Gary Digs Tales of the holes I dig, the dirt piles I make, and the holes I fill at the B-Bar-Lazy-B

October 1, 2008

I think I’m in love…

with flexible insulating ducting…

The splendor of the flexible insulated ducting...so beautiful...so charming

The splendor of the flexible insulated ducting...so beautiful...so charming

This project finally got started, as most do, fairly unintentionally and following lengthy internal debates about the relative merits of the project in contrast to the associated risks and hassles (which, as usual, were underestimated). I paid a routine visit to the crawlspace in the spring following the historic downpours experienced throughout western Washingtion over the winter (the brunt of the rain hit a couple hours south of here in the Centralia area, but the big sog didn’t spare us entirely). Although we suffered no where near the catastrophic rains that hit south of here, our neighbor 2 doors down has a basement and was forced to occupy a hotel for a while after the December storms caused flooding in her home.

During our neighbor’s hotel hiatus we had the pleasure of watching after Tex, her ancient Shitsu (I think he is about 2 or 3 hundred years old). I’ll avoid a lengthy digression into the entertainment value of Tex, but I happened to buy some brand new Car Harts around this time and evidently they were tasty since in the middle of a dinner party Tex decided the best thing in the world was feverishly licking my pant leg (and he would not stop, which our guests found hugely entertaining, where I did not so much after about an half an hour of continuously being licked and changed my trousers which strangely brought the licking to a halt).

Tex, the ancient manic pant licking shitsu

Tex, the ancient manic pant licking shitsu

Anyway, when I got down into the dingy hell hole that is our crawlspace during the aforementioned spring spelunking, I discovered (much to my dismay) a small pondish lake had formed just under the living room coalescing on top of the few solid portions of the mostly shredded vapor barrier.

PANIC!

We have fairly serious water fears around here, and someday I’ll relate the entire story about the household flood that occurred 4 days after we closed on the house (as a result of an overzealous water department ignoring a specific request to NOT turn on the water while we were out of town). Ok, so the question becomes, is this water here because our house sits in a hole and the earth around us is simply saturated OR is this somehow related to the replumbing that we had done back in October??? After calling upon Maya to run around the house and turn on every water fixture one at a time so I could listen and watch intently for any plumbing leaks (thinking the whole time, if this is a plumbing leak why is it under the living room, there is no plumbing here…grrr…hmmm….arggg).

Ok, as best as we could tell there is no plumbing issue, so this is most likely saturated earth acting in concert with the wholly inadequate vapor barrier and poor air circualtion resulting from the wholly inadequate crawlspace venting covered by stinking vinyl siding with silly little air louvres molded into the siding (and perhaps augmented by increased water volumes resulting from the curtailing of the roots of the 50 year old crimson maple that was required for the replacement of the water service from the street to the house). Well, that was my story, and I decided to hope for the best and stick to that assumption about the source of the water. I also decided to remove a significant portion of the remaining vapor barrier to allow the water to soak into the earth since I did not want to belly crawl across the pondish lake to check and clear the crawlspace vent at that exact moment. I also made the decision to return to the crawlspace later in the summer and assess the pondish lake again at that time (and to be fully prepared with some sort of water removal apparatus to clear the pond as needed so as to allow somewhat dry access over to the crawlspace vent if needed). Just another item to add to the list of about 18 things that need to be done in the crawlspace. And so I pulled myself out of that nasty underworld, covered the access with the beautiful hatch cover I had made the previous year to match the flooring (and to replace the piece of 3/4″ ply that didn’t really cover the access entirely anyway), and returned the entire contents of the closet under the stairs to its usual location immediately over and completely obstructing the access to the crawlspace.

Oooo pretty...with handles too...

Oooo pretty...with handles too...

This action (the clearing of the closet), in and of itself, is probably the greatest hinderance to activity in the crawlspace. Not to diminish the generally nastiness of the place, but the fact that in order to get down there we have to move this bevy of bizarre objects and shelving out of the closet under the stairs into the blue room just to get down there presents enough of an initial hassle to make my visits less frequent than perhaps they should be. And thus, summer became fall (or so Maya claims, I’ve been trying to hold out for summer until November, but the past couple of days have dashed my hopes), and I did not find a cheap enough sump pump close enough to home on Craig’s List throughout my summer searches.

