How we came to purchase our home.

WPA Photo

A Works Progress Administration photo offers a glimpse of our home's past.

Reproduction Windsor Chair

Finally, a dining room set.

No Power, No Heat.

Our first snow storm and it's aftermath, October, 2011.

Lead Poisoning

Updates to our son's lead levels.

Bit By Bit

My wife's blog on being pregnant, giving birth and raising our first child with all the complications, hardships and joys that life throws our way.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Damage.

OK, let's be honest.  We're fortunate. We don't live in NJ or near the Atlantic Ocean. We did experience strong winds but our 260 year old home withstood the winds without an issue. We never lost power nor had flooding.  The worst thing that happened was a few sections of our rear property fence fell down. Not a big deal, unlike our fellow antique home owner/blogger from the Enos Kellogg Homestead who now needs to rebuild their barn.

Like my fellow blogger, I too am now facing a rebuild.  Not a barn of course (I should be so lucky to have our original barn still present) but of our fence.  After cleaning up the fallen panels, I noticed that the vertical posts were completely rotted (read that as completely missing). Several pickets were torn off by either vandals from our backdoor "neighbors" or the neighborhood cats. It was only a matter of time before that fence needed to go.

For the rebuild, I've got many choices to choose from:
1.  Replacement in-kind (least labor involved). 
2.  Vinyl (God-forbid). 
3.  Chain-link (might as well get vinyl).
4.  Concrete liner (looks promising, see below).
5.  Original field stone (back breaking).
As with everything, pricing and labor must be evaluated and in time I'll post up our final decision. 
Yes, that's a concrete wall.  From CustomRock.com, not an endorsement, just credit.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Boiler Efficiency and Home Heating

This is a long post so I put a quick summary in the beginning.

Edit: I have made corrections to my initial post on Boiler Efficiency from 10/21/2012 as a misunderstanding in heating terms has resulted in invalid information. My apologies to my readers and thanks to Lou of Cromwell Energy, Inc. for pointing it out to me.  The following has been re-written entirely to account for the misunderstandings.


Our boiler was recently rated at 72% combustion efficiency.  New boilers start at 85% AFUE efficiency and high-tech units are at 91+% AFUE. Thermal efficiency does not equate to AFUE. Much older systems do not have an AFUE rating so one must be approximated in order to compare an older unit to a brand new one. Our boiler is currently running at 61.2% AFUE (est) with an output of 185,200 BTU/hr.  One must compute the heat-loss for a home to properly size a new boiler. I've computed 78,410 BTU/hr using a program called Hydronic Explorer (see below for details).  After sizing a new boiler, the pay back period is  around 7 years for a high end Buderus GB125BE/30.  There are numerous models to choose from and likewise, pricing will vary accordingly resulting in much shorter pay back periods.  An Excel file was created to adjust different installation scenarios to find the best rate of return.

Crane Sunnyday 5 Boiler Circa 1960's
Everything started on October 19, 2012, when we had a visit from our oil supplier.  We have a two year service contract included as an incentive to sign up with oil delivery from them and that day was our annual service visit.  The visit lasted roughly an hour as the technician performed the annual maintenance on the boiler.  The following were performed and noted on the receipt:

1.  Oiled Motors
2.  Oiled Circulator
3.  Cleaned Controls
4.  Cleaned Burner
5.  Cleaned Boiler
6.  Cleared Smoke Pipe
7.  Changed Nozzle
8.  Changed Oil Filter

Exhaust temperature was 540degF and the all important combustion efficiency at 72%.

Combustion efficiency is derived from a couple of temperature readings that the technician takes. The readings are taken while the boiler is running and turned into a ratio with the resultant number being a percentage.

AFUE is a more complex ratio which takes into consideration other factors.  Factors that represent a more real life efficiency.  While trying to understand the difference myself, I came across this article:  Cornell University, Home Heating Systems.  In it, the author, Mark Pierce, uses an analogy that easily allows the reader to comprehend the difference between what the technician tells you during the annual maintenance and what AFUE is.  He quotes the Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings:

Combustion efficiency is like the miles per gallon your car gets cruising along at 55 miles per hour on the highway...(while)...AFUE is like your car mileage between fill-ups, including both highway driving and stop and-go-traffic (Wilson & Morril, 1996, p.58).

It's the AFUE rating that one sees most often when shopping for a new boiler.  But, I did not  know what the AFUE is for our boiler.  Being built in a time when such numbers weren't used, I was left searching the internet for comparisons   There were numerous articles and forums indicating that there are no equations to convert from the combustion efficiency percentage to the AFUE percentage since each is found through a different method.  However, this article from Cornell did reveal a simple equation for approximating the AFUE of an old system made before the AFUE rating became a standard number on modern units.  The equation is this:

(Combustion Efficiency) x (0.85) = AFUE est.

I am curious to know if any of my readers know their actual AFUE and have had their Combustion Efficiency revealed during a recent service.  Do the math, see if the above theory is valid.  I hope it is because the remainder of this post is based nearly entirely upon that one simple equation.  Fingers crossed...

Since I have a combustion efficiency of 72%, the estimated AFUE of my system is:

0.72 x 0.85 = 0.612 = 61.2%

My understanding of these percentages is that for every 100 gallons of oil used, 61.2 gallons are used for heating and the balance (38.8 gallons) escapes up our chimney in the form of heat and gasses.  New boilers run in the 84%+ range leading me to believe (and also from the opinion of the technician) that it is time to consider a new boiler.

First things first.  I need to have a heat loss calculation done on our home to find out what size boiler I would need.  Currently, our setup is a circa 1960 Crane Sunnyday 5 boiler with a direct water heater.  Meaning that when I turn on the hot water, the boiler turns on as if it were heating the home, yet only heating water for the faucet.  We have a single 275 gallon oil tank.  With the fuel economy from the technician,  we'll run out of oil after running the boiler for 183 hours straight.  It's important to remember that for every hot shower, regardless of how hot we make the temperature, the boiler kicks on.  When we wash the dishes, it's on, likewise, when we wash our son's soiled clothing, it's on.  After you turn off the hot water tap, the boiler still runs to replenish the hot water that is no longer in it's reserve.  The boiler's burner is much larger than a water heater's, so right there is an improvement I can make to save on oil.  As our current boiler is sized at 185,200 BTU/hr, lets see what size heating unit I need to just heat the house.

