I Have Freaking Socks On!

I hate socks.

This is the tale of three houses.

North Puffin
The furnace didn’t start when I turned it on Friday morning.

Multi-Colored SoxRegular readers may recall that we’ve had some water issues here. I installed a conventional, electric water heater this spring primarily because the “domestic coil” in the furnace had some issues but we figured we’d get another season out of the boiler itself.

We figured wrong.

“Won’t need it this weekend,” Liz Arden said.

Will Sunday!

It was about 44 Friday night with calls for frost. High Pressure to the north kept the weekend nice but cold. We flew the coop, not to return until last night in time for the eclipse.

Our son lives in Barre. We drove to his house Friday. Stayed overnight.

Karl lives downstairs in a two-apartment house. It has but one thermostat and that is in his living room.

Cool, right?

Maybe not. As I understand it, the upstairs tenants might burn his car for heat if he turns down the ‘stat. It is always quite warm in his house.

I was very comfortable.

Our granddaughter and grandson-in-law invited us down for dinner (I’ll go a long way for a free meal and this was a good one) and to see their new house. It’s a lovely new house with a working furnace, views of Boston, and a driveway on Lombard Street. OK it’s not really Lombard Street but their street designer did his best.

It was c-o-l-d in their house Saturday night, even by my sleeping standards, and SWMBO kept pulling the quilt away. She slept quite well.

North Puffin
It was a pretty, pretty day and the temp got up into the 70s for the ride back north but it was 60°F when we arrived back here. The breeze picked up to 8 mph or so out of the south when I quit shooting the blood moon eclipse at around 11.

We put the winter blanket on the bed and I was warm and cozy all night except when SWMBO pulled the blanket away and my butt froze.

Then I had to get up.

The furnace in question is 35-years old. It needs replacement. I don’t wanna. I particularly don’t wanna today.

We’ll limp along until that happens.

For the record, it was 81°F this morning in South Puffin with about a 30% chance of showers and thunderstorms all week from that system in the Gulf of Mexico. It will be mostly cloudy there today with a high of 88 and a 10-15 mph southeast wind which for some reason isn’t a breeze (the temperature here is coming up a bit on 13-21 mph southerly “breezes” this afternoon.)

It’s time to head back home. Maybe we should camp at Karl’s until we do. It’s nice and warm there! Meanwhile, I have socks on.




“There is no rewind button in life,” Jamie Lee Thurston told me.

No, but if there were I’d surely use it to redrain my pipes better last fall.

It was a rough winter in North Puffin. Fortunately, I was in South Puffin at the time. We had a difficulty with the frig. And the coffee maker. And it turns out we also had some plumbing issues.

SWMBO started the house back up after its winter hibernation and called to say, “There’s water running everywhere.”

Uh oh.

“Define ‘everywhere’,” I replied wisely.

Split, Leaky PipesAfter we got past that exchange, she told me there seemed to be a split in the PEX manifold from the water tank. Splits in the cold water copper pipe to the domestic water coil in the furnace. Some separated fittings in the hot water out from the same coil. A couple of burst fittings over here. Another one over there. And so on.

Last Fall, we were very, very careful. I installed a new water makeup to pump propylene glycol in the furnace. I filled all the fixtures with potable antifreeze. Every toilet and tank, every sink trap, every appliance. I drained the water system from the top down. I even completely drained the PVC pipes to the outdoor faucet and shower. Let me repeat that. I drained the water system from the top down. There should have been no water in those pipes anywhere.

Note to self: close the washer lid to keep the mice at bay. They like the sweet smell of antifreeze and then can’t get out. That does not make a pleasant homecoming. SWMBO will not clean it out. Mouses are man’s work.

It was a brutal winter. Even the cellar froze. I think even the water in the cistern froze and it has never frozen.

I may be a great mechanic but I AM™ the world’s lousiest solder jock.

