One process I’ve relied on in the past to keep my Twitter postings fresh is automatically cross-posting photos that I upload to Flickr to Twitter. This is done through Zapier and inspired by this answer in their forums.
Zapier currently doesn’t have any Mastodon integrations, but it’s possible to use Mastodon’s API and Zapier’s webhook function to notice your newly-uploaded photos from Zapier’s Flickr integration and “toot” them to your Mastodon account.
Note: I originally set this up as an RSS feed to Mastodon Zap before realizing that Zapier already has a Flickr integration.
First, to prepare for creating a Zap later, you’ll need to create an app in your Mastodon server. You can create an app by going to edit your profile and then opening the “Development” tab.
Select the “New application” button, give it a name, change the privileges, and use “http://zapier.com” as the only Redirect URI. Then check the appropriate boxes so that only a single privilege is checked: “write:statuses”.
Mastodon will create a token for you to insert at the end of this URL that Zapier needs: https://mastodon.social/api/v1/statuses?access_token=INSERT_YOUR_ACCESS_TOKEN
If your Mastodon account is on a different server, then replace “mastodon.social” with the domain name of the server where your Mastodon account is.
Secondly, go to your Zapier account and create a new Zap. Search for the trigger app “Flickr” and then connect Zapier to your Flickr account if not already connected. The trigger should be something like what you see in the screenshot below.
You’ll need to customize the action that Zapier takes each time there’s a new photo. Until there’s an integration with Mastodon there’s a little complexity to defining the webhook action that Zapier will do.
The type of webhook you’ll create is a “POST” and you only need to add one field to the payload that’s sent from Zapier to your Mastodon: “status”. The value of “status” can be whatever combination of text and fields that Zapier pulls from your Flickr.
The minimum field to insert is the link to the Flickr photo page. Mastodon will need this to generate a rich media preview to add to the Toot (since it’s not possible to send image attachments).
A “trip” is the transportation planner’s name for the action of leaving home (H) to go somewhere else, and also going from that somewhere else (SE) to another somewhere else, and from the last somewhere else back to home.
Another way to write that would be to compare a “chained” trip (H-SE-SE-H) to two separate trips (H-SE-H + H-SE-H; also called “unchained” trips).
Trip chaining is a common pattern practiced by many people who usually use bicycles or transit for their trips so as to reduce effort and monetary cost, respectively. (I think there is also something to be said that trip chaining is also a natural way to “use time wisely”, but there are ways to use time wisely on long trips via transit.)
Effort in the context of the trips I tend to make can have many meanings: it can be the physical work put into riding a bicycle, but it’s also the time and energy to get ready to leave the house for several hours, the friction of moving my bike out of a building’s bike room and wondering if someone else will park there bike in “my” space when I’m gone, as well as the stress that comes with bicycling in Chicago.
Today I did a big trip chain…
I walked to the Harrison Red Line station to ride the ‘L’ to Fullerton, after which I walked over to Wrightwood 659 to see two art exhibits.
Then I walked back to Fullerton to take the Brown Line ‘L’ to Lincoln Square to pick up a new homemade CO2 sensor.
After that meeting I took the ‘L’ to Clark/Division so I could shop at Aldi (a block walk in each direction).
Finally I took the ‘L’ a fourth time back to Harrison.
Trip #2 was a deferred trip. The sensor was ready for me to pick up two weeks ago but it was unnecessary to make a trip just to go get it. I had no other errands to run in the Lincoln Square area, and no compelling reason to invent other trips between home and Lincoln Square (although I guess I could always stop at Aldi to restock certain groceries I prefer to buy there).
Trip #2 was a necessary but time insensitive trip.
A week ago, however, I scheduled to visit the galleries at Wrightwood 659. Because I would already be halfway to Lincoln Square I then scheduled the pick up.
Trip #3 was a spontaneous trip. Since I had such a long distance to go from Lincoln Square back to the Harrison station I figured that I might try to do some other things along the way…would I need to pick up beer at Off Color Brewing’s Mousetrap, should I stop at a Whole Foods (there are two along the Red Line, although there used to be a third one, next to the Fullerton station), or something else?
