we’re mostly Penzey’s but I don’t mind having different jars so long as they’re about the same shape/size and, importantly, everything is in alphabetical order.  We have mostly Penzey’s not because I need all the yellow labels matching but because they have excellent quality spices at reasonable prices.  We are not getting paid to say that and they don’t know we exist.  It’s just a wonderful company in so many ways.  Pick up some of their Northwoods seasoning, and if you like things hot, their Berebere mix. Try their mixed seasonings to make flavored roasted nuts or put them in sour cream for a fun veggie dip.  *love emoji*)

You can see each shelf is connected to the wall by brackets that came with the shelf.

Here you can see that the shelf is modular– it’s composed of multiple sets.  You can also see the envelope we use to list the spices we’re going to need to get on our next Penzey’s run in The City.  Or, since the pandemic started, our next Penzey’s order.

I know these are not very pinteresty pictures– I think I had the light off and the pantry is a bit dark and I was too lazy to play with the lighting, but you get the idea.

To forestall people who question whether we can use all these spices before they go stale:  not always, but I would rather have a spice available and stale (meaning we have to use more of it) than to not have it at all.  We do go through our regular spices pretty quickly.

And… this is not all our spices.  We have a box on the floor to the side that is just different kinds of dried chiles (also alphabetical). On the shelves to the left in between the cereal bars and the crackers I keep different kinds of seeds and fancy salts.  On the shelves to the right between the chocolate bars and candied fruit we keep extracts and waters (and would keep food coloring and cake decorations if DC2 weren’t allergic to red dye).  Cocoa powder we keep in the back shelves with the flours.  Peppercorns are shelved, oddly, in front of the chocolate bars, but I think that’s just because it’s really easy access.  But still, a place for everything and everything has its place.

How do you keep your spices?  How do you self-sooth when the world is going crazy?

Ask the grumpies: What above-range microwave/hood should we get?

Ewan asks:

Your dishwasher-slash-grossness post prompted me to ask you to ask your (apparently well-informed on appliances!) readership: recommendations for an above-range microwave/hood? Our Kitchenaid just hit the ‘too old and expensive to be worth fixing’ point after 12 years; the kitchen really needs the microwave there even though we probably wouldn’t do it if starting over. External venting. Thanks!

Oooh, I hate the above range microwave.  We had one on our last sabbatical (that was also a convection oven) and it was so annoying.  I would pay a lot of money to just get a normal hood and then put a regular microwave on the counter.  But you may not have counter space, and it may not be worth the money to counteract those crazies who thinks countertop microwaves must be hidden from view.  (You may also be tall.)

Consumer reports talks about their choices here.

Good housekeeping favors the samsung (though tbh, good housekeeping doesn’t generally agree with other rating sites).  Bob Vila also plugs a Samsung.

The Spruce likes the GE.  The Chicago Tribune agrees.  So does the NYTimes.

So… it looks like most places think you should get a GE or a Samsung.  Probably the GE.  (Disclaimer:  We are not experts!  Do your own research or consult experts before making important life-changing decisions.)

If you want to get fancy, you can get one that doubles as a convection oven, but we never did use ours more than once or twice even though we cook a lot.  Maybe if you were more into convection baking?  But it’s still such a pain to have hot stuff so far up there.  I think we’d probably use a convection oven more if it were closer to the ground.

Grumpy Nation, what advice do you have for Ewan?

Ask the grumpies: Ideas for a pet friendly couch?

Chelsea asks:

I need a recommendation for a new couch. Right now we have a 12-year-old, tan, fabric-covered 3-cushion sleeper sofa from Ashley furniture. I would describe the style as “normal couch”. It has served us well but – after daily hard use by three children – it is pretty nasty. To the point that, despite replacing the cushions once and washing the cushion covers (and spraying them with pee-neutralizing spray) I really don’t like to sit or lay on it anymore. Even my mother, who never replaces anything until it is absolutely worn out, says “couches don’t last forever…” in reference to ours.

We are looking for something durable and reasonably priced. We don’t want a sleeper this time. We are trying to decide if the ease of care that would come with a “leather” sofa is worth the extra expense. I wish I liked the Ikea Ektorp because it seems perfect for us, but I feel like it always looks very “rumpled” in the showroom and like it might not hold up well. But I could be convinced otherwise. I do not like the “overstuffed” look but don’t care much about the styling otherwise. I would love to spend less than $1k but could do between $1k and $2k for something really great that would last.

I would love to hear readers’ suggestions for a family/pet friendly couch. Thanks!

We are not good people for this question… #1 has overstuffed black “leather” graduate school couches that have lots of scratches from cats and one of the pillows seems to have melted a little from before Nice Kitty got on Prozac (this is why I’m not sure it’s *actually* leather, especially since we were able to afford them in graduate school).  We will not be changing anything until our kids are in college.  #2 has a kind of standard wooden futon kind of thing.

