Kitchen exhaust fan

Last week I mentioned the kitchen exhaust fan project.  In our previous apartment, we had a working, old-school, built-in exhaust fan in the kitchen.  While probably not quite as effective as a true hood, it was situated right by the [gas] range/oven, and was certainly better than nothing when it came to improving air quality.

While I highly prefer gas ranges to electric, they do have some downsides when it comes to indoor air quality (good paper here).   This might not be a big deal for people who rarely set foot in the kitchen, but we cook and bake A LOT.  After two-plus years of living here with no exhaust fan in the kitchen, we decided we really needed to do something.

The kitchen in our current building HAD a built-in exhaust fan, but it was painted shut when we moved in, and not situated all that well with respect to the stove.  We toyed around with the idea of opening it to see if it worked, but never got around to it.

Back in November, after some particularly fume-y baking sessions, we broached the subject of adding an externally vented exhaust fan with our landlord, J.  He preferred an internal vent hood (which filters the air before recirculating it, but doesn’t remove it), but agreed to look into external venting.  We offered to share part of the cost of the project of getting it vented externally, but he never took us up on that.

In the end, we settled on an over-the-range microwave (J wanted to put in a microwave; we had previously been using our own) with an exhaust fan that could either be internally or externally vented, with plans to hook up the external venting.

Step 1: More power for the kitchen.  For the past two-and-a-half years, we’ve lived with everything in our kitchen (other than the lights) being on one circuit: refrigerator, dishwasher, and all the outlets (that power microwave, toaster oven, and toaster).  The result of this arrangement was that we couldn’t use two high-power draw appliances simultaneously, or we’d trip the breaker.  For example, if the dishwasher was running, we couldn’t use the microwave.  Or if I was heating something in the microwave, I couldn’t toast a piece of bread.

If we’d discovered this before we moved in, we would have made our tenancy conditional on it being fixed, but no.  We didn’t discover it until we moved in, and, at that point, J didn’t seem terribly interested in upgrading things.  I didn’t feel like pushing the issue because within two weeks of our move-in, the refrigerator died.  After J replaced that, I wanted to lay low for awhile, so as not to be that tenant.

While somewhat annoying, we’d adapted to the kitchen power situation fairly quickly, with a strict “one appliance at a time” policy.  Given J’s earlier response, I was rather surprised when, at the beginning of this project, he brought up that the first step would be getting more power to the kitchen.  I don’t know that the exhaust fan draws all that much power, and thereby wasn’t sure why we suddenly needed to change things now, but I wasn’t going to argue.  Most of the work happened when we were out of town at Christmas, with a bit of additional work later.

Step 2: Acquire and install the microwave.  The model J selected was back ordered, but the delay gave him time to do the wiring.  The microwave arrived in mid-January.  J bumped up the over-the-range cabinets to make room for the microwave underneath.  The space the microwave now occupies used to be bare, light-colored wall, so this darkens things up a bit, but that’s a trade-off we can live with.


Step 3: Duct work for external venting.  This required that we lose a little bit of actual cabinet storage space, as well as the above-cabinet space that we’d been using to store some larger kitchen items.  Storage space in the kitchen is a premium, but this was worth the trade.


J removed the old exhaust fan and used that space as the outlet for the duct work for the new fan.  As you can see, the project isn’t quite finished, but we have a functional externally vented, over-the-range hood, which is huge!

Having power to actually run multiple kitchen appliances at the same time is also huge.  It took me a couple of weeks to adjust to the idea that I could, in fact, toast toast a piece of bread and heat something in the microwave at the same time.  After a month to adjust, it sometimes feels a little odd, like I’m doing something forbidden when I use the microwave while the dishwasher is running.

We haven’t really put the exhaust fan to the test yet.  Of course, many of the pollutants it will remove are of the colorless, odorless variety, but there should be some improvements we notice.  I don’t know if it was real, or just in my head, but there have definitely been some times when I’ve spent a lot of time in the kitchen with the oven on and seemed to notice some effects on my lungs and breathing.  Now that it’s done, I only wish we’d done it sooner!