Scouring online found a free program from a manufacturer called the Slant/Fin Corporation.  They offer (or had offered) a downloadable program that will compute for you the BTU/hr heat loss of your home based on room dimensions, number of windows, what's above and below each room, etc.  It takes time to enter all the information in and you will need to do a lot of measuring to get the data for the program.  You can download the program from HERE (172 MB zip file containing the program Heat Loss Explorer 2 and two PDF files for product literature and a user guide for the program).  I only used the program for the information, disregarding the need for their product's literature.  For the Outdoor Design Temperature, I used the table from  Comfort-Calc.net.

Crane Sunnyday 5 Boiler Specifications

The numbers from the program revealed that my home's BTU/hr heat loss is:  78,410 BTU/hr.  If we were to get the same exact type of boiler, one that has a direct water heater, then our new boiler would have to be in the 128,000+ BTU/hr size range.  Big difference, isn't it?  If this program is accurate, then our Crane Sunnyday 5 Boiler is way over sized at 185,200 BTU/hr.

Lot's of information so far.  We know that our boiler is antiquated, inefficient and over sized.  I have a lot of information.  I need to put it all together and figure out what our savings would be if we replaced our antique boiler and how long it would take to return on our investment.

Savings Calculation - WARNING, MATH OVERLOAD

As of October 17, 2012, the cost per gallon of heating oil from our supplier was $3.899 (compared to regular gasoline at $4.019).  New oil boilers have an efficiency at 85% with high end models pushing just past 93%.  Lets go crazy!  I want to see what our savings would be if we got the best of the best of the best.  Worst case scenario for upfront costs.  Given our 275 gallon tank, currently:

At 61.2% AFUE:
0.612 x 275.0 Gal. = 168.3 Gallons used for heating of the 275.0 Gallons purchased.
275.0 Gal. - 168.3 Gal. = 106.7 Gallons wasted.
106.7 Gal. x 3.899 $/Gal. = $416.02 thrown out the window (well, really up the chimney).

According to Energystar.org, the most efficient oil-fired boiler is the Buderus GB125BE (found on on this Excel list:  EnergyStar.org).  It's AFUE is at 93.4%.  Very impressive compared to our meager 61.2%.

At 93.4% AFUE:
0.934 x 275.0 Gal. = 256.9 Gallons used for heating of the 275.0 Gallons purchased.
275.0 Gal. - 256.9 Gal. = 18.1 Gallons wasted.
18.1 Gal. x 3.899 $/Gal. = $70.39 wasted.

From 61.2% to 93.4%, per a full tank fill, we would save:
$416.02 - $70.39 = $345.63 per full tank!

Last winter was a gift from mother nature.  The October snow storm (seen here) was a fluke, but the following winter was quite mild compared to previous seasons (according to the locals).  We spent a little over $4,053 heating our home and using hot water from October 2011 to October 2012.

OK, so let's say that we actually did purchase a Buderus last year.  How much would we have saved assuming of course that the price of fuel did not change?

$4,053 / $3.899 Gal. = 1,039.5 estimated gallons used.
1,039.5 Gal. x 0.612 = 636.2 Gallons actually used for heating and hot water.
1,039.5 Gal. - 636.2 Gal. = 403.3 Gallons wasted.

So, with the Buderus GB125BE installed:
636.2 Gal. / 0.934 = 681.2 Gallons purchased
681.2 Gal. - 636.2 Gal. = 45.0 Gallons wasted

The difference between the two wasted amounts would equate to the savings.  So:

403.3 Gal. - 45.0 Gal. =  358.3 wasted gallon difference.
358.3 Gal. x $3.899 = $1,397.01 savings per year!

When will I make my money back?  Finding out the price of these boilers is not easy, vendors don't like to reveal the costs of labor and parts.  So, going online yet again is my only source...

Buderus GB125BE with LT-Series Water Tank 

The Buderus GB125BE has an advertised priced online from one source (I am hesitant to post the actual site since I do not know if they're a reputable source) and I know that I need at least 78,410 BTU/hr to heat our home.  If I match the exact rating, the boiler will always be running, if I go too high, it'll use more fuel than needed to heat the volume that I have.  I'll need to over size the boiler slightly.  It was recommend that the over sizing is dependent upon the township/city that one lives in.  For my area, I believe that the over size is at 30% increase for permitting.  This would equate to approximately 102,000 BTU/hr. The closest matching Buderus is model GB125BE/30 at 100,000 BTU.  It is listed costing $6,018.95.  Wow, that is quite expensive.  Plus installation, right?  And since this boiler will not be directly heating the hot water at the tap, I'll also need a comparable water tank.  Let's just assume for argument's sake that the water tank will cost around $1,200, and the installation for the two units will be around $2,000.  Together, that's:

$6,018.95 (Buderus GB125BE/30)
$1,200.00 (est. water tank)
$2,000.00 (est. labor)
$9,218.95 (holy crap!)

So, how long will it take us to make our money back?

$9,218.95 / $1,397.01 = 6.6 years = rate of return.

Basically, a 7 year period of time is needed before I would start seeing a return on my investment.

Everything I've just gone through is speculation.  Sure, this can happen, and that; one may also have a relative that's licensed that's willing to install the boiler for free.  Because of all these variables, it is quite possible that the rate of return is much shorter.  As such, I've created an Excel data sheet that I can plug in all the information and have it spit out a payback period for various different scenarios. Below is a download link for the excel file should you like to play with it.

Download Here.
(If a password login page pops up, click cancel and the file should still open)

For now, I'm still on the mends as I try to find the best price for the most efficient boiler I can find.

Due to the amount of spam comments from oil service and repair companies that this one topic has generated, I am forced to turn off all comments on this post.  Should any reader wish to contact me, please do so on the "About Us" tab at the top of the page.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Our Trees Leave!

