Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sweet merciful turd on a shingle...

At the risk of losing more readers, another home improvement project has been thrust upon me.

However, after the boring-ass well tank epic, I just don't have the energy to follow this rabbit down the hole and attempt to chronicle it. The last such chase did not end nearly as dramatically as I imagine anyone would have wanted.

Instead, you guys can make up your own awful adventure based on the photo below.

Optionally, here are some elements you may choose to incorporate:
  1. There was an incident with a botched front door deadbolt installation for which I was in no way responsible--though I would have, in all likelihood, botched it just as badly had I been there to assist;
  2. the purchase of a replacement door was subsequently required;
  3. we've never done a door installation of this magnitude before;
  4. turns out you can't just replace a steel front door without replacing the jamb and everything, so we'd have to buy a pre-hung door and remove the old one to put it in;
  5. also turns out no one in our area sells a pre-hung steel door set big enough to fit our doorway that doesn't also look like sparkly wet crap;
  6. a two hour road trip to another town to fetch one that didn't look like sparkly wet crap was then required;
  7. upon return with the door, it was discovered that the screws for attaching said new door were apparently made of Chinese pot-metal and were of SPECTACULARLY SHITTY QUALITY, for two of them sheered off during installation;
  8. the decorative window in the door was installed improperly at the factory and is, in fact, not precisely parallel to the paneling below it by around an 8th of an inch, a fact that we did not discover until the door was well and truly in place;
  9. said door was manufactured by the Masonite Corporation, who I invite, along with the National Fenestration Rating Council that certified the door, to eat a bag of dicks;
  10. the deadbolt, once installed, turned out to be equally shitty to the quality of the screws and its mechanism did not stand up to even the slightest of pressure in turning the deadbolt, which resulted in a bent and no doubt Chinese pot-metal shaft within it, as well as its subsequent removal and return to the local retailer;
  11. a new, more expensive deadbolt was purchased;
  12. said new deadbolt was returned due to the fact that its purchaser (me) managed to get one with the wrong finish to match the door handle;
  13. said new new deadbolt with the correct finish had to then be returned because its purchaser (me, again) managed to buy one with a keyhole on each side rather than one with a keyhole on the outside and a turning latch on the inside;
  14. the returns clerk at our local Lowes failed to disagree with me when I pointed out to her that clearly I was a moron;
  15. the moulding that had previously surrounded the old door is now null and void because the new door jamb does not sit as far in as the old one did, so a gap revealing the drywall beneath is clearly visible on three sides of the door;
  16. as of this writing the door is still not fully reinstalled, though it is at least secured in place and has multiple locks present.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Letting the days go by, letting the water hold me down. Letting the days go by, water flowing underground (Well Done Broke 13)

A couple of days went by and our well babying was getting mixed results. The water was still mostly clear, but not perfect.

In order to facilitate the removal of the silty water from the well, I did things like shutting off the valve from the new tank and taking showers that pumped directly from the well. I figured this would use up any silty water in there faster, as well as clean the silt that might have built up in our pipes and bladder tank beneath the house. Then, a night later, before taking a shower in our recently mortar reinforced tub (which feels VERY solid now, thank you very much) I not only shut off the valve, but I unplugged the secondary pump entirely, which I thought would force the bladder tank to keep the water pressure up and pump directly from the well.

I was mid-way through that shower when the water shut off. Soap in my eyes, I called for the wife. She said the well had probably run dry since the shower was pulling from it and not the tank. I protested that the well should not be dry, because we'd not yet tried to fill the tank that day, so there should be plenty of water in the well. We soon realized that the reason the water had shut off was only because the pump had not come on to pull more water from the well to replace that in the bladder tank beneath the house. I'd only had the water in the pipes and the bladder tank for the shower, a very limited supply.

It did not occur to me to just ask the wife to plug in the secondary pump and run open the valve from the new tank, which would have given me plenty of water to rinse with. Instead I used the jug of water she'd saved for such emergencies. It was extra icy from resting on the tile. I squalled quite a bit and didn't get all of the soap off.

I then went and stood in the garage with my wife and my heart broke as she had a little cry over the situation. This hugely expensive endeavor was proving to be an even bigger hassle than the well had been by itself. And it didn't look like we were going to have clean water by the time our Thanksgiving guests arrived. I pointed out that the situation was not an impossible one. We just had all the problems we'd had before with the well (the silt, sulfur smell, etc.) but when those problems had previously occurred to us, they had resolved themselves within a couple of days. We just had to keep babying the well, filling it gradually and the good water would return. Once we had a tank full of it, we would just be using that and letting the system gradually replace it as needed, allowing the well itself to remain in good health. We were the ones who'd screwed up by trying to fill it too quickly.

We eventually theorized that because the secondary pump was unplugged, this interfered with the sensors that would have caused the well pump to kick on and pull more water from the well. This theory was wrong, but that was what I initially thought. And my theory was backed up by the fact that when we plugged in the secondary pump the well pump kicked on and we suddenly had water again.

After that, whenever we needed the well to kick on, either to fill the tank or just to use in the house with the tank bypassed, we just turned the breaker on and off. Saved having to go in the crawlspace to hit reset.

That was Tuesday night.

I didn't call Dave on Wednesday. I didn't want to admit we'd drained the tank after he told us not to.