Welp, there’s an Aldi store one block away from the Clark/Division Red Line station. Perfect! My chained trip became even more efficient!
It’s always been clear that the dollar figures in Mayor Lightfoot’s administration’s INVEST South/West talking points was a combination of existing city-funded projects and future projects to be funded by city and non-city funded sources.
Now I have a better idea of where the non-city funding comes from.
$300 million in the RFP projects in the ISW corridors (mostly mixed-use with an affordable housing component)
And $575 million in “corporate and philanthropic commitments”
It’s the last funding source, of “corporate and philanthropic commitments”, that I was most interested in, so I asked the Chicago Department of Planning & Development to break that down. The breakdown follows:
Over $200 million in commitments towards housing and small business support from Community Investment Corporation (CIC) and JP Morgan Chase
~$95 million in project costs for Amazon distribution centers in Humboldt Park and Pullman
~$33 million in investment towards the new Southside Discover (the credit card company) call center
$20 million commitment by Fifth Third Bank towards the South Chicago community
$20 million from Fifth Third Bank for opportunity zone investments in ISW neighborhoods
$12.25 million towards the Reclaiming Chicago housing initiative in North Lawndale
$10 million from Pritzker Traubert for the Chicago Prize winner on the Auburn Gresham corridor
Over $2 million for the Pre-Development Fund launched by the Chicago Community Trust for minority developers involved in ISW RFPs or Chicago Prize finalists
Updated May 3, 2021, to add more insight from Robinson Meyer (The Atlantic) as to why lumber prices are so high.
My architect and I are still working on plans, slowly but surely. Read my previous entry, Two-flat journal #4, to understand why that seems to be taking awhile.
There is something else on my mind as we work toward the goal of a gut-rehabbed two-flat: How much this whole project is going to cost.
I’ve talked to several contractors, engaged a structural engineer to specify and design the new steel beam in the basement, and obtained quotes for all new windows from four manufacturers.
One contractor happily gave me an estimate, based on incomplete plans, that was about $220,000. That price could go down with more specific plans and instructions, as the estimate had variability based on unknowns, and it doesn’t include the cost of purchasing the windows. More likely, I think the price will go up due to material costs.
How much windows might cost
All window quotes I’ve obtained include installation by the manufacturer’s selected installers, which has a benefit from some companies, mainly that the maker will guarantee the installation for a period of time.
I would share the quotes with you but I don’t think they would be very helpful at this point because I haven’t evaluated each of the quotes on the quality of the window. For example, one of the window quotes was three times higher than the next highest quote, but the maker guarantees installation for 10 years and is a higher-quality window. But what is the factor of difference in quality, is it three times? And how valuable is a 10-year installation warranty? It’s unlikely I would need to avail that benefit and the three times difference in price means I could replace all of the windows *again* two times for the same price! (Assuming prices didn’t increase between now and that future moment.)
The 15 new windows, according to the four quotes, will cost anywhere from $12,000 to $46,000. I should mention that the highest quote doesn’t include any discounts or special offers, as those will be offered once I re-engage the estimator and ask for one.
There are a couple of opportunities to reduce window costs. I could convert more of the casement windows to be double hung windows (which I don’t want to do as I prefer single hung windows), or I could change the window opening size. A couple of the window openings are taller than most of the window makers have in their standard window design, so an upper transom (fixed) window would be required. However, changing the window opening size may end up shifting costs to a different plan of adding bricks and adjusting walls.
Another way to reduce the window cost would be to use models that are less energy efficient, but I also don’t want to do that. I’ve insisted that every window be Energy Star certified – this is about the only certification standard that I understand, and it’s common across most window makers in the Chicago area. (There are also Passive House and Passivhaus certified windows, and companies that import higher-quality and more efficient windows from European manufacturers, but I haven’t bothered with any of those because I assume the prices will be even higher.)
Lumber and other construction materials
That lumber prices have more than doubled over prices a year ago is well known if you read real estate industry news media, or if you’ve shopped for wood at Menards to build a couple of benches for some nicer outdoor space or installed a new porch.
