Easter Eggs: The Aftermath

The food dye we used to dye our eggs seeped into some of the eggs in a most delightful way.

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AfterEaster: hard-boiled eggs aplenty!

Happy Easter 2017

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Solar at Last

After literally years (I bought the major components in May of 2015!), we finally have an operational solar hot water heating system. Let’s start in the basement utility room.

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The collection part of the system

Here is the 800L (211 gallons) solar hot water storage tank. I choose this size on the highly scientific principle that it was the largest one that would fit under the 7½’ ceiling. The grey box on the wall is solar pump/controller. When the rooftop panel temp is higher than the storage tank temp (and the tank is less than 145 160 °F [Updated June 1st 2017 after system fine-tuning]) it starts pumping. The insulated pipe coming out the top of the box goes to the rooftop panels where the heat is collected and comes down though the right-hand pipe, through a heat exchange coil in the tank, then back up to the box. The red thing is an expansion tank. This system is a closed loop that has a 50/50 water/propylene-glycol mix (good down to minus 39 degrees).

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The heat distribution part of the system

On the opposite wall we have the underfloor heating pump and controls. The green box on the right is the control module. When a thermostat calls for heat in any of the 3 zones, it sends a signal to the appropriate thermal actuator (the small white cylinders atop the manifold in the center of the picture. Once the actuators are open (visually you can see a blue ring at the top) the controller starts the circulator pump (on the left — it is a delta-T variable speed pump that reacts to individual zones opening and closing to maintain a constant temperature differential between the inlet and outlet). This part of the system is a open loop — it uses the water directly from the big storage tank (which also provides pre-heated water into our small electric DHW heater.

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The collector frames

Last week I completed the assembly of the three rooftop solar panel frames. Each of the three frames will hold 30 evacuated/vacuum collector tubes. Together the three frames are about 23 feet long. At the top of each frame is a manifold — this is the only part that has water running in it, to capture the heat from the tubes.

Installation begins

Monday, the contractors arrived, two guys with two ladders. The frames are unwieldy but fairly light. After some discussion we decided to take off the relative heavy manifolds and take them up separately. Here is the first frame getting fastened to the roof; rather than put any holes in our shiny new standing roof I choose specialized clamps.[/caption]

Here is the second frame being carried up the two ladders. I am working the safety rope from underneath.

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Day one done

By the close of the first day’s installation, the contractors had completed the plumbing hookup to the frames; meanwhile I got the hookups done in the utility room. I pressurized the system with 30 psi of air and left it overnight to test for leaks. It failed the test. When the contractors got here at 8am on the day two, I put them to installing the column and posts for the ramp railing (see a few pictures down), while I hooked up the submersible pump to flush the solar system and pinpoint leaks. I had two in the utility room — both cheap-ass fittings I got at the Capon Valley Market yesterday since I ended up short. I managed to crank one down enough to stop it, and for then other I had found the proper fitting and got that in. Meanwhile, since water was dripping off of the roof the contractors went up and tightened the leaking compression fittings up there.

Leaks fixed, they started in on putting aluminum tape over the rooftop foam pipe insulation to protect it from the sun, while I drained the flush water from the system and re-pressurized it with a 50% polypropylene glycol mixture. I turned on the pump controller, and we started installing the 90 heat tubes. I was on the upper veranda unpacking the tubes from the shipping boxes, smearing thermal paste on the copper condenser tips, handing each tube up to guy one who was on the ladder, who then handed them to guy two to insert in the frames. Six of the tubes were broken, but the manufacturer was pretty generous by sending 30 spare tubes (but just the tubes, I had to remove the sealed copper tube inserts and aluminum heat-collection fins from the broken tubes).

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The finished product from the front (south side)

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And from the back (north side). To the right you can see the newly-installed posts; the shorter two are original to the house, they were part of a handrail on the front porch. I’ve been saving them for lo these 18 years — glad to have finally found a use for them!

The system seems to be working fine, the 211-gallon solar water storage tank went from 59 degrees 96 by the end of the day. Was still at 93 this morning. (I ultimately want to get the tank to 145 160 °F [Updated June 1st 2017 after system fine-tuning].) This morning I turned on the underfloor heat in the addition, we’ll see how it does getting the room from 65 to 68. Also interested in whether the rooftop unit can glean heat on a cloudy day.

