Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Storage Shed

Our shed.Since we’ve moved in into our house more than 10 month ago we have done a lot of things. There is an endless stream of projects and purchases of various magnitude and we end up not writing anything about them.

As the time went we realized that we’d rather take care of our yard on our own instead of hiring somebody else to do it. Grass cutting, leaf clean up, snow plowing — all these things really add up cost-wise and you end up with subpar service.

Our shed.We weren’t really lucky in finding any good parties that would provide a quality service that we would be happy with. Initially we were paying $140 to get our grass cut twice each month.

At first that worked OK, but then the autumn started to get closer. Leaves started falling. Instead of mowing through the leaves and mulching them our hired help started avoiding those area altogether, which was ruining the grass.

Walkway. Work in progress.If it would rain and the soil would be soaked with water they would still come and ride their machinery through all that mud, ripping up the yard. Nobody really cared.

And then we were quoted $400 for leaf clean up that has to be done at least twice a year if not more. And on and on it goes.

Walkway.We did leaf clean up ourselves — mostly Alёna actually — with a small electric tube blower. Then one of the neighbors landed Alёna a walk behind gas blower. She said that she did the work in hours that would take her days with that tool. So we bought our own.

Then we bought a pressure washer. And then we bought a wheel barrow for yard work. And then we bought a grass mower. And a ton of other yard tools such as rakes and shovels of different kinds on top of that. And the snow blower will come closer to winter.

Unloading the shed.That’s when we realized that we really need a dedicated place to store all that gear since one of our cars has stopped fitting into the garage as we were taking up more and more space with our tools.

We decided to order a proper storage shed for our house. After some research we went into a place that was recommended by a lot of people in the next town over. We ended up ordering a 10 by 16 feet shed with windowed doors and windows, painted in the the same color as our house.

Pegboard. Garden tools.It is build from weather and pressure treated wood that is durable and should last for a long time. We also ordered a gravel foundation to be built for it. All in all it ended up costing us somewhere around $5,500.

We placed an order in the middle of March. The foundation was built in the first half of April and our custom built shed was delivered on May 1st. It was delivered and put in place by a single guy which was quite amazing to me.

Closet shelves repurposed.In the last couple of weeks we have installed a couple of pegboards inside and a bunch of shelves that I’ve removed and kept from when I rebuilt our master-closet. They really came in handy.

All-in-all we’re quite happy with our shed and the amount of additional space that it gave us. We’ve also gotten a number of compliments.

P.S. We’ve build a stone walk-way next to it to store our garbage bins at and we’re planning to extend this walkway to the entrance of the shed itself in the coming weeks. It came out OK for our first self-built walkway ever.

View from the back.

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Thursday, May 9, 2019

Smart Home Update

Latest state of our smart home. The home screen doesn’t list the multitude of switches and other accessories used in customizations and automations.

Cameras are blanked out on purpose, but they actually do provide a live feed and recording inside the Home app.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Living Room Update

New living room furniture.When winter arrived we put some of our patio furniture inside of our living room. And we found it so fitting — function-wise — that we decided that upon arrival of spring we’ll replace outdoor pieces with proper furniture.

Top of the coffee table.That’s exactly what we did this past Sunday. We went to a local Raymour & Flanigan of all places and picked out a set that we liked. This time around we didn’t want to risk buying sitting units without actually sitting on them first — online doesn’t work for that.

View from the dining room.We also decided to go with loveseat again instead of the sofa, even though the price difference was only around $30. We like moving these around and didn’t want something too heavy. We also attached pads to all the legs of these things which makes sliding really easy.

Winter setup. The before picture.And as far as the deal goes we started with $2,800. I was pushing for $2,000 and after a conversation with a manger and a call to district manager we agreed upon $2,250 with taxes and delivery included. Decent deal. All in all we got a leather loveseat, armchair and a metal-stone coffee table in gray, to match our overall theme of this room.

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Thursday, March 7, 2019

Living Area v0.9

Family room. View from the staircase leading to this floor.It’s now been almost 8 months since we’ve moved into our new house. All this time has been well spent on making it truly ours. We didn’t bring any furniture with us. Now we had a chance to start and style our house anew. It changed quite a bit from where it has started.

This is another post in series of posts about how we set everything up, following the recently published update on our kids’ rooms. I’ve taken these pictures several weeks ago and in that time they’ve became slightly outdated — we’ve finally put a bunch of art and paintings up.

Family room. Looking from the fireplace in the opposite direction. Hallway leads to all the bedrooms.The centerpiece of our family room is our enormous orange leather sectional. This was one of our purchases on Wayfair and one downside buying furniture online is that you can’t really test how comfortable the piece will be. Turns out it’s not, because of the shape of the backrest. However it was easily remedied by a couple of puffy pillows.

The ottoman was also not attached, so it was sliding out of our preferred place, so we screwed it together with a couple of brackets underneath. However it does look stellar and after a few modifications that we have done it’s very functional. We use this place as our main evening TV watching location.

Looking from the family room into the dining room.Speaking of TVs — we’ve ended up mounting them on the wall and are not using any additional furniture. Our old TV is mounted in our kitchen eating area, and our newer one1 is in our family room right across from our orange sectional. Both TV are powered by Apple TVs hidden behind the screens themselves. No wires, no nothing. Family room TV has Philips Hue Play bars attached to it.

Originally we were trying to hire somebody to put them up, but eventually gave up on that and I mounted them up myself. We’ve probably saved a bunch of money and did them perfectly to our liking.

Dining room. Looking at the opposite wall.I’ve written earlier about our fireplace, but since then we’ve done yet another thing to it. We’ve actually installed glass doors onto the opening. The problem was that after we would make a fire we would end up keeping the flute in the chimney open all throughout the cold nights because the fire would still be still smoldering. And we end up losing all the warm air that we generated and then some.

So now we can close the glass doors and leave the flute open. Another thing that we discovered was that even with the flute closed there was a major draft happening that became very apparent after the doors were installed, but before they were sealed on the sides. So overall it’s a good investment for winters and summers, even when the fire is not going.

Living room, temporary loaded with patio furniture set.Another thing that we did soon after moving in was changing really old-fashioned chandeliers to a set of very modern ones. In fact we’ve got a ton of compliments on them. These were a “new house” gift from our parents.

And we also put up the curtains on all our windows making the space so much more cozy. The family room curtain was an old one from our Brooklyn apartment that we eventually replaced, but it’s found its place on our window again. And the living room curtains were a gift from our parents in Belarus.

