Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Now back to our Regularly Scheduled Programming

Where were we? Oh yes, the Basement Design. Plumbing now.

After some quality time with the plumber, he determined that yes, I could Just Barely relocate the washer to the North side of the basement, but it would have to be up against the stairs, not the north exterior wall. He also determined that if I ever want a bathroom in the basement, the toilet must be within 5' of the existing plumbing stack, which means the bathroom must be essentially right in the middle of this space. It appears I have two choices - either two rooms and a bathroom in the middle:

OR one room plus a very large bathroom in the southwest corner of the house:

The 2 windows in the bathroom seems a bit of a waste of the basement lighting, and would leave me feeling a bit Exposed.
If I go with the two rooms/bathroom in the middle concept, it appears I can squeeze in an office in the SW corner with the two windows, a media room in the SE corner, and a rather small bathroom. I'm liking that option.
I suppose I could put a small kitchen in the SW corner, and have a MIL, but that seems like a HUGE project.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Does a Garage need to fit an Actual Car?

At some point, the wall separating the Ballardia garage from the rest of the basement was removed, probably around the time the previous owner wrestled the enormous 1950’s freezer into the basement.

Instead of a wall and a door to the garage, a nailed-up piece of canvas could separate the basement from the garage (you can see the string hanging down in the picture).

Planning to put the wall back leaves us with a small dilemma. The stairway curves two directions at the bottom, one into the garage area, the other into the area we plan to finish. There is really no other path for the stairway to take.

On the garage side, we could either put a wall on the garage side of the stairs, or the utility room side of the stairs. If we put the wall on the utility room side of the stairs, then we’d have to go through the garage to get to the area I'm considering for utilites (laundry, furnace, etc), which seems wrong. If we put the wall on the garage side, the garage would not be large enough to accommodate anything other than perhaps a Smart.

After careful consideration and quality time with a tape measure, we will probably sacrifice the garage for the simple reason that the garage and driveway width is so narrow that any modern car, even my smallish Volvo, could only open the driver’s side door and would probably scrape the paint at that.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

But What About the Bathroom?

If you read the Fixture Shopping post, you would have realized that along with the kitchen upgrade, we also upgraded the sink & toilet in the one and only Ballardia Bathroom. "But where are the pictures?" I hear you ask.

I've held back posting them because, well, it's still pretty dismal.

Not really worth getting up in the morning to face this, is it?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Basement Design....

Visio is a beautiful thing.

Quick recap of existing space:
Removing the pesky items that get in the way of visualizing the future space, and penciling in my proposed ducting location, it becomes obvious that there is a lot of room to regain by moving the furnace, washer, dryer, freezer over to the north side of the basement near the workbench area. Once the furnace is removed, the ginormous freezer can be squeezed past the chimney, although it appears improbable in my drawing.

However, the plumbing stack is over on the south side of the house, so I'll need to consult a plumber about whether moving the washer is feasible. Not sure yet what to do about the water heater, but it will have to be on an exterior wall to direct vent.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Gas Project Plan

Basic decision made, it's time to put together the project plan, which looks something like this:

Project Plan:
1) Design
2) Demo
3) Gas meter/ line installation
4) Ducting removal
5) Structural repairs
6) Furnace replacement
7) Decommission the oil tank.

Because I have the Opportunity to reclaim space in my basement, I really need a solid idea of how I want the space to eventually look so that I can decide on an appropriate location for the new furnace, hot water tank, and gas meter.
Here's what the space essentially looks like now:

I suppose I could use a design program of some sort to help, but I’m rather a fan of basic graph paper.

What do I want out of this space? Well, ideally a MIL unit would be nice, but I don’t think the space is quite suitable. The only decent spot for a kitchen is where the workbench is currently, and I'm seriously considering sacrificing that area to the gods of ducting.
The south side of the house (where the ducting is currently) really has a good sized, comfortable living space if the furnace and ducting are removed. The ducting has to run SOMEWHERE though, so I'm thinking the north side of the house, right above the workbench and through the garage, would leave me with the most possible living space. As long as I'm sacrificing that area, it makes sense to put the furnace over there, too.

A media room would be nice, as would a bathroom. Maybe an office.

I’d like the laundry area to be convenient, rather than shoved in the back corner.
I'd also like to keep the enormous 1958 freezer.
Thinking ahead a few years, getting rid of the chimney would be a good idea; there’s no actual fireplace, and it runs through the middle of the 2nd story stair landing, which is pretty dicey. The picture below is the top of the stairs in our Scary Summer Camp upstairs; there's about 18" between The Edge and that wood in back, which encases the chimney.

Friday, January 12, 2007

More Gassy Decisions

Purely on a cost basis, it's clearly not possible to justify the furnace replacement unless the furnace itself is ready to go. And it's possible that after 44 years of continuous service, it might be ready to Go Where all the Good Furnances Go (and I'm not sure where that is, as there's a sign explicitly forbidding their presence at the Dump).

