Thursday, August 23, 2007

Entering heat system phase II

Now that we've run all the tubing, it's time to start stapling up the aluminum heat transfer plates. These special plates draw heat from the tubing and distribute it across the floor. We need to place them roughly 8" apart, except for along the exterior walls where they should be 1" apart. For us, this means revisiting every square foot of under-floor area for the second time.

We decided to start with the attic heat, working in the bedroom and tool room, so that we could develop some techniques in a more comfortable setting than the crawl spaces. We'll be in there this weekend, if all goes well.

The work isn't too bad, and after two nights of it we've definitely figured some things out. The idea is to get these tubes as tight as you can so that they're always touching the subfloor. The slack gets worked out as you go. We keep some sheet metal shears around to cut the plates as needed, and to make little "straps" to help hold the tubing up where it loops/bends back around. We've also started to staple up one tube at a time. There are three per joist bay (usually), and the plates have grooves for two tubes. But since neighboring tubes travel in opposite directions (you need to work the slack out to an end), you can't pin them both at once, otherwise the slack would have nowhere to go. This sounded like it was going to be a lot of extra time at first, but the pattern has a way of working itself out so that every time you come back to a section, it feels like you've already done half the work. I like that.

We've also got it down to a one-person job. The first night had one of us holding, the other placing and stapling. So, I think we're going to go buy a second staple gun so that we can work simultaneously. We had purchased the heaviest-duty electric gun we could find, and it was well worth it. The thing has a hair trigger though. Erika accidentally fired one off while grabbing it off the ladder. It also has a tendency to slide off of whatever shelf, step, or brace that I place it on. I always try to catch it, and I'm just glad I haven't stapled my thigh in the process. So far, neither of us have stapled our finger to the plate, though I've come close. Need to chill out a bit.

The plates are also helping to make things a little neater around here. Our living space is like a jungle of orange vines.

- John

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Done runnin'

Okay, last night we straightened out the tangles and finished running the tubing. We pretty much just backed out whatever had been done on the third circuit, untangled it, and re-fed it. Finished up the rest of the run and were done by 10.

Tonight we plan to begin the second phase of the heat system installation: stapling up the aluminum heat transfer plates. I'm feeling excited by this. It's that excitement I get when we finish one long, drawn-out task and are about to enter the next task, full of optimism. Sweet, naive optimism.

I'm sure it won't be so bad!

- John

Erika here. I just want to say that when John started undoing the mess in the tubing, he was using the phrase "coil energy" and I found it very impressive. Even better was when I actually started to understand what it meant.

If you come to our house we'll totally teach you about coil energy, man.

- Erika

Weekend with Mom

After a Thursday off for a work party, we temporarily went our separate ways: John took off for Connecticut and I got ready to welcome my mom for the last of many weekends she's given us during her summer vacation this year. She waved outside my office window at around 5, and we had a little glass of wine and some bites at a downtown place before heading back to the house.

Now, I'd been hoping that she and I could work on running the rest of the attic pex. With all the time John and I had spent running pex, I felt like I understood the task thoroughly and it would certainly keep moving us forward even with him going out of town. I figured Mom and I would try it and, if it stumped us for some reason, we could work on something else, like turning that horse fence into a porch railing. The box of extra pex John had ordered was on the porch when we got home, which seemed like an omen.

Mom was game to try it. Saturday morning, after the requisite market visit and some breakfast, we went into the bedroom and stared up at the ceiling, where John and I had run most of the first attic circuit last week. It didn't take long to explain the basic principles: three runs per bay, always use two hands when passing pex through a joist, let it loop out big into the room so it doesn't twist. I put myself on coil duty. Mom requested an open window in the tool room so I razored away the new paint job outside that was keeping it closed.