On Friday neither the wife nor I could get the well to come on at all. None of the usual steps worked. No breaker, no reset buttons, no unplugging and replugging. Nada. So I called Dave. He asked all the right questions to make sure we had everything set correctly. When none of that troubleshooting turned out to be the problem. To get the pump to come on, he told me to close off the valves to the tank entirely, then go run water in the bathtub until it drained enough water pressure to trip the well pump's sensors and cause it to come on. I did this, then leaned through the crawlspace door to watch the pressure meter on the bladder tank. It was around 65 psi. I expected it to decrease, but its needle began climbing to 70 then to 75. The meter had previously sat at around 45 psi. This was wrong.

"Have you changed your filters?" Dave asked.

"Yeah. I put in a couple of 2 micron filters," I said.

That, it seemed, was the problem. Two micron filters are great at filtering out tiny tiny particles, but they also therefore have much more limited flow than the 5 micron filters. The twos had now clogged with sediment and were hampering the flow and, therefore the pressure release of the system. In fact, the filter housing by the new tank was leaking water from its pressure release valve, which should have been the first sign of pressure problems. So I changed out both filters for 5 microns, then redid the tub water step. The pressure tank sat at around 50 psi this time and decreased as the tub water flowed. The pump kicked on and suddenly we had water again.

Dave was elated that we were able to troubleshoot this successfully. He also agreed with our notion of babying the well, filling the tank little by little.

Over the weekend, we continued to slowly fill the tank, but the water we were getting from it, while mostly clear, was a smidge sulfury and full of microscopic bubbles that dissipated within a few moments of pouring it. I then decided to give the well itself a two day resting period. Instead of pumping in only 100 gallons a day, we'd just close off the reserve tank entirely and live on the well water while it recharged. We didn't do laundry. We took very quick showers and we saved buckets of the water usually wasted while waiting for hot water to hit the tub taps to flush the toilets.

On Monday morning, our 500 gallon tank sitting at under 200 gallons, we ran water until the well pump kicked on, then took a water sample from the pipe within the reserve tank itself. It was crystal clear and smelled great. We immediately filled the tank to 300 and cut if off for the day.

We wound up going into Thanksgiving with around 400 gallons at our disposal. Each day, we'd let around 100 additional gallons into the tank, which helped us keep up with the demand. With eight additional people in the house (the wife's grandma bailed at the last second and our niece Katy couldn't get out of work and had to stay back in Kentucky) including a toddler and a four-year-old, we had plenty of dishes and showers and laundry to do. By the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we had around 100 gallons in the reserve tank. After most of the guests left, we filled it to 200 and have now started the babying slow fill process again.

Long (LONG LONG) story short, though, the reserve tank is a success.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

And you're a big old wuss if you don't jump in the water (a.k.a. Well Done Broke 12)

Flashback time.

Normally when our well gets low, the water becomes sulfury-smelling and occasionally a little cloudy. However, back in August, a day or so after Dave's first visit in which he bled out our well to test its depth, we experienced some rather unsettling water issues beyond just the usual hint of brimstone. One day we woke up and had gray and brackish-looking water filling our toilets. It did not stink, but instead had the visual equivalent of stench in that it looked more than vaguely greasy and its surface contained the sort of tough but tiny bubbles you might see form on the surface of water in standing pools at the edge of, say, a septic drainage ditch. Yeah. When that happened, I immediately called Dave and told him something horrible was going on. In my nightmare, somehow our septic system (which is technically down hill on the other side of our house) had somehow backflowed into the mostly-drained well and had filled it up. Unlikely, but terrifying, no?Link
On that day back in August, Dave assured me that the brackish water was likely the result of silt build-up on the sides of the well casing, or within the borehole of the well itself, being exposed to oxygen due to having the water drained off of it and it was now flaking off into the water below and forcing its microscopic way through our 5 micron house filter. Sure enough, a look at the sludge on our filter was enough to give me the willies all over again, and it was the one I nearly broke my coccyx replacing.

Jump to this month, three days in to our new tank system, when I awoke to find that our toilets, when flushed, were filling with gray and brackish water.

"Oh hell," I said.

I dashed to the garage where I could instantly see that the 500 gallon tank no longer shone with the clean blue tint that it had on the previous morning. Now it was darker. Grayer. Brackishier. I stood on a chair and unscrewed the foot and a half wide access plug at the top top for a look inside. It was filled with the very same ugly water that was circulating into our toilets. Shit.

I called Dave.

"Hey, buddy. What's going on?" he said.

"Well, I've got 400 gallons of green sludgy water," I said.

"Ohhhh, no," Dave said.

Dave assured me, as before, that as nasty as it looked, this was only a silt problem and it was a temporary one. The silt would settle out in a couple of days and the well would be fine one it had fully recharged. I pointed out that this might be true of the well itself, but 400 gallons of sludge water were not going to be so easy to get rid of. What could we do with it? Pour it back down the well casing and hope it filtered out next time? Dave said that was a bad idea that would probably make things worse by stirring up more silt. We shouldn't drain it at all. Sure, the water was ugly, but it was largely harmless. We weren't going to want to drink it, but it wouldn't hurt us to use it for other things until cleaner water came through. It would even settle within the tank itself, and if we wanted, he could come back and install a third filter between the tank and the house. In fact, I shouldn't even bother changing either of our current filters, because they might look nasty on the outside, but they were still good for a while. I should give him a call if things were still bad on Wednesday.


