Updated Photos

August 24, 2008

Okay, I decided that it was time to deal with the massive time commitment involved and just upload our photos using dial-up.  We’ve been in the house almost a year now, so I figured it was about time to get some completed house photos up!  I have many more than this, but these pictures represent all of the waiting I can take in one day.

Here is the front exterior of the house:

Exterior Photo

Exterior Photo

And here is the rear exterior of the house:

Here is part of our backyard, with our bird feeder!

Here is one angle of our library:

And our built-in shelves full of books (and I still have several boxes of books in the closet – so much for shelf space for everything!)

Here is the guest bedroom (the lighting makes the walls look yellowish, but they’re not actually that shade):

Here is the great room:

And from the great room, looking into the dining room:

Here is the kitchen, looking into the dining room:

And the opposite wall of the kitchen:

And, last but not least of this lot, two photos of the upstairs bathroom.  Here is the tub & one of the two vanities:

And here is one wall of the walk-in shower.  It has two heads, but only one side has the body jets:


Electricity Bills in an ICF House

December 29, 2007

Since we’ve been in the house for several months now, we just wanted to add a comment about our energy bills.  We went with ICF construction and splurged on a white metal roof, all in hopes of keeping our energy bills down.  And were we ever right!

Our highest bill was the one for our first month, when our builder was using it for part of the month and running the air conditioner a good deal lower than we actually run it (we keep it around 78 degrees when it’s hot out).  So the highest bill was $63, with the air conditioner running pretty constantly.  Our bills since then have run around $48/month, which is pretty amazing for a 2100 sq. foot house.  We spent more than this every single month in our tiny 760 sq. foot apartment in Kissimmee, so we are thrilled with the savings!

We also pay a good deal less than expected for our homeowner’s insurance because of a few wise design decisions that added up.  Our roof is hipped, with no gables, so we got a discount for that.  We also got a discount for having a metal roof, instead of a shingled roof.  Finally, we got a partial discount for the ICF construction.  I say partial, because if we’d gone with the ICF roof, that would have shaved another $220/year off our insurance costs.  Because our roof is wood frame, we don’t get the ICF discount for that.  Our homeowner’s insurance is still far less than we’d expected, so those decisions made in the design process definitely add up.

We have a propane-powered whole-house generator now, which I will post about at a later date.  And now I must get back to relaxing in my hammock outside.  The sun is shining, the sky is blue, and it’s a balmy 78 degrees outside today: December 29.  Lovely…

In Like Flynn!

October 13, 2007

We’ve moved in, though one of the disadvantages of living in the wilds of Florida is that we no longer have a high speed Internet connection.  No DSL.  No cable.  Nada.  So the photos accompanying this post will have to wait until I am at work and happen to have a free moment – ha!

Since I last posted, several things have happened, the two biggest of which are that we moved in and school started (I am a teacher).  The school at which I teach prepared for 1400 kids, though 1600 had enrolled; they clung in vain to the belief that 200 children would not show up on the first day.  What actually happened was that OVER 1600 showed up, and more continue to enroll, so class sizes are nowhere near Florida’s “suggested” classroom size of 22 children.  Boo.  Hiss.  The reason I mention this is that it accounts for the fact that I have not posted in about two months.  Poor blog.

Our moving day was not without its hitches, though we did remarkably well, considering.  My primary advice to moving families would be to inspect the tires of your U-Haul or Ryder truck BEFORE leaving the lot.  When we moved from New York to North Carolina, quite a few years ago, our move was enlivened by the U-Haul truck experiencing a blowout in BFE Pennsylvania.  On this move, we got up early, picked up the U-Haul, began loading our furniture into it, only to find that one tire was flat.   We then called the repair shop, and, between them giving the repairman the wrong city and the repairman experiencing a fear of storms (he refused to exit his vehicle until the storm had passed, a matter of several hours), we weren’t able to get going until around 2:00 pm.  The good news was that we made the move in two trips, and no further flat tires happened to disrupt our journey.

And now, a bit about life in the house, since being in a place and using appliances is always different in practice than in theory.

