Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Humphrey House Wish List

Everyone keeps asking Jen and I what they should get us for Christmas this year. After another year of work on Humphrey House, and so much of it accomplished with the help of our friends and family, we've been telling people, "Nothing! You've given us your sweat and blood helping on our house at various times throughout the year - that's the best present ever!"

But some people persist and won't be dissuaded. They implore us, "Don't you want something to open up when we get together for Christmas?" Well, if we must create a material list for people, why not make it a list of materials! So, here are our some wish list items for Humphrey House (green-ish things first):

So there it is. A Material List of Materials. Ta-Da!

But we're serious when we say that the best gift we've ever received is all the amazing people in our lives who've been so helpful and supportive (even through all the "I told you so's"). FEEL THE LOVE, FOLKS!

Electrifying our Kitchen

Thanksgiving weekend was so busy at Humphrey House that we're still recovering from the work. It began innocently enough by continuing some framing-related activities, and a touch of demolition as the remaining plaster and lathe in our hallway was removed so we could have a clean surface to frame from and also replace the old wiring. Then we started electrical work.

Our electrician friend Fred came by Saturday morning bright and early at 6 am and we began routing the conduit piping for our kitchen. After living in a kitchen for 2+ years with inferior lighting, I now realize how important this is. We used to have one center-mounted ceiling fan light, and a fluorescent light over our sink. The problem with a center ceiling light is that, while functional, there is no place you can go in the kitchen without having your shadow follow you and get in your work space. It's extremely frustrating!

Our new lighting plan will be much more robust with multiple schemes. We're installing a center fixture again, but this will be supplemented by pendant lights over the sink and the peninsula counter. We'll have four 4" recessed can lights (all that would fit in our 2x6 ceiling) focused on work areas like the stove and counters on either side of the sink. And most helpful, we'll have undercabinet lighting for a bright work area!

In order to avoid watching our electrical usage increase exponentially with the new lights, I'd like to get some LED strips for undercabinet lighting and dimmable compact fluorescent light bulbs, also knowns as cold-cathode bulbs (CCFLs not to be confused with standard CFLs). These now have a good color temperature (2800 Kelvin) so it won't give off a harsh white/blue light normally associated with fluorescents, and can screw into any existing light fixture and last even longer than standard CFLs (which of course have a longer life and lower consumption than standard incandescent bulbs).

Anyway, in the course of working this weekend, we discovered that the original wiring feeding much of the first floor ceiling fixtures was in very bad shape. Not originally a huge concern since we were redoing it all in the kitchen anyway, right?

Well, the problem is the wires in our first floor bathroom ceiling light, which serves as kind of a wiring hub, were overheating a bit and the old cloth insulation was all brittle and decayed at the touch. Ouch! So now we have to pull down part of the bath ceiling and try to find a part of the original BX that is in serviceable condition and try to reestablish the line for now. In the meantime, we've cut power to this dangerous line, which means no light for that bathroom, our temporary kitchen, foyer, or front porch until next weekend.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

We are Thankful

This comes a bit late for Thanksgiving but, there is a short list I'd like to make...

We are thankful for:

  • sunlight, which now floods our home and even makes the dark brown wood in our kitchen-in-progress look bright. Can't imagine how bright painted walls will make it.

  • original hardwood maple floors in the entire back portion of our house. They can be mended and will make a seamless space after we combine two old rooms (the original kitchen and an old small bedroom).

  • mild weather, which has cooperated and been relatively warm (and snowless!) so far this year.

  • previous owners leaving odd items inside the walls, like shoes, old newspapers, and more. We will be sure to return the favor for future generations.

  • finally finding a home for the "momma" cat we had been fostering for six months.

  • very, very good friends and family who have labored beside us and helped pull our house together. As Jen said on Today, ones that we owe many, many favors to.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

♫ Wide Open Spaces ♪

♪ Room to make our big mistakes ♫

Yes, I'm a Dixie Chicks fan. And we've now got all the wide open space this house can handle. Check it out below!

The plastic sheet is covering the stairwell. I had so much trouble visualizing how this was going to work, so I'm so excited that I can understand the space better! Check out the dual header action!

