Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Frozen Pipe and Duo-Therm Dehumidifier

Part of my Shop’s original copper plumbing includes an in-ground, water shut-off valve with drain tap. Unfortunately, it only worked for two or three seasons before becoming inoperable. As it looked like a bear to replace, a new gate valve was installed in the house’s crawlspace where the Shop water line connects. That valve worked okay until a few years ago when it quit fully shutting off the water flow. Flirting with disaster, I just stopped shutting off the water to my normally unheated shop during wintertime.

My laziness in addressing the issue finally bit me the other Sunday. After arriving home from an overnight Scouting event with Number 1 son, an unusual wet spot was noticed on the Shop’s brick wall.

Knowing the Shop’s sink sits behind the wet spot’s general location, the sound of running water greeted me as soon as the door was opened.

Nothing of consequence on the floor was damaged, though because experience had taught me to sticker everything against floor contact.

Judging by the water’s path, the leak appeared to be behind the sheetrocked portion of the wall. During the Shop’s design phase, I had gone back-and-forth on giving up floor space for a water heater. Ultimately deciding “no”, I had hedged my bet by stubbing out plumbing for either a short or tall water heater. It was apparently that branch of plumbing which had not withstood the last week or so of sub-freezing weather.

Surprisingly, the copper line itself appeared okay. It was the cap on the cold water side of the ‘short water heater’ option which had failed.

Repairing freeze damage on copper plumbing can be frustrating because copper usually expands in reaction to water inside it freezing. Once the pipe has expanded, new parts will be too small to fit. If that happens, the line has to measured until an unfrozen section, where new parts can be installed, is found.

But since there was nothing to lose by trying, I started by simply prepping a new cap for installation. To my great surprise, after de-soldering the ruptured cap, the new cap slid right on. A subsequent, overnight pressure check of the system with compressed air revealed no other leaks.

Growing up, all I ever heard was “use a gate valve when a shut-off valve is needed”. So that’s what the effort got. That was bad advice because apparently gate valves are notorious for not shutting off completely. Ball valves are more highly regarded, and have the same no-flow-impediment characteristics as gate valves.

The ball valve selected to replace the existing, internally-leaky gate valve under the house also includes a drain tap for the Shop side of the water line.

With the new ball valve successfully installed & checked out, attention shifted to repairing the wall so the sink could be reinstalled.

While repairing the hole in the wall was no big deal, the issue which had to be addressed first was getting the sheetrock dry enough to accept the patch. It was too cold outside to simply open the doors. Although the Shop’s heat had been on all through the plumbing repair, the moisture had nowhere to go. What I needed was a dehumidifier. Duo-Therm to the rescue?

Several weeks ago, an Airstreamer on Airforums replaced his questionable, Duo-Therm, RV air conditioner with a new unit, and posted his old AC as “free to a good home”. Between wanting to have a refrigeration unit laying around the Shop for certain science experiments, and wanting to meet Rodney, I posted I would gladly come get the unit if no one else wanted it for their Airstream.

I ended up being the lucky recipient, and it was great meeting & visiting with Rodney. As he was currently laid-over in the same county I grew up in, it was nice seeing some areas I had not seen in over 20 years. They’re four-laning the Woodbury highway now, and it was a mess… Kind of like the Duo-Therm’s exterior shroud.

For an air conditioner made in 2001, the shroud certainly hadn’t aged well. The shroud on my Airstream’s Bay Breeze unit when I got it, while in need of repair, looked better than the Duo-Therm’s, and my shroud was 36 years old at the time. But since my plans for the unit never hinged on cosmetics, there was no problem.

The 13,500 Btu unit fired up with no complaint. But after a while, the evaporator coil, return line, and receiver/dryer froze up. Low Freon level is usually the culprit when this happens.

Now, the original plan for the day had been to use the Duo-Therm as a dehumidifier. With this in mind, buckets were placed underneath the two holes condensation was supposed to drip from. But when the coils thawed, water ran from every nook & cranny. So the Duo-Therm was moved to a test stand for a more extensive checkout/possible repair.

RV air conditioners, as they are mounted on a rooftop, both draw and exhaust air from the bottom. Wondering if the freezing was a result of the two streams mixing too much due to the diffuser panel not being mounted, the sheet metal covering the evaporator coil was removed to allow the air drawn into the coil to come from the front while cold air was blown out the bottom.

Even if I had a set of R-22 gauges with which to check Freon level, the gauges would not have worked with this unit as this system, like most RV systems, is sealed (no fittings for gauge hookup). After allowing the unit to run for awhile, neither the evaporator nor condenser coils were found to have a uniform temperature distribution - another sign of low Freon. But the evaporator coil was not icing in the unit’s new configuration.

My ammeter reported the unit was drawing 11-1/2 amps on high-speed. Since the value was below the Rated Load Amps of 12, I checked that off my list, and proceeded to check differential temperature between incoming, and outgoing air.

