Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Going brown to go green...

Over the last month I’ve thought a lot about what to title this post and here are a few things that came to mind:
My nuclear nightmare…
Our nuclear neighborhood…
Trench warfare…
Go Big or Go Home…
This is even more stupid than my last big stupid project…

The list goes on.

I only had eight days off work in August and spent every minute of it working on our latest project of installing a ground source geothermal heat pump system that will heat our house and barn. Out of all the projects I’ve done, I worked harder on this one in such a short timeframe than on any other project that I have attempted. Ground source geothermal (geo-exchange) requires that the system flow water through a ground loop either through horizontal trenches or drilling vertical wells. Since the cost of drilling in Alaska this summer is $38 per foot we opted to use the trench method. I spent seven and a half days prepping and digging trenches and laying 1” plastic pipe into each trench. Based on the instructions I got from my system designer, I needed six trenches 375’ long each and I wanted to go 12’ deep just for a safety margin. In Colorado they dig 6’ and my friend in Washington went 10’ on his system so I figured 12’ was probably a safe depth for our soil conditions. The killer is that each trench has 1500’ of pipe in it and that adds up to 9000’ of 1” pipe that had to be unrolled (500’ rolls) and placed into each trench. I have never worked so hard for so many consecutive days in my life; not even when I used to commercial fish (I wasn’t on a crab boat though). I got home Wednesday evening and the rental company dropped off the excavator Thursday afternoon. I rented it for a week thinking I’d only need it for three days or so but actually ended up putting 78.5 hours on it in 7.5 days. It was the first time I had a week off of work that I didn’t get a single day to sleep in.
I spent all afternoon on Thursday clearing trees and getting used to operating the excavator. I selectively cleared the trees that I thought needed to be moved for the trenches and cleared all of the slash. My friend Gordy stopped by Thursday night to see what I had going. I had talked to him a few weeks back about the excavator because he operates one almost every day for a construction company and I always try to seek professional advice when I can (I am now in search of a good therapist).

A few things Gordy told me (that I didn’t want to believe) were that it would take me two days per trench, that for every foot in depth I needed to go about two feet wide, and I’d have to take down a lot more trees.
How could this be? First, I only have seven days to get this done and second I didn’t have to dig up that much material when I dug my water line across the yard at 10’ deep.

I hate it when Gordy’s right! After the first day I was only half done with the first trench and because I didn’t dig it wide enough it kept collapsing. Sandi had to work so I was on my own to dig and lay in the piping. The soil is mostly dry sand; I can’t seem to get away from sand lately. Digging in dry sand is like digging in flour, each scoop is only replaced by more sand. I worked on the first trench all day Friday and Saturday and Gordy came on Sunday to help me with the second trench and I realized that he could dig two to three times faster than I could! How did he make that excavator dig so fast? By 6pm he was done with the second trench. One thing that slowed things down when I was digging by myself was that I had to keep stopping to pull in the pipe before the trench collapsed ahead of it. When there is someone to do the ground work the time is significantly reduced. Sunday was the only day Gordy had off work but he did come up in the evenings after twelve hours at his regular job to dig for two to three hours for me. I had to do some bartering to make it worth his while but he made the difference between finishing and having to rent the excavator again three weeks later. At $750 just for round trip delivery of the excavator I was trying everything possible to get done before Friday night.
Monday I started trench three still wondering if I’d get done by Friday night and luckily Gordy showed up and finished trench three Monday evening. Trench four started first thing Tuesday morning at my normal start time of 7am which wasn’t too easy since I had been working until 10:30 or 11pm every night. I can work 18+ hour days at work but at home it is hard to drag myself out of bed so early. Gordy didn’t make it out Tuesday so I was on my own but I had gotten much better at digging and actually finished the trench in one day. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were all more of the same; dig all day and drag fifteen hundred feet of one inch plastic pipe into each trench. The last two trenches were by far the hardest to dig of all of them because I had to dig down into a sink hole and back up the other side due to the contour of our property. Gordy came out both Thursday and Friday and we finished the last trench at about 11:30pm Friday night. We finished our rough backfilling by midnight and I spent until 1:45am cleaning the excavator up for pick up. I finally made it to bed a little before 2:00 am to get up at 5:30 and head for the airport for two and a half weeks of work (actually a little relaxation after the last eight days). Unfortunately I overslept by about a half an hour, so I had to rush all the way until the last minute when I was the third from the last person to board the plane.

After eighteen days of rest and relaxation I headed back home for a little more work. We had a plant turnaround so I really didn’t do too much relaxing but there was much less personal stress.