Instead of following this advice exactly, I booked it to Lowes and purchased a chub-pack of water filters. From what I could tell, 50 micron filters are apparently standard use for city water. The kind our filter uses are typically 5 micron filters, which should filter out that much more. I bought a chub pack of those, but also bought two 2 micron filters in the hope they'd be even better. These I immediately installed in the new garage filter and the one beneath the house (which also looked foul).

As I knew, the wife was not happy about the sludgy water in the tank. She had one look at it and said, "The hell we're not draining this. I can't have my family using water that looks like that." I concurred.

So we wound up draining most of it out. (I would have piped it into the rain barrels, but they're full. So I drained it into the back yard, which is at least above the well and so hopefully most of it will eventually soak back through the soil and rock to reach the subterranean water supply again.) And we gave the well a good 22 hours rest, which at approximately a 12 gallon per hour refill would be about as much time as the well should take for it to refill to its usual 250 gallon default. The water that came out was not crystal clear, but was a damn sight better than it had been. Our new plan became one of babying the well, adding only 100 gallons per day in the hope that by the time company arrives for Thanksgiving, we'll be good.


Thursday, November 17, 2011

I saw something gigantic, out on the water. (Well Done Broke Part 11)

After Dave's departure, the wife and I dined on soup, then watched X-Men: First Class. (Pretty decent, though I take issue with them making Beast beastly and then giving him NOTHING TO DO THAT HE COULDN'T HAVE DONE OTHERWISE, beyond just being furry.)

After the movie, I said the words I dreaded. "You wanna do the tub?"

The wife sighed, wanting to do the tub exactly as little as I did, but she said sure.

I went out to mix the mortar. From the instructions, it's scary sounding stuff. It contained silica and other elements that would supposedly burn you and cause you to develop cancer should you breath any of the dust. So I made sure to wear latex gloves and my dust filtering mask. The 60 pound bag I had bought filled our pickle bucket, so I had to shovel half of it out to make room for water. It wasn't a very exact science, but I just kept adding extra mortar to it until the whole thing came out the consistency of loose grainy peanut butter. This I shoveled into the grout bag and hauled into the house.

Because I would be in tight quarters around a bare electrical outlet, I decided to turn off the breaker for the den. After all, it wasn't as if there was any light beneath the tub that I wouldn't be bringing in the form of my head lamp. We also brought in some other flashlights and desk lamps plugged into other rooms.

I announced to the wife I was ready to begin, dropped onto the waterproof sheet we'd laid on the floor, utility knifed the tip off the grout bag and then started trying to find the best way to get the grout bag back where I needed it. It was very awkward, and quickly the backs of my latex gloves were shredded by the fiber glass shards. I was glad I'd thought to reinforce the grout bag with duct tape, cause even though the plastic beneath was a contractor-grade trash bag it would have been ribbons.

Getting the bag back where I needed it took some work, but I eventually got it there and squeezed out about half of the mortar. I couldn't see what I was doing due to the lack of light and my glasses slipping off my nose due to being pushed up by the dust mask. My wife kept asking me if the flashlight was placed correctly, but I was in stress-mode. For some reason I kept thinking I was under some kind of hard-out time crunch to get this mortar spread. As if it would harden to steel in exactly five minutes, instead of the 24 hours it really took. So with all my wriggling into the wall cavity and trying not to shred my flesh on the fiberglass, I didn't really have the capacity to entertain her questions even if they were trying to help me do what I was doing better. It was only after I started on the other side of the tub that I was able to calm down enough to realize that my carriage would not become a pumpkin at midnight. I also realized I could have had a lot more light where I needed it if only I had remembered to turn on my headlamp.

Once the mortar was spread, we set about to try and move it into position under the weak spots of the tub. This was difficult, because we had no specialized trowels that could reach that far beneath the tub, so we had to make due with squared off lengths of 2x2 wood. When I'd scraped it into what seemed like a good configuration, I tagged out with the wife and she had a go at it. It was like different writers writing drafts of a story, passing it back and forth until both feel it's good. We did the same for the other side of the tub. Then we refilled the bag and spread grout beneath the rear of the tub to help shore things up there. We knew we'd never be able to completely grout beneath all of it, but we could hopefully get it good enough. And within half an hour, we had done what we thought was the best we could given the circumstances.

By the end, my gloves were in tatters, my exposed hands drained of their moisture by the mortar and even three applications of LAY IT ON THICK moisturizing paste hadn't really improved things.

The following morning, Dave returned and worked until mid afternoon on the tank installation. The previous day, he'd said he was going to relocate our new filter system from beneath the house to the garage interior near the tank. Despite undoing all our work from weeks before, we thought was awesome. I've always wanted a filter system that I didn't have to go into the crawlspace to change the filter for. However, on this day Dave had decided he wasn't going to do that. Instead of relocating our filter, he installed a brand new one in the garage, just down stream from the spindown filter, which would do the majority of filtering for the house. The old one would still be there for backup, but it wouldn't need to be changed nearly as often because the garage filter would do most of the heavy-lifting. He said he wasn't even going to charge us for it. I imagine it was worth the expense to him not to have to go under the house and do plumbing there. In fact, I don't think Dave had any further cause to venture into the crawlspace, so this was just added bonus for all of us.

At the end of his time, the tank was in place and in working order. We turned on the breaker and it began pumping well water through the filters and into the tank until there were around 250 gallons in it--which is about all we have in our well when it's working properly. Then the control box shut it off for a four hour break--which, by our previous estimate of a 12 gallon per hour recharge, would give us 48 more gallons before shutting off again.

