DIY Elbow Grease and Ingenuity Is Far More Cost Effective than High-Dollar Service Companies

Hoses to both the refrigerator have to go from the connections under the sink and behind the cabinets.  It would have been easy for the original builder to put connections behind the fridge, as the sink in thehalf-bath is directly on the other side of the wall behind it.

Hoses to both the refrigerator have to go from the connections under the sink and behind the cabinets. It would have been easy for the original builder to put connections behind the fridge, as the sink in thehalf-bath is directly on the other side of the wall behind it.

Readers on this blog might know that it was four years ago this summer that I was in the full throes of the search for my first home, which I bought at the end of October, 2009.  I didn’t want, nor would the VA appraisers approve, a house that wasn’t move-in ready.  Even though the house was about 25 years old, it was  in good shape and built solid.  However, since moving in I have replaced the refrigerator and dishwasher, and last summer’s heat forced a new AC to be installed.

Still there are small jobs to be done for the upkeep of the house.  I don’t mind doing many of these tasks myself like painting or replacing window panes, but when it comes to dealing with most water problems (fortunately, there have been few in the four years I’ve had the house), I’d rather leave them to someone with more experience, as I’m afraid I’ll end up with some bigger mess.

Therefore, when I found I had a little leak coming out from under the dishwasher a couple of weeks ago, I just turned the water off under the sink.  I didn’t really think it was the dishwasher itself, but that it was a leak from the hose to it or the one to the refrigerator.   It didn’t don on me at the time that I had turned off the cold water valve, which goes to the fridge, and that the hot one going to the dishwasher was still open.   Anyway, I thought that whatever the problem was, the dishwasher would have to be pulled out to get to the hose and I wasn’t sure I wanted to deal with that.  For about 10 days, I just washed dishes by hand and drank the awful tasting water from the faucet.

A $22 hose and 10 bucks of connectors were all the replacement parts needed for this job.  John Moore's $729 estimate can be seen next to the drill bits.

A $22 hose and 10 bucks of connectors were all the replacement parts needed for this job.  John Moore’s $729 estimate can be seen next to the drill bits.

This past week when I had some vacation days, I called John Moore (Houston plumbing/AC/electrical repair service company).  They advertise a lot on TV and offer to come to your house and give a free estimate.  The repairman came first thing Tuesday morning, and he did a little looking under the dishwasher and said the leak was coming from the hose to the refrigerator, and said he would give me an estimate.  He went out to the truck for quite awhile and came back with a printout that said $729.  I said “no” that wasn’t going to work for me, and he said that they weren’t the cheapest in town but they did good work.  I had never imagined an estimate anywhere near that high.

One of several new holes that had to be drilled. For whatever reason, the old hose ran through the upper part of the cabinets.

One of several new holes that had to be drilled. For whatever reason, the old hose ran through the upper part of the cabinets.

The one thing that I learned from him was which hose had the leak.  Now I can’t believe I was that naive; just lack of experience mostly.  Since the problem wasn’t something urgent, I decided it could wait, and maybe I could find a more reasonable plumber.   Then I got to thinking about it and looking at where the hoses went through the cupboards and decided the hose from the fridge could go under the dishwasher instead of behind it, so I wouldn’t have to pull it out.

I got a new hose from Sears for $22 and  a couple of connectors from the hardware store for $10 and fixed it myself this morning in about 1 1/2 hours (that’s even including time to check me emails, watch a bit of “Judge TV”, and make a run to the hardware store).  I had to drill new holes at the back of the cabinets, but the hardest thing was threading the hose–I straightened out a coat hanger and attached a copper wire loop at the end to maneuver and pull the hose under the dishwasher, between the cabinets, and through the new holes I had drilled.  I had to get down on the floor in all different positions to do it, so I guess that was the $700 of labor.

Finally, the hose was reconnected to the refrigerator. Afterward, I removed the old hose and cleaned the floor (high time for that).

Finally, the hose was reconnected to the refrigerator. Afterward, I removed the old hose and cleaned the floor (high time for that).

Anyway, so far there are no leaks and now have my cold water and ice back.  I feel pretty good for being able to complete the task myself, but even better for not letting myself get ripped off!

