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One Month With Bolt

June 20, 2017   //  Posted in: Garage, Helping The Economy   //  By: Emily   //  Leave a comment
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For a little story on how the sale of this car is linked to the sale of our home, check out this Instagram post.

We traded in my 2008 Jeep Patriot for a 2017 Chevy Bolt EV one month ago, all the while sing-songing TMBG day-in and day-out. Electric Car was always one of our favorite songs on that kid’s album, and even though the idea of owning an electric vehicle seemed too futuristic even for us earlier adopters, here we are, three kids squished in the backseat shouting Hey Siri and trying to hijack the Apple Carplay.

The Bolt EV runs all-electric. No gas at all like its hybrid/plug-in counterpart, the Volt. I’m not going to get into the specs and details because there are plenty of reviews that compare the Bolt to other electric models, and I’m also not “a car guru” looking to hit all of the PR-approved talking points about the vehicle. I hope this overview, an effort to share our experience to-date, helps give you peace of mind in your buying process, or helps you think differently about your next auto investment.

Chevy Bolt EV, a family-friendly user review from Rochester, NY

We’ve received a lot of questions both from friends and strangers since we made the switch. Right from the start we were thrilled with the vehicle, but wanted to wait a bit to answer all of the why/how/what questions that have piqued your curiosity. We needed to learn more about the Bolt, and also live with it before suggesting that anyone else to go buy what might just be the most expensive car they’ve ever purchased (raises hand). We are officially one month in and have made adjustments to our budget, our home, and our routine to accommodate this change in lifestyle. But it’s real good, you guys.

First things first. New car? Why did you go Electric?

The Jeep was definitely not my favorite car because it seemed like it was always ready for another thousand dollar repair. I’d really been fostering that whole “it’s paid off and we hardly drive it, so let’s see if we can keep it running for another 8 years” mentality, but compounding issues made it less and less reliable.

Two years ago, Toyota offered me the opportunity to drive its Prius PHV for a few weeks. It was a hybrid/plug-in (the Prime is its newer iteration) and even though it only had a 10-12 mile electric range before kicking over to hybrid, I thought so highly of it that I’ve planned ever since to try and upgrade to a hybrid or hybrid/electric car when the time was right. 

We put in a lot of hours becoming well-versed in the options when it was apparent that the Jeep was on its way out. To be honest, an electric car didn’t seem entirely feasible from the get-go. I had a very natural battery-range terror at the thought of choosing a vehicle that had no reliance on gasoline, but the 240+ range on the Bolt is so much better than the Prius Plug-in had been in 2015, that it was hard to justify terror when really, we’re only zipping 10, 25, 75 mile distances between charging opportunities.

Make and model aside, we felt that if an electric car would work for our family, it was just one more good thing we could be doing to be environmentally-mindful. Federal and state tax incentives were certainly leaning in our favor too ($7,500 fed, $2,000 NY State) but I’ll get into that in the next section.

We’ll continue to cross our fingers and hope that electric will become increasingly normalized; technology must continue to improve – accessibility and affordability too. And while it’s not necessary since we can charge at home, it’s nice to see *free* charging stations popping up all over town (Rochester, NY folks: Public Market, Charlotte Beach, Downtown, College Town, Fairport Village, I-Square).

The budget.

Yeah, Bolt is the most expensive car I’ve ever purchased, but that’s relative. The pre-tax sticker price was ~$43,000 and with time-of-sale incentives (which doesn’t include the Federal $7,500) we were able to get our monthly payments down to about $600. I’m upfront about money stuff, and I’m the friend who’s always asking “but how much did it cost?” because I firmly believe that knowledge is power and:

The incentives were enticing. There was a modest dealer incentive, topped by a $2,000 New York State Electric Car Rebate, and a $7,500 Federal Tax Credit too. I like to hope that both credits will be available for a long time, but truthfully I’m worried the Federal credit will be phased-out or cut (administration aside, it has been in effect for many years already). We figured it would be better to act while the opportunity still existed.