Fall is a wonderful time!  I love it.  Allergies are little, the temperatures are moderate and cool, and with the season changing, the colors are a delight.  As the season comes to a close, those delightful colorful leaves turn brown and fall to the ground.  We have several mature trees surrounding our property.  Mature trees give a huge abundance of foliage.  Both in the air and on the ground... in Fall.

As our town has curbside leaf pick up, our seasonal cleanup is made much easier without having to bag our fallen leaves.  All we need to do is pile the leaves on the curb and each month the town comes by with a massive vacuum and sucks them up.

Last year, I spent each day after work raking, raking, raking.  The rake was small and splintered.  The handle had a split in it so each time I would pull on a large pile or hit a snag, the wooden handle would pinch my skin.  Raking a half acre was quite painful leaving my hands looking like I just tackled a chupacabra.  At that time, we did not have the tools we have today.

This will seem silly, but I figured I'd make a post about it since I have a bit of pride in accomplishing this task for the first time as a home owner.  So here we go.... the essential tools required for leaf removal from one's property:

No. 1:  A decent rake!  Yes, yes, a simple device, but a device that can cause a headache if undersized or in need of repair.  For less than $20, you can get a big-box store rake that's wide and perhaps of the unclogging type.

No. 2:  A big strong tarp.  The bigger the better.  The one I used cost me $25 from Ace Hardware and is 12' by 25'.  I had purchased a previous one from Walmart.  Was it cheaper, yes.  Was it worth it, no.  It was $12 and low quality.  As I hauled a pile of leaves with it, the handles broke off and yours truly received a swollen bum from the ground.

No. 3:  A leaf blower!  This can help save your back.  Constantly twisting with a rake can cause back pain and heaven forbid, pulling your back out.  The blower can move a large amount of leaves without placing as much strain on your back as raking.  I have an older one that my father-in-law handed down.  It's bulky and ironically contributed to me pulling my back out last month, but that's due to my own stupidity (don't be macho).  Gas modeled leaf blowers are typically a two cycle engine.  They require an additive of oil which you can actually buy at Walmart... go figure.  Always follow the directions.  Electric blowers are cheaper, lighter, but are less powerful.  Purchase (or borrow) one that suits your needs and budget.  Always wear ear and eye protection.  Gas powered blowers are loud and blow air at speeds equal to a Category 5 Hurricane (150 mph), throwing fine debris around.  Safety first.

Here's the routine.  Starting from your property's perimeter, blow the leaves towards the center making one pile.  If you have a huge amount of leaves, like I unfortunately have the "privilege" of having, make slightly smaller plies throughout the yard.  Work your way around the property making piles (or a pile, as the case may be).  Use the rake to get to the areas that trap leaves like shrubs and decorative grass.

With curb-side leaf pickup, all I need to do is pile up all the leaves long my curb and a vacuum truck comes by sucking them up.  Getting my mass of leaves to the curb is where the tarp comes into play.  I place the tarp next to a newly created pile and rake the leaves onto it.  I then simply drag the tarp to the curb, roll the tarp over upon itself pulling one side over the other and walla!  A mountain of leaves on the curb.

A note regarding leaf blowers.  You can go crazy with them.  There are handheld units in both electric and gas, back pack units and walk-behinds.  Likewise, there are inexpensive and expensive units.  

In the future, I hope to be able to make a mulch pile in the back yard.  With grass clippings and dead leaves, I would have a very fruitful smelly pile of mulch for a future garden that my wife and I are trying to figure out.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Woodworking, Part I

I wouldn't say I have a fear of loud noises, but when I hear the power come on a table saw or even the vacuum, I become paranoid.  In fact, my wife spooks me while I am vacuuming.  Putting psychology aside, I've come to appreciate the hand made creation of our home and the furnishings from it's time period; so much so that I would like to get my hands dirty, so to speak.

In a prior post, I mentioned a company called D.R. Dimes (A Lack of Furniture).  As if it weren't already apparently obvious, given a new child (our first) and a "money pit" of a home, purchasing reproduction furniture of such a high price tag will not be possible.  Instead, and I am going out on a limb here, my future plans are now to make the furniture pieces myself.  After talking with my fellow co-workers, I received that look.  We've all seen it (or given it).  The look only a sympathetic parent can give to their struggling child, "...oh isn't that nice" with an underlying meaning of "yeah, good luck with that, ha!"

My lovely wife has gone along with my new ambition.  For my birthday this past October 19, she purchased a woodworking class at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking.  The class was called Practical Handtool Joinery with Will Neptune.
The basis for all joinery is the ability to work to layout lines with saws, chisels and planes.  To do this, your tools must be properly prepared and sharpened.  If you are frustrated with the results you get with hand tools or doubt that you can improve the fit of machine cut joints then this is the class to improve your skills and take your woodworking to the next level.
In this class you will learn a controlled and repeatable method for sharpening edge tools that will cut end grain cleanly and accurately.  We will tune up and adjust rabbet and router planes so they can be used for accurate joinery.  Then in a series of bench work exercises, beginning with accurate layout techniques, you will learn how to work from reference surfaces to hand cut accurate joinery, usually more quickly and accurately than you could by machine.  These exercises include half laps, bridle joints on curved rails and housed tapered (sliding) dovetails.  This is a chance to practice working with chisels and planes and hand saws with one of this country's master furniture makers.  You will need certain tools - including a rabbet (shoulder) plane and a standard size router plane.  The full tool list can be seen on the school's website.  Don't let handtools continue to frustrate you - sign up today.
-From the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking, Section 102712A description.
Prior to the class, I purchased a set of four Stanley Sweetheart Chisels, a Wood Is Good 18 oz. Mallet and thanks to my enrollment at CVSW, 10% off a Lie-Nielsen Router Plane.  As it turns out, the Lie-Nielsen company is your Mercedes of wood working tools, not very cheap, but a quality tool.

