Chronicling the cleanup and restoration of our house and property in northern Michigan

Chronicling the cleanup and restoration of our house and property in northern Michigan

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Blog of eternal stench Part II...Project Complete

I was able to finish up the Blog of eternal stench... project today, completing the plumbing to bypass the basement cistern.  I had to make a judgement call on one of the two floor drain lines.  One of the drains is perfectly placed in the laundry area.  The second drain is in the middle of the floor, sitting uselessly in our workout area under rubber jigsaw-type floor tiles.  I didn't have enough room in the cistern to plumb everything in 3" PVC with that drain line tied in, and I really wanted to keep everything at 3".  I figure the larger the diameter of the drain the fewer issues I'll have with clogs.  I despise clogs.  Decision made...the one floor drain in the laundry area is all we need.

Here is the finished product on the plumbing.

I went with a tee to give me an easily accessible cleanout, which will also double as a drainage point for the dehumidifier.  Here's the finished product.

I really couldn't be happier with how this project turned out.  No more standing more freezing cold air jetting out of the drain pipe...and NO MORE STENCH.

Until next time.  :)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The blog of eternal stench...

Have you ever smelled something so foul that it stays with you for long after, even when the smell is long gone?  A smell so bad that your face squinches up and your stomach churns just from the memory of it?  A smell so vile that it's all you can do to stay near it, let alone finish the project that will address it.  For me, unfortunately, that was today.

The aforementioned project is the correction of a bad decision by the previous owner.  One of the oddities of this house is that the sump pump is in the root cellar, and not in the basement.  That's not the project, though.  I don't actually mind that it's out there.  With the floor of the root cellar a good 2-3 feet below the floor of the basement, the water table is held that much lower.  With the basement in the process of being finished, having the water table held that far at bay gives me a nice warm and fuzzy feeling.

In addition to the sump pump and cistern in the root cellar, there is a sump pump cistern, with no sump pump, in the basement with three 3 1/2" runs of PVC that enter into it.   Two of the PVC runs are from floor drains, and one drains from the cistern in the basement and underground to empty into the sump pump cistern in the root cellar.  There is a sink in the basement that ties into one of the two floor drain lines, which means exactly what you probably think it means.  This sink drains into the basement cistern.  When the level of the water reaches the height of the drain to the root cellar...well, it drains into the cistern in the root cellar where it is pumped to an undisclosed location by the sump pump.

There are two big, glaring problems with this setup.  First, we have standing, and mostly stagnant water in a hole in our basement.  This adds both dampness and an unpleasant musty odor.  Second, the line running from the root cellar has no J bend to block air from coming into the house.  There is a pretty good draft coming through there at all times, and an absolute RUSH of air when the clothes dryer is running.  As we're pumping warm clothes dryer air out of the house we're sucking cold air right out of the root cellar.  Even when we're not running the dryer, the vent for the pilot on the LP boiler is sending warmed air up the vent and drawing cold air through the drain pipe.

By now you might be wondering about that stink I started out talking about.  Yeah...we're to that now.  The previous owner, for whatever reason filled half of the basement cistern with gravel.  In addition to the gravel, as I was cleaning the cistern out, I also found half of a cinder block, and under that an anti-freeze container.  No, I don't know why.  We're not supposed to ask why anymore...remember?  Just taking the cover off of the basement cistern released a stronger odor, but the "best" was yet to come.  When I used a shop vac to remove the water from the cistern and exposed the gravel to the air, it was then that...GREAT GOOGLY MOOGLY, DEAR GOD IN HEAVEN!!!!  There I was, with my face right there at the opening of the cistern, when the smell of THAT hit me full on.  THAT being the gravel mixed with a slime consisting of whatever was put down the sink drain over the past 30 years.  My eyes started watering, I gagged, and I nearly vomited.  The only thing that prevented the latter was the thought of the smell of vomit mixed with the stench of THAT, and the knowledge that I'd have to clean up vomit enhanced THAT.

I  knew immediately that there was no way I was going to be able to bring myself to dig through THAT to get THAT out of the cistern.  I immediately turned the sink on to drain fresh water into the cistern to cover THAT back up.  I then thought, why not leave the water running and stir THAT so that the worst of it will slowly drain out into the root cellar and the sump pump, leaving only some far less offensive gravel to empty.  This meant putting my hand into THAT to stir it, but I was betting that the texture would be less nasty than the smell.  Surprisingly, it was.  After doing this for a while, and making several trips up the stairs and outside to empty the shop vac, I was able to get the cistern completely cleaned out.  A good wipe down of the cistern with some bleach water, and stench begone!

