Barrels of Fun

A couple years back I wrote about the last rain barrel, which in itself was a sequel to the fate of the first rain barrel, which was an acquisition of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

The in-laws got us another such barrel (though it be a wine barrel, technically), for Christmas.  And with the sweltering and rather dry summer under way, I made…wait for it…another rain barrel!

And yes–the Blood Price was paid:



Following the laminate project, a critical area of the floor remained yet to be addressed: the foyer.  Until now, it was also laminate–part of the original install (or, the latest install by the former owner), but hadn’t been extended beyond the immediate entryway, the rest being the original carpet which had been removed in aforementioned prior post.

The flooring situation had been a problem in the winter, as there was nowhere to set wet shoes; but more importantly, with the laminate now fully wrapping around the center of the house, for it to be seamless, it would have to match exactly.  And I knew from the dining room install that it wasn’t going to be.  Therefore, we needed an alternate form of hard flooring for the foyer, and one more appropriate to the type of mess and traffic it would receive.  We decided upon tile.

And so beganeth the research–which was inconclusive.  No one could agree on the proper method.  Was concrete board needed?  Was self-leveling sealer needed?  How much clearance would the cement require?  In the end, an employee at Home Depot gave us a rundown on the proper method (presumably, as I don’t exactly know his level of expertise).  And as I suspected, the amount of clearance would be cutting things close.  We needed a way to reduce the thickness.

Then we stumbled across this:

Like laminate, this was a cheat.  But was it a tacky cheat, or a convincing cheat?  I certainly didn’t want my cheat to be the subject of ridicule as our house’s successors cursed during its removal (mush as I would in regards to whoever installed the flooring I was about to remove).  But I also wanted a working solution, and ceramic tile didn’t seem like it would fit the bill.  So we gambled, and bought the vinyl.

But first, there was this to contend with.

I should have taken more photos, for that would have better conveyed the experience.  Upon removal of the covering laminate, we encountered a sticky rubber tile (for those who’ve worked in food service, it was akin to the texture of those disgusting rollout rubber mats that cover the kitchen floors (and must be cleaned and rolled back up for storage by the busboys each night, I might add)).

But the tiles weren’t the problem.  They chipped up easily enough.  The problem was the adhesive–a thick goopy tar.  And to compound the problem, I opted to use a solvent remover.  And the problem with solvents, naturally, is that they dissolve things into liquids.  So I had taken a solid goo and liquefied it, resulting in a liquid goo flowing and splashing all over everything in the vicinity.  Lovely.

But with enough persistence, and ruined clothing, I managed to remove enough of the adhesive as to be confident that the new tile would lay flat (and actually adhere), though I first left the application of primer to Liz while I had a dozen drinks or so.

Fun part concluded, I aligned and applied the tile, which went off without a hitch (though I was a single tile short and had to send Liz out to the store (the manufacturer’s calculation was almost spot on)).

Part of the reason we went with this tile was that it was groutable.  The idea being, that it would look more natural and seal better.  And it did, ultimately, satisfactorily succeed in both metrics, but first let me chronicle at length the agony that this seemingly simple task inflicted.

Grout is, it seems, little more than premixed concrete.  And while it ultimately cures into a binding mortar, in its uncured state it’s little more than grainy mud.  This means that it doesn’t really stick to anything, least of all the plastic trenches between the tile.  And, since part of the benefit of the vinyl tile was to have a reduced thickness, there was very little depth in which to scrape the grout.  The instructions gave a simple account of scooping mortar onto the joint, then scraping off whatever remained on the surface, but in practice, doing so pulled the grout out of the groove, requiring instead a very gentle and meticulous teasing and brushing of the grout.  The 40 sq ft room took me 5 hours to grout–7 episodes of Life after People, and more bourbon than I’d care to remember even if I could have remembered after all that bourbon.

Replacing the molding was trivial, as I’ve become very accustomed to the process, so no need to recount it.  Here’s the end result:

In conclusion, the tile makes for a very convincing facsimile, as does the adjacent laminate.  I can’t say from experience if it was any easier, and I don’t know if I learned much during the process as it was the first time I grouted and lacked a frame of reference, but I can say that it was significantly more difficult than I expected.

I’m glad it’s done, and I feel better knowing that the combination of sealants will make for a very water-resistant floor come winter.

Leave your shoes in the foyer.


Laminate (Part 3)

True to the unofficial agreement, 6 months had passed and more carpet has been removed.  The central room–long a moldering and pee-soaked common area–harbored years of finely-sifted debris which had worked itself through to the subfloor over the decades.  It was unpleasant enough to undermine the purpose of a relaxing reading room.

It seems nice, until you breathe

The city forced my hand with its unlimited trash pickup day.  The carpet and molding was removed in time to avoid paying for special pickup, and with the floor barren and the furniture stacked in the dining room, there was no going back.  It was time for laminate.