Raising a child in an apartment

There must be thousands (millions?) of people raising kids in apartments, but among my friends and acquaintances, we’re somewhat of an anomaly.  I can think of exactly one other apartment-dwelling family-with-kids that we know in St. Louis.  Other than that, it seems that by the time children enter the picture, there’s a house involved.  While in many ways, I’m in no hurry to buy a house, raising a kid in a multi-family building presents some challenges, mainly involving noise.

We live in a two-family duplex/flat with wood floors.  We intentionally chose a second-floor space, in part because it tends to be quieter on top, compared to living on lower levels with people walking around above you.  That said, there is very little up-down sound insulation, and sounds carry both ways.

In the beginning, when Gabriel was younger, the challenge mainly came from noises below, and my concern that they would wake him.  As he’s gotten older, the noise he makes being an energetic little person — walking, marching, running, jumping, dancing, knocking down blocks — has become an increasing issue.  The sounds don’t bother me at all, and would be a complete non-issue in a house, but I totally get that, for our neighbor downstairs, they are loud, unpleasant, and annoying.

The question is what to do about it.  We ARE actively looking to buy a house, but given our land and location requirements (and the fact that we’ve already been looking for years, since before G was born), it doesn’t seem that that will happen anytime soon.

We could look at rental houses, but I imagine that a rental house that is similar size and quality as our apartment would be out of our budget (and the cost and hassle of an extra move — oof!).

If the noise downstairs is really as bad as I imagine it to be, I’m somewhat surprised that our neighbor hasn’t moved, but that would not solve anything for us, because there would just be another tenant.

Measures to minimize noise

  • Using area rugs might help somewhat, but they’re not going to cover everything, and I don’t want the hassle of keeping them clean (cleaning wood floors is soooo easy).  So we probably won’t go this route.
  • We’ve been trying to keep Gabriel out of the bedrooms (which are above our neighbor’s bedroom) in the morning, especially on weekends.
  • Now that it’s cooler, we’re encouraging Gabriel to wear his slippers, which might offer some sound dampening.

Kids will be kids? 

While we discourage blatantly loud, unnecessary activities, like repeatedly banging his wooden blocks on the floor or shouting inside the house, we’re not willing to suppress or discourage the normal sounds that come with being an exuberant, happy, active child.

Focusing overly on the noise, e.g., asking Gabriel to walk quietly, is stressful for us, and it often seems to produce the opposite behavior.  We try to explain that we’re doing this “to be respectful of our neighbor,” but at three, he just doesn’t quite get it.

Still stressed

Overall, our neighbor has been patient and understanding (and we try to respond in kind to sounds that travel up to us).  We’ve talked with her about the accommodations we’re trying to make.  Still, the ongoing worry about the noise we’re generating makes me feel stressed and “yuck.”  The fact that our neighbor is being bothered by sounds that we can’t totally eliminate also creates a dynamic where it’s very hard for us to bring up reverse concerns.

Having a little person means that we are not ideal neighbors.  I wish I could magically create a sound barrier between the first and second floor units, but short of that, I guess I’ll just have to make my peace, as best as I can, with the situation.

I’d love to hear from others who have been in similar situations, whether you were the one with kids or the one living with sounds from other kids in the building.


Moving weekend

Pack, clean, clean, pack, move, unpack, clean.  That’s what our next few days look like.

On the other hand, we’ll have a bedroom again — no more bed in the living room!

Unfortunately, when I went to our new place yesterday to “wipe down a few things” so we can start with a clean slate, I found it much more dirt than I noticed on either of our previous visits.  I made a list of items to bring back for more intensive cleaning.

The housing hunt comes to an end — Part 2

And now, for the rest of the story . . .

The first part of this saga ended with finding a good apartment prospect.  After not so much deliberation, I wanted to submit the rental application, along with a deposit to hold the place while they processed our application, and be done with this agonizingly long and drawn out apartment/house hunt.

Matthew felt we’d put the time and energy into looking at houses for sale and wanted to make an offer on a FSBO house we’d looked at a couple of times.  I wasn’t excited about the place, but I agreed to make a low offer.

