Rural Life

Barn Improvements 2.0

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In late 2014, the horses got an entirely new roof on the barn. It’s hard to top that gift, but just before Christmas last month, the horses got new windows, too.

Like the roof, the windows were a necessity. In the horses’ stalls, the original glass panes are long gone, and for a decade, we’ve improvised with plexiglass sheets, which Martin screws in for the winter, and removes in the summer.

But these flimsy plastic sheets aren’t always tough enough to withstand the worst winter winds; sometimes they blow into the stalls over night. And I worry that a horse will catch his lip or nose on a jutting screw head. (You’d be amazed at how horses manage to injure themselves. In leu of screws, we’ve tried using wooden slats, but they never fit properly. Besides, the horses chew them.)

Of course, Home Depot doesn’t stock replacement windows for a 95-year-old Dutch style dairy barn. Trust me, I looked.

But my friend Wild Bill stepped up to the plate and offered to make them for us.

(Why is he “wild”? I’ve known Bill for donkey’s years and the name suits him. Here’s a picture of him with Brynn last year.)

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Anyway, this wasn’t a simple project. Weather, wear and time had altered the casings and sills, so each window would have to be designed to fit its respective space. And, they’d need new fittings that would secure each window against the wind, but facilitate removal in the summer.

Wild Bill found a solution. He custom-built the frames for each of the 12 openings. And he came up with a simple but clever latching solution using 4 standard window closures…. and he color-coded the latches so that we’d be able to match each window to its respective sill and casing.

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So, there you go. Another project in the can.

If you’re keeping score at home, it’s horses 2, humans 0. We are still living in a house with a leaky roof and broken windows, but the horses, cats, and raccoons & possums are toasty-warm this season!

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Hammer Time

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Back in the old days — like last year — the radiators used to hum and sing.

In the winter months, the thermostat was set to roust the furnace just before sunrise, so the house would be warm in the morning hours. And more often than not, I’d awaken to the chorus of radiators. In fact, the gentle gurgle of steam through pipes served as a snooze button: gently hissing radiator vents spelled an extra hour of sleep before the chirp of an alarm clock.

Unfortunately, when we pronounced the old boiler dead and swapped it with a new model, the radiators changed tune. Classical music was out, heavy metal was in. The reliable and melodic hiss and ping was replaced by a clanging cacophony.

How loud? Imagine sleeping while someone stands over your bed beating a serving spoon against a cauldron. Or a baseball player whacking a pipe with a tire iron. Repeatedly — in a confined space.

The radiators no longer whispered, sleep a bit more. Now they SHOUTED, “HEY EVERYONE, WAKE UP! THE HEAT IS ON!”

Internet research confirmed that noisy radiators are commonplace, but the causes and solutions are poorly defined. The hammering racket may stem from steam working through pockets of water, specifically due to tilted radiators, victim of sloped, settled floors. In such cases the radiators should be leveled with shims. But in other cases, the radiator are intentionally sloped to guide water flow back toward the boiler, and those radiators shouldn’t be leveled. Alternate advice to cease unwanted clanking: bleed the radiators, close the intake valves, open the intake valves, replace the vents, re-insulate the pipe from the boiler, remove steam vents and soak them in vinegar to dissolve calcium deposits…

…lots of handyman, plumber-speak.

I asked Martin what he thought and his diagnosis was vague: “I think it’s excessive pressure building up in the pipes.”

His solution? Accept the noise but alter the timing.

“I can set the thermostat so the furnace kicks in later. Would that help?”

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A source of terrific heat… and noise.

Yippie! A new toy

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“Howdy, folks. Thanks for joining our show. So… what do we have behind door number one? What have our contestants won??”

“That’s right! It’s a brand, new boiler!”

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“Not just any boiler. It’s a MegaSteam, oil fired boiler. Fun for the whole family! Forget those mindless TV shows and video games: now the kids can sit in the cellar and watch the boiler… do whatever it does… Imagine listening to those radiators hiss and burble. Not to mention the added benefit: a heated home!”

“Guaranteed years of entertainment!”

..Or until the warranty on parts and labor expires.

Postscript: Last night we took the new boiler for a spin and this morning, awoke to a cold house. The radiators weren’t singing a note. As I write this, the repair/service guy is banging and clanging, and muttering something about air in the line. Apparently, we need a tigerloop.

Already, the toy’s a dud.