Sunday, December 6, 2009

Decisions, Ducts, and Drywall

It's really been a rollercoaster of a week. We started out the week looking at estimates for PEX to replum the entire house so that we could install a tankless gas hot water heater. We thought that TESS was going to come out and mark all our gas, water, and sewer lines for us. We planned to call the roofer to come out and fix the furnace vent, so that it would no longer vent into the attic. And we'd planned to have an electrician out to get an estimate on replacing to four panel boxes we have.

Well... where to start. I guess we'll go from easiest to hardest, and I apologize in advance for the long post.

First, TESS looked at the property and determined that since the City of Sunset Valley runs our water, wastewater, and gas, it was't TESS' responsibility to come out and mark our lines. So I called Sunset Valley, who informed us that once the lines got onto private property, they had no idea where they went from there, so they couldn't help us.

In other words, we still have no idea where the water and gas lines are. We can make guesses based on where the meters on the street are and where the pipes enter the house, but we don't know exactly. So any time we dig a hole it's going to be fun, unless we can get someone out who can some how do a survey of the property and locate the lines.

Next item on the list, a tankless hot water heater. Wednesday I read some reviews of the tankless system our plumber was recommended, and they were abysmal. Out of 241 reviews, not many had good things to say, and even those that did said they had had challenges with installation, including running new gas lines to accomodate increased capacity (which we would have to do), running special venting systems, and more. Then, once the systems were in place, owners complained about the noise, the time it took to get hot water to the tap, "cold sandwiches," where the water runs hot and cold intermittently, and not getting any hot water at all if you're not at the minimum flow rate (tankless heaters only start heating water once the minimum flow rate has been exceeded). And that doesn't even begin to touch on complaints about customer service... in fact, the manufacturer or the systems we were looking at have had their Better Business Bureau status revoked due to customer complaints! So we started to seriously reconsider using a tankless system. I briefly looked into point-of-use tankless systems, but none of them produce enough hot water for a shower, so we quickly ruled those out.

One of the reasons we'd been interested in tankless was because of the fairly big rebates and tax credits that are currently available for these systems, but solar water heaters have even more incentives. Solar heaters are a big thing here in Texas, since we get 360 days of sun per year. We did the math on the solar heater and the rebates, and it ends up being between $40 and $500 out-of-pocket to install a solar system. Yeah, $40. Plus, since the storage tank for these systems is an 80 gallon tank that must be electric, we wouldn't have to re-run the gas line. Bonus!

So, we got two comparable estimates on the solar option. One would even include running the house with PEX for an extremely reasonable price. We checked with some other folks with solar heaters and they LOVE them, so that's good. But... and you knew there had to be a catch... we need a new roof to install a solar heater. A new roof... which we hadn't planned on till after we do the addition... sometime... later.

But then we realized that we could put a new roof on the half of the house that will have the solar panels on them, NOT the half of the house that will have the addition. Ok, so that could work. Now, we're shopping for metal roofs (which also come with a nice rebate). Fortunately there is a manufacturer in Seguin, less than 45 minutes south of Austin, and we have a friend who can help put it on. But, we have to measure our roof nine ways to Sunday, since the entire roof come pre-fabricated custom for our house, with numbered assembly instructions. Sort of like a giant jig-saw puzzle.

So, now we have the epic "where do we start" problem. We need a new roof for the solar heater. (BTW, we won't be fixing the furnace venting issue until after we put the new roof on - or rather it will be a part of that project.) Plus, we need to run new PEX plumbing for the new water heater. To run the PEX, we need to demo the yellow bathroom so that there's access to all the pipes within the walls - and currently, there's no wall access for that bathroom at all. We also need to get the tile put in the utility room under where the water tank will go... but to do that we pretty much have to finish reconstructing the pink tile bathroom (which I need a new name for since there's no more pink tile in there) since the tile is connected via the hallway for the bathroom and the utility room. We also need to get the electric done before the water heater goes in, because we need to run a 220 volt outlet inside the wall to where the water heater will go (the current 220 outlet is run through conduit around the window outside the wall. Very attractive... not.)

So then, enter the electrical. We need to get a new 200 amp meter installed from Austin Energy, put in a new 200 amp panel box, then rip off the wallboard where the 4 panel boxes are, makes sense of the spaghetti, and reattach it all. I make it sound easy but you would not believe the mess that is the electrical. We've got wires with no conduit on them on the outside of the house, wires running haphazardly through the brick in random spots... when we finished tearing out the tile in the shower yesterday, we found what looked like 100 amp cable that looked like it was going through to one of the panels, but it was attached to... nothing. We think it might have been the original power feed for the house, but who knows?

So, we got out two electricians to give estimates. We have one informal estimate, and while I won't give numbers, let's just say it's enough money to fly me and the husband to Europe for a week or two. No, I am not kidding. Ye gods.

We're considering the options at this point. Supposedly the power company should come out and install a new meter for free, I will check on this tomorrow. A 200 amp panel box isn't all that expensive, and we can mount that ourselves on the outside of the house. Assuming the new meter goes on the house as well near where the old one is, the distance between the panel box and the meter won't be more than a foot or two, and we can do the conduit and wire for that, even if we don't actually connect it up. Once the power to the house is off, we should be able to tear out the wall where the panels are, label and disconnect each and every wire, and then add a junction box to extend the wires (if necessary) to get to the new panel box. Apparently there is already a junction box in the attic, so we may be able to re-use that if we just need to extend a few wires. Once all that is done, perhaps then we can get a master electrician out to finish up all the connections to various breakers, hopefully for a lot less money. Because while I know we need a new panel box, I'd really rather go to Europe for a week with the husband.

