Stiffen Your Hat With Wax

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There is nothing worse than a floppy cowboy hat. Steaming a cowboy hat will stiffen it for a short time, but just a short time. What I want is to steam my cowboy hats, shape them and never have to do it again, but when you spend $35 for a hat or buy one at Bi-Mart for $19.99 you can count on re-steaming on a regular basis to bring back the stiffness. I’ve tried spray starch and some formula that I got off the internet which included corn starch, but nothing really works for long and I’m back to steaming and shaping my hats again.

When I was a kid my brothers and I wore cowboy hats. Usually they were hand-me-downs from my dad or what he’d picked up at a second hand store. And usually they were too big and out of shape when we got them. To adjust for the too big size, my dad would roll up a sheet of newspaper and tuck it in behind the sweat band, adding more or less paper until it fit our tiny heads. One time, my mom sewed the crown together so the hat wouldn’t slip down over my ears.

My dad would always steam them and shape our new/used hats to our desired style and to stiffen them again, but kids are tough on hats and we would be begging him to re-steam them again for us. He too got tired of steaming and shaping hats, so using his vast ingenuity, he decided to wax our hats. I can still remember him melting the wax on the stove and painting it onto my white cow hat. When the wax cooled it was stiff as a board and as waterproof a ducks’ back! I also remember that it looked like it had a layer of wax on it, but that was okay because it was a white hat and the wax is white.

I have a brown cowboy hat that I wear around the farm when it’s cold and rainy. It keeps my head warm and the rain off my spectacles. But it does get beat up and out of shape fairly quickly. I don’t really care how it looks as long as it works, but I do reshape it occasionally. I also have a black cowboy hat that I wear at work when it’s cold and raining. It gets tossed around in the truck and before long it needs to be re-stiffened, re-shaped and occasionally, waterproofed. In the back of my mind, I kept remembering my dad waxing my hat and how nice and stiff it was, so I decided to give it a try.

The first thing I needed was some paraffin wax. You would think it would be easy enough to buy paraffin wax, but unless it’s canning season, it can be hard to come by. I finally settled on a white, unscented candle. I chose unscented because scented candles put out too much soot when they burn, and I didn’t want my hats to smell like a flower.20160228_172120

I thought I’d melt the candle with the old griddle that I have in my shop for heating things, but that was too slow, so I fired up my Harbor Freight heat gun, which melted the candle much faster. With the wax melted, I used a small paint brush to paint the wax onto the underside of the brim and the inside of the crown. I painted the inside and underside because if there was a waxy residue, it would be less noticeable on the inside/underside.20160228_172259 There was a waxy residue when I got done, because the felt didn’t absorb much of the wax. Now this is where my dad stopped, he just painted the hot wax on and let the hat felt absorb as much as it would, which is fine on a kid’s white hat, because who cares how a kids hat looks, right? Well, as I mentioned, my hats are brown and black and I’m not a kid. So, to get the wax to melt into the felt I used my heat gun and heated the wax on the hat. To my delight and surprise, the wax melted and was absorbed into the felt almost completely. What didn’t absorb, I brushed with a stiff bristle brush, removing what wax I could, and then heated the wax again until it was all absorbed into the hat.20160228_172821

When the hat cooled, it was stiff and waterproof. The process worked so well that I also waxed my black hat. I’ve been wearing my hats for about a week now and I am very pleased. I may have put a little too much wax on the inside of the crown of the black hat because there is a slight white waxy residue. However, no one but me knows it’s there and I don’t care.20160228_172918 Would I recommend that you wax your $200 Stetson? No! But if you have an old hat that just won’t hold its form anymore and you are going to toss it, give waxing a try and it just might become your favorite kick-around- in- hat.

Anyway…for what it’s worth.

Getting All Decked Out

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About seven or eight years ago I bought a Big Tex utility trailer. We needed something to haul motorcycles, livestock, hay, firewood, lumber, well to haul stuff. After looking around for a month for a used trailer that I thought would be the right size and have a loading ramp/tailgate I decided, after asking my wife, to buy a new Big Tex trailer. I remember the salesperson telling me that wood deck was white pine and stated the fact as if it were a selling point. I didn’t want to burst his bubble, so I let the comment slide, but knew that I would have to replace the wood deck in a few years because in this area pine would decay quickly. Over the years and to try and extend the life of the wood deck, I cleaned it and sealed it with deck stain. I’m confident that my efforts helped extend the life of the wood, but ultimately the wood decayed. The first failure was when I was loading a Suzuki GS 850 onto the trailer, my second winter motorcycle project this year. (See my blog The Transformer). As we pushed it onto the trailer the back tire broke through one of the planks. And so it began. I patched the broken board with a piece of plywood and over the next four months of use the trailer deck became a patch work of pieces of plywood. The last straw was last weekend when my son-in-law, Dustin, was moving the trailer, by hand, out of the way so he could get to his camp trailer. At the time my Tex didn’t have the four foot metal tailgate/loading ramp on it and I knew the tongue would be heavy so I thought I’d help Dustin by stepping up on the back of the trailer to counterbalance the weight off the tongue. As I stepped up onto the trailer the wood deck broke through and I was standing on the ground.

