All posts by Steve

A sprinkler saga, episode 3

In the 30 November installment of the sprinkler saga, Mikel from Green Tree Professional returned to continue resurrecting the sprinkler system from construction damage. He blocked six hours, believing most if not all of the damage was already identified and repaired. His goal was to begin redesigning the system to cut off lateral lines and sprinkler heads along the front of the house where planting beds no longer exist, and to lay out new drip lines to water the oaks in the front yard and planting beds that will be added to Emerald Hill.

Mikel unspooled several hundred feet of drip line.
Mikel unspooled several hundred feet of drip line.
He looped some of the drip line around one of the oaks and into what will be a planting bed.
He looped some of the drip line around one of the oaks and into what will be a planting bed.
He looped the drip line around more of the oaks.
He looped the drip line around more of the oaks.
He continued around a cluster of oaks near the driveway.
He continued around a cluster of oaks near the driveway and in front of the new privacy fence.
He laid out a drip line that Steven will use for a future planting bed at the side of the deck at the kitchen side of the house.
He laid out a drip line that Steven will use for a future planting bed at the side of the deck at the kitchen side of the house.
He looped the dripline around a cluster of oaks behind the new privacy fence.
He looped the dripline around a cluster of oaks behind the new privacy fence.
And he deployed several parallel runs of dripline across what will be new planting beds along the front curb.
And he deployed several parallel runs of dripline across what will be new planting beds along the front curb.

With the driplines laid out and staked down, Mikel switched on the water and activated the zones at the controller, to test the system.

He discovered a broken line that no one knew existed at the end of the new fence line up the driveway. Water streamed from a severed lateral line that was buried under several inches of mulch. He extracted from under the mulch a brass spigot attached to what was the end of the severed pipe. Mikel cut the pipe clean and capped it.

With that line fixed, Mikel switched the system back on — and there was now enough water pressure in the line to reveal four sprinkler heads buried under the mulch around the oaks behind the new fence. He removed the heads and capped the line. And … if we had known this run of sprinklers existed, he could have used it to supply the dripline around the trees — coulda woulda shoulda but too late now.

Next, Michael slit-trenched the new control wires into the ground between a valve  at the walkway and the valve that the plumbers buried.
Next, Michael slit-trenched the new control wires into the ground between a valve at the walkway and the valve that the plumbers buried.

To be continued …

 

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A sprinkler saga, episode 2

Mikel from Green Tree Professional returned 18 November to Emerald Hill to continue identifying problems with and repairing the sprinkler system.

With the system operable after the first repairs were made 11 November, Mikel focused in the front yard on repairing the main supply line to the sprinklers that was cut by the plumbers when they installed a new water line between the house and the city water supply at the curb.

As he dug, Mikel discovered that the main supply line for the sprinklers was cut -- pipe in left circle. The plumbers also cut two  lateral lines. Mikel has already repaired one of the laterals in this photo. The second cut is the PVC pipe in the right circle.
As he dug, Mikel discovered that the main supply line for the sprinklers was cut — pipe in left circle. The plumbers also cut two lateral lines. Mikel has already repaired one of the laterals in this photo. The second cut is the PVC pipe in the right circle.
While working on the pipes, Mikel discovered that the plumbers buried a control valve. He excavated to reveal the valve.
While working on the pipes, Mikel discovered that the plumbers buried a control valve. He excavated to reveal the valve. The plumbers also severed the control wire that runs between this valve and the next valve in line. Mikel could not locate the cut in the wires, so he opted to run new wires across the lawn to the connect the two valves.

After repairing the cuts, Mikel began testing the front sprinkler zones. He quickly discovered a lateral line that was cut when the front walk was formed — water burbled up from under one of the concrete steps.

The good news was … At least two front zones operated, even if they needed additional repairs.

It was time for Mikel to depart to his next scheduled appointment.

