Also added, was the outcome of the “fix”.
All of the updates are in red color text.
It has been a long time since I did a Lessons Learned, although I am working on a series for the COVID experience. So, after dealing with an issue this morning I thought it a perfect time to do one…and I am doing it semi-real-time. Yeah, yeah…I know…original content time…sorry 😉
One note before I start, I usually keep the “issues/mitigation” grouped together as a pre-summary content item. This time however I am going to do the “issues/mitigation” inside of the background to let it make a little more sense since there is a convergence of several issues going on here. And I want to show how “convergence” can really do a number on you…but “prepping” can overcome it all.
This morning I woke up to an almost cold wood stove, 570 in the bedroom, 590 in the main part of the house…and to make it worse…fully expected. Normally it would be warmer in both areas by at least 4 – 10 degrees. But this morning I knew it wouldn’t be…and it was expected. But I better back up and explain some issues first.
Lessons Learned: Expect the unexpected.
Heat: When I build our house I planned for our primary heat source to be a wood burning stove. We have about 1,000 sq ft house and a wood stove heating is perfectly fine and popular in our area. Temps range from the lowest I’ve see -50 for a 20-year record low that occurred in 2018. Average this time of year about 90 – 300 at night, to about mid-30’s to mid-50’s during the daytime. But, the story goes deeper than that.
Our cabin/shop was to keep the small wood stove that I bought for that use. However, money got tight towards the completion of the house so we moved the small 1,200 sq ft rated stove to the house…thinking to replace it after the first winter when our budget could absorb the purchase. So we have a wood stove that is really barely capable of heating the house. But, it also means that I have to get up 1 – 3 times at night to feed it with wood. No, don’t worry about that…at 65 years of age I am answering the call of nature at least once anyways.
Lessons Learned: Sometimes cutting corners…or using an alternative option seems good at the time, but it will probably come back to bite you later.
What Happened –
So, the last 3 – 4 days it has been mild at night and in the mid to upper 50’s during the day. The daytime temps drove us to maintain smallish fires during the day just to take the edge off. But, small fires also mean cooler smoke…more likely to soot-up your chimney. But, we have top quality chimney components to offset that issue…so we thought. The problem was the wind; it’s been windy so the cool smoke was hitting the bird cage (smallish square vent holes) part of the chimney’s rain cap and cooling the smoke even further. That allowed soot to build up and block some venting holes completely and clogging up others, some stayed open. That reduces the amount of smoke venting out the chimney…and that ain’t good.
So why didn’t I notice the clogging vent holes when I was outside? Ah, good question…and I will get to that. For now, back to the heat issue.
So the primary heat was the wood stove, but I like to think I am not a dummy; I had a back-up…Mr. Heater Vent Free 30,000 btu propane heater. I had bought and used it to heat the house while I was finishing off the inside and before I moved the wood stove to the house from the cabin/shop. It worked fine…but would suck a 100# propane tank down in about a week. My intention was to use it in emergencies once the house was finished and we were living in it, should an emergency occur. Yes, that means I had a propane outlet close to the wood stove where I would place the heater if the need arose.
But, I am a redundant kind of guy. I also have a Mr. Heater “Buddy” (4,000 – 18,000 btu) model that I used in the cabin/shop before the wood burner. It also acts as a great single room portable heater. And it is intended to be used in the cabin/shop.
And lastly, I installed a 24” electric baseboard heater in the bathroom and a 36” electric baseboard heater in the bedroom.
So I have a Plan A (wood stove), Plan B (electric baseboard), Plan C (big propane heater), and Plan D (small propane heater). I got it covered!
Lessons Learned: Have really good plans…thought out in advance, and have multiple back-up plans.
So let’s move on to the next phase…the allergy shot. I have allergies and in this area they can be bad at times and really get me down…congestion, drainage, coughing, potential for bronchitis that potentially moves into pneumonia if left untreated. So about 7 months ago I got my first allergy shot here. It was an under-dose and so a month later I was back to the clinic for another shot…a full-sized shot this time. The doc said it would last 3 months and encouraged me to come back when it was time. Yeah, sure, ok, no problem.