I can blame 10% of that on my torch and 90% on my technique. I can almost always sweat a clean, empty fitting. I can almost never sweat a clean fitting that has ever had any water within a mile of it. Oh, I know the “drain the pipes” trick. I know the “push bread innit” trick. I know most of the tricks. I’m glad they work for you.

The pipes in the cellar apparently didn’t all drain then. And a stub line on the porch blew out. Apparently it didn’t all drain, either.

I started the repairs by repairing the outdoor pipes and extending the stub over to a new hose bib I installed near the kitchen door. I’m good with PVC. That gave us cold water at the kitchen. We have a nice 5 gallon jug (a square-ish, translucent, left over container of teat dip) but that is a PITA to lug up from the cellar.

Then I fixed the PEX. Everyone tells me PEX won’t swell and split when it freezes. PEX swells and splits when it freezes. I’m good with PEX.

Copper. Sweating. Oh, my.

The pipes in the cellar drained completely when they split. I started at the furnace end and simply worked my way back. I took out a rat’s nest of copper around the furnace; a real plumber had added a mixing valve (sometimes called a “tempering” valve) several years ago. It allegedly mixes COLD water in with the hot water to “ensure constant, safe shower and bath outlet temperatures, and preventing scalding.”

Horse puckey.

I’ve had it replaced twice and it has consistently given us a minute (somewhere in the cycle) of pure cold water in the shower. Plumber said it was code. Same plumber installed a “boiler drain valve” (a sweated in stop valve on the end of an open stub) pointed up. Up? I took the mixing valve out and plumbed the furnace outfeed directly to my shower (and the rest of the hot water service). Fewer joints. Cleaner. That opened the bottom of the tee up so I could hang his drain valve pointing down, at the lowest point of the hot water system. Replaced a blown out elbow in the cold water feed and used a tee in that line to install a new drain valve pointing down, at the lowest point of the furnace cold water system, too.

So I had worked my way back to the cellar wall by the crawlspace under the kitchen. I added shutoffs and drains where they should have been, so each leg could be independently controlled. Hot and cold water everywhere but the kitchen, baby!

I tried an air pressure test on the hot and cold lines running into the kitchen. The cold didn’t hold air at all. The hot pushed air back at me, so it may be sound beyond one blown out elbow. I desoldered that fitting, drained and cleaned the pipes, installed shutoff valves, and replaced the blown out fitting. One side didn’t take, something I didn’t learn until I foolishly turned the water back on.

That’s when my 1968 torch crapped out.

It’s always been a bit cranky in that it doesn’t necessarily shut down the propane bottle, but I could solve that by taking it off the bottle. Now the valve is just plain stuck. I don’t think operating a propane valve with pliers is very safe.

No local store carries the self-lighting Mag-Torch I want, so I ordered it online. It should be here tomorrow. Or Friday.

The water system continues to frustrate me in spite of getting it working everywhere but the kitchen. I still have to struggle with at least that blown fitting, I’ll have to crawl around in the crawl space, and I’m really nervous about the life expectancy of the furnace.

The 36-year old furnace started right up and has been running as it should, but it is 36-years old and it lives in a dirt floor cellar.

Harper’s Second Law: Rust Never Sleeps.

At least we got to shower!

We changed the sheets, too.

I know there is an end to this job somewhere but I’m not getting anything on my own list done.

SWMBO is happy to have water in the rest of the house so now the fact that the coffee maker makes coffee but doesn’t keep it warm is at the top of her list.

I suspect the coffee maker is a separate issue from all the freeze damage.



Don got me thinking about fixing or tossing stuff (we call it “repair or replace” now, because that’s how we roll). I grabbed a long-favorite 10-year old shirt this morning and noticed the cuffs are fraying. I suppose racer tape will keep that from being too too noticeable but I need to find my roll with the pale red, blue, green and white stripes to keep peeps from remarking on the tape.

Anyway, I never bought a netbook but I do have a Palm Tungsten T and a pellet stove.

Both broke.

