Don’t buy a house if you can’t afford it

I see the advice all the time not to buy a house if you can’t afford it, but rarely do I see a good explanation of what that means.

It’s really easy. Let me explain it, as someone who paid off a 30-year mortgage in five years and now co-manages rental property and has to determine if someone can afford to rent from usĀ or will be over their head. And no, just because I’m a landlord doesn’t mean I think everyone should rent. There are definitely times when buying makes sense. Read more

Install an outlet for an above range microwave

We have a house with an above range microwave, but no nearby outlet to plug it into. The previous owners simply ran an extension cord. While I’m not 100% positive this is illegal to do in my locality, the safety is questionable and it certainly goes against the manufacturer’s recommendations. My home inspector wanted me to install an outlet. Here’s how to install an outlet for an above range microwave.

Better yet, I did it over the drywall without tearing into any walls, and spending less than $20.

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Losing my lunch

The worst Mondays have to be the day after a long weekend, or, as I’m fond of putting it, when Monday happens on Tuesday.

This particular Monday-on-a-Tuesday didn’t start well. I staggered in to work at 6 AM, and my boss said, well, let’s just say he didn’t say I looked well.

At 11 AM, lunchtime finally came. My lunchtime routine for years now has been to bring a frozen meal from home and microwave it. Everyone knows it. But not today, I didn’t. I went looking for my lunch, and couldn’t find it. “What are you doing?” my boss asked. “And why do you have your coat?”

“I lost my lunch,” I told my boss. That phrase has some history in my parts. Read more

How the previous week’s headlines flow together

Here are some headlines I read this past week: Dell is trying to take itself private. Microsoft is investing in Dell. Intel is pulling out of the motherboard market. AMD is considering ARM CPUs. And the PC is dead.

It’s all related.
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Where I was when I first heard about the end of the world

Since all the cool kids (or at least some of them) are writing about the end of the world, I thought I’d write about where I first heard about this.

I’m such a notorious cheapskate, the Mayans had a folk song about me. I was at a library sale, scooping up cheap books, in the summer of 2007. You meet some interesting people at these places, and one of the more colorful is a guy named Jim. Read more

The phone in the fridge, from generation to generation

We took our kids to a good friend’s birthday party this weekend. Unlike the last birthday party they attended, we only had one meltdown, and it was relatively minor. When I heard the unmistakable sound of two mini-Daves screaming at each other, I excused myself to investigate.

My boys were playing with my friend’s daughters’ kitchen set, and arguing about what you could and couldn’t put in the fridge.

“It’s ironic that my two sons would be arguing about what you can put in a fridge,” I said upon my return. Read more

Buying a new TV that won’t kill your electric bill

As television technology improves, they become more energy efficient. Generally speaking, at least. The CRT TV ranging in size from 26-32 inches that was common in living rooms for most of my lifetime used around 130 watts. But some of the monster TVs people are buying these days use more power than the fridge. Read more

How I survived a weekend in July in the midwest without air conditioning

The air conditioner went out this week. Based on the local shop’s estimate, we’re probably looking at $3400 to fix it, which is more than the cost of a newer, better unit.

On Friday they bubble-gummed it together to get us through the weekend. It only got us through Friday night.

Here’s how we survived, and actually stayed halfway comfortable.I actually survived worse earlier in life. My high school wasn’t air conditioned, and unless temperatures reached 100 degrees, they didn’t call off school for heat. So on a day when the high was 87 or 89, I would have had to tough it out.

In college, I lived in a building without air conditioning that my uncle once derisively called "that old barn." School started in August, and temperatures often were still in the 90s, or worse, while I was there. Window air conditioners were banned, because the building’s decrepit wiring couldn’t handle more than a couple of units running at once.

So here’s what I did this weekend to keep things cooler, based on what I learned then and what I’ve learned since about saving energy.

First, any time it was cooler outside than inside, we opened the house up as much as possible and blasted fans as hard as possible to get as much cooler air circulating as we could. Besides running the central air conditioner’s blower (just the blower), we ran ceiling fans and portable fans. I wish we’d had more fans, in retrospect.

But once it started warming up, we actually did something controversial. We closed the house back up again, but that’s not all we did. I took a bunch of white foam-core board left over from a long-ago project and put those in any windows facing the sun. The white surface would reflect heat-causing light back out of the house. Then I pulled the shades down and closed them, and drew the curtains. Any place I could see a sunbeam, I would block it using any means possible. When I ran out of foam, I’d use anything else white.

I think my neighbors already think I’m nuts. Now I’m sure a couple of the busybodies down the street are talking about having me committed. It’s funny how little you care what other people think when you’re trying to keep cool.