The house:

We love it; it’s solidly built, and the walls are very, very quiet.  My favorite feature is the 12′ wide sliding glass door, though the window treatments for this cost us an arm and a leg (always something to consider when determining the cost of the house: window treatments).  We have only purchased window treatments for the master bedroom and the great room, since these are fairly expensive things.

I also enjoy the library shelves; it’s wonderful to finally have a place to store all of our books.  The under-the-stairs closet was another stroke of genius on our part.  We have a lot of random crap that’s not fit to display, but that we are reluctant to discard.

The appliances:

Our washing machine leaked when we first ran it, but we called out the Appliance Direct repairman.  He came promptly and tugged on the front of the machine, explaining that it sometimes gets a little bent by the delivery men.  Sure enough, this solved our problem.  We like the front-loading washing machine.  When we began to use this appliance, we’d sit in front of it, enraptured by the swirling clothing.

Our  dishwasher is a mixed bag.  It is very, very silent, which is great.  We don’t even know it’s running, until it begins draining out the water.  On the other hand, it doesn’t clean terribly well.  We usually end up with 3-6 dishes, pieces of silverware, pots, etc. per load that need a hand washing.  These aren’t pieces that had baked-on food, either, so I’m mystified as to why it leaves so many of our dishes unclean.

Our refrigerator is good: easy access, especially the tilt-out freezer.  There are two features I’m not wild about.  The first is the French doors, because you have to give these a nice, solid press in order to close them all the way.  I’m used to a door that you just kind of swing shut, and off it closes on its own.  These definitely take a deliberate act of closing to fully shut.  The second feature is the alarm, which goes off after the doors have been opened after around 30 seconds.  This is extremely irritating when one is attempting to put away groceries, but I don’t turn the alarm off because of the aforementioned door closing issue.  Several times now the alarm has alerted us that we didn’t close the doors deliberately enough.  Other than that, we like the refrigerator.  It’s well-laid-out and is quiet and energy efficient.

The range is awesome.  No cons at all about it.  The small upper oven preheats very, very rapidly.  We actually haven’t used the larger oven yet, so this is a good energy-saving feature.  The gas cooktop is nice, and my husband enjoys the sear that he gets on the food, as compared to our former electric coiltop range.

The furniture:

We’re very happy with our American Signature Plantation Cove furniture.  The down cushions on our couch are nice and comfy, and the bedroom furniture is nice and solid.  No complaints there.

The yard:

I’m having so much fun with this!  We purchased an electric mower (zero emissions, baby!), and I have been cutting grass for the first time in my life.  I’m sure the novelty will wear off quickly, so I’m enjoying it while I can.

We rented a cordless drill and used some leftover pieces of Hardie board to make raised vegetable garden beds.  I’ve started some vegetables (peas, tomatoes, okra, and spinach), so we’ll see how that shakes down.

We spent several days hoeing a patch that will be our butterfly garden eventually, also.   Right now, I have in it one hosa, two Mexican heathers, and a few very, very tiny Orange Cosmos plants.  I’ve got some seedlings that are still too small to be transplanted, of dill, milkweed, and mistflowers, and we purchased two coral honeysuckle vines: one to climb around our well’s lattice work and the other to climb around the fence by the butterfly garden.  We will see how that works out also.

We also bought two Walter’s Viburnum bushes and planted them in a clear area by the fence that separates us from the neighbors with the aggressive dogs.  The dogs are getting better, but still not enough where I trust Hannah outside alone with them.

Hannah loves the clumps of palmettos and oaks.  She can happily spend 20 minutes at a time crawling through these thick patches.  I’m afraid that she’ll be bitten by a snake, but there’s not much I can do about it, short of razing the yard, which I’m not willing to do.

So that’s about it for us.  We still haven’t finished unpacking and organizing everything.  Perhaps that will be a task for me during winter break.

Hannah’s Day at the House

August 26, 2007

Hannah had a grand day at the house today – her first visit since it’s become an actual house. We brought over our last load of books and worked on organizing our library, and we went outside to work again on cutting down the multitude of dead limbs on our backyard oaks.

