Showing posts with label Restoring this house. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Restoring this house. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Water Main Leak Repair

Two weekends ago, Ian came up from doing laundry (with our new used washing machine) in the basement and mentioned that there was water on one of the pipes down there.  I had just been running the cold water (trying to make wine bottle planters, but not having too much success), so I made the hopeful assumption that he was seeing condensation on one of the drain pipes down there.

But, as you will have already guessed, I was wrong.  When I went downstairs a couple of days later to start brewing our first batch of compost tea, I saw the long trickle of water that Ian had been talking about.  It was coming from a rusted plug nut on the top of the main water line coming into the house.  BIG BUMMER.  

First of all, someone had used a steel plug in a water system, which is incredibly lazy, stupid, or both, because water makes steel rust.  Second of all, that plug had started letting a slow trickle of water leak into the basement, which wasn't great for the basement floor, and it certainly wasn't great for water conservation.  And lastly, it wasn't hard to imagine that leak getting worse some day soon and essentially letting a geyser of full-pressure water erupt into the middle of the basement while we were all at work and unaware.  It was obvious that I had to embark upon another plumbing project ASAP.

I managed to get all the parts I needed while on a break from work last Thursday.  The guy at the plumbing store very sweetly saved me some money by having me buy fittings that could be sweated (soldered) together, rather than threaded fittings.  Threaded fittings require thicker metal and more machining to produce, so they're much more expensive than sweat fittings.  He also took a guess at why a T fitting was used here where an elbow would have worked just as well: a place to drain the plumbing system for maintenance?

Since someone had used that steel plug, I doubt the T fitting had been used for any other reason than it's what the plumber had on hand.  But I did like the idea of a place to drain the system, so we kept the T fitting and added a spigot.

While waiting for Ian to finish showering and getting ready to depart on Sunday morning, I sweated all the pieces together that I could:

And after both upstairs tenants were gone for the day, I shut off the water, and went around the house, turning on a couple of faucets on each floor so that air could get into the pipes and allow the water to drain out the open garden hose spigot in the basement faster.

I cut the 3/4" horizontal pipe coming off the T fitting, and I disconnected the main pipe just above the water meter at a union fitting.  That allowed me to take that section of pipe with the rusty T fitting, put it in my work bench vise, and unscrew the T fitting with a plumber's wrench and my giant muscles.  Once I had it off, it was obvious that someone had tried to cover the steel plug with some putty from the inside to prevent rust.  There you have it: that plumber was too lazy to get a proper brass plug.  Jerk.

I cleaned up the threads of the pipe end.

And with some plumber's putty, I assembled all the pieces and put the pipe with the new T fitting into place.  I'm using a spare washing machine hose to guide water down to a bucket next time I have to drain the pipes.  This spigot is probably 7 feet off the floor.

It took some finagling and a little teflon tape to get the union joint to stop dripping.  In my experience, those union joints are always a little finicky.  But if I ever have problems with this section of plumbing again, I won't have to cut any pipes; I can just disconnect at the union.

After about an hour and a half, the water was turned on, I had chased down the one drip that was occurring with the new pieces, and a potential plumbing crisis was averted.  It cost me $55 in new parts and my own time.  If you think you always have to call a professional plumber, but you like taking on challenges and working with your hands, think again.  If I can do this, you can too.  Neat, right?

Friday, May 16, 2014

Green Roof Two Step

Hello, pals!  Here's a mid-May update on the green roof.

The last couple of weeks have been what I like to call, a "green roof two-step."  In other words, we've been going two steps forward, one step back.  Is there such a thing as a project without successes and disappointments?  I doubt it.

The first and most stress-inducing problem is that the roof hatch is letting in a slow leak when we have hard rain.  I'm pretty sure it doesn't have anything to do with the green roof system and is more related to the way the hatch was built and installed.  But I'm trying to get a hold of the contractor we used to re-roof the house so he can come and take care of it.  We're within the 10-year warrantee on the work.  I left him a phone message a couple of days ago (without answer), and I sent him an email last night after going up and taping some plastic around the outside of the hatch to see if I can prevent the leak in today's rain storm.  We'll see.  Here's a picture of that bummer from the last rain storm:

There are two other leaking issues that need to be addressed.  One has to do with moisture somehow coming in between our side wall and our neighbor's side wall (our two houses abut each other - I'll take a picture of that some other time).  The third issue has to do with water finding its way into the upstairs apartment's kitchen ceiling through a vent pipe boot when the silt from the drainage rock on the green roof gets washed down to the roof drain and slows the flow of the water off the roof.  For more depression, here's a picture of what that kitchen ceiling looked like in the last storm as well:

Luckily, I can prevent this leak by keeping the drainage rock cleared from the roof drain.  If you ignore the loops of cable (which is for our home-made digital TV antenna), that's the vent pipe on the left, and the water flows down to the roof drain on the right hand side of this photo.  I want to have the contractor look at this issue, because we need a more permanent fix than this.

