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Saturday, December 31, 2005

December 31, 2005

Happy New Year's Eve!

Since I won't likely write anything here tomorrow, I'll take the opportunity to write something here today, and wish everyone who happens to stumble across this blog-like section of the website a happy new year!

It doesn't seem like it should already be 2006; after all, where did 2005 go? Seems like so much happened that there wasn't time to breathe.

Yikes! Over a month this time...

Well, my apologies for anyone who might anxiously await new posts here; the time since Thanksgiving has been very busy this year, more so than normal. I'll go into detail below, but amongst work and other projects I've been tackling, I've had little time to spare at home (aside from sleep time). Compounded with the last of Beth's schoolwork (she completed her collegiate career just a few weeks ago) and what that meant for her spare time, it seems as though it's been a nightmare staying caught up with regular household things (let alone all the other busy holiday season stuff).

But anyway, enough of that. On to what's been going on in the last month or so...

Let's Start With Weather!

It seems as though it's finally going to be a regular winter season here in Minnesota. For the last several years we've had this tendency to have [very] little amounts of snowfall...until a brief bit in late January/early February which graces us with its presence for a few weeks before going away.

This year, we actually had a regular, proper White Christmas. We've had several 'several-inch' snowfalls so far this season. We've also had some good old cold. It's melted off here and there (as temperatures hover in the 30's some days, specifically this last two weeks), but after a recent 6-8" snowfall on Thursday night, there are some places in the backyard (as of this morning) which were knee deep. Where it's not drifted (or blown clean), however, we've got a pretty good 6-10" snow cover, which is a welcome change from years past. Of course, it makes some things more difficult, but overall, it's nice to have some snow to go with the cold. Seems to make it more palatable. smile

We had quite an ice storm in late November. It didn't really directly affect us at home, but one only needs to go about 10 miles either North or West to encounter the ice nastiness. Some places were without power for over a week due to the ice accumulation. While we did indeed encounter some ice here during that storm system, it quickly transitioned to snow and kept us out of the same situation as the aforementioned (thankfully). The snow was, however, quite thick, wet, and being blown in from the South which meant we needed to go clean off the satellite dishes more than once during that brief time. Have I mentioned I prefer cold(er) snow to the near-freezing stuff? smile It's just so much easier to deal with.

Anyway, we should have no shortage of the white stuff this year, and that's a Good Thing. We'll see how the rest of the winter turns out now.

One-Act Is On!

Well, as I mentioned in the last news post, One-Act has begun. As of today, we've only cast the show and held an initial script distribution meeting. The actual hardcore rehearsal time starts on Tuesday (January 3). We've got a good (and small) group of students this year, and that's always nice. We're also doing a slightly different type of show (from what I would normally do) in that we're doing cuttings of Shakespeare (thanks to Beth, because there's no way I would do this myself). Combined with the fact that we've been moved into a different sub-section this year (which means we're not competing at the first level with the same people with whom we've become accustomed), this One-Act season should be a really enjoyable one...although I know the kids don't feel the same way about that.

Anyway, One-Act always does take up some of my time during the month of December, so I mentioned it here...

Structured Wiring

Aside from my own day job, the single most time-demanding thing with which I was involved had to be the completion of my folks' new house. I don't recall if I'd mentioned it here before or not, but I was essentially the 'low-voltage contractor' of the project. The electrician more or less did what I'd asked, and I completed the termination and distribution job.

What this means is that in a storage room in their basement is an enclosure (about 23"wx23"hx13"d) which is the distribution point for all of their voice/video/data (structured) wiring. Each room in the house is wired for all three, and it was my job to make that happen. From keystone (jacks) to punchdown, that was me.

I've got some pictures of the completed job, but they're not online right now. Perhaps I'll get them up sometime and write about the job and how it was accomplished. Overall it was a good experience (although there are always stumbling blocks), but that took some time to get set up and configured. Combined with the occasional trip to see the progress of the rest of the house, we spent several weekends and much time down there during the project's completion.

So, while I wanted to do at least part of my own structured wiring before I did theirs, they beat me to it. So, perhaps after One-Act is over I'll get some time to start on my own wiring project (which is going to be a little more complex than theirs due to what I intend to run over some of my Cat5e wiring).

With that, Moving...