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A sprinkler saga, episode 1

When Ranserve excavated the foundation for the new garage bay, the concrete crew cut and buried the end of the 12-strand cable that runs between the control unit location in the garage, out to the valves that control the sprinklers in the back yard, along the PVC pipes that were buried in the ground when a previous owner installed the sprinkler system, and out to the valves and sprinkler heads in the front yard.

Ron Dahlke did try to protect the cable, but bobcats, picks, shovels and form boards are brutal.

Ron, Odell, Kevin and Matt dug exploratory holes in the back yard after the garage was built — and they did find the cable.

But it had been severed — and a section about 20 feet long was missing.

Odell asked Steven to have a sprinkler company do the repair.

Steven collected four estimates. Two companies advised it would be easier and faster to install an entirely new system at a cost of somewhere beyond $4,000 to $5,000. Two companies recommended repairs at $95 an hour, plus parts, with about three hours required to diagnose whether the system could be repaired.

Steven selected Mikel and Darynn Eggert, the two brothers who run Green Tree Professional. Yes, Steven gravitates toward working with family businesses and brothers — see the fence postings as further evidence.

In episode 1 of the sprinkler saga, dated 11 Nov. 2016, Darynn and Mikel excavated the cut end of the control cable buried in the ground about feet away from the back of the new garage, patched it to new wire, and attempted to pull that wire into the garage through conduit that was fixed into place when the concrete slab of the new garage floor was poured.

First discovery — it is impossible to force heavy-duty 12-strand irrigation wire through a tight 90-degree elbow when you don’t have a heavy-duty pull cord.

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The concrete team installed electrical conduit when they formed and poured the new slab for the garage. The sprinkler control wire was supposed to travel through the conduit. But, the wire can’t be pulled through the tight elbow identified in the lower circle in photo, at the concrete foundation. Steven approved drilling through the siding — the second, higher circle in the red-painted siding. Note the missing chunk of concrete walk that was cut out when the garage slab was excavated — this has to be replaced. Darynn and Mikel ran a temporary control wire above ground, with which they were able to begin testing the sprinkler system.

After much discussion, Steven permitted Darynn and Mikel to drill a hole through the exterior siding of the garage above ground level, with a plan to shield the cable in new conduit that would be mounted to the exterior of the siding outside the garage, turned down to the ground in a WIDE 90-degree elbow, then buried and run out across the back yard to connect with the old existing cable.

Except … Ranserve still has to replace a chunk of concrete walk that was cut out when the garage foundation was formed and poured. The new wire out the back of the garage traverses this missing concrete, so permanent installation is not possible until the concrete work is done.

The temporary control wire travels about 20 feet across the back yard to where the original exiting wire was severed.
The temporary control wire travels about 20 feet across the back yard to where the original exiting wire was severed.
Darynn and Mikel made waterproof connections between the new and old control wires. The trench at right is where Mikel discovered the open end of a sprinkler line that was severed during construction of the garage. He cut off the knife edge of the PVC and capped it off.
Darynn and Mikel made waterproof connections between the new and old control wires. The trench at right is where Mikel discovered the open end of a sprinkler line that was severed during construction of the garage. He cut off the knife edge of the PVC and capped it off.

So, Mikel and Darynn ran the wire into the garage, temporarily loose and above ground, connected it to the sprinkler controller in the back yard, turned on water to the sprinkler system, powered up the controller — and began experimenting to discover leaks.

Second discovery — the system still worked. In some places.

Third discovery — in the front yard, the plumbers severed  the main supply line to the sprinkler system when they trenched the front yard to install the new water supply line to the house as required by the city. Did the plumbers repair the sprinkler line as requested by Steven? Apparently, obviously, not.

 

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Taking down the dying magnolia

There’s a magnolia in the northwest corner of the front yard, near the street, that is dying. It’s been dying for a long time. The crown is bare of leaves and the wood is brittle, sometimes breaking away in strong winds.

Steven hired Victor to muck out the back yard and take down the magnolia; it was textbook This Old House.

