Gutter related bullshit…

I’ve been fighting with the gutters on this house since more or less the first weekend I moved in. One of the very first things that needed doing was clearing out a 10- or 12-foot segment that wasn’t so much a tool for draining water as it was a prelude to a roof garden. Living in a house surrounded on three sides by 80-foot oaks, you learn to accept keeping gutters clean is a never-ending bit of work. For me it has meant twice a year professional cleanings and periodic unclogging as needed in between.

The place came pre-installed with basic plastic gutter guards. By the time I took up residence, some were broken or missing or warped out of shape and making nuisances of themselves. At best they were a 50% solution, but I limped along with them, replacing individual pieces as needed. This year, during various high wind and heavy rain events, it seems whole sections of the rainwater management system have just given up the ghost. This past Sunday I had water pouring over the top of the gutters in at least three spots. That’s not ideal.

Hiring someone to, at a minimum, install a new set of metal leaf guards was near the top of next year’s home improvement list. Given that the existing gutters were clogged Sunday evening about 36 hours after I had cleaned them out and verified that they were running properly, getting resolution on this is now formally a “this year” problem. Getting through what’s left of the fall and then a long, cold winter with the current set up feels untenable.

So, instead of schlepping up the ladder and replacing another series of broken or mutilated bits of plastic, I’ve done what I do best – I hired a professional to rip it all down, give me brand spanking new larger gutters and cap them with perforated metal covers. It wasn’t a planned expense for this year, but getting it done right instead of applying another patch to patched patches is probably the better use of time and money. Sure, it’ll still need some periodic maintenance, but I’m cautiously optimistic that this could be the beginning of the end of seven years of gutter related bullshit.

I should file this solidly under “the joy of home ownership.”

Finally filtered…

After weeks of screwing around with companies that apparently weren’t interested in doing business, the large regional plumbing operation I hired last week to put in the new well filter arrived as scheduled this afternoon and did, in fact, install the spin down filter I ordered. After testing, the consensus was that the only thing that needed taken out of the water here was the fine sand that’s endemic to wells in this area. Blame that on having built the homestead here high atop ancient sand and sediment washed down the primordial Susquehanna River when the last glaciers retreated and helped form the Eastern Shore and Chesapeake Bay.

Since they were here and had some time to kill, the two guys doing all the work also drained off the water heater, which has been a settling pond for sand laden water for the last two months. There was some add on fee for that, of course, but given how much sand has been caught in my poor simple Brita filter, getting most of that mess away from the heating element feels like money well spent. As they say, preventative maintenance is almost always more cost effective than emergency maintenance.

My new favorite plumbers weren’t the cheapest by a long shot. From start to finish they answered the phone when I called, arrived when they were scheduled, and did the work they said they were going to do. If that’s not service worth paying for, I guess I don’t know what is.

At the very least, it’s one more thing off my long and growing list of things that need doing around here. My fingers are firmly crossed in hopes this is the start of a trend.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Crypto. I hold a vanishingly small position in Bitcoin. Of course, that position has grown even smaller over the last week. The collapse of Bitcoin has been met with the expected gnashing of teeth. Crypto was billed as a lot of things – including the future of online transactions as well as a hedge against inflation and the vagaries of traditional stocks. It was going to be the New Gold. Its behavior in the current downturn hasn’t proven any of that out. I mostly bought in wanting to learn about this new technological wonder, rather than execting Bitcoin would pop to $1,000,000 and I’d make my fortune. Crypto, for all its hype, has an astonishingly unproven record of being useful in the broader economy outside of being an item of curiosity. At best, it’s felt like even more of a casino than your run of the mill investment opportunities, so as they say, “don’t gamble with funds you can’t afford to lose.”

2. People. After attempting to resolve my ants in the well issue last summer by working with well and water experts and meeting with only temporary success, I turned to a local exterminator this spring to get a second opinion. I’m not sure whether I should be insulted or not that the first thing he said to me was “Yeah, don’t dump any poison down the well.” I suppose just the fact that he said that so quickly implies that there’s a non-zero number of my fellow residents of Cecil County who do respond to similar issues by actually running out and poisoning their own water source. I assured him that I had no intention of emptying a bottle of Terro into my drinking water supply and that I was consulting him for alternative approaches that wouldn’t result in potentially killing myself. The more unsettling part of this whole conversation is that the people who do have to be cautioned against drinking poison are also the people we encounter on the roads each day. They’re the people we encounter while we’re getting groceries. They’re the ones who sit in judgment of us as jury members. They’re the people who go to the polls to elect our leaders. Honestly, the fact that such a warning needed to be said explains a lot about why things are the way they are.

