Hole made whole

For several weeks, we had this mess in our front yard:

When we had our natural gas fireplace/heater installed, we said goodbye to the hulking oil furnace formerly occupying about 12 precious square feet out of the total 840 in our little house.  We also said goodbye to the underground oil tank in our front yard.  It was hardly noticeable from the surface, but legally we had to decommission it since we weren’t using it anymore.  

Unfortunately, upon removal of the tank, it was discovered that some heating oil had leaked out into the soil.  The contractors had to come back later and dig an even bigger hole to get rid of the soil with the highest level of contamination.  While doing that, the main water line to our house was hit with some piece of digging equipment and dented.  It might not have been a problem, but we insisted it be fixed by a plumber while the ground was still open.  That ended up taking a while to coordinate.  When the plumber finally came, he said he wouldn’t do the work until the contractor filled up the hole most of the way up to where the water line was.  I guess he didn’t want to get in and out of a 6-foot hole.  So the contractors came back again.

They put in some perforated PVC pipes in the bottom of the hole with a vertical PVC pipe sticking up.  Later, they would pump some bioremediation solution into that pipe, I think three different times over the course of about two months.

The yellow pipe you see is our natural gas line.  Fortunately that was not damaged during the digging.  They did know about the water pipe and the natural gas pipe before work began.  Once the PVC pipes were in place, they started filling up the hole with gravel.  And check out how they got the gravel into the hole - by launching it off the end of a conveyor belt from a truck parked on the street.  I took some video of this process.

Gravel launched from conveyor belt into hole from Kelly & Matt on Vimeo.

After that, the plumber came back and fixed the pipe, and later the same day the contractor returned the fill in the top foot or so with clean soil.  Yay!

It still doesn’t look great, I mean it’s a large area of bare dirt in our yard.  But the fact that it is level with the rest of the ground and lacks orange fencing, plastic sheeting, and plywood is such a huge improvement that it looks gorgeous to us.


That darn oil tank

In my post about our newly painted house, did you happen to notice the mess in our front yard?  Allow me to point it out in case you missed it.  You were probably focused on how great the house itself is looking these days.

It would be more noticeable if the orange fencing was upright and surrounding the gaping hole in our front yard like it’s supposed to be, but it had to come down so the painters could maneuver around the house, so it’s kind of in a heap right now.  There’s a big sheet of plywood covering the hole right now to keep people from falling in.

And why, you may ask, is there a big hole in our front yard?  Now that we’ve made the switch from oil to natural gas heat, getting rid of our 1950’s oil furnace and gaining a gorgeous and efficient gas fireplace, we had to decommission the oil tank.  Local law requires unused buried oil tanks to be cleaned, filled, and capped, or removed entirely.  We opted to have it removed.  When the contractor dug out the old oil tank, they discovered it had been leaking oil into the soil around it.  Not surprisingly, test results showed the soil contamination was over the legal limit.  We had hoped this wouldn’t be the case, but fortunately we were prepared for it anyway.  The good news is that our state (Washington) sponsors a free insurance program, PLIA, to cover cleanup of leaking heating oil tanks.  We signed up for it as soon as we bought our house, so this shouldn’t cost us any extra money.  Whew.  The bad news is that:

1) we have a big hole in the front yard and we have to wait for the state to approve our claim before cleanup can start;

2) the hole smells like oil, yuck;

3) the contractor will have to dig up even more of the yard to remove the contaminated soil; and

4) this whole thing is going to take several weeks at least.

So for now we have to live with this mess in the yard (hey, we’ve been living with various messes for two years, why stop now?), and just be grateful that it’s not going to cost us a fortune and it’s probably not going to involve excavating the entire yard.  Maybe I shouldn’t say that and jinx it.  After all, I once said the tank probably wasn’t leaking.  In picture format.  See?  D’oh.

LUST = leaking underground storage tank.  We’ll keep our fingers crossed that the contamination isn’t any worse than our contractor estimated.


Front garden

I’m not even going to refer to the area in front of our house as a yard anymore.  It does have some grass (for now), but Matt has essentially transformed the yard into a garden.  We have some crazy garlic/onion/? seed pods that I think are pretty cool looking. 

Raspberries - sooo delicious.  Several nice harvests over the past few weeks. 

Pretty flowers, I don’t know their names.  Matt put in a nice selection that between different plants have been blooming since spring.

Mixed herb and ornamentals.  Matt tossed in a few stone and ceramic tiles we picked out of the Free bin outside of our tile store when we picked up the slate for our hearth.   We were pulling away from the loading dock when we saw the bin, and we were practically drooling as we collected a number of nice random tiles plus a whole bunch of plain white ceramic tiles.  I just couldn’t resist.  I do admit that I have a mild hoarding problem.  They will come in useful someday, I know it!

