– Ben Martens

Home Improvement

Cut PVC With String

One of the nice things about helping to install my irrigation system is that I feel confident enough to make repairs or modifications on my own. But I recently learned that I’ve been doing part of it the (very) hard way.

Most changes require cutting a pipe that’s already in the ground. To do that, I dig a big enough hole that I can get a hand saw or a sawzall in there. All I really needed to do was get down to the pipe with a big enough hole that dirt won’t get into the open ends and then use mason’s line to cut the pipe.

Filling The Garden Boxes

The garden box project is done and ready for sunshine. Elijah and I got a load half dirt, half compost) from Pacific Topsoils and filled the boxes. It took about 1.3 yards to fill the beds and thankfully they are generous with their loads there so my 1 yard purchase was perfect.

I made a timelapse of the build and filling the beds. It’s fun to watch the truck rise up as we unloaded. The unloading was very easy since I could back right up to the boxes. Elijah was having a BLAST helping with that part. It’s so nice to have my own truck to get these kinds of jobs done!

Garden Boxes

A couple of our neighbors have pretty successful raised garden beds, and this year, Tyla and I decided to jump on the bandwagon. There’s a natural spot for them where the cherry trees used to be beside our driveway. It’s even plumbed for drip irrigation already.

This was the first time I’d ever built boxes like this but I used our next door neighbors for inspiration. It’s basically two 2×8 boards stacked on stop of each other with 4x4s as the corner. I dug down to level the boxes out and then pounded 4x4s into the ground to keep the boxes in place. The ground was very soggy so all of that was pretty simple. The hardest part was just keeping the box aligned correctly. It was rainy pretty hard for most of my project so I skipped a lot of the steps that probably would have saved me time like staking a line to help keep everything straight. Elijah thought it was a pretty fun project and helped for a bit before it got too wet and he went inside. He was the smart one because I ended up soaking wet. I finished them off with 1x4s around the top partially to hide my mistakes and also as a place to set tools and sit down while weeding.

I used cheap pine for this. I didn’t want anything treated since I’m not sure that is food safe. I should have probably used cedar but that was about $250 extra and I wasn’t willing to pour that much money in. We’ll let these go for 5-10 years until they rot and by then I bet I’ll have other ideas anyway.

The next step is getting the drip irrigation plumbed to the right spots and then filling the boxes with dirt.

KitchenAid KOCE500ESS Review

Our house was built in 1990, and when we bought it, it still had the original combination microwave/oven unit. They worked fairly well so we just left them alone and marveled at how nice it will be some day to have cool new features like a spinning tray inside the microwave.

The unit slowly degraded over time and the biggest annoyance was that sometimes the microwave would look like it was running, but when you took your food out after 2 or 3 minutes, you found out that it hadn’t actually been heating. It seemed like a problem with the door sensor so we each had our own routines of how to close the door to avoid that problem.

We decided it was finally time to upgrade. Unfortunately there aren’t a ton of options for these combination units. I looked into buying two separate units and trying to work it into the existing cabinet space but I gave up on that* and handed over the credit card to buy a KitchenAid KOCE500ESS. Kudos to the Rick at Judd and Black for another great purchasing experience and what seemed like a fair deal to me.

The new unit was a few inches shorter than the old one. That extra space generally is less noticeable at the bottom of the unit than at the top, but that means building a little shelf inside the cabinet space. Since the unit is hardwired into the 220v circuit, Judd and Black have to hire that out to a contractor. Couple that with the shelf building and the install fee was going to be around $250. For that price, I was willing to try it myself and I’m glad I did. And when I say “myself”, I mean with help of some cheap labor from Logan.

Logan and I wrestled the old unit out of the cabinet and tossed it in the truck. Judd and Black took that one back at no cost and we picked up the new unit. It took us about 2 hours to install it, but that was largely due to my mistakes building the little shelf. It’s an extremely simple build with the tools I had in the garage, but there isn’t a lot of room for error between having a gap above the top of the unit and making the hole too short so that you can’t slide it in.