Come to think of it. I'd say those roof leaks are more than one step back.  Let's say that's two steps back.

But, a few days later, we got some un-related good news!

News 12 Brooklyn sent a reporter, Kena Vernon, out to do a little story on the green roof!  They found us through this blog, which was really pretty neat.  If you'd like to see the story Kena did, you should be able to watch it by following this link to the News 12 Brooklyn site.  Or, here's a copy of the video right here:

Let's hear it for Cindy Keiter wearing her pink pants, ladies and gentlemen!  Also, in case you're wondering what's up with my shirt, I was wearing my roof garden shirt.  See?  There are vegetables flying off the rooftops...

But before we get too happy, and since this is a good news/bad news post, we've got more to talk about.

Now, I've been working on the wooden hand rail that goes along the top of the metal railing on the roof, and after some amount of visiting hardware stores in the area (does no one carry anything better than drywall screws these days?!), I found some self-tapping screws that I decided to use to screw the wood to the steel railing.  After a certain amount of trial and error, I finally got a little system working, and I managed to get all the pieces cut and installed for the back railing.  I'll do a full blog post about the hand rail install process later, but here's the bummer:

Went I went  up to the roof to check it out before the reporter came, I found a piece of the railing section laying on the roof - totally broken off from where I had attached it!  

Well!  At first, I thought, "Who came up here and broke this off?  Were there vandals on the roof?  Did a neighbor come up and stand on this section to look at the chimney?  What the hell happened?!"

But then I noticed that another smaller piece of wood which had been firmly screwed down was completely un-attached, but it was still resting in place.  Did someone break that too and put it back?  I ran around the roof, checking all the pots, looking in my tool bin to see if anything was stolen.  Everything was just as I had left it.  No vandals.

So I went back and looked at all the sections of wood.  A couple of the other small pieces had one of their two screws broken off - all of them broken off right at the top of the steel where the screws enter the wood.  The only answer is wood movement caused by the rain had sheared the screws off.  

I realized all the broken screw ends would have to be drilled out, and I'd have to replace the screws with something stronger, and drill wider holes in the steel to allow for more wood movement.  I calmed down, but was a little wary the whole time that the reporter was going to go to the back of the roof and see my mistake.  While I'm happy to share it with you, I was too embarrassed to have it broadcast on TV.

Luckily, she never wanted to see the back of the roof - probably because the poor dear had to lug her own camera around (I brought it up and down the ladder for her), and she didn't want to navigate the stepping stone path with it.

Then there was another Unfortunate Situation on the roof.  

A couple of days after the news story, while chatting on the phone with my mom (hi, Mom!), I was putting in some drip irrigation fittings to keep these big pots watered.  The main drip line runs behind the pots, and I was trying to keep the little individual lines to the pots semi-concealed, so it was tight quarters.

I was squatting down to do the work, and I was right in front of the first of the four pots - the one on the right.  See that?  The one right next to the skylight...?

Yup.  I cracked a pane of glass in the skylight with my butt!  Such a bummer.  I made a crack - a butt crack - in the skylight.  I put some duct-tape on my butt crack to keep it from leaking...  There's a new glass shop in the neighborhood, and they made us a replacement piece, but it took them a week.  It was a real pane!

A few days after that incident, I came up on the roof to check how the potted plants were doing.  I had moved last year's sage and lavender to two of the fabric pots, and I sewed seeds in the self-irrigating planters and the rest of the fabric pots.  I had gotten drip irrigation fittings installed on all the pots near the sitting area, and I was eager to see if any seedlings were sprouting.

The sage was busy making blossoms (wonderful news!), but the squirrels had dug holes in the soil of all the pots (boo!).  I filled all the depressing squirrel holes (squirrel depression?) before I took a picture, but at least here are the nice sage blossoms.

Ignoring the squirrels for a moment, there were a couple of other nice things.  These hairy hens-and-chicks in the back are making little satellite babies.

And here's Cindy, hand-modeling a little green strawberry:

But, the ding-dang squirrels are a problem.  So I made some chicken-wire basket things to go over the tops of the pots.  I also got some organically raised seedlings from the excellent Silver Heights Farm Nursery at the farmer's market in Union Square last weekend, and our friend Robin (hi, Robin!) came over to help me do some gardening.  I don't have enough dirt to fill all my pots yet, so we stuck some of the seedlings in with seeds I had sewed previously - I wasn't sure if the squirrels had eaten all the squash seeds I planted anyway...