Several neighbors chatted as they walked past, as Victor took down the magnolia. Everyone was happy to see it go — it’s not native to Austin. The oaks will draw more water and light.

Here’s a photo essay.

Victor begins by trimming away as many low-hanging branches as he can reach, focusing on the middle of trunk, where several low-hanging limbs stretch widest, creating the most hazard.
Victor begins by trimming away as many low-hanging branches as he can reach, focusing on the middle of trunk, where several low-hanging limbs stretch widest, creating the most hazard. The magnolia still has green leaves in this middle range, but the crown is denuded, dead.
With the magnolia prepped, Victor cuts a series of wedges into the trunck, near the ground. The wedges take out a slice of wood in the direction he wants the tree to fall when it is cut and finally topples.
With the magnolia prepped, Victor cuts a series of wedges into the trunck, near the ground. The wedges take out a slice of wood in the direction he wants the tree to fall when it is cut and finally topples. Victor is wearing a dust mask and safety glasses.
After cutting away the wedges that are now opposite the camera, Victor used his chain saw to cut into the trunk at the side of the tree facing the camera. In the street, Victor and his brother Francisco pull taut a rope tied high around the tree that they will use to topple the tree.
After cutting away the wedges that are now opposite the camera, Victor used his chain saw to cut into the trunk at the side of the tree facing the camera. In the street, Victor and his brother Francisco pull taut a rope tied high around the tree that they will use to topple the tree.
First pull. The trunk snaps and begins to lean.
First pull. The trunk snaps and begins to lean.
Leaning.
Leaning.
Leaning.
Leaning.
The point of no going back.
The point of no going back.
Toppling.
Toppling.
The first branch touches ground.
The first branch touches ground.
Crash.
Crash. Actually more like a dull thunk. Anticlimactic.
Cutting down the tree exposes just how close it was to dying. The center of the trunk is soft, with no structure. The black ring indicates the division between live wood around the circumference and dead wood at the heart of the tree.
Cutting down the tree exposes just how close it was to dying. The center of the trunk is soft, with no structure. The black ring indicates the division between live wood around the circumference and dead wood at the heart of the tree.
The crown landed precisely where Victor planned -- on Dale's driveway next door. She was OK with the mess and taking out the tree, because she didn't want it toppling in a storm. Victor and Francisco quickly cleaned up the mess. All this wood from the crown of the magnolia was dead, brittle. It crumbled and snapped in our hands.
The crown landed precisely where Victor planned — on Dale’s driveway next door. She was OK with the mess and taking out the tree, because she didn’t want it toppling in a storm. Victor and Francisco quickly cleaned up the mess. All this wood from the crown of the magnolia was dead, brittle. It crumbled and snapped in our hands.
An example of how dead the crown of the tree was -- the main trunk just snapped away on its own as it hit the ground.
An example of how dead the crown of the tree was — the main trunk just snapped away on its own as it hit the ground.
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Mucking out the back yard

With sprinkler repairs underway, with the fences and gates erected to create a safe yard for Adobe to burn off crazy-puppy calories while attempting to keep the deer out, Steven asked Victor to haul the trash out of the back yard.

Steven and Victor have done this before. Victor and his team installed part of the landscaping at Sea Eagle, and tackled specific jobs at Emerald Hill during construction.

Now we create a clean slate at Emerald Hill.

When Jacquela and Steven bought Emerald Hill, the back yard was not a priority — saving the house from itself was where we focused.

Previous owners used the back yard as a storage yard for broken tree limbs, old dog toys, an old telephone system wiring box, detritus, cast offs. The sage, lantana and other plants were old, tired, thready. Volunteer hackberries had taken root, making the northeast corner dark, dumping leaves. Lumber used for edging around what purported to be planting beds was rotting away.

Victor and his brother Francisco set to work saving the back yard, racing against approaching rain.

