Simpson Duravent Install

I feel like I’m far enough along in this project I can comment. My biggest pet peeve with this entire project at the moment is the fact that all the brackets want to be screwed into drywall and drywall simply isn’t rated to support 60lbs to 120lbs of pipe. So you end up using a 2×4 to give the bracket something to hang out on and distribute the load, and it’s not happy being on there. Not only do you lose an inch and some change, but now the rest of your measurements are thrown off.

My second pet peeve is that when you adjust the adjustable bracket because you mounted it on a 2×4 and thus threw off all your measurements, you will invariably not line up with the holes. They’ve got rails cut in it so you have some adjustment, but you really need the entire line cut or they should just tell you to be ready to drill your own holes. This “it’s adjustable, lol!” and then only giving you a quarter inch or so of play on each side isn’t cool. I ended up drilling holes to adjust it between two stops.

The lock rings are terrible. The top of the T has a lip and a smaller, more subtle lip. This is where the locking band goes. It’s not explained anywhere. I compared it to the other T they sent me and they were identical. This is just something they built into it. Also it’s possible to overtighten the lock ring, I tightened the crap out of them then I backed it off a bit. Remember – the pipe wants to expand when it gets hot. On the other hand your support bands are (correctly) made from the same steel the pipe is, so the support bands expand with the pipe. You also don’t have to worry about annealing like this.

The support band for the elbow needs a redesign. I would have killed for a simple eyelet which would let me choose the angle I wanted the band on. As it is currently done, the band has two arms come off of it and the amount you tighten the band determines the angle of the arms. I ended up simply screwing wood blocks to the drywall to support it and these blocks took up the angle off the studs which the bands required. This is simply a crap design and there’s 100 ways to solve this problem. Basically a line tensioner (the twist kind you see on fences and clotheslines) with another strip of metal coming off that would have taken care of both the angle and offset while still providing adjustable support without having to redrill the holes (which I did) when you realize the angle is subtly wrong. I was sort of tempted to cut it and make my own but any modification to UL approved equipment voids the UL rating. That and I didn’t know that the sheer force was for the existing stuff, so I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and just did the wood framing.

OK so what are the plusses? For one, the pipes are shipped lightly greased. We’ll see if this cooks off or not but it makes assembly easy. The twist lock thing works generally well with one caveat: The pipes don’t always center themselves when you do it. More than a few times I’ve reseated a pipe and either had it slightly off or had it bind up on me “unscrewing” it. The reason is that the threading on the pipe sections tends to overlap both ways because it’s not a real thread. While the design works and I’m sure it’s cheap to make, it’s not the best design in the world. There’s enough overlap between each pipe however that not having it entirely seated isn’t a show stopper, this is a good design because you expect to need a bit of here or there when working on the pipes and again the pipes will expand at different rates.

Also conspicuously missing is caulk. Would it have killed them to include caulk for the roof penetration?

All in all this is worth about 3.5/5 stars. It’s not perfect. It sucks less than other kits which require bands every section. It could have been made to be lighter and they could have done better on the hardware (one of my lock rings was entirely missing a screw). The T support is just weird that they didn’t think you were going to put it on a 2×4. On the other hand it’s entirely serviceable and tolerant of the abuse I’ve put it through doing 100 test fits. If I were to do another stove install, this is the kit I would suggest.

Diesel is Wrong, Solar is Right for Backup Power

I’ve been on my emergency preparedness kick recently, and that includes power since the storms this last year have been a real pisser. Nothing like being without power for three days in the home you just bought.

I was previously looking at military surplus diesel generators. Aside of my friends stabbing me in the neck over and over again for me asking them to help me get it on and off the truck, I’m not too huge on the idea of having Yet Another Engine to take care of. On the other hand, that particular model is so popular that theres an entire MEP-004A forum dedicated to it. And, there’s the fact that I have 250 gallons of diesel sitting in a tank in my basement labeled “home heating oil – NOT APPROVED FOR ROAD USE”.

Now, assuming that the generator goes for the nominal price of $500 to $1000 (they’re getting really popular in the post-Katrina marketplace), maybe I could do better with something else. It’s not just buying the generator – it’s buying the generator, the engine rebuild kit (if required), the wiring, and doing the conversion. Military power is usually 208v rather than 120v or 240v because it’s easy to step up/down or DC to AC convert. The other side of the coin is moving parts are the enemy. Parts which don’t move tend to want to stay that way which is why I try to start the MR2 once a month or so in winter. (I’m probably being paranoid). I don’t want to deal with that in a generator. After mulling it over quite a bit I decided to investigate various things like water service powered sump pumps (dumb), power-from-phone/coax, etc. None of these seemed well thought out. Dumping more water in your yard for the sake of pumping out water from your well is stupid. If the power lines are down, phone and cable likely is too. It was tough getting away from the idea of a diesel generator or making my own nuclear reactor. While legal, your neighbors tend to frown upon it.

