Past Project: Patio and retaining wall

Living room sofa; clear, 25 F, 0558

This is the second project that I worked on after we moved in. Basically, it was a continuation of the yard drainage and basement flooding mitigation. The previous owners paved the area around the back of the house, creating a patio of sorts. Asphalt makes a good driveway, but not a very good patio. It was an unshaded area and got hot in the summer time.

Old patio, being removed

I started by digging out all of the asphalt and hauling it away to a recycling facility. This took many trips to accomplish, but it was good to get rid of the stuff.

Stone wall, built with stones picked from the woods

I built the stone wall with rocks from the woods. It took quite a bit of digging back into the slope. The retaining wall goes along the back part of the house, around the designated area for the patio. The rocks are dry fitted and 14 years later, they are still all in place.

Blue Stone patio

I ordered two large pallets of blue stone from the local hardware store. It was quarried locally and delivered by a small dump truck. I like the natural look of the stone patio.

Making a trellis with Black Locust timber

The trellis is made of black locust, cut locally. The great thing about this type of wood is its rot and bug resistance.

Completed project

On the trellis, there are two varieties of grapes; Concord and Himrod seedless. For many years, we were over producing grapes every year, but lately that seems to have dropped off. As I don’t eat or do anything with the concord grapes, I am good with that.

Free Form Friday

Living room sofa; rain/sleet, 38.3 F, 0506

I woke up early for some reason, then began thinking about the sump pumps. Last I knew, I had unplugged sump #1 so I could run an extension cord outside to use some power tools. Naturally, once I started thinking about that I couldn’t go back to sleep. So, I went down in the basement, sure enough, the sump pump was unplugged. However, it didn’t matter because the water level in the sump was still low. We have had 2.42 inches of rain in the last week.

I am still working on exactly what this blog thing is going to be about. I thought today I would just write extemporaneously and see what happens. I am also thinking about how much personal information I should include. Right now, it does not seem to matter, as I have had zero visitors. Perhaps that is the way it is going to be and I will simply be writing to myself. I am good with that.

This week has been low key work wise. That is okay, last week was a bit hectic.

This weekend it is supposed to be clear but cold. I need to do some work around yard, so hopefully it will dry out enough. I am also wanting to finish up the generator connection and emergency power panel. I have been picking away at it because I don’t want to spend too much money all at once, but I think I should wrap things up because winter is coming. I will make a post about that.

I am hosting Thanksgiving at my house this year. Anticipated guests are 13 or 14. It should be fun, but I have to clean everything and move some stuff out into the barn. Since COVID-19 the trade and donate bin at the transfer station has been closed. I’d like to get rid of some things, but I don’t want to throw them in the garbage.

Large Mouth Bass

William’s birthday is coming up soon. He wants another medium sized fishing pole, gift cards to Dick’s and Walmart so he can buy fishing tackle, some new cloths (he is growing fast) and a blue tooth headset. Walmart actually has some good fishing lures and such.

A brief history of the Catskills

Living room sofa; cloudy, 44.6 F, 0545

This is a link heavy brief summary of the history around these parts.

For anyone in the NYC metro area, the Catskills will likely be familiar. The area was, for many years, a summertime vacation destination for city folk looking to escape the city rigors and enjoy some fresh air.

Technically, this house is not in the Catskill Mountains, but just to the east of them. Still, they are close enough that I can go out on my front porch and see their low, rounded peaks to the north and west of here. The mountains themselves are not mountains, but rather an eroded plateau.

The general area has been used by humans for at least 6000 years, perhaps longer. A discovery of a native American site along the Momboccus creek dates back that far.

European settlers began to arrive not too long after Henry Hudson sailed up the river which now bears his name in 1609. Sometime around 1620, the dutch established a trading post in the area of Kingston where the Rondout creek meets the Hudson river. From there, settlement pushed out along the Rondout valley. A military expedition entered the area in 1663 and by 1680, there were permanent settlers. The present town was founded in 1703.

