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.

DOT sidewalk inspection scam?

Posted by Steve on Wed, 07/28/2010 - 8:40pm

My doorbell rang this afternoon. It was my cheerful postman, Kevin, and he had a certified letter for me.  Certified letters are almost always buzzkillers.  I could see from the envelope that this one was from the NYC Dept of Transportation so I knew it wasn't congratulations from Publishers Clearinghouse.

Kevin said that every house on the block, except one, got certified letters from DOT. What the hell, I've got nothing to be concerned about  My sidewalk and curb are in excellent condition.  I signed for the letter and opened it up.

Inside was a Notice of Violation that my sidewalk had been inspected and was found to have a "trip hazard". The notice said that I needed to replace ten square feet of sidewalk. There was a graphic indicating this general section of my sidewalk.

In NYC -- and I presume that this is the case in most large cities -- the building owner is responsible for the condition of his sidewalk.  If a sidewalk falls out of repair it's the homeowner's job to repair it, just as it's his job to keep it clean and clear of snow.

However, enforcement has typically been limited to third party complaints, not proactive inspections.   I'm told the city is named in tens thousands of predatory civil suits every year related to substandard sidewalks, some of them pretty funny... like the guy who tried to sue my neighbor for "loss of marital congress" after he allegedly tripped on a crack on the sidewalk and broke his pinkie finger.  I swear I'm not making this up.

Last year around this time, a non-DOT crew, which I presumed to be an independent contractor, was tearing up and replacing sidewalks all over the neighborhood.  It was the same sort of thing: an anonymous inspector had run around the neighborhood tagging damaged sidewalks for repair. 

Certified letters were sent to homeowners with vague indications of the nature of the violation.   They were given 45 days to either apply for a permit and get the job done by a licensed contractor or the city would do the job @ $9+ square foot and bill the homeowner.

The thing is, I walked those sidewalks several times a day.  While a few of them did have some issues with tree roots, most of the sidewalks that were replaced I remember as being in fine shape.  At least, I never saw an issue with them.  The entire process struck me at the time as being somewhat arbitrary, which is to say fishy.  And now here we are again.

Can anyone spot this "trip hazard"? Bear in mind that my sidewalk is everything below where that stoop starts at the left side of the photo.  The questionable piece of sidewalk is on the lower right, immediately adjacent to the white painted curb cut up to the first vertical seam.   Here, let's zoom in on that section of sidewalk and see if we can spot that dangerous "trip hazard"...


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