Sunday, March 30, 2014

Looking Back at Two Years (almost) of Home Ownership

Welcome to our house
Two years ago Susan and I were about to embark on the adventure of home ownership. We began searching in April 2012, and put an offer down on a house in late May 2012, and closed in mid-June 2012, two days after a massive hailstorm smashed up our Prius and most of East Dallas. Luckily, our house was untouched, and we moved in with little drama.

As many of you have seen on Facebook, we have done some projects on the home over the past twenty one months of home ownership. When we purchased the house, we had a home inspection done that found a few repairs that were wanting. These included replacing the existing electrical panel (which was a Federal Pacific model that had a reputation for catching on fire in other neighborhood homes), doing some foundation repairs, replacing the rotting siding on both ends of the house and on the rake between the two levels of the roof, and replacing electrical outlets in the kitchen with GCFI outlets.

The new electrical panel
These sort of suggested repairs are hardly the ones that one sees on the cover of home improvement magazines, and often are expensive invisible projects. We had the electrical panel replaced before we moved in, as well as having the kitchen outlets replaced. Our foundation repairs were done over a two week period in March 2013, and we got our siding replaced a year later in 2014. In the midst of these major repairs, we have worked on stocking the house with craigslist finds and smaller projects.

The future native plant strip
Front and Back Yard
We have doubled our front flower bed and put in a number of native plants. As you can see from some of the photos we dug up a portion of yard in the front strip between the street and the sidewalk and will plant in some native plants later in April.

In the back yard we have had limited success in getting the grass in a shady back yard. We have two creep myrtles, two live oaks, and one fifty year cedar elm, and there is no more than four hours of sunlight in the back yard during most days. Our attention had been focused in other areas, but we’ll probably need to plant some native ground cover that can grow in the shade.

Front Living Room

This room has probably seen the most changes since we moved in. Originally we had our television and recliner in this area, as well as our main couch. However, this arraignment left half of the room essentially unused, and a good Dutchman does not like badly arraigned space. Therefore, in January 2014, we rearranged the room, moving the dining room table and buffet from the family room in the back portion of the space, while moving television out and the piano to the spot where the television once was. With this re-positioning of the furniture, we made the front portion of the room into a formal living area that is great for reading and playing the piano, and the back portion into a formal dining area.

The previous owners had done a great job with this area, and therefore our changes have been minimal in this room. Besides adding a shelf back to the area above the refrigerator and putting in a craigslist cast off container store shelving until, our impact on this space has been limited. Susan did do some nice rearranging of the cookware items last year, our pantry always has animal crackers on hand (thankfully). The two forthcoming projects in this room is repairing the cupboard by the stove top that has some visible water damage, and to replace the existing back entry door, which is original to the house, leaks like crazy, is starting to show signs of deterioration.

Family Room
As mentioned earlier, this room is now the home of the television, our old couch, and recliner. As you can see from some of the photos, there are speakers in the ceiling, but when I tried to hook them up to a receiver, I found out that the there was nothing in the speakers themselves, and they are pretty much useless, negating any reason to invest in a high quality sound system in this room. We got a nice rug from, and we’ll probably look for a smaller coffee table on craigslist in the months to come. Finally, we've had our existing slipcover since 2004, and will probably get a color that matches the room’s colors a bit closer.

Front Hallway
Very little has been done in this area, although we will get a new energy efficient entry door to replace the front door (which, like the back entry door, is old and leaks).

We got an IKEA desk that uses this space quiet well, and also added a file cabinet to replace our flimsy file boxes. We need to repaint the corners of the ceiling that have been painted poorly, and we also need to repaint the closet down the road, as it had a horrible paint job that is chipping and failing off at odd times.

Guest Room

We got an IKEA bed frame and painted it and our old nightstands to match the white trim in this bedroom. You can’t see from photos, but this room has six electrical outlets, which were among twenty that we replaced throughout the house in January 2013. I am still looking for some new white book cases to line up on the exterior wall to replace our existing shelves that are currently on the interior wall. I need to do some touch up painting and caulking along the front window to seal some minor leaks.


