Discolor Online

Weblog of the sweetest person you never want to piss off.


Heating a House

When Pramas and I bought this house we were thrilled to be able to get a newly constructed home in the city and on the transit lines. We're still pretty thrilled with our house, though we have expanded to fill it and sometimes wish for things like a basement for dedicated game space and a spare bedroom that would give us room for guests.

The house came with several nifty features such as cable jacks and outlets in every room (not quite as nifty as Tim's full-wired house with the media closet and embedded surround-sound speaker system, but good enough to get cable and internet in any/all rooms of our choosing), a porch and fenced yard, and a "state of the art" and energy efficient hydronic radiant heating system. And, I have to admit that in general our house is easy to heat so I guess it was doing its job.

Unfortunately, problems with the hot water system popped up here and there around the development. The SHA's rental properties were among the first to be discovered. There was a bit of a minor scandal when it was discovered that the SHA not only knew about the defective piping used in the building of all our houses but had been fixing those failed systems without bothering to inform the Homeowner's Association or the other property owners. We even got a little press coverage when the SHA finally disclosed what they knew to the homeowners and we found out that information included knowledge that they'd "found unacceptable levels of lead in drinking water pipes." After much brouhaha and water testing around the development the lead thing was ruled to be an isolated issue (corrected a year before the homeowners even learned of it) but a lawsuit erupted over the defective pipes and the SHA's mishandling of the HOA when they had control.

That lawsuit has finally settled and to our initial relief, it seemed that we were going to receive a settlement check to cover the necessary repairs> In fact, we have indeed received a check. Unfortunately for me, after looking at the two operations that are offering "discounted" quotes (basically, a group rate for the 165 or so homes involved) to replace the system, it's clear that this settlement will only barely cover the basics of the work (the actual replacing of the pipes and water heater) and none of the "additional costs" (ripping up the walls, floors, or ceilings to get to the pipes; drywalling; re-flooring if necessary, repainting) not to mention that we would have to vacate our house for about a week.

So, I've been looking at other options. Until I hear back from the plumbers, I don't even know if the affected pipes were for heating only or if they're all the same pipes that bring water to the taps throughout the house. If the latter, we're kinda screwed. If we have some leeway, it might be possible to just cap off the "heating" pipes and leave them alone, replace the water heater, and then substitute electric heaters in the walls where the electric blowers for the hydronic system already exist. We don't have any ducts built into the house so central heating (or central air) aren't viable options. I've researched heat pumps and ductfree split system air conditioning. Even considered a gas or electric fireplace (though we'd have to seriously reduce the number of bookshelves taking up the walls in the house to do that).

We don't typically have to turn on the heat in our house until sometime in November but there's a ticking time bomb in the walls and I don't want to have to face it failing in the middle of January, or during any crazy Snowpocalypse action. If we have to go with replacing the hydronic system with a similar one, the "group pricing" offer we've got in hand from the two plumbers the HOA recruited isn't going to last forever.

So. Decisions have to be made. Soon. If anyone knows any good plumbers, HVAC experts, or reasonable and reliable general contractors in our area, I'm taking references and actively investigating my options! Or, if you can think of any other heating options that I haven't mentioned here (as Evan did when he noted that I didn't necessarily have to go with another hydronic system at all) I'd love to hear from you.


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Prortland, the GR Summit, and yet more travel

I started to write about my visit to Portland but it turned out to be a little more emotionally taxing than I thought it was going to be. Took me a while to get back to it.

Being back in my mom's house is always hard for me. I love my mom but I can't understand her life. I don't understand her relationship with her husband and it is only with the most strenuous effort that I can tolerate him. While my mom was in surgery, he was in the bar. While my mom was propped up with ice packs and pain pills and trying to recover, he was chain smoking 3 feet away. I drove her to and from the hospital, I filled her prescriptions, I brought her soup and ice packs and pain pills. He went out for a morning bender, staggered in so drunk he could hardly stand at noon and started bellowing. My mother actually believed she was going to get up and fix him lunch! Over my dead body, I said. He passed out for a while until his grandson called him up a couple hours later to invite him out for more drinks... so he staggered out for another "toddy". I'm stretched taut by the stress of being around this stuff for an hour, let alone several days.