Thursday evening he called me and asked if he could borrow my trailer to haul my mower up to my mountain property to mow so my daughter, his wife, will have a nicely cut meadow for her and her friends to camp on. Of course I said yes, knowing that I would have to replace the deck on the trailer before it would be safe to use again. Last night, Friday, after work I removed the most rotted boards so they wouldn’t fall out on the road and drove to Home Depot, trailer in tow, to buy some pressure treated lumber to replace the rotted deck. I could have replaced the deck with untreated Doug Fir and it would have lasted several years if I kept it clean and stained, but even if it lasted ten years I’d have to replace it again and I’d be…well old and I knew I wouldn’t want to mess with replacing the deck again. When you get to be my age you start to considering things like that. If I was thirty I would have used Doug Fir and saved $60.00, but at my age you do the math and knowing you won’t live forever and your health may not always be excellent, you make different decisions.

What is left of the original trailer decking.

What is left of the original trailer decking.

After I got the lumber home, unloaded and the old rotting deck completely removed I could see that the metal frame was suffering from metal oxidation, rust, where the wood had been sitting on the metal and holding moisture. There was also the matter of the very rusted self-tapping lag screws that had held the deck in place and were now were sticking up out of the metal frames cross members. I thought the lag screws were going to be bolts with nuts and washers and I’d be able to remove them, but no, they were not removable. Using a three pound sledge hammer, I broke the lag screws off at the metal cross member and using my angle grinder I ground the little broken nubs of the lags off smooth. For the next hour, using the grinder and my drill with a wire brush wheel, I remove as much rust as I could. After I felt like I had most or all of the loose rust removed I washed the trailer with soap and water and rinsed it with the hose garden hose. Using my leaf blower, I blew most of the water off the trailer and let it sit in the sun to dry, while I went in the house to put on my painting clothes and drink a bunch of water. Did I mention that it was ninety degrees outside?

Lately I have been using Rustoleum 2X paint on my motorcycle projects and so far I have been impressed. 2X is a paint and primer all in one and of course it also fights rust. I had picked up a quart of black 2X and a cheap paint bush when I bought the lumber. When I opened the can I thought, “great, they put dark blue paint in the can and put gloss black on the label”. But, I thought, “what the heck, I’ll have a dark blue trailer instead of a black trailer” and started painting. Well as it turns out the paint is magical. It went on blue, but turned black as it dried. I applied the paint liberally onto the areas that the wood deck would sit on and in and when I was done painting, I pushed the trailer into my shop to let it dry overnight.

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This morning I got early, while it was still cool, to put the wood deck on. In case you didn’t know this, on most trailers, both ends of the wood decking are held in place by metal channels. It’s a good design, but makes replacing the wood deck challenging. To replace the decking you have to place one end of the plank into one of the channels, angle the plank across the trailer, slip the other end of the plank into the channel at the other end and using a hammer and block of wood, drive it in place, parallel to the side of the trailer. It sound easy, but the channels were rough from years of rust and that corrosion made the diving the planks difficult. To add difficulty to the situation, there is a 2”wide metal plate that runs along both sides of the trailer, front to back. Instead of welding the plate flush to the bottom of the channels at the front and back of the trailer, they laid the plate in the channels and welded it in place. This makes the joint stronger but it also creates a lip in the channel that makes it difficult to slide the two side planks in place because the edge of the plank and the edge of the welded plate conflict.

Showing where the side plate is welded inside the channel

Showing the side plate welded inside the back channel.

To combat the roughness of the inside of the channel and the lip the plate and weld created I used axle grease to coat the inside of the channel. The grease not only allowed the planks to slide in the channel easily, it will also acts as an additional preservative to the inside of the metal channel and the ends of the planks where they sit in the channel and where moisture is most likely to be held.

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Showing me greasing the inside of the back channel.

In addition, to make it easier for the edge of the plank to slide over the edge of the plate and weld, I rounded the edge of the plank by tapping on the square edge of the plank with my hammer. With the grease in place in the channels and the edge of the plank slightly rounded, the plank drove easily into place.

 

 

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Showing how to round the edge of the board so it will easily slip over the weld and side plate.

Lying the planks at an angle, slipping both ends into the channels and driving them into place only works with the first six planks. After the first six are angle into place there isn’t enough space to angle any more planks and get both ends started. That is when it starts to get fun.

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Showing how planks can be laid at an angle to get them started into the channels.

