Sunday, December 18, 2016

Garage Noise in Matisse Bedrooms

By popular demand! I've had a few folks ask questions about how much noise the garage door makes in the bedrooms that are right above it, and it's always hard to answer that -- describing noise always seems so subjective! So, without further ado: I made a little video -- garage noise starts at about 20 seconds:

I'm ready for my Oscar, y'all. (Kidding.)

Monday, November 28, 2016

Giving Thanks

Our first Thanksgiving meal in our first home: so much to be thankful for. Hope y'all had a wonderful holiday, too.

Thanksgiving tablescape table setting

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Driveway Annoyances

I did a six month check in post a little bit ago where I outlined what I like and dislike about our house, and I forgot to list one aggravation: the little medians in between the townhouses. Aka: THE BANE OF MY EXISTENCE.

If you're shopping around for a Ryan Homes townhouse, be sure to check out the back of the units to see if you have this delightful number going on in between the garages:

I don't know if they do this in other communities, but Ryan Homes chose to separate the driveways with these big rocks, which means the trash bins don't sit on a stable surface. The trash bin is usually heavy enough to stay anchored, but the recycling bins blow over without the slightest hesitation. Recycling bins rolling around like tumbleweeds are now a permanent fixture of Greenbelt Station due to RH's poor planning. We're not total jerks, we've learned to store the recycling bin in our garage, but it would be nice to have the option of keeping outside.

On any given day (but especially recycling pickup day), this also means we usually have at least some trash blowing through the neighborhood, although to be fair, some of that is from wind blowing trash out of the big construction dumpsters as houses are being built.


Monday, July 4, 2016

Happy 4th!

Hope you have a lovely, long weekend filled with family and friends.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Confessions of a Cord Cutter, Part II

Someone recently asked for an update on the living-without-cable situation, so I thought I would take a minute to review the technical details of how we picked an antenna, how we decided where to put our antenna, and how we used the house's existing wiring to hook everything up. Be warned, this is a long post!

What type of antenna should I buy?

If you are considering cutting the cord, the first thing you need to know is how close (or far) you are from the broadcast towers, and what type of signal they're putting out, because that will dictate what type of antenna you need. There is a website called TV Fool that allows you to plug in your exact street address, and it will give you a pretty good idea of what type of antenna you'll need.

I'll use my TV Fool report as an example to walk you through what to pay attention to. The first thing to look at is the list of channels:

Example of channels that are available over the air with an antenna

I get roughly 25 channels that come in easily with an indoor antenna, but I've just snipped this list to make it easier to read. Right away, I can see most of these channels are pulling in from a broadcast tower about 10 miles away. It also tells me which direction the tower is located relative to my house, so if I wanted to aim the antenna, I know to point it in a southwest direction (or 249°, on a compass).
example of TV Fool report VHF-UHF section

If you scroll down towards the bottom of the TV Fool report, you can also see which channels are broadcast over UHF and VHF (snippet above). This is important, because this will determine whether you need to get an antenna that picks up both of those signals. (Most do, but it's something to pay attention to.)

So, now I have two key pieces of information for buying an antenna: it has to cover more than ten miles, and for me, it has to get both UHF-VHF signals.

Where should I put the antenna?

This really varies depending on where you live. There are plenty of folks who are able to pull in good reception with the antenna hidden behind the TV. A good rule of thumb is that you are going to get the best reception a) outside, and b) high up.

I didn't want mine on our balcony for aesthetic reasons, so we currently have it slapped up inside against a window we don't look out of much (in a walk-in closet).

Over the air digital antenna from Amazon

As a townhouse owner, I should add in that it's illegal for an HOA to prevent you you installing an antenna. The most they can do is ask for reasonable concealment of it, which cannot itself become a burden to installation. If you are unlucky to have a restrictive HOA, you can read more about that FCC regulation here.

How to use pre-existing wiring to connect the antenna to your TV.

If you choose to mount your antenna somewhere other than right behind your TV, the last piece you'll need to think about is how to get the antenna signal from wherever you put it (outside, in the attic, in your closet) and distribute that to however many TVs you have.

If you have a house or apartment that was built fairly recently, you probably have coaxial cable running throughout, which is convenient because that's exactly what you need to transmit the antenna signal. I said earlier that I placed my antenna in a closet window located in the master bedroom, so my goal was to transmit the signal from the master bedroom to our TV in the living room.

My cable splitter happens to be in the garage, right next to the breaker box. Each splitter looks a bit different, but on mine, the input designated as the "source" was located in the middle. I labeled all my cable with some washi tape just so I could tell them apart more easily. In the picture below, the cable with the turquoise tape is the input, and the ones behind it are distributing the signal to different rooms in the house.