And we did just fine! Ran the rest of the first circuit in under an hour. At first it was strange to do a familiar task with another person, but we quickly found our own rhythm with it. After finishing the first, we started on the second. This also went quite smoothly. Mom showed both patience and a knack for spreading out and un-twisting the pex; we started bringing the big loops way out into the kitchen or living room to let them relax before feeding them on through. "This is fun!" she said, after we'd really gotten the hang of it. We "finished" the second circuit by late afternoon -- I say "finished" because one small problem emerged with the map John and I had drawn, so we left the very last run incomplete. It'll be a 10-minute job to patch that up.

We felt very satisfied with ourselves and spent the rest of the day taking a little drive up to Wintergreen and eating fresh tomatoes, goat cheese and basil from the market. A great day! Being able to do the dishes the same day I ate from them, then reading for a while, felt like a vacation to me. But I had a premonition too: All evening, in my mind, I was rolling out twists in pex tubing.

Sunday, our intention was to run the entire third circuit before Mom would have to leave at 2. Ambitious but reasonable, and we did get an early start. However, something was missing--namely, coffee. I'd run out of beans the day before. We did have some tea, but well, you know.

It turns out that running pex without having had any coffee is a very bad idea. At least that's my theory as to why this circuit behaved so terribly. I was feeding from the coil again and the tubing was entering the first run in some very distressing twists. These persisted through all the subsequent runs, even though we kept trying to pull the big loops out into the kitchen to let them relax like we'd done the day before. Another theory might just be that pex is a mystical creature which defies any attempt to understand it. Recall John saying a week earlier, "I felt like I was over-thinking how to feed from the coil and thus we seemed to be experiencing more twisting in the runs than ever." Yep, I hear that! The more you think you know, the worse it goes.

We kept working at it, up to the midpoint of the circuit where I wanted to put a splice anyway, but it just didn't seem right. Once we got there, and I cut the coil off, we tried to work some of those twists through to the now-free end, but it just got worse. I was feeling like a dunce. By this point it was 12:30, we were both plenty frustrated, and we needed to stop so Mom could get ready to leave.

A tough note to end on, but the weekend was still way more productive than I would have been on my own. John, the coil expert, will be able to help me sort this out, I'm sure. Mom has really put in some long days at our house this spring and summer. Thanks, Mom! You're the best.

- Erika

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Pex on the neck

Got the information we were looking for from our rep at Radiantec, and that was enough to un-stump us. It only took a few minutes after work to map out the route for the attic heating zone. Once we did that, red x's made their mark on the map, indicating where holes would need to be drilled and I got up on the ladder with the tape measure and sharpy to mark the spots. About 20 holes in total. Meanwhile, Erika tore down some drywall at the top of the basement stairs so that we could have access to that area when we run the tubing through it.

It was harder to drill these holes, I think it was because these joists are higher than the ones in the basement. It was hard to get leverage. At least in the crawl space I could hook my foot under a neighboring joist and pull myself into the drill. You have to keep both hands on the drill otherwise it rips from your hand. So, against my better judgement, I resorted to pushing against the joist behind me with my head and neck. After finishing a few of them with this method, I told myself not to do it again. But I did. And then my neck started to hurt and get stiff. The stiffness was weird, since it was pretty immediate. For the remaining holes, I'd be up on the ladder and Erika would push hard against me, putting one foot up on a wall when possible. This (combined with upgrading to a fresh 1" auger bit) did the trick. But I couldn't admire the work because looking upward was quickly becoming painful.

We broke out another 300' roll of PEX and got down to running it. As we expected, it's much easier to deal with this job upstairs in the house compared to in the basement and crawl spaces. Less obstructions, less sweat, less bugs, less dirt...more head room. We got most of the first circuit run but decided to quit since it was getting late.

When I woke up this morning, I could barely move my neck. It's a little better now though.

- John

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Planning fools

Monday night, we did indeed lay the rest of the plywood in the attic. Then we started trying to figure out how to run the radiant tubing up there and our heads got all tangled up like the orange pex we'd wrestled with a week earlier. Only this time we can't just cut and splice to fix the problem.

