Archive for the 'Maintenance' Category

Peel Open the Windows

Sunday, April 3rd, 2005

When I caulked my windows shut with DAP Seal ‘N’ Peel, I have to admit I was somewhat skeptical that I would be able to open the windows again without a hammer and chisel.

Well, I’m happy to report that my fears were unfounded–the caulk came off with minimal effort. Today was the first day where it was warm enough here to really let the outdoors in, and I successfully peeled the caulk off one of the windows in about 2 minutes, and I didn’t even use any tools.

Go with the Flow

Wednesday, February 9th, 2005

In the I Can’t Believe I Didn’t Figure This Out Earlier department, we can now do a load of wash in under an hour.

When M. did her first load of wash in the house, she called me down to take a look at how slowly the washer filled–the water was just dribbling into the washer. I checked both valves for the hoses leading to the washer, and they were completely open, so I shrugged and figured that the steel pipes that feed the washer were clogged from 92 years of buildup (from what I’ve read, steel pipe has a projected lifespan of 40 years).

For the past few months, M. has worked around this problem by just waiting at least an hour before going back down to move the load into the dryer. And when I did laundry last week, I just headed back upstairs and worked for a while before returning to the wash–no big deal.

So I’m unable to explain to you why I got a bee in my bonnet about this last night. I was in the basement waiting for the glue to dry on some shelves that I was building and I could just hear the washer calling to me, so I grabbed my channel locks and headed over to see what I could find out. First, I detached the hoses from the back on the washer and cleaned out the tiny stainless steel filters just inside of the washer connects, even though they weren’t very dirty. This made no difference in the fill rate of the washer, so I reattached the hoses and went back to gluing.

Washer: 2. Me: 0.

After a bit of a rest, I realized that it wouldn’t hurt to examine the end of the hoses that attached to the faucet, so I unscrewed it and looked into the end of the hose to discover another filter, and this one was almost completely blocked with calcium and rust buildup. Rinsing didn’t help, but soaking the ends in CLR for a few minutes did the trick! The flow was still slightly impeded, but since the hoses were ancient, rubber, and not burst-proof, I picked up two new ones from Home Depot and now the washer fills in under five minutes.

Washer: 0. Me: 1.

Flying High with Seal ‘N’ Peel

Tuesday, February 1st, 2005

I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you that the Old Man has old windows. The old windows have old storm windows on them, and, even with the old storms in, some of the old windows let way too much of the good old outdoors in.

While our furnace and radiators are more than capable of keeping the house warm, after getting our first “wintertime” gas bill, I decided that it’s time to deal with some of our energy efficiency issues.

The sun room on the front of the house seems to be the worst culprit, with 7 huge windows, one of which might as well be wide open for all the air it leaks into the house. The sun room was originally an external porch and closed in at a later date, so the windows aren’t original to the house, and I figured that this was a safe enough place to begin weatherproofing.

I did a little research on various ways of temporarily sealing air leaks and found that there are basically two solutions available. First, you can cover your window with a plastic film (either inside or out) taped to the frame and shrunk to fit with a hair dryer. Second, you can apply some sort of temporary caulk where the window meets the frame (and anywhere else that air is coming in or out). One type of caulk comes in premade strips and is pressed into place, and the second kind comes in a standard caulk tube and is designed to be removable.

Since I’ve now got mad caulking skillz,I decided to try using DAP Seal ‘N’ Peel. I cleaned the window frames in the sun room and started caulking the worst of the windows, figuring that I’d just keep caulking until I emptied the tube. I managed to finish 5 windows and I can already feel the difference in heat loss.

But there’s one small problem: The warning label on the caulk said that it contains “Lactol Spirits, Mineral Oil, and Toluene” and that I should make sure that I’m working in a well-ventilated environment.

Well, that’s all well and good except for the fact that 1. I JUST CAULKED MY WINDOWS SHUT, and 2. it’s 30 DEGREES OUTSIDE. The house currently reeks to high heaven, and my only recourse is pretty much to put on a coat and leave the front door open for a while. So the downside is that my brain is probably being eaten away by this stuff, but hey, at least I’m high as a kite!