Dave told us how to bypass the system in case anything went wrong, which would put us back on our previous system. If we had any problems, we only had to give him a call.

By 8:30 the next morning we were not quite at 300 gallons. By 10 p.m. we were close to 400. And it was then that I noted to the wife that both the spindown filter and the new 5 micron cloth filter next to it were looking a mite dirty.

"Yeah," she said. "It's having to filter a lot more water than it normally would."

"Oh," I said.

The following morning, though, we learned that this was not entirely the case.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

They say we're mostly made of water. So how come we can't find the sea? (a.k.a. Well Done Broke part 10)

On Friday morning, after vacuuming out the underside of the tub, the wife and I made our grout bag. I used a heavy-duty contractor's garbage bag folded into what looked like a triangular piping bag shape and then reinforced with a layer of duct tape on the outside. It looked a lot like a wizard's hat, but my wife became annoyed with me when it told her she had been assigned to House Hufflepuff. We had too much going on for joking, and she always pictured herself more in Ravenclaw.

And since my morning shower had been a near trickle, I decided to at least investigate Dave's claim from earlier in the week that our filter might be at fault. I asked the wife to turn on the tap, then I switched our new filter onto its bypass setting. Instantly the water pressure returned to full force. It had been the filter.

Looking at it through the clear plastic housing, I could see that it was pretty grungy. I traded it out for a new one and our water remained at comfortable pressure. Dave had been right again.

Soon after, we gathered our mortar ingredients, including a bucket of water, cause Dave's impending arrival would likely see our water supply cut off for much of the day. Our plan was initially to do the mortaring before his arrival, so it could set up during the day. And maybe this was the better idea. But when Dave called with an ETA, I decided it would be better to wait until later. The tub would probably require both of us to work on it, and Dave would also need one of us to turn breaker switches on and off. No use fighting wars on two fronts, I said. The wife complained that if we didn't do the job now, we would manage not to get to it later. However, she was willing to defer to me on the matter.

Within an hour, Dave arrived in a truck the back of which contained a truly colossal water tank. We saw him pull in at the bottom of our driveway and the tank looked enormous from that distance. When he arrived at the top and we went out to meet him, it was far more intimidating.

"That's a big ass tank," I told him.

"Yep. A B.A.T. it is," he said.

There was some discussion about the ideal placement of the tank within the garage. I knew where I wanted it, but for a while it looked as though that wasn't going to be the most convenient place for the installation, due to it being some distance away from the existing well mechanics under the house. He wanted to place the tank in a more central location in the garage, which would mean a lot of rearranging and, also, having a tank in the middle of the back wall. Not terrible, but not ideal. The place I wanted it, however, was on the back side of our laundry room, which is built above a sub-crawlspace off of the main crawlspace that's terribly awkward to even get to, let alone enter and spend any amount of time within. I should know, I had to crawl in there to reattach the dryer hose to its outside vent. After a bit, though, Dave said he could see that we weren't going to be happy with it on the back wall and he would do what it took to put it where we needed it to be.

The readjusted plan for the big ass tank was to T into the existing water line from the well, run that through a spindown filter (which will collect the larger sediment from the well, saving the water filter from it) then the water will run into a standard water filter for the removal of smaller particles, then into the big ass water tank itself. From there the water would run via pipe to a smaller pressure pump which would send it into the house's water system via a T into the cold water input pipe for the hot water heater. A float switch within the big ass tank would automatically shut off the well pump ever time the tank filled to 500 gallons. Similarly, these systems would make the well's pump system stop pumping up water should the well run dry at any time during the process. If shut off in this manner, the pump would stay off for four hours, giving the well time to recharge around 48 gallons or so before it attempted to pump any more water into the tank. Once full, though, we would exist entirely off of the water in the big ass tank, supplemented by occasional refills from the well. In this way, we'll have a huge supply of water to use and, once full, won't ever have to tax our well. Meanwhile, if anything goes amiss, we have only to close one valve and we're back on our previous set up. Or, if we're ever without power for several days, we can run things off the 500 gallons of water pressure in the tank as well as having the ability to hook up a generator to it and still run the house. Sweet, no?

Dave and his assistant, Matt, started hooking things up. It was not a job without its problems, because the truck they had arrived with was not Dave's usual truck, which was stocked with all the parts he would need. That and some parts he did have, that arrived pre-faulty for our inconvenience, slowed things down. (Two of the pressure fit couplings came with their interior pressure fittings inserted backward, and our spin-down separator came sans filter.) Dave made the appropriate calls to arrange for replacements, but it appeared as though this would be a two day job because of the delays. Most of the initial work was to place the tank where we wanted it, and center it atop a thick layer of foam insulation. Soon enough, though, plumbing began and pump breakers were turned off and crawlspaces crawled into.

When it came to the job of crawling beneath our laundry room, I offered to be the guy to do that part of the job. From what I thought, it seemed like it would just involve me going in there and pulling pipe through a new hole in the block wall from the other side. None of the hookups to the existing plumbing would happen in there. But Dave declined the offer. I wish he hadn't, because as he drug himself across the earthen, plastic-covered floor of our crawlspace all the way over to the laundry room access gap, he gave off some pretty disturbing sounding moans of agony. It sounded like a guy with three broken ribs. The wife and I looked at each other in confusion and then sympathy for the man. Matt the assistant was having difficulty not cracking up, though, so we guessed this was normal. Eventually, though, I crawled beneath the house as well, if only so I could hear any requests for additional tools Dave might make, so he wouldn't have to crawl back for them. He spent quite a bit of time under the house, though, because even though he didn't have quite all the parts for the full tank install, he was able to wire and install the new control box for it all. By 7 p.m., he'd done all he could and left, vowing to return and finish the rest tomorrow.