The actual appliance is really nice. It has three racks in the lower oven, one of which extends fully out for easy access. The top oven is some goofy combination of a microwave, convection over and broiling unit. I don’t understand how it works, but in addition to using it like a regular microwave, you can do some combinations like using the microwave in conjunction with the broiling element to make crispy hot sandwiches or french fries. You can even put most metals in there. It works out pretty well and really speeds things up. For example, if you want to make a frozen pizza, you can bake one perfectly from start to finish in about 8 minutes. Compare that to the 10 minutes of pre-heat time and 10 minutes of cook time with a standard oven.

But in general, it’s just nice to have a microwave that heats every time and an oven that heats evenly even with multiple racks full. Hopefully this unit provides us with a lot of delicious food for many years to come!

lickingwires newovenin
* After we removed the old unit, I discovered that there was an extra 110 line coming into that cabinet. One of my hangups with doing separate units was that I’d have to run another line over there to power the microwave. Looks like the home builders already thought of that. If this new unit ever dies, I’ll probably give more thought to buying two separate units because it’s so much cheaper.

Garage Cabinets

The shelves next to our garage fridge have been working well so it was time to work on using the space above the fridge for more storage. I looked at a bunch of different designs but eventually decided to see if I could build “real” cabinets.

To kick it off, I built some simple boxes using pocket holes. Since this was just being used in the garage, I wasn’t too concerned about having those pocket holes showing. Obviously for something nicer you’d want a different type of joinery. The dimensions are 24″ wide, 30″ high and 24″ deep. That’s a lot deeper than a standard cabinet but it works fine in this location.

To mount it to the wall, I went with a french cleat system. This let me easily hang them on the wall and get them positioned the way I wanted them. After they were in place, I did add some screws into the studs but those really aren’t necessary. I was able to hang from the edge of the cabinets with them just sitting in the french cleat.

This was the first time I had ever built a face frame and doors. I’m really happy I went for it because it turned these quick and dirty cabinets into something that looks respectable. I just used a bunch of scrap 2x4s to do it but it turned out great. I picked up some cheap self-closing hinges and handles from Amazon to complete the doors.

I’m extremely happy with how these turned out. They are a great place to store our extra stash of paper towels, toilets paper and other random bulky supplies. And since they have doors, I don’t have to worry about them getting all dusty. I want to start doing more stuff with doors in the garage to make it at least appear to be a little more tidy.

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Generator Interlock

generatorinletAs you may remember, we’ve lost power at our house three times in the last 12 months and we’ve lost it quite a bit in the past two. We have used our new generator for the two latest incidents, and it worked great, but I’m a lazy human. Running an extension cord through the house and feeding it around the house to run various things is annoying. It was time for an upgrade.

We had an electrician come by and he installed an interlock kit in our electrical panel. Now we have a 240v male plug on the outside of our house. When the power goes out, I shut off the power from the street, flip over to power from this plug and then plug the generator into the house. We can then choose which circuits to power from the generator. We’ll be able to easily keep the fridges running, power up the furnace, and have hot water from our tankless water heater. And if we have to pick and choose because the generator can’t provide enough power, it’s just a flick of a circuit breaker to choose a different combination of circuits. It will be really nice to have light switches and everything like that working as normal.

After we bought the generator, we joked that it meant the power would never go out again. That wasn’t true. We’ll see how long it takes before we get to really use this new capability. The first big wind storm of the fall is the one that usually knocks us out so we might not have to wait too long…

Adjustable Watering

opensprinkler_v20s_5-500x500Last year was very dry and, despite my attempts to give the yard the right amount of water, it still died. This year has been pretty dry as well, but the yard is still green. The difference? I’m using the “Zimmerman Method” this year.

Our OpenSprinkler system has a setting that lets you enable a calculation for how much water to apply to the yard. If I had some rain sensors in the yard, those would be handy, but it turns out that you can get a pretty good idea of how much to water based on some variables from weather data. You can read the full explanation on the OpenSprinkler github page, but here’s the basic idea:

Zimmerman uses 3 pieces of data: Mean humidity ( defined as (min+max)/2 ), mean temp, and precipitation.
They are weighted in the following manner:

  • 30 – mean humidity
  • (mean temp – 70)*4
  • Precipitation * 200

Those are all divided by 100 and added together, then 100 is added for a scale, which is then bound to 0 to 200.

