Monday, August 6, 2007

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

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