The fishing rod holder

Living room sofa; clear, windy, 44.4 F 0537

Since springtime, when my son took his first fishing rod down to the pond and caught his first Large Mouth Bass, the fishing gear has been stored in the dining room. I don’t really mind, except when it all falls over behind the hutch. It also appears somewhat disorganized in a jumble.

Fishing poles leaning up against the wall

I was walking back to the barn yesterday, when I spotted this pallet. Several weeks ago, I had picked up several small pallets to ship a small TV transmitter to Texas. I used one and threw this one on the firewood pile to use as kindling. Then I remembered the fishing rods scraping down the wall and thought; I should make a fishing rod holder.

Pallet and scrap lumber

And so, I rounded up some other bits of materials laying about and spend a few minutes with the skill saw, hole saw, jig saw and sander. I would say, not so bad for a quick afternoon project.

Ready for glue and screw

I will let the wood dry out overnight before I glue and screw it together.

Fishing poles secure in holder

An improvement to be sure.

Past Project: Solar Hot Water System

On the living room sofa; cloudy, 53.1 F, 0526

Using electricity to heat water is fairly expensive, as I discovered when we received our first electric bill. Solar hot water systems harvest energy directly from the sun and are an efficient, inexpensive way to save money.

Bolting down solar collector to roof

My friend, Jay and I installed these solar hot water collectors in August 2007. They are Model AE-40 collectors made by Alternative Energy in Jacksonville, Florida. As the name implies, they have about 40 square feet of collector area.

Collectors installed, tilted 40 degrees for better efficiency

System Design

This is a drain back system that uses water as a heat transfer fluid. The differential controller monitors the temperature of the bottom of the storage tank and the top of the solar collector. When the differential temperature is greater than 15 degrees F, the pumps turn on. Pumps move the water through a heat exchanger thence up to the collector removing the heat back to the drain back tank. A second, smaller pump moves water from bottom of the storage tank through the heat exchanger thence back into the top of the storage tank. The drain back tank acts as a reservoir. When the large pump shuts off, the collectors empty out thus preventing freeze damage.

The system diagram:

System Diagram, drain back solar hot water system
System Diagram, Drain back solar hot water system

Cost and savings

The total cost of the system was right around $5,000.00. I received a Federal Income tax incentive of $1,500.00 and a New York State Income tax incentive of $1,250.00 making the net cost $2,250.00.

It reduced our electric use by approximately 3,500 KWh per year or 45.5 MWh over thirteen years. Electricity rates fluctuate over time however, the average rate over the last thirteen years is about 15.5 cents per KWh (includes delivery charge). That is a $7,050.00 reduction in my electricity bill and is a net savings of $4,800.00. Thus this solar thermal system has paid for itself thrice over.

The US Energy Information Agency notes that each KWh generated in the United States produces 0.99 pounds of CO2 emissions. A reduction of 45.5 MWh represents a 22.5 ton reduction of CO2 emissions.

Past Project: Back deck

Living room sofa; cloudy, 46.4 F 0617

With the new well installation completed, I built a small deck for the back door. This area was an eyesore since we moved into the house. It was the main entrance and there was a large step to get in. When my friend Jay took the deck off of the back of his house, he asked if I wanted to salvage any wood from it. That was all it took to get moving.

Back entry area

Jay’s old deck lumber was pressure treated and in good shape. I saved a fair amount of money by using it. I had to remove some deck screws and clean it up a little bit. The sonotubes, rebar, hangers, ready mix concrete and the decking from one of the big box hardware stores. Truth be told, Trex composite decking would have been a better choice. The pressure treated decking lasted 13 years before it started rotting out. This was even after applying Thompson’s Water seal, which was another mistake. Live and learn.

Doing this the correct way required a building permit. No problem.

Sonotube, rebar, J bolts, etc
Sakrete ready mix concrete

Sonotubes are six inches in diameter. Digging the footings was a bit arduous. I rented an earth auger, however, there are so many rocks that I ended up digging them mostly by hand. Footing depth is four feet to get below the frost line. I put some crushed stone in the bottom of each footing for better drainage.

Sonotube, ready to be inspected

When the footing forms were in place, I called the town code enforcement officer for a pre-pour inspection. Using the chart on the side of the Sakrete bag, I calculated two and one thirds bags per footing. I mixed that by hand in a wheel barrow then dumped the concrete into the form.

Leveling the sonotube footings
Deck footings poured

Twenty four hours later and we have deck footings!