Living room from another angle.For the dinning room we originally ordered a set from Wayfair for quite a bit of money. And then a day after we did that we went to IKEA. And out of a ton of furniture stores that we actually visited IKEA had the best looking modern wooden table that we’ve seen for a really good price. We were slightly disappointed about that.

And then Wayfair delivered their furniture. Beside the fact that more than half the pieces were completely broken during shipment and the fact that half the set got delayed by three months the actual quality of veneer on this furniture was paper-thin. And then they sent replacement for the broken parts that also came in broken.

Living room, showing the door leading to a covered porch.So we were glad to just cancel the order at that point and order a table and a set of leather chairs from IKEA. Couldn’t be happier. And then on another trip to IKEA we bought the final touches to our dining room — big round mirrors done in the same color of wood as our table. Initially we were thinking of putting up a big rectangular horizontal mirror, but a pair of these ended up looking much more interesting, we think.

Our living room was originally fairly empty and Alёna actually liked the idea of a lot of open space, but when the winter came around we moved our patio furniture — sofa, table and the armchair — indoors. And it ended up being very useful and comfortable in its current location. For the summer we’re going to move it back to the patio and are going to buy something more permanent for our living room.

Living room, looking toward the dining room and kitchen bar.We also managed to find a large pot for a plant in orange-teal theme that we have going. This plant used to be tiny when we originally got it — it would fit in a tea cup. This is the second time that we had to replant it and we’re hoping its going to go through this move OK.

And the kitchen bar is the place where we eat our breakfasts, lunches and dinners, unless we’re hosting somebody. It ended up being extremely convenient. Much more better than a set up we had in our apartment — eating everything on a living room coffee table and moving all the plates and dishes back and forth between that and the kitchen. The granite counter is much easier to clean among other things.

The bar chairs were left by the previous house owners and we’re fine with them for the time being. We might update them to something more modern looking when we have a chance. We did remove that metal contraption from the wall and replaced it with a painting.

We’re loving how it all came out and are enjoying our house and all this space very much.

  1. SONY XBR-55X900F. []

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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Smart Home — Devices

Eve Degree, Eve Motion and Wemo Switch on the office wall.In the second part of my smart homes series I wanted to concentrate on specific devices and accessories that we’ve picked and used and our experiences with them. Having said that I want to make sure that it’s understood that there are many other viable and good alternatives on the market.

Our actual use, applications and automations of these devices I will mostly leave for the next post.

Before I start I just wanted to mention that everything that we did in the house with regards to smart devices had a requirement of an ability to control EVERYTHING without a phone or voice. Everything had to have a physical control.

The idea of setting up a smart home must make things easier and not harder. Phone apps and voice triggers do provide deeper options, but everything works just fine without them at all. Neither kids nor guests have phones or access to our internal systems.

Homebridge


Homebridge sever running on Raspberry Pi and Hue Dimmer remote next to iPhone X.I’ll kind of start from the end and one of the last thing that I’ve added to our setup. Homebridge is a an open-source project supported by a large community of developers.

Homebridge allows you to add devices to your HomeKit setup that don’t officially support HomeKit protocol among other things. That expands HomeKit device list significantly.

Homebridge also allows for much higher customization of your setup by providing an ability to create such things as fake switches that you can control and monitor various things in your home with. The possibilities are vast.

I was finally pushed to get a Raspberry Pi and install Homebridge on it when I was trying to get Hue Motion sensor to do and behave how I wanted it to, which ended up being impossible. More on that later.

Having said all that I still prefer devices that do offer native HomeKit support.

Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms


Nest Protect.One of the first thing that we upgraded right after moving in was our ancient fire alarms. Since I was a long time fan of Nest I went with Nest Protect.

One thing that I didn’t realize at the time, because I didn’t know I cared yet, was the fact that none of the Nest devices support HomeKit. Nest is owned by Google after all.

However it seems that specifically Nest Protect is the best device on the market. They automatically run self-checks on batteries and sensors, they show their status with a colored ring every time you turn the lights off, they synchronize with each other and they send notifications to your phone beside the normal alarm to let you know that something is off.

Nest Protect is supposedly can tell a burnt toast from a real fire, and instead blaring an alarm it will light up yellow and tell you in a normal human voice what’s up if it is indeed your cooking’s fault. They also come with motion sensors that allows you to turn a night light on.

And even though I didn’t really need these exposed in HomeKit as I was content with them living in their own app, I did install a Homebridge plug-in for Nest. Might as well, since I had everything running anyhow.

We have a total of six Nest Protects placed throughout the house and are feeling happy and safe with these devices.

Smart Lighting


This is going to be the biggest section in this post. There are many different paths and options to go about smart lighting in your home and is probably the first thing that most people do.

I would split this into three different paths that you can take — bulbs, independent lights and light switches.

Philips Hue

Philips Hue Play on the back of our main TV.Philips was one of the pioneers in the smart lighting with their Hue series. Hue has a lot of options starting with differently shaped bulbs. They also make a bunch of different stand-alone lights and lamps and good number of really nice accessories.

One of the first things that we did in our foray into smart lighting was replacing all our living area BR30 bulbs with Hue color bulbs — total of 8 all in all. While we do have many more bulbs in the house, at $50 a pop Hue bulbs are not a cheap proposition.

When going with smart bulbs there is another consideration — light switches. For smart bulbs to work, the power has to be always on. Asking people to not touch the switches is not an option, yet I didn’t want to remove them completely.

3D printed wall plate for Hue Dimmers on top of toggle switches.The best option that I found was a 3D printed wall plate that goes right over your normal switch plate with a Hue Dimmer remote mounted inside of it. You can still cut the actual power to the bulbs, yet those switches are out of the way and are essentially replaced by smart dimmers.

As far as the operation of the bulbs, originally it felt like a fun, yet useless gimmick. But with time it actually grew on us and we do enjoy setting different moods up.

Bulbs perform well, most of the time. On very rare occasions some bulbs will refuse to cooperate, and a flick of an actual power switch brings it back in line.

We also have some other lights from Philips, specifically a pair of Hue Play bars that you can lay flat, put up vertically or mount them on something like the back wall of your TV.

We also have a pair of Hue Light Strips. They are long LED strips that can be glued to some surface to provide a nice defused light. We also have a number of strip extensions for certain applications such as a long perimeter light under our bed.

With these you want to make sure to actually hide the strip itself from view as it is ugly. Only the light from it should be visible.

Hue requires a use of a bridge for its more advanced features and for native HomeKit support.

And as I mentioned before, Philips also makes a good number of very useful smart accessories that I will go into later in this post.

