"The Nation's Leading Bi-Regional Knitting Blog" --Ann's husband • "Kay sure is wasting a lot of time on this" --Kay's husband

November 28, 2011

Mrs. Shayne's Adventures in Geothermal, Part 5

Dear Kay,

We interrupt our ongoing coverage of Geotherm2011 to report that there were little girls in the house for the Thanksgiving weekend.

They built fairy houses.


They left their purple boots in the hall.


They left cryptic drawings all over the place.


They did things like eat dry Cheerios, dance spontaneously across the kitchen, and yell "Mom" so persuasively that every mom in the house would respond. They helped feed the birds and do the flowers for Thanksgiving, and they called all the chickadees who came to the feeder their "customers."


There is nothing more exotic in the world than little girls in a house accustomed to little boys.

Geothermal Blanket Update

I keep meaning to mention the knitting project that is my constant companion.


This patternless Geothermal Blanket is now more than 3' by 3' wide, gradually consuming my bin of oddballs and remnants, my Ghosts of Knitting Past.


There usually comes a point in a blanket like this, once you've set up a bunch of rules, when you totally ditch the rules. For this blanket, that moment came when I ran out of the green Berroco Ultra Alpaca one row before bindoff. I immediately reached for the red Berroco Ultra Alpaca and finished the square. No way was I going to rip out the square.


I won't stop until a) this geothermal project is finished, or b) there is world peace. Not exactly sure which is more likely.

Meanwhile, Out in the Yard

When last I wrote, there was a newly arrived backhoe in the Field of Dreams. This was the day before Thanksgiving, and the family contingent from Vermont had already arrived.

I'm watching all this with utter fascination, thinking about how long it would take for somebody to do this with a shovel, and how geothermal isn't really something that could have happened before the iron age or diesel engines or the loss of proportion that happened in 1952. Amid my reverie I see a white PVC pipe come out of the muck, 4" wide, and I think: hunh.

My backhoe friend likewise finds this interesting, enough so that he hops off his backhoe to investigate. I realize that he has hit a gutter downspout drainpipe, so I scamper out there to point this out. While I'm out there, he says something about how he's expecting to hit the water line pretty soon, and I say in my supercalm way "YOU'RE GOING TO FREAKIN' HIT THE WATER LINE? TWELVE PEOPLE IN THE HOUSE TONIGHT! MASHED POTATOES! FLUSHING! PILGRIMS DIDN'T HAVE IT THIS ROUGH!" and he says something along the lines of "Hakuna matata, lady. Chill the freak out."

Apparently it's easier to randomly hit a main water line then repair it, rather than root around in search of a main water line. At least, that was my gloss on things, because sure enough, in short order they hit it, a little pond soon formed out by the road, and the water in the house went out.

Now, in my imagination, a main water line should be an iron pipe about two feet in diameter, or maybe four feet, large enough for a man to stand in at least. It should be large enough that secret communities of people live down there.


It's actually one inch wide. It's nothing. It looks like a peashooter. I cannot believe a one-inch pipe is enough to provide this house with water.

The guys slogged around a while, went to the hardware store, and in about an hour had the water back on. Net inconvenience: sister-in-law Tiff had to go to Starbucks to use the bathroom, which I now realize was a total sham because I think she just wanted a latte.

Once I stopped shuddering from post-traumatic pipe disorder, things clicked along. They started whacking on the old HVAC unit--once finished, there won't be any outside components at all.


The pipes from the five 300' holes were all connected in an incomprehensible way, and the guys swore it was all jim dandy and tight as a tick.


By the end of the day, they scraped all the dirt back into the trenches they'd made, and it all vanished, just like that.

Today they're here connecting inside pipes and hoses and whatnot. We've been running on the natural gas backup heater all weekend, most cozy. The geothermal part should kick in today or tomorrow. I expect the heavens to open and fat cherubs to dangle banners outside my window: "Thy Geothermal Hath Arrived."

Today's conclusion: Shaken but also stirred. We've been on our new tankless hot water all weekend, and if you want an acid test shakedown cruise for a tankless water heater, put a dozen people in a house for four days during Thanksgiving. We boiled potatoes, ran at least 600 loads of laundry, 200 loads of dishes, fed dozens of people on two separate nights, and not once did I hear somebody caterwauling about no hot water.


