Adorne, Still

When I began my renovations, over 2 years ago, my plan was to update all the switches and outlets with Legrand Adorne products.  This was a very costly decision, but I was determined to make it happen, partially by buying the pieces cheaply (or at least cheaper) on EBay and also by stretching out my purchases to only what I needed room by room.  Well, because we’re accelerating to a house sale in the near future, I can’t leave the house only partially updated.  So that is requiring me to buy all the Adorne pieces that I need quickly.  I’m still doing ok on pricing, but the scale of my purchases are pretty significant.

While finishing up the second bedroom/former office, I realized my lack of product.  I rushed and found a lot of 10 wall plates on EBay.  $70 right there.  That will cover the two bedrooms, but I still have the living room and kitchen.  I found a series of lots of wall plates and ordered 14 more – another $70.  The next day, I checked my house diagram against my “inventory” and realized I needed 22 outlets and 19 switches yet.  Holy shit.

I found a seller with outlets and bought all 22 that I needed – $100.  That actually worked out well, because the seller was having a free shipping promo if you bought 6 or more.  That saved me over $50.  Of course, I would not have even purchased them if I had to pay $50 in shipping!

I just bought 2 fan switch controls for the living room and guest bedroom – $75.  So now, I’m on the hunt for light switches.  Normal price for them is about $6.  That’s $114 at the worst.  Then at some point, I will need to confirm that I have enough wall plates for both switches and outlets.  Early on, I bought some stainless steel plates for super-cheap.  They aren’t super-cheap anymore.  Whether I will be able to utilize the metal plates in all the noticeable places is to be seen.

Project: Flooring

With the new goal of moving out, there’s a renewed urgency in updating the house, now not so much for my own enjoyment, but for a potential new owner’s.  One of the mid-term projects I had planned was to replace the carpeting with a hard surface, in this case, laminate.  It’s tempting to say hardwood, but they are not the same thing, and it’s best to be accurate.

The house is a mix of tile and carpet.  Tile in all the open areas and carpet in the living areas.  That is three bedrooms and a living room of carpeted space, plus the master closet and linen closet.  A lot of time passed between the decision that this would need to be done before the house was listed and actually moving on the project.  And the result of that procrastination is that I didn’t really get any competitive bids.  I chose one place and went with their installer program.  I was set up with an appointment for the contractor to come out and measure the rooms and provide an installation quote.

In the meantime, I roughly measured the rooms myself and whipped up a spreadsheet to get a rough idea of whether the project was even financially feasible.  I budgeted $2/sft for the flooring and $.30/sft for pad.  My room measurements came to 675sft, around $1500 for materials.  Even if installation was $2/sft, that still puts me under $3k.  That is reasonable.

I went to the store to see if there was any product within my budget.  There were a couple of options between $1.49 and $1.99, so I was satisfied.  While there, I priced out pad.  The store had a very persuasive display demonstrating the different types of pad and the sound effects of each.  When you knocked on the foam pad, it was a very loud, hollow sound.  When you knocked on the next levels up, the sound was very muted.  Now, I was a little skeptical at how accurate that sound was on the foam pad, but I was still sold on getting mid-grade padding.  Foam pad is $.25/sft, while mid-grade pad is $.65/sft.  Now my material cost is almost $1800.  Ok.  Still doable.

The contractor comes out and measures the rooms.  He arrives at 800sft. Additionally, he adds in mouldings and transitions, which I knew would be part of the install, but had no idea how to calculate.  Then there’s the cost of moving furniture, which is actually pretty reasonable at $20/room.  Then there’s the overage.  You should have 10% overage to handle things like angles and partial boards and you know, the unexpected.  Bottom line, the install is going to be $2500 and the materials will be around $2500 as well.

From an initial budget of under $3k to an actual budget of $5k.  Well, I guess that’s always how things go.  Is it going to add $5k of value to the price of the house?  That’s not the actual question that should be asked.  The question is, will the current state of the carpet result in a $5k reduction in price?  Or will it cause potential buyers to walk away?  If I was a buyer, the answer would be yes, so this is a project that has to be done.

The contractor asked what the timeline for the project would be.  Based on all my previous projects, I know if I don’t say “right now”, I simply won’t do it.  So, installation is going to happen in a week.  It will take 4 days – one room a day.

