Thursday, December 14, 2017

You Picked A Fine Time To Leave Me

The Wife has been trying to learn about football this past couple of months.  Number two son made it on the junior varsity team this year and she wants to be supportive. For my part I know just enough about football so as to not have to turn in my M card.  But I bluff well and don't get frustrated like he does when explaining the difference between a punt and a kickoff (again).  So I have become the favored information source.   The two of us were sitting in a bar last night in my big city, holding hands and talking about football.  But between plays I was multitasking and thinking about a van problem.

As usually seems to happen on this project, thinking about the problem is the first step.  Then, shortly thereafter comes the step “paying for making the problem go away.”   For the couple of months I have been hearing a noise from the front of the van.  I was pretty sure, even with my limited grease monkey expertise I had a front wheel bearing going out.  But over the past three weeks it seems like the volume had been increasing dramatically.  Then this past weekend I drove the van home, ninety miles away.  I didn’t notice it so much even getting home but when I pulled out of my driveway to drive back to the city it sounded like the van was dragging a rock.   I started getting worried.  

There is a little family history of letting things like this go.  My father mentioned some noise from the front of his two ton truck.  A few days latter, driving back home with a load of ground feed from the elevator, he stepped on the brake and one of his front tires kept going in front of him.   An understated man, he said the first thought that went through his mind was, “That can’t be good.”  Then he said he checked the review mirror next with the hope maybe there was someone behind him who had lost a tire.  But by that time the front of the truck had started to dip and he knew where the tire had come from.   

He was lucky.  Five thousand pounds of ground corn in the back of the truck assured those rear wheels were going to remain in firm contact with the ground.  In the front, where the wheel was missing, the truck only just barely scraped the gravel.  I might have grown up fatherless had he been empty.

I went ahead and drove my van to the city (don’t judge) but I knew with the noise level going up so quickly I had to take care of this pretty quick.  Checking on eBay the part was available from $35-$100 depending on how english-first-language the advertisement read.   I went on to watch a Youtube video on how to replace a front wheel bearing.  I knew at a minute forty-five into it there was no way I could do it myself.  When I was driving in I had been thinking about my options.  Obviously I was still thinking about them that night over football.   

I know I am going to be home for a long weekend in a couple of weeks.  I have to get a little mechanic work done myself the clinic.  My plan for the past couple of weeks was to get the van at a local shop at the same time.  —Gotta support the small town.  The van and I would both be ready for another hundred thousand.   Getting this job done in the city though, my transportation options are somewhat limited.  It had to be someplace close or someplace on the bus route.  I took to and found a shop about a mile from me at work.  I read some reviews on the place and it seemed like everyone who wasn’t complaining about ambiance was giving it high marks.  Since The Wife was still in town, we dropped off the van at a shop and went out to lunch close by.

The place wasn’t  marked very well.  Twice I drove by a corner junkyard before I realized the junkyard was an old gas station, now the shop.  Walking inside I understood the reviewer’s opinions.  The place had a single path.  Everywhere flat was piled four feet or more with parts and projects.  

It was a double lift shop.  Meaning at one time it had two bays for working on cars.  Each of the bays fitted with a hydraulic lifts to raise the car up.  The first lift seemed to be inoperable, or at  least was now.  It was in the up position, a very rusty pickup with a heapingly loaded truck bed at the top of it.  Well the underside of a pickup, naturally would have quite a few places to hang things from.  Let me just say things were hung.  It formed kind of a wall.  I couldn’t see over to the other bay where the guy was working.

I thought about the glowing reviews.  Hoped they weren’t all from the guy’s brother in law and left my van behind.   Herself left for home right after lunch, she had Scoutmastering to do that night.  I went back to work and waited for my phone to ring.  About five I hadn’t heard anything.  I was a little nervous because I figured I would have my bedroom back.  I hadn’t lined up a couch for the night.  I gave them a call and they assured me it would be done by 7pm.  I hung out in my office for a while and then made the walk.  The van was way quieter on the drive back.

Of course a lot of the fun of a vehicle like this is when you drop it off you can play it straight. Don’t say anything about its purpose.  It’s a cargo van, right?  Then, when you pick it up you try to tell from the person’s face whether they have had a look or not.   This guy’s eyebrows were way up, the expression on his face looking like he really *wanted* to say something but couldn’t.  He had totally had a peek.   But, he didn’t say a word about it.  