Nanoleaf Aurora

Nanoleaf Aurora on the wall of my office. These are really hard to photograph well.Nanoleaf is stand-alone light option. Currently there are two types of panels in Nanoleaf’s lineup. The original triangular shapes and newer square shapes. They also announced hexagons at this year’s CES.

We decided to go with original ones. I feel that you can build more interesting designs with triangles and their squire panels have a weird cross in the center that does not look right to my eye.

We have two separate sets of these in our house. One consists of 21 panels and one consists of 12. These also come with a module that can listen to music and animate with the beat.

They are natively supported by HomeKit and unlike Hue can have all their animations initiated directly from Home app.

One small downside is the fact that you’re going to have a power wire sticking out of your configuration. You have to make the best of it, be it hiding the wire behind some furniture, or at least lining it up in way that doesn’t ruin the whole appearance.

Light Switches

Wemo Dimmer Switch.This is probably the cheapest way to get your normal light to act as smart lights. Instead of replacing each bulb with a smart bulb you take out a normal switch and replace it with a smart one.

In our house we have used switches from two brands — Belkin’s Wemo and Lutron’s Caseta. We’ve used both normal switches and dimmers from both of these lines.

Both of these require bridges to work or to work with HomeKit. Caseta uses its own proprietary protocol, so it doesn’t hog your Wi-Fi. Wemo uses Wi-Fi, but most of Wemo’s devices did need a bridge for HomeKit, although that’s changing now with newer devices.

Wemo was originally what we started with. Currently we have eight normal Wemo switches and two dimmers. Wemo switches require neutral wire, but we had it everywhere so it was not a problem.

Lutron Caseta dimmer and regular switches.Caseta has some other amazing applications. It allows you to wire up 3 and 4 way setups. It also allows you to use your old manual switch in 3 way setups, making it the cheapest option on the market. And for a 4 way setup you can use a non-wired Pico remote control that looks just as a usual switch when installed.

We have four standard Caseta switches, one dimmer and one pico remote. A thing of note is that Caseta dimmer does not require a neutral wire.

For my simple applications I still prefer simple Wemo switches. They have a nice feel to them and a pleasant click to them when they activate remotely. But if you want to “smartify” you multi-way setup, Caseta is your friend.

Note, however, that all smart switches will require you to fit a lot more bulk inside the wire box than any standard switch will. These will not fit inside all of the boxes and I have struggled with some in our house as well. But in the end I made it all work.

Smart Thermostats


Ecobee4 smart thermostat.As I have mentioned before my whole smart home dream started at the time when original Nest thermostat came to the market. So it is somewhat ironic that in the end I ended up going with another product.

I’ve done my research and still strongly considered going with Nest, but several factors swayed me to a thermostat made by Ecobee. And one of those factors was in fact a native HomeKit support that Ecobee has and Nest does not.

Another major factor was the way both thermostats work. All the information about Nest comes from reading reviews as I have no personal experience with it.

My understanding that the idea behind Nest is that you never have to fiddle with it after initial learning phase. It learns how and when you prefer your temperature, detects your proximity and just does its thing afterwards — hence learning thermostat.

Ecobee on the other hand gives you a lot of fiddling options and I’m nothing but a major fiddler, so to speak. Another very enticing option for me was the fact Ecobee logs all kinds of data on five minute intervals in a spreadsheet format for you to look over and analyze. I love that.

Both thermostats can employ remote sensors. Ecobee can handle around 30 paired sensors. When it logs the data it will save all the readings of those sensors as well.

So you end up with a file that has the thermostat mode (heat or cool), set temperature, what equipment is running or not running, outside temperature (comes from weather service), inside temperature on all individual sensors and thermostat itself, occupancy (remote sensors report on temperature and occupancy data) and a bunch of other fields. Love it.

However there is another side to all that glory — it all depends on Ecobee servers being up. And specifically at a time when I’m writing this the servers have been down for almost a week now, and your logged data looks more like a Morse code than a steady graph. I bet Nest with Google behind it would not have their servers practically down for a week.

Ecobee3 lite.We had Ecobee since early December and the performance has been stellar, but this particular week that we’re going through now gives me pause. How healthy is Ecobee as a business?

Note that even thought a lot of data logging and remote control does depend on the remote servers, normal thermostat operation and following your set schedule does not need an internet connection at all. So the actual operation is not compromised, but a regular dumb thermostat can do that too.

The only difference with scheduling versus dumb thermostats is that it can be much more granular. I can have a different schedule for each day with as many segments as I want and each segment can rely on the sensors that I select. And with my work schedule that definitely is handy.

The downside with remote sensors is that it uses the average temperature of all your selected sensors. I would much prefer if I could use the lowest reading as the target. With average you can end up with a situation of having 66 degrees in one room, 62 in another, and with a target set at 64 the boiler will not engage, since the average is also 64.

Ecobee has two thermostats on the market right now. There is Ecobee3 lite and Ecobee4. Originally the biggest difference that would matter to me was that Ecobee3 lite could not use remote sensors. But that has changed and is no longer the case.

Ecobee4 comes with Alexa built in, which I have disabled. Ecobee4 however does have an occupancy sensor built in, which Ecobee3 lite does not have.

Currently we have two thermostats in our main floor zones. The hallway one is Ecobee3 lite and the one for the bedrooms is Ecobee4. Alexa was redundant since I have an actual Echo device in that same bedroom.

Ecobee has a feature called Smart Recovery. What it does is that you don’t have to guess how long it will take for your house to reach a certain temperature. It tries to analyze your house along with outside temperature and eventually learns to start the heat so it will be at your desired point by the time that point arrives.

What that means is that when I wake up I want the bedroom to be at, say, 70 degrees and I wake up at 7am. So that’s exactly what will happen. It doesn’t start heating at 7am. It is already at 70 at that point. It’s been working fairly well for us after its initial learning period.

It has a number of other smart features which for now we have turned off. We’re tuning and adjusting things as we go, incorporating more and more things into our schedule.

Smart Sensors


There is a multitude of different sensors available. Beside providing some informational data points most of them allow you to trigger different automations based on the events created by these sensors.

To give an example — I use a space heater in my office in addition to the regular heating system, to heat the only occupied room on a whole floor. When a temperature sensor in my office reaches a certain number, my space heater turns off.

Some sensors provide a single data point, some combine multiple things and events.

Temperature

Ecobee remote sensor and Eve Degree.My favorite temperature sensor is made by a company called Elgato under their smart home brand called Eve Home. In fact Eve makes a lot of great things.