The previous owners did a great job on both of these rooms, and the work in these two rooms has been minimal over the past two years. Perhaps the biggest thing has been the re-caulking of the shower in the master bathroom.

Master Bedroom

The biggest changes in this room has been the addition of new furniture from craigslist for a bedroom set. One of my favorite home ownership adventures this past year was driving with a 78 inch dresser in our Prius with my knees touching my chin as I drove down Central Expressway. In January 2013 we install recessed lighting, and did some minor painting touch up work in November 2013.


Perhaps the ignored area of the house, the attic was already in good shape. I spent some time last month cleaning out trash from the attic, and after our siding was replaced, I was able to repair some gaps in insulation to reduce heat/cooling loss. Last week I created an attic door “coffin” (with an R-10 rating) to reduce the energy loss through the attic door. Future projects in the next few months before it gets too hot is to add a float switch for the AC unit, as well as putting in two sofit vents by the front room to reduce the heat trapped in this area during the summer.


Perhaps the biggest amount of work has come from the exterior of the home. Cleaning out the gutters on a weekly basis in the later summer and fall has not been fun. I’ve replaced some rotting fascia boards behind the gutters, and also did some touch up work on a poor exterior paint job. Now that the siding is up, I’m scrapping and prepping the trim wood surrounding the siding before priming the wood. We still haven’t decided on whether to paint the new siding the same cream color as the trim, but would appreciate some advice. I hope to have the exterior painting done by the end of April, and to have the new doors installed by the end of May.

Future Projects
As we enter our third year of home ownership, I’m trying find ways that we can further reduce some of our housing expenses, namely our electrical, gas, and water use.

The previous owners put in new energy efficient windows in the summer of 2011, and they also put on a new roof. We have an average of 499 kwh per month, and you can see the brutal Dallas heat in the summer really drives a great deal of the use. We have ceiling fans in four of the rooms (family room, and the three bedrooms) that we run continuously, but nothing in front formal dining/living room which has a south facing window. We run our dishwasher three times a week, our washer and dryer twice a week, and have the air conditioner set at 79 during the day and at 75 during the night, and the compressor was added in 2010 and has a SEER of 14 (we have a natural gas powered heating system, and have the heat set at 60 during the day and at nights, and at 65 when we are home during the evenings). We have loose insulation in the attic that provide R-19 insulation. Our appliances are all energy star (fridge, washer, dryer were all purchased in 2012, computer and television in 2010 and are on anti-vampire power strips), and all our non-recessed lighting is CFL. We have two clock radios plugged in all day, but both use minimal energy.

I am trying to think of ways to improve our household energy efficiency and to reduce our energy bill. I had a free energy audit done back in December 2012, and the consultant recommended replacing the two entry doors, which are original to the house and obviously leak energy regardless of the season. We have 8 halogen recessed lights (70 W each) that I believe account for 34 khw per month (we have these lights on for two hours a day), meaning that it is about 10% of our total energy use when the AC isn't running. These were replaced with Philips LED bulbs in April, and they should use 5khw per month. Perhaps the final step consider is to install a programmable Nest thermostat to replace our 10 year old non-programmable thermostat, but given the price, I don’t know if it will pay for itself any time soon. Perhaps if the Nest Corporation sent me a free one, I could check it out. I will be curious to see what will happen the energy use with the improvements that will hopefully be completed by the end of May. From a quick read through of our energy bill, half of our annual use goes to air conditioning.

