Solar Electric – Initial Planning

I have some big plans in mind, and this post is just to get the rough idea down and keep a record of what should ideally happen and how.  But yes, the plan is to install solar panels on the house.

First, let’s hit the high-level numbers.  I want to budget $30k for the install.  This should give me a a $650.mo loan payment for 5 years.  This should eliminate my $200/mo electric bill, so the cost is net $450/mo for 5 years.  There is a 26% tax credit for solar electric, so that should wipe away 1 year from my loan.  The end result is a $50 cost for 4 years, then $200/mo savings for the next couple of decades – let’s be real, for the rest of my life.

Now, some details on those numbers.  In most people’s lives, the two big debts are house and car.  Ideally, you want to have some sort of break between car loans where you actually still use your car without paying for it.  I do have an active car loan, but that car is my secondary car and I am still getting by on the car that preceded it.  So I can be assured of a long time before I will need another car loan.  So once that car loan is paid off, I will be free to begin another 5yr commitment.

It was my plan to go solar when that car loan was ended, but I was concerned about the sunset of the federal tax credit for solar, which is very soon.  I have recently had a fortunate windfall that can pay off my car loan, should I choose to use it for that.  Because I am debt-adverse, I will do so, regardless of those that say to drag out low-interest loans and invest the difference.

So, with car loan eliminated, I will need to gather quotes from solar contractors and decide on what is available to me.  With what tools are available to me, I was able to determine that my home electric usage ranges from 1200 to 1850 kWh per month, with an average of 1490 kWh.  That’s roughly 50 kWh/day.

According to Project Sunroof, a $200/mo electric bill means I would need a little over 16kW in solar to cover my bills.  From other sources, I found my roof has a max capacity to deliver 20kW in power.  One site says I need 50 panels to get 15kW.  Another says 30 panels will get you 10kW.  One metric cited is that it costs about 75 cents per watt, so 15kW is about $11k in panels (I assume no labor or connective bits).  Another site says ~$30k will get you ~14kW.  So far, we are still in the ballpark.

This does not cover any battery storage on site, which is enticing to me, but could be prohibitively costly, and some of what I’ve read suggests either you have storage or you feed the excess to the grid, not both.  That’s for the experts to educate me in.

Then the real battle becomes dealing with multiple sales people all wanting to sell you a product and a service.  That will be for a later post.  For now, I think this covers all the basic numbers.

Whole-house Surge Protection

A couple of weeks ago, my pool pump started failing.  The bearings were wearing out and it was getting louder by the day. So I discussed replacement with the pool guy and he asked if I had any house protection insurance, which I didn’t think I did.  He said that I should look into it because the new motor would be easily damaged by power surges.

To take a step back, it’s been a few years since you couldn’t get a simple, dumb, single-speed motor for your pool.  The law now says you have to have a variable speed pump.  It should save money because you can slow it down during off times.  Whatever.  They’re more expensive and more susceptible to damage because they’re chock full of circuit boards.

That got me to thinking of something I wanted to get on the house anyway – whole-house surge protection.  The electric company offers this as an option or you can install one yourself.  I looked up the one offered by the utility company and they don’t sell it, you lease it.  Like $30 for installation, then $8/mo for as long as you want.  Well, that’s never good in my book.  I need to own something, not lease it.  So I called a couple electricians to get quotes.

The first guy says he installs them, but not right now because he’s too busy.  He referred me to someone else and I set up the appointment.  On the call he said I could choose from a range of different devices.  He couldn’t give me much specifics on them, so I just said, what can I get for under $500?  He said, you can get this.  So we agreed on it, and off we went.

Just to mention, I do understand that $500 is like five years of leasing the electric company protector.  But ownership is very important to me and is just one more line item for if I ever choose to sell the house.  Apparently, this is standard for all new construction.  It should be!

On the appointment day, the contractor was pretty much behind schedule, like a hour and a half.  Whatever.  He looked over my breaker panel, which was full and said he could just install it on the meter box.  I actually preferred that option, so that was good.  Within half an hour, he was all done.  I came out, saw the new box attached to my meter and said, ok.  Now for the billing.