But there may be some other, non-financial considerations.

If I replace the gas tank & hot water heater, we’d also have the opportunity to fix a couple of challenges with the house (what? Challenges with 76 year old construction?? Who knew?).

We could start with fixing the house’s stability issues. There are a couple of places in the hallway where the floor sags alarmingly, and we can’t really see what’s wrong with it as the sagging spots are buried behind the existing ductwork and the existing tongue-in-groove ceiling.

We would have the opportunity to also reroute ducting which currently runs right through the middle of the basement. The ducting currently runs just to the right of the stairs in exactly the right place to bash my head on the way to the laundry area. Were it not for this poorly located ducting, the basement has decent ceiling height and could reasonably be additional living space – at least 500 sq ft of it.

We could also have a gas stove and maybe even a fireplace. I REALLY want both.....

But the really compelling reason to go for the furnace upgrade – the Impending Move. We're leaning toward renting out the house, so a new furnace will help in at least two ways –

1) a 44 year old furnace is likely to be more troublesome to maintain than a brand new one. If it needs to be replaced in the next 5 yrs, I’d rather do it now while we live there so I can have it moved to a better location.

2) I’m worried that if a tenant sees an $800+ oil bill, that they will default on it, start building bonfires in the living room for heat and burn the place down (or perhaps just decide that they need to move because the utilities are too pricey).

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Gas Math

The question of the month is whether or not to upgrade to Natural Gas. To help with the calculation, I've discovered that Dorothy's Folder of Receipts contains receipts for filling the gas tank as well. It seems that during the winter months, Dorothy used an average of 2.6 gallons/day of heating oil, at an average cost of $2.89 per gallon.

A simple Google search gives me some handy information:
1 gallon fuel oil = 138,000 BTUs
1 Therm = 100,000 BTUs

Converted to Therms, Dorothy would have used an average of
[ (2.6 gallons/day) * (138,000 BTUs/gallon) * (1 Therm/100,000 BTUs) ]
= 3.59 Therms/Day

Now, I have my Puget Sound Energy gas bills from Ballardia Classic, and I can see that during the winter, we averaged 4.1 Therms/day, at a cost of $1.25/Therm. While Ballardia Classic is not Ballardia II, and has obvious differences such as size, insulation, and furnace efficiency, it does have one thing in common: its residents. I think we can safely conclude that as a fixed income retiree, Dorothy probably Conserved Energy. She probably closed doors and heated minimal areas of the house. She probably used the Trusty Wood Stove to supplement her fuel oil.

We would like to be as Energy Conscious as Dorothy, but well, we're not. So failing any other useful data, probably the bigger Therm number (ours) is more relevant.

Conveniently, PSE bills also break out consumption by month, and I can actually find all of the bills from last year in Ballardia Classic. At a glance, it looks like we have 6 months averaging 1 Therm/day, 4 months of 3.5 Therms/day, and 2 months of 4.5 Therms/day. So that all adds up to around
[(6*30*1+ 3*1)+ 4*30*3.5+2*31*4.5] fudging a bit on the # days per month =
882 Therms/year

To get the cost of Therms for oil, I get to do more math:
$2.89/gallon * 1 gallon/138,000 BTUs * 100,000 BTUS/Therm = $2.09/Therm.

Which, assuming equivalent efficiency, would be $1102 for natural gas, and $2090 for oil. Of course, I know that a new furnace would be 93% efficient, vs. my current relic which, the oil company has told me, is 83%efficient, so I really pay more like $2.30/Therm, or $2300 for oil

The cost of the Gas Project appears to be around $7000-8000; at this rate, it'll take almost 7 years for the project to pay for itself in fuel savings.
Makes me want to just get out the level and a couple of screws and just fix the Original Charming Mercury Thermostat.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Snow Day

So that was why we bought the house!

Friday, January 5, 2007

Gas and Commitment

With the arrival of the first heating bill, it seems something must be done about the Original Charming Thermostat and Furnace duo. $828 to fill the tank. We’ve had months without the iterative training cycle of positive and negative reinforcement made possible by regular heating bills – or that should be possible if we could only set the temperature. We clearly need a thermostat solution, and for that matter, perhaps a better furnace than our current 83% efficiency antique.

I placed a call to our local natural gas provider, Puget Sound Energy, and they were most helpful in running down what it would take, and what it would cost, to run a gas line to the house. Since our house is Just Large Enough, and there are no extra complications such as breaking up concrete or access fees to hook up to a newer gas line, PSE will run a gas line to the house for free (well, One Easy Payment of $14.95 really) provided I commit to installing both a natural gas furnace and hot water heater within one year.

Hmmm……can we commit to this? After all, we haven’t even managed to commit to getting married, even though Martin & I have lived together for 8 years now. And we could be moving to California any day now.
This will require some serious contemplation, a couple of bids, and perhaps a short midlife crisis. Fortunately, PSE even has a referral service for reputable contractors in my area. For the furnace and hot water heater that is, not the crisis.