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The Plot Thickens, or Why Do My Fingernails Have This Much Dirt Under Them?

Rough little garden plot and tools--a guy can never have too many tools!

I have nothing but good things to say about Daylight Savings Time.  Getting home from work with still more than a good hour of useable light makes the entire evening seem longer.  Having a yard and being able to plant what I wanted was one of the big reasons that getting a home of my own was important to me.

The plants in all the pots that suffered from the move and then the colder than usual winter are now beginning to look like they are enjoying their new place, quickly putting out new shoots and bright blossoms.  I’ve also added  bedding plants in the neglected bed on the sunny side of the house.  It’s amazing after throwing quite a bit of money at Lowe’s for some great looking plants, how sparse the bed still looks, but I’m hoping they’ll grow and spread.

Far in advance, I’d picked up a variety of flower bulbs,  gladiolus and irises, and they are now shooting up green spikes from the pots.  I still haven’t conquered the moles.  So far I’ve gone the repellent route, trying to avoid sinking spikes filled with poison down into the yard where Annie plays and sometimes nibbles at the tender green grass.

Along with the flower bulbs, I found that I had purchased (maybe even back in December or January) some onion sets.  The smallest amount I could get was a plastic bag of 80 of the small starter onions.  I finally decided that maybe I could make a try at a small vegetable plot behind my garage.  There’s a space of about 12 feet by 20 feet that with care and a lot of mulch might finally work.  But I was determined to get the onions put into the ground.  Even though there were roots from a tree that the back neighbor had cut down, digging up the soil wasn’t all that hard.  It’s very sandy, and like much of the Houston area, it’s not very far down until you start hitting clay, about 10 inches down, where I was digging.  I mixed in some rotting leaves and raked over the soil, dug a small trench, and dropped in the onions.  For good measure, I covered most of it up with some more leaves.  Only a few days after I had put in the onions, my co-worker kindly gave me a couple of squash plants.  I’ve put them into the ground too but dug a hole and put in some good shovelsful of potting soil.

Will the trellis be an incentive for this little squash plant?

The little squash plants are growing new leaves, and today when I went out for the obligatory inspection–lo and behold–there were two onions sending up little slivers of green, seeming to say, “Hey, this may not be the best soil, but we’re going to try out best.”  In answer, over to the spigot I went, ready to give these new little green guys and all of their plant amigos a drink.

Lessons on Buying a House: Living and Learning . . . and Laughing After the Fact

I’ve been hung up with a good ol’ head cold for the last several days, and not really thinking straight (not that I ever really think straight), so when I opened up my gas bill tonight, I thought something was really wrong.  The total was right at $100.  The previous month’s bill had been my first and included a large deposit and hook-up services, but the actual charge for the gas was not bad as I remember.  Remembering at the moment doesn’t seem to be my strong suit (or is it suite?)

I was thinking that  a hundred bucks for one guy to take a hot shower every morning, wash the dishes most every day, and do a load of laudry or two every week with hot water was kinda steep.  Then I had this other thought.

I went back to the original real estate description of my house . . . a lot easier than climbing up into the attic . . . and found out that the house has a gas furnace!  I don’t know why I hadn’t really paid attention to that before.  I know that all the heating and AC checked out OK when I had the inspection.  Heating is a pretty important part of a house, but when the days started getting cold, all that I did was go turn the thermostat on, and didn’t think about whether the heat was electric or gas.

Now I’m laughing at myself because in my old 2-bedroom apartment my electric bill could run more than $200 or more a month in the winter, and the electric furnace didn’t really heat the place that well.  The bill I received today was for 33 days and includes a lot of this last really cold spell that we’ve had; even so, I’m just looking at 100 bucks to heat a 2-story house and heat up the hot water to boot.

As they say (whoever they is), “Live and learn.”   Can I just blame it all on this cold that’s stuffing up my head?  Time for another shot of some blue stuff in a bottle.  I hope it’s the nighttime kind.  Heck, I’m not going to worry about the electric bill; I’ll flip on the kitchen light.

A Bit of Culture Shock in the Suburbs or “I Want My Barnes & Gay-ble”

From the most recent issue of "The Advocate," contained in an article about some of the young organizers of the National Equality March. (If you're someone who doesn't agree that this about one of the most tender images you've ever seen, you'd probably better click right back to the site you were on before.)