Thankfully I had a couple of breaks in the action and I they really did save my sanity. On third day of the stay, my friend Greg (who used to live just down the street while we were growing up) came by and the two of us went to and end of summer celebration hosted by another childhood friend. There were a dozen or so Canby High alums in attendance, few I'd been close to in school but all of whom were great fun now that we're adults. I had a lovely time, shared good food and drink, and both bitched about (and then forgot about) the situation at my mom's house.

My brother returned from a month of doing some doctor-stuff out in New York in the midst of my mom's recovery so he came down to check in on her and the two of us went out for dinner together, meeting up with his awesome girlfriend and her brother for some sushi in Portland proper. Afterward, Chad and Megan and I hung out for a while at her place, talked about their residency applications and their time in Haiti. It was SO nice and how I'd REALLY rather spend my "family time".

Not long after recovering from my Portland excursion, we hosted Green Ronin's annual summit out here in Seattle again. This year I felt somewhat subdued, no doubt from the emotional hangover I feel whenever I spend time at my mom's house and around her husband and his spawn. We stuck pretty close to home for our dining breaks: breads and pastries from Columbia City Bakery, pizza and ice cream at Flying Squirrel Pizza, brunch at Verve Wine Bar, lunch at Calamity Jane's and Georgetown Liquor Company. Our meetings were efficient, productive, and on task. Before I knew it, the summit was over, the boys had returned home and I was prepping for the Diamond Retailer Summit in Baltimore five days later.

Normally we let Hal handle the Baltimore summit himself since he's virtually local, being in Alexandria and all. This year I thought we'd have made a long-anticipated announcement and we'd need the extra staff but through a comedy of errors and miscommunication announcements have not been made, demos we thought were not scheduled were scheduled (and then weren't done after all) and the "easy" trip that was supposed to involve me staying on the cheap with my business partner ended up being additionally complicated by Hal's house being without running water (hello hotel!).

Those folks who follow me on Twitter were able to follow the travails of my return trip in real time as I shared my frustrations 140 characters at a time. 4:20am pick-up from Shuttle Express, aboard my plane at 6-something, sitting on the tarmac for some hazy time period where I was falling in and out of a doze and wishing the plane would take off already so I could recline my oh-so-"comfy" middle seat. Returning to the gate area around 8am to remove a passenger who claimed to be too ill to travel (though I saw her gathering her things and walking off the plane and she didn't seem to be sick at all) and finally taking off. Arriving for my connection in San Francisco 40 minutes too late to make my connection and finding out that the next (and only) flight to Seattle was 9 hours later. Deciding to take the BART to the city to kill time and have lunch, sitting on the BART while a "police incident" closed the station we were trying to reach. Finally boarding the plane and getting my first class upgrade (yay!) but having to sit next to a douche bag. Luckily, a couple of free beers and a complimentary fruit and cheese plate made up for it. Finally arriving in Seattle, standing at baggage claim for an hour and confirming that my bag was not on the plane with me but had been sent to Las Vegas earlier in the day. Deciding that with the day's luck in mind, I just wasn't up to risking taking the last light rail/bus connection to my house and paying out for the $35 cab ride home. Woo, it's been quite a while since I've had a travel day quite like that.

Now I'm home and plan to be here for a while. I can't quite shake this feeling of utter exhaustion. I'm sleeping too much, tired within an hour or two of waking up, nodding off at my computer, falling asleep on the couch at night while trying to watch tv with Chris or Kate. No rest for the weary, however! In addition to catching up on Green Ronin work, I also have to coordinate the repairs to our heating system in the house, hopefully before the actual cold weather comes. The New Holly homeowners finally received a settlement in the lawsuit over the defective pipes used in the heating systems in our homes. We were thrilled at this news because we've been living with the inevitable complete system failure hanging over our heads for years while this lawsuit played out. Unfortunately, it didn't take us long to figure out that the settlement wasn't actually going to be enough to cover the system replacement. Or, rather, that the settlement *could* cover the system replacement, just not all the "incidental" repairs that we'd need to make. See, the pipes and the water heater and so on are covered in the repair estimates but taking out and replacing the walls to get to the pipes (which, with the hydronic heating system, run through all the walls in the house), repainting, re-flooring (if they have to tear up the floors, too) and so on. We're going to have to come up with several thousand dollars in additional funds in order to put our house back together once they're done and the clock is ticking. Nothing like a little extra stress to keep the heart pumping.

Three weeks out from my 40th birthday and I'm feeling about 100 years old.

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