Monday, March 21, 2011

Our House Was (Is?) Our Console and Our Keep

I’m going to make a confession: there are a lot of things I don’t like about our house. I mean, don’t get me wrong; it’s nice enough. I’m guessing most of my friends wonder why on Earth I wouldn’t like it. The picture at right is from before we bought it, so the weeds and mess are long since gone. It’s also still only five years old, so it’s not falling apart and is fairly modern. It’s also big—3,500 ft² big. It’s got enough room for our family and then some, which is one of the main reasons we bought it: so we could grow into it. It’s got a nice office for me to work from home, and we’ve added all sorts of wiring so that the house can handle my *ahem* enhanced technology needs. We’ve also upgraded the HVAC (as many readers already know), which makes it very comfortable.

As for the location… wow. Just… wow. It’s two minutes from the kids’ elementary school, two minutes from the new Church building, three minutes from Walmart, four minutes from our bank and a gas station and restaurants and a whole bunch of other stuff! It’s also in a subdivision, so we’ve got neighbors for the kids to eventually play with (assuming they ever try to), including ridiculous numbers of kids their age. There are three parks, several ponds, and a walking trail, right here in the neighborhood! The sub is big enough for me to easily run a 5K without ever leaving, and yet our corner lot borders a cornfield, so it’s certainly private enough.

So what on Earth is the problem? Well, frankly, it’s the layout.

First of all, there’s virtually zero storage. I mean, zero. What monkey on crack builds a 3,500-ft² house and neglects to include a coat closet? How about a linen closet? A decent walk-in for the kids’ bedrooms? No? Seriously? None of these?

If you’re not going to give us any of that, you could at least put a floor in the attic, but no. How could you, since you didn’t bother to include an interior load-bearing wall—not one!—on the entire second floor? (The studs aren’t even 16″ on center!)

So where does all this space go? Well, a lot of it is in the ridiculous 17′×22′ master bedroom, which is a huge waste of space. (It’s not just the size, but the layout is really weird. Just trust me on this one.) Another waste of space is the game room, at the top of the stairs. It’s longer than the master bedroom, but only about 8′ wide, at its narrowest point. You stick a sofa or a pool table or whatever in there, you can’t get to the bedrooms. And don’t get me started on the ostensible “living room” and “dining room,” which are really just a 12′×23′ room off the entryway (and nowhere near the kitchen, I might add). My friend Jared says the problem with our builder, C. P. Morgan’s, floor plans is that they neglect to include any walls, and I’d call that an extremely accurate assessment.

So by now, you’re thinking, “Waaah, waaah, waaah,” and that, too, would be an accurate assessment. You’re probably also thinking, “So why the heck did you buy it?” The answer is fairly simple: we spent 18 months looking at homes, trying to find the perfect one; we decided it didn’t exist, in our price range; and we bought this one. It had enough of the features we were looking for that we were willing to go for it, so we did.

Of course, you’re probably also thinking, “So why are you complaining about it now?” For that, dear readers, you’ll have to tune in tomorrow. ;-)

Saturday, March 5, 2011


Many of you probably figured I was talking about our taxes, and that would be a logical assumption. However, the fact of the matter is that, being self-employed, our taxes are far from trivial and I haven’t completed them yet. Oh well. We’re getting a refund, anyway: $1,500 in overpaid gas bills.

When I posted this to Facebook, a friend responded by asking, “Wow, how does that happen?” It’s a great question, but the answer is sort of complex. As such, I’ve chosen to post it here.

We bought our current home in July, 2007. One of the smartest things I did was to offer the sellers $5,000 more than asking price, so we could get cash back at closing and do some upgrades to the house. The most significant of these happened, a few days before we moved in: I hired the company that did the original HVAC system to come in and zone that system. By the time we moved in, there was one zone for the entire downstairs, one that covers most of the upstairs, and a third for my home office (which stays warmer due to its many computers and peripherals). I figured the zoning would save us money, but I didn’t know how much; I just knew they’d start out charging us roughly what our predecessors paid—which probably wouldn’t be enough, since our predecessors probably didn’t have as many electronics as I—and adjust from there.

A few months after we moved in, Vectren (our gas company) contacted us, saying that our meter was broken and that we had ten days to schedule a repair, or they would shut off our service. I called up to schedule the service, but while we were talking, I mentioned the zoning. The service rep immediately canceled the service call, stating that the zoning could totally account for the difference. I marveled that the zoning had made such a difference that they thought the meter was broken.

Eventually the time came for them to adjust our budget payment, but since BillPay handles all our bills, I didn’t notice immediately and just kept paying as we always had. By the time I did notice, they owed us over $1,100. I called them up and requested a check. Our account was zeroed, the check was cut, and our budget was recalculated—a month after my call. Given the delay, I forgot to change the payment.

In Summer 2009, we further upgraded the system by installing a return in my office and each of the bedrooms. We also had them balance the ductwork, each bedroom getting a larger or smaller duct, as needed. This made a huge difference in the comfort level of our house—we completely retired our space heaters!—but also seems to have further reduced our gas bill, since the system isn’t working against the formerly pressurized bedrooms. Again, they presumably reduced our budget amount, but since they didn’t tell us, the payment was never changed.

Long story short: between our significant upgrades and continuing overpayments, it all adds up. They’re zeroing our balance again, taking this month’s usage out of our $1,500 credit, and issuing us a check for the rest. Once we see how they’ve recalculated our budget, I’ll finally drop our payment and probably reroute the difference to our savings account. No reason to give them our interest!

Thus, the bottom line: when we moved in, Vectren calculated our bill based on its experience with the previous owners, which makes sense: it’s the same house, so our usage—while not identical—would probably be fairly similar. After 3½ years in our home, though, they’ve had to issue us $2,600 in credits. You can’t tell me zoning doesn’t work! :-)