A month ago, a full month past the 3-month allergy shot effective timeframe, I noticed the sniffles coming on, blowing my nose a little more than normal, and then came the watery eyes, some real congestion, and more coughing, lots of drainage, etc. But, I was busy with a couple high-profile projects…no clinic trip for me…work comes first!
Lessons Learned: Use a calendar for important events…and stick to it.
And our propane supply…ah, yes. We live way out in the sticks for a propane truck, so no 500# tank for us…no sir. But, the propane guy was cool he talked me through a system that would work just fine. Well, at least most of the time and if I did my part. We have two 100# tanks, each tank will last use 2 – 5 months depending on our usage and time of year. The two tanks are connected with a 2-way valve, both tanks hooked to it…one tank runs out, flip the switch and it goes to the other tank. Take the empty tank into town…$2.15 per gallon later (24 gallons), hook it back up at the house and we are good to go.
Ah, remember I was so busy with my project that I neglected all the signs that I needed another allergy shot? Yeah, that kicked into the propane issue as well. The empty tank sat there for the same month not getting refilled. Then I didn’t refill last week because I was helping my neighbor. This week I didn’t refill it because I didn’t want to have my lungs ripped out of my chest and see them lying on the ground while I gasped for air in intense pain. Yeah, a bit melodramatic…meaning it would really, really hurt to lift one or both tanks, into the pickup, and then put them back into place once they were filled.
So don’t think I am too dumb…I had purchased a used 100# tank for emergencies and it just sat there ready in case it was needed. And I have a long hose on one side of the “flip switch” to be able to hook it up to the 25# propane tanks (grill size) as wll. I have three 25# tanks for the grill and house back-up.
To recap my propane…Plan A (enough propane for 6 – 10 months), Plan B (back-up tank for another 3 – 5 months), Plan C (3 small tanks for 1 – 2 months), and lastly Plan D (usually 8 small 1# tanks for the Buddy).
Note: I also have the conversion hose and adapter for the Buddy to run off the 25# tanks, so I guess that is a Plan E.
Lessons Learned: Have really good plans…thought out in advance, and have multiple back-up plans.
Lessons Learned: Stick your plans…don’t ignore them.
So what is the issue?????? The allergy shot.
So my allergies kept getting worse and worse…I was hurting and knew I had to go get the shot…then my out-of-town neighbor called. He lives about 4 hours away in the big city and has a nice 10acre place next to mine. He is remodeling the old house and I am doing the majority of the work helping him out. He and his wife were coming up for a long weekend…the next day. He started outlining the work he hoped we could get done. I am all in when it comes to helping him…he is a good man, great friend, and so the help was a given. The allergy shot could wait till the next week. Ah, mistake!!
Shortly after he got here and we were working I noticed a shortness of breath, more congestion than normal, and really tired. The next day I noticed my chest was a little painful when I bent over, then went to stand up. The next day it was much worse. By the time they left Sunday night I was really hurting, it was painful to say the least. So I knew the allergy shot was a must! But, Monday’s are the worst day (busiest day) for the clinic…I would wait until Tuesday morning.
But, Tuesday morning came and went and I was busy neck deep in a project that just couldn’t wait…I could tough it out. NOT!!!
By late Tuesday afternoon I was in terrible, horrible pain…my chest hurt anytime I moved. If I coughed, sneezed, or sniffled hard I would almost cry the pain was so bad. Then I recognized what had happened…pleurisy! I had it one time before about 20 years or so ago. I remembered it developed after a severe allergy bout. It was back.
Pleurisy is an inflammation of the pleura — a membrane consisting of a layer of tissue that lines the inner side of the chest cavity and a layer of tissue that surrounds the lungs. It becomes inflamed when it becomes infected. It becomes infected from the results of advanced symptoms of allergies run amok in my case.
So how does that all fit in? I’m getting to that…be patient.
Lessons Learned: Health comes first whenever possible. Don’t ignore warning signs of health problems.
So I get to the clinic get the allergy shot, get the meds for the pleurisy (antibiotic and steroid), and head to the store for some hardware for my on-going project. Oh, FYI…the antibiotic kills the underlying infection causing the inflammation, the steroid basically reduces the inflammation until the infection is gone.
