Sunday, February 25, 2007

Chicago Politics

Tuesday is the big election, which has stolen my "work on the house time."
Instead I've been trying to save our ward from a candidate who was convicted of accepting bribes the last time he was Alderman. (for non-Chicagoans a ward is a section of the city that to a certain extent, runs independently, by an Alderman. If you need anything done, you call your Alderman, or Ward superintendent. The primary is the election that counts, and is on Tuesday).

I'm happy to report that the Illinois Supreme Court just ruled that the convict on the ballot can not run. Yeah! The really troubling thing about the whole thing was that despite the fact that he was convicted of accepting bribes, he had a lot of support in the community. I don't quite understand that. But then again, this is Chicago, and there's a whole bunch of things that I just don't understand around here).

Besides for the convicted felon, we also really like our Alderman, think he's honest, works hard, and really cares for the community.

Anyway, I've been campaigning for our Alderman, and have signed up to be an election attorney on election day. Basically, that means that I'll be the "go to" person if any fraud happens, or if any fires start to fester at any of the polling locales. It should be a pretty long day with my showing up at 5 a.m. and working until very late. (there was talk of 4 a.m., but I'm hoping that won't apply to me!)

Through my work on the campaign, I did get to meet Mayer Daley this weekend, which was pretty exciting.

As an added bonus, at two of the "coffees" our Alderman did in our neighborhood, I put in a plug for our CAPS meeting (community policing). At the first one, a gentleman was reluctant to come to CAPS, so I approached him and put in a plea that law-abiding citizens have to take a stand against crime, reporting crimes if need be anonymously. Today, I saw this guy again, and another person interested in CAPS, and the guy I met last time was espousing that we must call the police anonymously. Makes me happy that perhaps I made a difference.

Glenn got some work done around here though-he did some compound in the rental apartment. Not too exciting, and wouldn't otherwise warrant a blog post.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Houseblogging landlord tax nightmare

Actually, that was last year, but it's peaking its ugly head again this year and helps me reminisce about tax time last year.

Ever since we started work on this place, we have meticulously saved our receipts. 4 big envelopes, Home Depot, Lowe's, Menards, and "other". We knew one day, we would need them. Now what perchance, would make this little story a nightmare? Toss a rental into the picture. All those little expenditures could be depreciated, decreasing our rental income (and our taxes) But, we never really looked into this when we started collecting receipts-hence the nightmare.

Interspersed with all our little house projects, we routinely played the game "what does "INTLTXBS1GL" mean (newbies at the game I think that is 1 gallon interior latex paint)? And round 2 is that a rental expense, general expense, or our expense? can it be capitalized? Fun times. Home Depot is really the worse at descriptions.

After all the joy with categorizing items, 2006 we took a vow to always indicate the category when we brought home a receipt. We ended up doing that about 50% of the time. (much easier though categorizing things over the last year vs. 3 years!)

Anyway, it's not just about demo, stripping, and painting around here-there's plenty more renovation joy to be had.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Radiator Heating Resources

Online Radiator Resources is Dan Holohan's website. There's more about Dan in the Publications section below. The website includes a Q&A section with answers to many common questions, as well as a bulletic board where you can post questions for professionals to answer. The site is well worth a visit.

If you have gravity hot water heating as we did when we purchased This Old Chicago 2 Flat, then this article by Dan Holohan has a good explanation of how it works.

The Ontario propane association has a clear, short description of how heat loss works, and the basics of heat loss calcualtions. Heat loss calculations are essential to understanding how renovations such as new windows, adding insultation, or adding an addition will impact your old house's heating.

Slant/Fin is a manufacturer of various types of radiators. Their web site includes an offer for free heat loss calculation software. You can use this software to determine the correct size radiator for a room, or the correct size boiler for heating your home.

If you are looking to buy new radiators, then a few manufacturers that distribute in the US are Radson, Runtal and Myson. Keep in mind that if you currently have cast iron radiators, you should not mix in new steel or copper radiators because they new sytles have very different heating properties.

Offline Radiator Resources

Need to replace a new radiator, but don't want to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars? Try a recycled raditor from B&B Formica at 5617 W. Grand Ave in Chicago. They have a yard full of a wide variety of radiators pulled from Chicago area buildings. They will pressure test the radiators and offer additonal services as well. We have been very happy with several radiators we purchased from them for $12/section. They used to be located on Milwaukee Ave between Ashland and Damen, so if you were wondering where they went, now you know.

When it came time to replace the boilers in This Old Chicago 2 Flat, we hired American Vintage Home to do the work. We were very happy with their service, the quality of workmanship, and the Lochinvar boilers that they installed.