I had two jobs done.  Replace the front wheel bearing.  I also had the guy take a look into the heater fan.  During the summer, running the AC, the fan wouldn’t run until you got the van up to about 70.  Then it would start up and keep running regardless of van speed, as long as you didn’t shut it off.   Once the weather turned cold I suppose the lubricant thickened up in the fan bearings or something.  Anyway it ran never at  any speed.  The shop guy thought the fan was likely shot.  I concurred.  He said if that was the case he would just replace it.

Picking the van up the final damages were $413.  That broke down to $73 for the blower fan.  For the wheel bearing it was $129.  Labor for the fan was $50 and for the wheel bearing was $125.  Never a great time to have a four hundred plus expense, and of course right before Christmas particularly cruel, but my kids shouldn’t really be fatherless either.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

"A Plague on Both Your Houses!"

The stomach flu is moving through our house.   The guilty party obvious.  I was the first one sick, now the first one out the other side.  Or mostly out I should say.  I need to get to the point where I can look at food without getting queasy before I call myself fully recovered.  The Wife just had a rough night.  Everyone else has that haunted, wanted man, look in their eyes.  Wondering who is going do drop next.  Grandma has retreated upstairs to her room.  We will see her again once the all clear is signaled.  

The weather has turned cold again and now with this sickness I have been away from the van five days.  Am I nervous?  Uh, yes.  I know it was stocked up on propane and the days have had enough solar.  It should have plenty of heat and electricity.  So it really just comes down to “as long as nothing goes wrong”.  The van has been pretty stable though.  Everything seems to be working pretty good.

It is possible one of these flare fittings could be
leaking while over-pressured.

Right now I would really say I only have two problems in van functionality.  The first involves some type of propane leak on tank switch over.  If you are just joining us, I have two twenty pound propane tanks mounted in the back.  These are the standard tanks, just like you use on your backyard barbie.   The tanks are in a basket that drops through the floor.  I have an automatic switchover valve hooked to the tanks, so that when one tank goes empty, it flips over to the other one.  The indicator on the valve turns red telling me switch-over has happened.  Once I see red I know to swing by a station and do a propane tank exchange.

When this automatic switchover between tanks happens, there seems to be some leak from something, somewhere.  It has just been on the last couple of tank switches I finally tied the random propane smelling event to the switchover time.  I talked to a guy at the shop I am working in.  I proposed maybe there was some sort of over-pressure situation when both tanks were simultaneously  pressurizing the line.  He agreed that seemed plausible and suggested putting a regulator in the line after the switch-over.  That’s probably a good idea and I better get on that.

The thing is, I can’t really tell where the smell is originating from.  It could be the leak is part of some normal venting of the switch-over valve.  But then, rather than the gas going out through the bottom of my tank holder, is leaking into the cabin somewhere.  This seems doubtful, plus it really smells like it is coming from the front area.  Yet I can’t seem to detect any leaks there.  So a real mystery.  It has to be this over pressure thing.

The second functional problem I am having, I only *found* I was having, by luck.  One morning I was laying in bed and I started to wonder if a layer of reflective coating on the top of the bed frame cover would keep me warmer.  Then at the same time I started thinking maybe I was thinking about insulation wrong.  Back in the beginning my plan was to add insulation in, from the bottom where my propane tanks and batteries are.  How much insulation I put in depended on how much space I had once all my design was finalized.   I realized at the time this wasn’t a very good idea but I didn’t really have anything better.   

Laying in bed thinking about it I decided I was really going down the wrong path with that.   I should sacrifice an inch of ceiling height and stick a sheet of 1” poly-iso foam insulation between my mattress and my frame.  The poly-iso foam is foil lined on each side.  Like aluminum foil.  So that foil reflects your body heat back in.    Sure, putting that sheet in moves me closer to the ceiling but it would be one continuous sheet instead of piecemeal installation from underneath.  

Froli system plastic springs that support
your matress and leave plenty of space below.

I wasn’t actually that convinced I even needed it.   In my mind, the seven and a half inches of foam mattress I was sleeping on, should be providing all the insulation I need.  But why not give it a try.  I thought it might keep me a little warmer at night.  When I drove the van home for the thanksgiving weekend and mentioned this idea to The Wife, she was all over it.  She is always on top of any idea that features “warmer” as one of it’s selling points.

