Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
Biosphere II
dead malls
Irving housing

got that wrong

appropriate tech
Arduino μcontrollers
Backwoods Home
Fractal antenna

fun social media stuff

(nobody does!)

Like my brownhouse:
   avoiding pipes in the slab
Thursday, November 7 2019
No thanks to, today I finally managed to get a working connection to the new Azure database from Ruby on Rails. The key was to create a new user and give it the necessary permissions. Why Ruby chokes so badly when it has a user with what it considers the wrong permissions is a mystery, one I will hopefully never understand. I have no interest in learning anything else about that dead computer language.

Supposedly we could've had all the new split heating systems also wired to the house's electrical system for an additional $200 per unit, which was looking (to Gretchen at least) like an opportunity we should've taken, especially considering that yesterday I'd spent $300 just on supplies, and I still don't have all the supplies I need. But I had my doubts that such an inexpensive wiring job would've been something I would be happy with. To do the job right, most of that wiring would have to be hidden in floors and walls, a job best done deliberately and with an intimate knowledge of the house. An example of the sort of things you get when six or seven people unfamiliar with a house swarm it to do a one-day installation was on display in the basement walk-in closet, where the new heat-pump-based water heater ended up. That is the one unit that doesn't need an outdoor component, since it uses as its source of heat the ambient air in the basement itself. As a side effect, it dehumidifies that air, and so it has to do something with the liquid water that results. The solution the installers came up with was to dump the water into a small sump pump (the kind that isn't actually in a sump), which then pushes the water up and out of the house. The installers had stapled the vinyl ejection hose to the wall and then, through an existing hole I'd never fixed in the closet ceiling and out a hole drilled through the wall. There'd been some insulation along that wall to keep pipes in the inter-joist bay from freezing, and the installer had simply pushed it out of the way and left it that way (that is, not providing its intended function) and then drilled through the wall in such a way that it split a large divot off the cedar siding on the outside of the wall. A much better system would've drained the water using gravity somehow within the house. I was so sure I could come up with a better solution that, as I stood on a step ladder looking at the way it had been done, I experienced a moment of fury and, with an impulsive tug, ripped it all out. Staples went flying every which way, startling the always-underfoot cats.
One fairly easy place to send the water would be into the drain of the adjacent bathroom. This would require a longer hose and some plumbing work under the sink. But I had another idea. For years I've wanted a drain in the boiler room to handle the many spills and leakages that happen in there. My thinking was that if I could just drill a hole through the slab to the gravel layer underneath it, my work would be done. What's kept me from actually drilling such a hole has been the presence of plastic hydronic pipes in the slab, and there's no easy way to know where the pipes run. In the past I've considered heating up the slab and then looking at it with a thermography camera (I actually have one), but the resolution of such cameras isn't great. Today I decided, fuck it, I would drill the hole and see what happened. Rupturing one of those pipes would be a disaster and probably destroy at least part of a very expensive (and irreplaceable) system. But I figured that if I worked slowly, I could probably discover any pipe I encountered before actually rupturing it. The thing about masonry is that it behaves very differently from plastic, with plastic (which tends to be soft and tough) being relatively hard to damage with tools designed for masonry (which is hard and brittle).
I started my drilling with my big masonry hammer drill (the one I'd bought last spring specifically to remove the old tiles near the house's front door), rotating a masonry bit. That went okay. But I was so nervous about hitting a plastic hose that I wasn't making much progress. So eventually I switched to a chisel-bit used in hammer-only mode (like a small jackhammer). This made much faster progress, and it wasn't long before I'd drilled all the way through the slab. Happily there were no pipes in or adjacent to the 1.5-inch-wide hole. I was so giddy with delight that I finally had my drain that I dumped a bunch of water into it to test its percolation rate. I was dismayed to see the water didn't immediately vanish. Instead it sat there, its level lowering at an almost-imperceptible rate. Clearly I was going to have to drill deeper into whatever lay below the slab. Happily, though, once I was through the slab, I no longer had to worry about hitting hydronic pipes. Since I'd already achieved most of what I wanted to today, I didn't drill much deeper. Interestingly, I found that the slab was riding on a layer of styrofoam, which is what you would expect if you wanted it to be thermally isolated from the underlying bedrock. Perhaps I just have to drill through the styrofoam and then I'll hit a nice layer of gravel.
Today was fairly rainy, so at some point I went down to the brownhouse to see if my cistern had collected any water. To my surprise, it hadn't. Fortunately, there is an adjustable outflow spigot on the outside of the laboratory that I could simply raise, thereby raising the acceptable level of water in the cistern and thus making the inflow more of a downhill path.

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