Even if I hadn’t lived in Vermont (motto: Bet ya can’t name two of our towns) for more years than anywhere else in my life, so far, I come from an old Quaker family that never threw anything away. My loft is living proof. When we moved here, I brought 30,000 pounds in two moving vans and still had to tow the race car behind my truck. When my parents and grandfather moved out of the family home, I got the rest of the family history.

New Vermont motto: If Harper can’t find it in the attic, you don’t need it.

When I “upgraded” to Windows 7, it immediately orphaned my Palm PDA. The Palm still works perfectly well but the Palm HotSync™ app won’t load and my calendar and address book sync doesn’t.

Real Vermonters, tinkerers all, really really used to believe in fixing things.

I have tried to “fix” the Palm. I still have some hope but it is on the shelf for now. Meanwhile, it got cold in here.

The pellet stove has been difficult all this heating season. It all started when Anne noticed the fire was “doming” in the firepot. The dome threatened to pus fire back into the pellet poop chute. Not a good thing. Pellet stoves put out very little ash and what ash this one did make seemed to form a dome instead of flying out of the firepot like good ash should. I was down to South Puffin at the time and couldn’t tell if our new pellet supplier caused the problem or that the forced combustion air system wasn’t forcing enough (or any) air. The combustion fan ran but Anne couldn’t detect any air going through the firebox. Trouble was, we had no way of knowing if that meant there wasn’t any air going through the firebox or just that Anne couldn’t detect any air moving.

I have tinkered with it, cleaned it, and even invented new parts for it for most of the past couple of months. The fire kept doming. On Friday, the automatic pellet feeder stopped feeding pellets. And I’ve washed my hands entirely too many times, although not of the stove.

Wood ash gets into everything. I should have remembered that.

I thought I was doing a good job cleaning the stove but I took it apart this weekend. Something was blocking the air flow and by golly I was going to find it. I found hideyholes I didn’t even know existed. And to find them, I disassembled things I wasn’t sure actually came apart. I even had to RTM.

That’s why I had to keep washing my hands. Wood ash and soot gets into everything.

The right “brick” — it’s actually cast iron — in the firebox hides a passage to the flue. The brick should come out by pulling it up and then towards the front of the stove. The peeps who designed this thing and wrote the manual obviously never worked on a stove after it had been in operation.

Got the brick out. Lots of dust and soot and ash buildup clogging everything. Lots.

I took a bucket load of the dust and soot and ash out of the stove, learned a bit more about how it works, and discovered that it goes back together a whole lot better when clean than it came apart when clogged.

On to the feed auger which was what started this entire exercise.

I cleaned out the feeder tube and the auger still didn’t turn. When I say “cleaned out the feeder tube” I ain’t whistling Dixie. Our vacuum cleaner apparently has an Express Mode on the hose operation which sucked a magnet off the refrigerator at 50 paces. It made short work of the pellets in the tube. Pretty simple operation that. Suck, let some fall past the screw, suck more. A quick look with a mirror showed shiny metal everywhere so I pushed the start button. Ignition and combustion air but no pellet feed. I could hear and feel the feed motor running.

Turns out I looked too quickly.

A better look with a mirror showed some pellets still hiding up in the northeast corner, sort of jammed between the screw and the square corner (square corner???) of the tube. Wiggling the screw didn’t move them and the gear motor made it impossible to turn the screw. I couldn’t even bend a tool up to them, including the ubiquitous coat hanger.

Real Vermonters, tinkerers all, are ingenious about finding solutions. I called Anne.

Anne fixed it.

I had given her bad instructions for disassembling the auger assembly back when we were trying to clear jams over the phone but she made ’em work anyway. I asked her to show me what she had done to clear the feed tube jams. She wasn’t able to pull the motor-and-brackets-and-auger out of the tube but she unbolted it and could turn it through almost a full rotation and that cleared it.

We have fire thanks to our own ingenuity.

But I AM™ ashamed to admit I replaced the Palm with an iPod Touch.


Not U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Not the Internet Communications Engine.

Not criminally beautiful jewelry.

Not rocks.

Diamonds are forever but frozen water may last only until the Summer sun comes up.