 The class was truly enjoyable.  I learned how to make the joints mentioned above.  The instructor, Will Neptune, is a fascinating teacher.  I highly recommend this class should the reader wish to travel down my path.  However, due to time restraints, not all components of the joints mentioned were completed with hand tools.  But I was really excited and convinced my wife to allow me to buy more tools while I dove into reading and watching articles/videos on making other joints.

A fully fledged dovetail joint was not apart of the class, but it was the one joint that all woodworkers aspire to master.  A dovetail is the joint most often seen on the sides drawers from 18th century furniture and the corners of boxes that often distinguishes quality from everything else.  Here's an example from Boston's Museaum of Fine Arts (from Newtonwoodworking.com).  

After the class, I purchased a dovetail kit from Woodcraft (which also gave a 10% discount due to the class) and found numerous how-to videos on youtube.  Combining them with the techniques I learned from the class, I made my first attempt at hand made dovetails:

Not perfect, but doable.  Next step is to simply make a box.  Then progress from there to eventually make a dinning room table and then reproduction windows in our home... but patience is key, stepping stones are important.

$ 99.00 Stanley 78 Rabbet Plane (new vintage from eBay, info on plane)
$791.29 Ouch!

I'd better stop buying tools for the time being and make something for my wife.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


It has been a little over a year since we've moved into our home.  Has it been a great year?  No, not really.  Are we ready to call it quits?  No.  I will not let our 260 year old home get the better of us.  I am, however, just now beginning to feel overwhelmed.  

It's simply impossible to blog of all the events that have transpired in this year, so in a quick synopsis:  Windows, insulation, grass, leaves, money, wood, spiders, egg sacks, trim, molding, mold, heating, drafts, cracks, lighting, floorboards, furniture, decorations, the mid-life crisis motorcycle "gang", tools, money, contractors, crying baby, my lovely yet nagging wife, wind, a hole in the wall, money, a meowing cat in the middle of the night, vehicle maintenance, my know-it-all father, groundhogs, a pulled back (times 2), work, cobwebs, time, vent fan, trees, electrical, kitchen, washer timer, dryer timer, fireplaces, grubs, visiting family, plaster, foundation, the punk with the annoyingly loud low octave muffler, cooking stove, mice, beams, water leakages, neighborhood vandals, mega snow, heating oil, ghosts, oh, and money.  

There are so many things to do and so little time to do it in.  With our child and our jobs... now the clocks are set back, days are shorter.  The weekends are filled with other errands and our home sits patiently waiting for this and that.  

I look at our home with sadness.  It deserves better.  I say that because I lack the experience and knowledge to do the job right.  I dream in fear of repairing one aspect of this home only to have it worse off than before I touched it.  And the list of things to do increases each time I look around.  I am so hesitant to do anything except the little things that a weekend warrior does... realistically, that's cutting the grass and raking leaves... yey...

But honestly, I can read dozens of books on this and that and still be hesitant on completing any task.  Sometimes I feel as though the weight of this house is on my shoulders, like a growing elephant in the room.  Forgive the juvenile irony and insensitive humor of the photo, throwing political correctness out the window, I couldn't resist. While being gloomy all weekend, it made me smile.

So here I sit, counting the cracks, making wish lists and watching our checking accounts.  I know full well that what ever I think I want to complete, may not be.  It's not motivation, it's fear.  So, I'm putting it out there, right in the open.  I NEED HELP.  I feel as though I've been driving with my wife; thinking I know where I am going, gloating at that fact even.  Until, that is, I realize that I have no idea where I am, and am forced to ask for directions.

I need a mentor, a guide.  Someone who doesn't expect financial gain by helping a fellow lover of antique homes.  Someone experienced and wanting to share in the "love" as it were.  I don't know where to start... what tools are needed... materials to use... resources to collect.... contractor to hire... stores to visit.  Like many, I would hate to waste money on doing things wrong or paying the price for a "specialist" contractor.  I don't mind doing the work myself, but I just don't know what to do.

So I ask of my readers, if your honestly an experienced expert willing to mentor, use the comment form below or email me at confessionsofanantiquehome@gmail.com.  What is ironic about this is that most of you reading this are just like me... so I am preaching to the choir.  My fellow readers, I am not giving up!  I am venting at the frustration that has been this year.

Friday, October 19, 2012

You Are Never More Than 10 Feet From a Spider.

Ever since I was a child, I've hated spiders.  This angst could have been from my mother's fear that I inherited or perhaps my own experiences over time.  Regardless, the truth still remains that I hate spiders.  They are quite horrific looking and with thousands of species on our planet, there are many different nightmares to go around.  There are big ones, small ones, hairy wolf spiders, jumping spiders, hanging spiders, spiders that have many eyes, some that have only a few and then there are colorful ones, some with patterns that if  anywhere else could be considered beautiful.

During our home inspection, we discovered that the previous home owner had our home sprayed annually for spiders.  This was the reason she cited as why there wouldn't be any bugs (in general) in the home.  Not that it mattered since obviously this home had a bug problem in the past (see here).  It really did not sink in as to why she would've sprayed for spiders only... until our first summer.

After our son was born, we kept seeing a spider here and there.  Nothing out of the ordinary.  It's bound to happen in any home, but we started to notice that we weren't killing spiders on monthly basis, it was daily.  Actually, throughout the day.  Walking down the servant staircase, we would walk though thin cobwebs.  Sometimes an eight legged arachnid would swoon in mid-air in our path.  We would find them on our ceilings constantly, around the windows, throughout the kitchen and even in our cars.  We killed these pests quickly and often.