And, the project I was talking about now and earlier…my third solar array. Why a 3rd? Because I am getting a new inverter and charge controller. Why am I getting those? Because 1 of my 2 new lithium 24v batteries went bad and I was getting a single 48v lithium vs two replacement 24v batteries. Oh yeah…there is a story there as well. Another time maybe. For now just know we are running our solar system on limited power. No problem…I have two back-generators; 1) inverter style to run the whole house and/or charge the batteries through the inverter, 2) another in case the first one goes out and I need to charge the batteries through the inverter. I try and keep 10gals of gas on hand all the time, filling can #1 when it get empty but still having can #2 full for back-up. The two cans give me about 20 hours run time. I can run the generator for about 1 – 1.5 hours to fully charge the batteries.
So I get home from the clinic, take my meds, reluctantly put my feet up and stop working so I can heal. By then I was in intense pain whatever I did…even sitting on the couch watching TV hurt. Felt like getting hit in the chest with a hammer…and breaking a rib each time.
What does all of this have to do with the chimney having problems? Ah yes…lack of attention…more on that later.
Since I was working at the neighbor’s place I had done less than the minimum at our place. The weather was mild so we were doing cooler fires during the day, and not really hot fires at night. And due to my complacency I wasn’t looking at my chimney at all. I normally look it over a couple of times a day just as a precaution. But now I wasn’t doing that the week before while I was working at the neighbor’s. And when they left I wasn’t doing it because I had my feet up trying to get over the pleurisy.
So it’s Thursday and I noticed a little trouble with the woods stove draft. The smoke was lingering in the stove and an occasional “puffing” into the room. Yup, restricted airflow up the chimney! No problem though…build a hot fire and burn-off the buildup and you are good to go. Ah, mistake! Although it had worked in the past…not this time. The buildup wasn’t in the chimney proper, it was the birdcage vents in the rain cap…but I didn’t know that because I wasn’t looking at the rain cap. So the hot fire just created more of problem. No problem though…burn a creosote block and clear it that way…with a hot fire. Ah, mistake for the same reason as before…the buildup wasn’t in the chimney proper, it was the birdcage vents in the rain cap…but I didn’t know that because I wasn’t looking at the rain cap. So that step just created more of problem. But it is night then so I would just nurse a fire overnight and deal with it the next day…Friday. I unknowingly made the problem worse just nursing a cooler fire all night and creating more of a buildup on the rain cap vent.
Friday I finally went outside to assess the amount of smoke coming out of the chimney…and there it was, a clogged birdcage in the chimney rain cap. So I tried a couple of things to unclog the vents from the ground…none of which even remotely worked. But the intense pain ensured that I was in no way going to climb a ladder some 15’ and try to work on the chimney. So I tried the hot fire trick again.
Did you know the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome?
Lessons Learned: Pay attention to details…ALWAYS!
Lessons Learned: For the important stuff…have a back-up person trained to do the same job…paying attention to the important details.
Finally Friday night the wood stove is in bad shape…well, the chimney actually. No problem…I was feeling WAY better by Friday night…THANKS meds! So I figure nurse a fire overnight and fix it Saturday. And that brings me to this morning…
I wake up at 3:30am to 570 in the bedroom, 590 in the main part of the house…cold! But only 320 outside…not bad at all…nice little blessing. No time to waste…got to get to work. Steps taken:
- Reluctantly get out of nice, warm, very comfortable bed.
- Put on long-sleeve thermal, put on flannel shirt, pants, wool socks, shoes, etc.
- Cover wife with her heavy robe.
- Cover wife with additional blanket.
- Tell wife everything is OK when she mumbles something about, “Is everything ok?”
- Move dog and dog bed away from electric baseboard heater.
- Dog grumbles and gets on the bed…in my nice warm comfortable spot.
- I get the Mr. Heater Buddy fired up in the bedroom…gotta take care of my wife!
- I go outside and start stand-by generator to charge the batteries so I can run the baseboard heaters.
- Back inside and turn on the baseboard heaters.
- Move the Buddy to the main part of the house.
- By now it is 580 in the bedroom, 600 in the main part of the house, 310 outside.
- Drink a glass of Pepsi with ice…wake up!
- Get on warm coat, hat, headlamp, gloves, and head to the shop to get the BIG BOY heater…the 30,000 btu Mr Heater wonder!
