Random notes

The pictures for today’s post aren’t quite ready because we got our wires a little crossed. I asked Aaron to edit the “dresser pictures” and he edited the ones for the master bedroom, not the captain’s bedroom. #toomanydressers I blame South Jefferson Mid Century Modern for making us want to replace/add so much furniture.

So instead, you get some random thoughts from me… and some random iPhone pics, starting with a few of Hank!





Seriously, how is he growing up so fast? The last check at the vet’s (because we don’t have a monster scale to weigh him) had him at 64 lbs, but I think he’s put on a few more since then.

The captain’s suite redo and the South Jefferson MCM buy (which included two dressers) has left us with so much furniture that we need to purge: two dressers, a desk, a beverage center fridge thing, a ghost chair, a pull down map that was destined for the captain’s room but was usurped by the $10 green and black map from the River Market Antique Mall, possibly an arc lamp, and our beloved record cabinet turned entertainment center/bar.


As much as we still love this piece, we just don’t have a spot for it here. So we’re hoping to post everything to Craigslist this weekend. I can come back and share the links if anyone is interested.

I dug up this old (2 years!!) “video tour” of the firehouse. I totally forgot that we did this, but I’m glad we did because it’s mind blowing to see all the changes this way (rather than in static pictures.) Also it is CRACKING ME UP. Oh Past Heather, you’re so naïve with your ‘well have the workshop done soon’ statements.

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A few notes:

  • It’s CRAZY to see the studio so open.
  • 1:58 – I think it’s funny that I reference having the workshop done “soon” because we all know it’s decidedly NOT done yet.
  • 3:52 – When we pop into the bathroom, you can see out the window. That view is SO different thanks to the ipe garage.
  • 4:50 – Working upstairs SUCKED. Man that space was just wholly depressing I’m so glad that’s a distant memory.
  • 5:16 – The living room wasn’t high on the list, but Aaron surprised me (or at least tried to surprise me) with a living room makeover. I’m so glad we tackled this space. See aforementioned wholly depressing atmosphere.

I’m thinking about doing a new walkthrough after the furniture purge… even if I’m the only one who wants this kind of record of our place. Maybe we’ll peek at the basement and outside too!


Garden: 2015

Aaron finished the planter between the firehouse and the garage last year in time to film our episode of House Hunters: Where Are They Now? But we didn’t have enough time left in the year to fill it up.


This spring we changed that with several bags of dirt and a bunch of starter plants. The steel fence gets pretty hot during the summer. We weren’t sure what would grow here so we opted to plant a variety and see what stuck. The short answer: everything!


The left side has a Roma tomato and three pepper plants (I can’t remember what is what, but I think the small one is a jalapeno plant and the others are red or green bell peppers.) There’s a beefsteak tomato plant in the middle, another pepper plant, basil, parsley, thyme and oregano.


Everything is growing well, except the beefsteak which looks like it may have caught something.

Also, I don’t have much produce yet thanks to the supremely wet and overcast summer we had up until last week. My tomatoes are finally starting to get some color… but Hank has decided that not quite ripe tomatoes are delicious or at least fun toys. Jerk.


I also filled the pots with a few more plants: (left to right) rosemary, cherry tomato, chives, two kinds of mint, basil and lavender. That basil was a backup in case the other one didn’t do well. My favorite summer cocktail is a basil lemon martini, but I’m beginning to think I need to find a good pesto recipe to use up some of that basil! The cherry tomato is only doing so so. I assume the pot isn’t big enough for him.


So that’s what we have growing this year. Seriously, who has a pesto recipe that is awesome? Bonus points if it doesn’t have pine nuts. Those things are so expensive.

Replacing the broken AC… and going all in on three new HVAC systems

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that one of our air conditioners bit the dust.


Of the four units on our roof, three of them are past their prime. (Hint: The three on the right.) The unit cooling the kitchen and future downstairs living/dining rooms wins the prize for going out first. Initially, we turned to the company that (used to) service our HVAC to get a new quote, but were frustrated by the salesman’s lack of interest. So Aaron decided to cast a wider net. He contacted several HVAC companies and decided to get quotes that would not only cover our one dead AC unit, but would give us options for replacing the whole system (AC and furnace) as well as replacing the two other older systems.

We reasoned that this would give us some leverage in the price. Also because the units are located on the roof, we would only need to pay to bring a crane out once (rather than each time a unit kicks the bucket.) A large scale replacement would also offer the biggest impact to our monthly heating/cooling bills.

Anton’s Air Conditioning & Heating made the list thanks to great reviews on Angie’s List. They were great to work with from the start. They did a thorough walk through and asked for measurements of the rooms to ensure they quoted the right systems for the space.

Their quote wasn’t the lowest that we received, but it was on the lower end of the scale. We also felt like the owner went above and beyond to give us the best price he could.