3. An unnamed online brokerage. On a lark, I opened an online brokerage account years ago. I threw a few dollars in it and attempted to teach myself a bit about the exciting world of penny stocks. Believe me when I say that didn’t go anywhere beyond giving me a solid lesson that I have no business spending time being a stock picker. As the market began its fall back around the first of the year, I dug out my log in and set up a small weekly buy order for a broad index fund. It was a chance to use the falling knife to begin capturing some shares outside what’s locked up, sacrosanct and untouchable, in my retirement accounts. I try very hard to be a set-it-and-forget-it investor. In fact, going weeks or months between looking at things isn’t uncommon. The fact that this particular broker has somehow managed to bungle my last two automatic transactions, though, has me double checking all their work to this point. Add in the apparent impossibility of getting authoritative answers from customer service and I’m left to wonder if it’s not time to decamp for an alternative platform. That’s its own flavor of pain in the ass, so I’m begrudgingly staying the course for the time being. If the next transaction inexplicably goes wonky, I’ll have to try elsewhere for my own sanity.

Well, well, well…

The bullshit of homeownership continues at pace. I’ve often thought whoever coined the notion of finding joy in owning your own home probably never owned one himself. Or maybe he had staff and an unlimited sinking fund for doing maintenance and repairs. In any case, unbridled joy is rarely my first thought when I consider what goes into keeping the roof over my head.

Maybe that’s because every damn time I turn around something needs fixing or replacing. You regrade the back yard because the basement leaks, then replace a water heater, then a furnace, then get the gutters tinkered with every few months, then you’re due for a new clothes dryer before replacing the faucet on the kitchen sink. That’s all before you take on more basic general maintenance tasks that need done weekly, monthly, or quarterly. Don’t get me wrong, I like the place well enough, but it’s all a labor of necessity rather than one of love.

It’s possible that my view of the whole things is currently jaundiced because the ants that I thought we cast out last summer and now comfortably (for them) back in my well casing. I know this because teeny tiny ant parts are getting sucked into the well, passing through my fancy filter system, and showing up in the sink, the shower, and every other place water is piped through the house. It’s almost equal parts disgusting and infuriating.

Last year, I tried the advice of the well and pump experts. This year I’m starting off seeking a fix from a local exterminator. I think I was very clear with him on the phone that I was going to insist on a solution that didn’t involve pouring poison directly down my own well. I like to think that would go without saying, but life experience tells me sometimes you need to say that obvious out loud.

I have no idea what the next step is if there’s not an effective way to kill these little bastards without killing myself in the process. I wonder if I need to pull a county permit to dig up the front yard, bury a cistern, and have potable water trucked in once a month.

Downstream consequences…

I’m not a well driller, but I know just enough theory to realize that last week’s tinkering around inside the well casing was going to disturb the water column and kick up all manner of detritus. The professionals who raised the pump height and installed the new filter system warned me that it would take at least a day for that to clear up. Likewise, even after flushing the system, it would take a bit of time for any sediment (and ants) already in the system to work their way out. I tried not to dwell on some parts of that discussion too much.

For obvious reasons, I don’t use water like the “average” household, so I mentally allowed a few more days than their estimate. Sure enough, on the third day water from the tap was running crystal clear and free of bits and pieces.  it’s a huge step in the right direction.

Whatever’s left of the colony after my application of large amounts of boiling water still needs to be addressed. For now, though, the new and improved shields are holding and I’ve bought a bit of time to find the right solution versus the quick one. The well guy’s advice to “just soak the whole thing in ant killer” doesn’t necessarily feel like the right course of action here. I mean I’m sure it would kill the ants, but it feels like he may not have been giving enough thought to the downstream consequences.

Water stuff…

If you’ve been keeping up with the raft of home improvement and repair projects I seem to have running at the moment, today was all about water.

The well intake got raised up about five feet, which should, theoretically, mean that it will no longer periodically draw in silt. That will hopefully address the occasional experience of ending up with a sink full of beach sand. Given the other major maintenance projects that the old codger I bought the place from had deferred, I suppose needing to tinker with the well for likely the first time in its 21 years isn’t awful.

Next, the household water supply has gone from single stage spin down sediment filter to a two-stage system that should be more than a match for anything down to 5-microns. If that doesn’t get the job done, we’ve left room to add a 3rd stage at the single micron level or even a reverse osmosis filter if I get really tired of screwing around.

My water, aside from sediment, and more recently, ants and ant parts, tests mercifully clear from other contaminants… the really advanced options are something I’m really hoping to avoid. Given how many times this short post has words like “should” or “hopefully” appearing, though, I’m mentally preparing myself to take things all the way. After all the jiggering and jostling, I’m going to give the water column a few days to settle before making any further judgments. 

After this, it’s on to appliance delivery and driveway repair. As always, I suspect whoever coined the phrase “the joy of home ownership” never, in fact, owned a home. 

It’s a deep subject…

The saga of why my well has gone wonky and what’s to be done about it continues. 

I’ve learned a few new things over the last couple of days though. Or instance, the homestead sits on three distinct layers of sand/gravel, sand/clay, and sand. The well goes 195 feet down through them to the final sand layer. That’s not overly surprising. If I remember my long-ago undergraduate geography class, the whole of the Eastern Shore is a sand berm pushed up at the end of the last ice age by the proto-Susquehanna River as the ice melted.