Bedroom Office Work

With the guest bathroom mostly done and my computer stuff moved out to the new lanai office, my former office is now clear for work.  The first step as usual is the removal everything from the walls and ceiling.  So the massive fan came down and all the ikea shelves were taken down as well.

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Then the tedious process of removing the popcorn ceilings.  this time I attempted to take my time and do smaller sections, but as usual near the end, my arms got very tired from holding up bags of water-soaked popcorn texture.  It made me think that there needs to be a means of collecting the ceiling debris without gaining weight.  This idea is partially in my head as a plastic chute that reaches from the scraper down to a garbage can on the floor.  I think I can create something like this with plastic sheeting.  When it’s time to do the other bedroom, I’ll be ready for it.

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After getting the ceiling scraped, the next step is priming and painting.  But, there’s another couple of issues to address as well.  The closet of this room has some fixes that need made.  First, it is my failed attempt at a centralized wiring closet for network, phone and cable.  I had it all planned out.

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And it turned out a lot shittier than I planned.

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So all that needs to come out.  I will relocate the router and UPS to the laundry room, on the wall next to the security system cabinet.  The video and phone cabling will remain in the attic.  I have the coax splitter and equipment shelf on order already.

The other issue in the closet is an almost-hole in the ceiling.  I assume my wonderful handymen put their foot down in the wrong place while they were futzing around in the attic.  I never even noticed it for months and months.  So that will need cut out and replaced.  That will be done at the same time I patch up the holes I made with the conduit.  (What was I thinking?  It’s so trashy looking.)

Guest Bath Redo

When I first bought the house in 2005, the guest bathroom was used by the owner’s two children, one of which was a typical little girl that loved bright colors.  The bathroom was painted a bright lime green.  I lived with it for quite a while like that, but then changed it to a shade of orange to match some marble bath accessories.

Well, it’s time to change it up again.  When I changed the hardware on the cabinets, I went with an antique bronze color, which was a better look against the plum-colored cabinets than nickel.  I have matching Adorne plates for the switches and outlets as well.  But the wall color is going to be brighter, the popcorn ceiling is going to get removed, and I’ll probably convert the florescent light fixture to LED.

I have a pretty tight schedule for completion and after the first day, I’m already behind.  Day 1 was supposed to end with the popcorn off the ceiling and letting the ceiling dry.  It actually ended up with all the hardware removed off the wall and prepped for patching.  This is an example of poor planning.

*Weeks go by*

And now I have the ceiling done and painted, and the walls painted, which involved removing the toilet to paint behind it.  I still have to swap out the power outlet and switches with bronze Adone pieces, install a new curved shower rod, and I also now want to change out the faucet and shower hardware to matching bronze.

For the lighting, I did leave the soffit in place, unlike the master bath where I pulled it out.  This meant I could replace the florescent light fixture with a simple LED shop light fixture.  That may be solution in other places where florescent lights are used, like maybe the kitchen.

I’m going to learn a new skill with this project, mixing and applying grout.  The toilet was secured with a grout base, which was all broken out when I pulled it off.  Without that base, the toilet wobbles just a little bit.  It should be easy, but doing anything the first time always leaves the opportunity for mistakes.

With the grout applied, the toilet is solid.  However, the color of the paint isn’t as good as expected, so the room needs repainted.  On the plus side, when I replaced the toilet, I used a new rubber seal instead of a wax ring.  They claim it can be repositioned, and I’m guessing it can be reused, which is great since the toilet needs to come back off for repainting.

After another night of painting, which included removing and replacing the toilet, I’m now ready to replace the outlet and switches.  The outlet is GFCI protected, so it was convenient that I could change out all the switches with the breaker off while having a work light powered by the outlet.  Then I turned the breaker back on and cut the GFCI circuit to change the outlet.  I flew through the changes so fast, I didn’t realize the outlet plate was made for 3 modules, while means there was a gap.  So the next day, I pulled it apart and swapped the GFCI outlet with a standard outlet and put a USB module in the bottom so it all fit.  That saved me about $30 instead of buying a new metal wall plate.

So, aside from wall hardware like towel and paper holders, this project is complete.