(TO BE...)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Take me to the river. Drop me in the water. Dip into the river. Push me in the water (a.k.a Well Done Broke Part, uhhh, what 9?)

The installation of the tub in our master bathroom was a very tricky challenge indeed, which we accomplished in February of 2009. However, since that time we have come to suspect that we could maybe have done a better job of it in insuring its structural integrity.

See, part of the instructions for the tub installation called for the use of shims should the feet of our tub not quite reach the subfloor. This would be necessary to prevent bending of the tub itself during normal use. However, there was not really any good way we could see to be able to tell if the tub's feet did this due to the fact that it was not installed in a way that would allow us to actually see the feet in proximity to the subfloor. The way our instructions had suggested to compensate for such a situation was to throw down a layer of mortar in advance of tub installation, so that the tub rested in the mortar and, when cured, would have custom fitted support. We did not do this.

In the time since then, we have come to believe that perhaps we should have, not only because the grout of the tile along the lower part of the tub had begun to crack, but also because the floor of the tub itself began to feel a little soft in a specific area running the width of the tub. Turns out this is because the tub was designed with support boards that met in that area, but which were not continuous or even attached to one another, causing them to have the ability to shift when weight was put on them from above. But we didn't know that exactly either.

After consulting with a contractor friend of mine, it was decided that the best way to repair this situation was to open up a wall and spread some mortar under the tub now. And we figured we would do this when we got around to renovating our hall bathroom, because the bathrooms share a wall that we were already planning to do some new drywall work on since previous owners had crammed a vanity through part of it due to having failed to measure properly. However, that project has been on the books since 2009 and we've yet to lift a finger to accomplish it because we have no wish to repeat all the weeping and gnashing of teeth that befell us during the last bathroom renovation.

However, both bathrooms share a back wall with our living room, which happens to have some wood paneling below the chair rail on that wall that we deduced would not be difficult to remove and, more importantly, could be put back with little difficulty, too. My contractor friend had told me how to make a grout back, which he said we could put under the tub and squeeze out the amount of mortar needed. My thought was that the back of the tub was as good as the side of the tub in this regard, so that was our plan.

Meanwhile, on the well front, our water continued to be of low pressure and our reserve tank continued to be only a plan on paper. Fortunately, Dave the well guy called and we scheduled an installation for Friday morning. We didn't know how long it would take to fill a 500 gallon tank using our slow and unfaithful well, but the sooner the better before Thanksgiving. I asked Dave about the water pressure issue, noting that our existing pressure tank was sitting at what it should be pressure wise. He suggested we clean the new water filter we'd installed. But this seemed like madness, to me. After all, we'd only just installed it four weeks earlier and it was supposed to be a three month filter.

Then I asked Dave how large the tank was going to be. When he and I had first discussed it, he'd said he could put it in our garage, or perhaps even outside. He also said that some people had them installed beneath the house. The one we'd ordered, perhaps unfortunately, had a 48 inch diameter and was 78 inches tall. This not only precluded it from fitting in either crawl space opening, but was going to go a long way toward precluding it from fitting in the garage. I did some measuring and decided that if we moved the freezer from beside the water heater, and relocated a shelf, we could probably fit it there and still be able to park the wife's car in there, too. Beyond that plan, though, we were pretty much out of luck. If the tank had to be in close proximity to, say, the water filter, we were going to be in for some serious rearranging. This project was looking more and more like one with some downsides to it, but the wife's point was that we had to have a reliable supply of water and this was far cheaper than drilling a new well.

Thursday night, I removed most of the lower wall of our den and exposed the back of the tub. As expected, it was not too difficult to remove each plank of wood wall siding, though the 30 year old wood was very brittle and easy to damage. Only after I had most of the wall out did I see how difficult the mortar job was going to be. Quarters beneath the tub were extremely tight and there was no good way to get to the weak part of the tub's floor from beneath the rear of the tub. The good news was that the feet were sitting on the subfloor, at least at the rear, but getting mortar around the sides and beneath the tub to the weak spot was going to be iffy and potentially dangerous. For one thing, there was a live power outlet in the middle of it. That could be turned off at the breaker, but beyond it were hundreds of tiny, fiber-glass teeth splayed out from the underside of the tub's structure, each of which was very very sharp. There was also the matter of the fiberglass mouse nest in there, which there had not been before the tub was installed. Still, we had to try or our tub would eventually be ruined.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

You're standing by your grey ice water, out in the wind above ground out in the water (Well Done Broke Part 8)

The next day, after a trip to Lowes, the wife and I donned clothing and dust masks that were as close in proximity to hazmat suits as we could manage. We gathered up all the tools we thought we might need, as well as some we thought we probably wouldn't, but would rather have on us just in case, and then brainstormed as to any odd ass thing we were forgetting, cause we didn't want to have to make multiple trips out of the crawlspace to fetch things we had forgotten. Then we put all that stuff in my tool bag, grabbed our mini-shop vac and a roll of aluminum door screen, then headed into the darkness of the crawlspace.

One of my purchases at Lowes was a headlamp flashlight. I was tired of having to hold onto a regular flashlight for all my sub-house work, and the camping lights we also had weren't all that great.