To get the rest of the planks to insert into the channels at the front and back of the trailer you now have to bend or bow the middle of the planks up. This shortens the length of the plank and allows you to insert both ends of the plank into the channels. There are probably several methods of doing this and you can probably do this with one person, but two people make it so much easier. This how my wife and I accomplished this next step; First you insert one end of the plank into the back channel, then using a floor jack and a 12” piece of scrap 2X4 or 4X4, one person jacks the center of the plank up while the other person pushes the front end of the plank down. When the center of the plank bows high enough the plank will become short enough that the front will be lined up with the opening of the channel. While the end of the plank is held lined up to the channel the other person lowers the jack and the end of the plank will slip into the channel. The last plank fit so tightly that I had to grease the side of the plank so it would slip down into place. The whole process of decking the trailer when fairly quickly, even with my wife helping, I meant, with wife helping. Thanks Honey!

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Showing the jack in place and ready to bow the center of the plank up in the middle.

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Some other things to consider:

  1. When choosing the boards for the deck makes sure they are straight and without big knots. You don’t want to have to fight warped boards into place and when bowing the boards, large knots can cause a weak point in a board and the board may break or crack.
  2. Buy boards without cracks. Pressure treated wood is only treated into the board .44 of an inch. Cracks that go deeper will allow water into the board and the board will rot from the center out.
  3. Buy boards that are still high in moisture content. Moist boards will be easier to bend and there will be less chance that they will break.
  4. If and/or when you drill holes through the boards and frame for bolts to hold the boards in place, treat the holes with a good dose of oil or wood preservative. This will help keep the wood from rotting around the bolts.
  5. Consider not drilling bolt holes through the boards. The boards fit tightly and will not fall out of the channels even if they shrink slightly. I am going to wait and see how loose the boards get when they dry. If I need to add bolts to hold the deck boards in place I will first explore the possibility of placing the bolts between the deck boards. If a lag bolt that will slip between each the boards, a large washer at the head should hold the deck boards secure to the frame and you can avoid drilling holes in the board.

Anyway…for what it’s worth.

Keeping Your Sheet Tight

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I love clean new sheets on my bed. Not so much that they are clean, but because they are so smooth and tight with no wrinkles. I hate to admit this, but I’m like the Princess and the Pea. I can feel and hate every wrinkle under me. The problem is that the smooth, wrinkle free bottom sheet usually only lasts until you fall asleep or until you participate in some other physical activity that people do in bed, like … tossing and turning. I wanted that smooth sheet feel all the time, so I put my pea brain to work. (Wait, that didn’t sound right.)

Anyway, as two of my grandsons were bouncing up and down on our bed I thought, “if I added springs all around the bottom of the fitted sheet they would probably bounce all the way up and smash their heads on the ceiling. Their heads would then end up the shape of Stewie’s on the Family Guy. “That would teach them to wrinkle my bottom sheet.” Just FYI, that is why Stewie’s head is that shape. He was bouncing on his parent’s bed and bounced too high, smashing his head into the ceiling.

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Then I thought, “Hey! That’s a good idea!” (Not the part about my grandsons smashing their heads, but the part about spring loading the bottom sheet.) That way my bottom sheet would always be tight and I do love tight sheets. So that’s what I did and here’s how I did it.

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A few years ago I purchased some tarp clips to use on my equipment cover. (See my blog, “Trampoline Equipment Shelter.”) Tarp clips are designed to clamp tight to a tarp so you can grab the tarp in any location, attach a cord or bungee and pull the tarp tight. They worked great and kept my equipment cover tarp tight and in place. I had a few left over from the equipment cover project, so I rounded them up, along with some small bungee and applied them to our bottom sheet.  You can use as many as you want around the bed to keep your sheet tight. It works great and keeps our bottom sheet tight, “tight like a tiger.” There are many types of tarp clips and they can be found at most hardware stores or on line.

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The small clips you use in your shop would work or even alligator clips, if you put tape on the jaws, would also work.

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If you have some of those metal clamps used for clipping papers together, they would work too. You may want to put some tape on the jaws so they wont snag your sheets or scratch your bed or legs. I would recommend using bungee with plastic end hooks for the same reason. images10088811 640328208483lg

Anyway…for what it’s worth … and … sleep tight.

Heat Your House with a Ceiling Fan!

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At yesterday’s home inspection, WIN Home Inspection Salem, I was reminded once again that most people do not understand how to use a ceiling fan. There is more to a ceiling fan than just being decorative and spinning blades. Most ceiling fans, at the very least 99%, are three speed and they are also reversible. Ceiling fans can blow air down or they can blow air up. It’s easy to understand that if we are sitting under a ceiling fan and it is blowing air down on us we feel cooler. Without going into a bunch of science, as the air blows across our skin, the moisture on our skin, sweat, evaporates. Evaporation is a cooling process. I can still remember, barely, the days when people in arid climates would hang a canvas bag of water on the bumper of their car so they would have cool water to drink when they stopped for a break. The canvas would let water slowly seep to the outside of the bag, the sun would evaporate the water and the water inside the bag would cool. Simple science, but effective. You can think of yourself as a bag of water seeping moisture though the skin. In the summer the air from the blowing fan will cool you. If the fan isn’t cooling you fast enough, mist your skin with water.