I had a recollection he quoted me on the phone something like $425, and so I assumed he would have labor on top of that, so I budgeted $600.  Nope, the total cost was $425.  Well, that’s not too bad.  I happily paid and off he went.

The new device is by SquareD and is the model HEPD80.  I went inside and researched the device.  It is very highly rated, which was great, but the cost of the device kind of hurt me.  It’s only $120 at the most.  So I did get charged for labor, but like $600/hr.  Just typing that out hurts even more.

But I try to keep everything in perspective.  The total was less than I expected.  I am helping an independent contractor survive and thrive.  The installation is not something I could do myself.  Well, I could, after watching a few videos, but I wouldn’t have a lot of faith in myself.  And the product is still highly rated and installed by a professional.  Hopefully it never needs to sacrifice itself for the house.

But, if it does, this device will save me from having to buy another $1500 pool pump, plus a $1500 chlorine generator, plus whatever appliances would get blown up, plus whatever UPS’s didn’t survive the blast.  For a $120 device, that’s pretty well worth it.  Next time, I’ll buy the device and just have the contractor install it.  Knowledge for next time.

New Couch Coming Soon

And that means, say goodbye to the old couch.  This couch has been here for, I don’t know, close to 15 years.  It was purchased at a contemporary furniture store that had a lot of eclectic stuff, with corresponding eclectic prices.  This couch met the needs of the time as far as style and budget and to be honest, has been pretty solid the whole time.  That’s not to say it’s been great.  The white vinyl stained and the chaise cushion continually slid out of place, leaving the back cushion to fall down.

The staining of the vinyl led to an experiment with painting the vinyl.  The initial appearance was really good, but the durability was absolutely terrible.  And with the couch now mostly painted, and looking in poor shape, it wasn’t eligible for donation.  I could do it, but not in good conscience.  So off to the dump.

How to get it to the dump?  Well, I have a station wagon, so let’s see if it will fit.  I took some rough measurements and the couch is almost an exact fit.  Lucky me.  However, I can’t get the two pieces of couch to interlock together so I can take them together.  So that means there’s going to be some destruction involved.

IMG_20210917_193954_01The first thing to do is to get the legs off.  Here you can see that I did not spray paint the non-visible parts of the couch, to save paint.  So no one would want to buy a couch like that, even from a thrift shop.  The legs, you can see, are removed and sitting on the coffee table.

Then it’s a matter of dragging the couch out to the garage to figure out how to take it apart.

The first thing I tried to do was take a sledgehammer to the back and sides.  I don’t really own a sledge, I just have a tiny hand sledge that I just use to pound things.  And so, pound I did, and nothing was really giving.  So it was time to do what the pros do – break out the Sawzall.

IMG_20210917_194009_01The Sawzall is one of those tools that is used in just about every DIY or home remodeling show.  I swear these people think it’s the greatest tool on earth.  I’m neutral on it.  I don’t have as much use for it, but I guess I should be glad to have one, because the few times I did use it, there wasn’t really any other alternative.

The first attempt at cutting was sort of lame and left me feeling stupid.  I didn’t think about the blade I was using and was using a course-tooth wood cutting blade.  I put the blade between two seams in the frame and started cutting.  It went smoothly for a while, then stopped.  I pushed through that and then realized, I had just cut through a screw.  I should be using a fine-tooth blade for metal cutting.  Duh.

A swap of blades and things went much smoother. Once I had that one piece separated, I had a better look at the construction of the couch.  It’s just a bunch of wood frames with vinyl streched over them, screwed together.  Gee, I could make one of these if I wanted.  But anyway, I saw the way the pieces were secured together and I thought it would just be better to find the screws and unscrew them instead of sawing through them.  So I did.

I used a utility knife and cut the fabric and vinyl to expose the frame, found the screws, which had been bent with a hammer to prevent any poking from happening, and removed them.  The back of the couch just slipped right off.

With the one half of the couch in three pieces, I could easy stack everything together into one bundle for transport.

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That’s all there is to the couch that took up all my living room.  Next weekend, it’s going to a landfill.  And I did get an answer to a question I had about the couch earlier,  It absolutely is a hand-made piece.  They used drywall screws throughout the construction.  Again, I could make one of these if I wanted to.

Studio Room

Formerly known as guest bedroom.  The room was completed last weekend and is now being utilized as designed.