My gut rehab will require a lot of plywood (to replace the subfloor), “soft lumber” replacement studs, and some replacement joists.
The St. Louis Federal Reserve maintains “FRED”, an amazing website with interactive charts to explore economics statistics, including lumber. The pricing information comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and their Producer Price Indexes.
The chart for the plywood price index below shows very stable pricing in fall and winter 2019-2020, and then in May 2020 prices start climbing and the index increased by 100 points to March 2021.
BLS has monthly detailed reports so you can find data about more than the products FRED has charts for. Let’s dig in to the March 2021 report (indexes mean that the pricing represents percentage changes based on 100% being the price when the index was established):
“Softwood dressed 2-inch lumber, 2 inches in nominal thickness only, not edge worked” (a.k.a. 2×4 studs) (index established June 2012):
March 2020: 205.1
March 2021: 324.1 (this means that the price has increased by 119% year over year, a more than doubling of price)
“Softwood plywood products: rough, sanded, and specialties” (index established December 2011):
March 2020: 139.0
March 2021: 242.9 (again, this means that the price has increased by 103.9%, doubling the price)
In addition to general demand being much higher, there are other reasons why lumber costs so much more right now, according to Robinson Meyer writing in The Atlantic last week.
Since 2018, a one-two punch of environmental harms worsened by climate change has devastated the lumber industry in Canada, the largest lumber exporter to the United States. A catastrophic and multi-decade outbreak of bark-eating beetles, followed by a series of historic wildfire seasons, have led to lasting economic damage in British Columbia, a crucial lumber-providing province. Americans have, in effect, made a mad dash for lumber at the exact moment Canada is least able to supply it.
“There are people who say, ‘Climate change isn’t affecting me,’” Janice Cooke, a forest-industry veteran and biology professor at the University of Alberta, told me. “But they’re going to go to the hardware store and say, ‘Holy cow, the price of lumber has gone up.’”
It has lost 2.5 billion board feet of annual production capacity since 2019, enough to shift prices in a North American market of 70 billion annual board feet, Jalbert said.
Read Robinson’s full article to see how the bark-eating beetles overwhelmed the forests of British Columbia and the northern forest belt in Canada and why their rampage is fueled by climate change.
The same contractor, when they checked in with me recently, said that the prices of other construction materials had gone up, too.
In the same Producer Price Index report, it looks like wood doors and door frames went up 29.2% from March 2020 to March 2021; metal windows are up 7.1%, double hung wood windows are up 6.8% and wood casement windows are up 5.1%; wood moldings are up 16.9%.
I didn’t see any notable price increases in plumbing materials or kitchen cabinets – all were close to inflation. The PPI doesn’t have vinyl window products, or I don’t know under which category it falls.
I get this question several times a week, and I want to give everyone who asks a clear and accurate response without ignoring them (which I sometimes do). This blog post is how I can do that efficiently, and be more organized and mindful about the progress.
The renovation part of the renovation project hasn’t started.
The preparation part of the renovation project has been going on since August 2020.
I do not know when we’ll be done, or when we’ll have a permit, or when construction will start.
“Why is it taking so long?” is the question that people don’t ask aloud, but I guess that my friends are like me and curious.
It’s taking a long time because my architect and I don’t spend a whole lot of time working on the project. It’s all relative, of course. We spend about 10 hours a week on this (at most), and that includes a lot of learning and research.
We both have full-time jobs, have other things to work on, and our experience in this arena is limited. My architect, who prefers to stay out of the blogging spotlight, is extremely experienced in multi-family new construction residential architecture, though. We also rely heavily on the input of friends and neighbors who live in similar houses and have experience dealing with the construction idiosyncrasies of old buildings in Chicago. I also rely on the input of other architects who are experts in designing renovated and new construction one, two, and three-unit houses (thank you K.D. and P.M.).
This is a learning process for both of us. There are so many decisions to make, independently and together. We both want to be deeply involved in understanding what it takes to buy and gut rehab a house that I will live in. If we do it well this time, it would make it easier for either one of us to do it again for a different house.