In the winter you don’t want to be cooled so you reverse the fan and blow it up against the ceiling. Blowing up causes the lower cool air to be sucked up through the fan and forces the warmer air at the ceiling to move along the ceiling, down the walls and back along the floor to the fan where it is sucked up by the fan, pushed against the ceiling…etc. This slow moving current in the room fills the room with warm air.

You are probably wondering, why not just suck the warm air off the ceiling, sit under the fan and let it warm you up as it blows down? Two reasons, you are a bag of water and the warm air blowing across your body will evaporate any moisture on your skin, cooling you. The second reason is that if you blow the warm air down it will quickly rise again and the area under the fan may be warm but the perimeter and corners of the room will be cool. Blowing the air against the ceiling, down the walls, into the corners and long the floor warms the whole room.

If you could see the warm air, you would see it coming out of your heat registers, wall heater or baseboard heaters, rise to the ceiling and stay there. If you have a well insulated ceiling the heat will eventually build up in the room, first heating your head and slowly moving down your body until the heat reaches the height of wall thermostat, about 5’ off the floor in most cases, telling the thermostat that the room is warm, shutting the heat off, leaving your lower parts cool. This is a very ineffective use of heat and energy. If your ceiling is not well insulated, it takes longer for the heat to build from the ceiling down, because a lot of heat is escaping through the ceiling, and your heater will run much longer. (see my blog, “Insulation Matters.”)

So how do you know which direction the fan is blowing? 99.9% of the time if the reversing switch is switched up, it blows up, switch down, air blows down.

showing little black switch on the fan between the light and motor.

showing little black switch on the fan between the light and motor.

Rarely will your fan have a side to side switch, but if it does, switched to the right it blows up and left it blows down. Another easy way to tell which direction it’s blowing is if the leading edge of the blades are tipped down, it’s blowing up. Conversely, if it’s tipped up, it’s blowing down.

If you’re not convinced, take this challenge. Turn on your heat, let the room warm up until the thermostat shuts the heat off. Quickly take a temperature reading at the ceiling and then one at the floor level. I promise you will be surprised at the temperature difference. The next time the heat kicks on, start blowing your ceiling fan against the ceiling. When the heat kicks off take the temperature at the ceiling and floor again.  I did this test in my own home. With the fan off the difference was ten degrees. With the fan on, the difference was one degree. I can honestly tell you that in our home the ceiling fan blows against the ceiling day and night, all winter long.

The cost of running a ceiling fan is about 20-25 cents a day on high speed, depending on the size of the fan. If the fan keeps your home warmer and keeps your furnace or heater from kicking on only one less time a day, you have saved a lot of money.

If you don’t have ceiling fans in your home, consider installing some. If that’s not a possibility or until then, read my blog, “Leave Your Furnace Fan ON!” Using both these suggestions your home will be warmer and cost you less for energy.

Anyway…for what it’s worth.

Getting Organized and Clear Your Head

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My boys once called me the “Master Rattle Canner.” I do love rattle cans and have painted many things, transforming them from junk to a jewel. The good thing is that the fumes from the paint have not affected my BrA1n N0n3. Over the years my wife, my boys and I have bought hundreds of cans of spray paint for projects we have done. When I moved my stuff from our garage to our new shop we had accumulated over seventy cans of practically used spray paint. To move them to the shop, we put all the cans in two large plastic containers, moved them to the shop and in those two containers they stayed for a year and a half. The problem with having that many cans of paint is that you have to be able to organize them so that you know what you have and so you don’t keep buying more of the same colors over and over again. When I moved into the shop I wanted to organize it so that everything had a place. I put up pegboard, built a bunch of shelves, bought small boxes to organize stuff in, but the two plastic containers of spray paint had me stumped on how to organize them.

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The other day I was shopping at Goodwill, which used to be my favorite store until they raised their prices higher than regular retail, but I still shop there in hopes that I’ll find a bargain. So I was in Goodwill and found a metal rack for displaying wine in a store and I thought, “hey!”  The rack was marked $6.99 and would hold forty bottles of wine/cans of spray paint and with some minor alterations, it would hold sixty cans.

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Today I started going through the two containers of spay paint, properly disposing of six cans that were empty and cleaning the heads of the other cans that still had paint, but wouldn’t spray.

Over the years I have learned that when you are done painting something, if you really do turn the can upside down and spray until the spray is clear, the spray head will be cleaned and will work the next time you want to use the can. I now will even go as far as spraying the little spray hole with carb or brake cleaner and wiping it off with a cloth just as an extra precaution. With that said, I don’t always remember to do clear the head and it gets clogged with paint and won’t work. I hate that, having a paint can with paint in it, but won’t spray because the head is plugged with dried paint.

