Keeping Your Cool in Tucson

So we have $22K worth of new HVAC ducting and a FIVE FREAKING TON heat pump. The unit, sitting proudly on top of our flat(ish) roof, is three times the size of the previous A/C unit. Right now it’s all new and shiny and fits into the general neighborhood vibe of Neglected Eclectic Chic.

The house is my age. Literally. Built in 1961 it not only had the original windows and 3 pane sliding glass door across the back of the house, but it has the original insulation. Which is to say, about 1 1/2″ of foil backed fiberglass insulation hosting vermin and collecting decomposing tar bits from previous water-proofing efforts.

I’ve lived in many houses and one rather nice condo in LA. The last time I saw a single pane window, I was seven and my family had moved into an old farm house in Wisconsin. These were the two-part windows that raised and lowered on a bit of rope. Very vintage. Also cold as hell. So when we walked around the house here in Tucson the very first time, I registered the ACTUAL age of the windows with a sinking feeling. I was pretty sure this was going to be hella expensive.

We got two quotes. One came in about as expected, at $14,000.

The second one came in at $4,500 plus $1,800 to install. So… less than half of the other one. We had visited Window Depot when we were still trying to wrap our head around the idea of replacing EVERY SINGLE WINDOW and two sliders. One of the clerks jotted a number down on the back of the WD business card, and this is how we got the second quote. Jesus (who tells white people to just call him Jesse… but I insist on Jesus because listening to that resigned note when someone with a non-standard ‘Murican name tries to make it easy for you to get their attention just breaks my heart. And how not? Look at my name.) So, Jesus (hey-soos) is the rock god of windows and I suspect is also related to some of the folks who own or run Window Depot.

The original quote did not include 3 windows. We added those later for about $1600 including labor. Not only that, but we doubled the size of the windows in the three bedrooms. Doubled. On a brick house. This entails hacking out the cement block and brick of the original bottom of the frame, then relaying the lower brick frame so water drains properly. In layman’s terms it is a Fuck Ton of work.

I know I know I know. Cheaping out on something as important as windows? But I figure that if they fall apart in ten years and I have to replace them all again, I’m still ahead of the game with HVAC savings. But I don’t think they’re going to. They’re just made here in Tucson by locals and cost of living here is lower than in many parts of the country, plus no shipping costs. They’re vinyl with argon gas between the panes with a U-Factor of .27 and a solar heat gain coefficient of .25. They are guaranteed to meet or exceed national thermal testing standards. I figure I’ll be dead before the windows need replaced again. It’s a reasonable gamble considering our budget. Also, Jesus and his guy are really good at this stuff. They replaced all the windows and two sliders in less than three days, including brick work, plaster repairs inside, and clean-up. Seriously. I was so impressed I hired Jesus to install replacement doors on the front and side of the house… because you can see daylight around the front door. (a lot of it) And of course the dog door / interim dryer vent / duct tape thing.

So far this door has been a doggie door, an interim dryer vent, and now… it’s just a mess. And yes, the dryer does overhang the side door a bit. Why do you ask?

I got the doors at Window Depot, of course. $200 for a plain steel door with insulation for the side and $400 for the fiberglass front door with a little decorative window. Plus tax… and installation. With every project there are always follow-on expenses. New doors need better jewelry than the bugly $17 builder’s basic locks you see here. Another $140 for nicer locks, and we’re good to go. Fortunately, Kim installs locks.

Yep. She’s a keeper all around. I’m a lucky woman.

If you have (had) a decent reno budget, all of these small expenses feel minor. The problem is, they add up. So despite buying budget all around, these two doors will cost us about a grand. And Every.Single.Tiny.Project is like this. Once the kitchen (with new cabinets and appliances) and the framing, drywall and electrical are done, we will have spent about 95% of the money we got back from the sale of our big house in California. (counting the $50K we put down)

But that is what budgets are for and the house has already appreciated 8% since we moved in, not factoring in our improvements. Plus, it’s our (I shudder to say this) “forever home”, so being comfortable and having an efficient house is a priority. More on setting priorities (which one contractor we interviewed firmly mansplained to me) at a later date.

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