I put several inches of crushed stone and a drain pipe under the deck. This is around the side of the house were water tends to collect during heavy rain.

Gravel and drain pipe

The framing went pretty fast. I bolted a 2 x 10 header to the house. It took a few evenings to complete the frame then put the decking down.

Header bolted to the house
Basic frame
The frame is supported by 6×6’s salvaged from Jay’s house
Installing the joists, salvaged 2 x 8 lumber from Jay’s house
Framing complete, ready for inspection
Decking installed

Overall the end result came out nice.


I installed the railing because I like the look. Building code does not require a railing unless the deck is more than 21 inches above ground level. I put chicken wire around the deck, buried to about 8 inches deep to keep critters from moving in under the deck. There are a lot of skunks around and it would be unpleasant to have one underfoot by the back door.

Past project: Installing a new well, well pump and pressure tank

Living room sofa; mostly clear, 26.0 F, 0633

After we had lived here for a year or so, we discovered that the well we were using was not on our property. It was on our neighbors property across the street. The well itself was a old, hand dug tile well, close to the road. None of that was good news, and it was something else that the “home inspector” failed to mention.

Thus informed, we drilled a new well on our property. She is a beauty; Two hundred and twenty three feet deep, producing one hundred gallons of cool clean water a minute.

New pressure tank and water filters

Next project was to install a pump and new pressure tank. I went with the new pressure tank because the old one did not have a bladder and it would lose its air pressure often. The bladder tank is nice; pressurize it once and it should be good forever. I used 1 inch PEX from the pump to the pressure tank, then 1 inch copper to the main distribution point above the water heater. That means you can take a shower and flush the toilet at the same time.

Making a mess in the yard; excavating a trench for the new well

I rented an excavator and dug a trench 4-6 feet deep to the house. The ground here is very rocky, therefore the PEX and electrical wiring was sleeved in 3 inch PVC DW pipe. This protects the PEX during back fill.

Pipe laid in trench, ready for back fill

I used a drill and a hole saw to make a hole in the well casing for the pitless adaptor. The static water level of the well is 60 feet below ground level.

PEX clamped to well pump
Completing electrical wiring to pump using pump splice kit
Pump ready to be lowed into the well

I installed a Goulds 10GS10422 1 HP submersible pump at a depth of 200 feet. This is a two wire pump, meaning the pump starter is on the pump motor, not next to the pressure tank in the house. I also installed a torque boot five feet above the pump to prevent repeated twisting of the PEX pipe during pump start. Twisting during start up will eventually break the PEX. The torque boot diameter was adjusted to the interior diameter of the well casing according to the instructions that came with the pump. Additionally, a 3/8 polypropylene safety rope was attached to the pump in case the worst does happen. That way the the pump does not end up in the bottom of the well.

Installing well pump

Lowering the pump into the well by hand wasn’t too bad. It actually took a bit of force to move the pump down into the well for the first 60 feet or so. The most challenging part was hooking the pump onto the pitless adaptor five feet or so into the well casing. Even that was not too hard.

Making the final plumbing connection
Trench back filled

Perhaps the least enjoyable part of any job like this is the cleanup. I waited for the rain to come so the soil would compact down to the right level. After that, It took a few weeks of rake work to level this out. I had to cart several loads of medium sized stones back to the stone wall in the woods. I seeded it with grass and now it looks like nothing ever happened.

Past Project: Patio and retaining wall

Living room sofa; clear, 25 F, 0558

This is the second project that I worked on after we moved in. Basically, it was a continuation of the yard drainage and basement flooding mitigation. The previous owners paved the area around the back of the house, creating a patio of sorts. Asphalt makes a good driveway, but not a very good patio. It was an unshaded area and got hot in the summer time.

Old patio, being removed

I started by digging out all of the asphalt and hauling it away to a recycling facility. This took many trips to accomplish, but it was good to get rid of the stuff.

Stone wall, built with stones picked from the woods

I built the stone wall with rocks from the woods. It took quite a bit of digging back into the slope. The retaining wall goes along the back part of the house, around the designated area for the patio. The rocks are dry fitted and 14 years later, they are still all in place.

Blue Stone patio

I ordered two large pallets of blue stone from the local hardware store. It was quarried locally and delivered by a small dump truck. I like the natural look of the stone patio.

Making a trellis with Black Locust timber

The trellis is made of black locust, cut locally. The great thing about this type of wood is its rot and bug resistance.