I won't bore you with the details, but the puzzles involve our bedroom closet, the plywood we just got finished laying, and the fact that the attic (it turns out) is nearly as big as the first floor. You would think this would have been obvious to us but we had been deluding ourselves into thinking we could run only 2 circuits to heat the attic, whereas the downstairs took 5 circuits. The attic is more than 2/3 the size of the downstairs; you do the math. We sure can't!

The planning spilled over into Tuesday and took almost the whole evening. Expecting to do some hard physical work and then getting sidelined by diagrams and calculations instead is enough to send us over the edge. We tried to blow off steam at the end of it by putting bracing back into the bedroom ceiling where we just added those joists, but it didn't really work (although we did get the braces in). Cleaning up all the tools that were laying around in there, then sweeping up the sawdust, helped a little.

Sigh. Time for a long pep talk over dinner. We'll get some much-needed advice from the heating company and keep slogging away.

- Erika

Monday, August 13, 2007

Sunday, plus a bunch of photos

After our superday on Saturday, we both woke up feeling sore and slow. Luckily we were scheduled to take a drive over the mountain and buy some plywood, which actually felt like a little break. Did a little browsing in Home Despot until I reached my big-box time limit and had to get out of there; loaded up 5 sheets of plywood and hit the road. Whew! Almost turned into a pumpkin.

Back at home, we had some leftover polenta, John made a run for deck screws, and we started in on the task of laying plywood in the attic, under the lowest part of the roof where it meets the top of the walls. This will be a good storage area and we'd like to build in some shelves and drawers when we make the attic into our bedroom. But really, we're doing this now so that we can run our radiant tubing under the attic. It also has the advantage of the making the downstairs rooms a little more closed up, almost like having full ceilings.

Only really tough things about this job were that we had to cut each sheet in half lengthwise to fit it between the short studs and into place; that it was 140 degrees up there; and that we were staring down between joists into the downstairs which made me afraid of falling. (Also afraid because I nearly stepped backward into the open stairwell at the highest point, which would have been a truly ugly fall.) We had to jigger some wiring around to accommodate the plywood; removed one last section of old black Romex and replaced with the new stuff. At one point, down in the basement, we both hung our entire body weight off the old stuff, like swinging on a vine, to get it to come out.

In the end we laid about 3/4 of the attic plywood. Figure we can finish it up tonight, then plan our radiant runs for the second floor.

And now, let's pause for some photos.

What's for lunch? Joist surprise.

The present state of things

Our garden looking after itself

Damn invasive species

An old horse fence we brought home

The yard

An idea whose time has come

Sleeping in the parlor for now.

- Erika

Full-on Saturday

(click the map)

Friday, we rested. The evening of rest kicked off with a nice sit in the creek with a bottle of white wine and some tomatoes and berries picked from around the yard.

Saturday, we worked. The morning kicked off with a visit to the farmer's market, as usual. We were back home, breakfasted, and hole-drillin' by 10:30ish.

The goal for the day was to drill the holes in the crawl and basement for the fifth and final under-house circuit, run the tubing, and get started on the bedroom joist project (we hoped to at least move the bedroom to the living room and tear down the plastic ceiling).

The drilling went smoothly even though there were some really tight spots under the bathroom, thanks to the elephant-resistant floor we had framed. We discovered some mold on a couple of the joists under there, and that's some cause for concern. We looked around and have figured out a few things that might be causing it (gaps for air/moisture to travel from the bathroom to the crawl, gaps in vapor barrier coverage, exposed edges between the foundation and house that need caulked) and we plan to clean it up and seal what's needed.

Holes drilled. Time to run tubing. We handled this task like a couple of old pros and smoothly coordinated movements from crawlspace to crawlspace to basement (over and over). The routing got tight in the back of the bathroom, but we knew it would. The coil gave us little trouble and we were done with this by lunch.