We also did some quick math on what we should expect as far as cost to charge the Bolt, and tried to calculate that against what we might save in gas by using it as our commuter, as well as our primary weekend vehicle. Based on recent gas prices and our electric company charges by kWh, I’m guessing that we’ll be netting a $200/month savings for our family (and that $600 monthly car payment suddenly looks a little easier). Additionally, EV vehicles have fewer moving parts resulting in less overall maintenance – no oil changes! We are cautiously skeptical about what other maintenance might be required over time, including how well the battery holds charge after a year or two of use, but the 8-year battery warranty takes away some of those concerns. We have not yet fiddled with changing our electricity rate structure; we figure that after 3 or 6-months we can compare our statements and adjust how the electricity is billed if we feel we can optimize it to our advantage.

I really hate buying cars, and never will I feel like I got “the best!” deal but I do enjoy being in that power position, so I asked-and-asked-and-asked for all of the discounts under the sun including but not limited to a better trade-in value for my Jeep, small business owner incentives offered by the dealer (show your schedule C), some kickback for being related to a GM employee, and I even negotiated a way to put a large(r than normally allowed) portion of my downpayment on my credit card instead of writing a check so I could earn myself some cash-back points. Plus, when you ask for the all-weather mats to be free, sometimes they just throw that in. Cha-ching! Hello-goodbye, money.

Level up. Electrical improvements.

In all those hours spent researching electric cars, we probably should have paid more attention to what all of those charge cord upgrades meant, because when we got home and realized that the garage plug in the wall was only going to add about 30 miles of range to our vehicle every night we were… not ready. Learn from us. Our basic electric outlet is considered Level 1. Most public charge points are Level 2 (adds about 30 miles/hour in our experience). We paid about $750 extra for a CHAdeMO fast charge port on the Bolt to enable DC Fast Charging for access to Level 3 charge points–positioned to us as “wave of the future” to enable +/- 100 miles of charge in an hour– but come to realize the closest public Level 3 is in Toronto (we couldn’t even drive all the way there to try it) and we probably won’t ever have a need to quick-charge the battery in less than an hour, unless there came a day when Level 3s were literally at every gas station or mall across the country. So, if you’re living in the middle of nowhere or only going to use this car as a basic commuter, save your money, you probably won’t need the DC Fast Charging port. I still encourage you to check out where your local charge points are at because we definitely spot Level 3s on the ChargePoint app map in larger cities.

To convert our own Level 1 outlet into a faster Level 2 charging port, we purchased this Siemens VC30GRYU Versicharge 30-Amp Electric Vehicle Charger for $500 (affiliate link) and had our electrician come to install a special 240V outlet to support the higher voltage (another $330). It’ll take awhile to recoup those costs, but it’s already worth it to be able to charge faster. Spending money to save money sucks, but it definitely encourages us to make the most of EV technology (and maybe in the next few years we can upgrade the van into an electric-hybrid SUV, and reserve gasoline for when we take longer car trips).

Charging an electric car at home with a 240v/30 amp unit.

At night, it looks like this while charging:

The green dream? Maybe this is just the incentive we needed to add some solar panels to our roof – charge our electric car, in our own garage, via the power of the sun. Do I hear a TMBG remix?

Fitting the family.

The Bolt is not a vehicle for a family with only one car, but to make the most of electric driving, we’ve found that we’ve adopted somewhat of a one-car family mindset. Having it as a more efficient option forced us to rebalance our priorities so that we were putting more miles on the Bolt, and making an effort to reserve our Dodge Caravan for those days we need to have both cars away from home, or for longer distance travel.

Like most small cars, it’s good for 2 passengers in the back, tougher with 3. Our 3 kids are small, but 2/3 are in car seats, and car seats are huge. We’re gradually upgrading to Diono seats, which are a bit narrower and significantly less bulky, and planning on using the Bolt to drive all 3 kids together until a time that they can’t stand each other. That’s also to say, your co-workers might not like squishing their thighs together to sit 3-across in the backseat on your way to lunch, but I do think they’ll find they have plenty of foot space.