A caveat: Hannah is an elderly dog with a nervous disposition. That being the case, not only did we put her little shoes on her when she was inside the house, but we also brought along her diaper, just in case of accidents. We don’t have paper towels out at the house yet, and didn’t want to deal with a bamboo incident on her first visit. Today was in the nature of a trial run, to show her where she was going to be living, and to see how she did in the house and yard. So Hannah will look like a doofus, all shoed and diapered in the in-house photos:

The big reason why we had bahia grass put into part of our yard was to give Hannah a lawn, since she is a lawn lover. Nothing makes Hannah happier than rolling around on her back in a nice, wet patch of grass:

And here she is having a good time in her new yard:

Hannah tried to dig her way out of the fenced yard at one point. Give the girl a 1/2 acre of fenced yard, and she behaves like a prisoner trying to escape torture. Then she met our neighbor’s two boxers Kenya and Gouda. Kenya is the silver boxer, and Gouda, the brown boxer, did not like Hannah at all. The fence on this side of our yard belongs to our neighbors, and the wire they used was big enough to enable Gouda to stick his head entirely through and try to bite Hannah! She isn’t extremely interested in other dogs, though, so we are thinking that once she gets used to them, she will just carry on as usual, safely out of biting range.

After a full morning of running, romping, and trying to escape from our yard, Hannah was exhausted:

We are back at the apartment now, and she is still sleeping soundly!

In a pup-ready state

August 25, 2007

Our house is now in a pup-ready state.  By which I mean that the fence is in.  Except for the gate, but that’s okay; we are going to block that opening tomorrow and bring in Little Miss Hannah for her first-ever romp in her first-ever yard.  For those not in the know about our Hannah, she is a 10 year old beagle/lab mix.  We adopted her when she was 9 years old, and she spent her first 9 years sitting in a cage by herself in some guy’s yard.  She occasionally managed to get herself pregnant several times, so possibly she got loose occasionally, and she also managed to catch a nice case of heartworms.  But now Hannah is with us, and will have her very own house and yard.  Yay for Hannah!
We’ve bought her a cute pair of little blue shoes (Bark ‘n Boots Grip Trex) for use indoors, so she doesn’t scuff our bamboo floors. We’ll also be able to use these at the beach over Thanksgiving break. Hannah gets sore paws at the beach, and tends to walk until she’s sore, then sit down and refuse to go a step further, at which point we have to coax and cajole her all the way back to the beach house.

Here is a photo of our backyard with the 4-rail fence.  Our HOA ostensibly only allows 4-rail fences, though from the fact that there are chain-link and white metal fences in our community, they seem to be very inconsistent in their enforcement.  Ah, well, we are rules-followers, so here is our fence:

We didn’t fence the entire backyard; we came in a bit on the eastern side of our property, because there is a drainage easement and we didn’t want to bury the poles in wet ground.  For that same reason, we came up a bit in the backyard, as well.  Our two acres of forested conservation land are in the background, behind our fence, and it really is a lovely yard, if I do say so myself!  It needs a bit of cleaning up, but we want to keep as natural a look as possible.

Yet another preparation for Hannah’s advent was the installation of a dog septic system, near our own human septic system.  Andy went out today and dug a 4-foot hole for the Doggie Dooley.  Because our ground is sandy, we had to fill the hole with a PVC drainage pipe, as well as drainage gravel.  Here is the finished product:

Our builder, Woody, has been hard at work installing the closet systems.  He’s finished the systems for the guest bedroom:

And its mate for the library:

Our master bedroom closet system isn’t quite finished yet:

Because it’s a walk-in closet, this one is wide enough for us each to have our own side of the closet, with our own closet systems.

Our water is kind of stinky (smells like sulfurous eggs), and our neighbors have a water softener, so we purchased a GE GXSF30H water softener which was delivered today.  It’s not installed yet, but we asked Woody whether he could get the plumber to install this, and he said it wouldn’t be a problem.

Next steps:  We are still waiting for the tank of our Toto Aquia for the downstairs bathroom to be delivered.  It was broken when the toilet came in, so the plumber had to re-order the tank.  We can’t convert our construction loan to an actual mortgage until the house is completely finished, so even though the C.O. is ready, we still haven’t changed over our loan.