So the first thing was finding a chair for the desk.  I had a desk planned out – moderately cheap Ikea – and wanted a decent chair.  I ended up with this one, which seems more and more of an oddity the more I consider it.

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All of the furniture was moved out to the garage for planned pickup by Salvation Army.  And then I had to get the desk from Ikea.  I was comparing the desk options to what I already had in my main office and the desk top I wanted was a little smaller than my existing one.  That memory is important and led to my first mistake.

At Ikea, I was just trying to be quick about the purchase and after finding out where the items were found in the warehouse, I went and grabbed the pieces.  The desk top was 55″, which is smaller than my desk, which is 63″.  I also bought the coordinating desk frame and rushed them home.  I built the table right away and when it was complete, something felt really off about teh finished product.

It was too small.  I measured it again.  Yes, it is 55″.  I measured my office desk.  Yes, 63″.  I looked online at Ikea’s catalog.  Oh.  The desk top I should have purchased was 62″, still smaller than my office desk.  So, I suddenly had a backup desk for the room.  That’s not too bad, because it was actually part of the eventual plan to have a craft desk in the room.  It just happened sooner than expected.

Back to Ikea to purchase the right size desk.  At checkout, I planned to pay cash and when the two pieces were rung up, it was more than I expected.  How do I keep screwing this up?  So I split the payment between cash and card, rushed the items home and built them up.  Now I had the right size desk.

And later, I reviewed the receipt from Ikea and it turns out the cashier rung up two desk frames instead of a frame and a desktop, which explained the extra $50.  Lesson learned.

So anyway, I had all the pieces.  Along with the desk, I had purchased new studio monitors and also a power strip to switch everything off and on at once.  With everything in place, this is the result.

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Chairs. Just Chairs.

A couple posts ago, I mentioned that I was looking for a high-quality chair for what will become my studio room.  Elsewhere, I discussed the aggravation in finding a suitable chair in the flood of garbage on the Internet.  The result of all of this has been a bit of capitulation on multiple fronts.

Primarily, since we’re talking about the studio room, I have decided I don’t require a top-grain leather office chair for this.  Comfort is still important, but since it’s going to be a low-utilization piece of furniture, I can let it slide.  I based part of my decision on my history.  Way back when, I used kitchen chairs as desk chairs.  They were comfortable and they worked absolutely fine.  So I opened my options up and went shopping.

And that’s the second bit.  Internet shopping is good for some stuff, but not really for furniture.  Not only for the fact you have to experience what you’re buying, but when you’re buying a single chair, you can find some interesting options in clearance areas of furniture stores.  One-offs, singletons, scratch-and-dents.  While I love and put a priority on quality, I do love a good bargain, and I like rescuing things, too.

Yesterday, I visited a furniture store I’d never been to before.  I assumed it was all fancy, formal stuff and I wouldn’t find anything, but it never hurts to look.  I used to love just browsing stores, but COVID sort of put a damper on that activity.  Anyway, in this store, they sold Stressless chairs and once again, I am astounded that anyone purchases those things.  I can’t see spending over $3k on a chair when you can get a sofa for 1/3 the price. 

But anyway, I did make it to the clearance section: a room with no AC, on the top floor in the corner of the building with half the ceiling lights turned off.  (If they were trying some sort of dissuasive psyche tactics on shoppers, they went way overboard.)  In the farthest corner of the room, there was a chair with no matching anything around it.  It was white wood and cloth, but was as basic as it could be and it sort of drew me in.  They gave me a quote of $100 for it and I left it for consideration.  Today, I think I’m going to move on it.

But yesterday, I didn’t have my mind made up.  I stopped at another store (actually 3 other stores, but the others were fruitless) and found a decent top-grain leather office chair that wasn’t obnoxious.  I looked at the price tag and was only mildly shocked.  It was on sale, $50 off!  Sale price: $850.

So here’s the final capitulation.  I had budgeted $300 for my “nice” office chair.  Research had shown me that a $300 budget was ridiculously low for the quality I was demanding.  Not that $300 won’t get you quality, don’t mistake me there, it is just not “lifetime” quality, which is what I am seeking.  $800-1200 is pretty much the going rate for a chair that will really last.  And I still don’t buy into the $3k Stressless chairs. 