Victor and Francisco have already chopped out an old, thready sage.
Victor and Francisco have already chopped out an old, thready sage. They trimmed lower branches off a bush that the deer would come into the back yard to eat, raising the canopy high enough that the deer can’t reach the lower limbs. The lantana at left is next to go, as are the two hackberry trees that volunteered to grow in the back corner to the left of the telephone pole.
A previous owner used timbers to edge the planting beds. Not a good idea -- fine dining for termites.
A previous owner used timbers to edge the planting beds. Not a good idea — fine dining for termites.
This is what timber used as edging looks like after years of lying in the ground feeding generations of termites.
This is what timber used as edging looks like after years of lying in the ground feeding generations of termites.
More bug-infested, rotted and rotten lumber, coming out, going away.
More bug-infested, rotted and rotten lumber, coming out, going away. The pile of rocks will be used as part of the landscaping when Victor moves this project past demo and into development.
Victor lines the cleaned out bed with brick left over from demo and construction of the house. This gets the brick off the driveway and puts it to constructive use.
Victor lines the cleaned out bed with brick left over from demo and construction of the house. This gets the brick off the driveway and puts it to constructive use.
Francisco rakes new gravel atop the old gravel at the north side of the house, creating a deep layer that we hope retards weed growth. The plastic shed sat atop the gravel. It will be relocated to the northeast corner, where the hackberries have been hacked out.
Francisco rakes new gravel atop the old gravel at the north side of the house, creating a deep layer that we hope retards weed growth. The plastic shed sat atop the gravel. It will be relocated to the northeast corner, where the hackberries have been hacked out.
Francisco begins rolling out landscape fabric that will go into gravel bed along the back fence. The gravel provides drainage. The weed block blocks weeds -- we hope.
Francisco begins rolling out landscape fabric that will go into gravel bed along the back fence. The gravel provides drainage. The weed block blocks weeds — we hope.

And then the rains came.

To be continued.

 

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Raising up the new fence and gates

Day 2 of the fence project. A photo essay.

Victor uses a portable band saw to cut to six feet tall one of the galvanized square posts  for the fence at the front of the house.
Victor uses a portable band saw to cut to six feet tall one of the galvanized square posts for the fence at the front of the house.
The black-painted posts at the north side of the house were cemented into position late yesterday.
The black-painted posts at the north side of the house were cemented into position late yesterday.
Noe, left, and Victor wanted to know what size air gap to leave when installing the horizontal fence rails. Steven opted for 3/4 of an inch, which happens to be he height of a framing angle laid on its side as a spacer at the left side of the fence -- highlighted inside the white circle.
Noe, left, and Victor wanted to know what size air gap to leave when installing the horizontal fence rails. Steven opted for 3/4 of an inch, which happens to be he height of a framing angle laid on its side as a spacer at the left side of the fence — highlighted inside the white circle.
Vertical 2x4 cedar posts get star-shaped screws to affix to the galvanized metal posts that were cemented into place yesterday. The cedar 2x4s serve as "facing" to the metal, giving Noe and Victor "meat" to attach the rails.
Vertical 2×4 cedar posts get star-shaped screws to affix to the galvanized metal posts that were cemented into place yesterday. The cedar 2x4s serve as “facing” to the metal, giving Noe and Victor “meat” to attach the rails.
The first section of cedar fencing, nailed up -- 1x4s at the bottom, 1x2s at the top, with a 3/4-inch air gap between each rail.
The first section of cedar fencing, nailed up — 1x4s at the bottom, 1x2s at the top, with a 3/4-inch air gap between each rail.
Victor laid out all his rails for each section of fence, and began working his way down the run.
Victor laid out all his rails for each section of fence, and began working his way down the run.
He's turned the corner.
He’s turned the corner.
Nearly done -- using 1x4s to "face over" and hide the gaps between horizontal rails.
Nearly done — using 1x4s to “face over” and hide the gaps between horizontal rails.
Done. And the sun came out.
Just about done. And the sun came out.
While Victor wrangles cedar in the front yard, Victor is in back cutting, grinding and welding the metal fencing and gates. Here, one side panel is already up as he test fits one of the gate panels.
While Victor wrangles cedar in the front yard, Victor is in back cutting, grinding and welding the metal fencing and gates. Here, one side panel is already up as he test fits one of the gate panels.
The double gates behind the garage are done.
The double gates behind the garage are done. This cuts off the herds of deer in the neighborhood from one entry into the back yard — we hope — and secures the back yard for Adobe to be active dog while fenced in.