Out of the two containers of spray paint there were about fifteen cans that had paint in them, but would not spray, so I cleaned the heads. This is my method of cleaning a spray can head: I use brake or carb cleaner, a straight pin that is exact size or smaller to insert into the little hole the paint sprays out of, a utility knife, safety glasses and latex gloves.

First remove the head from the can by simply pulling it out of the can and spray a little carb or brake cleaner into the hole in the top of the can where the head was and let that sit while you clean the head.DSCF6949 Next, using the utility knife, scrape off any paint that has dried over the little hole.

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Sometimes that’s all it takes to clean the head, so test the head to see if it is clear by inserting the thin red tube that comes with every can of brake or carb cleaner up the neck of the of the head and being careful to point it away from my face, spray the cleaner into the neck.

CAUTION: You will need to secure the head on the tube by pinching it tightly with your fingers where the tube goes into the neck or you will shoot the head across the room and/or you will get cleaner on your face.

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If the cleaner sprays out the head’s small hole, it’s clean. If it’s plugged, take the pin and carefully push it into the small spray hole and up the neck to clear the plug.

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To make sure the head is clear, spray some cleaner in the neck again. Some plugs can be stubborn and you’ll have to repeat the process a couple of times, but this method will unplug the head. When the head is clear, point the head away from you, push it back in the top hole of the can, turn it upside down and check the spray. This cleaning method worked on all but two of the fifteen cans that I had that were clogged. As an extra precaution, I sprayed the head with cleaner and wipe the small hole with a cloth. Next time you want to use the spray paint it will be ready to use.

When you use the can of spray paint up, remove the head, clean it and save it. There have been many times I have dropped a can or knocked it off the bench, losing or breaking the head. Having a few extra heads around will allow you to still use the can of paint until it is empty.

Anyway…, for what it’s worth.

Loosen Stubborn Screws With a Wrench

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When something is broken or not working I have to fix it. I think there’s a physiological term or medical term for it, something like fixoholic. If my tractor is not running or broken, it gives me a knot in my gut and depression sets in. Rarely do I hire a professional to make the repairs. Well, at least not until I’ve tried to fix it and have made it worse. Over many years, yes I’m old; I have tackled repairs from rebuilding a Fiat motor to repairing a mechanical pencil. Am I an expert, no, but I am getting better. I’ve learned a lot because I try to learn a lot.

Over the years I have accumulated many tools, but I don’t have everything and I am always discovering tools that I need. Recently I bought an impact screw driver and an extraction bit set.

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So many times in the past when a screw would not budge or the head slots were stripped out, I would have given my eyeteeth for both or even one of those tools. Even after days of applying penetrating oil some screws will not break free. I have struggled for, wasted, many hours of my life trying to remove stubborn screws. I have gone as far as taking a fine metal saw blade and re-slotting a screw, which actually works.

The other day I was reading Handyman Magazine. There was a good article on how to remove a stubborn nut or bolt. The article didn’t offer me anything new really, but I did pick up one tip about using heat on the stuck bolt and then spraying it with cold water. The expansion and contraction is supposed to break the rust and allow the bolt to come out or the nut to come off. We tried it on my son’s car, trying to remove the nut on the bracket that attaches the strut to the axle. It didn’t work, but none of the other six methods we tried worked either. Anyway, as I was reading the article I realized that I had never read or seen the method I use to remove stuck, stripped or stubborn screws.

What I have learned about removing stuck screws is that after you have tried with all your might to remove a screw, don’t keep trying and strip the head slots out. But if you do keep trying and you damage the head slots a little, STOP and try this.

One day I was trying to remove a screw from a break fluid reservoir on a motorcycle and was damaging the head slots. I couldn’t push down hard enough to keep the screwdriver point in the head. I realized that what I really needed was help to keep a lot of pressure pushing down on the head so I could turn the screwdriver and not have it pop out of the head slots and damage them, but there was no one around.

I love clamps. It’s like having more hands to hold stuff. Over the past three years my clamp assortment has gone from a dozen clamps to three dozen clamps. I have a variety of sizes of “C” clamps, I have those clothes pin type spring clamps, some quick grip clamps, I have strap clamps, and 4’ long pipe clamps. Sometimes I go into my shop just to sit and admire my clamps. Did I mention that I love clamps?

So, I’m trying to get this screw out and it occurs to me that I could use a clamp to apply pressure to the top of the screwdriver. The best clamp for my purpose was a quick release clamp.

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Here’s an important tip, use the shortest screwdriver you can and with your grinder, flatten the end of the handle so the screwdriver will be more stable under the clamp. Here are the two screwdrivers I use most of the time when applying the clamp technique. Note that the tops of the handles have been ground flat.

