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


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   fun with hydronic heating
Tuesday, December 10 2002

Darren complained today that my studio was too cold and that the spackle wasn't drying fast enough. Spackle he'd applied yesterday was still visibly darkened with initial moisture. This complaint just happened to come at the moment when I could do something to remedy the situation. Only yesterday I'd been stocking up on ten foot lengths of three quarter inch copper pipe, and, had I not accidentally bought an electric baseboard instead of a water-heated hydronic one, I would have been ready to start work on the heating project this morning. But first I had to make yet another trip to Lowes.
I'd never built a heating system before, but since this was a hydronic device, a mere building out of a zone whose valves and chimney-shaft run of copper pipe had already been installed. And since hydronic systems are articulated in the familiar plumber's language of solder and fittings, I figured I could probably do it without much trouble.
Unfortunately, I initially found myself working in the same room as Darren, and it's not always easy to work with him jabbering away about this and that. Today's subjects included the high crime rates of Hudson River cities like Poughkeepsie and Newburgh, the latter of which is so bad that Darren said, "I wouldn't go there at night." He explained the crime in these areas as being an outgrowth or perhaps a displacement of urban gang activity rooted in the Bronx. Kingston, though plenty dangerous on its own, is less so than those other two cities. Darren said this was probably because Kingston is "a white town" and authorities are more vigilant about black gangster activity. Some of the things Darren was saying sort of reminded me of the unnecessarily paranoid stuff my old buddy Josh Furr used to talk about. Josh was so paranoid that he thought Staunton Virginia was a dangerous town, and that the brothers were so tightly-knit that if he cut one off in traffic the only way to get off the hook was to invite his African American neighbor over for beers.
Based on the places he frequents, the friends he surrounds himself with, his hip hop musical aspirations, and several mentions of things related to the white rap sensation Eminem, I get the feeling that Darren aspires to be a sort of Hudson River Slim Shady, although, unlike Eminem, Darren doesn't sing; he just writes lyrics. Until I know any different, however, I will assume that Darren raps about as well as Eminem spackles.
Like the rest of the contractors hired to come out to do stuff in our house, Darren is somewhat frightened by the awesome forces that must by tamed by electricians and plumbers and he never does such work himself. For my part, though, electrical wiring and plumbing has comprised a large fraction of the work I've been doing on the house, simply because I've been doing all of it. Today I was having a little trouble soldering the copper pipes at the top of the chimney shaft because of strong downdrafts into the boiler room. I was also trying out MAPP gas, which burns hotter than propane. Unfortunately, though, it seemed my blowtorch nozzle was incompatible with this gas and it gradually clogged up. In the meantime, though, the drafts and clogging were causing my torch to blow some moderate-sized orange fireballs. It was enough for Darren to warily tell me through his dust mask, "You're breaking the cardinal rule. You're always supposed to have a fire extinguisher." So, just to make him happy, I went and got the fire extinguisher from downstairs.
After a good number of hours of soldering copper pipe, I managed to install a single eight foot hydronic radiator in a far corner of the studio. Its copper supply and return lines simply ran along the floor, beneath the lowest part of the sloped cathedral ceiling. I also had to do a bunch of tricky soldering down in the basement boiler room in order to get the chimney shaft pipes hooked up to their zone supplies and returns.
When I opened all the valves, nothing much happened. In a way this was a good thing - there were no leaks - but where was the heat? It turned out that the flow was being impeded by air. Part of the process for initializing a new hydronic loop is to drain out the air (and accidental chips of drywall and other crap that ends up in the copper pipes as they're poked through walls and assembled).
It took a couple of hours for the studio to go from forty degrees Fahrenheit to about 65. I was amazed and delighted that one radiator was all it took to heat that entire room.

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