Finally after a bunch of surfing around on various industrial equipment liquidation sites there was another answer: solar. Solar panels, for whatever strange reason, are dirt freaking cheap. A solar battery charger might be $20. A solar panel alone, for $20 buys you a pretty big panel. So now we have ideas, the question is how does it compare to our diesel generator at 15KW and how expensive is it? There’s a few options. I tend to shy away from the battery chargers since they are rated to charge one battery. They’re cheaply built and they assume you’re also charging one battery. Putting it under load isn’t going to happen. On the other hand I could buy the end-of-the-world version. But as everyone knows if it costs $1800 online on your end of the world site you can build it for about 10% of the price.

Lets put that idea to the test. High end rectifier: $30 from Rat Shack. Low end inverter: $71 for 1.5KW.  Why a low end inverter? I want to use cheap batteries and I suspect the rectifier puts out fairly dirty power. Expect to replace this every few years if you’re using it intermittently but more on the point you might also want to buy a much bigger, nicer unit. So for $100 we’ve got the power path from the panel to the wall socket. How much are batteries? $20 a brick. Keep in mind battery acid is now a federally controlled substance and requires you sign for it, you can get it if you ask. So you can refurb those batteries if you’re not buying sealed cell. And finally how much is a fairly large solar cell? $500 new for a high end one, but since we’re buying junkyard batteries, $100 for a new, fairly nice one or $130 on ebay for enough of them to carpet the entire roof. Since the solar cells do eventually go bad, I tend to like the ebay solution of buying the rejects in bulk so I can simply replace them as the apple tree turns them into broken glass.

Now why does this system work better than the diesel? For one, I can charge the batteries off the existing grid (when it works). I can even charge them from a generator. I can charge them from a car. I can charge them from solar. I could probably even ride a bike connected to an alternator (another $20 junkyard part) and charge them. Car batteries grow on trees. In fact there’s 1.4 of them for every breathing American at the moment and they’re only going to get cheaper as Priuses start showing up in the junkyard. For two I can charge my MR2 and the lawnmower from the solar setup here. There’s no reason why you can’t just put jumper cables from the MR2 or the tractor to the batteries. For three, most of the parts are cheap or free once you buy into the rectifier and inverter. You’re looking at $200 for the whole setup, or $300 to make it nicer. If you want to go seriously high end you can spend $600 for a 6KW, 12KW peak 50A power inverter. I’m sure you can find it cheaper on ebay.

How much do you really need? The government guessdimates that you need 14.5KW a day in summertime (about 600W an hour). Doing the math you can see our low end inverter there (1.5KW sized for a reason) will run about 20 hours running full tilt assuming the batteries aren’t total crap and you have more than one. I used five of them for my math and the health of the battery is frankly a crapshoot.

Now, there’s a choice, and I’m hoping the more electrically inclined readers caught this. You could just unplug the fridge from the wall, plug it in here and forget about it. You could plug the oil burner in here and forget about it. It would probably work great for these two and it give you two more plugs for lamps. In fact that’s probably the safest way to do this. If you want to drive the house off it, you could use the incredibly dangerous male-to-male extension cord and plug it into the wall socket once you disconnect yourself from the grid. However this plan was never designed to run through the house wiring. If you do try it, you’re on your own and you’re strongly advised to buy the proper phase-matching circuits. These are spendy which is why they’re not represented here – I’m not trying to build a solar power plant. If you skip it and wire it directly anyway, you’ll blow a breaker if you’re lucky, if you’re unlucky you’ll set the wiring on fire, and if you’re REALLY unlucky you’ll be on the grid when the power comes back on and you’ll have phase mismatch and your power company will beat the living hell out of you if you live through the resulting explosion. Don’t do it. If you’re really interested, grid-tie starts at $1000.