My first week home from work included trying to get everything ready for setting up my Water Furnace geothermal unit and helping my friends Brian and Andrea cut timber frame porches for their new house.
When I raised my first timber frame, Brian showed up every day and was the only one who showed up the third day and helped me set rafters in the snow. He also helped me wire most of my house, so even though I was up to my ears in my own projects I felt that I had an obligation to help them on their new house. We worked on their back porch Thursday through Saturday and got everything cut and raised. They are going for a Craftsman style look so the posts are all tapered. We used 12x12 posts and tapered them down to 8x8’s to fit into the rest of the timbers. It was the first time I’ve ever cut tapered posts and they turned out really cool. Once Brian figured out what needed to be done he did ninety percent of the work on the front porch. I did the layout on the tapered posts and cut the tenons and all of the mortises and Brian did most of the rest.

Brian and two of the guys working for him had most of the front porch raised by the time I showed up on Wednesday. We spent most of the day working on the braces and layout for the rafters and by the end of Thursday Brian had all of the rafters cut and sitting on top of the frame. Luckily for me he did most of the work on the front so I could spend a little time getting ready for our geothermal installation. After I left Brian’s I had to go to Anchorage to pick up 110 gallons of Ethanol for freeze protecting our ground loop water and get a few more items for the installation.

On the way home from Anchorage I had an appointment to help my friends Brad and Kay Underwood with Milestone Concrete ( pour a huge concrete countertop for the front office of a new Veterinary Clinic in Eagle River. I felt a little obligated to help since I referred the job to them in the first place and they normally pour cast pieces and this was their first poured in place piece. These guys know their stuff when it comes to mixing concrete. They had a bunch of additives I had never heard of and some I would never think would be used in concrete. I am also quite envious of their 12 cubic foot electric cement mixer as it only took two batches to complete the counter and both batches were perfect. The whole pour went great and I can’t wait to see the finished counter. It is nice to know that when I finish my barn and start working concrete again that I’ll have these guys as a resource.

On Friday we went back to Anchorage to see Nancy Dobson's ( Art Display at the Snow City Cafe. We have emailed and commented on each others blog for a while but it was really great to finally meet her and see all of her AMAZING work. All of her works will be on display at Snow City Cafe until the end of September and I strongly recommend stopping by to see them. The food there is excellent so you can peruse the art while waiting for an order of the best eggs benedict in Alaska.

Saturday morning I finally got to take three hours to go kayaking with TJ. She has been begging me for the last two months to go but I haven't had the time. I think I need to reassess my priorities when I can't take three hours to go paddle and decompress. I forget what a stress reliver it is. I decided to finally run the little waterfall at the bottom of the canyon in my playboat. I ran it in July in a bigger boat but I hadn't mustered up the nerve to try it in my little boat. Since the creek was so low I figured why not. I have swam out of it enough in the past that if I screwed up I wasn't too concerned about drowning but if I did, I guess I'd get out of a ton of projects... I made it and we had a good time. Even with the creek really low it is just nice to get out and be on the water. Especially this time of the year.

Finally back to my geothermal…

We met Al Wallace at the Western Timber Framers Conference that we attended in April. Al has a company that designs whole systems that are energy efficient alternative type systems. I know a few people in Alaska that have installed geothermal and are using it successfully but there aren’t that many. Since Al had experience installing these systems in cold regions of Colorado we decided to have him design and install our system. Plus he gave us all of the materials at his cost as a discount for being a member of the Timber Framers Guild. http:/

Al and his daughter Kristen arrived on Saturday afternoon and we promptly started working on getting setup. Kristen is 13 and about to take her test for black belt in Karate so Thane thought she was awesome and hung out with her as much as he could.
All of the piping was in the trenches and I already had the Waterfurnace in the laundry room (thanks to Gordy) and ready to be connected. We added another hot water tank for an additional fifty gallons of hot water in the system and once we figured out how we were going to tie it all into the existing system we got started. Sunday we started connecting all the pipe ends that needed to be hooked up and making a flow header. Each trench has three pieces of 500’ pipe in them that needed to be connected to make one 1500’ pipe run in each trench. During the installation of the piping in August I had one roll that had been punctured in two places by a forklift and required being repaired. The connections are all made using couplings that are made of the same plastic as the pipe and are connected using a special hot iron to melt the plastic and then press the pipe into the fittings.

