Steve's blog

Got three estimates? Get three more.

Posted by Steve on Mon, 10/31/2011 - 12:30am

A couple of weeks ago, I did my annual pre-heating season ritual of flushing my 42 year-old Weil-McLain steam boiler in preparation for the ceremonial relighting of the pilot light.  I learned later from a plumber that you shouldn't flush a cold boiler because the fresh incoming water will leave chemical deposits.  It was academic in this case however because the boiler drained dry.

WTF?  The low water cutoff (LWCO)/autofeed should have replenished the boiler with fresh water.  It didn't.  Granted, the LWCO looks like some sort of World War 2-era device and it had never been serviced since I bought the house so I wasn't surprised that it had failed.  I called the most knowledgeable plumber I knew in the neighborhood.  If ever there was a plumbing geek, it's him.  He even collects old boiler doors as a hobby.  But he also has a reputation for both being very expensive and very hard-to-get.  He even charges for estimates.

True to his rep, it took a week to get him to my place.  When he arrived he stared at the boiler and the LWCO for about sixty seconds and said it would cost $1500 to replace the LWCO.  But he didn't recommend it.  He pointed me to several areas of rust and some funky insulation on the boiler and said that it probably wouldn't last the heating season.  Furthermore, if he replaced the LWCO it wouldn't be compatible with any new boiler he would install so I would be throwing away $1500.

He opened a nicely bound, four color catalog of boilers and showed me what I needed: a new boiler.  He showed me the price printed next to it: $6558!  He could see the blood draining from my face and reminded me that that was the installed price.  But I would also need a new autofeed ($700) and $200 to pay an electrician to hook up the existing two-wire BX to the emergency cut-off switch.  The numbers kept building to the final cost: $7400!  If there are no unexpected problems, that is.  Then he handed me a bill for $54.38 for the estimate before leaving me to deal with the same problem I called him about.

DIY For the Masses

Posted by Steve on Sun, 10/30/2011 - 1:09pm

The #1 question I get asked on this blog is "What's your #1 piece of advice for a novice DIYer?"   I sort of hate that question because every situation is unique.

Is it "prime before you paint?"  Or "measure twice, cut once?"  Or "dull blades are dangerous?"  Or "make certain the breaker is really off?" Fact is, you'll find lots of sites with lots of Top Ten lists for do-it-yourselfers.   Just read the first thing on the list, I guess.

Primer Failure

Posted by Steve on Fri, 06/24/2011 - 1:49am

I know it's been six months since my last update here but there hasn't been much DIY stuff to blog about at Brooklyn Row House... not even something worthy of a Facebook status.  Fact is, most of the work here is done but now I'm facing Phase 2 -- maintaining all the new stuff which has begun to show the wear and tear of the years and the many boisterous animals.  For that reason I think I'm going to jog this blog into slightly different direction, beginning with this post.

Three years ago, I had the back of my house professionally prepped and painted by Wallcoat. While I'm not thrilled with the color that I chose (my fault) I'm happy to report that it's lived up 100% to its claims.  There's not a scratch on it, which is more than can be said for one of my neighbors' Thoroseal jobs done roughly at the same time.  I give Wallcoat five stars.

Far less impressive however was the paint job I did on my back deck.  With my new, blue wall I wanted something other than a black steel deck.  So I went to my local Home Depot and had a custom light gray Rustoleum mixed for me. After I pressure washed and wire brushed the deck, I laid down a coat of rusty metal Rustoleum primer.  Because of the ornate metal railings, it was a lot of work with a 2" brush but it looked great.

Fast forward one year and the deck didn't look so great.  There was definite foot traffic wear down to the primer, especially on the stairs.  To me, this showed a failure of the paint.  I knew it was only going to get worse so I repeated the clean/prime/paint ordeal, this time with a stock Rustoleum gray color.  Perhaps the failure was the fault of the tinting.  Who knows?

Well, that one started flaking off last fall too.  WTF??  This is Rustoleum paint, after all.  It's the stuff that professional painters use on steel fire escapes every 20 years or so.  It's among the most durable of retail paints.

So last weekend I once again power washed, brushed and carefully laid down yet another coat of Rustoleum rusty metal primer.  But before painting on the top coat I decided to check Rustoleum's web site to see what I might have overlooked.  It was there that I found the source of my problem.   Note well: you won't find this information posted on the can nor on the product page on the web site.  You have to dive into Rustoleum's FAQ to learn it.

Netflix + Roku = HBO Killer?

Posted by Steve on Thu, 08/12/2010 - 12:43am

I've been very happy with DirecTV's service here but the monthly bill is like a car loan.  Or at least mine is thanks to my soup-to-nuts Platinum HD DVR package.

Over the past year I've been on a mission to trim the monthly nut.  Quitting tobacco products in May 2009 was a great start.  So was dumping my $119/month aDSL service with in December, moving this server to and installing Roadrunner at home.  Okay, I didn't really save anything with that but I got a lot more bang for the buck.

Next on the plate was my crippling monthly satellite bill.  By my reckoning, I could save at least $51/month if I dumped all my movie channels -- HBO, Cinemax, Encore, the works.  I don't watch a lot of TV but when I do it's usually a movie.  However even with ALL the movie channels it's not as though I feast on a cornucopia of video variety.  Like bad oldies radio, it seems to be the same hundred-plus movies broadcast over and over again.  Just how many times CAN you watch Step Brothers anyway?

A lot of my friends are long-time Netflix fans and many tried to convert me to their wicked ways.  But the process of logging into a web site to search for a movie, make a selection, wait a couple of days for the DVD to arrive, watch it, put it back in the envelope and drop it in a mailbox was just too freakin' much work!  I'm the kind of guy who walks around with three month old uncashed checks in my wallet.

But when I heard about Netflix On Demand, that caught my attention.  How do I bridge that movie feed to my TV?   My Sharp Aquos in the master bedroom has an ethernet port and, using a powerline LAN, I had successfully downloaded many DirecTV video-on-demand titles over the internet.

Let's hit PAUSE for a second to note that, yes, I did wire every floor in the house with CAT5 the month I moved in and, yes, I did completely gut and renovate the master bedroom and, yes, I did pull two runs of coax inside those walls for the dish.  Guess what I forgot to run?  The CAT5.   Duh.

So, it was on to Google to see what I needed to do to get Netflix on my TV.   One solution was based on an inexpensive piece of Windows software called PlayOn. It bridges the Netflix video queue as well as several other popular sites like Hulu to your local LAN and makes them compatible with  DLNA-compliant devices, like the Aquos.  But PlayOn's performance was shaky at best.   I would have to select something several times to get it to "stick" and Netflix movies were even more problematic.


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