Radiator Publications (Books, Magazines, Articles)

No list of radiator heating resources would be complete without mentioing Dan Holohan. Dan is the expert on old house steam and hot water heating. He has written numerous books and articles related radiator heating. The best thing about Dan's writing is that he is able to convey the mechanics of how these heating systems work without using a bunch of technical mumbo-jumbo.

A few of Dan's books that I have found particularly helpful are:

Hydronic Radiant Heating - A Practical Guide for the Nonengineer Installer

We Got Steam Heat! - A Homeowner's Guide to Peaceful Coexistence

I would like to point our readers towards a good book on how to work on old stream/hot water heatings systems, including how to work with iron pipe, but I have not found any. If you know of such a book, let me know and I will add it to this post.

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New Sidebar Topic Areas

You will see that we have added a new section in the sidebar named "Radiator Heating Info".

This is the first of what we hope will be several topics where we gather information from a number of posts into a single easy to find location. Potential future topics include "Preventing and Fixing Frozen Pipes" (a popular topic in the houseblog community just now) and "DIY Structured Wiring". These are topics in which Christina and I have a fair amount of experience, and which we found it difficult to find information.

In addition to the regular posts that Christina does, I will also be putting together some posts that discuss online and offline resources, tools, and other such information. I am putting together the first of these "resource" posts, which will be about radiator heating.

If we have written about a subject you would like to see a topic area for, please make a comment on this post. If we feel we have something to add, we will create a topic for it.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Neighborhood gossip

Yesterday I found out where our missing neighbor went, among other interesting tidbits. I went canvassing for our Alderman. (The primary is coming up, and since Chicago is a one party town, that's the "real" election. Some of the competition includes a former alderman who was convicted for taking bribes the last time he was in office, and another candidate who is pretty violent-which I won't get into).I like our Alderman, who has been responsive, and I think works hard for the community (and I think is honest). All reasons to get out and organize the vote.

Anyway, I got to walk around with some people who had the lowdown on the community, so I opened my ears and asked the questions. (and other tidbits were just volunteered)

Around the time of our wedding our neighbor sort of disappeared. It was really odd. This was a gregarious neighbor who really was the only one who really welcomed us into the community. Extremely friendly, and seemed like a really nice guy. Well, last I remember talking to him, I mentioned we were putting the rental on the market and asked him to be on the lookout for people. (something he said he'd do in the past). Well, he reacted sort of oddly-a little less friendly.

We had our wedding, then went away on honeymoon (this was back in August 2005) and we never saw him again. We had noone to ask, as everyone seems to be related to everyone around here. We figured that the guy either got divorced, died, or was in jail, but we didn't know.

Turns out that it was option C. The guy apparently went to jail for "drug conspiracy." We always saw him driving trucks, and new he was out of work, but didn't think anything of it. Sort of sad, as i guess he was just probably trying to provide for his family, and didn't know what to do. (not that that's an excuse, but it wasn't like he was robbing his neighbors which I think some others in the neighborhood do).

I also found out who the other criminals on the street were (this is really good information to have!), who had a problem with horses, who's wife left him, and a bunch of other stuff that Glenn enjoyed hearing.

Now, I need to figure out what other questions I should ask next week...

As an aside, the whole gentrification of a neighborhood brings about really interesting (though I think a bit sad) results. I've talked to various neighbors of different backgrounds ( ethnic background, economic background, older people, younger people, newcomers, old comers.) The commonality is that many do not seem to trust those that aren't similar. (though, oddly, I hear these things). One person (from a different background on the street) onetime told me that I was the only person he trusted (I think because of my CAPS sign). Someone else said, don't trust X person (that was a racial thing). It would be nice if we finished up some of the house more so we can invite some of our neighbors over.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

Do you ever feel like your house is rebelling?

This has just been quite the week at This Old Chicago 2 Flat. So much is going on here, that it's just stuff that you hold back from the average person. Maybe one of the things could be mentioned, but I don't think that the average person would believe that all this would happen in one week.

First, we have the pipe freezing issue. Which, whenever the pipes freeze, it reminds us of our less than stellar plumber (reminder, trust your gut!). It also prompts conversations such as "You know what I want to do this weekend?" (I'm thinking Auto show, chocolate fest, sleeping in, taping the rental ceiling, you know, the usual) But, I just answer "What?" "I feel like repiping both kitchens."

