When The Bough Breaks…

All of the weather forecasters were clear and unequivocal: We were getting an ice storm, and it wasn’t going to be pretty.

This was, in our view, moderately problematic. Dianne and I had arranged to have a potluck dinner with friends in Toronto. Dishes were being made, wines were being paired, and excitement was brewing. All we had to do was get to Toronto. And all our friends had to do was navigate the City to where we were all assembling. Really, how hard could that be?

The ice storm cometh...

The ice storm cometh…

Based upon the weather forecasts, it might be very hard indeed. We were already at the point where, if we went, we would be taking the train. My car was still downtown after finally getting winter tires installed, so there wouldn’t be a problem travelling home. We just had to get there from here. Of course, trains are relatively straightforward; it would also depend upon whether or not our friends could travel as well. That might be a different challenge.

We left it with an advisory that we were ‘monitoring the situation’ and would make a call in the morning. And so all at Boo Manor went to sleep as winter’s icy tendrils clenched much of Ontario in their frigid clutches.

Waking the next morning, I tried to figure out what was going on. You would think that would be easy in this day of universal internet connectivity, but not so much. For starters, our internet was down; not a good initial sign. And it was Sunday, and the media outlets weren’t jumping on the situation to let everyone know where things stood. It vacillated between ‘might be OK’ and ‘looking pretty tenuous out there’, with no really definitive suggestion of what to do. Finally, with reports coming in of streetcars in Toronto pulled off the roads and downed trees in the city, I figured that discretion was the better part of valour.

An ominous looking break. What damage would be revealed on closer inspection?

An ominous looking break. What damage would be revealed on closer inspection?

I had only just pressed [send] on an email, suggesting that we postpone our dinner, while delighting in how well Boo Manor had weathered the storm, when I heard an almighty ‘whumph’. My initial thought was that a load of snow had slid off the roof with all of the rain. Looking out the kitchen window, however, revealed a much more immediate cause of concern: our giant spruce had lost a massive limb. Apparently it had succumbed to the weight of the ice, and had simply snapped.

That is one massive tree branch. Thousands of pounds and close to 40 feet long.

That is one massive tree branch. Thousands of pounds and close to 40 feet long.

The ‘humph’ was loud enough to wake Dianne. We both were concerned about the house and the tree, so I quickly pulled on jacket and boots to head out and inspect the damage. My first look was not pretty; the limb that fell off was about two feet across at the base, and nearly forty feet long. It had basically fallen in the direction of the kitchen, home to a number of Boo Manor’s essential services.

Incredibly, for what it looks like, nothing was damaged. Falling by design.

Incredibly, for what it looks like, nothing was damaged. Falling by design.

Incredibly, though, the tree—in deciding where to drop its forlorn limb—managed to choose a location that, by mere inches, avoided any real damage. Thousands of pounds of wood plunged to earth, and yet left the kitchen, the dining room porch, the main porch, the driveway, the wellhead and a decorative polar bear surprisingly unscathed.

A bit of snow scraped off the roof, a bent eavestrough, and some inappropriately placed sprigs of spruce.

A bit of snow scraped off the roof, a bent eavestrough, and some inappropriately placed sprigs of spruce.

The branches had struck three roofs on the way down, but each appeared to have only experienced a glancing blow. The eavestrough on one roof was bent, and was twisted on another. Pine boughs stuck out at odd angles from the eaves, and snow was scraped off. But apart from a rebuild of one eavestrough, and the need to inspect the shakes on the roofs that were hit, the rest of the house was untouched. You couldn’t drop that branch any better if you had planned it.

Given that we were no longer going anywhere, there was nothing for it but to settle in for a cozy day in the country. I lit a fire in the hearth, made my second coffee, and settled in for a protracted read. Calls were out to contractors, I had already talked to our landscaper about getting an arborist in, and there was nothing else to be done but let Mother Nature take her course.

I didn't really want to do any washing today, anyway.

I didn’t really want to do any washing today, anyway.

And a fine thing that we did. One friend’s front door is frozen shut, and the chain has come off the garage door opener. Another friend has been without power since approximately 2am, their potluck contribution of fish now of questionable ingestability. More than 250,000 houses in Toronto are currently without power, and some may not be restored until Christmas day.

Boo Manor channelling 'The Shining' a little too closely... "You're not going anywhere."

Boo Manor channelling ‘The Shining’ a little too closely… “You’re not going anywhere.”

In this particular instance, Mother Nature’s hint is not overly subtle: stay home.

A Busy Boo Manor Summer

Updates have admittedly fallen off since we’ve taken possession of Boo Manor. Not that there aren’t any number of update-worthy topics to discuss. Maintaining a 140-year-old house takes work, and effort, and money. Not to mention patience, tolerance and persistence.

There have been any number of challenges that we’ve had to deal with since taking possession. I’ve already written about the rebuilding of the ducting in the basement of the old house to accommodate the ridiculously over-powered furnace. And replacing the air conditioner. While those were the first major undertakings, they certainly weren’t the last.

Since then, challenges have lurched outside. A significant and enduring issue has been the pool. By the time we opened it, it was a green, seething, algaeous mess. While we finally got the water to clear, we never—despite our best efforts—got rid of the scale on the bottom. Theoretically, this is easy; you just have to make the pool less alkaline (by adding acid) and the scale should just disappear over a few days of diligent brushing.