I will say that the trunk space is in the Bolt is great, so traveling with our 3 kids and their “stuff” hasn’t been an issue yet. The “floor” of the trunk lifts up and drops down another foot, where you might ordinarily find a spare tire, and it’s enough room for strollers/pack ‘n’ play/backpacks/trumpets/baseball bats/folding camp chairs all at the same time.

If you’re upgrading your only car and you want a more efficient option, you should totally look at the Volt or Prius Prime as comparable hybrid/electrics, because they both have a pretty good electric range, and you too might find that you don’t need much gasoline.

Things I really like:

Smooth ride. The engine doesn’t have gears, which means it doesn’t need to turn over the same way a conventional car does. I don’t even know if that’s the right terminology, but simply put, its acceleration is smooth and seamless because there’s no engine activity requiring gears to adjust with speed. It’s the complete opposite of driving a jerky stick shift.

We appreciate the one-pedal driving, and all reviews point to it being a more charge-efficient way of city driving, but it feels a bit like driving with the e-brake on. The regen hand paddle located on the back of the steering wheel is more favorable in my opinion. We use the regeneration function diligently, and on short sprints to and from the store, can usually regain the charge for whatever road mileage we’ve used. Acceleration-wise, we drive so much more efficiently than ever before, because the dashboard metrics fluctuate with every movement. And honestly, what that means is that we drive like Grandmas, going exactly the speed limit to avoid inefficiencies, and coasting to a stop so-so-so slowly when no one’s behind just to win a little extra charge.

Cameras everywhere. On all sides of the car. Pete previewed Surround Vision technology at a Volkswagen event a few months ago, and as someone who upgraded from a bare-bones Jeep to a car that I can parallel park without even needing to look out a window, it’s pretty incredible. The cameras work together to create an accurate overhead simulation of your car’s positioning, and there you can see front, back, and wide-angle views in all directions. I’m sharing this photo specifically though, because I can’t figure out why Cody was standing on the back left, but in the overhead it looks like he’s on my back right? It’s cool, but maybe someone more savvy in camera technology can tell me why that happened. (P.S. Pete’s in the front of the car in the aerial view, so you can see how he is distorted.)

Surround vision technology on the Chevy Bolt EV.

It took us a few weeks to even notice this feature: Rear Camera Mirror. It’s a bit disorienting, and I’m pretty sure I’ll never use it except as novelty, but if you can get used to it, it’s nice to have a view out the back without blind spots.

The digital connectedness of it all is very cool, even if it does leave no doubt in my mind that Big Brother could be listening to and watching my every single movement. Please let it be used for good, like to tell Dunkin’ Donuts to give me more freebies because I’ve already Bolted through the drive-thru 4 times this week. Hi, big business and government. :)

With connectivity, comes the MyChevrolet app and OnStar and wi-fi capabilities. I’m not likely to sign up for any additional monthly charges once our freebies run out, but I like what I see already. In my first-month diagnostic recap, which was emailed to me by OnStar, the reporting shared that we had saved the equivalent of 68 gallons of gasoline, and avoided 1,317 pounds of CO2.

Things I don’t like:

Given all the bells and whistles and lights and safety alarms and technologies, it’s really weird that the front seats are manually adjusted. Not a big deal, but curious.

We’ve already jammed our skulls against this pointy tail light, which is directly at 5′-8″ head-level when the trunk is open. Watch yo’ self.

Poorly designed tail lights on the Chevy Bolt EV; a real head smasher.

When driving, if you tap the regen paddle on the steering wheel to slow the vehicle and generate battery power, the brake lights do appear for a moment, but do not remain on the whole time you engage with the paddle. Seems like a potential safety concern if the vehicle continues to slow down but from behind there’s no indication of braking (it slows faster than just coasting, too). And for what it’s worth, we do use the foot brake in conjunction with the hand brake, but it slows the car so startlingly fast that it’s more fluid to use one or the other instead of both in tandem.

A parent thing – I wish there were book holders on the back of the driver and passenger seats. Our toddler reads non-stop in the car.

TL;DR

There’s really not a lot of bad to say about this vehicle after driving it (and putting 1,600 miles on it in its first month at our home). I really encourage you to go take a test drive and experience how nice it is to drive any electric car. Let me know what you think!

