Monday, November 24, 2008

Something to watch

One Project Closer posted some great info on HELOCs and what to do if yours is frozen. We bought our place at well below its appraised value, so I was pretty OK with getting one when we figured out all of the renovations we wanted to do to the house. I've been keeping an eye on it since we started hearing stories about freezing and canceling as the housing market crumbled and so far so good. I also watch Zillow and our bank's Home Value Estimator in the home equity section of their website. I've noticed a few things that I thought others out there might want to know about. Here's our situation.

The bank's estimator is the higher of the two, but our HELOC didn't bring our debt against the house anywhere near that amount, even if we maxed out all the available credit. Zillow seemed pretty consistently reasonable, if a little on the low side-- again, though, maxing out the HELOC wouldn't ever put us upsidedown. Lately, both these values have been going steadily up and this reflects the market in our town and in our specific zip code. Several houses on our street and directly behind us have recently sold for much more than I thought they would, the neighborhood became an Historic District, and the town as a whole never experienced a housing boom, so there's been very little to slump; it simply steadily, but in very small increments, showed increases in home values.

Last night, I took a look at Zillow, just for shits and giggles. We're in this house for 5-10 years and so my monitoring of the value has been mostly academic. Zillow shows a relatively healthy increase over the last month or two. Well if that's what Zillow shows, I thought, what must the bank's estimator show!?! So I checked. says our house has decreased by an unrealistic sum of money (interestingly, to a sum that makes our debt suspiciously close to 80%). It's now similar to the Zillow estimate, but that's beside the point-- the bank is showing what I think is a false decrease in home value; in other words, whether the new number is correct or not is irrelevant. What matters is that the bank is looking at the house and saying that it's decreasing rapidly. The same estimator shows other decreases in our neighborhood of 30k, 8k... It's all over the place, over a very short time and in a neighborhood I know to be going up in value as evidenced by numerous recent sales. Hopefully, the estimator simply recalibrated and the bank is looking at it as such, and not as an actual decrease in value. It also doesn't take into account any improvements that we've made.

So then I decided to check our HELOC-- to see what the new rate would be if we locked it. Our bank has a feature with their HELOC that allows the consumer to lock a portion of his or her debt into a fixed rate. It's higher than the revolving rate, but it's fixed. The website also used to allow you to do the whole thing online; get a quote, lock the rate and transfer the money without dealing with their operators. This feature has disappeared within the last couple of weeks.

This may mean absolutely nothing-- or it may mean that the bank is about to do another mass reappraisal of its HELOCs like it did earlier this year. Now may be the time to think about anything you want to do in the near future and pull the cash for it. Most of our remaining repairs are from the storm, and therefore covered by insurance, or we've bought the supplies already and now need to simply install the items. But it's been nice to know the money is there and I do find the sequence of events very peculiar indeed...

Good News Monday

I called the HVAC installers and they told me that the warranty started when they did the initial "start up" on the unit. This means we are squeaking in just under the warranty wire.

They come Wednesday to see what's up!

Sunday, November 23, 2008's back.

Sigh. Now I have to call the HVAC guys-- 2 months, almost to the day, since the unit went out of warranty on labor. Still under on parts, but I'm always a little afraid they'll find some way to pin the blame on the consumer. I worked in retail. I remember how it goes.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Update on the stink

Adam ran the emergency heat for a while early in the day on Monday, and I ran it for 30 minutes or so that same night, and we got one bag of insulation that was tucked in a corner out of the attic (fyi-- it smelled like nothing, though that doesn't really mean anything). Neither of us smelled it at all yesterday, and I think Adam was home pretty much all day.

So far so good.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Stinky coils?

As per usual...I need help.

We started noticing a musty smell in the house, and we think it's coming from the heat registers. It's a musty, mildewy, damp crawlspace kind of smell (but our inside coil and ductwork are in the attic)-- not bad, just stale like hose water.

Anyway, the first thing I did was change the filter-- it was in very, very bad need of changing. We thought that did the trick, but I think it was just warm enough outside for the rest of the day that the heat wasn't really kicking in.

This morning I was doing my yoga stretches for my back and could smell it again-- and trust e, this made it very hard to relax-- "what could that be?" "is it dangerous?" "will it be expensive?" Shut up, brain-- you're supposed to be concentrating on breathing!