PS Thank you all for your support of my new career as an artist. Here is my latest work, a series based on everybody's favorite Painter of Light, Thomas Kinkade.


"I'll Be Home for Christmas."

Posted by Ann at 11:52 AM | Comments (38)

November 23, 2011

Mrs. Shayne's Adventures in Geothermal, Part 4

Dear Kay,

As the sun set yesterday afternoon, and the yard was at low tide, I realized that I've had it all wrong. This geothermal project isn't about HVAC; it's art. It all becomes tolerable when you think of it as an expression of some primordial artistic impulse. I think Andy Goldsworthy got his start in HVAC.

In my attempt to capture the many maws of this experience--the holes, the vents, the ducts, my slack jaw as it is drops in dismay--I took some Ansel Adams-ish photos of the crap in our basement. I am calling this series "Hope/Despair: Same Thing."

"Divergence 3.4"

"Over the River and Through the Woods to Grandmother's House We Go"

"Geothermal Lost Glove"

"Ampersand with Tubes"

Lest Ye Despair

I'm starting to get pity emails from people, and I appreciate the concern, which is understandable. I want to assure you: this project is cranking along at the chipper pace that got us the Transcontinental Railroad. Why, just this morning I was down in the basement, where a massive effort is under way to reverse the direction of the ducts, now that the new geothermal furnace is located in Hickman County instead of Wilson County where the old unit resided. (Apparently ducts need to decrease in size as they get further away from the furnace. Who knew?)

During my photo safari, I had a stroke when a face appeared in a part of the house that I didn't think was navigable by humans:


"Hey! Is this Promontory Point?"

Proof of Progress

Now that the five holes have been drilled, stuffed with plastic tubes, and slurried all to heck, it's time to dig some trenches to connect the tubes into a beautiful continuous loop. Recent torrential rains led the Team to postpone the trenching out in the Field of Dreams until the muck has solidified back to its earlier polenta consistency. (Yes, Kay, I saw that movie trailer for War Horse and have a newfound terror of World War I trenches. Isn't it just the most heartbreaking trailer in filmdom? If that horse doesn't make it to the end of that movie, Steven Spielberg will be hearing from me.)

So the guys have been working inside, to excellent effect, namely:


1. New attic ducts. The energy evaluation inspector is going weep like a baby when he sees all those nonleaky seams. He's going to write an operetta about them.


2. A big box full of fresh, warranty-rich geothermality.


3. The first and only thing out of this entire experience that I actually recognize.

Wall Whacking as Varsity Sport

This is how you get 4" holes into a cement block wall.


You cannot fail to notice it when this drill is operating. It is the ultimate in cause and effect.

Ominous and/or Positive Developments

Along with the pity emails, several folks have joked about whether I'm expecting 30 or 40 people here for Thanksgiving. OH YOU JOKERS! It's actually 24 coming tomorrow, all family, with a dozen of us staying here at the house. Let's just say that every guest gets a free mini-seminar on geothermal loop theory.

Life is incredibly sweet when they are here, superior in every way to daily life. We just laid in a store of diapers for the youngest one. It is a group that really puts the thanks into Thanksgiving.

I'll leave you with a peek at what showed up in the Field of Dreams this morning.


Did it hit the main water line into the house? Will we be making mashed potatoes with Coca-Cola instead of water? Would beer work? V-8 Juice? WD-40? Will we be a clean and tidy group, or will we be reenacting the first Thanksgiving in terms of water-based personal grooming?

Stay tuned.

Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving, with enough gravy and a good nap.


Posted by Ann at 03:04 PM | Comments (30)

November 18, 2011

Mrs. Shayne's Adventures in Geothermal, Part 3


Dear Kay,

Yesterday it got so loud that I fell asleep. Between the (very nice) guy drilling holes in the foundation for the tankless water heater vents, to the final death throes of Hole Number Five, I was like one of those babies who falls asleep beside the vacuum cleaner.

