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.

Ran out of pages

For about a year an a half, I have been keeping a written journal. Every morning, while I am drinking my cup of two of coffee, I sit down and write in this notebook:

Generic notebook

Yesterday, I used the last page. I knew that this day was coming so I had made a trip to Barnes and Noble to pick up a new one. Then, whilst in the shower I thought, why not revive the old Catskill House blog.

Many, many years ago, I kept a thing called the “Homeowner’s Blog,” which was more or less about fixing up this falling down house. It was relatively well received and I enjoyed writing it. Unfortunately, the home life declined, especially after the “Great Recession” of 2009-10, loss of employment in early 2010 and the subsequent struggles that ensued.

Some ten years later, many things have changed. I still live in this house and there are still many things to write about. My plan is to recap all of the major house projects; interior renovation before we moved in, drilling a new well, installing a French drain in the basement, installing solar collectors and solar panels, building the barn, renovating the old bathroom, installing new siding, and the new screened in front porch, the emergency generator, etc.

But there will also be things about life in general, personal observations, slow cooker recipes, weather reports, etc. This will basically be an one line version of my written journal, less some of the really personal and business things.

You are welcome to join me!