Sunday, December 10, 2006

Most decidedly not according to plan

So today the plan was to buy the stuff to fix the toilet (a 3/8" NIST x 3/8" compression fitting angle valve [multi-turn, not quarter-turn] and a 12" no-burst toilet [not faucet] connection), make chocolate chip cookies, and then meet Bernie at the house at 3:00 to fix the toilet. "Once you have that stuff, it'll take five minutes", he said last night. He was right.

As far as the toilet went.

I managed to screw up the cookies. I've made dozens of batches of cookies, and this is the first time I've ever screwed up like this. The trick is to combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in one bowl, and the sugar, brown sugar, vanilla, and eggs in another, then add the flour mixture gradually to the sugar/butter/egg mixture. I screwed up by adding the semi-softened butter directly to the flour. This resulted in everything being thrown out of order. Cookies are not a uniform blend of ingredients, some sort of homoegenous chemical solution, but are actually a combination of things wrapped around other things - little layered bundles of flour, salt, and baking soda wrapped around sugar, butter, and vanilla, smooshed together with other little layered bundles of ingredients and some chocolate chips and oats and milk. Getting the mixture out of order means that things may not wrap and smoosh and melt properly. (This is critical when making flaky pie crust and pastries, not as critical when you're making cookies.) Still, the final product was quite edible. I'm trying to avoid eating them all.

I got the last batch out of the oven right around 3:00. I called Bernie and he was slightly delayed - Santa Claus had come to town, and his kids were visiting with him. But the delay was brief and soon I was headed over to meet him at the house.

The ice-cold house.

Last night Bernie had commented on the temperature in the house. It wasn't that cold, hovering around 60 degrees, but I decided to push the thermostat up a little bit to keep things warmer overnight. (It turns out he was joking with me - he keeps his house even colder.)

Now, as I looked at the thermostat something seemed wrong. Something was missing. Oh, yeah, the little needle on the top of the display that showed the current temperature was gone. Wait - it wasn't gone, it was pegged all the way to the left. Offscale cold, fifteen degrees at least below where I had it set.

Bernie showed up. He assured me that nothing we had done yesterday could have caused the furnace to shut off - the two systems are essentially separate, connected by a fill valve that is normally closed. We decided to address the toilet issue first.

Five minutes later the toilet was fixed. Bernie ran to the basement to open up the main water valve - slowly, so that you do not blow the entire system apart. The toilet worked. No leaks.

(A side note: I mentioned the toilet situation to a friend of mine who recalled an episode of "This Old House" where condensation kept forming on the tank of a toilet, causing condensed water from the air to drip onto the floor, eventually rotting out the floor. This might have been exactly what had happened to me, and was actually on my short list of possibilities. The solution was to replace the toilet.)

Now, to the furnace.

Bernie went though a list of checks. Not the thermostat. The boiler had adequate water. The chimney -

Bernie was suddenly lost in a cloud of soot as he opened the chimney clean-out. The chimney was blocked. The furnace was off because its safety sensors had detected that exhaust gases were not being vented .

(Note: The Carbon Monoxide detector in my living room is still showing a peak reading of 0 ppm. So either the furnace shut off before there was any measurable backup elsewhere in the house, or my CO detector isn't working.)

A few minutes of banging and brushing cleared out the blockage. The house is old, the chimney is old. The chimney will eventually need to be replaced at considerable expense. In the medium term there are other solutions. In the short term I will need to check the chimney weekly and clean it out as necessary.

Bernie reset the furnace and showed me how to do it. He ran the boiler through its paces, draining it partly to clear out the rust and sediment, partly to test the low-water cutoff (it worked). We then went through the house and coaxed the steam through each radiator. In doing this, Bernie determined that all of the release valves on the radiators will need to be replaced - they're all the wrong size, and have probably always been the wrong size. So now I am shopping for Gorton's valves, size C and D, five of each.

After nearly two hours (five minutes of which had been dedicated to fixing the toilet) Bernie headed out. I sat with the house as the heat worked its way through the system and brought the temperature up to a balmy 70 degrees. After checking the toilet for fresh leaks (none) I headed down to the water heater and (as Bernie had recommended) turned it to "PILOT" - why keep heating and reheating the tap water while I'm not there? - and then went back to the thermostat and turned the setting down to 65 degrees before I left the house.

So now I have more things on my homeowner's weekly maintenance list. More bills looming on the horizon. And once again, I am thankful for Bernie.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've never made cookies myself... Unless you count those Pillsbury Slice and Bake ones...

I DO look forward to the TollHouse and the Oatmeal Raisin cookies that my father makes for the holidays!