Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Saga of the New Gas Range

Cooking is one of my passions--so in house shopping, each potential home's kitchen received a bit of close scrutiny: the layout of this one was bad, that one had older appliances, this one had too little counter space, etc. The biggest lack at Chateau Papillon was its electric range; I'd gotten a bit spoiled to the cooking efficiencies of gas while at the rental home on Tapawingo Road. But Chateau Papillon, unlike several homes we looked at, already had natural gas running to the house--so converting to gas for cooking couldn't be that difficult, could it?

First things first: we got estimates and hired plumbers to come out and run a gas line to the kitchen; the existing gas line entered on the opposite end of the house, where it fed the furnace and water heater. At least the drop ceiling in half the basement made it relatively simple to route the extension line, though it still involved multiple visits from the plumber, a Washington Gas subcontractor to re-do the meter and regulators, and the Fairfax County gas inspector.

Of course, I had to run a new electric line for the gas range, too. The electric range had a 220 volt range outlet in place; the gas range needed only basic 120 volt line service. The home's breaker box was full, of course, but removing the big 50-amp, double-pole breaker for the old range gave me plenty of room to add a 15-amp circuit for the new gas appliance. (Fortunately, I've worked informally as an electrician before, spending summers in high school working for my uncle's construction business--that saved us quite an expense!)

The biggest problem, though, became the range itself. The existing electric range abutted a wall--and bubbled paint testified to the poor choice of location that had been; our home inspector recommended a heat shield for safety (and with a gas range's high heat output, a doubly-necessary precaution!) So I put on order a metal plate that would cover the wall next to the range and thought no more of it--and after some measurements, ordered the gas range itself.

I'd ordered a fairly basic GE gas range, one with a "power" burner and another "precise simmer" burner but little else fancy (we'd after all just spent several hundred thousand dollars on the home plus thousands more in our initial renovations). Its dimensional specifications matched the electric range we'd be replacing, so once the gas line was in place, we'd be set, right?


What GE didn't mention in their specs was that the range's console was actually 31 inches wide, even though the oven and range top were but the specified 30 inches. In the recommended installation with at least two inches of space on either side of the range (remember the need for a heat shield due to the wall being so close?), that extra inch wouldn't be a problem... but in our tight quarters, it became a show-stopper. The only viable solution was to cut into the wall itself!

I planned to cut out the drywall alongside the range, replacing it with the metal heat shield I'd ordered. That would buy me at least a half an inch, which would not only let me get the range into place but would also be better from a safety standpoint as well, moving the wall surface back just that little bit more from the range.

As you can see in the photo above, I first cut (using a utility knife) the outline of the new heat shield, then used a drywall saw to slice away the wall itself. I even got a hammer involved--I realized once I'd cut the outline, there was no reason to wear myself out sawing through the drywall when I could just break it up into chunks and trim away the last bit of paper backing.

That got the space opened up; I then had to add some framing to support the new heat shield. Initially, I ran full 2x4's between the existing wall studs, but then I realized I only needed to put anchor blocks at the corners (notice the one to the upper left--necessitated by the routing of the light switch wires), which I attached via drywall screws to the remaining drywall. I then ran some J-bead along the exposed edges of the drywall, applied several coats of drywall compound, and sanded them flush to the wall.

The finishing touches included another coat of grey primer and two coats of VT Maroon paint; the heat shield then screwed to the supports I'd added, followed by a trim layer of shoe moulding mitered to sit inside the opening and reinforce the J-bead edges.

The range was still a tight fit, but not because of the console any longer. My work notching the wall and putting in place the heat shielding took care of that perfectly. A second heat shield went in behind the range; I will probably frame it in shoe moulding later to make it consistent with the side wall (and yes, we do plan to replace the microwave with a black unit to match the range later as well).

What a saga! Well, what's life without a bit of spice to it?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Chateau Papillon

Monday morning's closing went off without a hitch--so we're now the proud owners of "Chateau Papillon!"  After months of waiting (between the three-and-a-half months it took from our initial offer and winning acceptance from the seller's bank for the short sale to the month of getting ready to close--not to mention our other misadventures in real estate), we're chomping at the bit, so to speak, to get our new home ready and to move in.

First things first: this is, after all, Chateau Papillon, so we've several steps to make it a friendly home and yard for Didi and Chance.  We've gotten a few bids for fence construction and are moving forward with a privacy fence (both for our sanity and that of the neighbors--we want to prevent as much barking as possible!), compliments in part of Beth's mom, P.A.T., who wanted to give us a fence as a housewarming gift.