Chevy Bolt EV, a family-friendly user review from Rochester, NY

*This post was not sponsored*

All Things Trees

May 31, 2017   //  Posted in: Backyard   //  By: Emily   //  3 responses
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If our last 4 springs have been focused on clearing brush, this season has been the year of removing big, old trees. March windstorms did a real number on the City of Rochester and its surrounding areas; come to find we lack preparedness for those types of storms, but it feels silly to suggest how inconvenient it was to be forced out of our home for 3 nights due to downed lines knowing that the midwest and southern states are in a constant state of tornado hell this time of year. Our neighborhood survived with some expected damage, but we were fine.

Tree fallen in March 2017 windstorm.

The woods behind our house are a mess from the storms, but because that space is low priority it might remain that way for awhile. Most broken or tipped trees also knocked two or three more in their path like a domino line-up, many leaning and others snapped off halfway. Over the treehouse, a tall pine shifted and uprooted, but snagged itself in the branches of a neighboring tree. It was hard to tell exactly which way it would tumble–some part of it definitely would have hit the treehouse–so we avoided playing out there until we could have it removed.

Tipped pine tree in March 2017 windstorm.

Trees like that one can apparently be priced in the area of $2K for removal, and many tree companies have been upcharging too given the demand, but we lucked out by meeting a guy who knew a guy who climbed trees professionally and had free time on a Sunday and was able to come do the job for us at a fraction of the price. Our tree guy for life, is what I like to call him.

The big leaning tree was important, yeah, but the tree crew was actually more concerned with this tree in the middle of our backyard. It had cracked at the trunk, a fracture unrelated to the wind, and was worsening fast. This one, we could have taken down ourselves without much trouble, but had the crew take care of it while they were on site.

Tree splitting down the middle of the trunk.

I took some pictures of the yard before the trees were removed, knowing that the split tree in the middle of the yard would really change the entire landscape of our space. I’ve grown to realize that even though I take a lot of pictures, I’m still not doing a great job at showcasing how much our yard has changed.

Here’s the backyard in 2013 (arrow pointing at cracked tree, which was one of the few we preserved when we cleared that land):

Yard, on the day we closed on our house. Heavy brush.

And in 2017. I mean, we’ve been busy, right?!:

Trees that need to be cut down in 2017.

Both trees came down in a matter of hours with the help of Pete + the small crew.

Tree team's a GO. 📷: @dadandblog . . . #merrypadathome #cleanupcrew #pinetree #rochesterny #bringinthepros

A post shared by Emily Fazio at Merrypad (@merrypad) on

Part of the deal with our tree-guy-for-life was that we would get rid of all of the fallen wood so they didn’t have to haul it off. It’s the harder way out, but it’s an easy way to save some money, folks, what can I say. So, for weeks now we’ve been dedicating efforts to sustaining our free wood pile, which some sly neighbors have been silently devouring like stealthy little beavers.

Free wood sign at the side of the road.

The removal of those big trees actually came a few weeks after we removed a Sassafras tree from our front yard; in fact, those logs shown above are actually from that tree, and they’re leaning up against another Sassafras that isn’t looking too hot in my non-expert opinion. We have ongoing concerns about the health of the trees that line the front of our property–in truth, they might all have to go in the coming years–but they all made it through the windstorms, so hopefully they’re stronger than we expect.

The tree closest our driveway has always looked puny, and in the last year or so has developed some mighty big cracks (also sounded hollow AF) so we plotted and planned how we could drop it ourselves without simultaneously crashing our driveway. Worked like a charm.

When it fell, we witnessed hundreds–thousands–tens of thousands carpenter ants spilling out into our yard, creatures which undoubtedly were slowly leading to its demise and are probably also delighting in the bigger Sassafras trees lining the road in our neighborhood. They sucked so much life out of that tree that the cut logs weighed probably no more than 15-pounds each, evidenced by Pete carrying them easily over to the free wood pile.

Pete carrying huge Sassafras logs that were destroyed by carpenter ants.