Also, they removed the arch from the breakfast nook and installed a header so we're gonna give Jenna a call to come back and do some more with the sledgehammer. Just kidding!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Dad was Right

All of our dads were right, actually, as we discovered last weekend.


Kenny had come up with the new kitchen layout right away, even though Jen and I (mostly me) tossed, turned, twisted and tried to come up with a different idea for 2 1/2 years. When we had a professional designer lend his opinion, guess what? It was almost identical to Kenny's plan!

Then last weekend, John came and routed our plumbing for our kitchen sink. When the Today Show filmed us removing cabinets, we learned two interesting things.

  1. The kit sink was originally in the corner of our kitchen (on the bathroom wall, which meant only one plumbing wall).
  2. When some PO last remodeled the kitchen (circa 1952 from newspapers we found in the wall), they moved the sink. And ran the water supply lines on TOP of our floors in that little space under the cabinets.
As John likes to say (with a touch of sarcasm), "They don't make 'em like they used to!"

We ended up gutting out the last of the old galvanized steel pipes in the house so now there is nothing but copper (and water pressure everywhere!) By the the time John left it was very late, but we managed to squeeze in hooking up the gas line for our new dryer in our second floor laundry area as a final project. Which was useful, because the next day, we went to Jay's dad's house for an early Thanksgiving. Not only did we leave with full stomachs, but also a bed full of new laundry appliances.

The new house Bob & Kathee moved into had a nice Fisher & Paykel washer and dryer in it. However, it was all EcoSmart and computerized, made weird noises, blinked a lot and paused in the middle of washing a load. It was too frustrating for them, so they bought new appliances and offered us these temperamental appliances if we wanted them.

Since we both earn a living via a computer, a computer-controlled laundry machine didn't really seem to daunting to either of us. At least, until we hooked them up and washed a load.

Actually the first load went flawlessly. I was busy running up and down the stairs trying to make sure that all the insulation I packed into the floor last year was doing a good job of muffling the sounds of suds from the dining room below. It was amazing! I couldn't hear a thing! Then came the bedroom test (a regular 2x4 wall with insulation is between the laundry and our bedroom). Almost nothing! Fantastic! I was very excited and pleased. And the washer and dryer were Energy Star rated too!

But when Jen did the next load, when the machine gave up halfway through the wash and started a monotonous beeping noise and flashed all kinds of lights. "Aha," I thought. "This is what Dad was talking about. I'm sure it's something simple. Let's consult the manual" (which I had printed earlier).

Things quickly devolved. Hot and cold supply lines not supplying water? clearly not the case as one wash went through without any problems. Could the angle of the drain hose really prevent the machine from properly executing a rinse cycle? Seems outlandish, but who knows.

At this point, we have done approximately 7 loads of laundry, and sadly, I think we have only had just the first instance that went off without any interruptions. So it seems like it's time to consult the Search Engines to see who else is running into these problems.

Nevertheless, I think it's definitely safe to say our Dads were all right. It's been a humbling month so far.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

GreenBuild Update

For anyone interested in Green Building, the GreenBuild Conference and Expo is a fantastic experience... And I'm only in the expo part of it! There are probably 12,000 people at this expo, from all sorts of backgrounds - architects, interior designers, builders, contractors, developers, brokers, appraisers, students, and even a few homeowners too!
Heads up Bostonians - GreenBuild is coming to Boston in 2008.

The exhibitors reflect this dizzying array, and if it wasn't for the common thread of sustainability, it would be hard to see why so many disparate organizations are under one roof. However, the combined effect is impressive and a great source of information. So far, I've only explored a portion of the expo booth, but was able to visit manufacturers of home products such as Velux, Andersen, Pella, IceStone, Takagi, and others. Some other products were neat too - Uni-solar is giving away free samples of thin-film product used in their solar panels - no silicon though - just the encasing. Anyway, the amount of information at the expo is overwhelming right now, and I don't know if I'll be sure to sort through it all.