Adding to all that, finding a style that is agreeable to me, and is not stupid expensive, and is top-grain leather, is definitely a rare find.  To be sure, I’ve looked at every major furniture store online and in person and not found another model that meets those criteria.  So I guess I’ve found my next office chair.

So there’s a $100 chair and a $850 chair added to my list.

Living Room AV

So the plan was to simply go to Ikea and buy a Besta unit and be done with it.  However, it appears that the pandemic has caused a severe inventory problem for Ikea.  Nothing is in stock and no idea when that will be resolved.

Not being interested in waiting longer than I have to, I began looking online for other AV units.  In all the different images, a few caught my eye.  Some had to be discarded because the dimensions wouldn’t work out.  Eventually I settled on one.  And in a strange way, it’s just the right one.  It’s a larger version of the credenza I have in the master bedroom.  Ok.

The delivery came last night and I wasted no time in putting it together and getting everything into it.  By the end of the night, I was able to listen to some music and the cats were jumping around the room.

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Here’s the initial placement with the speakers.

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Then with the components in place.

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Everything now in place.

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And all fired up.

I think I’m going to shift everything just a little to the right to line up the speaker with the end of the wall.  Not sure if I’m going to remove that artwork that’s partially blocked by the TV yet.  Still determining what d├ęcor items to fill in the empty spaces.

Guest Bedroom Redux

The actual title is “Guest Bedroom“.

Since this isn’t the blog for personal ruminations (look elsewhere for that story), this will just focus on the effects of the changes to the house.  And to sum up the changes, I’m getting rid of my guest bedroom.

So, the future plan is to make it another music room.  I have my music room right now, which I term, “the listening room”.  This new room is going to be a studio room for my music equipment and recording.  So maybe I need to rename these rooms “recording” and “playback”.  And with the bathroom situated between them, that should be called “pause”.

Now, on to the plans.  First of all, old furniture needs to go and new furniture needs to come in.  I called a donation center and was told they don’t take mattresses, so I planned on taking the mattress to the dump.  While searching for a moving bag for the mattress, I saw a vacuum bag, which gave me the idea to just compress the mattress and store it.  Maybe at some point in the future I’ll need a guest mattress.  If it’s compressed, no big deal.

But I will need to dispose of the bed frame, which is not good enough to donate, and the dresser and night stand, which can be donated.  They can go with the old TV stand from the living room.  All the other storage units in the room can stay.  And then, it’s time to get new stuff.

I will have my keyboard stand, guitar, and a monitor stand that also holds the recording computer.  That’s what I’m starting with.  What I’m looking forward to is not using a mini keyboard/trackpad on the computer and not having to stand or sit on a hard barstool.  I will get a nice table top where I can have a full keyboard and mouse and room for the mixer and other peripherals.  I’ll get a nice comfortable chair where I can spend an extended period working over song mixes instead of giving up after 30 minutes from body aches.  And I’ll have room to move instead of being crammed into a corner.

Tentative budget:

  • Table: $150
  • Chair: $300 (not going to skimp on this)
  • New studio monitors: $300

The timeframe is two months, tops.  Lotsa pieces coming together right now.  New TV stand arrives tomorrow.  Mattress bag over the weekend.  I can schedule a pickup of the furniture next week, chop up the bed frame for the garbage.  If things work out, I’ll have a small windfall of cash within a month to finance this and much more.

Say goodbye to this mess.

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The speakers in the lower-left will be out in a couple days.  The box on the floor is the new stereo for the living room.  The PC on the left has to stay.  We’ll make that work.  But anyway – progress!

I told myself: The house is yours, you should use all of it.  I listened.

Living Room Progress

The most recent thing I’ve been “working” on is redoing the living room.  The plan I developed had a few stages:

  • Replace shelving units
  • Replace couch
  • Replace AV system
  • Replace TV/AV cabinet

This list is pretty much in reverse order of execution.  Although the couch is ordered, by virtue of the current state of manufacturing and also the general practice of that manufacturer means I won’t see my couch for 20 weeks.  So in the meantime, I can work on the remainder of the items.  First up: the TV cabinet.