This temperature sensor has a nice screen which can display the temperature or humidity. What makes these especially nice is that it collects historical data inside Eve’s application and all that is done locally. So having that I can monitor what’s been happening with temperature or humidity not only when I’m staring at the sensor, but all throughout the day and night.

Another set of temperature sensors that we have all around our house are Ecobee remote sensors. We’re using this purely for information purposes. How is the temperature in the rooms of our kids? What’s going on in the living room? These also save historical data, but as I mentioned before these rely on Ecobee servers.

Obviously thermostats themselves also expose the temperature reading into HomeKit. However if you factor the above mentioned sensors into your current setting, thermostat starts showing the average temperature of all the participating sensors instead of its own sensor.

These also provide occupancy information, but are mostly useful for letting know the thermostat to regulate the set temperature based on rooms which people are in. But at this point we prefer to control which sensors are used manually, instead of using the occupancy data.

Interestingly enough Hue Motion sensor also provides temperature information even though you wouldn’t know it from the packing or the information on Hue’s website.

Door and Window Sensors

Eve Door & Window sensor.Currently we use a single Door and Windows sensor made by Eve in our house. It allows you to trigger an automation when a door is opened and when a door is closed.

To give an example — when our closet door opens, this sensor triggers a Wemo switch which controls the lights inside the closet. And the reverse.

The sensor is a little bit bulky, and since all Eve devices use bluetooth, sometimes it takes a fraction of a second to reach your hub. Most of the time the events are instant, but not 100% of the time.

I also have gotten a pair of Koogeek Door and Window sensors on a good sale that I have plans for controlling air conditioning and open and closed porch doors during the summer.

Both of these have native HomeKit support. In fact, Eve ONLY has HomeKit support and nothing else.

Motion Sensors

Philips Hue and Eve motion sensors.Philips has been making an indoor motion sensor as a part of their line up for a good while now. They just came out with a new outdoor model several weeks ago.

Indoor version comes with high recommendations. It’s small, very fast, sensitive and includes two additional non-advertised surprises — a temperature sensor and a light intensity sensor.

It works really well if you want to control your Hue lights with it for a typical application — turn the lights on when motion is detected and turn the lights off if the motion has not been detected for a specified amount of time.

If you want to control something other than your Hue lights, things get ugly. The delay for no-motion trigger can only be set inside Hue app and is not controllable in HomeKit. So if I want to turn off my Wemo switch on no-motion in five minutes I can’t do it.

There are hacky workarounds that people have invented and even when they work they have a lot of issues. And even those I was not able to get to work after lots and lots of trial and error experiments. I had zero luck.

This is what actually pushed me to get Homebridge going. There is a simple plug-in that creates a fake occupancy sensor. You use Hue sensor to trigger it on and off, but the off event only goes off after the delay that you specify in your plug-in configuration. And if the motion is detected again, the timer stops. Works beautifully.

While I was struggling with Hue Motion sensor I’ve acquired a motion sensor made by Eve. As opposed to Hue this sensor actually lets you set up a time-out without any additional plug-ins and works natively as you would hope a motion sensor would.

It works just as fast as Hue, but it is bulkier and has no additional sensors built in. And as with all Eve devices it keeps a local log of all events — when and for how long was the motion sensor active.

To sum up — if you are willing to run Homebridge — and there are many reasons to do so — I’d most probably go with Hue for the additional sensors and smaller size. If you care about motion sensor logs and simple set up, Eve is better.

Smart Plugs


Eve Energy, Wemo Mini, iDevices smart plugs.Smart plugs allow you to turn your dumb devices into smart devices. Plug your lamp, your fan or your kettle into one of these plugs and you can turn them on remotely and use them in your automations.

The only caveat is that you device should have an analog on/off switch. Meaning that if your lamp is on, you pull it out of the outlet, then plug in back in, it should still be on.

We’re using three different switches in our house — Wemo, iDevices and Eve.

Eve Energy, Wemo Mini, iDevices smart plugs.Wemo are probably the cheapest ones and are often on sale. They have a physical button on them, so you can still turn things off without using anything else, but your finger.

Current Wemo plugs natively support HomeKit, but since I already had a bridge for my Wemo switches it made no difference. We have four of these in our house and they work reliably.

We have one iDevices plug which has a native HomeKit support. The unique thing about iDevices plug is that it has an LED strip on it which can be turned on with any color. It gets exposed in HomeKit as a separate light which can be controlled independently.

iDevices plug as a status indicator.We’re actually not using the “plug” part of this plug. We are using its LED strip as a status light — all doors are locked, the light is green. Any of the outside doors are open — light is red.

And you can also use the brightness of the strip as a separate tracker — we have a trigger that sets the brightness to 97% and all motion sensors do nothing if this light is set to that. This is useful to prevent lights from going on and off while your cat is roaming around the house at night.

A third smart plug that we have is made be Eve. I use this one to actually track how much energy my office heater is using. It also has a physical button on it. And as with any Eve device it logs a bunch of data locally.

Smart Locks


August Smart Lock Pro.One of the things that Alёna was most resistant to was a smart lock. But for it was the last step on my mission to get rid of all the keys. Eventually she agreed it give it a go and is now is a strong believer in the convince of such things.

There weren’t many HomeKit options on the market. We decided to go with August Smart Lock Pro. One of the appeals was that it leaves the outside cylinder intact and looks like a regular lock.

The idea is that you just replace the handle on the inside. Our door happened to have a cylinder on both sides, which was inconvenient to begin with. And as a result I ended up having to change the whole lock anyhow to a more compatible version.

The lock itself is rather large which is its biggest downside. Other than that we really have no complaints. We don’t have a smart lock or unlock enabled and we control it from either our phones or our watches.

Another thing to note that it does need your phone or watch to be authenticated before it will unlock the lock. And HomePod will completely refuse to unlock it for you as a security feature. You don’t want to end up with a situation when somebody can yell loudly enough from the outside to unlock your door.

The lock keeps a complete log of the door activity in August’s own app. It shows when the lock locked and unlocked and who initiated the event. It also has a sensor which can tell if the actual door was opened as well, which is also logged.

And in the end it can be controlled fully manually from the inside by turning the ring on the lock, or via a key from the outside.

Another smart lock that we have is on our garage door. This happened by a pure accident. Our motor went bad and it ended up getting replaced with a Wi-Fi enabled LiftMaster unit. It worked with a proprietary MyQ app, but in order to add it to HomeKit another piece of hardware was required — a LiftMaster HomeKit bridge.

Both of these locks’ states can be tracked inside HomeKit and can be used in various automations.