- Back to the house, hook up the big heater, replace the battery in the igniter, turn on the heater to “pilot”…nothing. Several minutes later, and some serious worrying, it finally lights off…I am happy…wife will be warm when she gets up…peace has finally settled over the world.
- Sit down and eat 2 pieces of cold pizza left over from last night so I can take my anti-Pleurisy meds. Oh, and another glass of Pepsi. 2nd dog wakes up to share my pizza…she is sorely disappointed. Now both dogs have me on their short list.
- It is now approaching 5am, 590 in the bedroom, 640 in the main part of the house, 310 outside
- I sit down and watch some news, and realize that this could be a great “Lessons Learned” article I could write. A lot going on and a perfect convergence of events. I head to the computer.
- It is now 6:40, 640 in the bedroom, 690 in the main part of the house, 290 outside
- Wife is still asleep, both dogs are sharing my nice warm spot on the bed. I am almost done with rough draft of this article…and life will go on. Oh, just ate three chocolate chip cookies to quell the heartburn from eating last night’s pizza earlier this morning.
- After finishing this article and getting it posted, and after it is full light outside, I will get the ladder and clean the vents on the rain cap. Then I will disassemble the wood stove’s interior chimney pipe to make sure everything is nice and clear.
- Put it all back together and shut down the electric baseboard heaters, shut down the 30k propane heater, and drink another glass of Pepsi celebrate.
- Afterwards I will gloat all weekend to my wife at how tough I am, and how smart I am, that I got it all figured out, had multiple plans in-place to keep us safe and warm, and tough enough to fix the problem…even while sick on my deathbed.
- Pray she doesn’t realize it was multiple cases of negligence on my part that caused all of it to begin with. And really pray she doesn’t read this article!
- Next Monday, first thing, fill both propane tanks, and the gas can that I am sure will be empty by then.
- Make plans to buy the new wood stove.
Note: The next allergy shot date is already on the calendar.
Lessons Learned –
- Lesson Learned: Expect the unexpected.
I tried to think about the “what if’s” at every step of the planning phase of just not building our house, but our entire lifestyle here at the homestead. While You can’t think of everything, don’t let the unexpected surprise you, know that the unexpected will happen. Then bring all of your plans together to mitigate the problem.
- Lesson Learned: Sometimes cutting corners…or using an alternative option seems good at the time, it will probably come back to bite you later.
While I would like to say, “Never cut corners!” that is not always feasible/practical/realistic. Do the best you can with what you have. If you cut a corner, plan to mitigate any related failure until you can correct the cut corner. Correct the issue as the soonest realistic opportunity.
- Lesson Learned: Use a calendar for important events…and stick to it.
Sometimes life is hectic, sometimes memory isn’t good enough. Have a family calendar for important events and use it.
- Lesson Learned: Have really good plans…thought out in advance, and have multiple back-up plans.
This one should be a no-brainer. I hope what I already have written shows the necessity for having really good plans. Fortunately for me I had plans, back-up plans, and back-up plans for my back-up plans. That kept a bad situation, non-working heat source, from making us miserable or worse. When creating those plans make them as simple and as practical as possible. Plans that are too complicated stand a far higher chance of failure. Also, go deep on your plans…3 deep is good, more is better.
- Lesson Learned: Stick your plans…don’t ignore them.
Yes, you have to be flexible and adaptable in what you do. But plans are there for a reason, use them…stick to them. If they don’t work, then figure out an alternative course of action.
- Lesson Learned: Health comes first whenever possible. Don’t ignore warning signs of health problems.
What is my #2 item on the 7 Common Threats and Risks? Injury and sickness. You can’t perform at your best, maybe not at all, if you are injured or sick. Take care of yourself. I can’t imagine where I would be if I hadn’t gone to the clinic when I finally did. At the very least I would be in extreme pain, very cold, frustrated beyond belief, and a very unhappy wife. At worst…well, we won’t go there.
- Lesson Learned: Pay attention to details…ALWAYS!
Granted, I was sick, but that is no excuse. And yes, it was nice of me to be helping my neighbor. But, the bottom line in this situation is I still needed to pay attention to my life’s details. I didn’t have to have a mutually-exclusive situation. I could have easily take the time, and been more motivated, to pay attention to the important details such as ensuring our primary heat source remained fully operational.