Last night another go at the turkey I had baked over the weekend wasn’t going to be my supper, so after getting home and walking Annie, I decided to head up the road to Stripcenterolandia.

One of the benefits of living in my new (new to me) house is that I’m actually closer to all kinds of shopping than I had when I lived close to downtown.  Before, I had to drive at least 3 miles to the super market and about 10 if I wanted a megastore like Walmart or Home Depot.  Now, even though I live more than 20 miles from downtown, I have, within “spittin’ distance” at the corner of Highway 6 and 529, more shopping opportunities than I really need.  I don’t even have to cross the main intersection to get to both Home Depot and Lowe’s, and if I do decide to wait at the never-changing light to make that journey across all those lanes of traffic, there’s Target and Walmart and almost every other smaller chain retail store that one might think of.  Without crossing the corner, I can get treats for Annie at PetSmart, a new camera at Best Buy, or something to read at Barnes & Noble.

Even with all the great shopping nearby, every time I go out to buy groceries or just check out the other stores, I almost go into culture shock.  Yes, the demographics of 77084 are not the same as those of 77007.  77007 is the land of the singles and couples.  Whether straight or gay, young or old, people either come “one to a package” or at most two.  And while the two might be married, or not, kids are not usually part of the deal, even if they have some.  Most of the time the couples are young, so no kids yet, or older, empty-nesters, with the kids happily off to college or now married with offlings of their own.

Not so in the land of 77084.  Can you say f-a-m-l-i-e-s?  So it’s kids dancing in the canned goods aisles of the HEB, kids punching at Dad outside the McDonald’s, kids begging for something they want anywhere and everywhere.

OK.  It’s not that I didn’t expect that.  I just didn’t expect it in such a big way.  I just miss all my single people and my coupled people, my without-kids people, who had some sense of my existence and my space when waiting in the check-out line, who, even though they may not have spoken a word to me, make me feel that I wasn’t  alone.  (However, I love my house, and living in 77084, I can afford this house.  If this house were in 77007, I couldn’t touch it.  I’m just whining to be whining on a cold night.)

Last night, after polishing off my Angus burger, I decided to hit the strip with PetSmart, Best Buy, and Barnes & Noble.  At least, at PetSmart, there’s a bit of kinship with the other petlovers.  The Best Buy is typical, stocked with all the electronic gadgets.I thought it would be great to have a Barnes & Noble Bookstore down the road.  Finally, I stopped in at Barnes & Noble.

Barnes & Noble has always been a retreat for me, no matter whether it was the store near where I lived or one in a city that I was just passing through.  Last night, I thought I’d buy a 50% calendar with the gift card I had been given for Christmas.  I remembered looking at the selection when everything was full price and hadn’t been tempted by anything, and the reduced price didn’t help with the selection. I browsed through the books, but nothing lured me either.  What does this store have the biggest selections of? All kinds of stuff for home schooling and aisle after aisle of religious stuff.  The gay and lesbian section is housed on two bottom shelves, but as I looked closely there were fewer than ten gay books, the rest were definitely lesbian.  I faired no better in the magazine section.  The really don’t want people to browse the magazines in this store; their selection is all stuffed together on four stands directly at the front of the store, and whoever is in charge of the magazines needs a short course in organization.  I couldn’t find any gay magazines; likewise, there were hardly any of the typical soft-core skin magazines for straight men like other bookstores usually have.  Maybe the person who decides on which magazines this store will stock is the same person who fills half the store with religious materials.  This is beyond culture shock!

My little evening outing reminded me that I still hadn’t changed my address for my Advocate and Out subscriptions.  Today I found out that it’s very hard to do online.  After much searching, I changed tactics and found the numbers in the magazines themselves.  It’s easy to do.  A real person answers the phone, and because they are published by the same company, if you change your address for one, your address is automatically changed for the other (as I found out with my second call).  So for anyone who wants to change your address for The Advocate or Out magazines, call one of these numbers: (800) 792-2760 or (800) 827-0561.

I’ll probably go back to this Barnes & Noble.  Maybe ordering some gay books and picking them up at the store will get them to add to their selection.  Maybe I can shock their culture a little bit.