Since my antenna was placed inside the house, I needed to change the input signal. So, I unscrewed the original cable that was there, and moved the cable from the master bedroom to the source location. The turquoise cable is sending the antenna signal from the master bedroom to every single room in the house (except the master bedroom). Here's what the splitter looks like now:

Ok, so that's it! If you have questions about the setup, or purchasing an antenna, leave me a comment and I'm happy to help if I can.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Ten Years Down, Forever To Go

We have lots of ambitions and plans for this sweet little house of ours, but this year we wanted to spend our money a little differently... because it's our ten year wedding anniversary! When we got married, we were both graduate students and didn't have much money to travel. We wanted to do something special, so to celebrate we went to Italy, Montenegro, and Greece, three lovely places neither of us has ever been before:
We took a cruise that started in Venice, stopped in the Bay of Kotor (Montenegro), and then went down the Greek Isles to places like Corfu, Mykonos, Athens, and Kefalonia. It's pretty much impossible to condense such a wonderful trip into a blog post, but if you'd like to see some more photos, you can check them out here. (Have no idea how to embed an album slideshow here... Google, why do you make that so difficult?)

One of the fun things about doing the cruise is we really got to experience so many different things in such a short time frame. We got to walk along the same pathways Socrates once trod in Athens, floated down the Grand Canal in Venice, we got to relax on the beach in Kephalonia, eat fresh seafood in Corfu, and see the walled city of Kotor. We went our own way virtually everywhere except Athens; we knew we wanted to see as much as possible in a really short amount of time, so we hired a tour guide to take us around in a private car. If you're ever blessed to visit Athens, I can't speak highly enough of Private Greece Tours. We were able to see so much in a very short amount of time, and we can't wait to get a chance to go back.

We did choose to spend a couple of days on Venice at both the beginning and end of the cruise, and I'm so glad we did; there was so much to see and explore. The first night we stayed in a former palace, the Boscola Venezia, in a quiet neighborhood in the Cannaregio district. When we came back, we decided it would be fun to stay closer to Piazza San Marco, so we stayed in this beautiful hotel where our balcony looked directly out to the canal beneath us and the Torre Dell'Orologio! And, although you can't really see it in the video, the very top of the spires of St. Mark's Basilica.

That was our wonderful trip! So, we may not have the budget for any cool house projects this year, but we have so many lovely memories from this trip.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Six Months Update: Better Late Than Never?

I was at a neighborhood meet and greet this past weekend, and the subject of blogs came up, and it got me to thinking... shew, it's been a while. Now that we've been actual homeowners for over six months, I figure this blog is probably (long) overdue for an update.

What We Like...

  • Overall, we are super happy with this house. It's not huge, but it's very cleverly designed such that we've really enjoyed being able to entertain and have friends over without feeling squashed. There are small things I'd like to be different -- sacrificing some space in the master bedroom to have a less cramped laundry room, a bigger balcony -- but mostly we really do like the layout. We've noticed a few settlement cracks here and there, and a nail pop or two, but nothing excessive.
  • It's quiet. For those of you contemplating a condo, I don't know if we've been blessed with very quiet neighbors or if the sound attenuation is as good as they say it is, but we seldom hear our upstairs neighbors. Not never, just seldom. The place with the least amount of soundproofing is the stairwell, so periodically we hear them when they are bringing the dogs down for a walk. And, hand to God, I don't know if we've ever heard the neighbors that live next door.
  • Location. While we both miss living in Washington itself, being less than a mile from the Metro means we get to enjoy the city life all the time without the price tag of what living there would cost. I also like that we're sandwiched essentially a mile in any direction to major roadways such as 495, 295, and Route 1: close enough to enjoy the benefit, far enough away to avoid the noise.
  • Energy savings. This one is hard to quantify, but we're living in the biggest space we've ever lived in, and paying roughly the same or less in energy costs. I have no idea how we compare to others, but we average about $65 in electricity per month.

What We'd Change...

  • Living in a construction zone. Obviously, this problem eventually go away, but we're really looking forward to not hearing construction noise all the time. It was such a bummer in the spring time to keep our windows closed, because it was just so noisy! Also, some of the construction workers are occasionally disrespectful and leave trash on the ground, so it means dog owners have to keep eyes peeled for chicken bones, etc.
  • No walking path yet. The developers are legally obligated to build one, so just like the construction zone, I know this is an issue that will eventually get resolved, but walkability to Metro is the main reason we paid a premium to buy into this community. The developers are currently paying for a shuttle bus service, but it only runs during the peak hours, which doesn't always work for my husband.
  • The carpet. We didn't spend money on upgrading this because we would eventually like to pull it out in favor of hardwood anyway, but it's sorry looking for only six months of wear.
Some pictures from around the house...