As for the conference educational sessions, the USGBC is doing a great thing this year and making all of the presentations available via webcasting live, as well as posting the archives of it. It's like a $700 Conference Pass for free! You can check out more at the "Live" web site they've setup:


I didn't get home from work last night till nearly 2:30am, which was a blessing in disguise, as I got me some quality time alone with the boob tube as I laid in bed coming down from my eight cups of coffee. Flipping through channels, I landed on "Robot Chicken." I've always been meaning to check it out, especially since it's Seth Green - and this ep featured Sarah Michelle Gellar somewhere - sadly I missed that part. But I did get to see their take on CAPTAIN PLANET - Ted Turner's pet cartoon from the 90's that featured a scantily clad blue-green hero with powers from Earth/Wind/Water/Fire, saving the world from eco-terrorists (read: corporate america and beyond). In the Robot Chicken take, CAPTAIN PLANET was really Mr. Turner, running around screaming CAPTAIN PLANET and dangling evil sludge-dumpers from rooftops (and then dropping them). I haven't laughed that hard in weeks. Or minutes. Or whatever. I dug it.


Monday, November 05, 2007

GreenBuild Anticipation

This week, Chicago is treated with the largest conference on green building in the US, if not internationally. The USGBC's international expo, GreenBuild, comes to McCormick Place in Chicago for most of the week. The official dates are Wednesday 11/7 - Friday 11/9, but as with any large conference there are pre- and post-conference workshops and other events that extend the experience to basically all week.

The event has many educational sessions as well as several keynote speakers including former president Bill Clinton. It also has what looks to be an impressively large expo hall which is one of the things I'm personally excited to see. There are going to be all kinds of neat building technologies on display. And although the mass focus for the audience is commercial construction, I'm sure that with the growth of LEED for Homes rating system, there will be some neat residential exhibitors as well.

I'll be helping one of the exhibitors at the expo, and looking forward to posting my reactions to the event. And although it's kind of last minute, I may be able to get some free expo passes. So if anyone in the Chicago area is interested in a free Expo pass for Wednesday or Thursday (9am - 6 pm), leave a comment and I'll see if I can help you out.

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Wrecking Crew's 15 Minutes Are HERE!

Yup, this is it. Our fifteen minutes have come. And we're pretty damn happy about how it all worked out. This morning a segment aired on NBC's TODAY Show that featured Humphrey House and the regulars of the Wrecking Crew doing what we do best: some serious demolition.

A few weeks ago (just after part one of the kitchen demo) we were contacted by producers at NBC's TODAY show, who were looking to film a segment on renovation parties. We were wary after the 'Three Martini Renovation" article, but several emails and phone conversations later, we started to get excited.

The day the crew arrived to shoot we had planned for about 10 people to come over. Sara got the flu, Brian got a job, and so it ended up being Jason and I, plus Kenny (daddoo), Scott, Julie, Mark and Amy. We ended up doing about 90% of the demo work for the kitchen, including removing the cabinets, the wall, the appliances and most of the interior walls. Jenna Wolfe, the correspondent for the piece, was lethal with the sledgehammer - she had some serious power going on. [I have to wonder, Jenna, could you lift your arms the next day?] I worried a bit about the two-person video crew as we were taking out the wall with them on the other side, but they never complained. And then once it was dinner time - we really did work all day - we used the last remaining light to chill in the back with Jay and Scott on guitar (sara, we missed you!) and Mark on the grill. All in all, a pretty good demo day.

Both Jenna and her producer Meredith were very cool to work with for the day, and we couldn't be more pleased with the piece that they put together. They kept the focus where it really belongs: on the fact we couldn't do this without the support and hard work from our friends and family.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Humphrey House on the TODAY Show - 11/2

Our inadvertent media blitz regarding our home remodel continues this Friday, Nov. 2 when NBC's TODAY Show will be airing a segment they filmed a few weeks ago at our house as we demo'd the kitchen with the help of family and friends (and correspondent Jenna Wolfe).

There's some confusion as to the timeframe, but it looks like we will air during the "third hour of TODAY," which is the 9:00 hour all around, not the 8:00 hour as previously reported (did you know the TODAY show isn't live in any time zone but Eastern? I've been living a lie)

So check it out. If it's great, yeah, we rock. And if we look like amateurs - it's just the editing. :)