For the next hundred years or so, the area was mostly agrarian. During the war of independence, it was called the “Breadbasket of the Revolution.” Thus it received some special attention; in 1777 the city of Kingston was burned by a British force from New York. In 1779, the Fantinekill Massacre took place just south of here. Nine members (some accounts say eleven) of the same family were killed by loyalist militia and their native American counterparts.

By the early 19th century, the soils in the area had become depleted and much of the forest began to be cleared away for making lumber and charcoal. Mid 19th century saw the beginnings of the resort era.

Large hotels were built in prime locations, offering a respite for those seeking it. Very few of those survive today, but one is the Mohonk Mountain House.

The Delaware and Hudson canal was established in 1828, to bring Pennsylvania coal to NYC and fuel the rapidly growing industrial era. Shortly after, Rosendale Cement was discovered and transported along with bricks manufactured from large clay deposits along the Rondout creek and Hudson River. Later, the canal was replaced with the Ontario and Western railroad, which ran until 1955.

An entire industry sprung up to service the resorts and their guests. Transport, food production and hospitality were the main work sectors. That era peaked in the 1950’s with the Borscht Belt or Jewish Alps. The Amazon series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” has a very good depiction of the Catskill Resorts during the late 1950s to early 1960s.

By the 1970’s the resorts began to decline, as airfare got cheaper, attitudes changed and more exotic destinations began economically available. A long economic slump ensued, most resorts closed down and stood abandoned for years. Many are in the process of being torn down even now.

At present, the area has many weekend homes from NYC residents. Small farms and CSA type operations dot the area. New York state has several correctional facilities around which are major sources of employment. New York City has a gigantic water reservoir system to supply the metro area with fresh water. The Catskill Park is a great destination for outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, fishing and hunting.

Past Project: Basement Drainage

Living room sofa; rain, 43 F, 0623

When we moved in, apparently, there was a drought on. That changed within a few months and soon, the basement began to flood regularly. Naturally, I installed a sump pump, that that only went so far. Depending on who I spoke with, the problem was with the surrounding water table being too high, or with the foundation of the house being too low.

I did extensive work on the drainage around the yard, which somewhat reduced the problem but did not eliminate it. Clearly, more was needed.

Footing drain, being installed

It took a few years, but we finally hired a company to come in and make a footing drain around the entire basement.

Dirty, wet work

This was a major undertaking, requiring jack hammering up the floor around the perimeter of the basement.

One of two sump pits

Digging down around the footing and placing crushed stone and drain pipe around the entire basement, draining into two sumps.

Back filled with crushed stone

The system uses two Zoeller M98 sump pumps. After more than 10 years of dealing with this system, those pumps are the weak point. Not the pumps themselves mind you, they are fine, however the automatic switch mechanism eventually will fail. Zoeller makes a replacement kit for the switch. I found the best thing to do is use a cable tie and tie the float arm in the up (or on) position and use a corded float switch (Zoellar 10-0034) to turn the pump on and off.

Concrete drying over new footing drain

Eventually, the pump on the north east side of the house wore out (it gets a lot of use) and I replaced it with an N98 pump.

I have installed a monitoring system in case of pump failure. It consists of a leak detector 8 inches below the top of each sump, which will alarm before the water starts flow out onto the floor. The pumps are wired to the generator sub panel. That will be the subject of a later post.

Past project: Yard drainage and roof runoff

Home office; cloudy, fog/drizzle, 48F 0643

Any area where water does not readily seep into the ground will have to deal with runoff. In urban areas, roads, parking lots, roof tops, generate a lot of run off that needs to be routed to a dispersal system. Otherwise large unsafe unsanitary ponds will develop.

Our soil is mostly clay. When it is dry, it will absorb a certain amount of water until it is wet. After that, everything just stays on the surface. As the house is built into the side of a slight slope, water running across the back yard tends to run into the foundation. Water from the roof on the back of the house also contributed to the foundation water. All of this contributed to the repeated basement flooding encountered the first few years we lived here.