This is what I’m starting with:

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The plan is to replace the AV unit with actual tower speakers instead of little speakers.  This means I need to raise the TV to be higher than the speakers.  This is accomplished with the new planned TV cabinet.  However, the new speaker set has a center speaker that, when placed in front of the TV, blocks the screen.  I need to raise the TV even higher to compensate for the speaker.

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The problem with the TV is that the base is just a massive flat platform.  There’s no way to really raise it up or put something under it that’s going to be aesthetic or even functional.  In a moment of inspiration, I remembered the wall-mounting holes in the back of the TV and with a quick search, I discovered that you can buy replacement TV stands that utilize these mounting brackets.  And they’re cheap, too.

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So I quickly bought a stand that was compatible with my TV size.  When it arrived, I assembled it with little problem, removed the TV’s base, and attached the new stand, which is really just a couple of legs.  Unfortunately, I did not do any measuring in advance, so while the stand did fit my TV, it did not provide any additional vertical clearance over what the original base provided.  The whole point was to elevate it over the center speaker.  So back online to order a bigger stand.  At least these things are cheap.

The new stand arrived and after assembly and installation, I found it was more than adequate to raise the TV over the speaker.  With a little experimentation, I found that it resulted in a perfect fit, where the TV would sit right at the speaker’s top.  So that step is now complete.

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As far as the AV system goes, I have received the speakers (obviously, since I’ve been testing out the fitment) and I’ve also acquired the new receiver/amplifier.  I decided on the Denon AVR-S540BT because it had the most flexibility in connections and also 2 subwoofer outputs in case I wanted to have stereo subs.  Using a gift card earned from credit card rewards, it only cost me $70.  I can’t complain.

Reconsidered Living Room

Since most of my remodeling work is done now (next mid-range project is bathroom tile redo), I’ll have a small set of posts on my plans for the living room.

One of the more fulfilling projects was the completion of my music listening room.  There wasn’t much to it, just the purchase of equipment and a little furniture.  Well, the building of the CD shelving, also.  The room has been a great place to listen to music in excellent quality and I do it fairly regularly, whenever I purchase new CDs, to give each a fair listen in their entirety.

One day, while picking up some CDs, the store also had a season boxset of Futurama, and I picked that up as well.  I don’t watch a lot of TV at all.  Prior to having the listening room, I used to listen to music using Plex on my TV through my home theater system in the living room.  This was “wind-down time” each night and the cats would always happily accompany me, winding down their night before we all went to bed.

While I was working though the Futurama DVDs, I noticed that the cats were joining me and seemed very relaxed and happy.  This was something they did not do often in the music room.  For one, there is a cat tree in there, so if they’re in the room at all, they’re climbing and playing and not really chilling out.  So, I sort of got the idea in my head that “wind-down time” needs to come back, for everyone’s benefit.

The system on which I watch TV and listen to Plex is a Panasonic HT-in-a-box bought new in 2005.  A 5-disc DVD changer, 5 speakers and a subwoofer.  It plays sound, but I figure it’s geared more to movie playback than audio playback.  So I think I’m going to swap it out.  I have a spare high-quality DVD player that will play all the CD formats, the Pioneer Elite DV-47ai.  I just need a few other things.

Speakers – on a quick online search, I see that Woot is selling a 5pc speaker set from Jamo.  Jamo is the maker of the subwoofers in my listening room and I have no complaints with them.  They’re pretty stylish, too.  The kit price is $50 more than buying just the tower speakers alone, so that’s not a bad deal.

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To fit the speakers and also to provide a better environment for the audio components, I’m going to have to replace the TV stand.  The one I have now is very low to the ground.  It’s always seemed a little too low.  I can get an Ikea stand that just about perfectly matches up with the height of speakers – the Besta.

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Now, the receiver/amplifier.  I could get away with using one of the ones I already have, but there’s couple functional differences between how I want to operate in the living room vs. a listening room.  For one, I do want everything to be remote controlled, where I don’t really want that in my listening room.  So, I’m going to have to buy a new device.  And not only that, I’ll be working with more modern devices, like the Roku, so I’ll want HDMI connectivity.  Two of the front-runners are a Denon.and a Yamaha.

