ice in the pipes
Saturday, November 19 2005
It was a cold night last night, with temperatures down into the 20s. Evidently it was cold enough to freeze the dilute solution of antifreeze in my solar panel, because this morning I couldn't get it to circulate when I manually flipped on the switches. Mostly all I had to do to get it flowing again was to bend the flexible supply hoses, the only place where the solution was still frozen. But this got me to worrying about any possible damage inflicted on the panel. Fluid stops flowing in pipes a long time before they burst, but this wasn't the first time I'd allowed dangerous pressures to accumulate in the panel pipes. The whole time I'd been in the Middle East, for example, the panel had been cut off from the basement expansion tank and the pressures generated during the daily heating cycles couldn't escape (though they could still dissipate somewhat inside the lengths of flexible hose). So today I climbed up on the roof and looked for evidence of ruptured pipes in the panel. Everything seemed to be fine with one exception: I could see a spray of hydronic fluid had recently happened from one of the solder joints, peppering the inside of the plastic membrane panel cover with a triangular swath of droplets. This leak had probably existed from the start, and accounted for two mysteries I'd never been able to explain: the persistence of moisture inside the panel and the constant venting of air from the panel's air release mechanism. Now that I knew about it I had to fix it, but how? The membrane cover is glued and nailed to the panel frame, and to remove it is to damage it. But it had to be removed from one end in order to reach the leaking joint so I could resolder it. I'd also have to drop the panel down from its forty five degree angle, but I'd taken pains to make that an easy job, similar (I suppose) to taking down a sail on a sailboat.
I went into Kingston and bought ten gallons of hydronic antifreeze for the entire household hydronic system. All of it would need antifreeze since both the solar and the oil heating loops mix. Antifreeze isn't cheap, but it's least expensive in bulk. The ten gallons cost me over $130. That's like buying gasoline in Isræl.
This afternoon I fixed the leaking joint in the panel without too much difficulty. The viny panel cover tore in a few places as I peeled it up, but I was able to stretch it back so taut that the tears didn't invade the panel's surface much, and in the few places they did I could seal them with spray foam and duct tape.
With that finished, I turned my attention to charging the hydronic plumbing with antifreeze, starting with the solar panel and then moving indoors and attacking the boiler itself, which (according to the specs I've seen) holds fifteen gallons of water. After draining it all into the bathtub, I was able to refill the boiler with antifreeze using a spigot I'd installed up in the attic master bedroom hydronic loop. After I was done with the rather slow process of adding ten gallons through a small seven ounce funnel, I replaced any remaining fluid with the water I'd drained into the bathtub, which is itself about 25% antifreeze (though not enough, as this morning plainly instructed).
This evening Gretchen and I went out to Boiceville for an evening dinner party with some new friends we met through our West Hurley friend Julia. The house is home to D & S. He's a well known jazz musician and she's a professor of German literature. He refers to colleagues as "cats" and she once thought she'd be entertaining students with tea. Their only child at this point is Mickey, an actual cat, and a hypoallergenic one at that (as D suffers from a long list of allergies). D likes to have the television on all the time, and when people are over he acts as both a DJ and a VJ at the same time, queing up movies with completely unexpected recorded music. For example, while that Beatles movie A Hard Day's Night played silently on the big screen, the stereo played classical music. D's behavior here is explained in part by one of his main occupations: he scores music for movies.
Other people at the party were interesting as well. One guy was a furniture maker and formerly-vegetarian hunter whose significant other claimed to be suffering from a non-debilitating case of Asperger's syndrome (though I thought her behavior, unlike my own or even Gretchen's, was well within the normal range). Another guy at the party was a documentary filmmaker who had spent the afternoon at an unusual white supremacist rally in Kingston, shooting raw footage for a documentary he wants to make on the subject of "what it means to be white." (He was the guy who shot the PBS documentary about the song "Strange Fruit.")
Dinner was a variety of delicious Indian food (dot not feather) served as buffet.
Parties among the increasingly ancient aren't much like the parties of my youth; almost everyone left this one by around 10:30pm, though Gretchen and I stayed for tea.
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