The equivalent flat area of the roof on the house is 2,052 square feet. I like data, so to quantify the problem, I made the following chart to show how many gallons of water comes off of the roof for every 1/10 inch of rainfall:

Rainfall amount (inches)Cubic inchesGallonsLiters
0.129,548128485
0.259,096256969
0.388,6443841,454
0.4118,1925121,938
0.5 – 1/2147,7406402,423
0.6177,2887672,903
0.7206,8368953,388
0.8236,3841,0233,872
0.9265,9321,1514,357
1295,4881,2794,842
Gallons per 1/10 inch of rainfall

Some of the water in the first 1/10 inch of rain goes towards wetting a dry roof down. I estimate that to be 1/2 of the first 1/10 inch stays on the roof and eventually evaporates. Everything else runs into the gutters.

As you can see, an average storm of 1 inch of rain produces 1,219 gallons of runoff from the roof alone. When larger storms arrive and the ground becomes saturated, then real problems can happen. During Hurricane Irene in late August of 2011, we received approximately 10 inches of rain in 12 hours. The basement sump pumps could not keep up with the incoming water and at one point the basement was flooded with 18 inches of water. Fortunately, the power stayed on and eventually it stopped raining and the pumps did their work.

The first thing I did was install drain pipes to take the water gutter down spouts and conduct it away from the foundation to the downhill side of the yard. To do this, required a small excavator.

Digging trenches for drainage pipes, Cat 303 Excavator

From each corner of the house, I installed 3 inch DW PVC pipe, 18 inches in the ground. The pipe on the north side of the house also connects to the sump pumps, thus that drains into a small dry well in the front yard. Unfortunately, I cannot find any pictures of laying the pipe.

Dry well with water cleaning plants

When we bought the house, only the back had gutters. It seems the previous owner had made some attempts at routing the water away from the basement. I hired a company who came and installed Seamless Gutters on the entire house, which was well worth it.

I also dug up a good bit of asphalt around the back of the house which was a patio of sorts. That was hauled off to the recyclers.

Retaining wall and drainage swale to east of house

The run off from around the yard was directed away from the house by use of two swales; one to the south and another going from east to north. The east to north swale was completed as part of building the patio and retaining wall.

This made a difference in the amount of water getting in the basement, however, there was still water getting into the basement…

Real Estate in Upstate

Living room sofa, rain 41 F, 0630

Recently, there have been a lot of people from NYC buying houses in the area. Real Estate in the metro area and down state is very expensive. Most Manhattanites feel that owning a weekend home is a good investment. The outbreak of COVID-19 makes it even more attractive.

When we bought our home, I was naive about home ownership in general. As a trusting individual, I felt that most people were honest. We hired a home inspector to complete a full inspection before sale. Unfortunately, many things were missed. Very obvious things. Since that time, inspection business in New York State has been regulated. Current buyers are much less likely to be utterly ripped off.

Leaking well pump, started after about six months of regular use. Shaft seal went bad.

There are still some things to look out for when buying someone’s weekend or vacation home. When I home is a weekend home, things often sit unused or under used. Home inspectors will spot most things but some might not be so obvious. Mechanicals; pumps, furnaces, air conditioners, and so on work better when they are regularly in use. If they sit around for long periods of time, then seals can go bad, bearings get rusty, and so on.

We moved in during a drought, next year we had this

During dry periods, basements and crawl spaces can look great. When the weather returns to normal however, things might look different. The same can be said for the function of leach fields, which is the most common septic system in rural areas.

Check the water situation especially if it is well water. Look for bacteria and also dissolved minerals. Iron (ferrous water) is very common around here. It gets worse when the weather is dry for a long period. In other areas, lime, calcium, copper, and/or particulate is found in well water. An appropriate water filter can remove these minerals.