Speaking of wiring: hows the wiring done? The batteries are dead simple and wired in parallel. You can’t possibly screw it up. You wire all the same poles together, put the charger on one side of the rail and the inverter on the other side of the rail keeping positive to positive and negative to negative and you win. You could stack a thousand batteries like this and you still win. The rub is on the solar panel side. You need, on a cloudy day, to generate a minimum of power to get the rectifier to turn on. On a sunny day this means you’ll be generating far too much power. Solar panels, therefor, are a game of wiring things in both series (to hit the minimum voltage) and parallel (to hit the minimum amps). The longer the parallel run, the more current it produces. The longer the serial run, the more volts it produces. The rectifier will turn on at a minimum of voltage and do it’s thing until you hit a maximal of voltage. In our case, that particular Sunforce product I linked to accepts up to 100 watts @ 7 amps by 12 volts. The voltage on solar panels is the game to play. Since that rectifier will only accept up to 12 volts, you wire the individual cells in series (postive-to-negative) until you hit 12 volts at sunrise. Once you’ve got a few of those, you wire the assembly in parallel (positive to positive) to the rectifier, trying not to exceed 7 amps. For whatever strange reason people seem to just make these huge strips of cells. The problem is that by doing this you waste any excess power you make – it gets converted to heat. Since we’re dealing with DC, we don’t need to worry about phase matching, but if you buy 10,000 individual cells like some of these idiots suggest, you’ll explode something in short order.

Oh, you could just skip all the solar stuff and charge the batteries from the wall socket. PECO price caps and all that.

Speaking of Unsustainable America

One of the things I’m deathly afraid of for my kids is they’ll have no idea how money works. I’ve got a friend who works for a large financial institution and he’s come up with bar talk that’s frankly scary. Debt which is compounded daily at 90% interest, for instance. Credit lines which can’t be closed. Charges for simply having the credit line. It’s really amazing stuff.

Possibly worse than not having money is having the illusion of money. Money is by itself an illusory device. You don’t have gold, and dollars don’t line up with gold consistently. We as a society have come up with some neat financial devices to line up with countries which don’t have money but pretend to (most of Africa), don’t use money (communisms, socialisms), or are simply barter economies (most of South America). The worst of this problem being that when we apply them to ourselves, we’re starting to fit in really well. If you’ve ever tried to put in a nail with a screwdriver, you’ll know that the tool won’t work. When the tool does work, we have to ask ourselves which of these economies we’re starting to fit into.

Like most people my age group, I effectively have no money. I am a homeowner and while you’re paying that off from the bank you don’t actually have any money since your debt is larger than your income for the next 30 years or so. In actuality I have money but it counts as period income. In other words even if I have $30k in the bank, if I have a $50k mortgage I am living paycheck to paycheck since I cannot effectively settle my debts at the end of the pay period. The normal margin of a bank’s profit is counting interest against the money they loaned you for property. The Reagan days of 20% on your home loan are over.

No, actually they’re not. Because while the 20% of days bygone might be compounded once as a straight interest loan, nowadays we have complex loan devices which are 5% compounded yearly, which is how we end up paying back three times the amount we borrowed. Nothing has actually changed, we merely put a pretty bow on it by chopping it up into smaller pieces. This is a big problem I have with debt, people get weird about standing debt and argue that a ton of small purchases are less damaging than one big purchase. Therein lies the problem – banks are having problems collecting from people now who have credit cards. The solution, of course, is to actually try to get some of their stuff back. However the bank isn’t in the market for 100 little items, and what people have borrowed for (houses) means that the bank isn’t interested in owning those either.

The banks solution – don’t take away people’s stuff when they’re putting food on credit cards, they’re starting to attack people who don’t carry debt month to month. And this folks, this is a scary thing, because it means that the banks have lent far more money than they can sustain.

Now, as a homeowner, my credit score is absolutely hosed for the next few years since opening up a massive line of credit tends to do that to you. Your credit score is the ratio of credit extended to you and the amount you’re using – your mortgage therefor is the great destroyer since you’re using 100% of your credit line or you have some extremely high limit credit cards. This means that, to the banks at least, I have about the same credit score as some idiot off the street living with his mother who can’t help but buy a high end car and spinning rims. If you’re saying “well the banks should go after the car guy!” No. Both a car (and more recently housing and land) has deprecated, meaning that for any instance of sale it cannot cover the credit extended to the person. Also each of these – a house and a car – is a complex assembly. If I had a dollar for every ad I saw on craigslist showing “everything must go” because the person was parting out the house as much as possible before the bank took it I’d be rich. The same applies for the car, except we call it a chop shop that does the work. In both instances it’s usually the insurance company left holding the bag.

So what’s going to happen to the banks? Well, the banks are insured by the fed, and with the new laws on credit they have to make up the profit margins somewhere else. Here’s my prediction – the banks will continue to be the greedy tools of the New World Order they are now, Nazi moonbases will be discovered by X Prize rockets, and the most important part: People like myself who don’t use their credit cards and already have a house are simply going to close the cards which will generate a run on the banks.

The papers are already in the mail.