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While the choice of receiver is still up in the air, I do know I’m going to use CC rewards to pay for the majority of it.  I can get a $250 gift card from Best Buy to offset the cost.  I can’t do it today, but soon.  Maybe in 2-3 months I’ll have enough points.  There’s a lot of considerations I have to make based on the inputs and outputs, more than a normal person would put into the purchase.

So this plan can’t be knocked out right away, but can be worked on in stages, and I’ve discovered that’s a really good thing for me.  In fact, the speakers are already purchased and are on the way.  They’ll sit in boxes for a couple of months, but it will be a good feeling to have them ready when I am ready.  The TV stand I can pick up this week and actually put it in place right away.  The receiver, like I said, is a couple months away, and that’s the final piece. Or is it?

A while ago, I extended the lifespan of my living room couch by changing its color with fabric paint.  To be completely honest, it was acceptable, but in no way was it durable.  Any section that took any amount of usage wore the paint right off.  I do have an extra can of paint I could add more layers and maybe make it more durable, but it’s not worth the effort.  I think it’s time to replace this couch.  I mean the couch is from 2005 as well.

And that might be 2 months of effort just to find the right one for me.  My standards are exceedingly high (which will be exceeded even further by the cost).  Obviously, I plan on making this the last couch I ever buy.  To be fair, I feel I’m at a point in my life where many of the things I do will be the last time I ever do them, if I do them right.

A quick search for leather couches returns hundreds of options.  That’s about as far as I can go at once.  It’s going to take many more attempts at dipping my foot into the pool to actually commit.  And then, I have to determine if the savings of buying online will be worth the risk of not passing a butt test.  My suspicion is that I will probably buy from a physical store for the additional reason that they may haul away the old couch.

Anyway, that’s the long-winded plan for the living room.  Details will be coming in future posts.

Guest Bed Improvements

This blog has been pretty quiet.  It doesn’t seem like there’s a lot I have been doing with the house.  I took on a small project today for something that was a small annoyance.

The guest bed, which used to be my primary bed for many years, is a simple Ikea frame.  At one point, the mattress was upgraded to a Tempurpedic and as part of that upgrade, the frame needed improvement.

Those memory foam mattresses don’t like to be on open slats.  There should be a solid platform for them to site on, or at least minimal space between the slats.  To solve that deficiency, I purchased additional slats from Ikea and doubled them up, making a solid base.  Problem solved.  Somewhat.

At some point, it began to be an issue where the slats would slide out of place and fall down.  At the time, this was resolved by placing a piece of old garden hose between the slats to hold them flush wit the outer frame and keep them from sliding.  Problem solved again.

At some even later point, the bed was disassembled and moved around and the center hose piece was discarded.  At the time, it wasn’t a big deal because there was a nice new bed to use (with its own problems, fixed and documented here)..  But sometimes, I will use use the guest bed for napping and once in a blue moon, someone else may use the bed.  And in these instances, slats will fall.

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A few days ago, I set my mind to thinking about how I was going to fix the problem.  I didn’t have the hose anymore.  I didn’t want to buy a hose to replace it because that was a hack solution anyway.  The better solution would be to have a wood strip between the two slats to seal the gap.  But I didn’t have wood like that and the idea of me cutting a long thin strip of wood was sure to end in disappointment, especially when the gaps between the slats weren’t uniform.

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As I was disassembling the bed, I found I had two different versions of slats, each with different widths.  Additionally, I found some of the frame rail screws had worked a bit loose.  So I tightened up all the screws and put all the slats of one type on one side.

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Then, my solution was to “extend” the other slats to fill in the gap between them and the other side.  The method I chose for this extension was: screws.  Cheap drywall screws, of which I had plenty sitting around.  I bundled up a bunch of slats, got some screws and a power driver and drove one screw in the the end of each slat.

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The screws effectively lengthened the slats by an adjustable amount.

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Further, each screw could be individually adjusted to compensate for any difference in gap width, which was caused when a frame screw jutted out too far from the rail.

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You can see the slight difference between some of the slats.  There was also a difference towards the center.  Apparently, the frame is bowing out wider in the middle from age and use.

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With all the slats in and adjusted to prevent any horizontal sliding, the bed is once again rock solid and all set for a nap.  Which is exactly what I did right away.

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