Woody will finish the closet systems, and the fence installers will install the 5-foot gate this coming week.  We’ve also ordered our 18kW generator which will be arriving in two weeks or so.

And the big news is that we’re moving in this coming weekend!  Since we have new furniture at our house (our first new furniture ever!), we are going to donate most of the large items at our apartment to a charity.  Which means that we don’t have to deal with moving them, huzzah!  A few large items, notably the aquarium and the bed, will be coming with us, but things like the futon, washer, and dryer will be donated.

A spider on my face!!!

August 19, 2007

We have tons of large-ish (3-4″ long, including legs) garden spiders in our clumps of oaks & palmettos.  I’m as careful as I can be, but sometimes it’s difficult to see them, even when they’re right in front of me.  They remind me of those pictures where you have to focus your eyes differently to see the hidden image.

Anyway, I was sawing off dead branches from several of our small live oaks today, when a HUGE (to me!) spider jumped right onto my face.  It ran down my face, then down my neck, and it’s little legs felt so weird that I couldn’t tell if I was being bitten or was getting little electric shocks.  Turns out the correct answer was neither!  I guess I’m just not used to big spider legs on my skin.

Here is a photo of another of these garden spiders, one I saw in time so did not disturb.  This one was about the same size as the one who jumped on me, around 3-4 inches long:


But it won’t deter us from cleaning up the yard; I will probably just take better care next time and wear a long-sleeved shirt.  And possibly a welding mask 🙂

Our Blue Heaven

August 19, 2007

Here it is! The front porch is painted, and I think that the white roof looks just gorgeous against the blue, blue sky. Here it is from the front:

And from the side, so you can see our oaks just to the right of the house:

So we got some of our new furniture today. The chest of drawers is still on backorder, and the table top that the drivers brought was cracked, so they had to bring it back to American Signature Furniture. But the sofa, chair, ottoman and cocktail table arrived for the living room:

The sofa is incredibly soft and luscious; I can’t wait to sink into it and read a good book.

The refrigerator had come earlier this week, to complete our kitchen. My advice to anyone ordering an LG appliance that’s not in stock at the store? Order it at least four months in advance of the date that you actually want the refrigerator delivered. Ours was purchased back in mid-April.

We really wanted this model, though (the LFD25860) for a few reasons: 1. It is energy efficient (only 499 kWh/year). 2. It is available in titanium, so no Stainless Steel finish smudges. 3. It has a water-only dispenser, not water and ice, which saves energy and I think ice is gross anyway. Somehow icemakers always get bugs in them, no matter what. 4. It has a tilt-out freezer. And, last but not least, 5. It has French doors. This was the only model that met all of our criteria, so we waited patiently from April to August for this refrigerator to arrive at the Appliance Direct.

Now, our master bedroom furniture caused problems. The master bedroom is upstairs, and our armoire is apparently incredibly heavy. So the two movers, doing their best with the armoire, still made two bangs in the wall:

One of the two movers was a weak link, and we were thankful to get away with just these dents. He literally almost dropped the entire armoire down the stairs, which would have smashed our stairs, our floor, our banister, and, last but not least, his moving partner. I just don’t think this guy was cut out for moving. He was a large-ish sized man, but he just didn’t have the strength to match his appearance.

On his way upstairs with the footboard of our bed (come on – a footboard? That shouldn’t be too heavy), he gave us this lovely gift:

Thankfully, Woody is still part of our lives, so we can beg and plead with him to do a nice patch job for us. We’re not sure how we are going to be able to bear to part with Woody and are thinking about keeping him on retainer, just so we have someone to whom we can cry, “Help!” when anything goes wrong.

Here is the infamous armoire, or drywall-smashing repute:

And here is the rest of our bedroom set, sans chest of drawers, obviously. I think that we did a very nice job matching the sconces to our furniture:

Moving back downstairs, we have the six chairs for our dining table, just in case we ever decide to abandon our lives as recluses and become social butterflies:

And here is our dining table itself, proving that half a table is, indeed, no better than no table:

Last but not least, Andy took another photo of our downstairs bath, of which we are oh-so-proud:

If cheerful and soothing were a house, they would be our house. I love it! And we are lucky enough to have our apartment until mid-September, so, unlike past moves, we can make slow, leisurely progress. We’ve already moved over some of our books, and our next big project is to install a mailbox! Oh, and a water softener (so’s we don’t smell like rotten eggs after our showers there) and a generator (so’s we don’t lose all power during hurricanes).