It feels very good to have this project done! (Well, except for some more pipe insulation in the utility room.)

And, as a bonus, I discovered that my Moto phone had made a highlight reel (complete with cheesy music!) of the photos and videos I took yesterday late afternoon. It was a gorgeous day to review the completed project from the vantage point of the pasture and spring run. And our livestock guardian dog Satie enjoyed it as well.

(The Last?) Concrete Pour

Apparently we are gluttons for punishment, because this week we called back our concrete contractors. No offence to them, but we sincerely hope this will be the last time we ever see them! This time, it was to pour a floor for the main basement of our old house.

When we moved in to this c.1834 house in 1998, the basement had a dirt floor, which occasionally did double-duty as, um, an ephemeral creek bed. We traced (most of) the water to a poorly-installed-and-therefore-clogged diversion drain that had been installed when the septic system went in the late 1980’s to get the leach field to perk. After we dealt with that, back in the early aughts we had the mud-laid foundation stones mortared in place to direct any remaining water down low to the floor. We then put in a French drain system to drain both cellars out back down the hill.

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This is the only pic I could find of the basement trenching project. It comes from a time when my hair — and beard — still had some color.

The trench drain worked, mostly. In ’05 we hired some guys to dig out 8 inches or so of the dirt (Atkins Silt Loam, to be precise) floor. We then had them put in 5 inches or so of gravel. This has served as our basement floor ever since.

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This is what the basement floor looked like before we had it dug out and graveled. You can barely see the stone hearth under the mud (more on the hearth in a bit). Also, in the interim we have relocated the water heater into the new addition.

Fast forward to last summer, when we decided to go ahead and have a concrete slab poured, to complete the conversion into a fully usable space. We spent some time removing and leveling the gravel down so the 3-4″ of concrete would come up to the pre-existing level of the old dirt floor.

The task of leveling the gravel was made much easier by using the optical level with tripod that I bought when I was designing the new addition. You can see the concrete footers for the jack posts (that apparently were installed in the late 80s) that mark the level of the soon-to-be poured concrete.

As always seems to be the case, it took some months to schedule the contractors, but over last weekend we confirmed a pour for Wednesday. Tuesday saw the final preparations.

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The old wood threshold we removed. The top certainly looked worn, but that was nothing compared to the rotten bottom.

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I cut off the bottom of the door frame sides so the concrete will flow up to the stone wall. The door frames have a lot of rot (I was shocked — Shocked! — to discover this).

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Prep work done.

Wednesday dawned to the sound of contractors banging, yelling (*always* with the yelling, these contractors), and engines delivering and pumping the concrete.

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This equipment is very noisy; the cat stayed under our bed for the duration of the day.

After several days of curing, the finished floor is now walkable. A far cry from where we found it 18 years ago.

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Our new (non-rotted) concrete threshold.

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In this view you can see the full-width stone hearth across the north end of the basement. Once the concrete is fully cured (28 days)we will have the hearth pointed up with mortar.
On the wall you can see the outlines of the original 1800’s cooking fireplace. We presume that this was closed off c.1900 when an addition was added and the flue was re-purposed for a wood stove to heat the addition.
The two posts on the hearth are there to support the stone kitchen hearth that we put in during the summer of 2006.

What a Difference a Day Makes

Every year in the spring we have our collie Roy shaved.
It makes him more comfortable and our house less dog-hairy.
But everybody who meets him in his shaved state asks “What kind of dog is that?”
RoyShave

Late Gasp of Winter [Video]

This winter has been virtually snow-free so far. Temps have been up and down — in fact, a couple of weeks ago we had several days in the mid-70s!

But Ole Man Winter isn’t quite ready to leave just yet. An old-fashioned Nor’Easter passed over us last night dumping about 8″ of snow.

Here is what the morning chores (feeding the dogs — two indoor, one outdoor livestock guardian dog) in the lingering flurries was like:

Addition Omnibus Progress Late Winter 2017 [Video]

Forgive me, for I have sinned: It has been almost a year since my last post.