After a late lunch, we began to move the bedroom into the living room. Once the bedroom was emptied, we ripped down the plastic ceiling. The bedroom was the only remaining room in the joist job. With half a day or so left (and maybe about half our energy remaining), we decided to dive in and get joisting.

As usual, joisting begins with cutting inch and a half slots in all the blocking and bracing around the room. I got on this with the sawzall. Erika measured, marked, and cut the first joist end so that it would slip under the eave in the front of the house, and then we carried the 12-footer inside. We were expecting to meet resistance with fitting this thing up in there, but with a couple of whacks with the mallet to get it upright, it fit right in. Glued and bolted. Next!

We got another joist in the same way, with little trouble. Smoothly, I'd even say. We also noticed that this job has already been done on one of the existing joists. So at this point, we were looking at two more joists left to completion. There was still some light. My strength was fading but I was pretty sure we could knock those two joists out before dinner and be... wait for it...a day ahead of where we thought we'd be!

It only took a little prodding, but Erika agreed to keep going. The final two joists would not have to rest on the beam at the front of the house because of the existing rafter/joist/cantilever configuration in those particular spots. Instead, they would rest on the beam inside the house, and stop just short of the beam outside - more like your traditional joist sistering.

We rocked those last two as if we'd done this, uh, 23 times before! Glued 'em, clamped 'em, drilled 'em, bolted 'em. Done!

Sore, beat up, cut up, and filthy, we enjoyed the last few minutes before total darkness with cold beers up on the hill in the lawn chairs. After cleaning up, around 9:30, we started in on cooking up a Saturday night feast.

- John

Thursday, August 9, 2007

4th Circuit

Day 5 in the crawl space. I think that's a record. We're going to shatter whatever record there was by the time we're through with the heating. Yesterday evening, around 6:15, we got down on our bellies and slithered under the house. That's becoming one of the toughest parts for me - it's hot outside, I've put on the nasty shirt from yesterday that I had left out on the clothesline to air out, and now we've go to lie down on the damp ground and pull ourselves to the other side of the house. Dust, dirt, chips of wood from the drilling, are all things that our bodies mop up every time we move in there. The dusty, musty odors, the smell of plastic and was just all a bit depressing yesterday.

Despite the frustrations we were both feeling, we pushed on, determined to accomplish the goal of running the fourth circuit. It was a rough one. I felt like I was over-thinking how to feed from the coil and thus we seemed to be experiencing more twisting in the runs than ever. But we worked them out. We spliced the tubing at one point in the circuit where it re-enters the basement after a series of loopbacks. That helped relieve some of the tension from the tubing. We finished up the funky run only because Erika fully understood the connections that needed to be made. When we spliced mid-circuit, we also decided to change course and feed the rest of it in reverse. I got lost with this and couldn't for the life of me understand how the new routing was supposed to all line back up. I just followed her lead to the end of that one. We were both pretty fed up by that point and as soon as the last foot of tubing was run we dropped everything from our hands and went straight upstairs.

The plan for today is to map out the fifth and final crawlspace circuit and drill the holes. Today will be our sixth straight day in there and it no longer matters to us that we're in there well past sundown when it's totally dark outside.


- John

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Drillin' like a villain

This will be a rather short, pictureless entry.

Running the pex is a pretty long and tedious task, which is probably already very clear from our earlier posts. I can't imagine it's that exciting to read about. We've been talking about having some of the songs play on the blog that tend to get stuck in our heads while we work---maybe that would help? Or maybe it would make it much, much worse.

I don't know. All I know is, we spent last evening on the fourth circuit. Didn't run any pex at all; it took the whole night just to figure out how the circuit should run and to drill the 25 or so holes to accommodate the tubing. I like drawing maps, so I did that part. We had a lot of discussion about the best way to route the tubing around the two chimneys and some other obstacles--some of it in the basement, some upstairs looking at the floor and trying to visualize joists, some laying on our backs in the crawl gazing at the floor frame we built a few months ago. (Which, it is now very clear, we designed for structure and not for heat-system-convenience.) Developed a funny little vocabulary shorthand: "the gap," "the loop," "three regulars," "three and a buddy."