Of course, [my parents'] goal was to be moved in and whatnot by Christmas. This meant that we needed to help them make the nearly two-mile move, which we did the weekend before Christmas (for the big items). This was a weekend in and of itself, but nobody got hurt and everything got moved just fine. They're still in the process of moving some smaller items and other things which weren't packed up and not overly important right away, which I imagine will take a few months yet.

But, they're now in their new house and are enjoying it quite a bit. I might add that Beth and I enjoy it much more as well, specifically due to the lack of indoor smoking which is no longer allowed in the new house (that's what heated garages are for, after all). It's so much nicer to not come back home and smell like a bar for a week.

Whole-House Humidification

Recently, I believe it was at Home Depot, I encountered a small section of the store which was dedicated to humidification control. There were whole-house humidifier units there for a few hundred dollars which claim to work better at controlling the humidity throughout the home.

We've gone through a few humidifiers in the time I've been 'independent'...and the one thing I've hated about them all is the fact that most commercially-available humidifier units have a wick filter which only lasts for a few weeks before becoming grossly inefficient (not to mention very nasty looking). They also don't do a great job in controlling the humidity house-wide (although they do a great job in the vicinity of the unit). In addition to that, the humidifier filters seem to run between $6-10 each...and only last a month at best. Take into account that the unit itself is $35-70, and it's easy to spend $50 a [heating] season in filters alone, and it's not very long before one pays for a spendier unit which needs a filter change just once or maybe twice a heating season if the water is really bad.

I was intrigued by the 'whole-house' idea and, while not a new idea to me -- my grandparents have had a unit like that forever and when I was very young my parents had the same sort of deal), I'd never really thought about installing one myself.

So, I did some research and looked around for different brands/styles/etc. I discovered that there are two basic types of whole-house humidifier. One which works on duct pressure to pull air through a small 'filter' saturated with water (a bypass unit), and the other which works by actively drawing air through by use of a fan through the same sort of filter unit (a power-fan unit). Due to the basic difference of how these are installed (the bypass one would be substantially more work in my case), I chose to go with the power-fan style.

Now that I'd selected a type, it was time to select manufacturer and model. I was really only able to find two major manufacturers (Honeywell and Aprilaire), so that made comparisons between models significantly easier.

It wasn't long before I chose to go with the Aprilaire Model 700 with separate current-sensing relay. This was particularly based upon price. The equivalent Honeywell unit (the unit itself, without humidistat) was about $50 more than the Aprilaire. In addition, the Aprilaire unit came with the humidistat, outdoor temperature sensor (for true automatic humidity control), and some other 'optional' features of the Honeywell model. Furthermore, the Aprilaire filters (I didn't even look at the Honeywell ones for comparison) are about $10 each, and only need to be replaced once per year.

So, I found a reasonable price on eBay and in short order had everything I needed (after a trip to the local hardware store once all the parts arrived and I had a shopping list for installation).

Installation took a few hours, mostly due to the nature of the work. While not rocket science type of work, it was major work and I would not recommend this job to anyone who doesn't feel comfortable messing with plumbing or elecricity.

The work mostly entailed cutting two various-sized holes (one about 6" rectangular, the other about 16" square) in (my case) the cold-air return plenum for the furnace, installing the unit and sealing it up, hooking up the outdoor sensor, tapping into and installing the water supply line and drain tubing, and last but not least, running power to the unit, both 120v (regular outlet plug) and 24v (control wires from the furnace). With the installation of a current-sensing relay (my furnace doesn't have an accessory 24v terminal, so I have to use a relay to sense when the furnace fan is on which doesn't allow the unit to run when the furnace isn't on), the unit tested out perfectly and has made a huge difference in the house.

So, that was a relatively major project, but was well worth doing it myself (as opposed to hiring it done by someone else). Combined with the fact that the unit controls itself, never needs to be filled with water, and only requires minimal maintenance, it was a $200 investment very well worth it.


Well, I think my last little blip here will be related to Christmas. Aside from not having much time to get out and obtain gifts for people (until the last minute), we had a pretty good time. Overall, we were gone for six nights, spent at two different locations with a brief stint at home between. It was good to see some people we've not for a while, but you'd swear we'd abandoned the cats by their responses when we got home. Not even the dog was this bad. So, we've been giving all the animals much attention since our return, and hopefully they'll finally figure out that they were not abandoned and forget the whole deal. smile It wasn't like we left them without food or anything. smile

Until Next Time...

...and I'm not sure when that will be...Thanks for your cooperation (and Happy New Year)!

This post was upgraded to the MZ Online Blog on 8/29/07

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