So last Friday morning, I biked over to drop off our rental application and earnest money and Matthew made some phone calls that ended with making a verbal offer on the house.  Because why have just one place to live when you could have a house AND an apartment?

Anyway, the FSBO was an estate house, and since our offer was lower than their asking price, they had to take it to probate.

Having done all we could, we headed out to a local winery for a relaxing stressful afternoon.  In the middle of our wine tasting, the trustee of the estate called back and engaged Matthew in an exceedingly long conversation, the bottom line of which was, he would take our offer before the probate judge but would not argue for it, but if we increased our offer by $5k (still $15k below their asking price), he would argue for it.

Hot, tired, annoyed that Matthew was spending most of our winery trip on the phone, and frustrated with (and physically uncomfortable because of) a fussy, refusing-to-nurse baby, I had no desire to enter into negotiations or increase our offer on a house that I wasn’t all that excited about.  So we said they could take or leave our initial offer, and they later called back to say, “no deal.”

With our new lease start-date still a few weeks away, we went ahead and pulled out the boxes and packing tape over the weekend, making an impressive amount of progress in little spurts here and there.  We started to discuss how we would arrange things in the new apartment.

And then on Tuesday afternoon, the FSBO guy calls Matthew and says they’ve reversed course and will take our offer, if we’re still offering.  For some reason, I’d kind-of expected this and was not terribly surprised.

After a bit of discussion that evening, we ultimately decided that this was not the house for us, even at our original offer price, and Matthew informed the owners of our final decision.

So.  Packing continues and we’ve scheduled movers.  In a few weeks, our almost-year-long experiment in living as a family of three in a one-bedroom apartment will come to an end, and I am ready!

Related posts:
T minus two months
Moving day
Two’s company
We ain’t goin’ nowhere
Am I asking too much?

The housing hunt comes to an end

I had the opportunity to write a “green living in St. Louis” guest post for Stacy at Every Little Thing this week.  Check it out here.  Now, on to the housing saga!

Last Wednesday, Matthew and I took some time off work in the afternoon to see another round of houses.  We only had a few on the schedule, so we tacked a recently listed apartment on to the itinerary as well.

Back in April, after over twelve months of apartment hunting, we decided to be a little crazy and throw the option of buying a house back into the mix.  We located a house and made a [very low] offer within a couple of weeks.  Despite offering $40k less than the asking price, we had decent reason to believe that they may accept the offer or counter with something closer to what we were willing to pay.

The house, which was part of an estate and had nothing owed on it, had been on the market for over 250 days this round, and vacant (and probably previously listed) for much longer than that.  While vacant, the pipes burst, and repairing that and the resulting water damage resulted in a $50k insurance claim.  You’d think this would be good reason for the estate’s trustee to consider any that came along.

We sure did, and we were wrong.  The guy didn’t even bother to counter (and apparently he was so “disgusted and depressed” by our offer that he pulled it off the market — at peak home-buying season, no less!).

Within a day or two of having our offer rejected, we spotted a realty sign on an intriguing property — a big, sunny fenced lot with two tiny houses on one edge.  I pass by it regularly and always wonder to which of the two houses the yard belongs.

A bit of research revealed that the property was a foreclosure and included the lot and both houses (each about 500 square feet — like I said, tiny).  We were immediately off and running with ideas of buying it on the cheap and doing a major renovation (which I alluded to here), combining the two tiny houses to make one nice space plus an awesome yard for gardening.  Matthew even drew up some designs.

And then we faced the reality of how much it would cost, both in dollars and in our energy making decisions and dealing with bumps along the way, and the fact that we would probably not be able to get anywhere near what we put into it back out of it if/when the time came to sell.  We decided, sadly, but probably wisely, to walk away.

A few weeks passed, with more houses, a couple more apartments, and nothing that really excited us.  One of the houses that we viewed didn’t have the double lot included as we’d hoped.  Another was somewhat interesting, but seemed overpriced, and while we were considering if and what to offer, it went under contract.

So on Wednesday afternoon, when we saw the apartment that had almost everything we were looking for, I was more than ready to be finished.

To be continued . . .