"I just hold the flashlight in my mouth," the wife had said, still standing by the flashlights in Lowes.

I pointed out to her that in order to reach the area in which she would need a flashlight, she would be crawling through a layer of dust largely composed of the powdered corpses of bugs and mice, not to mention their feces. Did she really want to use those hands to put a flashlight in her mouth? Somehow this still didn't persuade her to buy a headlamp of her own.

Once beneath the house, we split up. I would go and inspect and vacuum as much of the interior of the central duct as I could beneath the front of the house, while the wife would crawl to the other side of said duct and staple up sections of screen over the gaps in the floorboards where our bathroom plumbing hung down. The area had previously been screened before we gutted and redid that bathroom, a couple years back. We found loads of mousey evidence during the renovation, but had not put the screening back up for reasons we could no longer recall, though I suspect involved laziness.

At the duct box, I pulled off my tape from the previous day and reached in for the acorns. I really didn't want to try and vacuum in it, as it seemed like a far bigger job than we could even accomplish with a three foot vacuum hose. What I could see of the interior of the duct box wasn't even all that bad. Just a few acorns that looked like they could have been from years ago. I didn't even seen any mouse poops, though this probably meant that the regular air flow had probably dried them into powder and we'd just been breathing them. After sitting there for a bit, though, and seeing as how I'd already hauled the vacuum down there with me, I decided to vacuum as much as I could of it. Unfortunately, I didn't have a power cord.

We have two crawlspace doors, one in the garage and another on the other end of the house. However, there's not a real easy passage between the two due to all the duct work and sundry plumbing. So I had to crawl back out, walk around to the garage, plug in our extension cord, then crawl in through the garage crawlspace door, crawl as far as I could toward my previous position, then fling the other end of that cable over the air-conditioning unit itself, crawl back out, walk around the house and crawl back in. Took a while to achieve, but I spied a couple more mouse holes in the flexi-ducting. Those eventually were patched with the aluminum tape we'd bought.

After vacuuming out the duct and resealing it with aluminum tape and a brand new zip tie, I did the same thing at the next duct connection down. Inside that, I found an actual insulation mouse nest, which I got to clean out and vacuum up. No evidence of actual residents of the nest could be found, fortunately.

Around this time, the wife ran into problems with her efforts to screen up the underside of our tub, so I crawled over to assist. I wasn't much help with that effort, but I did spy a single drip of water hanging from beneath our tub's drain. Evidently the seal had come loose or we'd just not done it right to begin with. We pulled the drain out from the tub and, after reconsulting our installation instructions, sent me back to Lowes for plumbers putty and silicone.

The whole tub matter, though, reminded us of another tub-based home improvement project we've been looking to accomplish for over a year, which was to improve the structural integrity of the tub itself. The reason it's taken us this long to do, though, is that we knew it would involve removing a wall.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

When it occurred to me that the animals are swimming around in the water in the oceans in our bodies... (a.k.a. Well Done Broke Adendum 2)

On Saturday, I had a look beneath the house from just outside our home's exterior crawlspace door. I'd deduced that our dead mouse was likely somewhere in the ductwork for the back part of the house, because it's stench was not evident from the vents in the living room and kitchen. The blower for the AC is in the front part as well, so logically it was blowing air across the dead mouse further back, logically in the main duct junction box, but possibly in one of the four flexi-tube ducts leading to the vents in the bedrooms and office. This gave us a place to start our search, but I wasn't sure I wanted to undertake this task alone. Unfortunately, the wife wouldn't have a day off until Monday, so our solution to the smell was to shut off the heat altogether. If we got too cold, we could fire up the wood stove.

The wife proposed we make a day of it on Monday, and not only search out the mouse, but put up some screen over any other places we thought mice might be and patch any new holes we found. I decided, though, that there was really no reason I couldn't go down there earlier and at least see what it would take to detach one of the vent hoses from the central vent junction box. I announced I would undertake this on Sunday.

I procrastinated doing the job for most of the day, busying myself instead with preparing material for and recording a new "LiberryCAST". Before I could get what I'd recorded fully edited, though, the wife called to find out how things were going with the mouse and I realized it was nigh on 4 p.m. I knew if mouse-corpse-hunting was going to happen, I'd better get it done while I still had some daylight to help illuminate things. (Technically, it's only slightly easier to work beneath the house in daylight as opposed to night, as you need flashlights for both. I've been down there in both day and night, but can attest that it's far less creepy to be down there in the daytime--particularly when the wife isn't going to be around to back you up in case of C.H.U.D. attack.)

I gathered up some tools, including gloves, duct tape, lights, utility knife, some plastic grocery bags for any mouse corpses found and a dust mask. I then strapped on my knee pads and crawled on in. I stopped at the nearest flexible duct, the one running to my office, to examine how difficult it would be to remove. It was held onto the male junction box connection by metallic tape and what looked like a thick zip tie. I cut around the tape and tried to wiggle the hose off, but it didn't look like that was going to happen unless I cut the zip tie first. I decided that this particular hose was not the likely mouse location, so any major duct surgery should be done at a more likely duct. I crawled over to the duct that led to the room in which we first smelled the mouse: the guest room duct.

I cut the metallic tape, unwound it from the duct itself, then cut through the zip tie below. With only a little effort, I was able to remove the flexi-duct from the junction box and was immediately hit by a concentrated version of the dead mouse stench. Oh, that guy was near. I shone a light into the junction box. There were a few ancient-looking acorns in there, but no mouse.