Smart Controllers


Hue Dimmer switches.To achieve our goal of having an ability to control all our smart devices with physical devices, we had to employ a couple of different controls.

The most affordable and versatile ones is Hue Dimmer switch. Currently we have six of these in use. Each of these comes with four buttons which can be programmed to do control any HomeKit device.

These can be used as stand-alone remote controls or they can be mounted on the wall with a supplied wall plate.

Our kids bedrooms do not have ceiling lights and the most convenient location for the floor lamps ended up being on the opposite side of the entrance.

I was able to mount a pair of these at their doors. For Anna it turns on and off her regular lump plugged into a Wemo plug. For Aaron it turns his Nanoleaf panels with a soft white lite. Very continent.

Philips Hue Tap switch.Another control that I use is Philips Hue Tap. It’s a switch that works on kinetic energy without the use of batteries. It can have a weird feel to it for some people, because the buttons are harder to press than a regular switch is, but I have no problems with that.

As Hue Dimmer switch Hue Tap also has four buttons and they also can be programmed individually in HomeKit. But if you want to turn buttons into toggle switches you can easily do it with 3rd party apps such as the one made by Eve. So instead of having one button turn a light on and another turn it off you can have the same button do both depending on the state of the light.

Another intriguing remote that exist on the market is a dodecahedron shaped unit made by Nanoleaf. Each of the twelve sides can have its own setting and you activate it by simply placing that side up. I haven’t had a chance to experiment with one yet, but if I see it on sale I might pick one of these up.

Conclusion


Part of my well hidden, dusty bridge "collection".This ended up being a rather long post. That’s what you get when you put writing something like this off for six months.

In the next and last post of these series I will go room-by-room through our house and talk about scenes, automations and device application for each location and how some of the above mentioned accessories interact with each other.

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Friday, February 8, 2019

Kids’ Rooms

Aaron's room.As the time goes we’re getting more and more settled in. The house has became really nice and cozy.

Aaron's room.This week we’ve got the bedrooms of our kids finalized. The last touch was a pair of Kallax shelves from Ikea.

Aaron's room.The only things that have moved with us from these rooms are the beds. And while Anna’s bed came with a nice foam mattress, Arosha’s old spring mattress was totally destroyed from all the jumping that has commenced on it. So he’s got a nice new Casper.

Anna's room.Anna’s curtain are from our old bedroom. Aaron’s are new. She also has a mega collection of dogs on her wall.

Anna's room.Aaron has a venetian mask on the wall from our recent trip to Italy and Venice specifically. He also has a laminated world map which was his new year gift from a couple of years ago. And this year he got his own set of Nanoleaf lights.

Anna's room.
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Saturday, February 2, 2019

Smart Home — Ecosystems

Apple Home.Elgato Eve.This is going to be a long post on my foray into smart home and automations. This venture has started soon after we bought our home — about 6 months in now — and I was finally able to do things that I couldn’t while living in an apartment.

I was fascinated by this for a long time — ever since Nest thermostat came to the market and by what Philips was doing with its Hue series. Those two products were something that I wanted to do as soon as I had the chance.

I had never really explored it any further and had no idea how quickly this hobby could suck in a lot of time and money, none of which I regret in the slightest.

I have decided to split this post(s) into several parts — general introduction into our ecosystem, overview of types of devices and specific devices in those groups that I’ve used and my impressions of them, room by room setup in the house and automations that we use.

Ecosystem


At first I didn’t give this much thought, but very soon after I’ve started to realize that I need to figure out what I want to use as a core of my system.

Amazon Alexa.Vendor apps.The biggest players in the market would be Amazon Alexa, Google Home and Apple HomeKit. The idea is that you want ALL of your smart devices exposed in one place in order to be able to do complex automations evolving multiple products and brands.

Amazon Alexa


Before I considered this all and since I had a mild fascination with Alexa for a while that’s what we started with, but eventually went in a different direction.

Amazon Echo.Amazon’s system is generally a very safe bet. Vast majority of smart devices support it. One huge plus that it has going for is the range of products available — starting from $30 Echo Dot all the way to $230 Echo show. And then there is a ton of 3rd party products with Alexa integrated. This is very convenient for voice control.

I bought a pair of Amazon Echo devices. Standard Echo lives in our kitchen and Echo Spot lives in our bedroom on my bedside table.

Alena uses the kitchen one for audio books and music listening. I use Echo Spot as my alarm clock — and a great one at that. It automatically goes into night-mode during the night where its display produces practically no light and shows the time in non-disruptive red color.

The smartphone app generally does its job, but I’m not a huge fan of the way it handles device grouping and automation in general. Automations specifically is quite a weak spot for this system in my opinion.

Amazon Echo Spot.As I mentioned before I decided against using it as our core system, although we still have our most used scenes and devices replicated into the Alexa system for easily reachable voice triggers.

Beside the pair of Amazon devices we have a Sonos One speaker and a thermostat of all things with Alexa built in.

Thermostat Alexa is disabled and Sonos speaker Alexa implementation is not stellar. I have much higher success rate with voice triggers on Amazon’s own devices. Though Sonos does provide great sound for music playback.

Apple HomeKit


Each vendor of smart home products ships their own application to manage the accessories. The more different vendors you end up using, the more messy managing it all becomes. That’s why having one single place that unifies everything is important for not only managing your devices, but stringing them up together in automation.

HomeKit emerged as a natural choice for us since we’re heavily embedded into Apple ecosystem. We have numerous iPhones, iPads, Apple TVs and Macs. As such I really have no experience with Google Home, but I imagine it’s a good choice for Android families.

Apple HomePod.There are downsides and upsides to HomeKit. The choices of accessories is more limited because Apple has stricter rules for HomeKit certification. To counter the negative part of that you end up with a more secure system. And since we, as Apple users, have to pay the price for Siri voice assistant that is not using all the data given to it to improve, we end up with a company with a very high focus on privacy.

I imagine Google collects a lot more information on your usage. I imagine Amazon does its share of this as well. And you have to be insane to even consider putting Facebook’s device with a camera and a microphone in your home. HomeKit is a big winner in the category in my opinion. I actually wouldn’t mind sharing more information with Apple if that would mean staying ahead with such things as Siri.

With regards to the main app to control your accessories once they have been added to HomeKit you have numerous options. First of all there is Apple’s own Home app. It’s clean and good looking, so we use it as our primary hub for most day to day things.

However HomeKit protocol in itself is just a back-end database which can be managed by any app. And there is a multitude of them. Elgato Eve makes a beautiful free application which lets you manipulate HomeKit’s database to a much higher degree than native Home does. It exposes a lot of controls that you wouldn’t know existed if you were only using Apple’s Home.