Knowing that, having a bit of extra sediment coming through is fairly easily explained – by someone who knows more about hydraulics than I do. The most likely cause, according to the well company, is a slight shift in how water is flowing through the aquifer coupled with a 20-year buildup of sediment in the bottom of the well. The proposed solution: Raise the depth of the pump a bit. Sounds reasonable to me.

The bug and bug part intrusion, remains more of a mystery. They’re not exactly naturally occurring at depth in the water table. There’s no evidence of bugs making their way through the well cap, either. The tentative recommendation there is swapping out my current single-stage filter to a two- or three-stage set up that should capture everything down to the one-micron level. Not much should make it through that – certainly nothing large enough to identify definitively as a “bug part.”

The company I’m dealing with still wants to do a bit of homework and wait for the results of the water tests to come back, so we’re not at a point where we have a definitive plan of attack or a projected butcher’s bill for getting it done. Not that it matters all that much. It’s not like I’m going to opt to keep the bugs, regardless of the price put on making the fix.

The ghost of plumbers past…

The fact that there are now ants and ant pieces flowing through my home’s water system amps up the need to find someone qualified to service the system to a pretty high degree of urgency. I was willing to make due with a little fine sediment from time to time. Mostly that meant just clearing the filter more often than I had been previously. Now that fiddling with the filter and draining off the pressure tank a few times doesn’t seem to have satisfactorily resolved the issue, I’m just going to have to accept that the problem is now well beyond my level of competence.

So far, I’ve been wildly unimpressed with the various well drilling/service companies I’ve talked to. Most admitted they were weeks or months behind schedule and promised to call back when they were ready to come have a look with whatever tests, tools, and people they thought they’d need. Over the last quarter of a year, it’s resulted in a lot of phone calls, but no actual action.

While I was fiddling with the pressure tank last night, I stumbled on the original installer’s name and had a blinding flash of the obvious. Thanks to meticulous records from the pervious owner and the internet, I discovered his company is still in business. They’re not drillers, but starting out with someone to look over the pumps and tanks looks like a reasonable place to start. I left a voicemail for him this afternoon in hopes that the draw of revisiting old work might be enough to get more than just a call back. So far I like him better than the rest because thirty minutes later he gave me a firm date and time he’d be there to give the system a good going through.

According to his records, the last time they were on the property was in 2010, after installing the system originally in 2006. I eagerly await the arrival of the ghost of plumbers past with my fingers firmly crossed in hopes that the answer will be something other than, “Nope, drill another one.”

90 good minutes…

I had 90 good minutes yesterday. Between turning the light’s out on this year’s Big Event and getting home to find every faucet in my house was spewing sand-infused water.

Blowing out the filters and a bunch of pipes last night reduced maybe 95% of visible particulates, but there’s still a bit of grainy residue at the bottom of every glass of water, so I’m left to conclude that something is not quite right somewhere between the submersible pump and the filter.

Twenty-four hours later, I sit here with calls in to two local well drilling companies in hopes that one of them will call back and get someone over to give the system a look over from end to end. I’m going to take another run at the main filter tonight in hopes that I can get just a little more juice out of it until the professionals get around to taking my money.

I mean a little sand isn’t likely to kill me, but on general principle I don’t think the last swallow of water from any glass shouldn’t be crispy. I’m pretty sure that’s the situation that’s going to cast a pall over my weekend.

Of testing and cautious optimism…

I took the morning off today, to take the youngest pup in for another round of testing. The blood tests and urinalysis done over the weekend pointed steadily at major problems with his kidneys, perhaps even towards renal dysplasia – basically a developmental anomaly that would all but guarantee kidney failure in fairly short order after the initial onset of symptoms. That wasn’t what I was expecting to hear, but I spent most of the night last night reading every article and journal entry I could get my hands on without a subscription. If that was, indeed, the worst case scenario, I wanted to know what we were up against. Nothing I read gave me a warm fuzzy.

This morning’s round of testing has given cause for a bit of cautious optimism. Jorah’s urine was concentrated, had appropriate color and smell, and its specific gravity was low, but still in the target range for normal. Those things wouldn’t likely be in the case if his kidneys were in the process of failing. He’s schedule for a trip through south eastern Pennsylvania on Friday to see a specialist and get an abdominal ultrasound. Barring an invasive biopsy, it’s the surest way to verify that his kidneys are correct in size and shape. Cautious optimism.

Since the mass consumption of water is something Jorah’s done since the day I brought him home and we’ve established that his kidneys are concentrating fluid and his blood isn’t showing any of the other likely issues, one of the remaining outliers could be that he’s just obsessed with drinking. The fact that it’s possible I gravitated, in a building full of dogs, to one that could have a touch of good old fashioned OCD probably shouldn’t be in any way surprising.

We’re still a ways off from having a truly definitive answer, but moving the one that’s effectively a short term death sentence more towards the unlikely column feels like a pretty good day’s work.