Well I didn’t expect a leak there.

Thursday, January 6th, 2005

The basement has two enclosed storage rooms in the front part of it: One is under the front steps, and the other is under the sun room. Both are brick walled with a concrete ceiling, although the one under the stairs has a slanted ceiling and is considerably colder since the stairs are exposed to the elements.

We decided to use the room under the sun room–the bigger of the two–to store dry goods and supplies, while using the smaller, damper, cooler room to store empty boxes, Christmas decorations, wine, and the like.

I thought I’d be clever and put the boxes on a platform out of old milk crates and boards to prevent them from getting water damaged should the basement ever flood. I even went so far as to set the boxes away from the walls too in case the walls should leak. So we’ve got space for water to flood or leak, and plenty of room for air to circulate to prevent things from getting funky.

I did not, however, notice the 3/32″ crack at the back of the top step of the front stairs.

Nor did I plan for the ceiling to leak.

Furthermore, I didn’t think that the melting snow we left on the front steps after the snowstorm would melt and leak all the way through into the storage room.

So imagine my surprise when I went in there to get the boxes for taking down the Christmas decorations and discovered that some of them were wet. Once we figured out what was going on, we pulled the rest of the boxes out of the room, along with a bag of tarps that would have been a lot more useful on top of the boxes.

So once again, we’ve got a basement full of boxes


The Rain Comes Down… and In

Saturday, October 23rd, 2004

A pretty decent storm rolled in last night and has been pelting us with a fair amount of rain. M. and I went over to the house this morning, and right off the bat noticed an unusual pattern of wetness on the front steps. Sure enough, water is dripping from the middle of the beadboard ceiling on the front porch (which is thankfully outside and not inside). Porch roof leaking: check.

Off to a good start! I decided to give the house a once over to see if we were in for any more surprises. First off, I found a small (3″x8″) puddle at the foot of the basement stairs–some seepage had come in through the basement wall and then through the secondary concrete block wall (the front half of the basement is encased in concrete block–I have no idea why). The second leak was a small bit of dampness to the left of the toilet in the basement bathroom that I just ripped out.

The real problem here is that this side of the house (the North side) is where the driveway is, and the driveway has settled in a manner that causes it to grade towards the house instead of away from it. M. and I fiddled with the downspouts and did the best we could to point the water as far from the house as possible.

Ah well.

We managed to get the last 3 sets of shelves assembled for the southeast basement storage room, so now we’ve got a nice storage room with 5 sets of shelves with 6 shelves each. I’m so looking forward to having real storage space.

After wrapping up our assemblage, we noted with some satisfaction that, even though it hadn’t stopped raining, the water spots in the basement haven’t gotten any worse, so until we can rip out the driveway, reseal the foundation, and replace the driveway, we’ve just got to make sure that we keep the downspouts away from the house.


Tuesday, October 19th, 2004

I finished putting the fourth (and final) coat of paint on the kitchen tonight. After I finished, I went downstairs to check out how the basement’s doing. Turns out, now that the basement’s reasonably swept out and the radiators are on, I can smell mold in the basement bathroom.

First, a little bit about the basement bathroom:

It doesn’t look like it’s been used in a million years. The toilet is stuffed with a rag and bone dry. The sink is an old cast iron sink that’s horribly etched due to a faucet that’s probably leaked since Truman was president. And it’s tiled with pink and green plastic tile

It seems like it’s only half of the bathroom that it used to be… there’s the remnants of a shower outside of the doors, and obvious signs of half-finished demolition around the edges. Basically, it’s a dump after years of neglect and I knew from the moment I saw it that it had to go–I just didn’t think it would have to go this soon.

At some point in the past, this side of the basement got some “seepage” caused by, I can only presume, the reverse grading of the driveway outside and a gutter that didn’t drain far enough away from the house. We knew this when we bought the house, but the basement has always had a dry “feel” to it, and I’ve never smelled mold before.

So I grabbed my putty knife and pried a few tiles off next to the toilet, and sure enough, there’s mold:

I have no idea how far to the left or right it goes, or how bad it is under the other tiles, but having seen enough TV shows where toxic mold has swallowed some poor schmuck’s house whole, I have to say that I’m pretty freaked out by it. I half expect to come back to the house tomorrow and find some mold monster engulfing half the basement.

