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 sense...it'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 me...at 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

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