Archive for March, 2011

A New Year and new challenges

March 15, 2011

I took a bit of a holiday from the house building business, and spent a month including Christmas and New Year in Newfoundland catching up with friends and family and enjoying the “fleshpots” of the Newfoundland holiday season.   I had got my radiant heating system up and running on the backup heat source with the natural gas tankless heater heating the water in my 80 gallon solar storage tank.  The plumbers had finished most of the copper plumbing in the attic connecting the manifolds of the solar panels on the roof, but ran out of acetylene which they needed to do the silver solder on the copper pipes and there were two joints that would not hold pressure.   I had arranged to have my friend Ron of the strawbale house down the street, keep an eye on my radiant heating system which was still in start-up mode.   Since he had gone through similar setup with his house not long ago, was well adapted to overseeing it.   Just after  I got on the plane to NL, there was a major dump of snow here in Ontario,  and Ron complained by email of having to slog through the drifts.  Fortunately with  a little tweaking on his part the heating worked quite nicely and reached equilibrium a few days after I left.

When I got back from Newfoundland on January 11,  all that snow had melted, but in another couple days there was again snow on the ground and the roof.   I was able to schedule plumbers to come and finish the solar panel plumbing and it then passed muster holding pressure.   We also  re-organized the loop from the tank-less heater which was doing weird things and got air locked regularly.   Had been taking water from the middle of  of the storage tank and feeding it back into the top after heating.   Now take water from the middle, and feed it in at the bottom.   The system is much happier!    At that point the plumbing was compete to the solar panels, but the roof was loaded with ice and snow, so no prospect of installing the evacuated tubes in the panel manifolds.

There was a really cold spell during my absence, and unfortunately the battery on my VW Jetta  ran down because of issues I had with an ignition switch frozen in accessory position.  Net result a wrecked battery which had frozen.   I also had the final insult to the blower motor of the propane furnace of my trailer. I thought I had left the furnace turned down really low and had an electric heater to keep the interior from getting really cold,  but apparently had left the furnace thermostat set higher than intended.  Net result, exhausted the propane tank, and the dumb furnace controller runs the fan forever when there is no propane, you have to turn the furnace off to at the thermostat to get it to stop.  The fan motor bearings were on their last legs, would make noise on startup, but running indefinitely pushed them over the edge and the motor was non-functional when I got back.

Since I had two ceramic heaters I was able to make the trailer temps livable since I have it winterized with plexiglass storm windows and an insulating skirt, but set about finding a replacement motor.  By far the best price I could find was at RVParts.com which is part of Wild Tangent Ventures Inc. in Tuscon, AZ.   I had a bit of trouble getting their online ordering system to work, and they saw my incomplete order and contacted me by email.  When I tried again, I got the order and was astounded at the low shipping cost.  It turns out there was a glitch in the program, and it undercharged me for shipping, but they shipped at that price anyway.  GOOD PEOPLE! They also ship by USPost which avoids the exorbitant brokerage fee with FedX or UPS for coming across the border.  It got here in good time, and with a bit of fiddling and cold hands got the furnace up and running again.

Just to make my life even more interesting, my MacBook laptop, not quite a year in my hands, had the hard drive crash at the end of January.  It was really close but it was still in warranty, and I had been using the Time Machine backup system so in theory everything was backed up on an external drive.  I got the new hard-drive for free, but  getting  a really complete restoration of everything was so complicated I had to pay the Mac technician to get it done.  Painful, but money well spent because I had wasted an entire weekend trying unsuccessfully to do it myself.

In the meantime, I was  working away at preparing my floors for staining.   This was a multiple step process.  1. thoroughly scrub floor with soap and water.  2. Treat with an etching chemical to prepare surface for  staining.  3. REALLY scrub the surface to remove the treatment product and leave the surface ready for stain  4. Stain the floors    5. Apply sealer.       I have chosen to use a set of water based chemicals which are rated much less toxic (to me and the environment) than the acid stain process and epoxy sealers which have been in common use for many years.   I had seen a demo of these products at the Form and Build shop which supplies a wide variety of tools and finshes/chemicals for doing concrete construction, and liked the reduced hazard and “green” features.  I started out doing the scrubbing  with rubber gloves and a scrub brush,  followed by the wet vac to pick up the dirt and water.   Quickly found that was not doing good things to my back and other joints, so rented a commercial floor scrubber from Home Depot.   Thought I could finish the prep work in two days, but figured out after two 14 hour days alternating between scrubber and wet vac, that it would take four days to get the job done.   I was one tired puppy by the time I brought the scrubber back the Home Depot at the end of the 4th day.    I sort of empathized with the guy in the joke who was banging his head against the wall.  When asked why he was doing it, answered “because it feels so good when I stop “:)  After a day of recovery  I started working on the staining.  First go was the walk-in closet in the master BR, quickly determined the dilution factor was too dark, and tried to remove some stain with a roller.   Final result was not happy, very streaky.  Had to do another coat, darker than I really wanted but more uniform.  Final dilution ratio was 12 to 1 distilled H2O to stain.