An air conditioner in good repair will usually provide a 15-20 degree temperature differential. After recording the inlet temperature, the thermometer was moved to the outlet. While waiting for the temperature to stabilize, the condensate once again started leaking out of everywhere. While looking around and touching this-that-and-the-other, the condenser fan blade sucked the end of my left-hand ring finger into its path, and half of the fan blades snapped off.

A distinct rotational imbalance was immediately detected, and checkouts were stopped as the unit appeared to want to vibrate off the test stand. I wish I hadn’t been so busy counting my fingers as I really wanted to know the final outlet temperature.

So much for having a dehumidifier. But, with only a cut on one finger, I ended up in much better condition than the Duo-Therm did. It looks like I’ll just have to wait for warmer weather to dry the place out.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

3T Bread

In my unending quest for the most unusual, yet tasty but never heard of, yeast bread, I present Tater-Tot Thyme bread. The original plan for this original recipe had been to let the bread machine mix it, and then bake the creation in the oven. But time ran out, and the machine was allowed to do all the work. Other than being a bit bulky, the loaf turned out fine.

Its versatile flavor complemented both Friday's fried porkchops, and Saturday's grilled cheese sandwhiches. It's a keeper.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Snow Mountain Georgia

We get very little snow here in North Alabama, and what snow does fall rarely adds up to much. So when Kim found out Stone Mountain Park in Georgia transforms their laser show amphitheater into a giant snow-tubing slide during wintertime, we both agreed the Boyz would really enjoy visiting.

Since playing in snow and camping in sub-freezing weather are two separate things, I was surprised when Kim suggested we tow the Airstream there and stay at Stone Mountain’s campground. Normally I’m the one who takes a sane situation and transforms it into an adventure. After making sure I had heard her correctly, I agreed the trip would make great memories. Kim then set about ordering tickets for Snow Mountain, and reserving the campground site we enjoyed staying at during our Six-Flags trip.

After loading additional supplies to re-winterize the camper for the return trip home, we hitched up & headed out this past Saturday morning in 18 degree weather.

The drive there was warm and uneventful – What the Mighty Burb takes in fuel stops it more than makes for up in interior heat. We had basically arrived when Kim noticed a kink in the master plan. On our way to the check-in building, as we were both marveling at how full the campground was for such cold weather, Kim noticed a trailer occupying the site she had reserved for us. Check-out time was 11:00, and it was now 1:00. Since check-in time was not until 2:00, technically there was no problem… yet.

After pulling up to the check-in station, Kim went in to see what the story was while I took the Boyz to the closest bathhouse for a potty break. Although it was a bit of a trek back to where we had parked, I was surprised to see Kim standing in one of the loop’s campsites with a slightly worried look on her face. Come to find out, she had met our tree-lined campsite’s current tenant at the office. These campers had tried to be out by 11:00 but their water line, and the spigot it was attached to were frozen solid, and could not be disconnected.

Hearing this, Kim asked the manager if we could change to a sunny site. Luckily, it was not a problem, and the site in which she was standing was suggested. Between it being a nice site (being close to the pool as it was it would be a great site in the summer), and the fact that the water spigot worked, we took it.

The site had not been without peril for the last camper though as he had left his busted sewer hose behind. And as a special treat, the hose was found to be full of frozen poo. This unfortunate situation could have been avoided if he had sloped the hose for drainage. But I admit the summer months rarely find me concerned about having the perfect slope on my sewer hose either. Learning from his mistake, I decided to not let the same thing happen to me.

The next time we decide to camp in 18 degree weather, I’ll probably buy one of those fancy gizzidoos for supporting the sewer line. But for this trip, a milk crate, various boards, and indigenous rocks worked quite well for this Kodak moment:

Talking with our neigbors on both sides of the Airstream, our water spigot was now working only because it had thawed in the sunshine after the last family left. Both Ron and Johnny had gone the previous night without water in their respective trailers after their shore water lines froze. Each had made trips to Wal-mart for pipe insulation to hopefully keep the same thing from happening again.

I found it odd that anyone wanted to leave a shore water line connected during freezing weather in the first place. My water hose was connected long enough to de-winterize the plumbing lines, and fill up the onboard, fresh water tank. After that it was disconnected, drained, and put back in the Suburban with the hope that I would not find out the hard way why this approach might not be a good idea.

The evening’s meal of chicken rollups was cooked outside in the new 16-inch skillet my mom gave me for my birthday. As the temperature was hovering around 25 degrees, we opted to forgoe our usual practice of eating at the picnic table. After the dishes were washed without incident, we all retired to the Overlander’s front half to watch one of the Harry Potter movies Daniel received for Christmas.

The next day was all about Snow Mountain.

One large area had been set aside for snowball fights and building snowmen. Number 2 son had never made a snow angel before. Judging from the “fun” he was having, I’m not sure if he will make another one anytime soon.

