If you have "no place to go," come here!

Glad my head isn't made of butter

It is hot and muggy and pretty much awful here weather-wise. I am sick of the sun and its relelntless cheerfulness. It rained last night just enough to make the air swampy. Dammit. But at least our heating system is coming along.

The masonry heater we want to install is the secondary heating system. Our primary is a radiant hydronic floor with PEX tubing that runs throughout the house. Most is set in the slab and but some sits under hardwood, concrete paver tiles, and flagstone. The hardwood is a fairly standard set-up: 2x4 nailers with the tubes running in notches and the bays between the nailers filled with concrete from the slab pour. I've put down a moisture barrier, then a layer of 1/2" plywood. Over that I laid down a 1/4" backerboard to get exactly the right height so the hardwood floor will match up to the surrounding slab.

The pavers and flagstone will be sandset instead of concrete and that is unusual. We'll see if this design works well---it should as it's a technique used in commercial spaces, but it's still an experiment.

The hydronic tubes all meet at a manifold in the utility room. The manifold is attached to a pump and to an electric boiler. This boiler weighs about 25# and hangs on the wall. It has a card in it that controls flow and temperature, settings, and requires two 60-amp circuits for startup.

The boiler feeds both or domestic hot water (DHW) and the hydronic floor, using valves that keep the potable water and the heating water entirely separate. "Closed loop" hydronic systems are safer than open loop (according to what I read) because the water doesn't have a chance to just sit there at a temperature bacteria finds comfortable. But there are open loop systems still around. Ken and Rose have one in their 50-year old house.

The feed for the DHW comes from a 300# super-insulated Viessman hot water tank. While the tank can be wired, we're not going to. It serves as our solar thermal hot water storage. The high-insulation will store the heat and the strong construction will handle the pressure changes as the water heats up. We'll be putting two Viessmann solar thermal panels on our cupola roof. Since we have a metal panel roof, we'll be using S-5! universal clips.that attach to the ridges between panels so fewer roof penetrations. Special tubing (high-temperature and pre-insulated---$800 for a 50-foot roll, crying too hard to remember the name) will run from the panels, through the roof, through a hole in the top ridge beam, and down to the Viessmann tank.

The tank is pre-plumbed to handle all of these connections and the recirculation pump that can be mounted right on the side of the tank. The recirc was our plumber's idea. Scotty is of the firm belief that recircs should be code. You know when you go to take a shower and you let the water run till it's the right temperature? He claims households waste 25,000 gallons of potable water a year doing that. A recirc pump circulates hot water so when you turn on the shower, the water isn't pushing cold water in the pipes out of the way---the hot water is right there.

As the fab GF says, he got us right in the morals with the water wasting thing, so we had to do it.

Right now, Colin and Eric have got most of the plumbing for the heating system done. They're using compression copper fittings (Quik-Fit? maybe---I don't know the brand) that use a special wrench tool squeezer thing to completely seal the fittings to the copper pipe. They let me use it and I'll say I got three connections done in under a minute---not like soldering or brazing, let me tell ya. FTR, I may not be using the correct term for the fittings. I've never seen these before and I may live to regret using them, but Colin has great confidence in them and I'll go with that.

(BTW, Colin sweats more than any human being I know. He drank half a gallon of Gatorade and half a gallon of water and didn't pee once. Then he wrung out his t-shirt---gross---and sweat dribbled out. Ick. Ick ick ick.)

Speaking of which: Colin is now a first-time dad twice over as the twins arrived on Wednesday. He's very excited and tired. I'm happy for him, but honestly, why do some straight people feel it necessary to give details regarding their spawning? I don't need to know the state of anyone's cervix but my own and the fab GF's if she decides to tell me, thanks.

So we have tentatively scheduled them to return Tuesday and Wednesday evenings to finish up. Kevin the electrician comes Tuesday to finish up his odds and ends (congrats to him for getting married a couple weeks ago) and my task is to set all my thermostats, shift some electrical receptacles, clean up a bit, and get ready for inspections.

We will fail our rough framing inspection first time because everyone does. Not only have most of our subs just said it, Mark, the building inspector we used to have, hinted at it, too. Mark was okay. Actually, he was more than okay. He never came out and said anything, but if he didn't think much of someone's efforts, he let me know. Building inspectors are in the consumer protection business, but a lot of people don't see it that way, I guess, so there's a lot of yelling and namecalling. Anyway, Mark was transferred from the loal building authority so we have a new guy I haven't met yet. This could be uncomforable since I never know if the inspectors are familiar with the detailing required to make strawbale houses structural. I can, however, trust that they know the fundamental concepts.