As I said, I was up on the roof last night putting some plastic around the roof hatch to see if that prevents leaking when it rains today, and I took the opportunity to check all the plants with my little flashlight.  The watermelon and squash seeds I thought the squirrels had gotten are now starting to sprout.  They weren't eaten after all!  And the rest of the plants look great.  In fact, the green roof sedum are starting to bloom, and for me, that makes all our little set-backs completely wash away.

Well, not completely, but you know what I mean.

P.S. Special thanks to my dear friend Dave for the pane of glass pun.  The butt crack was entirely my own.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Arnold Cabin Project Part 1: Love Letter to My Monterey Ancestors

I don't mean to brag, but my people come from Monterey County in California.  I may have been physically born in Phoenix, Arizona, but I really come from Monterey County too.  My mother, Kathleen Henning, and my Grandmother, Winifred Kincannon, were born in Salinas, CA.  My Great Grandmother, Anne Arnold, was born in Jamesburg, CA (which is more of a crossroads than a town now.  They don't even have a post office, but I know they once did).  I'm told my Great Grandmother's father, Henry Arnold, was the orphan son of a soldier in the Prussian Army.  He grew up to be a sailor, then a farmer, a stone mason... I suppose he could do whatever was needed.  He spent some time in San Francisco, where he met, wrote poetry to, and married the woman he loved, Sarah Church.  She had come to California with her parents and family by covered wagon.  

To my heart, no other genealogy matters.  

Beyond that, there is only need of the coffee-dark soil of Salinas, and the sun-dappled leaf-litter of Carmel Valley.  There is the sand of the beaches along Cannery Row at low tide.  There is the water in Carmel River.  There is the wind through the Live Oaks.  The screech of the blue jays. The smell of the Sycamore trees in the valley, the Chaparral sagebrush on the hills, and the flower-smoke-and-salt scented air by the ocean.

If this sounds hokey to you, you've never loved a place the way my heart loves Monterey.

And, so, I must admit, that one day, while taking a break at work, I got a tad wistful about the place.  Lamenting the fact that I never asked her, I decided to see if I could figure out where my Great Grandmother went to grammar school.  As I began poking around in image searches, I stumbled upon a Facebook page for The Hastings Natural History Reserve.  On it, there was a post about "The Arnold Cabin" with a few pictures and a mention that it needs a new roof.  

This was the cabin that Henry and Sarah Arnold built and raised their children in (one of them, my Great Grandmother).  And, like most everything else, it was on Facebook!  I could hardly contain my excitement.  

I reached out to the Reserve Director, Vincent, and he accepted my offer to repair the cabin roof!
Cindy and I made a trip out to California last year, and we arranged a day to go and see, photograph, and measure the cabin with Vincent.  I went back a second time with my dear friend, Dan, several weeks ago.

Now, I live in New York City.  Millions of other people live here, and I suppose a billion people have ever lived or passed through here... right?  Wouldn't you say a billion?  I don't know, it's just a guess.  Anyway, you can walk down almost any sidewalk, ride in nearly any subway car... you may know the history of this place or that, but most of the physical evidence of the minutia of our lives has been wiped away.  You can see no shadow of the place where a certain married couple first met on the corner.  The subway car carries no echo of the sound of the guys who came through and sang last night, let alone 20 years ago.  You may have the layers of 100 years of paint jobs on your moldings (which drive you mad with the need to strip them all off and start clean.  Well, maybe not you, but me.  Ahem.).  But you can not picture the people who put those layers of paint on the walls.  Those people are far removed from the marrow of your own life now...

However, this!  This is a rare opportunity to walk where my Great Grandmother walked as a child.  I have Christmas ornaments from her.  They were originally hung on a tree in this cabin!  I have her father's dictionary - the one from which he learned to speak English.  It used to be kept in this house.  The smells and sounds in the air here might have been the same as the ones my ancestors had experienced as they made the walk from the cabin to, say, the out house, for example.  These exact large trees might have been saplings as they witnessed my Nana playing nearby as a girl.  And they would have stood watching as she came and left that cabin for the last time - whether she knew it was her last or not.

I am a pig, and this is my sentimental, ancestral shit.