House, house, house, house!

So close!

August 12, 2007

We have a yard! With actual, factual sod: Bahia grass in part. We just sodded the small area in front of the house and in the backyard area behind the house. We’re leaving the clumps of oaks & palmettos, and have big plans for the backyard area that is farther back: a future vegetable garden and butterfly garden.

Here is the backyard with the sod:

And here is the front yard area:

We have the front of the house surrounded by a layer of pebbles, than have a layer of pine needles between the pebbles and the sod:

Our plants are mostly natives, with one glaring exception: my indulgence, the gardenia. I love their smell, so we planted a gardenia bush next to our back porch. I’m hoping that it will fluorish, so that we will enjoy those heavenly breezes as we sit out on our porch. Ah…

The painters were hard at work today. They stained the library bookshelves:

And painted the wainscoting in the downstairs bathroom:

The kitchen installers had come in and finished up. They attached our door knobs and pulls, and they also installed the onion & potato baskets:

Then we got to work, installing the backsplash. We’re actually quite proud of this. Our back splash is the ACP thermosplastic panels, which look an awful lot like real stainless steel. They were very easy to install; we were able to do them in about 5 1/2 hours. Here is a photo of me hard at work measuring:

And here is the finished product: huzzah!

We’re very proud of ourselves 🙂

Our LG dishwasher from Appliance Direct came in on Monday, though it’s not very photogenic:

And we got a delightful new toy: Roomba! He is such a good boy; he vacuums our upstairs bedroom for us with very few complaints. Occasionally, he gets caught in the deep pile, or else he gets a plastic thread from the new carpet cuttings tangled in his bristles. When that happens, he calls for help, very pitifully, then shuts himself down and waits for us to heed his cries. I can only scratch my head in bemusement: why didn’t we get one of these before? I am a mediocre housekeeper at best, so Roomba is going to save me a good deal of work.

Since the carpet is new, there was a lot of loose yarn, so we had to come to Roomba and empty his bin several times today. When he got tired, he returned to his docking station for a recharge. Hooray for Roomba!

Now, back to the house. The fencing people will be coming out early next week (not this coming week, but the one after). We are getting a 4-rail fence on 3 sides, and are sharing our fourth side of fence with our neighbors, who are amenable to that idea.

We’ve passed all health and code inspections, so we are ready for our Certificate of Occupancy. There are just a few hoops that our builder, Woody Dortch of Classic Structures, Inc. has to jump through, and then we are done. Our furniture will arrive on Saturday, August 18: a red letter day for us. It will be our first set of matching furniture, not mishmashed giveaways.

Our Letter to Home Depot

July 28, 2007

We have a useful tip for customers who plan on purchasing appliances from Home Depot:   Have the salesperson check availability in the computer, and don’t believe, “It’s not in right now, but will be in our warehouse in [insert time frame here].  For anyone interested in our Home Depot experience, here is a copy of our letter to their Customer Care department:

We are very concerned about the recent unscrupulous business practices that we have experienced at Home Depot.  On April 15, 2007, we purchased a black LG 6810 dishwasher from the Home Depot store # 6367 in Orlando.  Because the dishwasher was for a new home construction, we asked the salesperson to set the delivery date for July 13.  We called the store in mid June, to request that the delivery date be moved up, as we were now ready for the dishwasher. 

We were first told that the dishwasher would be delivered on June 23.  Then we got a call saying that it would be delivered on June 30.  June 30 came and went, and no dishwasher was forthcoming.  We called Home Depot again, and we were then told that it would be delivered on July 15.  When we called to check on this, we were told that it was possible the dishwasher would be delivered in September, but that Home Depot really had no idea. 

