Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Return of Skatteverket

I received my property tax declaration from the nice people at Skatteverket, the Swedish tax authorities.

Readers of this blog with long memories may remember that I received my last one almost three years ago.

It was quite straightforward; essentially all it asked was if I had made any changes to the property which may have increased its value. Instructions in English were available online.

The list of things impacting the value of a house are wide-ranging. Besides basic things like the size of the house and its construction material, there are others: How close is it to the water? Does it have a basement, a heating system, a garage, a flush toilet, a second floor? How nice is the kitchen?

Actually, the kitchen question was relevant for us this time around. After reading the description, it was clear that our kitchen is now a "normal standard," so I made that change on this declaration.

I did note that adding a värmepump won't change the value of the house for tax purposes. In fact, nothing I would realistically do to our little stuga would move it into a higher tax bracket, thankfully.

Next year should be the first year I will have to pay property taxes on our house. I think my bill should be in the range of 5 to 6 thousand kronor ($600-800). This depends, of course, to no changes to the Swedish tax code in the meantime. So we shall see...

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Willie's visit

I didn't write much at the time about Willie's visit earlier this month. I had been having trouble with water leaks around a few of my windows. The most worrying one was along the tall window on the deck. It appeared a lot of water made it into the house along that window.

Willie came out to see us with some rubber sealant and a few other tools. We pulled the boards off and re-sealed as best we could. He found a couple of problems, some of which we fixed. But we'll have to do a bit more next year.

The trim boards outside were flush against the deck, and were wicking water up from the deck into the window joint. Willie had a special little saw and we trimmed a centimeter off the bottom of the boards to provide an air gap.

We also found the trim boards had become warped and shrunk a great deal. Since they hadn't been painted until this year, they dried out quite a bit. Willie pointed out they were originally 95mm wide, but were now shrunk to under 90. The boards are also "cupped" along their width, too, with only the center of the board really flush along the house. The edges curl out and away from the house and window. Not good for water sealing!

Willie recommended we get new trim boards for next year and do a few things differently. First, we score the back of the board with a few shallow cuts along its length. This allows us to slightly bend the board so it lays fully flat along the house.

Second is to work harder to smooth the exterior of the house right along the window joint, so the board has a better chance of laying flat. Since the house is made up of strips of glue-laminated wood, there is variability along the exterior; some strips stick out more or less than their neighbors. A bit of sanding or planing would make the surface far more even.

Lastly, of course, is to paint the boards right away so they are better protected from shrinking and warping over time. So we will do that next year for sure.

Eddie and Sooz on Taco Night
It was great to catch up with Willie. He is a good guy and has become a friend over the years. We talked about his son Eddie, whom I've mentioned before on this blog. Eddie has become established in goal for the Vancouver Canucks. To be a professional NHL player is quite the achievement, and it's easy to see why Willie is so proud of his son.

Sooz and I had the pleasure of dinner with Eddie when he was on a recent road trip. We had a bunch of Tex-Mex tacos, and enjoyed catching up and swapping stories about his dad. Besides the great achievement of playing in the NHL, he's a charming and special young man, and we're glad to count him as a friend.

We have been watching the Canucks results closely. It's much more interesting to follow the team when you know the goalie!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Internet pricing

I received an email recently from Nilla, of the Nämdö broadband project.

Things are moving along nicely, although I think it won't be until the summer of 2016 that we see cabling on Aspö.

The most interesting new information was the first indication of pricing.

Connectivity is provided by a company called "IP Only", which does just what it says on the tin. The cable needs to be attached to a broadband provider, and Nilla provided a listing of potential companies.

Given the sad state of broadband internet in the US, the list of Swedish options is mouth-watering. An insanely fast 1 Gigabit download and upload speed is available for 795 kronor a month (about $110 at today's rates). A more realistic speed (yet still far faster than I have in Texas) of 100 megabits is available for as little as 238 kr ($33) a month.

Some companies provide bundles to provide TV and telephone service as well. These run around 450 kr ($65) monthly. Still a heck of a good deal.

Lastly, it is possible to not have a contract, and just pay for time spent at the house, as I do today with my wireless connection. The prices are also similar to what I'm paying today, about 350 kr ($50) for a month.

All this happens, of course, after the fiber is run all the way to my house, which will cost me roughly 25,000 kronor (about $3500). So there is a significant up-front cost. However, I consider it an investment in the value of our property, not to mention the fact that I love being online.

There are still lots of steps to take until it all happens, but Nilla and the Nämdö Fiber team are doing great work so far.

UPDATE: As I as just about to hit 'send' on this post, I found an article in the local newspaper, skargarden.se. The headline? "Sharply Higher Costs for Broadband Expansion". The upshot is that government subsidies are being removed. The article states: "A connection that previously cost households between 15,000 to 25,000 crowns, could now cost between 50,000 to 100,000 crowns, or not be possible to do at all. A deathblow in other words, for the broadband compounds in the Nämdö archipelago." 