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To do this method, place the short screw driver in the head of the screw and clamp it in place with a lot of pressure and turn the screwdriver. It’s really easy, if you have a grip like a gorilla. I don’t, so I use an adjustable wrench to turn the screwdriver. Most screwdrivers have handles that have six sides so they are easy to grip and as it turns out, to put an adjustable wrench on.

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I have used this method of removing stubborn screw several times and each time when I hear the screw pop loose, I get all giddy inside.

Anyway… for what it’s worth.

ATTIC INSULATION MATTERS!

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IS YOURS  DAMAGED AND DO YOU HAVE ENOUGH?

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I’m a home inspector, WIN Home Inspection of Salem Oregon. Part of my job is to inspect the attic area of homes for possible issues: roof leaks, electrical dangers, proper venting, ducting, chimney leaks, animals, mold, insulation, anything that may negatively affect the home or the people living in the home. Over the last fifteen years I have seen it all.

A couple of years ago I inspected a nearly new home for a lady. Three months later I got a call from her telling me that her master bedroom was cold, much cooler than the rest of the home. We scheduled a time for me to go over the see if I could figure out why. When I got there I could clearly feel what she meant, the room was much cooler than the rest of the home. I checked the airflow from the heat duct and it was good and after checking windows and doors I found no visual reason for the cooler temperature. Fortunately I have an infrared camera that I use to inspect homes, so I got it out of the toolbox and fired it up. As I scanned the walls and ceiling I discovered a large area of the ceiling that was showing a cooler surface than the rest of the ceiling. This was a little disturbing because when I inspected the attic during her full home inspection the insulation in the attic was perfect.

I asked her if anyone had been in the attic since I had inspected the home. At first she told me that no one had, but when I showered her through the camera the cooler area, she then remembered that the cable guy had been up there to install a cable for her wall mounted TV.

When I went up into the attic to investigate I found an area, about one hundred square feet, where the insulation had been disturbed. There was even a small area where I could see the top of the ceiling’s sheet rock. The cable guy had moved insulation to try and find the top of the wall so he could drill a hole to run the cable for the wall mounted TV.

Some time ago I was inspecting a home where the seller was at the inspection. As I got ready to go into the attic, the seller told me proudly that they had two years earlier, spent a lot of money to have the attic completely re-insulated to a R-38, about sixteen inches of blown-in insulation. Unfortunately, since that time they had a home security system installed, the phone company had added phone lines into two of the bedrooms from the attic and the cable company had added cable to all of the bedrooms from the attic. The new insulation in all areas of the attic was completely destroyed.

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A couple of weeks ago I inspected an older home with a newly remodeled kitchen. When I did my infrared scan of the home I knew what I was going to find when I went into the attic. There was no insulation over the kitchen. The contractor had pulled it out of the area to install new light fixtures and add more outlets in the kitchen.

Recently I inspected a home out in the country. It was only ten years old, so it had been insulated to an R-38. When I inspected the attic if found that squirrels and raccoons had found their way into the attic and for ten years they had been making it their home. The insulation in the attic had been completely destroyed. The animals had trampled down the insulation throughout the attic. The insulation was still there, it hadn’t been moved out of place, but it was compressed, eliminating all the small air pockets in the insulation. The fluffiness of the insulation is a big factor in its insulating properties.

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On a more personal and embarrassing note, I had done some minor work in our attic over one of our bedrooms. That next winter I noticed the room was much cooler than the other bedrooms. I looked in the attic and found that I had forgotten to repair a four square foot area of the insulation when I was done with my work.

If I had to put a percentage number to it, I would have to say that at a minimum, 75% of attics I inspect have damaged insulation. The issue ranges from major damage to as minor as someone forgot to put the insulation back over the ceiling access panel. To whatever degree the insulation is damaged in your attic, it does make a difference in the comfort of the home and the cost of heating it.

Just because the temperature throughout your home is relatively even doesn’t  that you don’t have damaged insulation, it all might all be damaged equally throughout.

A couple of summers ago I inspected a home for my daughter Rondi and son-in-law, Mark. When the weather got cold I got a text message from my daughter saying that her house was freezing and she wanted to know why. I text back, “Read your inspection report”. The home only had about three inches of insulation in the attic. I had told her this when I had done the inspection and clearly stated in the report that the home needed more attic insulation. Of course, me being her dad, she didn’t pay attention to what I told her and they hadn’t read the report. Being a loving and caring dad, I helped Mark, insulated the attic up to the standard of a R-38.

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If you haven’t got my point yet…ATTIC INSULATION MATTERS! If someone goes into your attic, make sure they agree to fix any insulation they damage. If you look in your attic and see that the insulation is damaged or that you don’t have enough insulation, do something about it. If you’re not comfortable going into your attic to fix the insulation or add insulation, hire a professional. Good attic insulation will pay for it’s self fairly quickly, but more importantly, your home will be more comfortable, you’ll spend less money heating it, you’ll be using less energy and you’ll be helping to save the environment.