New and fascinating equipment continues to show up. The guys operating it are uniformly cheerful and unconcerned about anything going wrong. Either they're heavily medicated or they've done this before. I don't actually care which reality they're operating under.

Machine Number 1.

A Bobcat sloshed around for a while, redistributing the limestone dust that during the previous day's soaking rains became what we're going to call limestone pudding. It's the consistency of a nice polenta and has the ability to coat surfaces with complete opacity. If it dried, I think we would have a new legislative plaza in our yard. I hope they keep moving it around until it's, like, no longer here. I'm told that my grass is going to be really green once this is all done, because lime is so good for grass. The hope contained in this guy's statement is sustaining me like a lone match on a cold night. Grass? There will be grass, ever?

Machine Number 2.


The Slurry Injector, we're going to call it. Slurrmaster 2000. The Grout King. I've never seen this apparatus before, but basically the goal is to fill in the gaps around the geothermal loop pipes so that the pipes can fully absorb the awesome and desirable 60-degree heat from the earth. The Goo Shooter runs 300 feet down, injecting a mix of confectioner's sugar, vanilla, and minced nuts down in there.


This is as close a photo as I've gotten of one of the holes that is at the heart of this project. I feel like I just saw a Pileated Woodpecker. See where that hose is going? THAT'S THE 300'-DEEP HOLE! I had hoped to get an awesome photo of my Holes to Doom (like this creepy Russian hole), but it's so incredibly slurried out there that you're just going to have to imagine one.

Holy crap, I wonder if they ever actually drilled the holes. Could this entire project be like the NASA Moon Landing Hoax? They're faking it?

Meanwhile, Upstairs


The duct wrap they're using on my beautiful new ducts is called (I am not making this up) Friendly Feel Duct Wrap. Sand, recycled bottle glass, and ECOSE technology, which I'll guess is a combination of email and glucose. It looks like cinnamon toast on the inside, not pink the way God meant insulation to be. And no formaldehyde? [Runs off to buy a spray bottle of formaldehyde to remedy that.]

In Memoriam

A moment of silence, please, for these two dwarf boxwoods who made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of geothermal home improvement:


The Ingersoll-Rand W4F drilling rig sent them to the great landscape in the sky. May their sacrifice not be in vain.

Today's Conclusion

Festive! It's Friday! Either the Slurrmaster 2000 will finish, and the holes will have the weekend to settle. Or it won't. I'm feeling optimistic, because the next step is one that the guys keep mentioning with great relish. "Yeah, the trenches are kind of incredible." "It's gonna get worse before it gets better."




Posted by Ann at 09:39 AM | Comments (32)

November 16, 2011






Meanwhile, Upstairs

If you have any curiosity about exactly how crappy your house is, call your electric company for one of those energy evaluations. A guy came out, took dozens of photos of all my egregious gaps, cracks, bad insulation, and open chimney flues. Can I help it that we have single-pane windows? Just so critical and naggy, crikey.

Actually, the guy could not have been any kinder. He's a songwriter (of course; this is Nashville) and writes poetry, dances. I felt terrible that my house was so subpar. But I was glad that it gave him a lot of material to work with.

The most humiliating part was the silent way my inspector took in the vista of my attic ducts. He was struck dumb. "Aluminum foil," he finally said, pointing to one area that looked like a Halloween spaceman costume. "That's actual aluminum foil. And this," he said, lifting the edge of another piece, "this is wool. Like from a sheep."


I'm not making this up. We knitters joke about insulating our house with yarn? MY HOUSE IS INSULATED WITH YARN.

He also pointed out that savvy HVACers scorn square ducts as deeply inefficient, that air likes a tube, that my ducts are so leaky and ill covered that it's a miracle we get our house above freezing, ever. I don't even know how we get through a damn day around this place.

Anyway. In for a nickel, in for a dime. I figured if we were going geothermal, it didn't make sense to send all that earthly air through bad ducts. The cost of patching up the leaky seams and adding more insulation wasn't exactly cheap, so guess what I'm getting for Christmas: new ducts.

Yesterday, the duct specialists came in and just beat the hell out of my ducts:


Which was great. I think the catharsis aspect of this project may be what is most satisfying. Just blow it up, everything. Drill down to magma; take the roof off. I don't care. Let's DO THIS THING.