I really need to stop watching TV.

Getting to Know the Radiators

Saturday, October 16th, 2004

When I lived in an apartment that had radiator heat, none of the valves worked very well, so we regulated the temperature by opening windows. Now that I’m paying the heating bill, this method of climate control is much less appealing to me.

As I’ve mentioned before, our radiators are hot water radiators, not the more common steam radiators.

Steam radiators use a single pipe that delivers steam up to the radiators and allows the condensed water to drip downward back to the boiler where it’s heated up again. Steam radiator valves pretty much have to be either all the way open or all the way closed, and the amount of steam allowed into the radiator is controlled by a regulator that’s typically on the top of the radiator opposite to the end where the valve is.

Hot water radiators use a one-pipe closed system, and each radiator taps into one or more main ‘loops’ by means of diverter ‘tees’. These tees are called Monoflo Tees, and they have a mechanism inside that restricts the flow of water, causing some of the water in the main loop to go into the radiator, and the rest of it to continue on in the loop.

There are a few really nice things about a hot water radiator system:

  • It’s exceptionally quiet. There’s no banging and clanging like steam radiators make.
  • The radiators are full of hot water, so even after the system kicks off, the hot water in the radiators keeps giving off heat.

The downside to a hot water system is that if you need to replace a valve or a radiator, you need to turn off the boiler and drain the entire system, make your repairs, the refill the system and bleed all the radiators. As I found out, this is an extremely time-consuming thing to do.


Since a few of the radiator valves are frozen, and one is, ahem, broken, our nephew S., who does HVAC work for a living, came over today to replace the radiator valves that don’t work right.

He started off by hooking a hose to the spigot next to the boiler and opened the spigot, draining the system into one of the basement drains. Then he opened the bleeder valves on two radiators upstairs to allow air into the system so that it could drain fully. To my surprise, this took about an hour–I had really expected it to drain more quickly.

We then went to work removing the broken valves. S. had some pretty big pipe wrenches he used to get the valves off. The first three were pretty easy, but the last radiator’s valve was wedged between the radiator and the wall, so we had to unhook the radiator from both ends and move it aside. I’m really glad that this was the smallest radiator in the house, because it took just about all our strength (and S. is a big guy) to move it. I’d guesstimate it weighed about 200 pounds.

We needed to replace two 3/4″ valves and two 1/2″ valves, so we went to Home Depot where we got the first two valves, plus some “pipe dope” (compound to use when joining steel pipe) and teflon tape. We had to visit two different plumbing supply houses before finding the 1/2″ valves, but S. knew right where to go.

We got the first three valves on without too much trouble, but the other dining room radiator had a slightly offsized nut and a slightly oversized nipple, so instead of heading out to buy a radiator wrench, I cleaned and lubed one of the old 1/2″ valves and just replaced it.

Then S. started refilling the system, and we bled the air from each radiator. Then we turned the system back on, gave it a bit of time to heat up, and bled the remaining air from the radiators.

It was 62 degrees inside when we turned the system back on, and in less than two hours, the house was up to 71 degrees–it felt downright balmy.

M. spent two grueling hours in the basement scrubbing accumulated years of filth and crap out of the radiator covers, and S. and I put them back into place, so we should have a nice warm house this winter.

Cleaning Up Inside and Out

Thursday, October 7th, 2004

A crew from The Dust Connection came over and scrubbed away layers of dirt and grime inside of the house–now it seems much more ready for us to move in.

The Plumber came and pumped all the junk out of our catch basin. We never had a catchbasin when I was growing up, and apparently, it acts as a sort of gathering place for debris, sediment, and general flotsam and jetsam that drains from the kitchen, stationary tub, washing machine, and in some cases, gutters. Keeping this stuff out of the city sewers seems to be A Good Thing.

Word from The Plumber is that our basin is structurally in good shape, and now it’s squeaky clean (not that you’d want to eat dinner down there or anthing like that) and good to go for a number of years.

It just doesn’t get much more exciting than this.