By Sunday afternoon I had the new insulation in place.  Got my mattress all re-installed.  I was actually checking the calendar to see when the next really cold day was going to be and looking forward to it!   Up to that point it had been uncharacteristically warm here in the frozen northland.    Herself had come in with and spent the night.  She rolled out at the crack of noon and joined me for lunch before heading home.  Of course I stayed plenty warm with another body there.  The second night I was back on my own plus it was cooler. Thirty degrees perhaps.  You know what, I did sleep warmer.  I think that extra inch of insulation and two layers of foil are making a difference.

When I got out of bed in the morning I thought the best test would be to lift the mattress up and feel the insulation.  If it was warm, that meant heat was transferring all the way through my foam mattress and into the base.  Prior to the insulation, it would have been going right out through the bottom of the van.  What I found though was surprising.

It was wet.  I was confused.  It didn’t take long with google to clear up my confusion.  Under mattress condensation is a thing in boats and campers.  Anywhere you have a cold surface underneath your bed which is in direct contact with the mattress you get condensation.  It doesn’t take long for the warm/wet cycle and you next have mold.  I did some checking around on the net and there are several options.

The dry deck tiles right in front of me.

Use Dry Deck Tiles.   These are one foot square interlocking plastic tiles.  They are used primarily on boat decks.  They are made so the water flows through them and you constantly have good traction, even if there is a lot of water coming onboard.   People in boats started using them next under their mattresses to end this condensation problem.  This material is 9/16” thick, so just over half an inch.  I would need a 25 pack of tiles and would use 24 of them.  I don’t actually have any of these tiles and yet I wanted a picture to illustrate what they are.  I was casting around the net trying to find a decent picture when I noticed on top of the cooler in the bar I am sitting in right now has them.  The cost would be $147 from Amazon.

Next is a product called Hypervent ( by one company.  It seems to also be available under different trade names at different price points. Hypervent is a spun polymer matting.  It has a very open cell pattern and the advertising lists it as uncrushable.  It has a light fabric bonded to one side.  I could see how this would have much better airflow than the Dry Deck Tiles.  But, I suspect on the non-fabric side of the mesh it could be quite scratchy.  I am concerned this scratchiness is going to erode the foil on my insulation.  Maybe I could spray-adhesive-down a layer of heavy duty aluminum foil on top of the existing foil?  I need to do a little more thinking about this.  Hypervent is thirty nine inches wide, 3/4” thick and costs $12/lin foot.  The same stuff under the name Aire-Flow is $10/lin ft. and these folks also offer free shipping.  I would need eight feet.

Sorry about the crappy photo.  It was the best
I could find.

Doing more research I discovered Hypervent and Aire-Flow are just marketing names for a product called Enkamat.  The intended use for the product is landscape drainage matting and might be able to be found through companies that sell these types of materials.  What you are looking for is product number 3611 or better yet, 3811 (which has fabric bonded to both sides)  You can buy it direct for $2/ft if you are willing to buy 1000ft.  Got friends?  Want to start a small business?

I am also thinking of solving it by homemade methods.   If I were to take a sheet of quarter inch plywood and drill a whole ton of one inch holes in it.  Then set that up on some glued on 3/4” strips my mattress would get some airflow under it.   I could also install a fan to force a little air into the space between.  If I had the fan on a timer so it would run for 30 minutes every morning after I got up, it would keep it dry.  Plywood would cost about $30.  

There is a product called capillary matting that people use in green houses and plant starting.  This product is suppose to draw the moisture away.  I don’t understand how this could work unless you have a bit of it exposed, hanging off the edge, like a wick.  It is supposed to evaporate moisture from under beds.  Uncertain of the price.

A toolbox, holding up my mattress to allow
airflow underneath it.  This is what I do
every morning.

Ikea sells mattress slats for a twin bed size.  Called “Luroy” on their web site they are available for $30-$50.  But for my bed these are too narrow.  I would have to add something to the sides to get them to work.  Plus I loose about an inch and a half, which is more than I really want to give up.   Also, they would punch holes in the foil of my insulation.  I would need to build something to protect it.

Another option is something called Froli system.  These are a series of spring pads made of plastic.  They give your basic mattress much more of a real spring-bed feel.  Supposed to be very comfortable and the people who buy them seem very happy.  But, 1-3/4” thick not counting I would have to add a layer of plywood to mount them too.  I don’t want to give up the space.  Plus $$$$  for my sized bed I would be looking at $241.

So I have some decisions to make.  In the meantime I have to block my mattress up every morning so air can get under there and dry it out.