 

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Everything is a chew toy

For Black Friday, Jacquela and Steven bought Adobe a new pillow, sized to fit inside her crate.

She slept on it one night.

The next afternoon, she delivered this editorial:

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Off with the fence

Noe and Victor from Austin Brothers Fence set to work this morning taking out the tired old cedar fencing at the north side of the house, and along the back property line. Parts of the fence were already leaning. Several pickets were broken. Where the rails were exposed, we could see termite damage — in cedar.

Cleaning out the old fence was always on the list of things to get to, depending on budget, as we pivoted from saving and rebuilding the house to projects in the yard.

This accelerated when we adopted Adobe. We need to keep the deer herd out of the back yard, and a secure yard from which Adobe cannot escape when she needs to burn off thousands of crazy puppy calories. Adobe is coming up on seven months old. She really needs a safe place to run fast and hard.

As part of this project, Jacquela gets the privacy fence she wants in front of the house, between the kitchen and driveway, to shield the gravel deck off the kitchen from passersby. Jacquela and Steven found online a photograph of a horizontal fence on which they both instantly agreed. Austin Bros. said they could do it by cutting a conventional 1×4 down the middle, creating two 1x2s. The design features 1x4s at the bottom, traveling to half way up, with the 1x2s taking the top half of the fence — with an air gap between each horizontal. Fences in Austin apparently tend to be vertical pickets, or horizontals that all the same dimension.

Why did Austin Bros. get the job?  It’s run by two brothers — Nate and Jeff. And dad answers the phones and runs the office. This resonates with Steven, who works with his brothers — and misses his dad every day.

Here’s a photo essay of day 1 of 2:

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Victor, left, and Noe arrived with the trailer loaded with cedar posts and rails, and galvanized metal poles.
First job was to walk the project with Steven and lay out string lines for the new privacy fence at the side and front of the house. Then Noe, left, and Victor measured out the fence line for posts separated by six feet, and went to work with post-hole diggers.
First job was to walk the project with Steven and lay out string lines for the new privacy fence at the side and front of the house. Then Noe, left, and Victor measured out the fence line for posts separated by six feet, and went to work with post-hole diggers.
With the holes complete and several posts already cemented in behind Victor, at left, Noe sets up the corner post, making it plumb, level and six feet away from its neighbor.
With the holes complete and several posts already cemented in behind Victor, at left, Noe sets up the corner post, making it plumb, level and six feet away from its neighbor.
Victor mixed and poured the fast-setting concrete while Noe held the metal post in position.
Victor mixed and poured the fast-setting concrete while Noe held the metal post in position.
At the north side of the house, Noe and Victor have already taken out the old cedar fence and gate that had partly rotted away.
At the north side of the house, Noe and Victor have already taken out the old cedar fence and gate that had partly rotted away. The metal post at right will also be demo’d and hauled away.
Noe and Victor discovered old sprinkler lines in front of the house as they dug.
Noe and Victor discovered old sprinkler lines in front of the house as they dug.
They repaired each cut in the sprinkler lines.
They repaired each cut in the sprinkler lines.
Removing several pickets exposed and confirmed the dire condition of the fence after years of little if any maintenance. All the horizontal rails along the back property line were riddled by termites and mud tunnels. There was not much structure left to the wood. The vertical pickets behind the horizontal rail belong to the neighbor's fence, which appears to be newer.
Removing several pickets exposed and confirmed the dire condition of the fence after years of little if any maintenance. All the horizontal rails along the back property line were riddled by termites and mud tunnels. There was not much structure left to the wood. The vertical pickets behind the horizontal rail belong to the neighbor’s fence, which appears to be newer.
Victor used a sawzall to cut away sections of decaying fence. This revealed the metal posts to which the fence was attached. Several of the posts are not vertical and plumb -- they lean akimbo, which explains why the fence was decaying, rotting, bug infested and beginning to topple over on its own.
Victor used a sawzall to cut away sections of decaying fence. This revealed the metal posts to which the fence was attached. Several of the posts are not vertical and plumb — they lean akimbo, which explains why the fence was decaying, rotting, bug infested and beginning to topple over on its own.
A second clear example of termite damage to a fence rail.
A second clear example of termite damage to a fence rail.
The original plan was to leave in place one section of the back fence. It was eight feet tall and appeared to be in better condition that the six-foot-high sections. But ... as Noe and Victor cut away the shorter sections of fence, they revealed the terminal condition of the horizontal rails behind the eight-foot pickets. Steven spoke with Jeff at Austin Bros. to get a price to take out this additional section. Jeff offered to add $100 to the invoice. Steven approved it.
The original plan was to leave in place one section of the back fence about where the gray gravel field behind the garage is located. It was eight feet tall and appeared to be in better condition that the six-foot-high sections. But … as Noe and Victor cut away the shorter sections of fence, they revealed the terminal condition of the horizontal rails behind the eight-foot pickets. Steven spoke with Jeff at Austin Bros. to get a price to take out this additional section. Jeff offered to add $100 to the invoice. Steven approved it.
As the back fence came down, Steven disassembled several sections to save a supply of pickets that he will re-use to repair sections of fence that are not included in this picket. The wood is already faded by time and will match the fence where Steven has to remove broken pickets. Less waste. No additional cost for new materials that don't match the old.
As the back fence came down, Steven disassembled several sections to save a supply of pickets that he will re-use to repair sections of fence that are not included in this picket. The wood is already faded by time and will match the fence where Steven has to remove broken pickets. Less waste. No additional cost for new materials that don’t match the old.
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Hauling out the holiday lights

After lunch, Steven climbed the ladder into the storage loft in the garage — and began passing down to Jacquela boxes stuffed with holiday ornaments and lighting.

Working under the eaves and in the trees into the dark, surrounded by a herd of nearly 20 incurious and incautious deer, Jacquela and Steven hung white string lights at the eaves of the house and thee red-lit wreaths at the oak trees in the forest outside the front of the house.

It’s a start on the first major holiday in the house on Emerald Hill.

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Back to work, part 3

Steven trimmed the extra inches off the 8-foot-long desktops, spray painted the cut ends with flat black, then black satin, then two coats of clear satin polyurethane. That took 48 hours in the garage, waiting for paint to dry.

Saturday morning, Jacquela helped to carry the desktop modules into the office. Steven finagled all three panels into position, using 5/8-inch spacers to hold each desktop free of the walls — to create a “pass through” for network cables and electrical cords.

Lying on his back on the floor, Steven screwed 1/2-inch wood screws through the brackets and into the underside of each desktop, locking the wood panels into secure position. Jacquela was NOT available to photograph Steven working under the desks.

Everything got wiped down and cleaned up.

And, then, finally, it was time to bring the desktop computer back into the office — and power it up.

In photo above … Steven’s desktop computer set into place at the southwest corner of the office — booted up, connected to the Web. With Adobe’s dog bed tucked neatly under the side wing — because the dog is barely separable from Steven.

There's a new computer coming from HP. Two monitors are unboxed and ready to connect to the new machine when it arrives -- right side of desktop.
There’s a new computer coming from HP. Two monitors are unboxed and ready to connect to the new machine when it arrives — right side of desktop.
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