Both the front yard and backyard are looking a bit different now, but on the plus side, our garden gets better afternoon sunlight than ever before. Will be back soon to share what we’ve been up to back there. (P.S. Sam’s weekly photo series mentioned here is still going strong. Closing in on one year!)

Taking weekly baby pictures nearby significant household changes, like this newly cut tree.

 

Emily vs. Barn, The Makeover Story

April 28, 2017   //  Posted in: Barn   //  By: Emily   //  5 responses
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I mean, I’ll be damned if staining the barn didn’t add a few $$$$ to our property’s value. Not that we’re planning to sell, but if it’s going to be more than just for looks, it’s wise to direct efforts into DIY projects that would be worthy of a good return, right?

Right.

Like I mentioned when I kicked off the project last week, and as you can see above, the barn on our property has been a big eyesore as long as we’ve lived here, and probably for a few decades before that. Check out the original tour of the barn in this separate post (it has stables!).

I didn’t have to make a huge investment for this project to happen–that was part of the appeal–and that’s because we had a lot of the things we needed. A full list of materials that I used, excluding building materials like extra pieces of cedar shake shingle and nails:

  • 5-gallon bucket of stain: Olympic Maximum water-based stain in Oxford Brown ($166 + tax)
  • water (used to dilute the stain to around 40-water/60-stain or 50ish/50ish)
  • a paint/stain sprayer (I’m not really an expert on the types of sprayers for sale; we already owned two models from Black & Decker)
    • This HVLP sprayer priced at $100 was a real workhorse. It was good in the sense that I could fill up the reservoir and angle it up towards the soffits. Good target. It didn’t have broad or particularly heavy-coating spray, so I had to hold it much closer to the surface and spent more time spraying up and down and back and forth across the area. It worked best when I rinsed the nozzle in water during each refill. However slow it was though, it was steady because…
    • This was the other sprayer. That’s an affiliate link. The sprayer burned out on us on its first day of use. I have lots of great B+D tools and I’ll be the first to admit that it was my user error, not an issue of product quality. It had tremendous strength compared to the tortoise cited above–I could have refinished the entire barn in 8 hours if I had used it start-to-finish–but when I tipped it downward to reach a spot at knee-level the stain drained out the nozzle… and then I overcorrected and reached up to a high part on the wall, and the stain drained out the back of the gun (and down my jacket sleeve to my armpit, and definitely down into the motor, and then the damaged tool gently zapped (yeah, electrocuted) my trigger finger when I went to climb up a metal ladder, and to hell with that. Pete was able to make it work again for a short while after a good cleaning, but then it just stopped running for us all together.
  • new paint for the doors (honestly, I had 1/2 of a quart of Edamame green from when I painted our front door and side door, and painting the barn doors the same color was both logical and more cost effective, so I rolled with it (pun!). I ran out when I was almost done with the second door, and just bought one of those tiny sample containers for $3 tinted to match.)
  • and rollers and paint brushes. All the ones I employed were previously used. There’s some appeal in using the gunkiest supplies you still have on hand for projects that don’t really matter, like the stiffened rollers never cleaned perfectly, and the brushes that have bristles splayed in all directions…. you can let them do their job one last time before chucking them right into the garbage.

Beginning-to-end, this project only needs to take a couple of days. It took us 4 days, in between work and other things. It was a good opportunity to let our older girls participate, too. Julia, who’s 10, was able to test out the spray gun and learn how it worked. Hattie, who’s 3, helped me paint the doors. And we found that sometimes painting at 7:30am on a Saturday is just the zen we need to add to our routine.

Painting doors with a toddler.

Painting doors with a toddler.

While you’re checking out some of these before and after photos, I’ll mention that the only thing we’re really mildly disappointed about is that we chose a gray shingle when the barn was roofed. That decision was made so that the barn would match the house, and now we’re curiously asking ourselves if it would look super dumb to spray stain our shingles to be brown… yes? no? yes? I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it, and if it continues to bother me I might be inclined to correct it.

