Construction Journal Entry Week of 1/15/12

1/19-21/12 I went up to Camp Serendipity for 3 days: Thursday through Saturday.

I delayed my trip by two days this week because of a severe winter storm in Seattle so that I could help Ellen get around. The roads were still covered with compact snow when I left Thursday morning. On the way, I stopped in and visited with Charles in Monroe. It was a slow trip over the pass but I took it slow and easy. I arrived at Camp Serendipity at 1:30.

It had snowed a lot up there. There was only one snowplow lane plowed on the White River Road and the banks on each side were about 5 feet high, including on my driveway. There is a sort of parking strip across from my driveway but it was covered with about 10 inches of snow. I was able to get into that space far enough to let an oncoming car pass. The people in the car warned me that I wouldn't be able to go up the road much further because the snowplow was stuck, but I told them that I was already as far as I needed to go. Now I just had to dig through 5 feet of snow to get into my driveway.

I had left my snow shovel up in the cabin so I strapped on my snowshoes and headed up to get it. On the way, I checked the water flow and I could see that there was a problem. Instead of the water flowing out steadily, it was gurgling and spurting intermittently. I continued on up to the cabin and called Mike first thing. I needed to deal with the water problem and it would be great if Mike could come by and clear the driveway. He said he would be there in an hour or so.

I went down to the crawlspace and saw that the temperature down there was about 28 degrees. It was about 15 outside. I tried to close the valve on the return water pipe and I could feel that it was partially frozen. It wouldn't close all the way and I could hear gurgling when I turned it. I closed it as much as I could and then went up and turned on the water in the bathtub. There was some gurgling and a little water, but it was not normal. The fact that there was some flow told me that the line was not frozen shut completely so there was hope.

The first thing I did was to plug up all the crawlspace vent openings with Styrofoam blocks. Then I set up an electric heater aimed at the vertical copper water pipes against the wall. That was where I think the ice had formed inside the pipes. Then I took a nozzle down to the discharge pipe at the creek and screwed it on the end of the copper pipe. To my dismay I discovered that the nozzle was broken and would not turn and open up. I screwed it on loosely so that it leaked around the threads and allowed some water to run out. I figured that would give me enough pressure in the cabin and not let air enter and go back up the pipe.

Next I got my snow shovel and shoveled off the concrete steps. There was about 3 or 4 feet of snow on the staircase so it took me a while to clear them. Just about the time I finished, Mike showed up and cleared the driveway and parking area. Mike told me that there was a lot more snow due in the next day or two. After he left, I parked the truck near the end of the driveway aiming out toward the road so I would have the least amount of snow to clear to get out. Then I carried the rest of my gear and supplies up to the cabin. It took a lot of trips because I had brought a lot of stuff with me. I had lumber, insulation, chainsaw gas, a bunch of toilet paper, food, my usual luggage, and some other stuff.

By the time I finished hauling gear, the water was running at full force so the ice had evidently all melted away. The crawlspace had warmed up to just above 32 degrees so my water system was safe again. I can see that those Styrofoam blocks are necessary in the wintertime.

Next I made a fire in the wood stove and in the process, I discovered a mouse in the trap behind the stove. A peanut next to the trap was untouched and the traps upstairs and in the crawlspace were still set, so it seems that a single mouse had found his/her way in somehow. It never ends.

It was getting so late that I decided to skip lunch altogether. I had had some blueberry newtons at Charles' place, I had eaten an apple on the road, and I drank a glass of cranberry juice so I figured that would hold me until dinner. I went to work and laid a few floor panels before I had my shower and my dinner.

At about 9:30, I heard some strange sounds that I thought might be mice. I investigated and it sounded more like water gurgling. Fearing that a pipe might have ruptured and was now leaking I went down to the crawlspace to investigate. The gurgling sounds were clearly coming from the copper pipe in the floor, which is the high point of the copper loop. I satisfied myself that there was no leaking water and that the sounds definitely were coming from the pipe, and I went back upstairs trying to figure out what was going on.

The noise stopped after about 20 minutes. The only explanation I could come up with was that when the water was nearly stopped from the ice, the water had run out the discharge pipe and emptied it so that air could come in from the bottom. With the nozzle screwed on the end to restrict the discharge, the flow was slow enough that air bubbles could work their way up the pipe all the way to the high point in the floor. I think that was what I heard, but I can't be sure. At any rate, my water system seemed to be restored to normal operation.

On Friday morning, it was 11 degrees outside and the water was still flowing fine, much to my relief. I built a fire in the stove and then went to work on the flooring. I finished covering the hallway so that you walked on finished flooring from the front door all the way to the utility room doorway. Then I used my new Bosch oscillating tool to cut the notch around the bottom of the Grid B.5, 2.5 loft support column.

By that time it was about 11:00 and I decided to go outside to shovel the snow off the mixer and the privy. I could see that they had very heavy snow loads. The weather was clear and sunny and with more snow forecast, I figured this was a good time to clear the roofs.

I made a trail to the privy using snowshoes which was delightful fun. The snowshoes only sunk in about a foot before the snow was packed down firmly so it was pretty easy walking. But I thought that I wouldn't need snowshoes after that until I tried walking on the packed trail with just boots. I sank down to my hip, so I used snowshoes all the time from then on.

I brought out the extension ladder and set it against the privy and used my aluminum snow shovel (actually a grain scoop). But that worked only for the top couple feet of snow. Below that was ice that was so hard I couldn't chip it out without damaging the scoop. I went back and got a square-nose shovel and used that for the ice. I got both roofs cleared before 1:00.

After lunch and a nap, I went back to work on the flooring. I got the loft support column and half of the hearth surrounded with the flooring and about half of the dining room covered. I was really tired and sore from all the shoveling, snowshoeing, and flooring so I took a nice very hot bath before I showered and had my dinner. I slept like a baby.

On Saturday morning, there hadn't been much new snow but there was a little in the air. In order to lay more flooring, I had to remove one of the temporary loft staircase handrails because the newel post for it was fastened to the floor. It was put together with screws and my screw gun was down in the truck. I figured it would be less work to go down and get it than take out all those screws by hand. And, I needed to clear the snow from the concrete staircase sooner or later anyway. So I cleared about six new inches of snow off the staircase and got my cordless drill.

Next, I dismantled the handrail and laid a bunch more flooring so that half of the dining room is done. I was very pleased with how the floor looks.

Rather than removing the nozzle from the copper pipe I decided to leave it on. This will be a test to see whether there is enough flow to keep the pipes from freezing. It will also keep air from bubbling back up through the pipes. Next week I plan to rescue the valve that is frozen to the hoses and hook it back up to the copper pipe so that I can control the discharge flow better. I left for home at 1:10 happy with the flooring progress, chagrined about the mouse, and uncertain about exactly how to deal with my water system.

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