Sonos One.Another great application that I use for configuring complex automations is a 3rd party app named Home 3 by Matthias Hochgatterer. While it’s not very pretty, the Trigger — Condition — Action automations are invaluable as is a granular control of your accessories.

And then there is an open-source project called Homebridge, which I’ll provide more details on a little bit later.

HomeKit voice control is a mixed bag. Siri at its release was completely useless to me because of my accent. With years the voice recognition has improved SIGNIFICANTLY. I have a very high success rate with it. It’s very much on par with Alexa if not better.

I’m not asking Siri of any complex inquiries and it follows smart home informational request and scene and accessory setting commands easily.

The negative part is that while pretty much all Apple devices have Siri built-in using your phone is far from convenient for voice triggers. It’s better on the watch, but still not ideal.

The one and only option right now is HomePod. And at $350 retail price you won’t get far without breaking the bank. We have one that we got for $250 on a big sale from BestBuy.

We placed it centrally in our living area and the performance of it is superb. Microphones are very sensitive so I can reach it easily from the kitchen, living, dinning and family rooms. And the sound it produces for music playback is the best we have in our house.

However music playback is my least needed feature and I’m saddened by the fact that Apple chose that as their focus. What I’m really looking and hoping for is that there will be additional choices of cheap(er) Siri devices that I can place in other parts of the house.

As far as hubs go, which are required for remote control and automation, HomeKit can use Apple TVs, HomePods and iPads. Since we have a pair of Apple TVs and one HomePod we use them as hubs. iPads should be used as hubs as a last resort only, in my opinion, so we do not do that.

3rd Party Apps


As I mentioned each manufacturer of devices also ships an app to control those products. In vast majority of cases I use those to only go through an initial product setup and rarely visit them afterwards.

Some of those offer additional controls that are not exposed in HomeKit and you need to use those apps for firmware updates. However I rarely have a need to revisit those apps.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Smart Home Preview

HomeKit.
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Sunday, December 9, 2018

Grate Wall of Fire

Vertical fireplace grate by Grate Wall of Fire.Another small update on our fireplace. The days have gotten cold and we thought that our wood burning fireplace could be a great source of additional heat. However even with a fairly big fires we weren’t feeling much warmth coming into the house.

When we had our chimney cleaned the guys doing the work recommended looking into Grate Wall of Fire products — specifically a large metal plate that goes agains the back wall of a fireplace — reflective fireback.

Our setup. 1 inch think 31 inch fireback and M-7 vertical 31 inch fireplace grate.So we measured our fireplace and ordered 1 inch think 31 inch long fireback. The thing ended up weighting more than 100 pounds. Alena and I barely managed to put it inside.

Sadly one of the legs has gotten damaged during shipping. I called the company and they have fabricated a pair of custom legs to attach to our fireback that same very night and sent them out. And they gave us a 25% discount on the fireback because of the hassle. Amazing customer service.

After using our new fireback for a couple of days we decided to buy a new vertical 31 inch grate to replace our old horizontal one. We LOVE our new set up. First of all all the wood burns right agains the fireback. Adding new wood is also great — just throw it over the grate and it goes on top of you fire without other logs falling all over the place.

Pretty and functional.Yesterday we gave it a full test and our family room eventually has gotten quite hot — in fact it was too hot to sit on the fireplace end of sofa. Eventually the fire went out at around 10pm and we left glowing ash in the fireplace when we went to sleep. In the morning when we went to close the flute the fireback was still warm to the touch.

Again, highly highly recommend the products from Grate Wall of Fire.

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Friday, November 9, 2018

Wood Burning Fireplace

Our first use of our wood burning fireplace.Our house came with a nice wood burning fireplace located in our family room. We never had one anywhere, nor had any experience with one, so weren’t really sure how to use it properly.

Family room fireplace and look into our dining room.However, yesterday, we finally had our chimney cleaned and inspected by a local company and Alena — while I was at work — had asked them a number of questions on how to properly and safely use it.

Warmth in November.We decided not to wait long and took the chance to light a fire today and are enjoying its warmth on this cool November night.
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Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Porch and Patio

Covered porch and patio.Now that the summer season is over I wanted to post a couple of pictures and write a couple of words about our outdoor areas.

When we were looking for a house we came upon some really nice porches — a raised veranda with an exit from one of the top floors leading to a nice outdoor space. These came in different varieties, but the one type that we liked the most was that with a roof and a set of screened windows.

Porch set. Table and 8 chairs.Other houses came with nice patios where you could put some furniture down and a firepit in the middle for some of the cooler nights. The first house that we tried to buy and didn’t succeed — luckily — came with a smallish patio. I was really sad that we wouldn’t have a nice porch.

Porch. Another angle.But fate had it so that the house we actually bought had both. A nice big patio and a really nice big porch with an uncovered area to put the grill at in addition to everything.

This indeed ended up being a nice perfect setup as our first summer shows. We’ve spent hours upon hours in both of these areas and ate most of our family dinners on our porch.

Around the fire.Throughout most of the summer we had multiple guests visit us for a day or two — my parents with my sister, Ignat, Vika and their daughter Alisa, Ilya and Ulyana with their kids, Zhanna and Marat with their kids, Arosha’s Brooklyn friend Mehdi with his grandparents, Arosha’s other friend Alex with his family, Geoff, Sarah and their daughter Io and some other people. Not to mention my 38th birthday bash.

Patio set.It was great. As far as furniture goes we got everything from local Patio.com retail location. We weren’t sure whether we should go with wood or aluminum patio furniture, but in the end we went with a very nice, albeit expensive, aluminum set. In retrospect it was a good decision as it will age a lot better.

Patio. Around the firepit.For the patio furniture it was Arosha who set us on a path that we went down with. When we were picking up our porch set he saw a whicker chair with ottoman and a coffee table that was on sale for $200 since it was a floor sample. He liked it so much that he talked us into letting him buy it with his own money.

Grill on the porch.And then we got the rest of the pieces from the same set or similar sets. And then we bought a nice, deep firepit to top it all off. We got the last piece — loveseat — delivered on the day when we had a lot of people over for the birthday.

By now it has gotten too cold to spend this much time outside so we moved most of the patio furniture into our living room for the winter, which actually seems to work really well in its new location.
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Thursday, October 18, 2018

Home Office 2.0

Repainted office with Hue strip accent light.It’s only been 3 weeks or so since I published a post about my office and I already have a big update. When we purchased the house we felt that one of the two garages was too small to fit a car comfortably, so we were planning to move a wall by two feet to expand garage at the expense of office space in preparation for Ridgefield winters.