We made good progress on our (seemingly interminable) addition project over last spring and summer. I took a lot of pictures with many blog posts in mind, but, well, «insert aphorism about the surface of a road to a bad place here», so I decided to do an omnibus video covering everything that we got done. Progress faltered, for various reasons (*cough* Trump *cough*), as summer faded into autumn. We did not meet our major goal of having the underfloor solar heat working — which would have let me continue with the trim-out over the winter — so I basically hibernated over the winter as far as the addition was concerned.

A 15-minute tour:

[Update 5 Mar 17] Fun Fact: the (will-eventually-be-) heated great room / under-loft floor has ~40 yd3 of concrete — that’s 160,000 pounds of thermal-mass goodness!

Addition Early-Spring Progress

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I took advantage of the early-March warm-up and got the addition concrete floor sealed. I used Eagle Armor Seal, a glossy, low-VOC, water-based urethane on everything but the shower, which got Eagle Natural Seal, a waterborne penetrating water repellent that keeps the anti-slip texture of the sponge-finished concrete. I used my infrared digital thermometer to verify that the slab was at least 50°F per the instructions. It ranged from 53 to 57 throughout the 7-day process: 1 day to shop-vac and wet-mop, 2 days to dry, 1 day to do the shower floor, and 3 days to lay down 3 coats. I used an 18” roller which made pretty fast work of it.

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The finished product after two weeks of curing — we are quite pleased with the results. This was also a major bottle neck to moving forward with the baseboards, galley cabinets, and loft flooring. (The flip side is that I am now the major bottleneck!)

Happy Easter!

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We dyed a mix of white and brown eggs

PWS KWVHOOKS2 is On the Air

“Huh?” you might be thinking. Well, I spent my Christmas gift money on something I’ve been thinking about getting for years. PWS = Personal Weather Station and KWVHOOKS2 is the Station ID that Weather Underground assigned to my new Ambient Weather WS-1200-IP OBSERVER Solar Powered Wireless Internet Remote Monitoring Weather Station. Since we are going to be installing a solar hot water system soon, I splurged and got a station that includes UV and solar radiation readings. This system streams outdoor temperature, humidity, wind speed, wind direction, rainfall, UV and solar radiation, and indoor temperature, humidity and barometric pressure.

You can see the current data over on the right sidebar, and you can peruse historical data (not much yet, just it installed yesterday!) by clicking on KWVHOOKS2 over there as well.

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I mounted the all-in-one sensor array on the corner fence post next to the terrace gardens — it is one of the few posts that is still rock-solid, and is also a reasonable distance from the house.

The Threat of Ices

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The latest winter storm brought us about 1.5″ of snow, several hours of sleet, then many hours of (freezing) rain. The result: about an inch of hard frozen slush (on top of the several inches of hard-frozen snow still remaining in places from the last storm). Starting around 2 a.m it started crashing off of the back roof in thunderous reports as it glanced off the veranda railings and then shattered on the frozen snow in the back yard. Now the sun is partially out and melting is happening big-time, so we need to watch the river for flooding.


“Sheba, shotgun!”

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That’s a new command that our dog Bersheba loves to hear. To give her a break from the rambunctious puppy Satie that we have saddled her with, we let her ride shotgun when we drive to town to go shopping. On this day, even though it was only 35° out, she still had her head out the window for much of the trip.

Snowzilla Aftermath

It took me another 3 days to dig us out to the point where we could get a vehicle on the road. My back-of-the-envelope calculations are that I moved at least 10,000 cubic feet of snow — around 640 feet of driveway by 8 feet wide by 2 feet deep, more or less, give or take.

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My main goal Monday was to clear the lower drive all the way to the dirt road (which the road crews had just plowed.) This includes getting to the gate to let the dogs out to run around a bit. Satie agrees with this goal!


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By 11:30 I had the dogs out and had gotten most of the way to the road. The F150, I am hoping, will clear itself once things warm up next week. Another 2 hours and I got out to the road. I then loaned the tractor to a neighbor who lives down the dirt road so he could plow out his driveway so 3 people could get to work the next day. (Have I mentioned lately how wonderful it is to work from home?)


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I started Tuesday clearing out a parking space at the upper end of the lower drive. I then started on clearing the main road in front of the mailbox. Note in the picture near the mail box that the Post Office was back on the road, in this case delivering an Amazon package handed off to it from UPS.