Ice is simply water frozen into a solid state. Simple.

Except it is one of our more complex phenomena. It can be strong enough to drive a truck across and fragile enough to break under the weight of a twig. It is the only non-metallic liquid that expands when it freezes. It is slippery when wet. And it can be wet at most winter temps.

Ice is slippery because the surface ice molecules can’t bond properly with the molecules of the rest of the ice so they act just like liquid water. The lubrication they offer is nearly as effective as the 5W-30 in your car engine.

People all over these United States have complained about the ice this year. Here in Vermont, we’re in the middle of the third snowiest winter on record, thanks to the third largest snowfall that fell just last week. Here in North Puffin we added about 20 inches to our base; Jay Peak added feet. Snow is just puffy ice and when it hunkers down, that ice has stalled plow trucks and utility crews and made walking to the University Mall a trial. My own feet went out from under me once a few years ago as I carried a load of firewood in.

  • Black ice is nearly invisible on macadam roads.
  • Harbor ice crushes boats and stops commerce.
  • Ice can change aircraft wings and control surfaces and puncture the fuel tanks of rockets.
  • Ice can slow or stop a jet engines.
  • Icebergs didn’t actually sink the Titanic (hubris did) but we know now a little frozen water can pry the bottom off a surface ship and the top off a submarine.
  • Icing blocks the supply of air to a carbureted or fuel injected engine and cause it to fail.

My great-grandfather cut ice on Westtown Lake. He stored it through the summer in sawdust and ashes in a ten-sided ice house he built of cedar planks on a terrace above our home. That is the same technology Persian engineers used in 400 BC in the middle of the desert summer. Refrigeration made the cooling tunnel he built to store and separate milk — and ice collection and delivery — obsolete.

People around the world love ice, and not just to cool drinks or cool home made ice cream makers.

  • Ice as a fire starter: carve it into a lens to focus sunlight on kindling.
  • Ice as a musical instrument: ice drums are all over youtube; don’t lick your lips before blowing an ice horn though.
  • Ice in medicine: it will decrease blood flow which reduces swelling and pain.
  • Ice as a road: frozen rivers and lakes were once the easiest form of transportation; now they can be the only way to move supplies in the Arctic.

North Puffin sits directly on the shores of the no-longer-Great-but-still-pretty-darned-good-Lake-Champlain. Hard water out there, still. Ice is crucial to Vermont. Visitors come from around the world for our ice skating, ice hockey, ice fishing, ice climbing, curling, broomball and bobsled, luge, and skeleton racing. Not to mention skiing and boarding. And sugar on snow.

Burlington Harbor was still iced in as of Saturday evening but I saw open water in the Missisquoi River (upstream of the ice jams, of course) over the weekend. The plowed driveway here is largely clear and the only plowed lawn path that still has ice is the one at the bottom of the dooryard hill alongside the porch. It may not melt down in this cycle since melt water collects there and will freeze again and again and again.

Arguably the most famous ice in Vermont is the ice that isn’t. Joe’s Pond is still frozen today in West Danville but it will melt sometime in the next month or two.

Jules Chatot started the Joe’s Pond Ice-Out Contest as a cabin fever palliative in the 1980s. Mr. Chatot’s family and friends would “use his camp there as deer camp in the dead of winter, or spring break in deep snow with howling winds and muddy roads.” Sooner or later anyone there would start betting on when the ice will go out? at Hastings Store. Mr. Chatot kept track of the guesses in “a little notebook he kept in his pocket.”

A few hundred people bought tickets the first year. A couple of years later, a database replaced Mr. Chatot’s little notebook. The game has grown steadily; more than 12,000 people all around the world bought tickets last year. Ed Bird from West Danville won the first year (April 26 at 12:31 p.m.). April 16 has been the earliest and May 6, 1992, the latest. The Ice-Out Contest underwrites the free Independence Day Fireworks display.

That said, I’ll just be glad when I don’t have to warm my underwear in front of the fire before I put it on.