The culmination of our experience wasn't until a couple short weeks in August.  While my wife was breastfeeding our little one, a spider descended onto her breast.  Imagine her surprise!  This happened a couple of times.  Shortly after, in the middle of the night, I felt a pin prick on my leg, waking to the itch, I rolled over and went back to sleep.  The next morning, my wife freaked out when there was a rather large dead black spider squished on my back.  That's it!  I called an exterminator.
Our baseboards were filled with various mammalian hairs, dead insects and egg sacks.
Spider sack safely secured between fins.
First came the exterminator... then came Dyson.  The exterminator showed up and sprayed a mist on all the baseboards and used an aerosol in the attic and basement.  He made a total of two trips.  Though the exterminator's misting killed many of the adult spiders, the egg sacs are protected by their silky enclosures.  Hence why cleaning out the baseboards was necessary.  For the next couple of weeks, I spent nights and weekends opening up the baseboards and vacuuming out all the dust, cobwebs, pet hair, granny hair, dead insects and their various egg sacs.  We were warned by the exterminator that by October, the sacs would hatch and to remove them as soon as we could.  So I went at the baseboards.  I rotated off the cover panels by pulling the bottom outwards revealing a disgusting tangle of hair and dust.  Our Dyson vacuum was well used.  It's powerful suction pulled out all of the debris with exception to the spider egg sacs.  I used a paper clip that I had un-bent to poke at the silken sac while the vacuum was on.  The babies had no chance.  Just of note, the mother spider is a protective beast.  It's best to ensure you've gotten rid of her prior, that's what the exterminator did.

One last bit regarding spider removal.  We've found out that spiders hate lemon scents.  Apparently, in the movie "Arachnophobia," lemon scented Pledge as well as a heat gun were used to move the spider actors.  This method was used by a "bug wrangler" called Steven Kutcher who was hired for most Hollywood films involving insects until most recently when the digital age took that need away.  I used lemon scented pledge on all the baseboards and their coverings as a deterrent for spiders.

All fins are now clean and shiny!
When questioned as to how we're to cease the large population of spiders living in our home, the exterminator suggested we get rid of all our mature tress surrounding our home.  Spiders live in the trees and vegetation during summer, then descend to the roof and eventually inside the home as the seasons change.  Removing these beautiful trees is not going to happen!  Of all the retarded things to suggest... we joke that this exterminator has been sniffing to many of his chemicals.

Yellow Sac Spider
My wife did photo comparisons and identified the eight legged monster invading our home.  The yellow sac spider is a hunter.  It scurries around the home searching for prey.  It doesn't create a web to catch an insect, instead, it prowls like a lion, except being the size of a dime.  It's bite is said to be poisons yet spider experts claim otherwise.  Its two front legs are longer than the rest, for what I assume enable it to scurry faster than I can jump onto a chair.  Spider lovers (yes, they do exist) claim that a spider will capture more insect pests than birds and bats combined.  That sounds really fascinating, if your an arachnophile, but I'm more of an anti-Christ when it comes to bugs.  So, if you're a virgining arachnophile, then get your kicks out of this:  Wikipedia and Discover Magazine, I'm done.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Groundhogs Breed Like Rabbits

Baby Groundhog Posing
Have you ever seen the cute furry overgrown hamsters in people's backyard and thought, "Aw, their so cute!"? Sure, a groundhog (also called a woodchuck) can be cute (and funny, as in the GEICO commercial from a couple years ago:  Woodchuck Chucking) until these furry critters begin treating your backyard, garden, deck, and foundation as if they were a wedge of Swiss cheese. And they breed like rabbits too! We saw one in the beginning of Spring, then by June, we had SEVEN cute furry babies and mama eating the grass and various other plantings that my wife and I were caring for.  They managed to dig at least two dens which may possibly be linked together.  The entrances of these dens are huge compared to the size of the fur balls.  One entrance was in a large patch of poison ivy. Good, I thought, though I think these things are immune to the effects of the poison as a scare tactic. The other entrance was under a loose stone retaining wall in the back yard.

Mama groundhog being watchful of the weird human taking photos of her babies

I first tried moth balls. A wives tail surely, but people did swear by it. Our groundhogs did not like them though they did not get rid of our uninvited guests. Instead, our ingenious earth dwellers simply pushed the balls out of their dens or buried them. Now our backyard smells like an older person's closet. Our next option was to get a quote for a "professional" to remove them. Speaking with the pro, it was learned that there are two ways to rid our yard, death or relocation. He described what he did for relocation, setting out 7+ traps for a day and coming back. For a fee that was per a trap set, and per an animal captured. With seven groundhogs, the price would've escalated dramatically.

There had to be a better alternative. We did not want to go around placing poison on our property nor shoot each one. Searching online found that there are "groundhog sanctuaries" in our state. Who would've thought? In fact, one is run by the Audubon Society. We got excited and my wife called up the Audubon Society in the neighboring town who quickly quenched our plans to relocate the hoard. After calling several others, we came to the conclusion that nobody wanted to truly "save" the groundhog, just birds, despite sites advertising it. My wife called Town Hall who suggested a relocation in a local park. Done, we'll take that deal. We really didn't have the heart to kill off the family and getting a quote of around $600 to remove the lot was too excessive for our budget.

For $24.57 (taxes included), we were able to rent a Havaheart trap from Ace Hardware's rental section. At $119 retail ($45 on Amazon.com), it's roughly half the online price for one week rental.  In the first couple of hours we caught THIS MAMMA:
Mama groundhog CAPTURED

A half hour later, this little guy was captured:
First of many baby groundhogs CAPTURED
So what do they like to eat?  Aside from all our plantings, romaine lettuce, sliced apples, old fruit, etc.  We used left over foods from our cooking like the previously mentioned ingredients.  In the first two days, we caught at least two a day, eventually catching six cute furry monsters (with one being the mother).  One last monster was elusive and eventually got the hint when his/her siblings kept disappearing.  The aforementioned sibling woodchucks were released two miles away at the nature preserve/walking trail park WITH permission from the town's park commissioner.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Lead Testing

Warning:  This test kit has an expiration date!  It must be checked prior to purchase.  Solution 2 needs to be checked regularly to ensure it is still active.  A negative test result will occur if the solution is inactive!

My wife and I have a newborn.  We have a very old house.  Lead is guaranteed to be present.  I purchased a lead test kit in hopes of identifying which rooms have lead.  As our child grows and starts to go places, as well as restoration efforts continue, I need to ensure that my child's safety is first.

