Home Improvement

Tree Removal

We had two small cherry trees along our very short driveway. The blossoms looked beautiful in the spring but the trees were ugly the rest of the year. They were pruned very oddly and were starting to die off. The one closer to the house had a crazy root structure with a number of very large roots partially above the surface. It was time for them to go before they died more and started dropping branches.

Logan was kind enough to help me out with the whole process. We made quick work of them with a chainsaw and manual branch cutters. As we cut them up, I was amazed at how many of the branches were totally dead. Taking it down was a good decision. We each took a load of the branches to Pacific Topsoil and we were done with that part.

Then there were the stumps. Oh yeah. When I was planning this project, I figured we would just dig them out and maybe use the truck to help pull them out. A little digging revealed that would be a huge project and i was also nervous about the water, gas, communication and irrigation lines that run up that strip of property. Brute force didn’t seem like a good approach so we rented a stump grinder instead.

The first stump was very quick but the second one took us about two and a half hours because of the big network of large roots near the surface. We made a mountain of wood chips but we got it all done. Now I just have to feed those chips into my yard waste bin over the next week or two if I can’t find a use for them.

This fall we will be planting at least one new tree in that spot and then next spring I think we’ll make some planter boxes to start a small garden. It will be tiny compared to our neighbors beautiful garden, but it will still be delicious.

Logan, thanks for helping so much with this project!


Power Over Ethernet

I dare you to try and buy just one security camera. That’s how it started for me. Now I have six. I might need an intervention.

The last one I put up was an “extra” that we had lying around after we upgraded one of the cameras to a newer 1080p. This old one is only 640×480 but hey, why not use it? I decided to stick it on the back corner of the house, but that meant a long cable run from my network closet and there’s also no power nearby. Power over Ethernet (PoE) to the rescue!

In your standard ethernet cable, half of the wires are unused. The PoE specification defines a common way of transmitting power over those extra wires. This means that instead of running a network cable to the camera along with installing a new outlet nearby, I just had to run a network cable.

You also need something to combine the network signal and the power on one end and deconstruct it on the other end. For the injection side, you can either get a standalone plug/ethernet jack combo thing or you can purchase a switch with PoE built in. I chose the latter since I’ll be using this more in the future. My WiFi access points are already PoE so I can get rid of the two injector plugs and switch them over to this unit. And while it’s possible to buy PoE versions of these cameras, I don’t have those yet so I had to buy a splitter for the camera end.

The hardest part was running the wire 40 or 50 feet under my house and even that wasn’t hard, just dirty and cramped. Elijah loves it when I go down there and always asks if he can poke his head in there too.

The end result is a really nice view of either the cul-de-sac or our back yard depending on which way the camera is rotated. It’s not going to do much for security, but it’s fun to see Elijah playing during the day while I’m at work or just get a little extra assurance that everything is ok while we are away.

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P.S. If you are interested in setting up something like this at your house, I have a post detailing my basic setup. You can get more posts by searching my site for “foscam“.

Skylight Cover

We have two skylights in our house. One faces is over the stairs and the other is in the master bathroom. The extra light is nice, but the one over the stairs faces south, and, on a hot day, it turns the top of the stairs into an oven. Even with our AC running and the fan circulating air 24/7, upstairs will be 6-7 degrees warmer than downstairs.

I looked into adding a shade to the interior of the window but that looked like it was going to be pretty pricey. And since the skylight is so far overhead, the pole contraption would be pretty long and we’d have to store it somewhere.

I stumbled across I was wary of the site because it just feels like a bit of a scam site, but I finally decided to just go for it. I crawled up on the roof and carefully measured out the dimensions of my skylight. It required a custom order, but the total with shipping was under $100.

It arrived a few weeks later and the installation took only a few minutes. It stretches to fit over the skylight and is held on with friction. So far it hasn’t blown off and I think it would take a lot for that to happen.

Our model blocks 90% of the light coming through and wow does it make a difference! The top of the stairs is now the same temperature as everywhere else upstairs. We had a couple warm, sunny days and with the air conditioner running, it was only 3-4 degrees warmer upstairs instead of the previous 6-7. That seems like a huge impact for a $100 purchase so I want to see some more data on hot days, but so far, the results are very promising.

We’ll take it off at the end of summer to benefit from the free heat that we get from the sun in the winter (though there’s not a lot of sun in the winter around here anyway.)



Ecobee3 Data

I’m still enjoying this Ecobee thermostat. Now that the weather is warmer, the house is “coasting” a lot more meaning that we don’t run either the furnace or the air conditioner. It’s interesting to watch how the house warms and cools throughout the day based on the outdoor temperature and the sunshine. For example, here is data for a 4 day period. It was very cloudy the first two days and the second two days were sunny and much warmer.

You can also see roughly in the middle of the graph where the indoor temps jump up quickly. That’s when we returned from being gone for a while and turned the thermostat back on. The rest of the time, the HVAC wasn’t running.

The next step is to measure how much power our furnace blower motor and air conditioner use so I can start to get an idea of how much it costs to run them. I’ll have to figure out how to measure the gas usage too.



Our house came with a small Rubbermaid shed in the backyard. It’s a handy place to keep stuff like the lawn mower, but it rapdily gathered so much stuff that it was hard to even pull the lawnmower out.


Last week I decided it was time to build some organization. Thankfully, that turned out to be a very quick and relatively cheap project. The whole thing was built with about 25 2x4s and a bunch of scrap plywood that I already had.

I started out with Sketchup to figure out how I would get all the big items to fit in there. I measured the interior dimensions of the shed and also the dimensions of the mower, the wheelbarrow, etc. It was very helpful to figure this all out on the computer instead of doing it on the fly.


The plan was to build an “attic” and two shelves as well as some places to hang tools along the wall. Floor space is really valuable and I can pretty much fill it up with the mower, generator, wheelbarrow, ladder and cornhole boards. Everything else needs to be off the ground.

I moved all of the contents out onto the patio and covered them with a tarp (which Elijah thought was very interesting.) Then it only took about 4 hours of work to build everything inside. After doing a bunch of nicer woodworking projects, it was kind of relaxing to frame the project out with 2x4s. I covered the shelves with scrap pieces of plywood and before I knew it, the project was done.

Everything fits in there very nicely now and I no longer dread opening the doors to get something out. I still have plenty of empty space that I can use now too.