Relocating Network

As mentioned on another post, I originally designed one of the bedroom closets to be my “wiring closet” and my attempt at setting it all up was pretty lame.  One of the worst parts is that technically, by code, you can’t have a power outlet in a closet.  Probably something about flammable clothing and enclosed spaces and electricity and on and on.  So that meant, I had to run an extension cord into the closet to the UPS, which fed my networking equipment.

At the time, I wanted it to be a centralized place for cable, network, and phone connections.  As time has gone on, the cable and phone connections have become much less valuable, since they have more or less become obsolete.  Further, these are not connections that change often, if ever.  There’s no reason for needing them to be in an easily accessible place.  Lastly, the networking equipment has been reduced since my original plan.  Where before I had a cable modem, router, and switch, now I only have one device that does all of that. 

So the new plan is to place the router and UPS on a shelf in the laundry room, next to the security system.  There is a power outlet high on the wall to feed to security system, so that is a perfect place to also power the router.  It’s a good central location for WiFi, too.

The first thing I did was purchase an 8-way passive coax splitter for the cable.  In my original design, I had purchased an active splitter, but was quickly disappointed that it didn’t support the extended bandwidth required for digital cable.  So I was out that money, and eventually just had a tiny 4-way splitter hanging from the ceiling.  When the splitter came in, I went right up in the attic, pulled the coax cables back up into the attic and connected them all on the new splitter.  Everything worked and that was phase one complete for the relocation.

The next step will be pulling the phone wires back up into the attic.  The wires are all joined together on a joined patch panel, and I’m undecided if I want to keep that or not.  In any case, the wires will remain in the attic.

The biggest part will be done last, relocating the network and router.  Currently, I have the network wires dropped down from the ceiling, terminated at a patch panel, then patched between the panel and the router.  My initial thought was to just terminate the drops and plug them right into the router from a hole in the ceiling.  I’m so glad I didn’t act on that right away because I thought up a much cleaner solution.  I will install a work box in the ceiling and terminate the runs at keystone jacks, then patch those from the ceiling jack to the router.  So instead of having a patch panel, I just have jacks in the ceiling.  No ugly holes.

So I have four network runs and I’ll need one coax jack for the router.  That should be a piece of cake.

And then I tried to execute my plan.  I cut a hole in the ceiling and installed the work box.  Then I climbed in the attic and tried to locate the box.  I couldn’t find it.  Back downstairs and stuffed a long zip tie up there.  Back up.  Still don’t see anything anywhere.  Back down.  Pull the box out and see there’s a sheet of wood right over the hole I cut.  Sigh.  Drill a hole through the wood and stuff the zip tie in it.  Back up in the attic.  Still don’t see a zip tie or hole anywhere.

This is getting pretty frustrating.  I take measurements of my outlet hole relative to things like the AC vent and the lighting fixture.  I go back up and by the same measurements, my outlet hole is just on the other side of a large wood structure, capped with drywall.  I go out to the shed and get an old, old drill bit I had used many years ago.  It’s like 18 inches long for drilling through ceilings and stuff.  I drill a bigger hole in my outlet, then use the bit to see if I can get to the drywall above it.  Just barely.  I try as hard as possible and then head back into the attic to see if I pierced it.  I didn’t.  By this time, I am completely worn out from squeezing through rafters and joists and balancing on 2x4s.  But I kept trying.

Next, I grab my drill, put a hole saw on it and came in from above.  Once I cut the hole, I peeked down to see if I could find the holes I made coming up from the outlet.  I didn’t see them.  I tried to make out what I was looking at and noticed the the surface below the hole seemed yellow.  Then a sick realization dawned on me.  I went back down and walked around to my front entryway.  I had just drilled a hole in my ceiling above the plant shelf.  The plant shelf was inset on the wall and was above the point I installed my wire outlet.  So that means I’ve also drilled a hole in the floor of the plant shelf as well.  I could see beside the large hole I drilled in the ceiling a heavily damaged part of ceiling where my 18” drill bit but barely managed to touch.  This is a total disaster.

Back up in the ceiling, I get more aggressive trying to locate the outlet hole.  There was a AC conduit hanging in the way and some sheet insulation and a bunch of blown insulation in the way, but I did eventually see light from below.  There was about a 1/4” of space between two wooden beams that I could slide wiring between.  And so I did.  Until I realized that two runs from the back bedroom wouldn’t reach.