The lead test kit I purchased initially from my local hardware store is called D-Lead by Klean Strip.  The kit has an expiration date on it as I realized too late.  A new test kit purchased from a home improvement store will cost you around $30.  My kit specifically was $30.81 after tax.  This product is one of two or three kits approved by the EPA for the homeowner to use to test for lead based paints (as seen here: EPA - Approved Lead Test Kits).

The kit is a miniature chemistry set.  There are two chemicals enough for six tests, a razor blade, a brass paint capturing tool, a plastic plunger, paper for collecting samples, surface preparation wipes and  a disposal bag.  There is also a set of test indicator strips for double confirmation of a negative result.

The test seemed confusing at first, but the directions were simple enough (once read).  The process took 15 minutes the first time, much less for successive tests.  First, using the included wipe, the surface to be tested is cleaned as are the utensils used to capture the sample.  The brass capturing tool is then placed on the spot with a paper collector underneath to capture what isn't captured by the tool.  Either a light tap with a hammer or pressure twisting by hand cuts through the layers of paint.  What doesn't easily fall out onto the paper below is pushed out of the tool by the plastic plunger.  The sample should be smaller than a pea-sized circular cut.  Using the razor blade, the sample is cut into quarters, poured into the clear bottle of solution one and shaken for 10 seconds.  Five drops of solution two are added and the mixture is shaken again for 10 seconds.  Wait 10 minutes to ensure breakdown of paint.  If lead is present, the color will be darker than the sample color on the solution 1 container.  If lighter, then there's no issue.

If the sample is not black, but not clear, you are now in a "gray" area.  Comparison to the color on the solution one bottle is simply one's interpretation and the test results, personally, I would consider invalid.  Don't risk your family.

I took a sample from the parlor's south window and wall as well as the baby room's window.  Here is my result (there were many sample vials, these are typical):
Negative Lead Result

The yellowing is the additive from Solution 2 as opposed to the initially clear vial.  The brown rectangle is the Test Standard.  If the mixture in the vial is darker than the Test Standard, you are positive for lead, if lighter, then you're negative.  I was excited to find negative results thus far.  The test indicator strip was used to test the quality of Solution 2.  Placing one drop of Solution 2 onto the indicator strip would result in a black coloring for "good to go" and clear if there is an issue with solution 2.  A number is provided by Klean Strip should the that arise.

I then tested the exterior paint.  The original color of our home was most likely white, at least that what the paint chips indicate.  And that color can be seen as the current paint is bubbling and peeling off.  Seeing how other aspects of this home were dealt with, I assume that the surface was not prepared prior to painting.

A sample was taken from the exterior paint and trim around the windows separately.  I mixed both the existing paint color and the underlying white paint together, not because I am lazy (though I can be), but because it was impossible to separate.  Here was the result:
Positive Lead Result

Positive for Lead.  Bummer.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Spirits and Bangs in the Night

At some point while running through the gauntlet of reality shows on cable TV, one comes across the unmistakable green washed image of night vision goggles being used on yet another episode of Ghost Hunters or Ghost Adventures or any other carbon copy series. You hear the homeowner's tales of encounters with the supernatural. Footsteps in the attic, a distant voice, perhaps even the levitation of various objects... ohhhh my (in a George Takei impersonation).

No, our kitchen cabinets are not opened by some mysterious force, just our mystgevious cat. No, the clanking sounds are just the plumbing pipes that were never perfectly suited for a home of this vintage. That rumble in the basement? Oh, that's the oil boiler doing its job in a not so efficient manner. The flapping sound in the attic is the recently installed bathroom vent cap flapping in the wind.

I tell you these things because I am aware and conscious of most of the sounds my home makes. I must, by now, as it has been several months since we moved in. So, what is this post about?

You must've guessed... surely I wouldn't have written all the above without hinting at some sort of paranormal ongoings.

Several months ago, I was sitting in the old kitchen (now our living room) watching TV when I heard a thump come directly below me in the basement. I like to think of myself as a manly-man; late at night, probably due to just completing an episode of Ghost Hunters, in the dark (no less), I was not to keen on entering the bowels of our home to investigate a bump in the night.

Upon the rising of the sun I had a sudden surge of courage to venture into the cellar. Here is what was found:

A part of a brick had "magically" popped out of a patched wall, attached to it was a piece of garment.  In the hole in the wall, was and still is a stuffed shirt, seemingly, stripped and a bit lacy as if it were feminine. Well, OK, it's not too freaky, I'll admit, until I heard of a story from the prior owner.

Several years ago, the story starts, the previous owner was hosting a party for a few friends and friends of friends.  Not knowing it at the time, two of the guests were mediums.  Upon the conclusion of the party, while leaving, the two mediums said to the previous owner, "We don't want to alarm you, and they're really quite harmless, but there are two women, other than yourself, living here."

I'll wait a couple seconds for the goose bumps to settle.....

Hearing this second hand didn't really phase me.  I mean, really, that sounds interesting, but she could have just been saying that, right?

My lovely sister-in-law made a visit last week to help us while we are adjusting to our new born baby.  She's a bit of an oddity when it comes to dreams.  At times, her dreams become reality or closely related.  Does that make her a medium, perhaps, perhaps not, but what she told me as a first witness account freaked me out.

While leaving our room after yet another crying fit from our little boy, crossing the second floor landing to the guest room, she closed the room's door and heard a woman's voice say, "Hi!".  Thinking it was her 8 year old son, she turned around to find him fast asleep.

She had a dream that night involving a few names one of which escapes me at this moment.  They were Maggie, Scarlet or Charlotte and a third.  I am curious to know if these are related to any prior inhabitant.

To any future visitor, don't hesitate a visit just because our home has (had) a history. My wife and I haven't seen any spirits nor are we on a T.A.P.S. waiting list. Our cat does get the scared-bushy-tale syndrome once in a while, but don't let that phase you either.  Our home is quiet aside from the usual banging, clanking and rumblings that all homes of this vintage make.

So come one come all, to ye olde home abode, and fear not thy bumps in thy night.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Old Money

In Home History - Part II, an article from a book titled Biographical Sketches of the Graduates of Yale College by Franklin Bowditch, referenced Mr. Merriam's estate having a value of ₤1324. This was listed in the Reverend's Will (though I have yet to find it). Now who can tell me how much ₤1324 is worth? Anyone, anyone....?