Today's Conclusion

Day One went really well, in a man-there's-a-lot-of-stuff-going-on way. Not to jinx anything, but there was not a single 50-foot fireball from the drilling rig. We didn't "hit gas," as I feared. We didn't hit anything except limestone. I'm going to miss that Ingersoll Rand T4W when it finishes Hole Number Five. A rig like that costs at least $170K used. Yes, I looked into buying one.

What are these holes for, anyway? They're going to run pipes down into the holes, connect them into a closed loop filled with lemonade or Diet Slice or Oil of Olay, bury it all, then tie all that into a new heat pump. I can't really get into the details too much today, except to say that this is the part of the story where you say, "Got to make a mess to clean up a mess."


PS My geothermal blanket project continues. I love making this blanket. It's just a stashbuster, no pattern, just mitered squares and garter stitch squares. The stakes are so low that I can't really go wrong. I'm not sure I'm going to love this blanket when it's done, but I do love making it. You know?


Posted by Ann at 08:44 AM | Comments (44)

November 11, 2011

What What

Dear Ann,

It seems that I've taken an unscheduled holiday from our beloved blog. The truth is, Real Life has been hopping. Hopping I tell you!


The Dead Sea Highlighters have been excavated again, as somebody in our house will be called to the Torah as a bar mitzvah next month. The 6-8 weeks leading up to a bar mitzvah can really explode a person's schedule. In fairness, they should throw in ordination at the end of the process, and give these kids a congregation. It's deeply, strangely satisfying to see your child learn how to do something that you can't do yourself. Like magic, the reading of Hebrew, the chanting of ancient scraps of melody, the interpretation of what it could mean. The passage Joseph is learning is a story of betrayal, prostitution and redemption in an extended family, in the time of Jacob. Definitely PG-13, which I suppose is appropriate.


A non-knitting reader has written to inquire whether I am all right, because "you haven't even blogged about RHINEBECK!" Here's my blog about Rhinebeck: We had a fantastic time at Rhinebeck. I photo-tweeted the heck out of Rhinebeck. Here are some Instagram highlights.

First thing in the morning, on the bus to the fairgrounds, I realized a major ambition when we met my most crushed-on contemporary quilter, Cauchy a/k/a Chawne. She appeared like a vision, slightly blurry as you can see, and then we all got off the bus and didn't see each other again all day.

We hung out with Gale and our Fussy Cuts blanket in the book barn, and met some of the wonderful designers from Gale and Joan's new book, Craft Activism.

One of those smashing designers: Ann Weaver, shown here modeling my version of her Albers Shawl. (I will talk, someday, about what happened to that shawl after Rhinebeck, involving the washing machine. It's OK. It's really OK.) (It's not OK.)

Also yakking away in the book barn, with Jane and Amy, was the lovely Clara Parkes, who sold out of her own new book, The Knitter's Book of Socks. Which must have been frustrating, and also thrilling. But frustrating. It's a wonderful book even if you don't knit socks. If you do knit socks, prepare to plotz; this book's for you!

Naturally, what with life swirling around me and all, it's a good time to knit a dress. I saw this dress, Allegheny, on two people at Rhinebeck. Very different body types, and it looked abfab on both of them.

Here, on the designer, Thea Colman. Stinkin' cute, right?

As you know, Ann, I love a knitted dress. One of my signature 80s outfits was a Liz Claiborne (shut UP!) knitted dress with a Very Eighties Belt slung low on the hips, worn with 2-tone, kitten-heel slingbacks. The dress was fine-gauge, in a dove grey, with white and yellow dots the size of saucers. It enveloped me from collarbone to knee, but let's just say the menfolk admired this dress. Why oh why did I let it go? Ever since, I have been a defender of the much-maligned Knitted Dress.

Allegheny is my first Shelter project. Shelter may convert my cottony soul to the cult of the sheep. So crisp! Such color! Although I have only progressed to the set-up row for the body of the dress, I feel 100 percent confident that this project is going to fly off the needles, and that I will be wearing it in December, with motorcycle boots and my cherished Missoni for Target tights. (Hoo. Chee. Mama.) Stay tuned for flying needles.