This is after cleaning out THAT.  I didn't really think you'd all want to
see a picture of THAT.  The left PVC is the floor drain including the sink,
the right PVC is a floor drain, and the top PVC is the drain
to the root cellar cistern.
The next step in the project won't be even remotely as offensive.  I'll be tying the three lines in the basement cistern together, to remove the standing water issue, and include a J bend to put a stop to the air infiltration.  I was hoping to finish it up today, but I need to pick up a few more pieces to get it all to fit together.  I did add the J bend to the drain pipe and filled it with water to test my plan.  It immediately stopped the cold air from bleeding into the basement, and the temperature in the basement climbed a few degrees almost as quickly.

This far and away tops my list of disgusting home projects.  Until now hair clogs in sink and tub drains seemed bad, but on the Home Project Nastiness Scale this has drain Wookiees beat by a clear mile.

Until next time.  :)

Saturday, January 5, 2013

In a moment, past meets present...

Though I've not written about it here, some of you I've talked with about it know my history with the area around Shangri La.  My grandparents, who raised me and my two older brothers, owned a cottage just a short drive from Shangri La, on Black Lake.  Every summer until my senior year in high school was spent "up north".  I'd have to say that a good 90% of my best childhood memories are from that time.

If you're wondering why I'm writing about this now, it's because of something that happened today.  Shelly and I went into town, to Onaway.  After dropping Shelly off at her hair stylist's shop, and filling a few gas cans at the Marathon station, I stopped off at Glen's, the local grocery store, to pick up a few things.  When I walked out of Glen's and looked around something odd happened.  

I had a very jarring moment as I looked around that was kind of like deja vu, and yet it wasn't.  It was as if a bunch of my best memories from times spent "up north" came rushing back all at once.  It lasted just seconds, but it was so amazingly vivid.  My breath left me in a rush, and my legs nearly went out from under me.   All of the family trips to Dairy Queen.  All of the Fourth of July parades.  All of the bike rides to the 211 Outpost to buy candy, and rides to and through the trails in Onaway State Park.  All of the time at the lake spent swimming...water castle building...all of it.  It all came rushing back.  

I don't know for certain what brought it on, other than that I have to wonder about the timing.  Shelly and I just yesterday signed up to join our local Fraternal Order of Eagles, following through on our commitment to become more involved in our community.  Though we have done all kinds of clean up and renovation projects to make a home of our house and our property, this is the first step we've taken to make the community around us our home.  

We have now been up here just over a year.  I believe that what I felt today was an emotional realization that THIS is now our home.  In hindsight, and after some reflection, that moment today felt very much like all of my history colliding with and joining with my present.  That, my friends, is a very cool thing.  

Until next time!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New and Improved Shangri with back-up power!

First things first.  HAPPY NEW YEAR!

We've been thinking about buying a generator for back up power for some time.  As is typical with emergency preparedness, we fell into the trap of not thinking too much about it until needing it.  That, and there was always something else to spend the money on.  After the most recent storm took our power down we figured we had pushed our luck long enough.  It was only out for four hours, but as remote as we are we had to acknowledge the fact that it just as easily could have been four days.  An unexpected and eerily timed...and HUGELY appreciated bonus from work removed the money issue. 

After thinking about what we want to keep powered, the whole house or just the necessities, we decided on keeping it to just the basics.  
  • well pump
  • sump pump
  • boiler pumps (winter time)
  • freezer (summer time)
  • limited power outlets for light/weather radio/computer
To power the above, and to give us some cushion, we needed to go with a 5,000 watt unit as a minimum.  That took care of the size.  Now we needed to decide on the type...hard wired stationary, or portable.  We opted to go with a portable generator so that it can pull double duty for providing power around the property, in addition to back up power.  Power tools for building deer blinds?  Yep...we can do that.  :)

With size and type decided we needed only to decide on a manufacturer.  I was absolutely stunned at the volume of generator manufacturers out there.  In the end we decided to go with a proven brand name, and opted for Generac.  We found the unit we were looking for at the TSC in Alpena.  We bought a Generac GP5500.  At 5,500 watts it gives us more than our decided minimum.  The well pump, sump pump, and one of the boiler pumps are on-demand units, powering on and off as needed.  With a start up/surge rating of 6,875 watts it'll handle the various pumps' start up draw, even if they all fire up simultaneously.   

Generac GP5500
There are far fancier units out there...electric start, digital readouts, on board inverters, etc...  We need power...this unit provides power.  No frills power.  We still need to wire in a transfer switch for powering the household devices we need to power in an outage.  We're also going to buy a small UPS/inverter, to make sure we're providing clean power for electronics.  Even with that not done, though, we're feeling far more prepared for whatever mother nature might throw at us.

That's ours...fully assembled, oiled, fueled, and tested. :)

Until next time!