That's very disappointing news, especially since I was just teased with the prospects of such fast and cheap connectivity! I could justify a 25,000 kronor expense, but not double or quadruple that.

But all may be not yet lost. The Nämdö Fiber facebook page has a post regarding the newspaper article. Their reply? Vi kastar INTE in handduken ännu! 

In English: We do NOT throw in the towel yet!

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Hunt for Red October?

There's been a great deal of news the past few days about sightings of some sort of a submarine in the Stockholm archipelago.

Enough credible information has come forward to cause the Swedish Navy to conduct an intense search in the area. One of the sightings, last Friday, was off of Runmarö, damned close to our own little island. It reminds me of the plot of "The Russians are Coming!"

The Local, Radio Sweden, and the Guardian all have good English-language summaries of what's going on right now. Even the Wall Street Journal published a good summary on their free site. There is, by all accounts, an intensive search in our archipelago.

Swedes have a sense of dèjá vu over all this. A well-remembered incident in 1981 found a Soviet submarine run aground very close to a Swedish naval base. There have been at least a dozen well documented sightings of submarines in Swedish waters (all presumed to be Soviet or Russian) since then.

Without dabbling in the political in this blog, it is apparent that Russia is flexing its muscles a bit. It would be no surprise to anyone in Scandinavia (or the Baltics) that Russian submarines are up to their Cold War tricks!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Prefab architects in New York

I have to share a website on which I've been lately spending a lot of time. Resolution:4 Architecture, based in New York, have a design aesthetic I just love. Their website is also done very well. It's easy to look at individual houses, including construction photos and detailed drawings.

My favorite page is their "modern modular" which shows the huge range of home designs possible from a few basic shapes. Homes built from each of the different modules can easily be seen, so there's a clear link between the theory of each design and the actual home itself.

Many of these houses look a bit like our own little stuga, which is probably another reason I like their work so much. But leaving that personal note aside, it's still a fantastic website for anyone interested in modern home design.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Composting

I posted a recently about Sweden's success in recycling virtually all of their country's garbage. One element of household waste that draws less attention is that of leftover food.

Our neighborhood in London ran a food waste collection program. We were given a bucket for all organic waste, which was collected weekly. It was surprising to us how much of our weekly garbage was made up of simple things like potato peelings, chicken bones, and grapefruit rinds!

Minimizing our garbage is important when living out on Aspö. I'd love to collect and compost our food waste there. We'd have less to throw away, and we could supplement our meager soil for planting. The problem is we're there infrequently, and aren't able to maintain a compost heap.

I read recently about a new household gadget that does a quick and simple job of handling food waste.

The Food Cycler will take a bucketful of cooked or uncooked food, and in about three hours, turn it into dried and sanitized compost.

I really like the idea. After all, I love my gadgets! The idea of throwing away less, while creating compost for our plantings, fits our needs perfectly.

There are a few snags, though, First, at $600, the device is expensive. It also uses a lot of energy, which drives cost as well.

But I think these sorts of units will develop and become more efficient and less costly. I can imagine we'd be buying something like this for our stuga a few years from now.


Monday, October 13, 2014

The social whirl

It was a whirlwind trip this time across the pond. We were gone for less than two weeks, and “on the go” every day.

First, we flew to London and spent a few days there to celebrate Sooz’s birthday. I asked her what she wanted as a gift for her big day, and she said “dinner in London with my friends.” Her wish was my command! Grant was able to fly over as well. We had a great time.

Then onward to Stockholm on a late night flight. We spent Tuesday recovering, until yet another birthday celebration at Pharmarium in Gamla Stan. There we met up with our Swedish friends, with the super bonus of joint-birthday girl Margaret and Janne, who were back visiting.

We took the Wednesday afternoon boat to Aspö, which gave us an unusually leisurely amount of time to shop in Gustavsberg. On Thursday, we had a visit from Willie who helped me seal up some window leaks. It was great to see him! We also made plans to do a bit more work on the windows next year.

Friday was the actual birthday itself. I had arranged a little champagne toast that evening with Annika, Olle, Peter and Jeanette. We were also surprised by Rutger, Marcia, Camille and Archie on the evening boat as well! So we had a full house on Friday night.

The fun wasn’t over, as Saturday night was Oktoberfest at Johan and Sofia’s barn! Lots of singing (and drinking) late into the night. Let’s just say that Sunday was mostly used for recovery. At least I was able to get photos posted.

We closed up the house and headed back to Rutger and Marcia’s on Monday to a birthday dinner for Camille, whose birthday was the next day (and is the same day as Olle’s). A long flight home Tuesday arrived just in time to pick up Ollie that night (in 95° heat!!)

So you can see why we’ve been quiet. The past few days have been all about recovery.

We won’t be back at the house until next Spring, I don’t think. However, there are lots of things to post about, so stay tuned, dear readers.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Monday, October 6, 2014

Sorry for lack of posts

...lots & lots going on, all of it good.

We'll be back in Texas tomorrow night and I'll have a chance to regroup for the blog. I did manage to get a photo page up, at least.

Stay tuned!