But this time, I possessed experience.  I knew that there was no easier way to custom-cut these boards than with a coping saw.  I also knew that the underlayer wouldn’t stay put, so I stapled it.  I also knew that no matter how hard I scored the wall against the baseboards with a razor, removing them would always rip off paint and drywall–there was no way around this, so I just had to accept it.

In the end, I had become good enough at this that the project’s completion presented little humorous content to share.

But fear not!  Next, I shall post about the foyer, and how fun it is to grout vinyl tile!  Till next time.


The River is Now a Canal

Two years ago I addressed the terrible sump drainage.  At the time we bought the house, an old vacuum hose had been stuck to the output and draped across the lawn and out into the yard.  It was and ugly and inefficient solution, so I dug a trench instead.

The trench worked and looked much nicer, but had a tendency to fill in with debris.  I concluded then that I would use the plethora of unearthed bricks (which we uncover every time a shovel is stuck into the ground) and pave the trench, my reasoning being that the reduced friction would channel the water faster and flush out anything in its way.  And it would look nicer, and hopefully hold up better.

Additionally, I planned to sink a small recess to hold some of the water to give it time to soak into the ground–a rain garden, more or less.  I installed something similar on a downspout, but it was gravel and I don’t want that look in the garden.

And so I dug until I had the desired pit.  Then, as I began placing bricks, the sump pump clicked on and flooded it.  Perhaps I should have unplugged that before starting this project.  Ah well, I’m not one to allow simple forces of the universe, in this case hydrodynamics, to interrupt me.  I continued.

I put a rush in the center

When full, it looks like a reflection pool.  It’s also accumulating mud because it hasn’t dried out yet with all the Spring rain, so I can’t clean it.  And it’s overflowing constantly.  What I should have done was dug out a deep dry well and filled it with rocks, then arranged my bricks on top of that.  Whatever redesign I decide upon, one thing is certain–it needs more capacity.  I will, no doubt, be revisiting this.


Ring 2

Not the “Ring 2”–I mean part deux of the Ring products saga

A year ago we got the Ring doorbell.

Thankfully, it hasn’t been instrumental in solving any crime, but it definitely brings peace of mind.  And, it’s very convenient to see who’s walking up to the door while I’m in the basement working.

But paranoia has no terminus, and I found myself eyeing Ring’s line of cameras for the back door for the same reason: I want to see if anyone’s walking up to it.  Not that anyone has, but I often leave the dog in the back to run while I work, and with reports of dog-snatchers, I wanted to keep an eye on things.  I decided upon the Stickup cam wired.

My reasoning was thus:

  • I don’t want a floodlight back there, so no-go on that model
  • I wanted wired, as I always prefer to run dedicated lines to unreliable WiFi
  • It supports PoE, which would not only allow a single cable run, but the PoE injector could then be plugged into my UPS, thus keeping the camera online in the event of a power outage

The only thing left to do then, was actually run the cable.

But the drawback of cable is that it limits placement of jacks, due to the simple matter of me not being able to squeeze into tiny places (unlike my father, I don’t have a son to task with those jobs).  I had wanted to run the cable to the attic and down the eaves and into the middle of the deck, but as I attempted to do so it became very clear that if I actually managed to drop down through the attic and into the eave space, Liz would have had to call the fire department to chop me out.

So I would have to drill through the outer wall–which was brick, so no easy feat.  But there is a pointlessly-placed back window into the garage, with a wooden frame.

The wood posed little challenge, and in short order I had a 3/8 in hole from the garage to the back yard.

From there, I ran a patch cable connecting the camera to an electrical box I installed on the garage ceiling, which housed the cable termination and ethernet jack.

From there, the cable ran into the attic and followed the path of a prior cable install for the garage hotspot, ultimately terminating in the patch panel.  Then it was through the aforementioned PoE injector, then to the switch.

Voila: my longest cable run yet.

Now for some thoughts on PoE:

I noted that after all was up and running, the switch indicated that the connection was not gigabit.  All the equipment was rated for it, including the injector, but the amber light stubbornly refused to turn green.  Concerned that one of my punchdowns was bad (as was the case in a recent project–totally not my fault), I disconnected the injector and tested the line with a laptop.  All connections were confirmed gigabit, so I researched how PoE operates.

Surprisingly, I couldn’t find any bandwidth figures for the various specs, maybe because PoE isn’t in itself a form of data transfer, but rather a means of transmitting power over a data cable.  Still, the lack of discussion on the matter was not encouraging.  I concluded that what was happening is that I had one of the specs that sacrificed two of the 8 CAT6 wires for power, thus dropping the connection speed to Fast ethernet.  Apparently, therein lies the PoE tradeoff.

But the speed seems adequate, and while live view appears somewhat grainy, the recordings are perfectly clear.

I’m still pleased to say it hasn’t recorded any crime either.  And, apart from some rabbit-chasing videos, it’s dutifully served its primary function–notifying me when there’s backyard movement I should know about.