As of this post, $2,085.04 equals that amount if the conversion happened now. In the 18th century, the pound went much further than it did today, inflation and cost of living have decreased the value over the past couple of centuries. As an example, Yale College's tuition in the middle of the 18th century was 5 Shillings per quarter (1748 - 1749). Likewise, annual cost for tuition was 20 Shillings a year, or ₤1. Room and board were not charged, yet a sweeping fee for the room was (sounds like an Ally Bank Commercial, sorry, couldn't resist). From several classmates' biographies, the annual salary for a pastor was between ₤50 and ₤70 a year (depending on decade and town). So what does all that equate to in today's inflated dollar?

The University of Michigan sponsored a student's research on this topic creating a website to make conversions from the old British pound of 1750 to the 2003 equivalent in US dollars. See the website here.

From the University of Michigan's site, the equivalent value in 2003 dollars is as follows:

Yale College's annual tuition was $204.04. As a reference, in 2003, the actual tuition was $27,130 a year.

A pastor's salary was between $10,200 to $14,300.

The value of Mr. Merriam's estate: $270,152.51.

Interesting, since our home cost us $275,000, accounting for his other assets, perhaps we paid too much... hmmm.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Home History - Part II

Update:  See Home History - Part III for the latest information.

After my wife's jaunt to the government offices of our town (see Home History - Part I), I had a list of owners through the 1840's which was when our town became incorporated. Going back further was difficult at that time with the records being in a different township and also the handwriting and legal jargon make deciphering the documents worse.  Due to the recent arrival of our newborn son, making subsequent visits are not possible. Searching online is the only resource that I can use for the time being.

Referencing back to Part I, in detail now, my wife wrote out a paragraph of the property description as listed in a contract from April 15, 1842.
I, Hannah Merriam, of Wethesfield in the County of Hartford for the consideration of the love and affection which I have and entertain for my daughter, Hannah Merriam of said do grant and confirm unto the said Hannah, my daughter, one equal half of my home lot and all buildings theron standing in common with my son, Burrage:  Said lot containing two acres be the (illegible) more or less and is bounded northerly by land of William Web, easterly and south only by highway, westerly by land of Jason Boardman - Reserving to myself the use and improvement of the said desirable (illegible) during my natural life.
1842's listed seller was a Hannah Merriam. A Google.com search for the surname and my town brought up the inventory of burials in the local historic cemetery. Looking through the list I came across an interesting find. A reverend presiding over the local church, who's tomb's inscription read:

This Monument 
is Sacred to the Memory of the
Rev'd Burrage Merriam
Pastor of the Church 
of Christ in Stepney
who departed this Life
Nov 30 A.D. 1776
in the 38th year of his age
and 12th of his Ministry.

Ready & Active in Service
Through a Series of Bodily
Distresses Endured to the End.

Remembering my wife being annoyed that she couldn't decipher the earliest records of the Merriam family, getting confused with multiples of the same name appearing in the records, I recalled that there were two Hannah Merriam's from the above description of 1842. I began researching the genealogy of the Merriam family to see if I can organize this confusion of multiple names. Luckily for me, an author by the name of Charles Henry Pope has already done so in great detail. I eagerly read through the pages of Mr. Pope's 1906 book titled Merriam Genealogy in England and America and came to this entry (page 84, descendant number 67):

I then looked up Asahel, being the only surviving male child of Burrage (page 122, descendant number 146):

Both Asahel and his father, Burrage, married women named Hannah!  But that did not get me to the 1840's so I continued to follow the family line.  The only offspring producing child of Asahel's six was Edmund, the youngest.  Here is his entry (page 194, descendant 330):

After this point, the home is no longer in the ownership of the Merriam family.  I organized the names into a family tree for ease of understanding:

This tree proves that there were two women, both with the name of Hannah, of the Merriam family, living in my town in the 1840's, the good Reverend's daughter-in-law and granddaughter.  Which matches the tax records found by my wife.

While searching, I also found more information on Rev. Merriam.  Author Franklin Bowditch made a multi-volume collection of graduates of Yale University which he published in 1896.  In his book titled Biographical Sketches of the Graduates of Yale College, Volume II, May, 1745 to May, 1763, Burrage Merriam is listed as:

All this leads me to believe the following (pending further research through probate records): 

Reverend Burrage Merriam graduated from Yale College (University) in 1762, and took up a position as Pastor at the Congregational Church of Stepney Parish on February 27, 1765, after the initial pastor passed away.  In the same year, he married Hannah Rice.  Sometime between February and September of 1765, he had our home built for his new family (perhaps starting in the spring when the ground is softer).  Upon his death in 1776 (assuming a flu-like illness which may have also taken his second born) the home passed to his wife, Hannah.  Their surviving son, Asahel Merriam, went on to marry Hannah Robbins and had six children.  Of whom, one was named Hannah.  Asahel passed away in 1808, and his mother later passed in 1816.  Asahel's wife, Hannah Merriam (Robbins) is the most likely heir who lived here with her children until her death in 1845.  Her daughter, Hannah Merriam (the 3rd?) continued living in the home until she (or her estate) sold it to James Warner in 1863 or thereabouts.  From then on, the Warner family owned the property until 1965, when it was sold to an "outsider" (reference Part I).

The next step is to find the Reverend's deed (if possible) and his will.  Then those documents proving the passing of the home down the Merriam line.  Once we have these events confirmed, the story's beginning has, well, a beginning.

Part III can be followed here.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Old Photos

Reading other's blogs with black and white photographs of their homes from yesteryear I find myself both eager and jealous.  I have been looking for photos of this home for restoration purposes and also for pure curiosity.

A fellow blogger (the Enos Kellogg House) found a photo of his home from the WPA program (of the Great Depression).  The program was designed to give work to those unemployed by having them go out and document historic structures (see inserted example).  I searched for mine, finding only a description, but no photos.  Click here for the WPA program's listings of historic structures.