Great, I thought. He was probably further down the junction box where I wasn't going to be able to reach. And what I really should have brought down there with me was my video camera, which I could have at least held inside the junction and used its light to film what else was in there.

Before putting the duct back onto the box, I decided to have a look inside it, just in case. And there, lying seemingly peacefully on its side, just inside the duct itself, was the dead mouse.

I was so happy. What could have been a MASSIVE project involving hours spent crawling around in the dust and nastiness beneath the house had been reduced to 20 minutes crawling around in the dust and nastiness beneath the house. I fished a grocery bag from my tool bag and, glove firmly on hand, scooped the stinky offender from the duct. Then I reinstalled the duct and duct-taped the crap out of it.

On my way back out, I spied another mouse holes in a duct and taped it up. We'd have to come back and do a more thorough inspection, not to mention sealing up the vent better than my duct-tape temp-fix. But I felt triumphant all the same. I immediately called the wife to let her know what her big strong man had accomplished. She was pleased. Then she asked me if I'd cleaned out the acorns I'd described being in the central duct. Uh, nope, I had to admit. Yeah, we'd need to do that, she said. In fact, we needed to have a look in the ducts to see if the mice had built a nest in there, cause with the amount of insulation that occasionally floats up, it seemed likely.



Tuesday, November 8, 2011

There must be one place left in the world, where the water's real and clean (a.k.a. Well Done Broke adendum)

Things are still not quite right with the well, but it's taken us a week and some even more disgusting mouse troubles to realize it.

We went out of town for a few days trip to a medical conference in a southern state. (Which, I'll have to blog about later, cause I love me a medical conference.) However, before we left we noticed that our water pressure was not what it should be nor what it had been following the well repair of earlier in the week. Water was coming out of our tub faucets much more trickle-like than usual. Sometimes, once the warm water joined it, things would pick up a bit. Or sometimes it would stay low until a little way into the shower and then kick in proper. Or sometimes it just stayed low. We weren't sure what was wrong, but it would wait til we returned home.

Florida was warm, sunny, breezy and just all around gorgeous. Nearly a week later, we returned to our cold, rainy and overcast state to find that the water pressure situation had not magically healed itself as we'd secretly hoped. Instead, the water still occasionally came out as a trickle, increasing in pressure only after much flowing. My one hope in this was that when Mark the Well Guy had been in the crawlspace and had turned our water main back on at the tap, he'd not turned the tap all the way to the open position.

I crawled back into the crawlspace to check the tap. It was, unfortunately, fully open. While I was down there, I checked the pressure tank's gauge, but it too was at the standard pressure level. Err. As I was turning to depart, my flashlight shone across the plastic-sheeting-covered crawlspace floor and fell upon the distinctive form of a mouse trap. It was lying on its face, but tipped at an angle so that I could not see what its trap might or might not hold as far as mousey corpses went. The trap lay less than a yard away from the place where I had previously placed the mouse trap I had warned Mark the Well Guy about and which I had assumed he had found a mouse in and brought up into the garage, for it had been missing when I last looked for it there. The fact that it had been missing was very important, because the fact that we had found a trap with a mouse in it in the middle of our garage floor when neither of us had set that trap and placed it there had been a real glitch-in-the-Matrix moment for me. I've had a couple of those in the last year, where reality as I understand it turns out to be fundamentally wrong, and such glitches thus piss me off tremendously. Our saving grace, though, had come when I'd looked into the crawlspace and found the trap missing, allowing me to do the math that Mark had probably found a mouse in the trap and thoughtfully brought it up for disposal, only to have our cats find it and kick it into the middle of the garage.

Crouching there, beneath the floorboards of my dining room, staring at the bottom of a mousetrap that was within a trap-spring's leap from where I'd placed the controversial one from last week, I felt the foundations of the Matrix start to wobble again. If this was the actual trap I'd left down here, then we did not have a proper explanation for the one with the mouse in the garage. The trap, lying there face down, was like a Schrodinger's box of quantum potentiality. If the trap held a mouse, it could very well have been the trap I'd set, flipped by the motion of the trap's release a few feet from where I'd left it.

I crawled over to it and picked up the trap. It was empty of a mouse. In fact, it wasn't even the same brand or design of mouse trap as those from the chub-pack of mouse traps we purchased. This one was old and rusted and likely belonged to a previous owner of the house. My world righted itself and I shook off the Matrix dust and went about my day.

Unfortunately, we were shortly beset by a potentially even more horrifying prospect than a Matrix glitch, one which also involved mice.

A day after our return we were back, we began to detect a foul smell in our guest bedroom. It smelled like something dead and rotting. Our fear was that the cats had drug a mouse into the house--or a chipmunk--as they have been known to do, and had hidden its corpse in the room somewhere. Or they chased a still live but wounded mouse in and it had managed to hide and die in there. We recently found such a poor creature beneath our sofa, so this was a likely prospect. However, an exhaustive search of the room turned up no corpses tiny or otherwise. That, and the fact that the smell was soon detected in our bedroom and in my office, meant that the rotting mouse in question was likely somewhere within the ductwork of our heating system.