Anyway…for what it’s worth.

Hops garden/Fire pit.

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Hops-not just for beer!

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When we first started building the project now known as The Farm it was just a grass seed field with some trees and an old shack at one end. We have come a long way since then. We started by building a pump house for the well and to store tools. Then we built a garage, a house, a barn and last year, a shop. We have fenced and crossed fenced, planted lawns, built gardens, planted trees, dug a pond and maintained it all to the high standards of my loving wife. This place takes a lot of work, it takes a lot of time and sometimes I think we should move to a small house with a small yard. But the truth is, I love this place and I plan on living here until the day I die.

Over the last few years we have made an effort to make The Farm less work by reducing the size of the lawn that needs to be mowed, reducing the number of animals we keep and even hiring help with yard work. Even with the goal of making The Farm less work, I sometimes get a wild hair and we take one step backwards.

One of the first things we did when we were building this place was to make a fire pit out in the field by the pond. Over the years the fire pit has become a place to burn all the branches that get trimmed off the fifty some trees we have planted around the yard. A couple of years ago my wife mentioned that it might be nice to have a fire pit closer to the house so we wouldn’t have to haul the marshmallows so far to roast them.

I’m sure she envisioned a small ring of stones with a couple of benches around it when she mentioned it to me. However, my brain doesn’t work that way and the simple idea of a fire pit grew into “The Hops Garden/Fire Pit.”

Once we agreed on where the new fire pit would be built the creative side of me was awakened and I went to work. I had a vague idea of what I wanted the end product to look like, and since it wasn’t brain surgery, I decided to let the creative juices flow and see what happened.

The location of the pit was near one corner of the yard, exposed on two sides to the open field. I wanted the pit to be a little more private so if I decide to dance naked around a fire, the neighbors wouldn’t complain. I also wanted it to be shaded so that in the late afternoon we wouldn’t be sitting around a fire in the hot sun. So here is what happened.

The place we agreed to put the pit was on a long hump of ground that covered out septic field. My first task was to level the area by hauling in dirt with my tractor. It took several loads and a lot of shoveling and raking, but I got the area level.

After the area was level I built a metal sculpture or column that would serve as the centerpiece of the hops garden/fire pit. Like most projects, I work on a very small budget, so the column was made from three 20’ pieces of rebar that my son Marcus helped me braid together. I cut out a half dozen large leaves from sheet metal and welded it all together. Eventually the hops got too heavy and I added a ¾” length of black iron pipe to keep the the plants from bending the column to the ground. The base of the column is planted in a foot of concrete and weighted with rock.

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I wanted an arbor like entrance to the pit area, so I welded together an arbor. It too was made from rebar. To give it a good stable base I used concrete to set it in place.

My idea was to plant hops around the perimeter of a large circle, 36’ across, and train them to climb strands of wire up to the top of the column that was in the center of the circle. To accomplish this, I drove a dozen 7’ T-post around the perimeter of the circle and ran three strands of heavy, 10 gauge, galvanized wire around the circle of T-posts, one at the top, one midway up and one a few inches from the ground. I then started stringing lighter weight wire from the bottom wire up to the middle and top wires and then to the 5’ metal circle at the top of the column. I spaced the wires about 12” apart so there would be plenty of wires for the hops to climb.

There was a sprinkler head near the outer edge of the new garden that would be blocked from view by hops once the hops started to grow. I dug a trench from the sprinkler to the center column and then laid black poly pipe in the trench, added a 90 degree elbow and ran more black poly pipe to the top of the column. I removed the sprinkler, attached the poly pipe to the system and put the sprinkler head on the top of the pipe at the top of the column. I adjusted the sprinkler so that when the sprinkler system came on the sprinkler would water out to the perimeter of the garden.

Next I removed a 12’ circle of grass around the center column and filled it with pea grave and bordered the circle with concrete edging to contain the gravel.

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The Willamette Valley is known for the production of hops, so finding hop starts was easy. I purchased three varieties of hops to add a contrast of green to the garden. The first year hops will generally grow about 6-8’, but once they are established they will grow 20-25’ long and they will grow about a foot a day. To add color to the garden I planted purple morning glories.

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We had purchased several years ago, a large concrete bowl that we used as a water feature in a garden near the back deck. One year during a very cold winter it cracked and would hold water any more. My wife wanted me to get rid of it, but it occurred to me that it would be the perfect fire pit, so I moved it to the garden.

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We have enjoyed the new hops garden/fire pit for two years now. When the hops and morning glory have climbed to the top column the garden becomes a very large green, shady tent where we can enjoy a fire closer to the house and where we don’t have to carry the marshmallows so far.