The blue room full of crap from the closet...our primary obstacle to crawlspace visits

The blue room full of crap from the closet...our primary obstacle to crawlspace visits

However, a few weeks ago, J (of J&X, a friend of mine since High School that now lives only a few blocks away and fishes for salmon in Alaska during the summer) had come back from Alaska fishing and happened to be heading back up to Bellingham to work on the boat for the week prior to starting their fall fishing here in the Puget Sound. In a minor stroke of genius I remembered to ask if they happened to have a 110v sump I could borrow over the following weekend (which would at long last provide the required force to inspire me back into the crawlspace for the long overdue checkup on the pondish lake). Sweet victory! They did in fact have a 110v sump pump I could borrow (thereby avoiding some freakish car battery jumper cable Rube Goldberg style setup for a 12v marine pump). I spent the following week sizing up tough for the journey under the house…choosing a sacrificial shirt…contemplating the exact pumping strategy…hoping for the best…expecting the worst…and last, but of course not least, on Friday I cleared the closet in preparation for the descent…

Into the abyss...

Into the abyss...

 J. came through with the pump and all the pieces were in place to begin the crawlspace drainage and assessment initiative…I dutifully got the pump ready to go and Maya helped me get the hose strung from the pump at the crawlspace access out to one of the rain barrels by the back door. The pump didn’t have an on/off switch so I tied the cords together to keep the plugs in close proximity to each other to start it up once I got it into position in the center of the pondish lake and then I descended…

The heart of darkness...

The heart of darkness...

Low and behold the summer sunshine had done the job. No standing water at all, although the ground itself under the livingroom was still pretty damp. A plethora of factors converge to explain the semi-permanent dampness in this area. Several of these factors have already been mentioned above. Some other issues include the fact that this is the side of the house where the downspouts from the gutters are located. This side also borders the concrete driveway which sits about a foot above the ground (like I said, our house sits in a hole, I have no idea what they were thinking back in 1944 when they set us and our neighbor to the northeast below the street level). Well, hmmm…the anti-climax drove me into a momentary stupor (of a couple of hours) . What do I do now? We’ve moved all that crap into the blue room, the access is open, I’ve sullied my clothes…I decided to chain smoke for a while and mull over the potential items on the list of 18 or so that needed to be done down there.

More of the same...in the other direction...

More of the same...in the other direction...

First, I decided to inspect and clear (to the best of my ability) the crawlspace vents for improved airflow. I was able to immediately create a breeze by jamming a long screwdriver through the incredibly gappy loose wire mesh on the vent cover and then through the narrow louvre on the vinyl siding. Cleared all the cobwebs, but a lot of the obstruction was actually on the outside between the siding and the vent, so that became a project for another day to be approached from the exterior of the house now that I confirmed each of the louvred areas did in fact have a vent associated with it (I had my doubts since I hadn’t really previously tucked my head through the cobwebs into the space between the joists and above the concrete to see each of the vents). After that, I decided to chain smoke a little bit more and contemplate my next move (still a bit dumbfounded by the anti-climax, I set about putting away all the pumping supplies and coiled up the hose, acknowledging the end of any person powered watering requirements for the season). I started to contemplate the unthinkable, and tried some internet research to support my fretting, worrying, and strategizing…could we, should we…hmmm…better smoke another cigarette in the sun…

As I was soaking up the rays (well, not really, I was in full crawlspace battle regalia and only my face and hands could receive the goodness of the sun), another painful example of the stunning synergy of mind that occassionally happens around here was realized when Maya pre-emptively struck with the question: “Do you think we should try and replace the ducting?” NOTE: I had not mentioned this aspect of my contemplations out loud.

“Damn It!” I exclaimed, “I suppose so…” and so it began, since that is exactly what I was turning over like so much mental compost through all that chain smoking in the sun…I did a little more internet research to find some pricing on the flexible insulated ducting we wanted to use in our replacement efforts since the final 2 square feet of fiberglass that had once graced our metal ducting (and was mostly gone even before the big move in flood of ’04’) was quickly slipping into the earth beneath the house (which makes for an itchy belly crawl). It is pretty much impossible to find anything really useful on most hardware store sites, particularly those smaller locally owned independent or locally owned mini-chain stores, but even the big guys (like the ones that used to be Eagle and the ones with the big orange signs) don’t share much of the nitty gritty of construction supplies on their site. Sure, if you want a ten foot garden hose, or a Weber Gas Grille, or rat poison (stuff we don’t usually shop for), you can find it pretty easily and even pick it up in the store. If you want something like 6″ flexible insulated ducting you have to research the pricing in far off lands at sites that specialize in, well, flexible instulated ducting, and then visit the hardware store to see if they actually have that which you seek…and so we did…