And then the drilling. I hung out in the crawlspace with John and read the map while he drilled. (See earlier picture of John drilling in crawlspace.) More holes in the basement; by that time it was after 9. Tonight we'll run that whole circuit, we hope (see earlier pictures of orange tubing being run), and then it's on to the final and most complicated circuit, the one that'll go under the whole bathroom with its many extra joists and other obstacles (see earlier pictures of bathroom floor frame). After that we get to bust out our new heavy-duty staple gun! Woot. THEN we'll be takin some photos.

- Erika

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

A super-long, pictureless entry.

During the day, I talked with our super-friendly, ever-encouraging rep at Radiantec about the massive tangle in the tubing that we created Sunday night. He told me not to worry about it, and that even some of their installers still get it tangled from time to time. "Make it easy for yourself, it's supposed to be simple." Apparently it's just fine to cut it and use a coupling to splice it back together. And that's what we did and were on our way.

So at this point in running our freeway of tubing back and forth across the house, we're about 3/4 of the way under the house. Deep into crawl spaceland (SPACE-lund). The middle crawl, where I was working, puts me behind and around the stairwell. The stairwell is like a concrete wall with a one and a half to two foot gap between it and the concrete footer that divides the two crawls. It forms a tight corridor which runs the width of the stairs and empties out into a much larger, square of an area. It's also the creepiest to me. The lamp doesn't illuminate the far corners of this room. Somehow worse is that in the front end, the ground actually slopes down before it meets the foundation walls. The first full joist bay that you encounter after arriving in the back space is where the main heating duct used to run - basically down middle of the house, front (basement) to back (beneath the kitchen). Back in the good old days when we used to work harder, Erika removed this entire duct which consisted of a continuous 2 foot strip of sheet metal nailed up and covering the entire width of the joist bay. Surely, mouse and rat home affects (insulation, nut husks, bikes) rained down at that time. Nowadays, all that's left in that joist bay is a thick black dusk and thick cob webs. I planned on vacuuming this run at one point, but now I'm afraid that that job would make for a pretty repulsive environment so it may be best left undisturbed. Following this joist bay towards the front of the house, you see the light: the basement. The concrete footer that divides this crawl from the basement has a large chunk knocked out of it, where the duct would have fed into the heat source. This gap makes for some easy tool hand-offs at times, and it hasn't really ever bothered me. Until now. Because the other night when we were running tubing through it, I noticed that the floor joists used to sit on this footer and now, there is nothing supporting two of them. They are simply nailed to the end of the previous joist along that parallel, creating an approximate 22 foot span! This is right down the center of our house and this nailed together union is directly beneath where there used to be a load bearing wall (right - the one that someone removed and never reinforced). About half the weight (in non-engineering terms) that the upstairs beam is supporting is being transferred to a post that is sitting above the midpoint, which is the weakest point, in this already weak 22 foot span. Need more reasons for claustrophobia while working in a small space beneath this part of the house? I noticed that the joist has many stress cracks running horizontally in this spot. We'll need to either install a basement post here or try to repair the footer with concrete. Needless to say, while I sat there boring out one more 1" hole in the blocking, I was questioning the sanity of being under there and keeping my eye on the escape hole in the footer.

Meanwhile, Erika had made her way deep into crawl space one, at the back of the house. That's the shallowest one, and the one with all the plumbing. And the pyre of stones, the rocky spine, ol' snake hollow - all different images for the long rock garden that bisects the space. Erika would go spine-to-spine with this monument throughout the night. As have others who have spoke on the matter, I'm tempted to say that Erika has established some sort of peace with the crawl. She was meditating in there the other night for crying out loud. Or maybe she just doesn't complain as much as I do. Though, that's probably because she can control her mind from spinning out into the absurd much better than I can. She would have to do a lot of waiting around while we worked this circuit because of the "travelling" that I had to do to get from the coil by the basement footer to the point where I could feed the pex to her.