Hue lights in red.Last week we have actually completed this project and we took this chance as an opportunity to repaint the whole room in colors that I wanted to do it in for a while — orange-teal. Three walls went orange and one accent wall is teal.

National Park posters on orange wall.I also took this opportunity to fix the cabling mess behind the desk — I’ve attached 12 port power strip made by Standing Desk behind the desk which made for a pretty good arrangement of wiring. And I also have finally installed Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance Light Strip that I have had since Amazon’s Prime Day.

Hue light strip in green.The hardest part was putting all the posters back up, since all the markings and nails that we put in for the first time were gone. But in the end I think the office came out very well. Extremely comfortable and cozy place to work from. I’m very happy with the final result.

Different angle view.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

О Новом Доме

Last days of summer. On our porch.Для нас этот год неожиданно оказался годом больших перемен. Смена места жительства, пусть и не в таком глобальном масштабе, как иммиграция, дело непростое.

Фантазировали и мечтали о своём доме мы давно, но было страшно и в плане финансов, и в плане адаптации к несколько иному образу жизни, и, конечно, в плане отрыва от семьи и друзей.

Early fall.Когда прошлым летом мы ездили смотреть дома в Нью-Йорке и Нью-Джерси, у меня не было чувства, что я готова решиться на переезд. Каждый раз после поездки на осмотр продающихся домов, почему-то начиналась мигрень. Да и школы, которые были основным из движущих нас факторов, хоть и выигрывали в сравнении с Нью-Йоркскими, все же не были так хороши, как хотелось.

Ещё я думала, что у меня в Бруклине есть хорошая подруга, найти замену которой мне представлялось почти невозможным. По правде говоря, мои дружеские чувства к ней делали мысль о переезде менее привлекательной. Однако, в конце прошлого года я сильно в ней разочаровалась, и хотя процесс осознания односторонности дружбы был неприятен, он убрал ещё одно препятствие для переезда. Теперь отрываться тяжело было только от родителей, но они очень поддерживали нас в решении улучшить уровень жизни для нас и детей, хотя им, конечно, очень бы хотелось, чтобы мы жили с ними поблизости.

Colorful backyard.Когда в конце февраля Даня предложил съездить и посмотреть дома в Коннектикуте, я не была уверена насколько серьёзно мы относились к этому процессу, но желание вырваться из ставшей тесной квартиры и избежать стресса поступления в среднюю школу возрастало экспоненциально.

К своему удивлению, я поняла, что готова переехать в один из увиденных нами домов. Местность вокруг показалась мне умиротворенной, дом светлым, и вообще возникло чувство, что это оно — то самое, что мы искали и где нам будет хорошо!

Colorful fall in Ridgefield.Как уже писал Даня, на следующей же неделе мы связались с агентом по продаже и поставили нашу квартиру на рынок. Продалась она очень быстро и за хорошую цену. Конечно, нам очень хотелось купить дом таким образом, чтобы и за две ипотеки не платить если дом купить слишком заранее, и не переезжать на съемную квартиру в противоположном варианте. Все вышло так, как мы хотели, хотя нервов этот процесс стоил немало. Даня уже писал об этом, повторять все подробности не буду.

Мы живем в доме уже 3 месяца. Мне очень нравится! Конечно, есть вещи, которые были удобнее, когда проживаешь в маленькой квартире в большом городе, но всё же плюсы пока сильно перевешивают минусы.

Из того, что мне нравится: Continue Reading
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Thursday, October 4, 2018

Birthday Gathering

Everyone around the fire.A little over a month ago I’ve had yet another birthday. But what made this year different was a fact that I could actually invite all my friends to our house for a little celebration.

Tables on the porch.And not only could we invite all my friends, but we could also cook for everyone on our grill instead of ordering something. That is exactly what we did. We invited everyone to Ridgefield on the very next Saturday after my birthday.

Conversations around the table.All in all we had 19 people that we had enough place to sit on our porch. The only people who weren’t there were Ignat, Vika and Alisa — but they visited us a week before, and Lenchik.

Kids marshmallowing.One of very pleasant surprises was that even Eldar made it. He actually managed to skip our whole previous apartment altogether. We were really glad to see him. Too bad that he didn’t have much time in New York. Hopefully we will see him sooner next time.

Kids on trampoline.Overall I had all my best friends and their families over — Misha, Natasha and their son David, Ilya, Ulyana and their sons Matvey and Misha, Sasha, Maruk, Alina and their daughter Emma, Eldar and all my family — papa, mama and Lina.

Ilya summoning the fire.Also a day before we had a final piece of our patio furniture delivered, so we could set it all up around a fire-pit on the patio. We also took out our cooler that we bought right after we got our house and filled it up with ice and beer.

Vast collection of wheat bears.Ilya helped with grilling the vegetables, then we grilled a lot of salmon. After lunch-dinner we sat around the fire-pit where kids fried some marshmallows.

Ilya claims fires requires summoning to burn. Arosha claims that it's complete nonsense.It was a really pleasant gathering. I hope everyone enjoyed it, because I certainly did.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Home Office v0.9

My home office. 27" 5K screens on top of 96" long Mayline desk.This is my first “room” update for our new house. In the past three months we have made a lot of progress on settling in, so to speak.

My home office is the last room we’ve completed, but I’m going to start with it. One reason for that is the fact that I didn’t actually have a chance to have a separate office for a while now.

Closeup of the work space.As the kids arrived we freed up my previous office and turned it into a bedroom for kids. So my workspace lived in a corner of our living room for many years.

I’ll probably make a separate post on the technology part itself in more details later, but in short — the center-piece is a pair of 27″ 5K monitors powered by 2018 MacBook Pro.

A slightly earlier shot, but it depicts the actual color of the furniture better than the shots above.There is a another screen on the desk that is connected to my old Windows 7 PC, but it is a temporary thing that is assisting me in my full migration to macOS.

Monitors are placed on a pair of single monitor arms from UPLIFT. I went through a number of configurations before stopping on this one.

View from the door.The goal was to have better controls of the monitors by being able to angle and raise them as I wanted and move them away from me as far as I wanted. Dual monitor arm that I started with prevented me from pushing them far enough away.

There is a good amount of space between the table and the wall. So the connection point of my monitors is hanging in that space.

And all this is resting on a beautiful gray 96 inch long desk made by a company called Mayline.

Backwall. National park posters and casino chips.Underneath the back side of the desk there is a shelf kind of thing is hiding ALL the horde of the wires of this office. None of them are visible and there is nothing under the desk.