What we’ve done in the past two weeks
I invited a fourth general contractor into the house to take a look. I am not getting estimates yet from these four GCs because the plans / permit drawings aren’t far enough along. Each GC, however, has reviewed the current plans prior to the visit so it’s easier to point and explain what’s going to change.
One of the big things that will change is replacing the wooden center beam in the basement to a steel I-beam, and changing out some of the joists. This will require temporarily shoring (supporting) the joists. Each GC has had a slightly different opinion on the procedure. But we get to hear each procedure and come up with the one we think is best.
I received and organized three quotes for all-new windows, as well as researched and modified the window schedule. “Organizing” the quotes means adding a new column to my window schedule spreadsheet with each manufacturer’s pricing so I can compare them. Part of window research is figuring out the type of window I want for each room and opening and assessing the quality of the manufacturer. For example:
I am learning that casement windows are more energy efficient because they create a better seal when closed and locked than hung windows.
I prefer single-hung windows to double-hung windows, but some manufacturers don’t make single-hung windows.
Every manufacturer has different maximum window heights. One of the openings is 80 inches tall and, for one manufacturer, the maximum height for a casement window is 72 inches and the maximum height for their hung windows is 75 inches. Thus, the estimator added transom windows to all openings that exceeded their maximums. That’s fine, but then it adds a new decision point: What proportion should be operable windows and what proportion should be transom windows?
My architect continued talking to the structural engineer I hired to make sure the engineer’s drawing has the right details and lists the specifications we asked him to write out on the drawing.
Settled on an HVAC system. For a couple months I’ve been researching mini-splits off and on. I got an estimate for equipment + installation from one company, which was much higher than I expected. I combined their projections for required heating capacity with projections from others, as well as CoolCalc.com, to settle on a lower capacity.
I started looking at more retailers who will sell mini-split systems directly to the consumer, or the GC, to get grounded in pricing and availability. Then, when I was done specifying the schedule, my architect took a look at the designs and the cut sheets, and figured out where the indoor units should go. He recommended choosing the cassette style that gets mounted within the ceiling between two joists. It costs more, but it looks a lot better since there’s not a big box hanging on the wall in the living room and kitchen.
Last Friday my architect and I visited a “near Passive House” standard three-flat being built in Pilsen. The developer, who will live in one of the units, also used mini-splits, from Mitsubishi. It was cool to see them installed (on the roof) and how they were connected to an air handler that serves as the blower to push the air through a traditional duct and out via an “energy recovery ventilator” (in the winter, the warmth of the outgoing air is transferred to the fresh incoming air so the machinery has to expend less energy warming up cold air).
While I was writing this, another of the four GCs that toured the house checked in. I told them that after this week we’ll have made significant progress since my architect has the week off of work.
What we’re working on next
Last week, my architect started drawing a window detail in the plans because there are good ways of installing windows and bad ways. I don’t fully understand them, so I’m not going to write about them here, but he did explain them to me and pointed out some good examples in his house and some bad examples in someone else’s house.
Finish the “panelboard schedule”. This diagram shows each circuit that will be in a breaker box, and labels them according to the circuits in the electrical drawings. Not every circuit breaker will be identical, as some circuits – like the ones for the water heater and mini-splits – need 30 or 40 amp breakers.
I am going to research the construction type’s fire protection requirements by reading the Chicago Building Code and noting the required fire ratings for the basement ceiling, the ceiling between floors, the interior front door’s rating, the roof rating, the rating for the light well wall, and the rating requirement for load bearing walls.
What I’m worried about
All of the decisions that have to be made. See the three points about windows above. I’ve got three quotes for the windows, all based on about the same schedule. But after I receive the fourth quote that I’m expecting this week, my desire for certain windows may change. I may want more casement windows, or different proportions of transom windows and casement-picture-casement window layouts.
The cost of everything. I have significant savings but I will still need to borrow some money. I need to start researching the universe of options and the availability of options. On top of this, lumber pricing has doubled since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.