A tale of two glasses: Glass on left, just drawn from the faucet; glass on the right, after sitting for 25 minutes

Look for signs of mouse and insect infestations. In defense of the current owner, these things can happen over time and no one will notice it. Termites can be destructive but so can mice, bees, carpenter ants, raccoons, etc.

Make sure that the property has been surveyed and a current deed description is on file. This is one of those things that I dealt with, as our house was build on pieces of three lots all with different descriptions filed at different times. This was cleared up with a new survey and deed description.

Sometimes, if the neighbors are out and about, chatting them up can reveal some of these things. After we moved in, one neighbor stopped by and asked me why I bought a house that had so many problems. That is never a good sign.

Finally, there is the one thing that cannot be changed or fixed; location. Make sure you are buying in the right area. Many places in upstate are great, but there are some places to avoid so research the area thoroughly. Local news sources can be a good place to start.

The Weather Station

Home office; clear 33.6 F, 0639

Weather has always fascinated me, actually it is the gathering of weather data which is of most interest. Since I moved in here 16 years ago, I have wanted to put up a little weather station. This week, I finally did it.

Ambient Weather WS-2000 sensor cluster

It is an Ambient Weather WS-2000 purchased from Amazon. The roof-top installation is not the best place for it. There is no place on my property to get a good wind measurement because the trees are very tall. I would have to build a 100 foot tower. The black asphalt shingles will affect the temperature measurements as well. However, I placed it on the western edge of the front porch and the prevailing wind direction is from the west. Thus, I would expect that under most circumstances, the temperature will be accurate, particularly in the winter, which is my primary concern.

The old farmer up the road has a great way to predict the weather based on the wind direction;

  • wind from the north is cold
  • wind from the south is warm
  • wind from the east is wet
  • wind from the west is dry
  • wind from the northeast is cold and wet
  • wind from the southeast is warm and wet
  • wind from the southwest is warm and dry
  • wind from the northwest will be cold and dry

I am primarily interested in the Heating Degree Days (HDD). I want a firm calculation on energy used per HDD so I can set a bench mark to improve upon.

When we first moved in, we used about 1200 kWh of electricity per month. This house has the standard compliment of electrical appliances; stove, refrigerator, microwave, dishwasher, washing machine, dryer, dehumidifier for the basement, electric water heater (back up for solar), 1 HP well pump and two 12,000 BTU window air conditioners.

Heating is with a baseboard hot water system. The oil fired boiler’s manufactured date is 1997. The efficiency is 84%. There are three heating zones with programmable thermostats. When we first moved in, we burned about 900 gallons of heating oil per season.

The electrical dropped dramatically after installing solar systems. The solar hot water system reduced the electric bill by 1/3 and that system has paid for itself many times over. The photovoltaic system further reduced that bill by another 2/3. Last year we used an average of 190 kWh per month, which is an 84% reduction. Both solar systems have paid for themselves and I would rate them a good long term investment. Payback on the solar hot water was about 3.5 years and the photovoltaic took about 9.5 years. I expect both systems to be usable for another 10 years.

Last heating season, we burned 400 gallons of heating oil for the season. That is a 66% reduction from when we first owned the house. I want to make more improvements including such things as installing a new boiler or a radiant floor heating system.

The weather station data can be viewed here: Catskill House Weather.

Chatted with the neighbors

On the porch, cloudy 62 F, 0745

Probably the last day of sitting on the porch and writing this year. This is by far my favorite creative spot.

One feature of living around here and I suspect in most rural or semi-rural places, we all get to know our neighbors. This is important for several reasons. Firstly, I find it interesting to learn about other people. Secondly, I feel that it makes the place feel more like home and we all need to look out for each other.

The other day, on my way to the mail box, I stopped and chatted with the neighbors while they were out doing yard work. It was an interesting conversation mostly about children and what they were doing, etc. As it turns out, they have a daughter who played D1 hockey in college. As my son plays youth hockey, I know that making it onto a college team is quite an accomplishment in and of itself. All of their kids are doing interesting things which is a reflection of their parents. Raising kids is hard work. I know this first hand as I have had my own successes and failures. So, I have a new found respect for them.