Next, the carpet has to go; once either doggie or any of their friends mark, it would become a sponge for pee.  The basement is getting environmentally friendly, sustainable cork; the bedrooms are either getting their existing hardwood refinished or will be receiving a new coat of solid bamboo (again, a "green" floor--sense a theme?)  Beth and I will be doing all the work, so within the limits of our finances, we'll largely be going with new floors vs. refinishing (it's actually cheaper that way--refinishing can cost an average of $5/sq. ft. and is a task we'd contract out, whereas our bamboo and cork cost, respectively, $2 and $3/sq. ft., and is a task we'd tackle on our own).

And there's repainting; not necessarily a task done for the benefit of the papillons, per se, but something we want (and in the case of the pink princess rooms, need for our own sanity).  And let's not forget the many small details that need to be addressed with any new home.

I can't wait to get back from my last business trip of the year and get to work!  Beth's already hard at painting prep and painting itself for the basement, and there's so much carpentry I have to get to, too.

Chateau Papillon!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Flying High with the Magic Wall

No, I haven't taken up recreational hallucinogens--but flying home this weekend from a business trip to Monterey, California, I did a double-take while waiting to board my first flight from tiny Monterey Peninsula Airport.

"Huh, that looks like CNN's John King," I thought as a silver haired gent came around the hall from a session with the TSA.  John King, aka "Mr. Magic Wall," he of the gigantic touch-screen display used throughout the 2008 Presidential election, and former CNN White House correspondent, was who came to mind.

Sure enough, on his heels was none other than CNN political correspondent Dana Bash, their lead reporter for coverage of John McCain's campaign for the Presidency.  The two sat down to wait for the flight; after a moment, Dana put her head tiredly on John's shoulder.  (The two, I found out later, wed in May.)

I'm sure both are seasoned travelers,  but apparently not well enough to choose the best seats on the little SkyWest Embraer 120 turboprop: King and Bash had been assigned the absolute back of the plane.  (I, on the other hand, held the coveted 9C, an exit-row window seat with several feet of legroom--one of my favorite seats in the United fleet).  In LAX, we all ended up on the same flight again: United 44, the red-eye to Washington-Dulles (yay for my upgrade finally clearing!)

I figured the pair were taking a well-earned vacation after the arduous election season; after all, Monterey is quite the destination for leisure travelers.  However, I had wondered why the two looked exactly like they do on TV, down to well-coiffed hairdos, and after getting home and taking a brief nap, I found out why: John King had interviewed California "Governorator" Arnold at his home in the Monterey area, then flown back to Washington... where he went in to work after the red-eye to sit in for Wolf Blitzer's Sunday program.  I don't know how TV personalities do it; I can barely function after a red-eye, and here King was on live television, apparently none-the-worse-for-wear.

And no, I am not a member of the celebrity-worship cult; I just found it interesting to share a flight with Mr. Magic Wall.  I mean, when you have a Saturday Night Live skit making fun of your raison d'etre, you're somebody.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

More "Bank Time" Is Giving Me Ulcers

Beth and I are scheduled to close on our home purchase on November 10th.  Yet I'm still in a state of constant anxiety and stress over the whole thing.  Why now?  "Bank time" again rears its ugly head.

You see, we still have not gotten the loan commitment from our lender.  Despite assurances from everyone involved that this is a "clean" and "vanilla" loan and that it could be done in "10-14 days," we're now well over 20 days and still don't have the commitment in hand.

I've wired my closing funds to the settlement agency; Beth has gotten the rest as a cashier's check.  We've gotten insurance; we've arranged for the changeover of utilities.  Beth is even ordering some cork flooring to be delivered to the new home so that we can get the order in place in time to get several discounts before they expire.

Worse, the investor approval of the short sale expires on the 14th.   You see, in a short sale, the home sells for less than the sellers owe on their mortgage, meaning the bank (and its investors) will take a loss.  Thus they have to approve the sale, and the terms of the approval for this one are good through next Friday only.  Now, it's quite possible to get an extension; that's not impossible and comes up fairly often in short sale transactions... but given it took three months to get initial approval, I don't want to risk additional delays and potentially losing the entire transaction!

Why the delays?  Our lender claims their underwriting department is "swamped" with closings from last month (apparently themselves delayed!)  Fine--but we have to have ours in place; we can't just delay at this point.  Everyone involved claims there are no problems, but Jesus Christ!  Give me a break, people!  If there are no problems, commit the loan--the funds HAVE to be wired to settlement in time for Monday, or we can't close!