Living room and dining room:



Guest bedroom:

Laundry room/pet zone.
Kitty gets a special entrance because otherwise the dog is a jerk and eats his food.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Confessions of a Cord Cutter, Part I

I'm breaking this topic up into two posts: finding a DVR, and then how to choose an antenna and hook it up.

We took the plunge and cut the cord with cable several years ago – and by took the plunge, I mean we were cheap ass grad students who couldn't justify the expense of cable. But then we moved into an apartment complex that offered free internet and cable as part of rent, and I could rent a DVR for only $15 a month. When we moved into the new house, we thought we'd see how we could do without cable. Cutting the cable is one thing, but I love the flexibility of being able to record a program and watch it whenever, which meant we needed some kind of DVR.

Before we made the big move, I started looking into "OTA" DVRs. Basically, these are DVRs that capture free, legal, over-the-air unencrypted HD signals like NBC, ABC, FOX, PBS, etc. I pretty quickly narrowed my search down to two possible DVRs: Tablo and the Tivo Roamio. If you're considering cutting the cord and you'd like to check what kind of channels you might get, plug your address in here.

Dolla Dolla Bill Y'all

Cost wasn't the only factor (I'll talk more about that below), but it was certainly a biggie. Tablo doesn't have built-in storage, which means you need an external hard drive, and it doesn't connect directly to your TV, so you need a streaming device. Here's how the numbers broke down for me:

Cost breakdown of Tablo and Tivo Roamio 4 tuner OTA DVRs

The "lifetime service" refers to the cost of the program guide (the channel listing). If you'd rather not pay the cost up front, both Tablo and Tivo offer cheap monthly rates, but I like the idea of a "one and done" kinda deal.


In my view, the good and bad thing about Tablo is that it doesn't connect to your TV. On one hand, the fact that it's not tied to your TV means that you can set it up wherever you get the best TV reception... which may not be a three foot radius from your TV. On the other hand, it means you need to buy another device like a Chromecast or AppleTV to stream stuff from Tablo to your TV. In addition, it doesn't have storage built in, which means you have to buy yet another device to store your TV shows.

One of the other things I wasn't crazy about: there's no remote. The idea is that you access Tablo through a streaming device (like Apple TV or Roku or whatever), so you would just use whatever remote or app goes with the streaming device. This is just personal preference, but I like having a more fully featured remote that has buttons for the channel guide, mute, etc. I should point out you can definitely buy a remote to coordinate with the Tablo (like a Logitech Harmony), but again, it's an additional cost and yet another thing to program.

Tivo Roamio

First of all, I like that everything you need is pretty much right in the box. I hate electronic clutter and cords, so that's a big plus to me over Tablo. It has integrated access to a bunch of streaming services like Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu, so you don't need to switch over to another device for those; another plus. It's got four tuners, which means you can record four programs at once, which is nice if you like a bunch of shows during prime time. I also like that it has a remote. If you have non-techie family members, the remote works pretty much like every cable remote ever, which means it's familiar and easy to use.

One of my favorite features is OnePass. Basically, Tivo finds your favorite show, and searches out episodes on whatever platforms you use: TV, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, whatever. It doesn't matter if they're recorded, have yet to air, pop up on streaming, or are just coming soon to streaming, they all show up in one easy-to-navigate screen.

Oh... and hopefully I won't sit on it.

Sex and the City Miranda TiVo
(Sex and the City fans, I hope you remember the reference! Cordcutters can watch the series for free on Amazon Prime.)

The Verdict

We've been using the Tivo for over a month now, and we LOVE it. I would say the only drawback is there's no easy way to check how much free space is left. My model records about 500 GB. I don't think we're in danger of hitting that limit, but it's hard to say for sure.

I've used DVRs from Comcast and Verizon, and the design and intuitiveness far oustrips either of them by a mile. You have to figure -- they were first to the DVR market, and they know what they're doing.

This isn't a picture from our Tivo (no cable), but it's better than the potato-gram my iPhone took, and it gives you a sense of what the channel guide looks like. It's the exact same on our Roamio, with the nice little channel icons and everything.

If we ever buy more TVs, we can purchase a Mini, which looks about the size of an Apple TV, I guess. You pop it on the additional TV, and the Roamio will beam whatever you want to that TV from your DVR. (It comes with a remote, too, so your guests won't be left out in the cold.) So, I like that it's easy to expand no matter how many TVs you have in your household.

You might also wonder what we've been watching without cable. Well, Making a Murderer, OBVI. We're only up to episode three, so NO SPOILERS, y'all. But seriously... we've been doing just fine; there's a ton of stuff to watch. I won't lie, I do miss all my HGTV shows, but the nice thing is there's a ton of those programs on Hulu, and I can always buy an iTunes season pass for current shows if I really feel the need.

Ok, that's the wrap on the first installment of cord cutting. Stay tuned for how we picked an antenna and hooked it all up.