On my little road, there are nine residences. Four of those are owned by people from New York City who either weekend up here or have moved here since the COVID-19 outbreak. One residence is in the process of being gutted and rebuilt. One residence is a short and medium term rental. In the other houses there is a guy who repairs and rebuilds pipe organs, a dentist, an environmental engineer, a real estate agent, a person who runs a horse farm and myself (broadcast engineer). Everyone is unique in their own way.

I have been informed that I am in charge of the mail boxes. That’s fine.

Chronology

Home office; cloudy 61 F, 0606

Front of the house as it looked in 2004

A brief history of this house:

  1. The house was built in 1965 in an area that used to be a dairy farm. It was owned and lived in full time by the guy that built it.
  2. The house was sold to a fellow from Brooklyn in 1976 and used as a weekend home.
  3. We purchased the house in 2004 and began renovating it. The interior renovation was completed before we moved in in June.
  4. The back yard drainage and gutters were added in 2005
  5. The patio, wall and grape trellis was added in 2006
  6. The new well was drilled and put into use in 2006
  7. Basement drainage project in 2007
  8. The back deck was added in 2007
  9. The solar hot water collectors were added in 2007
  10. The solar photovoltaic panels were added in 2010
  11. The barn was built in 2012-2013
  12. The siding was replaced in 2015
  13. The old bathroom was replaced in 2015
  14. The screened in front porch was added in 2018
  15. The generator and generator sub panel was added in 2020

Most of those projects were done by me although I had assistance with some of the more major ones. At the same time that was happening, I was working full time, I had two kids, started my own company, got divorced, had to refinance the house, etc. Thus the “we” is now an I or me. It has been an interesting journey.

Morning Coffee

In the home office; mostly cloudy, 59.9 F, 0555

I was going to try and write these things at night, at the end of the day. However, by the end of the day, I am usually wrung out. I will be in no mood to write anything when I get home tonight. Besides, most of this creativity is driven by my morning coffee.

Speaking of that, I have been drinking cold brewed coffee for the last several months. When I mention that, almost invariably, someone will say “But I like my coffee hot.” Yes, I do too, which is why I warm it up in the microwave before I drink it.

Cold brewed coffee is a wonderful thing. You know that great coffee smell when the pot is brewing? Those are the volatile oils from the coffee beans evaporating into the air. Imagine what that coffee would taste like if all those aromas are still in the coffee. In addition to that, brewing coffee with hot water makes it bitter. Cold brewed coffee is not at all bitter and requires no sugar. As I discovered last year, I am a type two diabetic, thus reducing sugar and carbohydrates is very important to my long term viability as functional mass of organized cells.

Well, how do you make said cold brewed coffee? Good question. You will need the following items:

  • One mason jar with lid
  • A bag of fresh whole bean coffee from your favorite coffee company
  • A coffee grinder
  • 24-26 oz (800 ml) of cold water
  • A 1/2 cup measure
  • A strainer to pour the brewed coffee though
  • Approximately 18-22 hours of time
Cold brewed coffee ingredients

Instructions:

  • Fill mason jar with clean cold water
  • Course grind approximately 1/2 cup of whole coffee beans
  • Place the ground coffee in the mason jar with the water and put the lid on
  • Let sit on the counter, out of the sunlight for 18-22 hours. The ground coffee will slowly get wet and fall to the bottom of the jar. At some point – eight to ten hours into the process, it is good to slightly agitate the jar to make sure that all the ground coffee is wet and falling to the bottom of the jar.
  • After the brew period is over, pour the coffee through a strainer or sieve into a bowl or pot. Some people like to use a coffee filter while doing this.
  • Enjoy hot, cold, etc.
Wonderful bean

I like my coffee warmed up with some heavy cream, unsalted butter or ghee. Also, be aware that the cold brewed coffee seems to have more caffeine per cup that regularly brewed coffee. Lighter roasts even more so.