In the second week in February the weather warmed up and snow melted including all the snow and ice on the roof.   At that point I connected with my friend Ron and Ken Cochrane another of my close neighbors came over to help and we installed the evacuated tubes in the solar panels.  D-Day  was Feb 18 and we  had an assembly line.   Ken was in the house unpacking the tubes and greasing the end of the heat pipe with silicone. He  passed them out the door to Ron who was on the scaffold,  from there to me on the roof  where I inserted each one into the manifold and Ron screwed in the retainer cap to hold the tube from sliding out.  Went lickety split, done with all 60 tubes in a little over 2 hours.   It was almost 5 pm when we were finished but already the panels were hot enough that the controller computer turned on the pump and we collecting heat from the tubes.   It has not been a particularly sunny winter, lots of snow and full or partial overcast.  On the first really bright sunny day,  the solar panels brought the temp in the storage tank up to 180 F, the max the controller would allow, and then shut off the pump so the water drained back into the reservoir.  The collector temperature under the stagnant conditions with no water in the manifold, rose to 409F .   My strategy now on sunny days is to turn up the thermostat so I’m pulling heat out of the tank at the same time as panels are putting heat in.   Maximizes the heat I can capture and store in the water tank and the floor and don’t get tank temp so high that the pump shuts off and I stop collecting calories.

February 18, Evacuated tubes installed in the solar panels.

February 21, Snow again!

Snow partially cleared from the panels.

Snow brushed off the solar panels.

All three panels cleared of snow.

Part of my life and engagement with the community is a continuation of my passion for choral music. As a consequence I sing in two choirs, plus a church choir. In my near community this is the Glencoe community choir called Voiceprints, as well as the London-based London Pro Musica an auditioned high level choir with a long history of excellence. Net result is that I have rehearsals pretty much every Monday and Tuesday evening, the Monday rehearsal of course taking me to London. I usually try to combine the Monday trip with errands I may need to run in relation to stuff I need for the house project, and one place I regularly check out is the Sears outlet store, which is just down the street from another of my regular haunts, the Costco store. On one of my visits I noticed an mahogany armoire with a small scratch on its finish that was price reduced by almost 70% and was a perfect fit for the space in my bedroom hallway were I was planning to build a movable linen cabinet. It is real wood, and the price was right so I made it mine, and a couple days later my friend Don helped me bring it home with his pickup.

My new linen closet/ armoire for the bedroom hallway.

A major commitment of LPM for the winter season was to travel to Kingston, ON on March 5 for a joint concert with the Cantabile choir directed by Mark Sirett. As warmup of repertoire and presentation to our local audience we did a joint concert with the choirs from Medway High School, which also has a long history of choral excellence, on Feb 26. Since I have a daughter who lives in Montreal I have not visited in a while, I chose to drive to Kingston rather than taking the bus which the choir had hired.

The weather was not entirely cooperative, had pouring rain for the trip to Kingston on Saturday, where the rehearsal and concert went swimmingly 🙂

March 5, Rehearsal in St George's Anglican church of Cantabile choir.

Had a full house at St. Georges Anglican Cathedral, more than 600 people who were enthusiastically appreciative. That night it snowed, significantly 😦 Sang an additional engagement at the service of the Chalmers United Church Sunday morning and then it was hit the road to Montreal.

First 100 km was dicey, snow-packed occasionally icy spots on the road, and some drivers with death wishes who insisted on driving far faster than conditions warranted. After I got away from the lake effect snow coming off Lake Ontario, the road improved and I made it into Montreal before dark. That night MORE snow, about 20cm, so I had to dig out my car the next morning. Montreal has very good snow clearing, so major streets were open right away, but enough snow so parking areas took a while to open up. Did a bit of out and about around town, traffic was light, I gather it was a school snow day. When we decided to go to a movie on Monday night, at a huge multiplex in the old hockey temple the Forum, we had a private screening, just the two of us in the theater. Tuesday morning headed back home to the country, once I got outside Montreal the highway was clear and dry. Made it back in time for choir practice with my other choir 🙂

Stained sealed floor in dining room area.

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