hot swapping a woodstove
Tuesday, January 5 2010
The brand new woodstove arrived on a flatbed truck a little after 2:00pm, and only one guy had been sent to deliver it. I'd been warned about this by telephone, and said I'd help wrestle it from the truck. Still, a 490 pound object seemed like the sort of thing that would require at least four guys. Dividing 490 by four gives you 122.5, and I know from experience that carrying a hundred pounds is doable but taxing (as a teenager, I used to carry hundred pound sacks of grain, and more recently I used to occasionally carry 80 pound sacks of concrete down the then-treacherous slope to the greenhouse). But the guy delivering the stove didn't seem to think it would he hard to get the stove off the truck with a handtruck and my help. It didn't actually end up being too difficult for the both of us to rock that 490 pounds up into balance over the handtruck's wheels. We rode the lift down to the ground, and from there it was easy to get the stove up my brand-new ramp, into the house, and plunked down in front of the existing stove. The delivery guy suggested that I remove the fire bricks and door from the stove if I wanted to make it lighter, that this would shed about a hundred pounds.
I'd been gradually coming around to the notion that I might be able to do the entire install all by myself. And now, with the stove right next to where it needed to be, the main thing in my way was the old stove, which still was hot and full of live coals. There wasn't any smoke coming off the fire, so I decided to remove the vent stack, effectively turning the old stove into a movable, if very heavy, object.
I brought in the stout red cart, which I'd originally expected to use to bring in the new stove. All I had to do was add a layer of two by fours to bring its surface nearly even with the stone pedestal on which the old stove sat. Then all I would have to do was slide it over. To facilitate the slide (and protect the bluestone slab), I lay down scraps of Cor-Ten steel. This was the perfect material; the stove could be made to slide along it smoothly without too much effort. Within a half hour, I had the old stove off the pedestal, on the cart, and towed over to the middle of the living room, its coals still glowing. I'd taken off its doors and they were so hot I'd had to lay them on the granite countertops in the kitchen.
Next I began jacking up the new woodstove so its level would be the same as the top of the pedestal (about 14 inches above the floor). I was helped by the fact that the stove was sitting on a pallet, which gave me nearly four inches. To raise the pallet, I used a crow bar and various bits of scrap wood to gradually lift it a little at a time at all four corners. At first I had it on two by four blocks, and then graduated to four by four blocks. It reminded me of those pop-science shows where a team of experts tries to build a pyramid or set up Stonehenge using only the tools of the ancients.
While I was doing this somewhat-unnerving work, suddenly there was a bing at the door. Nobody who has any business at our door ever rings the door bell, so of course the dogs both exploded out through the pet door.
I went out to see what the commotion was all about and found a nondescript woman holding a toe-headed baby while another child, a boy of about ten, stood beside her beaming with a somewhat-inappropriate smile. "I'm sorry to bother you," the woman said, "but I just went off the road in front of your house and my car is stuck!" She'd hit the sheet of ice that forms at this time of year just below our driveway at the beginning of a steep descent and the entrance to one of Dug Hill Road's tightest curves. This ice patch results when a crucial drainage ditch becomes clogged by a bank of plowed snow. The Town of Hurley struggles to fight this patch of ice, dumping tree-killing quantities of salt onto it and pushing back the snowbank, but it always comes back. And tonight's accident wasn't the first; the shoulder of the road here is littered with fragments from the ice patch's many other victims. But only a few of these require more than a few minutes to extricate themselves.
I quickly invited mother and her kids inside. The inappropriately-smiling kid slipped and fell on his ass walking up my ramp, but he kept on smiling. What kind of drugs are they prescribing for kids these days?
I quickly gathered that this particular family was somewhat marginal. The woman lacked a cell phone and used my landline to call her husband, the driver of a dump truck. She said she and her husband are caretakers for some place out on the west end of the Ashokan Reservoir. But later it turned out that she'd once run a book binding shop in Park Slope and now she has goats. Perhaps she was just doing the back to the land thing, sort of like my parents in the mid-1970s.
After the initial shock of the accident (for them) and the intrusion (for me), I resumed my work on the woodstove install. By now the kids had completely adjusted to their new circumstances. The baby was toddling around the very child-unfriendly house, his mother always two steps behind. I found his constant fingering of the house's many objects to be a constant distraction, particularly after realizing his mother was content to let him do things that I would never have been allowed to do when I was his age in some stranger's house. For example, the baby spent a considerable time running around with a pair of binoculars. And then he started playing in the bin of dog food. That last one was just too much and I had to say, "Don't play in the dog food!" So then the mother told the baby to stop playing in the dog food, pointing out that it wasn't her decision to take away this fun thing to do, it was mine. And so the baby started crying. Mind you, this whole time the baby's diaper was soiled, and nothing could be done about it since there were no clean diapers out in the car.