We started with a couple must-do repairs – scraping bubbled paint and some green, thriving moss off the bottom of the garage door so that the surface was smoother (still totally imperfect, we’ll have to replace the door if we expect it to look better), and replacing cedar shakes that were missing, loose, or rotten on the front and sides of the barn. We found a box of the original shakes at the house when we moved in, which was handy.

Replacing missing and damaged cedar shake shingles on our midcentury barn.

The angle that I showed you last week got a lot better, really fast:

Our really, really ugly barn, pre-stain makeover.

Staining a midcentury cedar shake garage a dark brown to blend in to its environment.

I wasn’t sure how well the stain was going to adhere and cover when I started, so I began on a wall that’s out of my daily line of sight. I blocked off the windows with newspaper and painter’s tape (and evidently forgot to remove it from one window when I snapped the “after” photo) and applied the spray in a thin coat. It was really drippy, but more so than I attribute that to the water-to-stain ratio, it didn’t help that the cedar shakes have natural vertical grooves that welcome runny stain, and the surface had been painted and unprepped for stain adhesion (other than me lazily blasting it with a leaf blower to remove any cobwebs and dust). For what it’s worth, I used a 50/50 mixture of the stain and water, stirred it well in a container, and then poured the mixture into the paint gun reservoir. You can get away with a 70-stain/30-water ratio if you are going to clean the nozzle pieces at each refill, which is probably the #1 tip written in the “get to know your paint sprayer before using it” pamphlet. Didn’t read it, and you probably won’t either.

What I’m saying is, the combo of vertical grooves + painted surface + diluted stain wasn’t the perfect recipe for stain to soak in on contact, so it probably took a bit more product to get the coverage we expected. Nonetheless, with a few hours of dry time between coats, the layers of stain did result in a nice, rich chocolate finish.

I mean, look at that!

Our barn, a mid-century cedar shingled and semi-abandoned structure receives a facelift.

Our barn, a mid-century cedar shingled and semi-abandoned structure receives a facelift.

The lesser photographed barn entrance leads down a hill to the lower level, built on a hillside. The path was virtually non-existent for a long time, but Pete has spent a lot of time clearing brush to create our ability to see through the woods, and removed a lot of trees and bushes that cluttered the path.

Access to the barn's lower level through a stable door.

A little bit closer now (evidently I was so horrified of documenting how bad it looked… I only have a few photos of it):

Access to the barn's lower level through a stable door.

I shared a photo of Pete on Instagram while he was up on the ladder reaching some high spots, but the barn finished from this angle really makes the whole project feel worthwhile.

A few things to note:

  • We had enough stain leftover after doing all four walls–yesincluding the backside that no one really cares about–that we also sprayed the stain onto the visible foundation to help it blend in even more. I was going buy recommended cement paint for that surface, but I’m happy we saved $30 and just went with the stain. It looks just fine.
  • I didn’t tape off the windows on this side. We had gotten pretty good aim with the gun by this point. If you do this too, you can remove the dried stain from the glass super easily with a little elbow grease; the stain was water-based.
  • Try to overlook the fact that I haven’t cleaned up the window panes effected by some of the Edamame green paint. If the main house is any indication, cleaning panes is my least favorite DIY chore. If you look really, really closely you’ll be able to see that some of the panes are broken, so addressing that is part of phase 2.
  • I’m testing out some leftover pieces of flagstone on the retaining wall that Pete rebuilt last summer; I never went into much detail about how he rebuilt it or why, and in short it was being pushed over slowly so he disassembled it, and used the same blocks to correct it but reinforced with adhesives and rebar to make it last a long time. If we decide to keep the flagstones on top of it, more will need to be cut to size. For now, I stained the retaining wall too, it’s so matchy-matchy ’round here.
  • Phase 2 might also involve transplanting some lush greenery above the retaining wall. How pretty do the tiny leaves on our trees look in contrast to the dark brown?

Barn, refinished siding with a dark brown stain. The rolling barn door, original to the structure, was painted green.

Recap: If you’re planning on a quick makeover, I highly recommend a paint sprayer. Minimal effort payed off here, but keep in mind that you’ll want to do an appropriate amount of prep work to the underlying surface… the better the prep, the longer the new finish is going to hold up to the elements.