Recall the night before when Erika carefully coiled the tubing and tied each loop to its neighbor (while I went into a 2 hour trance trying to feel out the twists and tangles in the pipe in the basement). This turned out to work very well, and not only am I sure that it saved us a re-tanglin', but it also gave me more insight into how the energy moves through the coil. I was on coil-duty because we agreed that in the past 24 hours my coil-knowledge has deepened. You see, when you feed the tubing through its first hole in the blocking or joist, it has a memory for the way it has entered. If it enters with a slight twisting energy just behind it, it will carry that along the circuit because of the friction holding it in the hole. This isn't bad at first, but it adds up over time. I've started noticing it catch up with us at around 80 feet or so in these tight patterns. It bites us at around 150 feet. So the more loose and free-feeling the trailing end of the tubing feels as it passes through that first gate and on with its course, the less tension is on the tubing and the looser it hangs and the easier it will be to put it in contact with the floor when we staple up the aluminum transfer plates. To do this, you need to be unrolling the coil in perfect order - when done right, it feels so good...I can send 10 or 15 feet directly from the coil and out across the floor of the crawl in a nice large arc before I send it through the hole and feed it along.

Then I'd slither back up the incline to the middle of the house and pass the 20 or so feet through another joist and around the corner behind the stairwell (we will upload our map so this makes's a funky routing, this one!). Once I passed all this slack through, I would pop up and it would be the time in this multi-staged process where Erika and I could see each other again. We weren't really talking as I was working the coil and passing the first stages of each feed, but when I'd pop up I'd usually sing out a situation-customized version of whatever song had been looping relentlessly through my head. "The search is over, you were with me in the crawl (all the while, haha, get it)," or "baby come back, you can blame it all on me, I was coiled, and I just can't feed with out you." It's hell. For Erika, anyway.

So then the process would regain some familiarity. I would sit across from Erika (about 20 feet away) and feed her the pex as she took up the slack, passed it around the loop and sent it back to me, pass it around the loop and send it back to her, pass it through a joist and send it back to least, this is how it gets going as we get more and more tubing fed from the coil. The process is constantly interrupted by needing more tubing, which meant me slithering back to the coil and "feeling it," "understanding it," working with it and communicating with it, please don't tangle, spin freely and loosely.

Time passed. Tubing passed. We were getting closer. Finally, the end reached back into the basement. A milestone, yes. But it still needed to cross the basement, turn around and run all the way back across both crawls, and then turn one more time and feed all the way to the front of the basement again. About 90 feet yet to feed. But with the end now in the basement, someone would always need to get in there at the end of a feed. That would be Erika, since my spot in the middle crawl was required at those points to push into the basement while she pulled. So for every feeding cycle, Erika would have to leave the crawl, go around the house into the basement, accept the feed, and then return to her spot deep in the crawl space for the next round. Once we had two passes in the basement, this travel doubled for her and she was in and out twice per feed. Crazy.

But we made it. The third circuit has been run. We learned more from it, as usual, and I am very glad that we started this job with the "easier" circuits than with this (or the next) hard one.

The sweat through our clothes turns the crawl space silt dust into mud on you, and we're in there these days in shorts and tee shirts, so we get pretty nasty. We emerged into the dark night. It was almost 10, so we'd put in almost 4 hours under there and it was time for a beer, a shower, and oh yeah, to whip up a batch of fresh pesto! We had picked up some pine nuts on the way home and blended 'em up with a bunch of basil, some aged Romano, olive oil and garlic. Plus, Market St. was having a sale on one of my favorite wines so Erika had scored some (Cono Sur, 2005 Chilean Cab Sauv, get it while it's hot!). A nice dollop of our friend's fresh goat cheese on some Double H lettuce and heirloom tomato and it was a regular Monday night dinner at 10:45.

