renovation

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.

The winter weather wager

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In recent months, Martin and I made a big decision:

We are sending the barn to college. So to speak.

Actually, we are replacing the barn roof, which will cost as much as a year’s tuition and fees at a private college.

What else could we fund with this kind of cash? A new car, an awesome kitchen renovation, a first-class trip around the world. Hell, Martin could buy a fleet of those army trucks he trolls for on Craigslist.

Instead, we’re funding an improvement for the horses, cats and occasional opossum. (See, I can joke now. I’m beyond the nausea-inducing sticker shock phase. Over the summer one contractor quoted twice the price of previous estimates, and I got a little woozy. Do you need to sit down? he asked, sympathetically. Our roofs are guaranteed for 100 years, he added. What did I care? I’d be dead then!)

Speaking of 100 years, that’s the age of the barn, and — aside from a few spots — the roof is original as well. Hence the need for replacement. Viewed from a distance, the roof doesn’t look too tragic. But the leaks are beyond patching. It’s not like a colander with visible holes. Instead, imagine cupping water in your hand: eventually it seeps through your fingers. That’s our roof, dripping at the seams.

After a decade of patch jobs, we are committed to renovation. The big question is “when”?

Our roofer can start in mid-November, a time that taunts winter storms. Precipitation and frigid temps could push the project to Christmas or beyond.

And our contractor mentioned another speed bump. “You know about the wedding season, right?”

I knew that our roofer is Amish. I didn’t know that Amish weddings are held strictly from November to early December, after the harvest, but before winter sets in. (And typically, weddings are celebrated on Tuesdays and Thursdays… now that’s a bite from the work week…)

So, late-fall construction is fraught with what-ifs. The alternative: a springtime build.

In the spring, the project would take just a couple weeks, avoiding winter and matrimonial distractions.

But a five month delay gambles on a season’s worth of bad weather. Any significant rain or snow would be problematic. And this is a possible El Nino year.

So that’s the debate. Do we wager that El Nino’s a bust and wait until spring? Or do we bet on a belated winter and an uneventful wedding season?

We’ve got a few days to flip a coin.

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See, it’s nice from afar…