Of course, this would be far easier if there wasn’t a leak in the pool, losing water at the rate of something like 1/4″ per day. Which is, in case you were wondering, a lot. In fact, it’s an exceptional amount. Which requires replenishing on a regular basis. This, sadly, increases the alkalinity, thereby perpetuating the scale problem.

After a summer of one-step-forward-two-steps-back pool remediation, I finally found someone to actually work with me to solve the problems. This involved first repairing the pump (again) after the pool spectacularly lost three inches of water in two days (so a bit of a surge), resulting in the pump melting the feeder pipes and no longer behaving in a pump-like fashion. From there, we were able to locate the leaks (two great big gaping wounds in the liner; obvious once you knew where to look, but awfully difficult to find prior).

Of course, by the time all this occurred, we were well into September, and things were a little chilly. So when the pool guy looked at me and asked “who’s going swimming to fix this, you or me?” I was really hoping it would be him. For interests of expedience (he didn’t have his wetsuit with him) and cost, I went swimming. It was a wee bit frosty, and some shrinkage may have occurred. However, finally, we have a leak-free pool. A closed leak-free pool.

Next year we will tackle the scale once more, and hopefully move forward a little more constructively. At least as far as the pool goes. I’m sure there will be other maintenance challenges in the meantime.

My Mike Holmes Moment

Well, it finally happened. I had a ‘Mike Holmes moment’ of my very own here at Boo Manor.

You know the drill. Mike Holmes descends on a hapless couple in a helpless house that desperately needs fixing. The small problem that started it all soon leads to larger problems, and then the crowbars come out. Rip down a few walls, and the really big problems emerge. Then Mike Holmes manages a sincere look of sympathy for the camera, and says, “I’d better go talk to the homeowners.” That look is always very, very expensive.

Through much of the renovations, we have in fact been very fortunate. Sure there was the infestation of raccoons in the garage, and the rotted corpses they left behind. And there was the 10-foot wide room that managed to have a floor be three inches off level. And wallpaper was discovered under the paint in the dining room—as we started painting—meaning that the wallpaper needed to be removed, the walls needed to be skim coated and the room had to be repainted. But really, in the grand scheme of things, these are the problems you expect to encounter. Or at least, you should.

Finally, however, I found myself in the basement of the old house having a conversation that will sound very, very familiar to frequent viewers of Home & Garden TV. It started when Jason, the furnace guy (and he actually calls himself the furnace guy) was charging up the cooling system for the wine cellar. He had 15 minutes or so on his hands, and happened to hear our nearly-new furnace sounding a little unhappy, and decided to take a look. That’s when all the trouble started.

In the home inspection, this furnace was particularly singled out as being a fine example of the species. Brand new, two stage, with an awesome motor, it should give us years and years of happy service. Or so we were told. And this is not to fault the home inspection; everything that the inspector said was true, and they are generalists—they don’t specifically know everything there is to know about everything, and certainly aren’t experts in all things furnace.

Jason, however, is that guy. And what he saw concerned him. First, there was a cold-air-return grill directly installed on the ductwork leading to the furnace, which is usually an indication that the furnace is struggling to get enough air. A quick check of the ducting revealed that there were a lot of cold air return grills in the house, and many of them were no longer connected. At all. The intake in the furnace was much smaller than specified in the installation manual. Jumpers that should have been cut based upon our installation weren’t. And while the furnace might be appropriately sized if we were heating the entire house, it was entirely overkill in order to heat the half-side of the house it was responsible for. In fact, it was so overpowered that it was sucking the air filter into the motor.

I’ll stop there. It pains me to go on.

The question, then, was what to do about it. And the answer, apparently, was to keep the furnace but get rid of just about everything else. And so, on Monday of this week, Matt and Josh showed up as scheduled with their Tim Horton’s coffees, a boatload of sheet metal and looks of grim determination on their faces. So ensued two days of banging, crashing, hammering, sawing and more hammering, as our previous ductwork disappeared, and new ductwork took its place.

The furnace needed to be raised eight inches to put in an intake for a larger air filter. Two new cold air returns appeared in our floor. Useless cold air returns were covered up, rather than being gaping holes to the basement. Ducting to the outlets was upgraded to six inches. New outlets were created out of old and not-used cold air returns. And the result, two days later, was a magical transformation of the old basement from something scary and slightly hideous to a new, clean, relatively modern-looking heating system.

A few dip switch settings later, and Jason the furnace guy deemed us good to go. Our super-duty furnace had been dumbed down to a much more moderate heating unit, with appropriately sized ducting and sufficient return air for the furnace not to starve.

The moral of this story is that furnaces need to breathe, just like we do. Smother them, and they’re going to desperately try to suck air as well. If you have heating problems, that doesn’t mean that the problem is your furnace, it may be your ducting. A bigger furnace will not solve the problem, and it will likely fail faster because it has to work harder, ironically, to do the same job as a smaller furnace. You need an appropriately-sized appliance for the ducting that you have, and the ducting will tell you how big the appliance will be.

Which is really good to know, because now we’ve been told that the air conditioner in the old house has finally died as well.