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A mower to tow behind your ATV

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Converting a riding mower to an ATV tow behind.

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Some friends of ours own some wilderness property next to our property up in the Elkhorn Valley. They don’t spend as much time up there as they use to when their kids were younger, so I take care of their property along with ours. I don’t mind because they let our family use their fire-pit and ¼ acre meadow. That gives us about ½ acre of meadow to expand onto when we need more room.

One of the maintenance items that I like to do a couple times a year is mow the meadows to keep the grass and weeds down. I used my riding lawnmower for a few years, but then our friends gave me an old Craftsmen riding lawnmower keep up at the property so I wouldn’t have to use my nice mower when I needed to mow. The old mower ran pretty well, but the steering gear was going out. I brought it home a couple of times and fix it, but it kept going out.

My oldest son, Justus, has a home on a couple of acres near Estacada Oregon. The property is mostly on the side of a hill and very slopped. His father-in-law gave him a MTD riding lawnmower to mow his pasture. Unfortunately, it didn’t have enough power to mow up the hill that was at one end of the pasture and it tended to want and tip over when driving horizontal to the slope. He called me one day and asked me if I would help him make a mowing deck out the riding lawn mower. His idea was that he would tow the mowing deck with is ATV. I wasn’t sold on the idea of tearing the mower apart and mounting the motor on the deck to run the blades, but I’m always up for a project, so I told him to bring it on over.

After he got the mower here, we scratched our heads and talked about different ideas to accomplish what he wanted. I finally suggest that we remove the back wheels and fender, add a tow bar and just tow it backwards with his ATV. After he could visualized it and I convinced him that the mower would cut backwards as well as forward, he was all for it.

Here is how simple it was. We removed the belt and pulleys that drove the back wheels. We then removed the back wheels, axle and fenders. The steering wheel and seat were not longer needed so they came off too. We locked the front wheel so they wouldn’t move left or right and the mower would tow straight.

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Basically, we remove everything that will not be needed and to make the mover as lightweight as possible. When we had it stripped down to the essentials; motor, mower deck, front wheels, gas tank and battery, we bolted on a 4’ long 1-1/2” square bar that would attach to the ATV. Like most ATV, his had a hole in the back towing plate, so we welded a small rod on the tow bar that would drop through the hole. We make the bar long enough that when you turned a sharp corner the back wheel or the ATV wouldn’t hit the mower.

To use mower, you simple hook it up to your ATV, turn the key and start the mower, lower the deck to the desired height and mow away.

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After we built his mower, it occurred to me that I could do the same thing with the mower I was using up at the property. The steering was going out anyway, so a tow behind was a great solution. I did the same basic things to Craftsmen as we had done to Justus’s MTD, but my mower didn’t have a good battery, so I cut one end off an old set of jumper cables and attached them to the mowers battery cables. Then when I wanted to use the mower I just hook the jumper cable clamps to the battery on my ATV.

They worked great, but Justus now has a tractor with a mower deck that he attaches to the back and the motor in mine lost all the oil one day and blew up. But it’s all good. It was still a fun project.

Stay Cool This Summer

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Power ventilator for your attic will keep you cool.

With summer on its way I wanted to share some great advice on how to keep your home 10-15 degrees cooler on hot summer days. As a home inspector, part of my job is to inspect attics. In the summer attics can reach temperatures in excess of 150 degrees! During the day the insulation in the attic starts absorbing the heat. By evening your insulation is very hot, and because of its properties, it holds the heat for a long time. In late afternoon, that heat in the insulation starts to radiate through your ceiling into your home and continues to radiate late into the night. During those hot days, the ceiling in your home becomes a radiant heater, much like the radiant ceiling heat they use to install in homes in the 1970’s. The problem is you can’t turn the heat off. But you can prevent it.

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The solution is an attic power ventilator fan. An attic fan mounts on the roof, or in the attic behind a gable vent. The fan has a thermostat mounted in the attic which activates the fan when the attic starts to get warm, about 90 degrees. The fan pulls or pushes the heat out of your attic, bringing in cool air from the eave vent, keeping your attic and insulation much cooler.

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Even if you have A/C, the power ventilator fan will keep your home cooler and take much of the pressure off the A/C system. Those who have A/C know that on very hot days the A/C does not keep your home cool, especially if you have a two-story home.

My experience is that an attic fan will also extend the life of the three-tab roofing on your home. With a cooler attic your roofing doesn’t heat up and the life of the roofing is extended anywhere from 5-8 years, depending on care and conditions.

Attic fans can be purchased at most home centers and they even make solar powered fans. Having an attic fan installed is about one tenth the cost of having A/C installed. If you are handy, you may be able to tackle all or most of the project yourself and save some money.

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Do yourself and your home a favor by installing a power ventilator fan now before the summer heat is here.

 

Lance Larson

WIN Home Inspection Salem