In the photo above, you can’t see it but our underground oil tank is lurking under the patch of grass between the garden bed, the poor rhododendron Matt hacked down to a sad collection of branches, and that bushy thing in the upper left corner.  Now that we have burned through most of the oil in the tank are so close to having our new fireplace/heater installation completed, it’s time to decommission the tank.  The options are decommission in place (clean it, fill it with sand or foam, and leave it in the ground) or removal.  We are leaning toward removal so that we can be sure there was no leakage and we won’t have to deal with any concerns when we sell the house in a few years.  I hope there is no leak found, or we could end up with a situation like this:

Seriously, this picture is nothing compared to what went down a block away from us last year.  A house down the street had their entire yard excavated from property line to property line, sidewalk to under the house’s foundation, 12+ feet deep.  I wish I had taken a picture; it was nuts.  We do have PLIA, a state sponsored insurance program that should in theory pay for such a thing, but I would really like to not have that happen regardless of who’s paying.

Anyway, we’re gathering quotes from tank removal companies, and we’ll get that done soon.  Please keep your fingers crossed!


excavation photo from here

Heating oil quandaries

Last spring, I called our heating oil company to inquire about the date of the next refill, explaining that we were considering getting rid of our oil furnace and didn’t want any more oil until we decided.  The nice woman on the phone had said the next refill wasn’t scheduled until September.  Imagine my surprise to come home from work one day in the middle of the summer to find one of those oil company bills on the front door informing us that they had filled the tank that day and that we should send them several hundred dollars.  I called them again.  I was politely informed that despite my previous conversation with a representative of the company, not only is the scheduled refill date subject to change whenever the company feels like it, but our contract clearly states that the automatic refill program can only be canceled by sending in a written request, and therefore we were responsible to pay for the recently delivered oil. 

So what could we do with 300 gallons of oil that we didn’t particularly want or have plans to use?  Well the oil company would buy it back for 60% of its original value and charge a $400 pumping fee, leaving us with maybe $200 out of around $1,000 we paid for the stuff.  No thanks.  I looked around to see if anyone else would take it.  No luck.  I found a couple of people who would take it for free.  I researched donating the oil, but the couple of leads I found who could pump it turned into dead ends and I gave up. 

We hadn’t actually moved forward with our plan switch to natural gas yet, so we decided the best thing to do would be to just keep using oil to heat the house for the 2010-2011 winter.  I had two concerns:

1. Would 300 gallons of oil last the whole winter?  If yes, we could wait until summer 2011 to have the new gas fireplace installed.  If no, we would have to decide whether to move up the timeline on the fireplace or use some temporary heating device.

2. Would the 60 year old furnace make it through the winter?  Now that we had canceled our automatic refill plan with the oil company, we also lost the modest furnace insurance/maintenance program that came with it.  Since we were about to toss the whole thing anyway, if it did crap out midway through the winter, we would have to figure out what to do in a hurry.  That made me nervous because I don’t like to feel rushed when making financial decisions.

On question 1, I think we can make it.  After several weeks of nagging, I finally got Matt to check the oil level in the tank by dipping a random piece of wood into it.  I guess I could have done it, but the yard is his responsibility, it was raining, etc. (i.e., I didn’t want to).  But I did my part by repeatedly asking him to do it, looking out the window and taking this terrible picture:

On question 2, we are almost there.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the previous owner’s diligent yearly inspections and maintenance will pay off and get us through March and April.  I think if we can get to May we’ll be fine.  If needed, we could rely on these two portable heating units we just got:

Did you really think I could resist inserting a dog picture?  Get used to it.

You may have already guessed a third concern I should mention - our oil tank is buried in our front yard.  We have no reason to think it’s leaking, but if by chance it is, my understanding of the law is that basically the whole front yard would have to be dug up.  There is a state insurance program where they cover the costs associated with that (which can be quite hefty), and we signed up immediately upon purchasing our house.  A neighbor down the street had her entire front lawn dug up a few months ago due to a leaking tank.  That is really an understatement because the hole was at least 12 feet deep and went from the sidewalk to underneath the foundation and from the driveway to the edge of the property, and the house (including the foundation) was on stilts.  It was a sight to behold.  There’s really nothing else we can do about that issue right now, so we’ll just keep hoping that when it comes time to decommission the tank, its non-leaking status will be confirmed.


Long overdue update

We have been neglecting our blog, but not for lack of things to write about.  On the contrary, we’ve been very busy.  We’ll try to write some catch-up posts soon on some/all of the following:

  • Seattle Tilth backyard chicken coop tour — ideas to store away
  • fence gates — 3 different designs by Matt work and look great
  • "5 minute" (ha!) ceiling fan installation — 5 hour prep is as far as we got
  • window shopping (i.e., shopping for windows) saga continues
  • garden update — lots of delicious food to eat and share
  • garage — additional storage & organizational miracle
  • underground storage tank — 300 gallons of heating oil we don’t need
  • back yard enjoyment — $5 grill, clothes line, visitors, cats & dogs
  • cat training — slow going when your subject doesn’t care for treats

In the meantime, I love these tips from This Old House on saving money by using salvaged building materials and the benefits of hand tools over power tools.