Recreation for the dead of winter
Up at Five O’Clock Somewhere, the winters can get harsh. We’ve recently had about four feet of snow, as well as a couple of nights when the overnight temperature was in the minus-teens.
When we had the house built, we got the “Colorado Package” – super-heavy-duty insulation in the walls, floors, and ceilings, stronger roof joists to stand up to snow load, plus insulated windows two grades better than the standard. And of course, we got the energy-efficient fireplace, a must-have for any vacation cabin.
But there was one really stupid design flaw. Manufactured homes are, for the most part, designed and built in warm parts of the country – in this case, Fort Worth, Texas. Fort Worth gets the occasional ice storm, maybe once a year, or twice if it’s a really bad year. It doesn’t get the sort of seriously sub-zero temperatures we get at Five O’Clock Somewhere. So the designers of this house (and apparently of nearly all other manufactured homes) never thought of this particular problem.
The problem is that the water heater is located in a closet that is vented to the outside of the house, so the vent can draw in fresh air for the water heater to use for combustion. The problem is that the water pipe leading into the water heater is directly in the middle of the air flow from the vent. If the air coming through the vent is seriously below freezing, that pipe freezes up, and the house no longer has hot water.
We discovered that problem the first winter we had the house. One of the contractors who had helped us to prepare the lot and install the house showed us the flaw, and he assured us that we weren’t alone, that all of the manufactured houses he had helped to set up had that exact same design flaw.
The solution is to put heat tape and insulation on the pipe leading into the water heater and also to block off the air intake so sub-zero air isn’t drawn across that pipe. The owner’s manual for our house says we shouldn’t block off that vent. But the water-heater closet has several openings in the floor to the crawl space beneath the house, so it doesn’t seem that blocking the vent would strangle the water heater.
Two nights ago, the outside temperature was minus-nine when we arrived home, and we had no hot water. The next morning, Pat and Gerald checked things out, and they discovered that the insulation around the water-heater intake pipe had disintegrated, and the heat tape had fallen away, so the pipe had frozen up. The duct tape holding everything in place had gotten so cold that it had shattered like glass. They plugged in a new heat tape, wrapped it with new insulation, and lashed the insulation in place. A few hours later, we had hot water again.
The thing about the weather being so cold is that it isn’t exactly so pleasant for sailing. This is especially true when the lake freezes over. So we have other diversions to pursue when sailing isn’t an option.
We used to have television, but no more. Broadcast signals don’t reach Five O’Clock Somewhere, so we used to have satellite. It’s a fantastic bargain compared to what the saps in the city pay for cable, but we’ve fallen on financial hard times, and even satellite is a luxury we can’t afford right now. That means that we have no idea what’s going on in the world outside, but we do have a great home-theater system for watching DVD movies.
Other entertainment is decidedly low-tech. We have a lot of books. Pat even jokes that we had to get Five O’Clock Somewhere because our main house was getting so full of books that we were running out of room to live in. Of course, since we’ve built the place, we haven’t slowed down our acquisition rate of books, with the result that both places now have ample supplies of reading materials. There is not a single spot within the house that is more than ten feet from at least one bookshelf. And we have a huge variety of genres as well, so any visitor to Five O’Clock Somewhere will find something of interest. We have fiction: mainstream, literature, sci-fi, fantasy, mystery, thrillers, and even a bit of romance. We have non-fiction: travel, biography, cookbooks, self-help (ugh), satire, history, and some other stuff. We’re also introverted enough to recognize when our guests are introverted and just want to read something.
But when the need for more human interaction arises, we also have a closet full of games. Of course, we have the ultimate in basic game material, the standard deck of playing cards – we have several of those. We also have a lot of the traditional parlor games, such as Monopoly and Life. We have dominoes (a double-twelve set), chess, checkers, and backgammon. And we have some of the less well-known games, such as Illuminati and Kingmaker. We have the advantage of playing on a great table, my grandparents’ card table. The original imitation-snakeskin surface had decayed, and I reupholstered both the table and the chairs with indigo velvet (it was a two-yard remnant at the fabric store for $1 a yard). It’s not exactly a perfect upholstery job, but considering a professional would have charged a couple of hundred bucks, I’m not too disappointed, especially since I also put in some plywood to give structure to the chairs that were seriously sagging in the middle.
Anyhow, since Gerald has been home and it hasn’t been good weather to sail, we’ve been enjoying game nights on the game table. The first night, it was Clue. I won the first game; Gerald won the next three. Then another night it was Illuminati. He won that one as well, infiltrating the world’s political and economic systems. This evening, it was Risk. Gerald took over the world with surprising ease. If this is a prophecy of what’s to come, I hope he remembers his dear old mother when he reaches the heights of world domination.