So now, I had to hack up an extension for those two runs to reach their destination.  Back down and up a few more times and I ended up creating one extension and breaking another.  All I want is Internet back on my desktop.  Please.  I give up in the attic for the night and terminate the two runs from the office.  I struggle the UPS and router up on the shelf and connect the network runs.  Miraculously, it worked.

At this point, I have to extend the network lines from the bedroom, re-terminate the bedroom jacks with Adorne jacks, terminate the bedroom lines at the other end and install the face plate.  Then I can worry about fixing the holes in the ceiling in the other room.

The Future Office Progress

This room.  Originally it was an office, then it got cleared out and was pretty much empty, except for some random bins.  Then I finally got my ass in gear and had the ceiling fixed, which was a disaster in itself.  So then the room sat again.

In a tiny bit of motivation, which I thought would spur further work, I disconnected all the electrical outlets so the room could be painted.  The room sat again.  Sometimes we would need to run the window AC unit and would not have to run an extension cord from the bathroom across the floor.

In another small moment of inspiration, we primed the walls in preparation of painting.  That made a nice improvement, brightening the room, which was sort of a brownish shade.  And then the room sat again.  All this time, the conduit for the power is sitting outside, getting rained on and rusting slightly.

I brought the conduit inside finally and started at least making mental preparations to repaint it.  At around the same time, I purchased the paint for the room, so there would be one less excuse for not working on it.  The day came for painting and the color made the room more inviting.  However, not having electric in the room made it uninviting.  We still had the power cord running across the room.

The next idea for the room was painting the trim… black.  It was a bold choice.  While the trim was being done, I set to work finalizing the electric.  I painted the conduit and drilled a hole through the cinder block so I could mount a power outlet outside.  Then I reinstalled the conduit and outlet boxes, running the extra power line outside to the outlet outside.  After it was all connected, I turned the power back on and it all worked without any fires.  That’s a good sign.

Meanwhile, the black trim was turning into a wonderful design choice.  Where the borders of the windows stood out in white paint against the dark brown aluminum frames, painting the borders black made the windows blend in.

The last major thing to do to the room is to curtain the windows so it doesn’t get so ungodly hot in there and also to provide a little privacy and less sun glare when I move my computer stuff in.  Then, it’s putting some shelves on the wall and decorating.

Over the weekend, we queued up a couple of other projects to try and complete: an art wall in the bedroom, new curtains for the front window, and an exercise bar for the future garage.

AC Day

I’m getting the AC swapped out in the house.  It’s been between 77 and 81 degrees in the house for a couple of weeks now.

Two guys showed up at 9:00 sharp to begin.  By about 1:00, I had cool air moving.  At that time it was 85 in the house, so the new system had its work cut out.

The new condenser outside is much more quiet than the beast that was out there before.  It’s shorter and fatter too, if that makes any sort of efficiency difference.

In the attic, everything is new.  A new drop pan to replace the seriously rusted old one.  Even the mounting of the air handler was improved.  It got raised up a few inches and a new plywood base was installed.  I’m keeping my existing air filter box, which has a non-functioning UV light attachment on it.  Maybe some day I will replace the UV light, I’ve been told they are costly.  To do that, I would have to run a power line to it, since the half-assed previous install powered the UV light from a power socket off the attic light.  If you switch off the attic light at the switch, the UV light is turned off, too.  That’s stupid.

At the same time, I had the guys install a new programmable, WIFI thermostat.  I am really against cloud-based management, but I will admit, being able to see my thermostat in a web browser was cool.  If I can do the same thing locally, staying inside my network, I will be good to go.

After a day of usage, I feel a little underwhelmed.  It took a really long time to cool the house.  8 hours later, the temp had dropped 10 degrees.  Maybe that’s normal, but my old system, when it was running well, would drop the temp 5 degrees an hour.

I’ve read a lot of HVAC and learned that having an oversized AC unit may not be the best thing because it cools the air too quickly and doesn’t reduce enough humidity.  To handle this, advanced systems (like my old one) will run the fan at a slower speed to dehumidify without as much cooling.  That feature was eliminated when I changed the motor to a single-speed, so I have no idea if this system is better or not.  Also, I never had a hygrometer in my old thermostat, so I have no idea what the interior humidity was.