It is quite necessary.

- John

Monday, August 6, 2007

In which we enter a time warp

The whole passage of time in this renovation project has become so bizarre. There's the long-term factor--when will we finish the project? As we continue working, the probable end date keeps stretching further into the future. I'm afraid to say when it is that I estimate we'll be really done, because A) it's scary how far away it is and B) no doubt it's overly optimistic anyway. I think we're keeping our spirits up quite well, but I'd kill for a crystal ball to tell me when we'll have our last successful visit from our loan inspector. My god what a feeling that will be!

Then there's the short term, which is an ongoing pattern of setting goals for a weekend or a weeknight and, probably 75 or 80 percent of the time, not quite meeting them despite working as hard as we can. Thus the next goal gets pushed back, and the next...Case in point is how we thought we'd run all the tubing for the radiant heat over the weekend. John even thought we might get to the next phase, stapling up the heat transfer plates. But as he's already explained, we only ran one circuit of five on Saturday. So going into Sunday our goal was to run two more.

The first one went beautifully. It was the most straightforward of all the circuits in the house, basically unobstructed, and we already had most of the drilling done. We had our method worked out from the day before and we just ran that tubing back and forth until it was done--me in the rear crawlspace, John in the basement. I learned how to crawl faster, which helped. Eight runs and that was that! We did it in less than two hours and emerged feeling right proud of ourselves. Ate some lunch, did some other little tasks and got ready for the third circuit.

Now this one was gonna be tricky. Our circuits run from the very front to the very back of the house, and this one has the basement stairwell right in the middle of it. We'd have to do a bunch of short runs in the basement, wrap around to the back of the stairwell, do a bunch of corresponding short runs in the crawlspace, then do a few long runs. In short, a lot more complicated.

We started with the short basement runs (after, of course, John did all the tough drilling of joists and braces, with me tagging along holding a map of the circuit). All was well and we were enjoying being able to talk, instead of yell across the house, to each other. But we started to get some twisting in the tubes. Hm. It won't lay right against the floor when it does that. John was able to work it out through some kind of magic laying on of hands.

Here we made a mistake. It was my fault. We were piling up the tubing that was coming out of the end of these five short runs. It would later have to continue back around the stairwell, but I thought we could just coil it up in the basement for now and run it back there later as kind of a separate phase. This would save a lot of back-and-forth between crawlspaces, I thought. We coiled it on the floor and it lay there looking innocent.

And then...and then. I went into the middle crawlspace to have John feed that coil through to me so I could start running it behind the stairs. It was about 7pm at this point. We got the end through the appropriate hole and I began re-coiling it where I was sitting. Now both ends of the tubing were "pinned" as they passed through small holes in wooden planks. Between those two spots were over 100 feet of coiled tubing. You can probably see what's coming. The coils, not being perfectly wrapped onto a spindle, were falling into each other and getting tangled. As he fed more tubing to me, John was trying to untangle them. I was sitting there in the crawl, getting a foot or two at a time, and every time he fed me a little John would then wrap and turn and wrestle with that coil.

This went on for two hours.

Seriously, people, I don't think I've ever seen anybody work on something so completely maddening, without a break, without complaining, as John trying to untangle that orange tubing. I of course was getting pretty bored sitting in that crawlspace (I devised a whole system with nylon cord for keeping my coil from getting tangled like John's, plus I mentally reconstructed the swimming pool I grew up going to, every ladder and tree and chaise lounge and sidewalk) but I wasn't going to be the first one to quit, what with the practically superhuman patience my dear husband displayed. I could see sweat on his brow. It got dark outside, it rained for a while, and then it got darker.

