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Alaska Wittig Family Blog
Thursday, June 28, 2007
A New Home Depot!

Our new Home Depot opens today.  Of course, our week of appliances was last week, but we’ve still got some things to shop for.

As it turns out, hardware for a radiant floor heat system will not be on the list.  After months of calculations and estimations, I [Michael] have determined that our subfloor assembly is too thick to put tubing under it and get enough heat through it, given the  numbers we came up with on energy usage last winter.

It’s really, really hard to find any solid information regarding heat transfer in radiant systems, and even people trained and qualified to do these kinds of calculations failed to pick up on our floor construction.  After quite a lot of searching on the internet I found a couple of mathematical formulas pertaining to heat flow through a wall, and after experimenting with a set of hypothetical numbers (hypothetical because solid information is lacking) it became obvious that our floor was, at best, only marginally suitable for a radiant floor application.  We could still get some heat through the floor, and it would be comfortable, but I don’t think enough heat would make it through in sub-zero weather, and because of the lag-time the system would really only work if kept on a “slow bake” setting, with some form of additional heat going into the house for cold weather or quicker warming times.  Unfortunately, the cost of the radiant installation is such that I can’t justify it without knowing it could handle all of our heating loads.

Of course, I may be wrong about this too.  I am using the heat loss numbers derived from our oil consumption last winter.  Last winter (and now), we had no insulation under the floor, and there is no vapor/infiltration barrier in the attic either.  By this winter we hope to have both of these situations remedied.  We are also now heating our domestic water seperately from our space heat.  In short, I expect the heating requirements of our house to be considerably less than the numbers I am compelled to use in my calculations.  Considerably less, yes, but how much less?  That's the uncertainty.

New plans:  Insulate the floor (without installing radiant heat: we can do this in a way that allows us to add the system later if we decide it's viable).  Add a vapor barrier to the attic (easier than might be thought actually, since it involves little more than pulling the old fiberglass out, spraying in an inch of foam on top of the sheet rock, and putting the fiberglass back in: the foam provides the barrier).  Fabricate a new heating system.

That last part of the plan is the most interesting.  I kept most of the hardware from the old oil heater.  For very little additional money I can fabricate an electric heater with enough juice to handle our worst case scenario (twenty-five below is the temperature I'm designing for).  Oddly, I haven't found any electric water-heating equipment designed for my load and flow rates, but I'm still shopping, and if I don't find something to buy I guess I'll put my Industrial Mechanics degree to work again.  Considering that the whole heat system is still undecided I am leaning toward the fabrication idea, because the cost will be slight and I won't feel committed to it as I would be if I spent money for a store-bought solution. Whether we buy or build our next heater, I plan to meter it so I can monitor its energy usage, and perhaps the numbers from next winter will point the way toward our ultimate heat solution.

And now...   off to Home Depot! 

Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Video Problem
There was a problem with the video yesterday.  It didn't work for PC users (most of the world)!  It should work better now for anybody who wants to try it, and let us know if there are any other problems.

Posted at 3:27 PM YDT
Monday, June 25, 2007
Happy Birthday Daddy

Here's a little video from my [Michael's] birthday.  I took the video myself, in fact.  Having Becky sing the birthday song was pretty special!

Becky sings "Happy Birthday"!

Becky also put all 46 candles in my cake.  Nice job, isn't it? 

Posted at 6:21 PM YDT
Updated: Wednesday, June 27, 2007 9:36 AM YDT
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
The Third Wednesday of the Month

If today is the third Wednesday of the month, it must be the day my second newspaper article appears.  Sure enough.  I noticed this time that my paragraphs were left intact, which makes the paragraphs appear long (for newsprint) but I think it keeps the writing more cohesive.



Posted at 8:24 AM YDT
Thursday, June 14, 2007
False Impressions

We have a new electric hot water tank plumbed in.  The work went along very nicely: removing the old oil boiler (damned heavy thing), cleaning the closet, plumbing the lines, and running some electricity over.  We had hot water by four in the afternoon of day two.

But there is no rest for the wicked.  I'm not sure what wickedness we're guilty of, but there must have been something.  On Tuesday night it became apparent that our refrigerator was no longer working, and after removing the rear access panel I [Michael] discovered that the compressor had given up.  What's worse is that it melted an electrical connector, which we then realized was the actual cause of the smoke in our house two days before.

So the heater was not the real culprit.

In hindsight it all makes sense, of course.  At the moment we started smelling smoke our initial impulse was to blame the heater, which has a history of giving us trouble.  It did strike both of us as odd that the smoke was concentrated in the kitchen rather than in the hall beside the heater closet.  It was also peculiar that the smoke didn't register on our carbon monoxide detector.  Lastly, it seemed odd that the floor in front of the fridge was not warm.

 At the moment of crisis, none of that mattered.  The heater had lately taken to shutting down and waiting for a human to reset it (it had done so earlier that morning).  The smoke filled the house at the same time the heater fired off.  I had repositioned the pickup tube in the oil tank four days prior, and so the possibility of picking up something off the bottom of the tank that could affect the heater was also a prospect.  There was also the simple logic that when I turned off the heater the smoke cleared and the house didn't burn down, and the false impression set in that the heater must have been the cause.

 So we bought a new refrigerator yesterday.  Nobody in this town works on refrigerator compressor systems, so replacing the compressor was not an option (which really irks both Sheryl and I to have this huge monolith that now needs to go to the landfill).  The unit we bought has a Crosley name plate on it, but apart from the name and a little bit of trim, the fridge is exactly the same as the one we took out (a Kenmore).   We even used a couple of shelves from the old unit to augment the ones in the new one.  The really funny thing is that the Crosley was less money that the new Kenmore of the same type (by a couple hundred dollars), and the Crosley carries a ten year warranty on the compressor compared to a one-year warranty for the Kenmore (the Kenmore did have an optional five-year extended warranty for an additional four hundred dollars).

All in all, everything worked out okay.  There were some fish sticks that did not survive the freeze-thaw-freeze cycle, but the rest of the food seems to have made it intact.  The only thing we really lost was the ability to burn the remaining eighty gallons of oil in our underground tank, but a friend who looked at the old heater after it was out proclaimed it unsafe on a couple of counts (and he's had some experience with oil burners), so decommisioning it when we did was not a bad thing to do, even if it was just a little premature.

Posted at 8:05 AM YDT
Updated: Thursday, June 14, 2007 8:09 AM YDT

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