Besides, I don’t care what they think because it worked. Today the high was 87 degrees, and the hottest it got in the house during the day was 80. Yesterday, without taking these measures, it reached 82 in the house. Two degrees makes a bigger difference than it sounds.

To determine if it was cooler inside or outside, I religiously checked the local newspaper’s web site and weather.com. A good thermometer would be even better, but I didn’t have one of those. And besides, now I need an air conditioner, so I need to save money.

The temperature is on its way down now, as I write, but some parts of the house are still getting punished by sunlight. We’ve opened the windows on the portions of the house that are receiving shade, and we’ve moved the fans to draw air through those areas. As shade conquered sunlight, we opened more windows. It hasn’t cooled off enough outside to make the temperature in the house come down yet, but getting more air moving made the house feel cooler.

To get relief, during the hottest parts of the day we would get out. Yesterday we went to Costco to stock up on necessities (we lingered in the walk-in produce fridge a lot longer than we needed to). This morning we went to church of course, and then after that we went and ate lunch at the mall food court and walked around the mall for a couple of hours.

Besides that, we also tried to avoid doing things that would cause heat. I kept as many lights off as possible, since light bulbs generate heat (even compact florescents). Unfortunately we had to run a load of laundry through the dryer, but we did that early in the day before things started heating up. When we cooked, we used the microwave. I also turned off anything else I could, since all watts of electricity used have to turn into heat one way or another.

We survived. Actually we did better than survive. I’ll daresay that for most of the day, we were actually comfortable.

I’ll add one other thing, and this is something that came to mind because we’ve been shopping for windows. If you have double-hung windows, you can open them from both the top and the bottom to get a chimney effect. Warmer air escapes through the upper window, drawing cooler air in through the bottom. In the days before air conditioning, this was how people cooled their houses. They fell out of fashion for many years, but now they’re back in fashion because you can open them just from the top, and a child can’t fall out of a window if it’s opened that way.

Today, the chimney effect is just secondary, but it can save you energy in the months when you just barely need A/C. We’ll be getting double-hung windows for that reason.

And as for the air conditioner itself? What we had was a cheap low-end unit, something often used by contractors and people who plan on selling a house quickly. Since we plan on staying in the same house for a good many years, we’re buying a high-end replacement. It will cost a lot more, but doing the math, it should pay for itself in about 10 years. Or, given the way the local electric company has the state government wrapped around its finger, probably a lot sooner.

Plus, the high-end models come with better warranties, which suggests the manufacturers have more confidence in their longevity. Or, it could be that they just have higher profit margins so they can afford to back them with better warranties, but I’d rather pay for higher energy efficiency than for extended warranties.

Rod Beck is a sad loss

Rod Beck was once one of the most intimidating relief pitchers in baseball. Part of it was because he could throw a baseball hard, but part of it was because he looked like the meanest guy in the entire south.

I never was much of a fan, until I read the story of his 2003 comeback. He was pitching in the minor leagues hoping someone would need him, living in an RV parked outside the stadium, hanging out with the fans afterward.

That’s class.Search for a picture of Rod Beck and you’ll probably think the word “class” would be the last thing you’d associate with him, but the shoe fits. He didn’t necessarily look the part, but in his down-to-earth way, he modeled it well.

And he did make it back to the majors that year, signing with the San Diego Padres in early June and he had one last great summer, saving 20 games and compiling a sparkling 1.78 ERA while filling in for the Padres’ injured closer, Trevor Hoffman. But then it was over. The next year, he briefly left the Padres to spend two months in a rehab center getting treatment for drug addiction, and after he returned, he struggled through 24 games acting as one of Hoffman’s setup men. The Padres released him in August, and he retired at age 36.

In this day and age of athletes wearing as much bling as possible, driving fancy cars, and otherwise glorifying themselves, it’s nice to remember a player who would walk out to the parking lot at the end of the game, turn on the light, open up the fridge, and talk baseball with whoever wanted to drop in. He knew he had to make a living just like everyone else standing there, and that pretty much everyone there would love to make a living throwing baseballs if they could, and he just happened to have what it takes to do that.

Beck’s cause of death is unknown, but the story of his career ought to be made into a movie. The story of a guy on top of his game, getting hurt, working his way back, spending time in the minors living in the parking lot and hanging out with the fans outside his RV, and then making it back for one last glorious summer, relying on an 86-mile-an-hour fastball and (mostly) heart and guts.

Sounds like a fantastic story to me, except nobody would believe it.

I hope it isn’t forgotten in two months.