Ultimately, we purchased three Carrier Infinity 19VS central air conditioning units paired with Carrier Infinity 96 gas furnaces. That allowed us to replace the two furnaces in the studio:


And one of the upstairs units:


Anton’s scheduled our work quickly and sent extra installers to make the install as fast as possible. All of the material was delivered and then they got to work!


Paying for this once, instead of three times = winning.


The new furnaces are much smaller and SO much more efficient. The studio unit (pictured here) is 100,000 btu and is 96% efficient.


The other furnaces are 80,000 btu and also 96% efficient. The older models were only 90% efficient.


The AC’s (not pictured because we forgot to ask them to take one) were huge upgrades as well. The studio AC is 4 ton and the ones for the living spaces are 3 1/2 ton. Most impressively (per Aaron who, per usual, became an expert in the lingo) the AC units are 19 SEER (the measurement for efficiency… don’t worry I didn’t know that either) far surpassing the former units’ paltry 8 SEER.

We also added humidifiers, which should make a world of difference in the winter. (Three cheers for less static electricity!)


The high-efficiency units came with fancy thermostats. Besides being programmable, they control the humidity and connect to our wifi to tell us the outside temperature and weather.


So here’s my love letter to Anton’s. We’re avid DIYers, but ones that recognize that we need to outsource large or labor intensive projects. Because of that we’ve dealt with a number of contractors over the last 2 ½ years and have had mixed experiences across the board. We’ve had issues from communication to cleanliness and quality of work to can I say communication again, because OMG most contractors are SO bad at this. All of this is to say that we know what it’s like to work with bad and mediocre companies. That’s why our experience with Anton’s Air Conditioning & Heating stands out far above the rest and was hands down the best service we’ve received to date.

The team at Anton’s made every part of the buying process easy… neigh enjoyable. And if you’re going to give that much money to someone, you want to feel good about it. They helped arrange a fantastic financing plan and even completed much of the rebate paperwork for our local utilities.

The extra installers cut the install from around 3 days to 2. Ultimately they finished in just a day and a half despite the intermittent thunderstorms. If that was the sum of the story, we would be happy. What ticked us over into the love zone was the extra effort. On the first day of the install, the team stayed late to make sure our upstairs back quadrant (this covers our upstairs living room, where we spend most of our evening) was functional. They also added an overflow pan and water sensor to our upstairs furnace to guard against damage should the humidifier fail. And they cleaned up after themselves! When I asked Aaron if he had vacuumed the (slightly embarrassing) amount of dog hair in the living room he told me that the Anton’s crew cleaned a bunch before departing, including wet mopping most of the studio. Be still my heart.

So, Anton’s Air Conditioning & Heating – THANK YOU! Thanks for being great people and being  great at what you do.

Once Anton’s was done, there was still a little work left. The upstairs furnace and furnace closet lacked any kind of insulation or seal between that space and the attic space.


That jagged hole allowed attic air (not temperature regulated and definitely not clean) to flow into the living room.

Here’s a view from the neighboring closet. Aaron pulled down the drywall (it was just screwed in) to access the attic space.


We’re so glad he did because he also found a significant break in the HVAC line. That meant some of the air we were paying to cool/heat was leaking into the attic and some of the attic air was getting pumped throughout our second floor. No bueno.  He sealed the junction and every gap around the furnace room and attic before adding lots of insulation.

The new systems have been running  for a few weeks, and we are thrilled with change. Aaron has the thermostats programmed to spool up or down based on our routine and the house just feels more comfortable (cooler in this instance) throughout. I seriously had to grab a light blanket last night when we were on the couch. Plus (and this may be the absolute best thing to come out of all of this) the upstairs back quadrant furnace, which is in a closet RIGHT next to our couch, is SOOO much quieter. We’ve spent the last few years adjusting the volume of the TV up (WAY up) whenever the furnace kicked on. Now it’s so blissfully quiet and so peaceful.

Wow windows!

Let’s talk about windows. If you’re new here you need to know that we love natural light (and white paint.) Ever since our plans for our yard flipped to the west side of the building, we’ve been desperate to add some windows to that side. Tackling the first floor living room is our first chance to let in some light from that side.


Here’s a view of the inside – this is our future downstairs living room.


For this space, we’ve long been enamored with really tall, relatively thin windows that would emphasize the height of the space. Keeping the existing soffit (to the right in the picture) and the fireplace we plan to add in mind, we settled on two windows that would flank the fireplace, kind of like this:


We had a rough idea of the size we wanted, but knew that it would be dictated in part by what a manufacturer could make for us. The only thing we knew for sure is that we wanted a single pane of glass to keep the view uninterrupted. We hoped we could find windows that would open, but because of the overall size, that wasn’t in the cards. We eventually landed on 9’ x 20″ fixed pane windows from Lincoln Windows, which we ordered through Webster Window and Door.

Once the windows were ordered, we hired a mason to carve out space for these beauties. It was no small task to make it all the way through our walls. This building was built to last! On the first floor, the ceramic brick is backed by two layers of (according to our mason) very hard brick. All of this was carefully cut away to create the window openings.