A day later, the system has held my house at 73 degrees all day, so that’s a good thing.  And I know this because I can check the temp remotely.

Cat Door

It was many years ago that I ruined the property value of my house by installing a cat door leading out to the screened-in porch.  At the time, there were two cats, Bubbles and Rump.  Bubbles came with the house when I bought it because the sellers saw she was more friendly with me than she was with them.  Rump was a stray that I befriended on Halloween and she decided I was her new owner and this was her house.

Both cats enjoyed going “outside” on the patio, and as cats are wont to do, they would request to go out, or more accurately, request the door be opened so they could decide if they wanted to go out.  And if no one was there to open the door, well, tough shit.  So, I purchased a cat door so they could help themselves.

As it turned out, Bubbles never understood how to use the door, but Rump figured it out on day one and used it for the rest of her times.  In the middle of the night, you would hear her knocking on the door before she pushed her considerable girth through the opening.  The door had a lock, but it was rarely used.

I can’t even remember how I installed the door.  I know I didn’t have near the collection of tools I have now.  And so it’s not really a surprise the installation is not as good as it could be.  The one big issue is the opening isn’t as even on the outside as it should be.  Also, over the years, the plastic has turned yellow from the sunlight and from having a dirty cat in and out for years, the door and channel was full of hair and cat litter.  With the expectation that a new cat is coming to the house, it was time to replace the door.

Surprisingly or not, it seems the model of door I have was discontinued a while ago.  But there’s still some places that sell what’s left over.  And so I bought one.  About $40.  It’s been so long, I can’t remember what I paid for the original.  And this time, when I install the new door, I can correct the opening and it should look much better.

So the old door, as I said, was old and yellowed and dirty from years of use.

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While I had the old door off, I used a file to open up the door hole where it touched the plastic.  I also superglued the tunnel to the inside frame for stability.  When I got it all assembled in place, this was definitely for the best.  You can see in the gross close-up of the old outside view how the tunnel had separated from the inside frame.

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The new install is nice and white and you can particularly see how the tunnel is in better shape now.  It actually almost protrudes past the outside frame.

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All ready for a new cat.  Coming this week.

A/C Approved

There was a slight breakdown in communication with my A/C replacement quote.  For whatever reason, the office thought I had already been given the quote, but the person giving the quote didn’t write anything down.  I explained that I was told they would call me because I had questions about available rebates from my local electric company.  So whatever, we’re talking now.

I was so nervous about what the quote was going to be, I was hardly listening for anything else.  The quote is… are you ready… the technician wrote down a quote of… this is for a 3 ton system… it’s a 16 seer unit… (I can’t afford that!) this unit has a 10 year warranty…  and the cost is… including installation… $3,975.

Exhale.  So, it’s not a celebration-grade quote, but it is well within budget.  So now, I get to tweak the parameters to see where I can go with this.  The first thing I asked about was this electric company rebate.  The rebate is not available for electric heat systems, which this is.  It’s only for heat pumps.  So what would that run me?  Something like $4,300, and the rebate would be $300.  The only problem is, I would have to have additional wiring done, which is an unknown and would certainly add to the cost.  The last time I did wiring, for the pool, it was over $1,000.  And who knows what that would do to the install timeline.  So, we’re going to stay where we are.

Next, let’s address the SEER rating.  I have read that the higher seer units jump up in cost rapidly.  So, how much can I save by dropping efficiency?  Well, there’s a 14 seer option and that’s about $3,200.  There’s no 15 seer option.  I think the quote was spot on the first time.  Now I need to make a 50% deposit and I’m on the schedule.

Yeah, about that schedule.  This is the middle of June in Florida.  It sure would have been convenient for my AC unit to die in the winter time, but it’s gonna do what it’s gonna do.  And what it did was coordinate with all its brethren and join in a mass suicide.  So, my appointment is tentatively scheduled for two weeks out.  Maybe there will be a cancellation or maybe another job will get wrapped up early and I can get promoted, but I’m probably going to be getting used to 80 degrees in the house.

