Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Hope Your Brass Monkeys Are Inside

I got home on a Friday night a couple of weeks ago and found The Wife in tears.    This is a pretty tough chick.  She was laid out on our bed but pretty immobile.  Some time before she had fallen going down the back steps.  They are on the North side of the house, under the drip edge of the eves so notoriously difficult to keep ice free.  She had always been fairly cavalier about cleaning them.  But likely she was particularly lulled this year, because it has been fairly trouble free.   She fell and hit hard.   Got hurt in four places, the arm, the ankle, the tailbone and the spirit.  It is a coming of age moment when you fall the first time.  Your mortality hits you just as hard as the concrete.  I felt pretty bad for her and tried to play my nurse part well.  She was semi-mobile by the third day.  Still a couple of weeks later she is getting up and moving around pretty slow.  Healing slows down when you step out from under the umbrella of youth.  I had a similar awakening three years ago.  It is rough.

It has been bitterly cold here this past week in particular.  Here is the honest truth, I like living in a van a lot more when it’s 73 with a lite breeze than I do when it is eighteen below zero.

I went to a going away party the other night and though near to last to arrive scored a lucky seat between a good friend and one of the funniest guys at the place I work.  Double respect because he can also do it while being a supervisor.   It has been a steady stream of retirement parties for the last couple of years after a management change.  But for this one, tucked in a spot of safety, it was an enjoyable night for an introvert.  I usually avoid these things like the plague but this was for a good guy, and one I had a bit of a connection with.   Years ago he was the only supervisor who understood Linux —albeit from a Unix 101 course in college many years before.  Immediately prior to a labor strike I was tasked by middle management to build an ultra secure server to block all agency internet services.  With no one to guard the chicken coop, my employer wanted to play it safe and lock it up tight.  That is exactly what I did.  Two days into the strike the retiring guy was told by upper and ultra upper management to break into my server to shut it down and restore services.  When asked for ultra secure, I deliver.  Agency services were down until the strike settled and I walked back in the door.  With a tie like that I figured I owed it to him to show up.

The area behind the water tank.  No wonder
the pipes back there froze!

A fun night but it was during the course of that night’s conversation that I was transferred a revelation.  My friend was talking and saying one of the reasons she was really looking forward to getting home was because she had purchased an infrared digital thermometer.  Yeah I know, geeks, right?  Here’s the deal though, she is an old house dweller as well.  She was looking forward to scanning areas in her house to find energy leaks by using the thermometer to read the surface temperature of various spots!  She was on a pretty good roll, talking about it, and didn’t even notice me sitting there with my mouth hanging open.   I thought that was fecking* brilliant and EXACTLY what I needed to do.

I am living in a cold van.  I can make it warmer but the propane usage is shocking.  Even keeping the van fifty degrees for twenty two or three hours a day I am going though a twenty pound propane tank in four days.  I wake up in the morning at 7:04 when the alarm goes off.  I turn on the heat and throw the covers back about ten minutes later.  I land myself in front of the furnace for another ten while I take inventory.  Then I throw on my coat, turn the heat down to fifty and do what I need to do to arrive at my cubical and life of servitude.   In the evening when it is cold like this I either stay late at the office, or like tonight I am forced, FORCED mind you, to be sitting here in this bar.   That way I can just land into the van for about an hour, pre-bedtime. I warm it up to unwind before I head to bed.  Once in bed I set it back to fifty.

The back window now that I have some
insulation on it.  Can't imagine how cold
it would have been had I not gotten that done.
This schedule isn’t a whole lot different when it is thirty, but when it is well below zero it was amazing to me how unbelievably cold some areas of the van could be.  The temperatures posted in these pictures are with the van air temperature about 74.   With just your hand, beyond a certain point of cold, one frigid area feels pretty much just like the next one.  In my van I already had a digital infrared thermometer!  The next morning I was all over pointing it at different spots and taking readings.  Prior to this I had only used it to confirm my pizza oven was up to eight hundred degrees.  This whole experience was great and totally laid out my priority list of van insulation projects.

What I was a little surprised by was how little cold transfer there was in the frame members.   I don’t have those areas insulated yet because I have to be sure I am done with wiring first.  I have been thinking that is where all my heat was being sucked.  As it turns out, not so much.  Other places though were surprisingly cold.  I have known I need to put some insulation in the spot where my floor vent is.  And, I knew just from sitting on the floor, that was a cold spot.  But had no idea really how cold it was.  I am going to have to add some insulation to that hole.  Maybe some weatherstripping at the same time.

The surface of my bed.
The back of the van behind the under floor storage boxes is also un-insulated at the back.  That should be an easy job to cut a hunk of the one inch poly-iso foam.  If it warms up I will be able to glue it in place.  The temperature there was 21 degrees as well and quite a large surface area.  Gotta get on this one before the next cold snap.

Also I am suffering from a design flaw. When I did all the plumbing I was thinking “pretty” just like you do in a house.  Hide the pipes at the back.  No, that was a total mistake.  The pipes need to be on the room side.  Water pipes at the back are shielded from the heat of the van.  Those pipes froze up completely.  Nothing broke, but no water could pass.  I am reliving the bad old days before I got the sink and all the plumbing hooked up.

What needs to happen is I need to thaw the van out.  Either park it inside, drive south or hope for a heatwave.  Then I will need to pull out the water tank.  Remove the plumbing from the backside and recreate it on the front.  I will put a sheet of thicker insulation at the back of the tank as well to protect it from the cold outside wall.

The surface of the insulation underneath the
bed.  This was maybe fifteen minutes after
I got out of bed.

But through the whole freeze-up I might have gotten lucky.  When the pipes froze, the kitchen facet popped off.  As in, I got in the van and noticed it was missing.  Gone.  For a second I thought “who would steal…” but I found it sitting in the sink itself.   Who knows, maybe this is a design feature?  I think it might have sprayed a little water around the van when that happened.  I thought a bottle of water had frozen and leaked.  There were several little solid ice puddles.   I haven’t tested this yet but I believe having this facet pop off saved my pump from damage.

Oh and by the way, though I might sound like a total lush, a heavy night of drinking for me is two beers.  I say that because I am sitting in a bar again tonight.  Had dinner with my friend The Professor earlier this evening. 

The one cool thing is sitting here listening to the out of town drinkers down the bar from me is they are telling cold weather tall tales.  They are all from the south and two of them from Florida have been here through the whole thing.  They are telling the other guys it was -32.  Total lie, but it makes my van stay seem almost heroic!

* The Wife had a word with me about my language in the blog.  ;-)

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