The photo above and the one below give you the best idea of how much light spilled in from the just one of the new openings.

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Then he added new brick on the exterior to make the opening look seamless. We’ll box in the windows on the interior before we paint the rooms.

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This project is what generated the Great Dust Storm of 2015 (and tears… many tears.) But now that it’s done, we couldn’t be happier with the end product. The masonry work is impeccable. It really looks like these windows were always meant to be.

Obligatory resting dog framed perfectly through new window hole shot…


Once the openings were made, Aaron added framing for the windows and (sadly) covered them in plywood while we waited for the windows to arrive.


Once they arrived, we blocked out an entire Saturday to install the living room windows, but we didn’t need it. They slid into place on the first try. If you’re a DIY-er you can appreciate how rare it is for a project to be easier or faster than you anticipated. Usually it’s the opposite. But it’s like these windows were made for this opening (see what I did there.) Which is great, because it’s a little nerve wracking to maneuver really, really tall windows.



After a round of screws, we encountered a small problem. The flashing that we ordered for the exterior didn’t work. The windows are recessed too far into the wall. We quickly decided that we needed to find a company to make custom flashing rather than try to McGyver what we had into place. It would give us more peace of mind knowing water wouldn’t creep in.

Here’s an after shot from inside:


It was crazy to see them in place for the first time. There’s no screen and the glass is perfectly clean so it really looked like they weren’t there… like there are just two huge holes on the side of the building. It took about a week for us to stop yelling to one another, “HEY! Did you know there are windows down here!!!” whenever we passed through the space, because we’re hug nerds. (But also because OMG THOSE WINDOWS!)

I don’t think the pictures really do it justice. The space went from feeling like a basement to feeling like the bones of a real room. It still makes me supremely happy to walk through this space, especially in the evening when the shadow from the tree sprinkles across the floor.

The windows have been in place since the end of May, but finding and scheduling the flashing took longer than we wanted, due in part to the constantly rainy weather. At the beginning of last week the windows were wrapped and I could finally take some after pictures from the outside (and share my window joy with you.)


Here are a few before and after shots for comparison.



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The middle window will be part of the opening for the fireplace flue. Eventually part of that will be bricked in to surround it.

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On the other side of the bottom floor space is the (future) dining room. Here’s the layout for reference.


And you may have noticed that if you look through the left window in the shot below you can see all the way through our building. That’s a new view because we also added a window to the dining room!


The east wall included this unsightly steel box that was poorly bricked in by some previous owner. Rather than trying to cover it up, we decided to cut it out and add another window to that side of the building, adding even more light to this space. 4 windows > 1 window.


This process was the same – cut the hole, frame it, install the window.

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The dining room window install was almost as smooth as the living room side. Aaron had to chip out one extra piece of glazed brick, which gave way with a few taps of the hammer. We hoisted it into place (it’s several feet off the ground) and I held it (… pressed my body against it and prayed it didn’t fall. Working with glass is stressful!) while Aaron moved his ladder inside to secure it in place. We had the same issue with the flashing, which we expected.

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A few before and after shots from outside:


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It blends in really well with the rest of the windows.


Add windows” may have been only one line item on the dining room/living room makeover, but it was a huge one! It’s awesome to see something we’ve been picturing for so long become a reality.

Let’s get real

It’s been a little quiet around here because real life has taken over. Lately that means we’re funding repairs and replacements. Welcome to the un-glamorous part of home ownership.


First up: The basement is leaking AGAIN? Le sigh. Apparently the repair near the stairs didn’t do the job. In the midst of ALL the rain (seriously, can we share some of this with California?) we were left with a veritable waterfall.

The original repair came with a warranty. A few phone calls and the crew was back out for a one-day repair. So far, so good.


About the same time, we also noticed some water on the floor of the awesome bathroom. The very first thing we addressed when we bought the building was patching a seam in the roof. We thought that fix would last for a few more years, but our patch needed a patch.

Thankfully this was a relatively inexpensive and quick fix. But we’ve moved “replace the roof” up the list of renovations. Let the saving commence.


And because bad things come in threes, one of our air conditioners bit the dust. In case you’re not creepily tracking our HVAC situation, the firehouse is zoned in quadrants. That means 4 air conditioners and 4 furnaces. It’s a great set up because we can cool or heat the area we are using and dial back the other sections. It also helps keep our utilities in check. The downside is that we have FOUR systems to maintain and ultimately replace. A large chunk of Aaron’s time over the last week has been shuttling HVAC companies through the firehouse to get quotes. We have a solution that we are happy with and a company we’re excited to be working with… well, as excited as we can be considering what this costs. If all goes smoothly, we’ll have cool air pumping through our kitchen next week! I’ll share all of the details once the job is done.

In in the meantime, we’ll be hanging out in the cooler areas of the firehouse and celebrating America’s birthday. I hope you have a cool and safe holiday that is free of major home repairs!