Completed project

On the trellis, there are two varieties of grapes; Concord and Himrod seedless. For many years, we were over producing grapes every year, but lately that seems to have dropped off. As I don’t eat or do anything with the concord grapes, I am good with that.

Past Project: Basement Drainage

Living room sofa; rain, 43 F, 0623

When we moved in, apparently, there was a drought on. That changed within a few months and soon, the basement began to flood regularly. Naturally, I installed a sump pump, that that only went so far. Depending on who I spoke with, the problem was with the surrounding water table being too high, or with the foundation of the house being too low.

I did extensive work on the drainage around the yard, which somewhat reduced the problem but did not eliminate it. Clearly, more was needed.

Footing drain, being installed

It took a few years, but we finally hired a company to come in and make a footing drain around the entire basement.

Dirty, wet work

This was a major undertaking, requiring jack hammering up the floor around the perimeter of the basement.

One of two sump pits

Digging down around the footing and placing crushed stone and drain pipe around the entire basement, draining into two sumps.

Back filled with crushed stone

The system uses two Zoeller M98 sump pumps. After more than 10 years of dealing with this system, those pumps are the weak point. Not the pumps themselves mind you, they are fine, however the automatic switch mechanism eventually will fail. Zoeller makes a replacement kit for the switch. I found the best thing to do is use a cable tie and tie the float arm in the up (or on) position and use a corded float switch (Zoellar 10-0034) to turn the pump on and off.

Concrete drying over new footing drain

Eventually, the pump on the north east side of the house wore out (it gets a lot of use) and I replaced it with an N98 pump.

I have installed a monitoring system in case of pump failure. It consists of a leak detector 8 inches below the top of each sump, which will alarm before the water starts flow out onto the floor. The pumps are wired to the generator sub panel. That will be the subject of a later post.

Past project: Yard drainage and roof runoff

Home office; cloudy, fog/drizzle, 48F 0643

Any area where water does not readily seep into the ground will have to deal with runoff. In urban areas, roads, parking lots, roof tops, generate a lot of run off that needs to be routed to a dispersal system. Otherwise large unsafe unsanitary ponds will develop.

Our soil is mostly clay. When it is dry, it will absorb a certain amount of water until it is wet. After that, everything just stays on the surface. As the house is built into the side of a slight slope, water running across the back yard tends to run into the foundation. Water from the roof on the back of the house also contributed to the foundation water. All of this contributed to the repeated basement flooding encountered the first few years we lived here.

The equivalent flat area of the roof on the house is 2,052 square feet. I like data, so to quantify the problem, I made the following chart to show how many gallons of water comes off of the roof for every 1/10 inch of rainfall:

Rainfall amount (inches)Cubic inchesGallonsLiters
0.5 – 1/2147,7406402,423
Gallons per 1/10 inch of rainfall

Some of the water in the first 1/10 inch of rain goes towards wetting a dry roof down. I estimate that to be 1/2 of the first 1/10 inch stays on the roof and eventually evaporates. Everything else runs into the gutters.

As you can see, an average storm of 1 inch of rain produces 1,219 gallons of runoff from the roof alone. When larger storms arrive and the ground becomes saturated, then real problems can happen. During Hurricane Irene in late August of 2011, we received approximately 10 inches of rain in 12 hours. The basement sump pumps could not keep up with the incoming water and at one point the basement was flooded with 18 inches of water. Fortunately, the power stayed on and eventually it stopped raining and the pumps did their work.

The first thing I did was install drain pipes to take the water gutter down spouts and conduct it away from the foundation to the downhill side of the yard. To do this, required a small excavator.

Digging trenches for drainage pipes, Cat 303 Excavator

From each corner of the house, I installed 3 inch DW PVC pipe, 18 inches in the ground. The pipe on the north side of the house also connects to the sump pumps, thus that drains into a small dry well in the front yard. Unfortunately, I cannot find any pictures of laying the pipe.

Dry well with water cleaning plants

When we bought the house, only the back had gutters. It seems the previous owner had made some attempts at routing the water away from the basement. I hired a company who came and installed Seamless Gutters on the entire house, which was well worth it.

I also dug up a good bit of asphalt around the back of the house which was a patio of sorts. That was hauled off to the recyclers.

Retaining wall and drainage swale to east of house

The run off from around the yard was directed away from the house by use of two swales; one to the south and another going from east to north. The east to north swale was completed as part of building the patio and retaining wall.

This made a difference in the amount of water getting in the basement, however, there was still water getting into the basement…