Conibear Trap: GROUNDHOG

The groundhog snare has been setting consistently. The problem is he’s either wiggling his way out, or I find my wire cut. Admittedly I used spiderwire fishing line instead of steel, but groundhogs have excellent teeth and claws and it’s become apparent to me that snaring it isn’t going to work. I’m not around when he’s snared to see what’s going on, and it renders the snare ineffective as a result. When he’s snared, all he’s got is time to work on it.

The snare is a really simple tip up – there’s a cinder block balanced on my fence with a branch under it acting as a prop. The line is tied through the block, through one of the diamonds in the fence, tied to the prop and then went to a loop. So far it’s been tripped three times and if I haven’t gotten the hog in three tips it’s not going to happen. At least two of those had the groundhog in the snare because the loop was chewed on or frayed. The idea was the spider wire would constrict the groundhog but I’ve come to realize the fundamental problem is that it’s too near a fence and growth the groundhog can prop himself up on. He gets snared, but the funnel effect from the brush gives him enough purchase he can work on the line before suffocating, and the spiderwire is of such high quality that it won’t snag on itself either direction.

I was thinking about buying a hav-a-hart trap but frankly the one for groundhogs starts at $70. My Economics of Caring end at about $20 (about the cost of losing one carbon arrow) so the pricepoint for a live trap was well above what I was interested in. Part two was the goal really never was a live trap, the snare I set was fully intended to go around his neck and I was just going to use the maul to dispatch him humanely when I found him. If I got on him quickly enough I was going to throw him in a box and drive him to the far end of the park, but frankly I briefed my wife we were going to find a hog hanging from the fence one morning.

After two weeks and three trap tips I was largely fed up with the operation and I had taken a shot at him with the bow. The bow doesn’t track like the rifle does through brush, so I was even going to nail him with the rifle with subsonics. I wasn’t sure a subsonic 22 was going to put him down, so this was easily the most grisly of options. I happened to be browsing the internet for better snare designs and someone mentioned the conibear trap. To make things even better – the trap is designed as a kill trap. And finally it has the last requirement which is important: the whiskers for the trigger are inside the body of the trap vertically, so I don’t need to worry about larger animals (like our deer population) stepping into them and having their legs broken. The neighbors cat may end up being a casualty, but she typically jumps over the fences and doesn’t go into the earth under them, so I think we’re OK. The local sporting goods shop had the #160 which is exactly the size I wanted. They also had the trap tool, which is basically the worlds largest set of snap ring pliers. Since I figured I could use those also I purchased them.

Total cost was $25, which is a bit more than I wanted to spend but now I have a trap set I can use over and over again.

I bought grape vines

As usual lowes/home depot has shit on sale which is half dead. The way the one around here works is you have several display trays. Each tray has plants in various conditions ranging from “fresh off the truck” (expensive) to the next tray which is “a few weeks old” (half off) and “dead” (almost free). The quality of the plant varies according to price, the freshest ones are mostly unmolested by their untrained hands to the virtually free ones usually being devoid of leaves, broken off or somehow on fire.

I think most of the problem at home depot or lowes is they don’t give a shit about the product and don’t know anything about it. God help you if, for instance, you want to buy parts for your lawn mower.

The is a constant problem. As I’m looking through the grape vines I ask an employee if I should be using 10-10-10 fertilizer or 30-0-0. He looks at me and hands me a bottle of Home Depot fertilizer. Now, not only is the ratio and concentration of ingredients not listed, but I later looked it up and people suppose it’s 30-30-30. The correct answer for first year vines is 10-10-10, I could have diluted the stuff.

But this ties into what’s going on – the people don’t give a shit. When your stock is nonperishable this is an OK situaiton to be in. When you’re talking plants, this is not where you want to be, which is how stuff gets moved to the next table. That being said, there was a catawba grape vine which, hope against hope, had managed to live through the abuses of home depot long enough to make it onto table #2 while keeping some of it’s leaves. Not knowing if it’s self fertile or not I checked for another one – there wasn’t another one which was plausibly alive. Normally priced at $10 a vine(!), the clerk rang it up for $4 and now I’m in the wine business.

Planting is the easy part, of course. Dig a hole, fill in hole, dump some fertilizer on it and let nature do it’s thing. Next year come back and dump more fertilizer on it and if the plant is lucky train it a bit.

Grapes, as I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures, grow on something. Most people when they think grapes immediately skip to the stupid “overhead arbor”. I’m not sure who came up with this but it’s not something which is traditional; In fact it’s actually called a pergola. The tradition is to plant the vines against a T – a cross made of wood – which gives the grapes something to climb and forget about them. That being said a pergola, while not being originally intended for grapes, is what my wife wants. Grapes don’t really like being on pergolas, the foliage has a tendency to layer and this isn’t good for grapes. Pergolas have been around for millions of years but almost always stuck to flowing vines or any other plant which also made decent ground cover. Ground cover is genrally shaded under something, so when the plant eventually runs out of pergola to cover it grows back on top of itself and makes a layer.