The first two years of home ownership has been really a great experience. I have found out that I really enjoy manual labor projects after sitting at a desk all day, and it is satisfying seeing various projects get completed. I also am amazed a what one can get on Craigslist at a significantly lower price that what is listed at the store. Who knows what future projects will happen over the next few years? Hopefully this watchman at night and laborer during the day does not do these projects in vain.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Michigan Counties Report

I've finally finished up my Magnum Opus from 2013-a research project looking at Michigan's county level races and 622 county commission seats since 2006. There are lots of maps in this presentation, and a great amount of data as well. You may access the report here.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013: Books I Read

Happy New Year Everyone! I hope that 2014 is a good year for you!

In 2013 I read only 73 books, a much lower number than in 2012 (when I read 113 books) and in 2011 (91). I blame a busier work schedule in 2013 than the previous year, and I think that owning an iPad makes me much more likely to read shorter works. Here is hoping that I read more in 2014.

If I had to pick three books that I would consider my favorites in 2013, I would single out Lawrence Wright's In the New World, a memoir on growing up in Dallas in the 1960s, which really proved to be much more revealing about the Dallas worldview in 1963 than anything else I read this year in preparation for the 50th anniversary of Kennedy Assassination. John Allen's The Future Church was a timely read with the election of Pope Francis in 2013; the southern church is not more conservative or liberal than the northern church, but is rather focused on issues near and dear to the gospels, especially the poor and evangelism of the world. Finally, Last's What to Expect When No One is Expecting provides a great perspective about the coming demographic decline of much of the world's population and what impact this will have in the next 50 years. A must read, even if it was written by someone at the National Review. Can anyone else recommend some good books that they read this past year?

Greenfield, Then Everything Changed
Greenfield, 43*
Douhat, Bad Religion
Hastings, World War II
Howe, House of Velvet and Glass
Millard, Destiny of the Republic
Howe, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane
Collins, Catching Fire
Collins, Hunger Games
McClure, The Wilder Life
Collins, Mockingjay
Petersik, Young House Love
LeDuff, Detroit: An American Autopsy
Warren, All Your Worth
MacDonald, Who Stole My Church
Allen, The Future Church
Garrett, Plants of the Metroplex
MacFarlane, The Old Ways
Spec, Walkability
Wright, Going Clear
Goldhill, Catastrophic Care
Binelli, Detroit City is the Place to Be
Wolfe, Back to Blood
Stahr, Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensible Man
Johnson, White House Burning
Burman, Taxes in America
Raboteau, Searching for Zion
Last, What to Expect When No One is Expecting
Folett, Pillars of the Earth
Euginedes, The Marriage Plot
Grisham, The Racketeer
Baxter, The Most Beautiful Walk in the World
Horne, Seven Ages of Paris
Winspear, Leaving All Most Loved
Michener, Texas
Mak, The Village
Heller, Ed Bacon and the Politics of Planning in Post War Philadelphia
Coddington, The Gettysburg Campaign
Nadea and Barlow, 60 Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong
Sorkin, Too Big to Fail
McClelland, Nothing But Blue Skies
Packer, The Unwinding
Martin, Dangerous Men
Wright, In the New World
Bizzinger, Friday Night Lights
Bauerville, The Sea
Reisner, Cadillac Desert
Jenkins, The Jesus Wars
Tough, Why Children Succeed
Nutting, Tampa
Howard, Living Large for the Long Haul
Merry, Where They Stand
Penide, Lawn Gone
Biggers, State Out of the Union
Kolker, Lost Girls
Tmoskey, Heads in Bed
Wuthnow, After the Boomers
Russell, Doc
Clark, The Sleepwalkers
Miner, Lessons from the Heartland
Jenkins, New Faces of Christianity
Jenkins, God’s Continent
Waldman, Love Affairs of Nathaniel P
Hastings, Catastrophe 1914
Katz & Fey, Metropolitan Revolution
Townsend, Smart City
Sides & Vareck, The Gamble
Hotta, Japan: 1941
Wasburn, The Nature of Urban Design
Helmreich, The New York No One Knows
Grant, Hope & Despair in the American City
Frank, Dick & Ike: A Strange Political Marriage
Minutalio & Davis, Dallas 1963