That gives you a percentage and your normal schedule is adjusted by that percentage. So for example, today it is cloudy, cooler and kind of humid. The watering schedule is only 32% of normal.

This setting has worked remarkably well. At the end of the year I’ll do a full comparison of the water used between the two summers, but the data is already looking pretty good. We’re using more water at the times we need it and saving money other times.

This sprinkler controller is basically someone’s grown up hobby project, but it sure is handy. It has definitely paid for itself already.

Survival Sunday

incaseofzombiesLast year we stocked up to prepare for a 3-4 day emergency so we’d still have food, water, etc. Those kits rapidly expire so we needed a way to stay on top of it. Today was the First Bi-Annual Survival Sunday. Here’s our current list of activities for these Survival Sundays:

  • Pour stored gas into vehicles and buy new. Add fuel stabilizer to gas cans.
  • Fill propane
  • Check food stores. Eat anything that’s going bad in the next 12 months. Replace.
  • Check water rations. Replace as needed.
  • Go through survival kit checking expiration dates on medicine, charges on batteries, etc.
  • Start up the generator and test it.
  • Check ammo supplies
  • Check expiration date on fire alarms and test alarm system
  • Check car first aid kits for expiration dates
  • Check fire extinguishers

Aside form getting a little too rambunctious with the smoke for the alarm test (our alarm kept going off), the day was a success. It’s probably totally unnecessary, but who knows, maybe we’ll be glad we did it some day. Given how often we’ve lost power in the last 12 months, some of this will probably come in handy. Bundling all this work into a single afternoon makes it a little less daunting than spreading it out over the year and forgetting everything.

Spreading Gravel

The driveway/parking lot at church is part gravel and part blacktop. Our friendly neighborhood rapscallions enjoy flying around the gravel circle and throwing gravel everywhere. Over time that has led to some big ruts and potholes that collect puddles and make mud. With wet weather on the horizon, it was time to do some repairs.

I ordered 12 yards of 5/8″ minus from Pacific Topsoil and had that delivered on Friday. On Saturday, Logan and I rented a small loader backhoe tractor to spread it around. It was the first time I’ve towed anything with my truck and it was awesome! The rental website claims that this was a 6000 pound trailer and tractor combo.

Neither Logan nor I knew the best way to spread the gravel around but we figured it out as we went. By the end we had a good method going. Hopefully the parts we did at the beginning hold up ok too.

Tyla brought Elijah to church near the end of the project and he loved moving the gravel and driving the tractor. He also thought it was pretty cool that the truck was towing a trailer. He had to ride with me to pull the tractor back to Home Depot.

Being a trustee at church is a lot of extra time and work, but days like today are fun!

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Tree Removal

We had two small cherry trees along our very short driveway. The blossoms looked beautiful in the spring but the trees were ugly the rest of the year. They were pruned very oddly and were starting to die off. The one closer to the house had a crazy root structure with a number of very large roots partially above the surface. It was time for them to go before they died more and started dropping branches.

Logan was kind enough to help me out with the whole process. We made quick work of them with a chainsaw and manual branch cutters. As we cut them up, I was amazed at how many of the branches were totally dead. Taking it down was a good decision. We each took a load of the branches to Pacific Topsoil and we were done with that part.

Then there were the stumps. Oh yeah. When I was planning this project, I figured we would just dig them out and maybe use the truck to help pull them out. A little digging revealed that would be a huge project and i was also nervous about the water, gas, communication and irrigation lines that run up that strip of property. Brute force didn’t seem like a good approach so we rented a stump grinder instead.

The first stump was very quick but the second one took us about two and a half hours because of the big network of large roots near the surface. We made a mountain of wood chips but we got it all done. Now I just have to feed those chips into my yard waste bin over the next week or two if I can’t find a use for them.

This fall we will be planting at least one new tree in that spot and then next spring I think we’ll make some planter boxes to start a small garden. It will be tiny compared to our neighbors beautiful garden, but it will still be delicious.

Logan, thanks for helping so much with this project!