The Arnold Cabin. 
The living room.
Lory Henning - Generation Five

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Fixing the Upstairs Bathtub Faucet

Cindy and I were out of town two weekends ago to see some friends.  And when we came home, I noticed I could hear the sound of a small amount of water running in the bathroom upstair.  We have a 2-family home, so I checked with our upstairs tenant and friend, Ian, and went up to have a look.  The bathtub faucet was trickling, and no matter how tight the knobs were, the water kept running.  Like this:

The trick is, this house was built in 1910.  There are a few parts of the original faucets, and some things that aren't original.  The cross-shaped handles, for example, are not original.  But I do think the original hot handle is on the diverter in the upstairs bathroom (we have an original diverter handle in the downstairs bathroom - all clues pointing towards eventually finding matches).  
The escutcheons are all chipped except one (those are the porcelain things that surround where the faucet handles come out of the wall), and the nickel has nearly worn off everything from a hundred years of polishing.  I'm always keeping an eye out for proper replacement parts so I can restore them to their original state.  The last thing I want to do is to make a mistake that ruins the faucet, because I neither want to replace the faucet (if I could find one), nor do I want to rip out the old tiles.

Here's the set up as it currently stands.  

Yesterday, I turned off the water, took the stems out of the faucets, and replaced the washers on both the hot and cold.  But the drip persisted.  I noticed that the dripping water was cold, so I knew something had to be wrong with the cold water and not the hot, but to be sure, I closed the cold water shut-off valve.  Sure enough, the leak stopped.  So I took the cold water stem out again, and took a good look inside the faucet.  In the photo, in the back of the hole, you can see a brass circle.  That's called the seat.  There's a dark spot on the left hand side of the seat, and when I reached back in there with a screwdriver and felt around that edge, I found that dark spot was actually a divot in the metal, probably 1/16" deep.  That's where the water was getting through!

So we're clear on what I'm talking about, these shiny brass thingies are the replacement seats.  The top edge is the bit that's damaged inside the faucet.  I included the end of a spare faucet stem with an old rubber washer on it to help illustrate the idea.  When you turn the faucet handle, it pushes that end with the rubber washer down over the end seat, and the water is shut off.  But if you can't get a good seal between the two, you'll have drips.  Or, in my case, a trickle.

I needed to get the old seat out of the wall.  Yesterday, I tried the two L-shaped "seat wrenches", but the seat was so stuck, I couldn't budge it, and I stripped the inside of it.  Bummer.  I thought perhaps I needed some chemical help, so off I rode to an auto parts store on Utica Avenue where I got some Liquid Wrench Penetrating Oil.  I squirted the oil around the seat, tapped it, and tried loosening it with a seat wrench on a repeating loop.  It didn't budge.  It was getting late, and I had to put it back together and leave it leaking for another night.

Today, I babysat our godson, then went to the hardware store for some straight seat wrenches (hoping they would work better than the L-shaped ones, since they could be tapped into the center hole in the seat with a hammer), and a seat dresser tool for use if the wrenches failed me.  I also decided to try heat, to see if the temperature change would expand the metal enough to crack the corrosion that is holding the seat in place.  Here's my assortment of tools on the bathroom floor:

Well, more Liquid Wrench, more tapping, and more attempts to dislodge the seat with the new wrenches failed.  In fact, the new straight wrenches came with a ratchet with which to apply torque, and it wasn't strong enough to withstand the torque I applied to it.  It broke. Muscles failed?  How about fire?!  I tried applying the torch to the seat, and it was sort of neat to see how the water in the hole boiled off, but the seat didn't move.
My only option left was to grind the divot out of the rim of the seat with the seat dresser tool.  I tried it by hand (as directed on the package) at first, but the divot was far too deep, and Cindy was making dinner.  Time was running out.  So I chucked it up in my drill and did my best to keep it in proper alignment and check my progress often.  Here's the dresser tool in my drill with the grinder end at the bottom of the frame.  The white cone is to keep the shaft centered in the hole so you don't grind your stem down at an angle.  It sort of helped, but I had to be really careful anyway.

Here's some progress on the seat.  You can see the dark spot on the left is not as pronounced as it was originally.  I could feel with the end of my screwdriver that it was getting more shallow.

 And here it is after the divot was finally ground out!  I find something about this photo oddly hypnotic.

 But more importantly, once I got everything put back together and the water turned on, the leak had stopped!  Now, I'll have to figure out how to get that blue staining off the tub someday.  Or maybe I'll call it character and be done with it. 

P.S.  Here's a picture from Cindy's and my trip.  It's the sunset as seen from the steps of the Stonewall Jackson Shrine, Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park on February 16th, 2014.  Stonewall Jackson was accidentally shot by his own men during the Civil War, and he died in this house (thus the "shrine" thing).
A thousand thanks to Michael Spencer for being a wonderful tour guide, as usual.