So we asked a friend who is good at interior design.  Here’s what she says:

I have had an Ektorp for 15 years and I love it. Mine has held up great with 2 cats and a small dog (but no kids). With pets, I will never have a couch that is not slipcovered. The trick to not having the Ektorp look rumpled is to dry the slipcovers on low until they are just slightly damp and then immediately put them back on the couch – the end result is no wrinkles (this is NOT what Ikea recommends – they say their covers are air dry only – but the internet convinced me to try this). My slipcover is white and I use bleach on it with no issues. It has been peed on and puked on and looks (and smells) no worse for the wear. The Ektorp was recently discontinued, but was replaced by a similar-looking couch called the Uppland – I hope the slipcovers perform similarly.

I do hear leather is also good for dogs, I am just not personally into that look.
Hope that helps!  Grumpy Nation, what has been your experience with couches and animals?  What do you recommend?

Our dishwasher wasn’t working so we cleaned it out but I’m not showing any pictures because it was one of the grossest things I’d ever seen and I would like to be able to forget someday

Last time our dishwasher wasn’t working, it made crunching noises and needed the motor to be completely replaced.  The time before it was an ancient dishwasher that the previous owners had left with the house and it flooded our guest bathroom on the other side of the kitchen and the repair person said it wasn’t worth repairing, just get a new one.  So we did.

This time, the top shelf just wasn’t getting clean.  I started scouting new dishwashers and was quickly overwhelmed with the options– Do we spend $600?  $1200?  $2500? Are these smart features going to break in a way we can’t fix ourselves?  DH, decided to take it apart and see if anything was clogging it.  OMG dishwashers are DISGUSTING.  Imagine grease with foodbits in it that is dyed red by that soap loving bacteria.  Imagine a LOT of it.  Everywhere.  I took one look and left the kitchen (after telling DH he didn’t have to do it).  But DH said he’d taken it apart and was committed.  He’s a saint.  A true hero.

And he didn’t find any specific clogs, though he did find the cap to a black skinny crayola marker (how?  clothes washer I would understand, but dishwasher?).  But after cleaning apart all the pieces and putting it back together, it started cleaning the dishes on both racks.

So… we can put off buying a new dishwasher for a while yet.

When do you decide to repair vs. buy a new dishwasher?  Do you go with the newest fancy Miele or Thermador model or a workhorse?  (Ours is Kenmore, but I think the next might be a low-end Bosch like our in-laws have.)

A snapshot of DH’s unemployment chores list

  1. Get and install curtains for the office.  [Ed:  this is my requested Christmas present this year so my face isn’t half blindingly white while zooming]
      1. Rod hanging style
        1. We do not want a curtain rod that attaches inside the door frame, because that will interfere with the screen door.
        2. We could use inside mount brackets and mount the curtain to both side walls, but then there would be a long rod sticking out over the filing cabinets for no reason.
        3. We could use an inside mount bracket on the side wall by the desk, and a normal bracket (to the window’s wall) on the other side, but that’s going to look asymmetrical.
        4. I think we use a normal rod attached to the same wall as the window, and it equally extends on either side of the door frame, which will put the end next to the desk almost up against the side wall, and put about 12” of space between the edge of the window and the end of the rod on each side.  To get the bracket close to the side wall next to the desk, let’s use the blackout rods that curve back into the wall.
          1. It would also be nice to minimize the depth, so the curtain is close to the wall.
      2. “Door” width 70.5” including the molding.
        1. Add 24” -> 94.5” wide curtain.
          1. Divide by 2 panels -> 48” panel width.
        2. Add ~10” -> 80.5” rod.
      3. 4.5” from the outside edge of the molding to the nearest wall.
      4. Do we need two panels or just one?
        1. I think 2 panels would look better.  We could get a single panel 100” wide, but I think when the curtains are open they will look better framing the door.
      5. Door height: 83.25” from floor to molding.
        1. So an 84” long panel? Then we set it above the top of the door and it won’t puddle on the ground.
      6. For curtain color, I think anything light or black is too extreme. Probably best to just go with brown.
  2. Fix the broken fence board.
  3. Clean the guest bedroom. [Ed:  this used to be DH’s office]
  4. Use the copper test kit.  [Ed:  Our water was strikingly blue for a little while.  We turned the whole house filter back on.]
  5. Clean the junk on the floor in front of the printer. [I suspect he means his 3d printer which is on the floor of the guest bedroom]
  6. Get the car inspected and registered.
  7. Clean out my work desk drawer.
  8. Keep the wooden boxes currently in the garage, break them down, or get rid of them. [Ed: More work stuff]
  9. Cash bonds.  [Ed: Both of our families bought us small savings bonds that have stopped accruing interest back in the early 1980s when there was a sale]
  10. Glue “Baking with Julia”.  [Ed: Wonderful cookbook, terrible binding]
  11. Ant hill by corner.  [Ed: Red ants are evil]
  12. Fix gate.  [Ed: I’m not sure what gate he means since the one to our dogrun just sort of fell over and we removed it and it’s no longer a dog run… we now have a more open concept backyard.  Come to think of it, there’s a gate on the other side that we never use that is under a bunch of wisteria, so maybe that’s what he means.]
  13. Replace the lightbulb in the refrigerator.  [Ed: One of MANY lightbulbs that heard DH was going to have a bunch of free time and decided to die]
    1. Ordered replacement.


I have no questions.  But it is nice having a highly qualified personal assistant!