So now I've resorted to Google. It appears that there are several possibilities here. One is mildew and mold on the inside coils and drip pan-- something called dirty sock syndrome. I guess heat pumps don't get hot enough to kill the bacteria, and that's all we have. It doesn't generally get so cold that a heat pump can't do the job for the most part, so there's no gas furnace in addition-- just the pump. But, anyway, I'm not sure this really smells like dirty socks-- it's not all that offensive. It did occur to me that we might have left a bag of wet insulation up there from after the storm; I know Adam got it all bagged up, but we need to make sure we didn't leave one up there. Still, that shouldn't necessarily affect the air inside the sealed ducts, and anyway, most ducts are in crawlspaces with much more moisture than any poorly ventilated attic would have; plus, it's been super cold lately.

The other possibility seems to be that it might be summer "build-up" on one of the coils which, again, never gets hot enough to totally burn off. I saw one suggestion to turn on the emergency heat for 20 minutes and crank it up so it gets hotter and burns off whatever's there.

We all know it's never fun to have someone come work on the house. I'd like to try anything I can do myself first. I'll start with the emergency heat plan...but I'm wondering if any of you have had this problem and any suggestions that don't involve calling the HVAC guys...


Other than pondering our stinky air, we got more unpacking done; Adam went on a tear with that and it's looking so much better. We had friends in town this weekend, so we got some cleaning done and other various maintenance projects worked on. One of these friends is moving back to town, so I took her one of the neighborhood houses that I know is going on the market soon. Every time Adam tried to router the countertop edging, it started to rain, so that's still on the books. I'm afraid it's officially too cold to plant my hosta bulbs-- hopefully it'll warm up enough that I can get them into the ground. And my back is slowly, slowly mending.

In other words, life has been pretty low-key-- Sam's Club restocked the variety pack cases of Leinenkugel, so really, I couldn't ask for much more.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A perfect fit

Whoa. Are these pipes from a 1982 Playboy?

I couldn't figure out why everything was in soft focus this morning, until I considered that the camera had been in my car all night, sitting at about 35ยบ. The lens and viewfinder were both all foggy.

Anywho, that right there is the trap and the purple lid of doom that was clogging said trap. Then there is the pipe that shattered in Adam's hand:

I swear to god I don't have man hands like that in real life, stupid perspective. So yeah-- it was a dirty job, but in the end,

And so far, it works.

The End.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pipe Fittin'

What I really should title this post is, "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit." I just called home to see if I needed to pick up anything for dinner, and was greeted with a rousing tale about our bathroom sink. A while back, we took the little plug out to clean all the gunk off of it; it didn't get put back in immediately. Then we started noticing a very slow drain. We tried 2 rounds of gel drain cleaner, and it was no better. We assumed something fell in the trap and was clogging things up-- nothing else was backing up. Easy fix, right? Just take the trap off, empty it out, put it back. That's what traps are for!

Apparently, the pipe behind it shattered when the trap was disconnected. Great. These are old, old pipes and I'm a little concerned that we won't be able to find any that fit, and even if we do, we'll end up shattering something else or causing a leak behind the wall, IN WHICH CASE, my pink tile is at risk. Homegirl is not happy. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Incidentally, I'm told, the culprit was a purple lid to something.

I see that's it's been almost 2 weeks since I last posted. Not much has happened housewise, hence the absence. I ended up spending all morning on the Saturday after Halloween in a walk-in clinic for a sinus infection-- by that point I had completely lost my voice. I'm pretty sure you don't know hell until you've been in that particular place on that particular day. It was full of ENTIRE FAMILIES to take care of one sick person. Multiple adults, one of whom probably could have stayed at home with the kids eating their Halloween candy at 9 in the morning, crowded the waiting room. All for literally 2 minutes with the doc.

I have also been continuously dealing with the back pain and discomfort for several weeks now. It's taking a while, but I am in full assault mode-- new office chair, new shoes, exercise balls (for home and office), daily yoga, heated vibrating chair pad, body pillow, lumbar cushion for the car. The works. I want this shit done with. The problem is that I had let my health and fitness go for so long, that the exercise almost makes it worse before it makes it better. Muscles are being asked to keep me sitting up straight that haven't been used this regularly in years. They're not taking it lying down, though, I can tell you that. I was taking muscle relaxers, but I started weaning myself off of them. Though some ibuprofen will be mighty welcome by day's end.

Adam's been trying to work on the house during the week, but the rain keeps making it difficult. And now I suppose I'm going to have to hire out the ceiling drywall work-- I don't think hoisting sheetrock and standing on a ladder staring up all day is a very condusive to my full scale back attack.

Someday, there will be news to report. And hopefully, it will be good news.