 If at all possible, we try to meet our hardware needs at McLendon’s. They are a chain, but a local one, and good luck finding a small independent hardware store in the south of Seattle (the posh North of the city still has some of the old storefront independents, but then the ultra-hip and wealthy can afford such luxuries). McLendon’s had the ducting, so we loaded up the cart (overloaded I should say), and I grabbed a couple pieces of pipe insulation since I knew the PEX on the far wall near the new on-demand water heater had not been covered by the plumbers (I’m not 100% certain they ran out of insulation so much as they ran out of patience for the crawlspace, the job took longer than they expected as a result of some of the minor peculiarities of our install). Then we grabbed the connectors…all of them…they only had three, but I thought that would do since we only had two runs that needed connectors for certain, and one potential spot where we might need to go beyond the 25ft length of a single piece of ducting. These connectors are a pretty crucial piece of gear for installing flexible insultated ducting, 6 inch diameter aluminum connectors about 6 inches long and crimped on each side for joining two pieces of ducting (since unlike the metal ducting, the flexible insulated isn’t “gendered” such that you can insert one end of the piece you’re installing into the end of the piece that preceded it, etc).

The magic piece of the puzzle...so simple, yet so rare

The magic piece of the puzzle...so simple, yet so rare

Gross error on my part…I failed to realize that at each of the registers we would also need a connector to insert into the existing boot. We discovered this tidbit as I was removing the very first piece of metal ducting from the register boot below the blue room. Ok, that’s alright I thought, we bought McLendon’s out of the stuff, but certainly we could run out the next day and get the 4 additional connectors we needed. Progress, let’s make progress, we decided. So we continued the removal effort to completion (no small task, all told I think it took as long to remove all those sheet metal screws as it did to actually install and hang the new ducting). The plan was to get this part done, perhaps get a start on installing the new ducting with the parts we had on hand. I could get the pipe insulation in place. Maya started the run from the blue room, which we knew would require more than a single length. I could eventually do the very short run from the Kitchen to the plenum. Everything would be ok…the weather was still nice…no worries.

The Horror...The Horror...

The Horror...The Horror...

We spent the better part of Sunday visiting every hardware store and home improvement mega store in our immediate area to no avail. Every single one of these bastards were bursting at the seams with box after box of the flexible insulated ducting, and yet, no connectors. You see, my theory on this goes something like this… somewhere at headquarters the corporate comptroller who doesn’t know ducting from a hole in the ground from their own ass decides what gets stocked on the shelves. Add to that the fact that most mega-stores choose to pay their employees too little to really develop any concern about what is stocked on the shelves, and there certainly isn’t any incentive for knowledgable staff to apply for a job at the big orange sign when they could be making a much better living actually plying their trade. I would also lay odds that there are institutional and systemic structures in place that discourage employees from taking an active role in improving the stocking strategy (this is just a guess, in many ways I’m probably talking out my ass right now, but you get the picture).

 (IMPORTANT NOTE: I do not blame the employees for not giving a shit, neither would I at $9 an hour for the second or third job most people need just to pay the crazy mortgage payment that arises from the tiniest one bedroom on a 16th of an acre being priced right around a quarter of a million dollars).

When at long last we get home from the Odyssey of the 6″ connectors, empty handed and discouraged, there isn’t a lot of vibrance or vim available to us for tackling the task at hand (and not a whole lot we can do at this point since without the parts the labor that can be completed can’t very effectively be carried out as a team due to the cramped spaces involved). In a moment of desperation I decided to check Amazon.com for the Connector. The thought that drove this search ran something like…in the worst case scenario we could just order some and complete the project when they arrived. I almost fell right out of my chair…who supplied Amazon with this mission critical part for our project…you guessed it, McLendon’s. At the McLendon’s in Renton we were told “this item comes from Ace, so we can’t get it from the warehouse” and no other help was offered. I decided to give the McLendon’s in White Center a ring and see if they had any on hand. We could drive over there the next day and get them (they could be had in Maya’s Civic, where getting the ducting itself was a job for my F250), and then we would be well on our way to completing our project. McLendon’s in White Center only had one, uno, ein, single lonely connector…BUT, they offered to see if the other stores had any and could do a store transfer (which would take a couple days, ended up being three), and they were most helpful in securing the promise of connectors to be had in the future. We would get the connectors on Wednesday and finish up the project on Thursday afternoon (Wednesday was Maya’s Mom’s birthday and we were having her parents over for dinner, so crawlspace activity was banned for Wednesday).