Now, the second issue, that absent all the other stuff might grasp our attention, is the randomly leaking wall. Before we can really deal with that though, we need to move our bedroom to another room in the house so we can demo part of the wall. In the interim, it's just peel off the paint around anywhere we see moisture. Since it only happened when it got ridiculously cold, I'm hoping that the leakage will subside. (I think it will remain positive temperature wise the next couple days!). But, we have no idea what is causing the leakage, nor how to fix it.

Then, the third issue is electrical. Of course, the freezing pipes and the random leaking was not enough, but now, circuits are tripping, and we have no idea why. We run our microwave, and the circuit trips. This is new wiring. It's just really odd. Something we need to look at.

So, to me, that sounds like rebellion.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Mysterious Wall Problem

A really bizarre thing is going on with our wall. I was all set to post a photo and say "what on earth can it be?" Now, I need help it figuring out possible causes.

This is a section of our bedroom wall. Behind the wall is a chimney (that vents our boilers). The wall itself is plaster, with a skim coat of compound on top, followed by latex paint. (The plaster had a mixture of paint on it as well, oil and the like).

As you can see from the photo, it appears that moisture is in the wall, and is collecting at the "bubble" points. (this is the photo from this morning)

The "water" issue starts at the picture molding and works it's way down. There are no other apparent areas anywhere else on the wall.

The cosmetic fix is easy-relieve pressure, let the water out, scrape, patch and paint. But, more troubling is if water is getting in, where is it coming from, and how can we stop it from coming in?

Of course, all this is happening in our one finished room which doesn't make us remotely happy. Our bedroom to boot.

Oh, an another fact for anyone who didn't read the "unfreezing pipes" post, is that it is currently -1 out. The past few days have been extremely cold.(ie. highs under 5 degrees) Our bedroom has a mega radiator so is really warm.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Unfreezing pipes

Chicago is colder than Anchorage today. (and probably yesterday, as well) We've had a bunch of days with highs in the single digits. Nothing like waking up to the current temperature of -8 with windchills of -25 to -35. Needless to say, I'm taking the opportunity to spend as little time out of the house as possible.

What wonderous task did we accomplish this weekend as a result? Yep, the title gives me away-we spent several hours unfreezing our pipes.

First, to all those cold weather newbies out there- how do I prevent my pipes from freezing?

1. Do not, if at all possible, have water pipes running through outside walls. If you must do it, add a lot of insulation, and if possible insulation with Heat Tape

2. Keep your heat on! It's tempting to save money by turning your heat off when you leave town in the winter. However, unless you completely drain your system and turn off the water supply, be prepared to come home to a mess. After our tenants turned off their heat last year resulting in their heating pipes freezing, we now suggest 62 degrees as the appropriate temperature. Depending on your insulation situation, I've heard suggestions of a minimum heat of at least 55 degrees.

3. If you know there will be a period of time of really cold weather, leave the hot and cold water trickling for any fixture that has piping in exterior walls.

4. You can also leave the cabinets open underneath fixtures to insure more warmth getting to the pipes.

My problem? I forgot to leave the cold water at a trickle. Whenever I used the kitchen sink, I'd turn the hot water on. Since I was using it frequently, I didn't think there'd be a problem, but I forgot to turn the cold water on for a couple days.

Okay, your pipes are frozen (since no water is coming out of the tap)- What do you do?

1. Open up the cabinets under the fixture that won't dispense water. We usually grab a space heater and put it under there (not unattended, and a safe heater, use caution and follow manufacturer's instructions)

2. Figure out where you can get access to pipes, as well as the most likely "freezing" location. For us, this usually means removing the stove, and/or dishwasher. We cut into the drywall the first time we had a problem (Christmas Eve after Midnight Mass in 2004), which makes it easier. If you haven't cut into the drywall before, you will need to do this. (use a utility knife or drywall knife to score/cut the drywall, and take it out).

It really helps that we have photos of our piping. If you are doing any renovation, I highly recommend taking photos of all the piping before drywall goes up.

3. Once you get to the pipes, heat them up using a hair dryer or heat gun. Leave the water "running" so you can hear when you've accomplished your goal.

4. If all this "fails" you can always call a plumber who may have the capability to put an electrical charge through the pipes, depending on the distance between the accessible pipe and the sink. (I got an estimate of $700 or so for this and was told the total length of pipe could only be 75 feet or so. It really depends on what the plumber's tools are as the plumber who came said that was the length of their cord but they came bigger.)

As a final caution, which probably goes without saying, but it is imperative to deal with frozen pipes ASAP. If left alone, pipes will burst, wreaking havoc. (water damage, etc.) My Sister-in-law's neighbor went away on vacation and came home to a completely flooded house. (the water supply was not turned off so once the pipe burst, water kept on streaming out)