- Lesson Learned: For the important stuff…have a back-up person trained to do the same job…paying attention to the important details.
And this is a tough one for me…not thinking I have to do everything all the time. I am not the only person that can do the important things. My wife is a smart lady (other than marrying me), I could have easily walked her through the wood stove heating principles and asked her to keep an eye on the chimney as well. That would have been two sets of eyes all the time keeping track of what was happening. And, when I lost it this last 10 days, she could have had good Situational Awareness of the chimney and warned me of the buildup.
- Lesson Learned: The existing baseboard heaters are not sufficient for my needs.
I will move the larger bedroom electric baseboard heater into the bathroom, replacing the smaller one there. I am buying a significantly larger electric baseboard heater for the bedroom that will be sufficient for that space. The smaller electrical baseboard heater from the bathroom will now get installed in our small spare/storage room.
10. Lesson Learned:I had optional medicine available and didn’t remember that.
I had plenty of OTC allergy meds, including those with “D” on the label, meaning decongestant. So I could have started treating the allergies as soon as the first symptoms showed up. But, for reasons unknown to me I completely spaced it and forgot about them. That is called “tunnel vision” and a killer of good Situational Awareness.
It all started with the neglected allergy shot. I didn’t keep track of the date, the ever-worsening symptoms, and the early onset of pleurisy. And while that was happening I neglected my health while placing work, ours and neighbors, above my health. And I considered myself too busy to refill the empty propane tank when it needed it. Now, I have one completely empty tank and the other tank is about 25% full. NOT a good situation to be in during the middle of winter.
The convergence were these major issues:
- Under-performing solar system.
- Low propane levels.
- Serious and worsening health situation.
- Primary heat source going out.
Fortunately, at every critical step I had a good plan in-place to handle the challenge. And I had multiple back-up plans to deal with any surprises. Planning works!!!
Now it is 7:30am…Heartburn is no better, time for a couple more chocolate chip cookies AND a tall glass of cold milk. I am sure that will cure the problem. It’s also 650 in the bedroom, 690 in the main part of the house, 290 outside. It is getting light outside. I will head out to work in another couple of hours or so. I hear my wife waking up, so it’s time for me to make her a nice warm mug of herbal tea…and start gloating about all I’ve done to make our family safe and warm…how entirely awesome I am. Oh, and start praying as I mentioned earlier…that she doesn’t figure out it was all my fault to begin with.
Please take the time to read this article, think through what happened, my mistakes, my planning, my actions this morning…then see if you can apply anything to your situation. The go eat a couple of chocolate chip cookies and drink a glass of cold milk…the combo cures far more than heartburn!
2:45pm update: Called a neighbor, good friend, told him I would have sausage gravy and biscuits ready in 30 minutes AND I needed help with a chimney issue. He was there in 25 minutes, ate at least his share. I was grateful.
We talked about the chimney issue. We decided a complete overhaul. Out came the drop cloths, tools, chimney brush, shop vac, etc. We completely cleaned every inch of the chimney pipe, the rain cap, the bird cage, AND the wood stove as well. We were filthy when we were done, but our test fire went perfectly, and all is good. Then we ate burgers that my wife fixed. And yes Linda, my wife helped all along the way.
My chest is now hurting again, I am really tired, the shower felt great, and nap time when this article is updated.
My thanks to Judith, Barry, and Linda for the wonderful feedback and suggestions. They got incoprated into this article as an added “Lesson Learned”…#10.
Note 1: I do have a primary stand-alone smoke detector/alarm and a primary carbon monoxide detector/alarm. Then I have a combination unit, smoke & carbon monoxide, that is hooked up to my SimpliSafe system. So not to worry about the wood stove and/or propane heaters. And yes, I have an outside air supply for both the wood stove and propane heater.
Note #2: It’s now 8:20 and I am about to post this article. It’s also 660 in the bedroom, 700 in the main part of the house, 300 outside. It is full light outside. Wife is awake and asking for her tea. Hot water is on for the tea. I will start the sausage gravy and biscuits for breakfast shortly. I will let you know how the “fix” works out.
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