And you know what?  When it’s 93 degrees outside, 80 feels pretty damn good.  I can’t really say I’m hurting too badly.  I can sleep at night with the ceiling fan and a sheet.  I can jump in the pool to cool off, now that I have a fully-restored and fully-maintained pool.  If I really got desperate, I could make one of those Styrofoam cooler AC units with a desktop fan and some ice.

Now that I go back and look at my service call invoice from last Thursday, yeah, the cost of the new AC unit is on there.  I guess I didn’t need to sweat it.  But, I don’t remember being told that was the estimated cost.  And it lacked the detail of the quote that I got today, so it all worked out as it should.

Air Conditioning

It’s hot in the house.

Today, I should be getting a quote to install a new AC system.  My old AC system is probably 15 years old, judging by some documentation I was able to find on it.  It has finally reached its end-of-life.

The AC unit has always been a little finicky.  For as long as I can remember, there were occasions where the compressor outside would just shut off and the blower inside would keep running.  Soon, it would be blowing nothing but hot air.  The fix for this was to pull the thermostat off the wall and put it back on after a few seconds.  Seriously.  It was like pulling the battery of your non-responsive cell phone, except it is your house.  Oddly, flipping the circuit breaker switches wouldn’t even resolve it.

I’ve had techs come out more and more frequently to fix things.  Over time, it’s been a bad solenoid, a failed blower motor, a bad thermostat, a failed cooling fan, and a clogged air filter (duh, me).  This time I brought them out and the diagnosis was grim.  The compressor outside was not performing up to par.  There’s not really a way to fix that, so it has to be replaced.  The tech said the compressor was only drawing 6 amps of power when it should be drawing around 15.  Conversely, when the compressor starts up, it spikes the power, at about 52 amps.  My suspicion is that it is requiring a large boost of power to break out of its inertia. Regardless of the reason, 52 amps is pretty close to my circuit breaker’s limit of 60 amps.  So, if it fails much further, it’s just going to start tripping the circuit breaker and then it will just never start up again.

I asked the tech what brands they sell and the response was ComfortMaker.  I’d never heard of the brand before and I thought it was a pretty dumb name, very generic sounding.  Internet research shows that ComfortMaker is a known brand and is a sub-brand (more or less) of Carrier, which is a very well-known brand.  One of the other interesting bits of knowledge I picked up is that “they don’t make them like they used to.”  That’s hardly news, but there’s actually a reason for it.  My unit, as old as it is, is built like a tank.  But that build quality comes at a cost.  Just like automobiles, the older cars were built like tanks, but they were inefficient.  They would last forever because of their heavyweight components, but would cost a lot of money doing so.  Newer AC units are highly efficient, but they gain that efficiency by using thinner copper pipes and lighter materials.  These parts wear out quicker, but they save you money while they’re running.  So I guess the take-away is to bank whatever you save from a new system for your next system.  The march of progress.

I’ve also been researching a bit about tonnage and SEER and heat pumps.  A Q&D calculation says I should have a 2.5 ton compressor.  I currently have a 4 ton compressor and a 5 ton air handler.  Why’s that?  Well, the old knowledge was: bigger is better.  Plus, the house used to have a converted garage as a game room, so a bigger unit was needed anyway.  Old knowledge was that you could gain efficiency by having a larger air handler than your compressor.  Also, they thought that if your compressor runs less, you’re saving money.  But all that advice is gone now.  The new knowledge is just size the unit correctly.  You shouldn’t have your compressor cycling frequently because of the wear on the unit and the large power draw when it starts up.  It’s better to have it run constantly when it’s hot (which mine is doing now, although that’s not a good thing in my case).

So today, I am waiting on the proposal to do the work.  A co-worker coincidently also was having AC trouble and while he got his system stumbling again, he chose to schedule a replacement.  His quote was $8k.  Ouch.  That’s a bit over my maximum budget.  One difference is that he’s going to have an extra return duct installed with the new system.  Mine should hopefully just be a simple swap-out. 

My budget for this is:  $3k, no-brainer; $5k, soft maximum; $7k, hard maximum.  I was told there is about a 1 week lead time on scheduling an install, so I’m going to have to get used to 80 degree indoor temps for a while.  Unfortunately, this pushes back my plans to install a garage door.  But, this was a known upcoming expense.  That and a new roof.  With the pool already redone, once the AC and roof are redone, the house will be brought back to current specs and should be good for another decade or so.