The back wall decoration is an idea that I’ve conceived years ago. I’ve acquired a large format book that had a lot of art done in vintage style depicting all of the national parks of United States. I loved the art and finally I have a place to display it.

Hidden mess of wires sitting on a shelf between the desk and the window.I’ve picked out some of the national parks that we have visited. We’re going to add two more frames to the bottom row in the near feature. On the side I have a place for my small old collection of casino chips.

The chair is Steelcase Gesture. I’m still getting used to it, and still is not sure if it was worth the investment. The sofa folds out into a queen size bed so this office can serve as a guest room. Which makes the computer powering the whole setup being a laptop convenient.

And to finish it all off there is an LED lamp connected to a wall light switch and a pair of simple curtains to cover the black holes of the windows in the later hours of the day.

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Monday, September 3, 2018

Our New Home

Our house. Front yard.We are still in the process of settling down, so it is still hard to find the time and energy to actually sit down, write things up and prepare pictures. Things are changing in the house on the daily basis as we’re making it cozier and homier.

Back yard from the far edge.The house that we ended up buying is located in Ridgefield, not Redding. We are quite happy that it worked out this way in the end.

Back yard. Flat grassy area.The schools are stellar. Ridgefield has a lot of nice benefits for residents, including a decently priced pass for a town lake and all year round access to town pools among other things. It has a great, big, modern library. The schools are simply excellent — from elementary to middle to high. All are rated 9 and higher. Really top notch schools.

From the side. Our garages.A small aside — all the pictures were taken in our first days in the house, so nothing is close to done or orderly. It’s a complete mess. And there are a lot of places for improvement — giving an evil look to the closet. But hopefully future posts will illustrate more and more transformations as we get settled in. It is already looking very different as I write this post since we have put our personal touch on things.

Our driveway.We’re located centrally between the centers of Ridgefield, Redding and Bethel, although I think Redding doesn’t really have much of a downtown of any kind. Town lake and beach is a 2 minute drive from our house. The lake is situated in between the mountains and is very picturesque.

Patio.The house itself has 4 bedrooms — this was one of our requirements. One for us, two for kids and a guest bedroom — so our parents could come and stay as long as they wanted. It also gives us an ability to host people with overnight stays. In addition to that there is a lot extra space for inflatable mattresses and such.

Covered porch.Out all the houses that we have seen this was the only one that actually had both — a covered porch and a nice patio. We’ve been eating a lot on our porch. Not going to get a lot of use during the winter, but during summer month it’s been very pleasant to dine in the open air. And just several days ago we acquired a nice wood-burning fire-pit that kids cooked marshmallows on.

Covered, screened porch.Even though bedroom are on a smaller size it has three large living, family rooms. We decided to use the fireplace room for our main TV watching air. Our bottom living room is going to be a playroom for the kids and will house our Peloton. And we’re not quite sure what to do with the last one yet.

Grill on the uncovered part of the porch.The house has a huge kitchen — at least compared to what we’re used to — with a nice L shaped bar stand that we can eat at as a family. Alёna can be doing stuff in the kitchen and be with us all at the same time — this is a great feature.

Empty family room with a wood-burning fireplace.As I said, our very first purchase for the house was a grill. We opted in for Weber Genesis II propane grill for the easy of use as opposed to coal. In fact in our month and a half here we’ve used up a full tank of propane already and are on our second one now. It has actually been a pleasure to host friends and family for full weekends with sleepovers — something that we never could do before.

Our kitchen with granite counter tops.First major project that we did was replace the whole septic system. It took a week — we had a full crew of people working from 7 to 4 daily. The new system has a life time of 40 years. Full concrete install with leaching field being built right on the edge of the woods.

Bar top kitchen counter and living room.That’s one thing that we won’t have to worry about ever, hopefully. They did dig up pretty much most of our front yard and backyard. Grass seeds were placed after the work was done, so our yards are still recovering, although new grass did come in fairly quickly.

Bottom floor, right after the move.The photos in the post have been taken right after our move, so a lot of stuff is in a complete disarray. But since then we’ve made a lot of progress in settling in a getting things in order. So I have a lot of material for future posts.

Bottom floor living room -- play room for the kids.Also as I mentioned the house has both a patio and a covered porch. There is also an uncovered portion of the porch for the grill, which is a very nice touch — something that we haven’t seen at other houses we looked at. It’s nice to be able to cook and talk to the people at the same time — not being far away with the grill.

Main bathroom.When we originally looked at this property it had a built into concrete basketball ring and it had a trampoline in the back yard with a hole under it. Although trampoline had a rip in it, which I thought might not be fixable. But we still were excited that our kids will get to play with all that.

Our brand new trampoline. Kids love it.The basketball ring is still there, but we discovered right before the closing that the trampoline is gone and a hole is completed filled in.

Front of the house.So soon after our move we ordered a brand new 15″ trampoline1. Although we had to wait for quite a bit for all the septic work to be done. But now it is constructed and kids and their friends enjoy it very much.

Master closet. Original form. Separate post for transformation is coming.Another surprising thing was how all the neighbors started coming over and introducing themselves. We have amassed a collection of wine from all these visits. It was very unusual having come from Brooklyn to experience it. We seem to be surrounded by nice people.

Arosha's room. Original form.So having been here for a month and a half we’re enjoying it very much. I keep saying that we live in “a vacation” kind of deal. Obviously there are more things to deal with as opposed to an apartment, but I think we’re adapting nicely, so far.

Hallway to the bedroom. Fairly ugly staircase light, before we replaced it.

  1. Skywalker 15-feet round trampoline and enclosure with spring pad — $329.99. []
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Sunday, August 12, 2018

American Dream — Part 2

Most of our backyard.In the previous post I stopped at us meeting with our agent, Laura, and seeing 5 houses in Redding and Ridgefield. Three of the houses were in a rather bad condition and needed a lot of work — that is something that we were not prepared to do at all.

Two out of those fives houses were in a pretty nice condition, but one was out of the range of the prices that we wanted to pay and we didn’t really give it a serious look. And the last house that we saw seemed to fit the bill. It looked pretty nice inside with very big bedrooms. We really liked it. So we made a “lowish” offer, the sellers came back and eventually we agreed upon a very decent price.

The next stage was a series of inspections. One thing that I didn’t really realize was the fact that vast majority of towns in America actually don’t get any utility services from the city beside electricity. No water, no sewage, no natural gas. Nothing. I heard that some people had private wells before, but I thought it was a fancy choice of those owners. Turns out it’s because there is no other option. Continue Reading
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