We didn’t get the connectors until Thursday. Apparently they had a metric butt load of stuff come in on Wednesday and didn’t find the connectors in the huge stack until late in the afternoon (at which point I was in Auburn, WA loading a cord of wood to help J (of J&X, the aforementioned fisherman with the sump pump) keep his house warm this winter in lieu of getting central heating other than the old wood stove on which they relied last year. ‘Tis the season for heating preparations I suppose.

I had some work to do, and so did Maya, so we didn’t get to McLendon’s in White Center until about 3pm (we wrapped it with a trip to a post office box in the University District that Maya has to visit now and again and which constitutes a lengthy story unto itself that Maya probably won’t tell for some time to come). We didn’t leave McLendon’s in White Center until after 4pm and got home around 4:30pm, or roughly one thousand hours later as I recollect it. This brings us to the one narrow area where the big home improvement outlets kind of have it over the small guy, policies and procedures. Sometimes these little nuggets (policies and procedures) can have an advantage, such as knowing where to put items that came in as a store transfer for a customer so that anyone can find them when said customer (us in this case) arrives to retrieve the items. Now, on the other hand, more often than not, policies and procedures are actually designed to hinder the employee from being too helpful to the customer (and thus increasing the total cost of serving said customer which just might impinge upon the multi-bazillion dollar bonus of the executives of some home improvement chains that just might have a big orange sign). Fortunately, despite having no idea where the items were located, the folks at McLendon’s in White Center were not impeded in their dilligent efforts to find the items, and so, three of the four connectors we needed were found.

DOH! I needed 4, but only needed 3 tranferred from other stores since McLendon’s in White Center had one on hand, BUT the one on hand could not be found (and was not in the box on the shelf where it belonged, so initially everyone presumed it had been purchased). The very helpful man with the unusually pointy hair piece did check the computer to see how many they were supposed to have in stock. ELEVEN! Somewhere in the store we had been scouring at length there hid a box or boxes of ELEVEN FX0225 6″ Flex ducting adapters. So, the search continued. You’ll note that by this time I knew the Manufacturer’s part number by heart and started closely examining the writing on the unpacked boxes at the tops of the shelves and in the aisles (the previous day’s delivery actually did consist of a metric butt load of stuff and much of it remained unpacked). Eventually, I did find a box marked FX0225, and we considered at length whether or not to buy extras. We chose not to with the rationale that there were supposed to be 10 others there somewhere in the store and that perhaps they would be easier to find if we did indeed need to return for an unexpected extra.

By the time we got home, the aggressive vigor to pursue the project deep into the night to completion had completely vanished. The project would have to be completed the following day. I had some work to do on Friday, and so did Maya, but we did get the project started and completed that afternoon with relative ease. This is why, despite all of the above, I have developed a deep emotional bond with flexible insulated ducting. For a few hundred dollars, with duct tape, wire cutters, a hammer and some nails, we were able to replace all the ducting under the house (and hopefully we’ll save a buck or two this winter by not heating the crawlspace as we did with the old broken down crushed in places pouring hot air all over the place galvanized ducting that was down there before). 

Aside from the fiberglass left over from the old ducting that now resides in our lungs and nose and deep beneath the surface of our skin (along with big dirt clods in our nose and lungs), the project left very little permanent damage on our souls. There was the embarassing event at the very end while I attempted to move some of the older abandoned flexible copper piping out of the way of the final join of the flexible insulated ducting and proceded to dump any and all of the remaining water in the pipe directly into my lap, but that also could have been worse (for example, had I chosen to dump said stale old water on my face, up my nose, or in my mouth along with all the dirt that fell out of the joists into these orifices). The closet stuff is still in the blue room, and I really need to go back down there with a big can of Great Stuff to plug up the plumbing and wiring holes (particularly since the crawlspace vents are not keeping rodents out of there, and last year one decided to periodically visit our trash can by coming up through said plumbing and wiring holes…I killed him, and I’m glad I did, we can discuss all the philosophical details of this at some later date). I know I’ll be returning to the heart of darkness again in the future, but ideally not until next spring when I hope to run speaker wire out to the patio (a project for which I’ve had the speakers for about two years). I’ll probably lay new vapor barrier at that time as well, although I’m loathe to do it until I better understand the hydrodynanmics of the crawlspace, and get the vents replaced, since once water is on top of the plastic it seems to go nowhere.

If you’ve actually read this entire entry, then I suppose you deserve a reward of some sort. All I’ve got is this super cute picture of Hemingway and Huxley on the couch together…I hope you feel it is a fitting reward for your diligence in the face of overwhelming domesticity…

Your reward...a single dose of ultra-cute...

Your reward...a single dose of ultra-cute...

 

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