Unfortunately the distributer only sent us one bag of 1” couplings and two bags of 1 ¼” which we only needed one bag of fittings for. This meant that we needed to come up with four extra 1” couplings before we could fill the system with water. This all happened on Sunday so I had to try to come up with fittings first thing Monday morning. Al’s flight back to Denver was Tuesday evening at 11 pm and I left first thing Wednesday morning for work so we didn’t have a lot of time to get things connected. I headed to Anchorage (80 miles each way) first thing Monday morning hoping that the distributer that I picked the pipe up from would have the fittings that I needed. As things would have it he did not and he proceeded to tell me that the fittings I was describing did not exist. I explained to him that I had just used over twenty of them the day before and I was quite sure that they did in fact exist. I was able to find another supplier that said on the phone he had the fittings that I needed so I headed across town very excited that we might be able to finish our installation in time. After getting to the second distributer I found that the fittings that they stocked were not the same style and wouldn’t work for our application. We had to call the Colorado distributer and have him overnight six fittings from Kentucky hoping they would make it in time. UPS is NOT Fed EX; Fed Ex has a driver that shows up at my door with packages between six and eight in the morning where UPS contracts a courier service to deliver all of it’s packages that are considered rural. The courier doesn’t deliver to my door either; they drop all of my packages off at a gas station twelve miles from my house. Normally their drop off time is between 2:30 and 3:30 pm each day assuming that they have enough packages to warrant a trip. This happens even though I pay the full UPS overnight delivery fee. I also found out that the courier’s contract with UPS states that the courier has up to five days to deliver packages from the time that they get them. I called the 1-800 UPS number and tried to get the Anchorage UPS Hub phone number and was told that they couldn’t give that out so I explained to the UPS agent my situation and gave her my tracking number and asked if the package could be held at the terminal. I was told that UPS has to attempt delivery at least one time before you can pick the package up at the UPS Hub. Knowing that this could be a few days I explained my situation again and was told there was nothing that UPS could do. I told them that obviously the only thing I could do was make sure to use Fed Ex next time. I was able to find out the name and number of the courier (UPS will not give you this information) and talked to the courier and they were more than happy to let me meet them outside of Wasilla for a pickup.

Around 2:00 I met the courier and had the fittings in hand and headed for home. I got home at about 2:45 and started we finished hooking up our last four connections and pressure tested the loop. Once the loop pressure stabilized we bled off the pressure and connected the loop to the header. Our next step was to pressure test the whole ground loop and it takes a fair bit of time to pressure up 500 gallons worth of piping and the clock wasn’t slowing down any. After the system pressure stabilized and we were convinced that we didn’t have any holes in any of the pipes we were ready to fill the system. First we had to put 90 gallons of Ethanol in the system and then fill the rest with water and circulate the water into a trashcan to get all of the air out of the system and mix the water and Ethanol to get the right specific gravity. We started adding water to the system at 4:00 pm and finished getting the air out of the system at 6:45. With Al needing to leave at 7:00 to make it to the airport by 9:00 we were feeling the pressure finish up. Luckily we didn’t run into any other problems and were able to start the system. Al entered all of the parameters that were required but I didn’t get the first hand instruction on the controls I was hoping for. Since I am able to read a instruction manual (however not without trying unsuccessfully three times as described in the Men’s Code of Ethics) I did figure out what I needed to navigate through the controls. My next step after the water in the system came up to temperature was to turn up the thermostats in the house to the temperature that I want them to stay at. This has been a life long goal of mine so I was really happy to wake up to warm floors this morning.

Finally, Geothermal heat! Now let’s see how it works over the winter. The nice thing is since we won’t have the barn connected to the loop this winter so we will get a whole winter to see how the unit works with just the house on the loop. This will give me a good idea of how things will be after we add another 3400 square feet of barn space to keep warm.

After I was satisfied with the system I got my Dad’s loader and started the tedious job of covering the exposed piping. I didn’t get all of it but I did get the header covered and all of the easily accessible piping. This however is not to be confused with the monumental task of making our property look less like a war zone and more like a small farm. That is on my list for next time home, along with running water and power to the barn as well as putting all of the wall panels and cupola on the barn. All of this is an easy task after this geothermal installation.

After running the loader out of fuel at 11:30 I had had enough fun for one trip home and decided it was time to get ready for bed so I could come back to work and get some rest.


Anonymous said...

I'm exhausted just reading this. I promise to wrap you in duct tape if you get ideas for any more projects.

Nancy said...

Wow, Tyson.....I thought I worked hard this summer! Your project does not sound like fun at all, but I'm sure it will be great once it's finished! Thanks for coming to my opening! It was great to meet you and your family!

Anonymous said...

I second Teds response honey. But you DID do a fantastic job and Thane and I are WARM!
love, us

Anonymous said...

Holy cow! You just can't stop can you? It's great though. I wish I could use it, anything to make these concrete floors warmer. What a great story, I loved reading all of it. You rock!

Love, Gran

Cozimoto said...

Cozette heads to store to buy Ted duct tape ..... how many rolls??

I guess I better come inspect before it snows ...;-)