Happy weekend all,


Posted by Kay at 09:42 AM | Comments (31)

November 09, 2011

Mrs. Shayne's Adventures in Geothermal, Part 1


Dear Kay,

Our upstairs heater went out a few weeks ago. I called the guy. He came, handed me a piece of paper with an estimate scrawled on it, and said, "We can do it on Thursday if you want us to."

Someday soon, I may look back on that day with regret and nostalgia, because at this point, we seem to have departed on a journey in HVAC that feels like Captain Cook heading off for the Hawaiian Islands.

We, and by "we" I mean me, with Hubbo chiming in occasionally with phrases like "maximum ultimate cost analysis" and "good luck with that," have decided to switch out all our natural gas/electric heating/AC systems for a geothermal system.

If you don't know what the hell I'm talking about, feel free to ditch out right now and go browse our archives for knitting stuff. (Here's some choice 2008 action for you.) But if you hear the word geothermal and think hmmm I semi-know what that is, sort of, then come sit here by me. You can be an armchair participant in our little adventure.

What Is Geothermal, Anyway?

The basic idea with geothermal is that you use the earth's steady temperature to help heat and cool your house more efficiently. Consumer Reports gives a pretty good summary here. Basically, if you start with air that is 60 degrees instead of 90 or 20 as you do with traditional systems that work with the air outside, it takes less energy to get it to the 70 degrees that you want it to be. The geothermal system uses a lot of fairies and leprechauns to make that 60-degree air show up from the underground, or as we like to call it, heaven.

The up-front costs are high, but the monthly energy bills are said to be lower, enough so that over the millennia, the system will pay for itself. When that break-even happens is probably the least knowable part of this. All I know is that this system will reduce our carbon emissions by some significant amount, we will save 798 trees in 20 years, and our yard is going to be a big damn mess next week.

At this point, I've spent weeks reading about geothermal, talking to people who've had it installed for a while, some who just had it installed, and some who tell me about the 50-foot fireball that came off the drilling rig when a hydraulic hose popped off. I've also heard about my geothermal guy's pet moray eel, a quarry fire, and a lot of other harrowing stuff. But I've concluded that it's worth giving it a go. We need to replace our systems anyway, and I do not have enough going on in my daily life, obviously.

The Math

Geothermal makes economic sense only if you're in need of new system, if you're planning to stay in your house a while, and if your house is configured well for a retrofit. The math does not work if you're just willynilly ripping out your old stuff because you like the idea of geothermal. We'll eventually break even on the geothermal part of our new system--7 to 10 years, we think, sooner if we're lucky--but not on the entire system. Which is OK, because as I say, we have to replace them anyway. Also: the federal tax credit of 30% is a huge factor in all this. We would not be doing this without that big incentive from the U.S. government. Our tax dollars at work! In our own home!

The Exciting Part Begins

So. Yesterday the drilling guy came out and spray painted five white circles on the ground right outside my office window. This is where they'll be drilling 150-foot-deep holes, into which they'll run pipes that will make a closed loop filled with Kool Aid or Gatorade or vodka that will carry Earth's temperate temperature into some gizmo heat pumps that will deliver beautiful heat and cooling to our house. That is the fantasy that I will cling to.

I'm told that this will all be done by Thanksgiving. If it's not, I'm totally going to tell you who we're working with and rag on them without pity until it's finished. If it goes well, we will rename the blog for this company, and I'll invite you all over to stand around one of my air vents and watch all that beautiful, efficient air spewing out all over the place.


So stay tuned. I have a blanket that I'm working on to cool my nerves. If this thing doesn't work, I'm going to need a lot of blankets.


PS All you geothermal veterans, please feel free to share your experiences. (Moth Heaven, I'm looking at you.)

Posted by Ann at 11:11 AM | Comments (62)

November 06, 2011

Sunday Morning Dance Party

Dear Kay,

Here's a song for everybody's extra hour today. If this doesn't get you moving, I just don't know what will--a new song from the Pride of Nashville, the incomparable Black Keys.



Posted by Ann at 08:34 AM | Comments (24)
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