Number 1 son is quick – I don’t think his mom was expecting to have a snow cone on the trip.

Someone put a lot of effort into the snow slide attraction. New for this year was a moving sidewalk to get everyone to the top faster.

Riders could choose to each ride on a single tube or two could ride together on a two-tuber down the tiered incline.

Our tickets (fastened to our coats’ zippers in the pictures above) were good for two hours of tubing, and unlimited time in the play area. Since the place was hopping with people, it was understandable why the tickets specified a time frame. It was enough time, though, given the freezing weather. We had a lot of fun tubing for as long as everyone wanted before heading back to the campsite.

Both Ron and Johnny had packed up & left while we were gone. I felt sorry for them because their sole reason for camping this weekend had been to enjoy Snow Mountain and, in what was a bummer for them, had found the ticket booth sold out. As they were related to each other, they had decided to shift to Plan B - “sit around the campfire & watch football on TV”. That plan apparently didn’t work out too well.

Between the previous night’s dinner dishes, this morning’s breakfast dishes, and the potty being used by four people, I found that we had blown through half of our 30 gallon fresh water supply. While we could probably get by, I didn’t need a crystal ball to foresee more harmony in our home-away-from-home if I was to not badger everyone about conserving water. So out came the hose.

Surprise, surprise – the water spigot had frozen. Luckily, I had brought my MacGyver hat, and after donning it & substituting kitchen scissors for a Swiss army knife, was able to construct a waterpipe thawer-outer with empty water bottles, duct tape, and Kim’s hair dryer.

After a few minutes of hi-speed, low-heat air we had running water.

And a spectator. Jerry, an older man whom I had not met up until that point, was camping across the street from us and had apparently been snickering at my activity from his kitchen table while enjoying a snack. When he saw water actually come out of the spigot, he ran over to get a closer look at exactly what I had done to accomplish such a miracle. We ended up having a nice chat about RVing while the water tank filled.

By late afternoon, the campground had just about emptied out. Apparently everyone had come for the weekend-only Snow Mountain attraction. It wasn’t long before we were one of only a handful of campers left on our loop.

The twenty-something degree weather didn’t deter Jared from the playground though.

At one point there were some other kids there. Chatting with their mom, I found out their original plan had been to stay the night, but had decided it was just too cold. It was home to Florida for them. I guess it must have been my hearty Tennessee upbringing that tempered me for these frigid temps…walking uphill to school in the snow carrying a hot potato to stay warm…

The final night’s meal was originally planned to be just grilled hamburgers and chips. But at the last moment, supplies were added to make baked beans because Number 2 son appears to enjoy the side dish. It was there that the incident occurred.

While preparing the old family recipe, Kim noticed a distinct cinnamon flavor. Apparently, the small ziploc bag of brown sugar toted along had been left over from a cinnamon muffin breakfast Daniel had made earlier over the holidays. Oops. Jared had the right solution: Add more bacon.

The beans were actually quite tasty, and the cinnamon added a somewhat homey smell to the Airstream while the dish baked.

Mother Nature greeted us with yet another 18 degree morning on departure day. In one last cold-weather camping challenge, I decided everyone would enjoy breakfast more if the pancakes were cooked outside in my new skillet.

Other than the extra warm-up time required, the experience was totally positive. Twelve pancakes in two batches meant everyone got hot pancakes at the same time.

Breaking camp, as everyone had been fore-warned, took longer than usual as the Airstream had to be re-winterized for the trip home. But since the effort did not include switching off either the furnace or TV during the activity, there were no complaints.

The trip was a resounding success as far as Kim & I were concerned. Other than the pool being closed for the season, the Boyz shared our general sentiment.

While I’m a little surprised at running through 1-1/4 tanks of propane in two days, the usage was acceptable as it was cold outside.

We could do this trip again.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Hi Ho!!!! It's off to snow we go...

My Overlander has been moved off Mt. Airstream for loading in preparation of a three day trip visiting Snow Mountain. In a "first", since the weather is predicted to be well below freezing tonight & subsequent nights, plans are to tow to our destination with the Airstream still winterized.

No big deal other than the outside possibility of one or more of the Overlander's Corning windows self-destructing for less than obvious reasons. Plans are to tow the Airstream 'dry', and de-winterize at the campsite. As long as the heat is running once we've made camp, enjoying the attractions should not be an issue. We've got two full propane bottles for the furnace, and two supplemental space heaters (a primary & a backup) for the trip in addition to Aunt Ela's quilts. Staying warm will not be an issue.

But I'm concerned about the trip back in potentially freezing weather with water still in the plumbing lines.

So, in another first, plans are to winterize the Overlander before we leave the campground. The Mighty Burb's cargo for this expedition now includes a new five-gallon vessel of shop air @120 psi fitted with a pressure regulator, and three gallons of RV antifreeze.

Life would not be complete without a new adventure every now & then. I'm hoping for the best on this one.