At this point, our house was completed and our final inspection was being delayed because of the non-arrival of our paid-for-in-April dishwasher.  We finally went to another appliance store, and were told what Home Depot MUST have known: LG was no longer making this model of dishwasher.  When we called the Home Depot store again, armed with this information, they admitted that this was indeed the case.  Home Depot had taken our money back in April, and was trying to put us off until September (and probably then later and later and later) but had NO intention of delivering to us the dishwasher that we’d paid for.

This is the stuff scams are made of: one company taking a customer’s money with no intention of ever delivering the product to the customer.  That money could have been accruing interest for the past 3 months.  Instead, Home Depot “borrowed” $685 from us, interest-free.  Our sales associate at the Orlando branch told us what had actually happened: Home Depot had sold OUR paid-in-full dishwasher to someone else, and was just trying to see how long they could put us off, without actually delivering an appliance to us.

Of note is the fact that this product is still advertised as being for sale in stores and online, and it is not listed as being backordered on the online store.  Presumably other customers are lending their money, interest-free, to Home Depot.

When we finally wised up and realized the truth: that no dishwasher would be delivered to us, we called the Home Depot and asked whether they would be willing to do an exchange for the new model of LG dishwasher in black that had replaced our model, the 6810.  We were told that for this model, also, there were no black dishwashers, so we requested a full refund.

We are concerned, though, about these unscrupulous business practices.  We feel that Home Depot accepted our money under false pretenses.  We regret the 3 months that Home Depot kept our money, money that could have been earning interest in our own account.  And we are very concerned that Home Depot is pulling the same scam on other customers that they pulled on us.


Home Depot’s bright idea of service recovery was to substitute an older, lesser quality LG dishwasher model for the fully integrated dishwasher we’d purchased.  Their second idea, that they switch us to a GE product, did not sit well with us either.  We’d purchased the LDF 6810BB for several reasons: fully integrated control panel, black color that avoids the unsightly stainless smudges, stainless steel interior, and upper rack only dishwashing feature.  We wanted those features – all of those features – in our dishwasher.

What we ended up doing was getting a full refund from the Home Depot and marching our money down to Appliance Direct, where we purchased the dishwasher we wanted for about $65 less than we’d paid originally at the Home Depot.  The problem is that this dishwasher has 2 small dings in the front of it.  We were unable to purchase a brand new one, because, as Appliance Direct and Home Depot well knew, this dishwasher was no longer being made.  I have to wonder how much longer Home Depot was planning on stringing us along, before acknowledging that they’d taken our money but had sold our dishwasher to someone else.

Unscrupulous, I say!


Roll out the brown carpet!

July 28, 2007

We now are the proud owners of some brown upstairs carpet. The upstairs landing area, master bedroom, and walk-in closet are all carpeted with a brown frieze carpet:

And, since the stain on the stairs is now dry, we were able to go upstairs and get a photo of the bamboo flooring in the great room:

Hot, Baby!

Some of the stair railings are up, but not all, so we’re waiting until they are complete before posting more stairs photos.

A lot of the action this week took place in the yard, where the landscapers have mowed and thinned out (a bit, but very conservatively as we requested) the front yard oaks/palmettos area. Here is the new front yard:

We’d asked them to put a short latticework fence around the well, so that we can plant coral honeysuckle (a Florida native) to hide the unsightly, bright blue well. The latticework is low enough for us to easily scale it and wide enough where we can comfortably work with the well if necessary.

The landscapers also mowed our back yard – halleluia! – so that now we can actually walk without fear of stomping on a rattlesnake. This is the area where my raised garden beds will go:

And, just because I don’t think we’ve shown a photo of the finished back side of the house, here it is:

This picture was taken from behind two of our oak/palmetto clumps. We’re going to thin these out a little, not a lot, ourselves, but basically we plan on keeping these islands of plants and using them to define the back yard. There will be a path right between the two.

Next steps: Our builder Woody has called for the final inspection this coming week, which means that his helper, Nick, has got to finish putting up the railing first. After some appliance issues with Home Depot, which I will discuss in a later post, we ended up cancelling our dishwasher order there and getting a new one from Appliance Direct. Our new dishwasher and refrigerator are both supposed to be delivered this week.