I hate real estate.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The New Jim Crow, Or a Sad Night for Equality

Despite the elation of bringing change to the White House (and keeping Caribou Barbie as far away from it as possible), there was a big vote last night that fell solidly on the sordid side of history: it appears Proposition 8, aka "Proposition Hate," has passed in California.

Several states had ballot initiatives which addressed the rights of those of us who differ from the majority only in their sexual orientation, from three decisions on the legality of same-sex marriage to another which banned adoption by gay couples, but ostensibly California's Proposition 8 was the most important such measure to see the ballot, ever--for not only is California the largest state and thus carries a heavy impact upon the rest of the nation, but also its courts had thrown out a prior ban--making Proposition 8 a measure not only denying a right, but one which would explicitly take away an existing right.

That these issues were even on the ballot at all is a sad enough commentary on the United States electorate and the backwards views and bigotry apparently so prevalent in our country.

I'm a happily-married, heterosexual male, and I just don't get it why anyone feels their own marriage is somehow threatened by allowing a basic right to all.  Or why allowing gays to marry somehow threatens children.

I also don't understand how people can be quite so bigoted--particularly so many people who collectively have historically themselves been the victims of discrimination and persecution.  The Mormon church, for example, has certainly been one of the more persecuted religious groups in the history of the United States--and has even faced its own share of non-traditional marriage issues--yet they pumped tens of millions of dollars into California from out of state to ensure the passage of Proposition Hate.  African Americans by and large voted heavily in favor of 8 as well--reminding me of the gay black character in Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy, who lamented being "a minority of a minority."

One thing is for sure: we're seeing the creation of a new Jim Crow, and it's not a pretty sight.

Now, for the fallout.  I am neither a lawyer nor do I play one on television (and I most certainly did not stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night), but I wonder if the passage of 8 can see legal challenge in courts in California?  Ballot initiatives do not give anyone the right to violate the Constitution, so perhaps "equal protection" arguments can successfully be made, either at the state or Federal level (though with the latter, said challenges need to wait to for some of the damage done by George Bush's conservative appointees to be remedied--I would hate to see a Supreme Court of Scalia, Alito, Roberts, and Thomas taking up such a crucial issue).

And will existing same-sex marriages be rendered void, ruining the lives of many happy couples?  Surely that will be a sordid spectacle both in the legal courts and that of the public spectacle.  Is it time to push our Congresspeople to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act at the federal level?

I just don't know.  But I nonetheless find this a very sad day to be an American, making the triumph of the election of Obama bittersweet.  I don't even have a dog in this race, so to speak, with my happy, "traditional" marriage.  Yet I find I must shed a tear for this step backwards for equality and the civil rights of all Americans, and the dark blot on the pages of history Proposition 8 and its sister measures across the country represent.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Change Has Come

I'm proud to be a Virginian right now.  Sitting in California, I saw my home state called for Obama--an inevitable result as I'd watched the county-by-county returns and had seen how many votes were outstanding in Fairfax and Arlington Counties (heavily Obama areas)--and then had but minutes to go before the west coast polls closed with their certain results.  At 220 electoral votes with the Virginia call, California alone was going to be enough to put President-elect Obama over the edge, and so it did.

Watching the Election Results Roll In

So here I sit in scenic Monterey, California, where I'm currently on a business trip.  Having voted absentee in-person a couple of weeks ago, I proudly wore my "I Voted!" sticker and picked up my free Starbucks coffee (buying a slice of tasty pumpkin loaf and tipping the barristas well for the freebie).  Now I'm ensconced in my hotel room glued to CNN and the election results--with my Web browser pointed to CNN, the Washington Post, NPR, and my favorite online discussion forum, Flyertalk.

Now, I've been fairly confident for some weeks--since Republican candidate John McCain repeated his "The fundamentals of the economy are strong!" gaffe on the eve of the worst economic crisis the United States has seen in nearly a century--that the Democrats would carry the day.  But it's still an anxious evening of fascinating, edge-of-the-seat politics, and each called state brings a sigh of relief as the big must-haves roll in for Obama (Pennsylvania being denied the McCain camp earlier this evening the biggest so far--even though NPR had already called the race there earlier, I pumped my fist when CNN confirmed the call).

I do wish I could be at home with Beth and the Papillons to watch the results, but being in the Pacific time zone, I at least get to stay up "late" and catch all the returns without having to sit up until well after midnight.

That "Independents for Obama" bumper-sticker on my car is going to feel good in a few hours, I suspect.  (I'm a Libertarian by philosophy, and have voted for both major parties regularly--but I certainly do have my favorite in this race, and it's not Bob Barr.)

More to come!