As for my home's description, it has a "Small 'porch.' Some 18th century raised paneling.  Smoke oven in attic.  Original hearthstone.  Condition - Fair."

I am quite disheartened that there are no photos of my home.  Our town's archives don't have any nor does the Historical Society.  The only persons that I can think of that would have photos would be those who lived here.  As such, I am considering using social media to find relatives of the prior owners, hoping that family photographs may lead me to a path of discovery.

This may not work with random people having the same last name who are thinking that some odd-ball is stalking them. I hope not. Instead, I'd hope for something along the lines of, "No, sorry, not my family" or better yet, "Sure! Here you go!"

I'll post back any findings, but chances are that most people will find my requests bordering on harassment or invasion of privacy.  We'll see.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Crab Apple Tree

We have a rather old crab apple tree that had a rustic feel to it.  The picture above shows the tree to the right of our cat, Oliver, taken in October of 2011.  The trunk is gnarled slightly with three different main branches from the roots.  It was quite nice in the beginning.

It's been several months since our damaging winter event back in October (see the post here).  When the storm hit, the weight of the wet snow combined with the leaves forced the long branches to bow.  The three main branches split creating an open cavity for rot to fester within.

A tree "expert" came by and said that in it's current split condition, the tree may survive for a few more years, but that would be it.  We had hopes.  I trimmed all the branches that were touching the ground now due to that split.  The weight loss helped the crab apple bounce back to life.

Then, after winter finished, spring was in full force.  Though the leaves did come back, the weight of the leaves began to lower the branches again.  Several strong storms later and the tree looked horrible.  Now, towards the end of spring, the crab apples have begun to grow.  Now this is really putting a strain on this once grand crab apple tree.  The trunk separated even more so.  The branches that were no longer touching the ground when I lopped off the "dead" weight are now resting on the ground.  It's come to that time to say good bye.

Here is how this tree looks as of June 2012:

The split at the base:

And the handy dandy lopper that will act as executioner...

I love having a surplus of firewood!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Hot Water... Or Lack There Of

When we moved in, our hot water was just OK.  The faucet had to be turned to the hottest possible setting before the water would become warm.  We thought this was due to the age of our oil boiler, being around 50 years in age.  After the October snow storm, the water seemed to go from warm to luke warm and would take a while before reaching that point.

Then, as the weather changes to winter, the heating would come on as expected.  Since the boiler heats not only the hot (I mean luke-warm) water, it also heats the baseboard fed home heating system.  When the heat is on, we had no hot water.

I bit the bullet.  Not wanting to make more of an issue by dismantling our, by most standards, antique oil boiler (and not remembering how to put it back together again as my wife can attest to), I called in our oil supplier to give us a cause.  Turns out, it's normal for the boiler to shut off the hot water while heating the home.  What isn't normal is the non-existent hot water when the heating is off.  

Mental thought:  Great... how much is this going to cost us?

James Warner Home of 1760Surprisingly, the plumber said that this is a common issue and the repair is due to a solitary valve on the exterior of the boiler.  It has a spring on the inside that adjusts the amount of hot water being sent to the faucets based on a predetermined setting on the valve.  With time, the spring becomes encased in calcium or various other minerals.  The buildup retards the movement of the spring locking it in a cold setting.  The plumber added that this will occur again in time.

This repair in it's entirety was $90.40 (completed in March of 2012).  Not bad considering.  

On a side note, my wife asked the plumber the life span of our antique heating appliance.  His response was interesting:  

"It will last longer than you want it to."

Should I be scared?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Memorial Day

It's been quite difficult to update this blog recently.  My pregnant wife and I have been spending many-a-weekend preparing for the arrival of our little boy who is expected June 27.  From the end of March until now, there have been trips to baby stores, family, showers, birth classes, etc. that have taken up plenty of our time without much being spent on home repairs/upgrades.  I am working on small projects and will report when I am able to.  

Recently, however, I made a very small change.  I have been yearning to display some Americanism in my colonial period home.  And when Memorial day approached, I thought this was the time.  As we live in a home from before the Revolutionary period, those living at that time would've been witness to the birth of our nation.  Perhaps displaying an American flag in the late 1770's, when this home was just a baby.  Besides, what colonial period home doesn't need an American flag?  It's like peanut butter and jelly, a combination that just works (for those who aren't allergic).  So, this past Memorial Day, I've decided to put up an American Flag, but not just any American flag.  I wanted a flag that would've originally hung in/on this home, something historical.  So now, the Betsy Ross flag is hanging in our second floor landing window.  If you have the time, wikipedia.com has an article on the history of the flag:  Click Here.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Home History - Part I

 Update:  See Home History - Part III for updated information.

My wonderful wife had a week off from work due to spring break in March.  She took that time to research our home's history in Town Hall.  Since government offices closes at 4:00 PM during the working week and is closed on weekends, my wish to peruse the records is nullified as I, like most people, work.

Starting with the most recent owner of record, she was able to trace the history back to the mid-19th century before the records ended due to the town having been incorporated in 1849.

Here is what she was able to decipher from the printed and handwritten documentation in the Town Hall Vault:

Owner (Last Name)     Year     Cost      Notes             
"Us"                  2011     $275,000
Dion, D.              1992
Tinney, D.            1989               Survivor
Tinney, H. & D.       1978
Vezina, E. & L.       1968     $ 12,750                       
Mell, D.              1965     $     10 
Warner, Carl G.       1965               Executor
Warner, J. G.         1934     $  5,000
Warner, Carl G.       1929               Executor/Inherited
Warner, James H.      1898               Inherited
Warner, James           ?                Home's Name Sake
Merriam               1842
End of Known Records

The owners of our home varied greatly.  There were numerious instances where the home was sold for $1 to family members (or $5,000 as the case may be) or as part of debt settlements throughout the later 19th and early 20th centuries.  The above list is abbreviated.  

According to the folklore from the prior owner and other documentation (like the tacky brass mail order plaque she screwed to the exterior wall), our home was "built" by James Warner in 1760.

If I ever get a chance, or time, I'll have to dig up some more information...