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For the upper driveway I had two choices: start at the level-ish end, which, though, is not really level and is *very* close to the steep stone wall drop-off, so I went with starting by going down the steep drive entrance. I fully expected to get stuck. I did. Note in the picture that most of the snow has blown off the house roof. This happened in thunderous whooshes during the storm. Our new metal roof apparently is much slipperier than our old roof, with its (dozens?) of coats of paint and caulked repairs, which would hold snow for days/weeks.


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To get unstuck, it took some hand digging but I had gravity on my side. It was slow going, only got 1/3 of the way to the garage by day’s end. Lots of slipping and sliding on the icy surfaces created by the tires compressing the increasingly-wetter snow in the just-above-freezing temperatures.


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On dig-out day 3 I continued pressig towards the garage. By lunch time, including hand digging, I had reached the car in the garage. Note the snow looming on the roof — it slides off in big sheets, which is one reason we wanted the car out now, before more snow piles up in front of the door.


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In the afternoon I tackled the remaining upper drive. It was quite close quarters with tress and bushes on both sides. (I was glad the snow had already blown off the branches, no snow down the back of my neck!) As expected, it was a challenge finding space to dump all the snow.


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3:30pm Wednesday, all done!

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Today was cleanup day 1 from the monster East Coast winter storm that ended last night around 8 p.m., after pummeling us with snow for 32 hours.

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Today was a gorgeous sunny day. Never got above freezing, though.


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Having the tractor on the addition ramp was good in that it was most definitely nice to be able to just hop on the tractor and get started without any hand digging. This was too much snow to use my usual push-and-veer technique. I had to scoop-and-dump, which involved a lot of 3-, 4-, and 5-point turns to get the loads to a place where I could dump them.


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I measured 34″ of snow in the drifts near the house, and 24″ in a more open place. This was after a pretty windy night and several hours of sunshine, so who knows how much actually fell. (Other than, of course a lot).


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My lunch break was triggered by my getting stuck. This light snow compacted down to a hard slush in the intense sunshine. All it took was me venturing just a little too far onto the 10° slope at the side of lower drive to start slipping sideways. After lunch I hand-dug around the tractor and dumped some wood-ash for traction. It took 10 minutes of judicious use of the loader bucket to lever myself back-and-forth, but I got unstuck.


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I had two major goals today: (1) get out to goat shed to check on the dogs — check! …


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… and (2) clear a path to the woodshed — check! — since we burned through most of the wood we brought in on Thursday.


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By the way, the dogs were fine. The covered portion of the southern portico was dry and warm with its deep bedding. Bersheba, though, was clearly tired of the company of puppy Satie, but I did not get the tractor as far as the gate so she will have to wait until tomorrow for an outing.


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Speaking of the gate, it opens inward, so I was not looking forward to trying to open it. It looks like the dogs have helped me out in that regard. (“Shovels? We don’t need no stinkin’ shovels!”)


This all took me a total of 6½ hours, including breaks. Tomorrow, I want to clear the lower driveway out to the dirt road (a challenge in that it is uphill and sloped to the side), and then get around to the upper driveway and start getting that cleared out so we can get the Mini out of the garage at some point.

Ready for the Storm

The prediction is for a “possibly historic” snow storm in our neck of the woods, with snow measured in feet and high winds as well, starting tomorrow. We have spent much of this week preparing — getting hay in for the goats, filling holes where our dog Bersheba digs out (so as to make sure she is here tomorrow when she and Suddy will get locked into the southern portico of the goat shed with plenty of food), removing the last of the construction debris around the house, etc. Here are the fruits of our labor:

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Plenty of wood in for the living room wood stove.


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Plenty of wood in for the kitchen wood stove.


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A reserve cart of wood and our tractor-PTO-driven generator on the front porch (I will get them covered tomorrow morning before the storm starts).


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We ran out of time and energy to get all our latest load of wood stacked, so it will be buried under snow for a while.


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New for us this winter, I have the tractor parked on the new addition entrance ramp so I can just hop on and start snow removal, no hand-digging my way to the garage!


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Having the tractor (and a lot of my shop tools that are now in my new shop in the addition) out of the garage mean we are able to get the Mini Cooper under cover.


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My new shop, on the other hand, needs some TLC! Note, though, that I put most of the big stuff on dollies to make it easier to rearrange.