What do grapes grow on then? Antiquity would have grapes growing on stakes. The romans would simply drive a stake into the ground, and let the vine climb that. About halfway to three quarters up they’d start the pruning. A crossmember made the top of the T and supported new growth. The vines could probably support themselves after many years but the stake was never actually removed. The big advantage to this system is the grape never really needs pruning because it can’t go anywhere. The disadvantage was also obvious – vines would eventually get so long they dropped to the ground. The French, being a bunch of boy lovers, actually made laws about how you could stake your grapes which only served to consolidate the grape growing regions into a few companies. The spirit was to force people to make higher quality grape vines, but I also tend to think the politics of the plant are what made this law. The methods of vine training are numerous and the debate about genetic copyrigt is clearly as old as western civilization.

But going back to the point – American grapes are grown on a wire and post system and this is what my grandparents had. Drive two posts in the ground, about four feet high, have wires at two and four feet heights, maybe six if you’re going for the gold, and they planted their grapes about four feet apart. As the vine grows up, you train the branches along the wires and let it grow up until it gets to the top. This gives you several layers of leaves and a lot of horizontal room for grapes. The grape vines naturally grow along the horizontal runs until they counter each other at which point they knot off (self-prune) or they continue on (less likely) until each wire has an incredible legnth of vine on it. The fruit denity is maximized here.

In fact this design of wires and posts has been how to build a trellis for vineyards in America almost exclusively. For as long as you have the space, you can make a trellis. If you’re really nuts about it you don’t even need to do this in a straight line. There’s nothing that says you can’t have a trellis which gently curves down the hillside with each successive post routing the wire a bit to the left or right. But again, my wife is not interested in a trellis, she’s interested in a pergola. A pergola sacrafices routing and ease of harvest for asestetics.

If you’re buying one commercially, they tend to start at $1000 and up. There’s a particularly ugly one you can make on instructables for about $300. There’s a small enough to be useless one which is sort of the spirit of the project. We’re going to make one completely different. It’s going to be completely custom. Why? There’s no “standard size” porch, so buying a premade pergola doesn’t do shit for me. We also have a brick patio, but you guessed it, there’s no standard size for those either. Finally because of the building code, the township has specifically enacted a program where you can’t build anything like this without inspection. However inspection only applies to permanant structures, so if it’s not concreted to the planet it doesn’t count.

You probably guessed where this is going. Standard deck parts the entire way. We need 4x4s for the posts and they fit directly into concrete footers. Because the footers aren’t going to be buried, it’s not a permanant structure. To top it off I’ll frame it in with 2x6s or bigger. But the question is, how do we actually top off the pergola?

Pergolas normally have slats for the top, as deep as they are apart. The idea is that it’s like a giant blind. The sun shines at some angle and it shades the area below it while allowing the breeze to move around. Pretty slick, but since we’re already worried about the canopy I don’t see a reason to further shade it. More on the point a grape in the sun ripens faster. Grapes in the shade are prone to all sorts of weird rot. What we don’t want are shaded grapes. More on the point when considering alternatives we need to ensure whatever we put up there is reasonably rigid. The more I think about it the more I want to do the roof with wire fencing. Not only is it rated to outdoors abuse, but it’s supposed to have animals leaning on it and generally making a mess. Also at 2×4 inch mesh (about 50mm by 100mm), it’s big enough to let grapes and leaves go through it while not being so sparse as to allow the vines to fail to find support. Most of all its incredibly thin, so it won’t shade by itself.

The big question I was left with was “will it support the weight of the vines?” Probably not. More on the point I’m not entirely sure if the mesh is open enough to really let the grapes through. Given that a grape leaf can be as big as your palm or larger, I felt there was a serious potential to create an absolutely worthless understory. Not good. What other materials are out there which are similar? In standard artisan fashion I decided to cruise the store with my grape vine until something came to me. If the grape vine could talk it probably would object, but I finally hit the far end of the store where people stop dressing nicely and start wearing torn jeans and terrible boots. By the Ghost of Kurt Cobain I found it! Turns out concrete remesh is exactly the size I need. Not only is it thick enough to pour concrete on, not only is it designed to be pulled on and pushed on, but it’s got enough space in the mesh to fit my plam through. We have a winner.

Expect pictures when I redo the brick work on the deck.