We've known we've had mice in the ductwork before, because insulation has blown out of the floor vents from where they burrowed through it on their way into the ducts. A year or so ago, I ventured into the crawlspace where I examined all the ductwork I could reach and patched the holes with duct tape. The thought of having to go down there and try to find a dead mouse hidden either in the central duct unit, or within the nine plus flexible duct tube arms stretching from it to our vents, was a harrowing one. At the same time, though, it seemed like the sort of thing the wife and I might be capable of accomplishing on our own without calling in expensive mouse-removal professionals. I knew it wouldn't be simple. What I didn't immediately realize is that such professionals can do the job quicker than we could because they usually pack remote cable-cameras, kind of like the flexible cable-based ass-cameras they use for colonoscopies. They could use such a device to peer down the central junction box as well as the individual ducts.

We, however, had no ass-cameras.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Don't go chasing waterfalls, something something something something, something something something SOMEthing (a.k.a. Well Done Broke Part 5)

The following morning, Mark arrived, along with an assistant well guy. Dave had been in contact with him and had given him some details in our case. I showed them to the crawl space and advised Mark to be careful of the mouse trap within the crawl space itself. It was out of the way, but no one needs a snapped toe. After only a couple of minutes in there, they asked if I had a water hose they could turn on. I went and rolled out the hose and turned on the spigot. Nothing happened, of course. Then Mark asked me to turn on the breaker for the pump. As soon as I did, water began pouring out of the hose.

"Wait. We have water?" I asked.

"Yeah," Mark said from the crawl space. "I just pressed the reset buttons on the power box."

"But I pressed the reset buttons last night. I pressed `em twice," I said.

"Ehh. Sometimes you have to press them pretty hard," Mark said. His theory was that the well might have run low and the power box shut itself down when the pump began to overheat. However, when he went to check the well casing itself, he noticed the thick bundle of power cables arc against the casing as he removed the lid. Turns out, whoever installed that particular pump, back in 2005, had not properly taped the wires to the pump's piping inside the casing. The wires were now hanging from the support plate at the top of the casing and were taking some of the weight of the pump itself, causing the plate to cut into the coating on the wires, exposing them. An arc between wire and casing, in addition to being dangerous to anyone touching it, could potentially cause a power box shutdown as well. So they wheeled their enormous truck into the yard, pulled up the piping, duct-taped the cable to it, lowered it and then electrical taped the cuts in the wire's coating. They also sliced open the wires and tested the electrical flow. There was a definite difference in the flow they got there and the flow Mark had tested at the power box before they'd taped down the wires.

Mark told me that everything else seemed fine. The pressure tank was keeping its charge and the water pressure even seemed to have increased a little, according to their water pressure gauge hooked to our hose. Awesome!

Mark asked me to check the faucets in the house. I did, but only got a trickle from them. Then I remembered that the water shut off valve back in the crawl space had been shut off. The hose water forks before reaching the valve, which was why it could pour with no problem. Mark crawled back under the house and turned it on and I dashed back inside to check the tap and flush a toilet before he was out of the crawlspace. Everything worked.

The following morning, shortly after I awoke, the wife went into the garage for something and called out, "Hey, this mousetrap you set in the middle of the garage caught a mouse."

"What?" I called from inside.

"I said... `This. Mousetrap. You set. In the. Middle of. The garage. Has. Caught. A mouse,'" she called back. I stepped into the garage and saw the trap in the middle of the garage floor did indeed contain a mouse. There was a problem, though.

"I didn't set a mousetrap in the middle of the floor," I said.

"Well, there's one in the middle of the floor now. And it has a mouse," the wife replied.

"Yes, but I didn't set any mousetrap there," I again noted. I'd had no coffee yet, so I was already feeling irritable. "It must have been one of the ones on the table saw. Maybe it was flung there when it snapped."

"No, it wasn't one of them," the wife said, pointing to the two mousetraps atop the table saw, one of which was still set, both of which were mouse free. This made no sense to me. How could a mousetrap have killed a mouse if neither of us had set it. I decided she must have been mistaken.

"Are you SURE you didn't set that mousetrap?"

"Yeah," she said.

"Because I'm SURE I didn't set any out here. I haven't set any mousetraps at all."

"Well, whatever," she said. "One got set and one trapped a mouse. There's no need to get upset about it."

"Well, I am upset! This is the kind of thing that EFFs up my world. If you didn't set it and I didn't set it, someone else had to have set it."

The wife just looked at me like I was insane, but I couldn't see how she was taking this lightly. If she knew she didn't set it and believed that I had not set it...

"I haven't set any mousetraps," I assured her.

"Okay!" she said.

Even her believing me (or claiming to) didn't help. It just meant we had a problem on our hands, because it meant someone else had set it. And what sort of person just goes around breaking into people's garages and setting mousetraps? The only other members of our household who had been in there were the cats. No one else had even been... oh, wait.

I went over to the crawlspace and poked my head through the door. I shone a flashlight onto the spot where I'd left the mousetrap beneath the house--the very one I'd warned Mark was there. The trap was missing. I then deduced what had most likely happened and it made my world far less EFFed. What must have happened was that the trap was already loaded with a mouse when Mark went into the crawlspace and he'd seen that mouse and set the trap and mouse down on the floor of the garage for us, probably near the crawlspace door. Our cats had also no doubt found it and had "played" with the mouse, skittering it out in the middle of the floor. This explanation worked for me. I went and made coffee and felt much better about the day.

Dave called that evening to ask how things went. He was relieved that the problems weren't as monumental as they had seemed the day before. We're now working on a day for the installation of our reserve tank. By all that is right in the world, I will have a lawn next year! (And, more pertinently, we will have water for Thanksgiving.)