As for Forrest, the 10 year old boy, he was his own kind of trouble. If you've seen the movie Up, you'll remember the character Russell, an overeager-yet-klutzy young "Wilderness Explorer" whose exuberant questions and cheerful desire to please make you want to strangle him by the neck until dead. Well Forrest was exactly like Russell, except he wasn't Native American. He kept asking me questions and making suggestions as I worked. It was tiresome, but in a way the boundless curiosity was also sort of sweet. At some point he had to use the bathroom and ended up being in there for something like twenty minutes.
I also experienced the effects of the leading ends of the childrens' gastroinstestinal tracts. It was dinner time and both kids were hungry. The diaper baby was something of a breast man, and the mother fed him several times right there in the living room. But he and his brother Forrest also wanted non-liquid foods, so I offered them a banana, corn chips and crackers. They ate a third of a bag of chips and a good many Stoned Wheat Thins. I wished they'd finished the latter; I'd heard the mother telling the diaper baby that he had to eat things he handled, and that he couldn't take them out and then just leave them. But who am I kidding? After the butt finger conversation of 2009, I realize E. coli is spread by plenty of people who aren't in diapers.
Eventually the woman's husband arrived. He looked to be a good bit older than his wife and very fit for his age. He also had a manner about him that suggested a somewhat better level of education or better initial social status. Obviously sheepish about having to clean up his wife's mess, he introduced himself with a cruel joke about how his wife should write a book called The Ditches of the Catskills and then waited for the laugh track. But nobody was laughing. After going out and doing some initial work to extricate the car, he came back and announced to his wife that he'd need a reciprocating saw. This of course would take time to get, and I wanted that time back for my own use, so I volunteered that I had such a saw. I went out and got it and didn't look for a new blade. I wanted to make it easier for them, but not effortlessly so. I then ran extension cords all the way to the accident site. The vehicle in question actually looked like an SUV, though I don't think it had four wheel drive. Its underside was hung up on a bent-over reflector stake, thus the need for a saw. Dude cut at it for a time, but eventually the snow got into the saw and tripped a GFI outlet, forcing me to plug into a different one.
I was being nice and helpful, but I didn't feel the need to stand around out in the cold. So I returned to my woodstove project. Soon I had the new stove on the pedestal, supported by a thin layer of Cor-Ten. All I had to do now was lift it up eight inches and install the legs. To speed this process, I decided to enlist young Forrest, who was otherwise just in my way. I found I was able to lift one side of the stove at a time just long enough for Forrest to insert a block of wood. I was careful to tell him not to get his fingers in the way, and he actually proved very helpful. At one point the blocks on one side were a little tenuous and gave way as I was tilting up the other side. The stove stumbled down four inches, but it wasn't a complete disaster. By the time the stuck vehicle became unstuck, I was installing the first of the new stove's legs.
Eventually my guests were gone and I could dedicate my full mental energy to the task at hand. Perhaps for mildly-sadistic reasons, I'd left the thermostat in the upper-40s during the entire impromptu visit. I get warm when I'm working and the 54 degree temperatures that resulted (there was residual heat from the old woodstove) had been perfectly comfortable. But now with them gone, I thought I should turn up the heat for the critters.
In short order, I had all the legs on the stove and I'd centered it exactly where I wanted it. Next came the pipe installation, and as part of that I made an elaborate cable-system to support the upper part of the vent stack and keep it firmly mated to the underside of the cathedral ceiling. A makeshift cable support system already existed, but it had no tensioning system except for a nail I'd crudely inserted a couple weeks ago. My new system featured three cables (at roughly 120 degree points around the chimney). Each ran from the ceiling to turnbuckles hooked into the pipe, and these could be independently tightened or loosened. This doesn't sound like an especially elaborate system, but it took hours to build. This was partly a result of the unpleasant working conditions: at the top of a ladder, occasionally dropping nuts and then having to clamber down and hunt for them.
I fired up the stove before I was completely done working on the exhaust pipe. Lacking a grate and a from-below air supply, it was a bit harder to start than the old stove, but once it got going it had an entirely different sort of fire from the old stove. It's also much easier to regulate.
In total, the stove swap took nine or ten hours, but I could take some joy in having done it almost entirely by myself.
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