Square, level, and plumb are fundamental (even to round houses). The forces at work are quantifiable (and have been quantifed) just as testing data confirms how much stress a material can take before it fails. All of this goes into the design and engineering of a structure. A building professional, meaning someone who charges for his or her advice and efforts, should know these things. And yet, in the "alternative" building industry, you would be stunned by the number who don't.

We've heard it all. Some are just ignorant ("who shot who in the what now?"), some think they're rebellious ("the building code is just the Man trying to tell you what to do"), some think you should pay for them to learn ("we estimate $20,000 to design that based on the design you already did"), and some don't care ("gimme my money"). Some are a combination. And they are all expensive.

Competence and creativity are a great combination. Ryan, as much as he drives me to distraction, knows what he's doing and has the chops to meet the design. Colin, another one who drives me crazy, knows what he's doing. He's an engineer. Heat load calculations are to him like chum to a shark. Efficiency in design, build, and operation are what he lives for. And I think that advances in more efficient structures, better use of materials, design of new materials and re-use of old materials is not going to happen by people programming themselves to dream about my living room and aligning my chakras---you cannot meditate a building into level. It's going to be driven by honest assessment of what works and what doesn't, and by market demand for greater efficiency and responsible use.

But maybe I'm just an optimist. And everybody knows optimists always see the glass half full and pessimists see the glass as half empty. But engineers, bless their little hearts, see a glass that's twice as big as it needs to be.

UPDATED: Original title sounded like one from a really bad episode of something on DIY so I changed it.

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Submitted by lambert on

I should look into that.

[ ] Very tepidly voting for Obama [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

gqmartinez's picture
Submitted by gqmartinez on

I've been having a really, really hard time sleeping at night but was sound asleep last night. That is, until I was awaken by the T-storms. Alas, took a while to get back to sleep. Sigh.

Submitted by ohio on

Around 3am, fab GF said she was seeing flashing lights and didn't know if it was lightning or flashlights from the tweakers. So I got up and sure enough, a little lightning storm. Then the thunder started rolling in.

(The tweakers were doing stuff, too, but they're always doing weird stuff.)

The air was sticky and horrible. Rain came later. The clouds have rolled in, so it's cooled off a bit.

GQ, insomnia is a drag. Melatonin will help, only don't take it too long. Reading the bible helps, too, especially when you get to the begats.

Submitted by lambert on

FWIW, gq, this is it. I read it in an old Travis McGee novel. Here it is:

Start counting backward from 300. If your mind wanders, bring it back to the count and start counting backward again.

It's literally never failed me -- and the only time I got below 100, I ended up hearing my mind doing this Finnegan's Wake-esque sound, like endless running water, which was an added bonus.

Simple minded, but for me it works. No images, say, of sheep. Just the numbers.

[ ] Very tepidly voting for Obama [ ] ?????. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.

badger's picture
Submitted by badger on

Nearly every shutoff valve for sinks or toilets uses them already, even if the house is all soldered copper everywhere else. Solder is cheaper, but not necessarily better (and in fact tin-lead solder may be disappearing in the future).

And there's nothing more ugly than where the plumber has hacked a notch through your beautiful wood framing (usually with a dull hatchet) and then charred the wood for a foot in any direction soldering a joint.

Compression fittings are used in high pressure hydraulic systems (like tractors or heavy eqpt), and your home plumbing is probably under a lot less stress and pressure.

Submitted by ohio on

It is, I shit you not, a work of art.

Not a single scorch mark. No hatcheting anywhere. Every connection is sandtaped and polished.

These fittings on the heating system have an o-ring inside. The wrench tool fits over the fitting and compresses it. I've never seen it before. And you're right, these won't be handling any pressure like in a hydraulic system. though our solar thermal connectors will be carrying fluid that will get pretty toasty.

But worrying is what I do. I get paid extra for it.

badger's picture
Submitted by badger on

The kind I'm thinking of have a ferrule (metal collar thingy) on one side and flare the tubing on the other, like this or a flare fitting (no picture at wikipedia, but it's similar to the one shown).

I don't recall seeing one with O-rings.

Sounds like you have excellent plumbers.