Poor Johnny. Finally there were maybe 20 or 30 feet left, in a couple of big knots. The killer was that we didn't even know whether there was an answer to this puzzle. Maybe there's no way to get it straightened out without having an end free, and of course both ends are pinned.

We decided to call it a day.

Will we have to cut the knot out and put in two couplings? Will we have to work from the beginning of the circuit to untwist and maybe release the tangled coils? Will we sell our house and run away to Mexico?

We've got two and a half circuits done. Stay tuned.

- Erika

To stretch a leg

I woke up sore Sunday morning and thought that would be a good title for a blog entry.

We had planned to start running the pex tubing for the radiant heat Friday after work. I didn't expect us to get too far, but I thought it would be good to encounter some problems so that I could turn them over in my mind while I sleep, giving us a bit of a head start on Saturday.

But, nothing turns out as planned, and we didn't even run one inch that night. Instead, we spent the evening with paper, pen, and tape measure, re-thinking our route for the various circuits of tubing. All this after stopping by Dr. Ho's (an old favorite) for a pizza to go, where we watched all the families gathering up their kids to go to the Albemarle County Fair. What a nice night for a fair. I wanted fried dough and Erika wanted a kiss on the ferris wheel. However, we needed to find romance the damned crawl space.

Saturday morning we did our usual up-early-and-hit-the-farmer's-market thing. Powered up with some delicious fried eggs over toasted baguette (w/olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano) and fruit. Gathered our tools and stuff and decided to dive in by first drilling the holes for the tubing to pass through.

Okay, time out: let's explain the design concepts here. The tubing will run from the front of the house (basement) to the back of the house. It gets there by passing through two crawl spaces. This distance is about 35 feet. Once the tube reaches the back of the house, it bends and is fed back to the front of the house, running about 6" beside itself. When it reaches the front, she bends and heads back to the back of the house. So, you've got what looks like 3 tubes between 2 joists (we call this space a "joist bay"). At that point, the tube passes through the end of the joist (via 1" hole we drill) and repeats the run in the adjacent joist bay. We estimate this to be 267 linear feet of tubing.

Now, water can only run so far before its effective heat is lost. That distance is about 300 feet. So, you've got to break your house up into "circuits." We're doing this by building a "long manifold," which is basically one tube that runs the width of the house, carrying the hottest water and T-ing off to each circuit. We'll have 5 circuits downstairs.

Now, back to it...

We have to drill holes in basically every other joist end. And, let's not forget about the blocking between joists. In each joist bay there is at least 3 cross members that need to be drilled through. That blocking needs to have 3 holes (since the tube passes that many times). This is the old, hard, loveable/hateable wood. We sat in the crawl space and started drilling. After one hole, the drill ran out of batteries. Or power. Or both. Considering we've got something like 100 of these holes to drill, I decided that today is the day to get ourselves a drill that can keep up with us. We hopped in the rabbit and zoomed over the mountain, returning with a pretty kick ass 8 amp Milwaukee.

The first few times I pulled the trigger, the drill ripped out from my hands. I quickly learned that you need to use the extra side handle when doing this kind of drilling. Even after I got used to it, occasionally I'd snag a nail and the thing would rip from my hands. It's awesome. We bored through wood as fast as I could keep the auger bit sharpened.

When all was said and done that day, we got one circuit completed, and were pretty sore from all the crawling, entering and exiting the crawl spaces, drilling in odd positions, and arms-over-head feeding and pulling of tube.

Communication is key. With Erika way at the back of the house (under it) and me at the front of the house uncoiling tube and moving ladders, we sounded something like this: "okay, I'm going to feed one," "can you pull two?" "feeding one, pulling two...can you take up some three?" "do you need me to head into the middle crawl space?" and so on. I'm leaving out some of the cursing though. Toes wasn't sure what was going on underneath the house, so once in a while you'd hear her walking around upstairs letting out some soft, lonely meows.

- John