You know, writing this all out it doesn't seem like these decisions were that hard, or that figuring all this stuff out was that time consuming. But we have spent hours on the phone, researching on the Internet about this stuff, and going round and round on each decision. It's tough, and not a little stressful, especially when we really want to get some PROGRESS made. There's no way we'll make a January move-in date with everything that has to be done, but we probably will move the horses out in January and find some responsible neighborhood high-school kids to feed them twice a day. We'll see.

And now, on to pictures of the progress we did make this weekend.

We pretty much finished ripping out the pink tile bathroom. We're down to studs everywhere now. At this point, we need to cap off the existing water supply lines in this bathroom, have the PEX run, and we can start rebuilding.

The source of the water damage we've been noticing was definitely the shower.

Right side of the shower frame. What's left of the stud is black with rot from water damage.

Left side of the shower wall frame. You can see where the stud has rotted away at the base.

This is what is left of the 2x4 that formed the curb on the shower. It practically fell apart in my hands.

The husband with a trophy of destruction. :)

We were relieved to find that, although the studs that formed the shower surround were completely rotted, none of the load-bearing studs on the house have been damaged too badly. We may stub some extra supports in just in case, but the damage seems to be minimal on the important parts.

I finished tearing out the baseboards in the hallway, in preparation for the eventual tile that will go in there. An enormous pink flake of paint came off with one baseboard... dare I think that at one time, the entire room was pink to match the bathroom? That's almost too hideous to contemplate!

I should also mention that I met the neighbor across the street, and quite a lovely lady she is. When I met her, she immediately asked me what construction work we were doing, since currently there's a huge pile of tile under the carport that we need to haul off to the dump. I said we were working on the bathroom, and she immediately said, "Oh, you mean the pink one?" Apparently this bathroom is famous (infamous?) far and wide!

My only fear is that it will continue to be called The Pink Bathroom long after any hint of pink tile is removed. A friend suggested that we keep a pink tile and frame it, then hang it in the new bathroom. Hmmm... :)

The only pink tile left now is on the floor, which we will probably leave in and tile over since it's attached with thickset and is actually level with the concrete floor in the hallway. We'll take an angle grinder and scuff the tiles, then make sure to use a really good adhesive when we retile the floor.

The more-or-less finished product. The pipe for the shower is on the left. The white PVC pipes and white box are the water and sewer lines for the washer and dryer in the utility room right behind that wall.

We ended up taking out the raised portion of the slab that was the shower pan. You can just barely see the cast iron drain pipe in the middle. The green towel on the right is stopping up the sewer line for the toilet (must find a better way to do that).

So the issue we are facing with this bathroom is putting another shower in. We don't have much space (the previous shower was only 33 1/2 wide and 36 deep) and we have this huge cast iron drain in the middle to work around. We don't want to go with the three-side solid wall shower again, because it makes the bathroom feel so small. We've looked at several corner showers, and you can get them in a 34 inch footprint, but the drain hole in the shower pan won't be in the right place for our shower. This is the problem with trying to match something that was custom-built in 1951 to something that's more or less standard today.

Right now the best option seems to be to build another cement shower pan, then order custom-fit glass walls and a door. Not an inexpensive option, and creating a shower pan from scratch isn't exactly easy. A quick Google search and Craigslist review shows that nobody does this professionally any more. We may be on our own for this one... yikes. So, add another stress to the list. I suppose by the time we're done we'll be experts!

And speaking of expertise, I am now a bona-fide drywall taping and floating expert. I hope. I did get a lot of really good advice from Alexis though (thanks!). BTW, if you have any taping to do, use this stuff. It is sooo much better than paper tape!

The hallway, post-mudding. I sure hope that sanding it down will get all the (many, many) imperfections out! I actually didn't quite get finished today... I still have a little bit of work to do around the door into the bedroom. Hopefully I can finish that one night this week, then spray texture (MUAHAHAHAAAA!) next weekend. Oooh... and then I could paint... and put the carpet back... and then... the bedroom would be DONE! WOW!!! Ok, ok, I'm getting ahead of myself, one thing at a time...

I hear that people pay good money for mud treatments at the spa. They should just try taping and floating drywall... you get just as much mud all over you!

Also for the bedroom, the hubby installed a new vent, since the vent that originally served this room is now in the hallway. We still have to move the ceiling fan, since it's now in an odd corner of the new room, but that will happen later.

The new duct (shiny one at the bottom) coming out of the air handler. Fortunately the air handler is right next to the bedroom.

The new duct line, going into the ceiling. The hubby commented that the is the first time EVER than he has used duct tape on an actual duct. LOL!!!

The other thing we got done this weekend was to install the fire rock above the furnace, where it goes into the attic. Not sure how much that will actually help in case of a fire, but it's done!

Hopefully this next week I'll be able to get more done with the walls, and maybe we can see about getting a new meter and getting the roof measured and ordered. I'll also be following up on getting the PEX installed - we may be starting demolition on the yellow bathroom sooner rather than later!

Because every blog should have a cute doggie pic. This is Elias. He assisted with today's drywall endeavors by banging his tail into the (still wet) drywall mud. Um... good dog?

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