things remain broken
Saturday, March 26 2022
location: 800 feet west of Woodworth Lake, Fulton County, NY
Temperatures were still down in the 40s this morning, but I built up a fire and soon had temperatures on the upswing, helped somewhat by occasional near-sunny conditions and fairly balmy conditions outside. The indoor firewood rack hasn't been replenished in months and was now down to a few pieces of half-rotten (but fairly dry) pieces of white ash. Today I would remedy this by taking occasional breaks from indoor chores to go a little ways down the driveway to cut down and process a couple standing dead trees south of the cabin. The first of these was beech and the second was black cherry. Both were fundamentally dry and pretty much ready to burn. They also were comprised of enough wood to more than completely refill the indoor wood rack.
But the most urgent matter in the cabin was the ice-ruined hot-water heating function of its Navien boiler. I'd bought some supplies online to replace parts I knew to be cracked. This included the hot water system's heat exchanger, which I thought was now leaking water between the two separate fluid channels.
But I soon discovered that the Navien heat exchanger I'd bought was wrong. The one I'd bought had two pipe attachments on one side and two on the other, where as the one in the boiler had all four on one side. They both about the same size, but the one I'd bought seemed to be made of steel, whereas the one in the boiler seemed more like it was made of aluminum. Still, I can probably find a use for the one I'd bought, since heat exchangers play an important role in hydronics and they tend to be expensive (so expensive, in fact, that I once built one from scratch). And by now I actually had a new theory about the "leak" I'd detected in the heat exchanger. I was seeing it even when all the hydronic plumbing was depressurized, suggesting the water wasn't coming from that system but from somewhere else. I soon determined it was coming from the cabin's hot water plumbing. Evidently water had either been pushed up into that system and was slowly draining backwards or water was being fed into it at one of the taps where mixing between hot and cold were occurring. So that came as something of relief.
After assembling all the plastic Navien plumbing back together to include the replacement mixing valve I'd bought online, I hesitated to test it because I wanted to wallow for a bit in the Schrödinger period where I'd either fixed it or I hadn't and didn't yet know. But I eventually pressurized the hydronic and cold water systems feeding the boiler to see what would happen. In ideal world, I would've seen nothing change. But that didn't happen; water spurted from tiny pinpricks on the surface of some of the plastic fittings. Initially I thought this might be water spraying out past an O-ring and ricocheting off another part of the fitting. But when I took everything apart and put it back together, I had the same leaks in the same places. So I took the troubled plumbing assemblage out and inspected it carefully. There were no visible cracks, though I saw that in some fittings the seam line from the casting mold on the outside was visible as a line of discoloration on the inside, suggesting that a tiny crack now existed there. Evidently this was the case, as there was no other accounting for a tiny pinprick of spraying water.
Crestfallen, I went upstairs to the relative warmth of the great room to do more searches for replacement Navien fittings. I don't know where plumbers go to get these, but I couldn't find any more than the handful of pieces I'd found last weekend. It was looking like I was going to have to turn this fix over to a real professional, someone with access to Navien spare parts, somebody like Little John the Stoner Plumber.
But before I did that, I wanted to experimentally attempt repairs on some fittings that looked to have tiny fractures. I would try doing this by making welds across the cracks using the tip of a screwdriver heated over the gas flame of the kitchen stovetop. It was important not to do this on any surface that needed to mate with another surface on another fitting, something it seemed I could mostly avoid doing. I don't know what kind of plastic these fittings were made of, but it wasn't ABS or polystyrene (which they initially seemed like they might be made of) or HDPE (which they didn't). I know this, because the heated material had the odor of neither of these plastics. It was possible to smear the plastic around once it was heated, but not very much. Perhaps it was epoxy or some other non-thermoplastic. With two of the fittings "fixed" this way, I tried putting them back into the boiler. When I tested it again, the leaks were all still there, though perhaps not as bad as they'd been.
That was the end of the line as far as my fix would go. It actually came as something of a relief to know that the broken hot water heating system had defeated me. I sent a message to Gretchen telling her the bad news, and she immediately sent a text to Little John. Initially it even seemed like Little John would be coming out to the cabin today, but then he said it would be better if he could contact Navien first.
Meanwhile, I decided to take advantage of the nice weather and take the dogs on a walk down to the lake. I cracked open one of my Burly Beards and managed to coax the dogs out of the cabin. We took a somewhat circuitous route down, starting west of the cabin and then going off-trail through the woods until we met up with the lake trail further down. The lake was still about as frozen has it had been a week before, but I found some open water on either side of the beaver dam in the lake's outlet bay (all of whose shores belong to us). I also found a male and female mallard pair swimming around in that water, and when they saw me they immediately flew away. Aside from a few chickadees at the bird feeder, a smattering of ravens, and a couple red squirrels, that was the only wildlife I would be seeing this weekend.
Back at the cabin, I took pictures of the inside of the boiler and of the bad plumbing pieces so I could send them as SMS message attachments to Little John.
I then made myself dinner. I boiled up the jumbo shell pasta while pan-searing tofu, to which I added slices of mushrooms and the strings of onion sectors. It was similar to how I cook when I'm making dinner for myself and Gretchen, though I was less sparing with the oil (in this case, avocado oil).
Meanwhile, the solar power system's battery and the freeze-damaged hot water plumbing weren't the only things that weren't working in the cabin. The MySpool temperature sensor had been dead since shortly after last weekend, and now the Moxee wireless hotspot seemed to be crapping out every several hours or so and needing me to walk to it to perform a cold restart. It was going to be hard to monitor the cabin remotely if it kept behaving like that. One further issue concerned the propane tank. After complaining about our tank's meter always registering 0%, the chuckleheads at Ferrellgas replaced the meter with a supposedly-working one, but now the indicator appears to be hidden behind a thick black tab that cannot be moved.
Woodworth Lake today, still frozen.
Click to enlarge.
Lingering ice on the cliffs northwest of Woodworth Lake.
The hot water system with the core plumbing removed, showing the heat exchanger I'd thought was damaged (the thing with the nested >>>>s stamped into the case).
Click to enlarge.
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