Thursday, March 31, 2011

Look in the sky - it's a bird! it's a plane! it's supercooled air!

On March 11th Landmark Facilities Group, “the guys” for environmental control systems (as described by the Director), came to poke around the museum. “The guys” have done work at Lyndhurst, Martin Van Buren National Historic Site, Darwin Martin House and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Whether they are “the guys” or not, one thing is clear – they sure do get around. I sat down in the Director’s office with a pen and a piece of paper (scrounged from the top of the Business Manager’s desk) to take notes about the March 11th visit. I noticed as I asked my first question that the Director was instantly absorbed by something on her computer screen. I snuck a quick glance over her shoulder and realized that the only thing she could possibly be looking at on her computer was her screen saver bouncing around the monitor. Surely that wasn’t such a compelling thing to watch. Then the thought occurred to me…she was avoiding me. Or more specifically, she was avoiding my request for a summary of “the guys” visit. When I pressed her again with my question, she looked away from her computer and stared blankly at me, as if she had not only forgotten my question but also who I was. But I wasn’t falling for that trick…again.

Squirming uncomfortably in her comfortable chair as I stared her down, she finally confessed the truth. She couldn’t really remember what “the guys” told her on the 11th. She stressed that their visit had almost entirely excluded her presence. They were looking around and taking notes. They recapped their findings to her at the end of the visit but it was “all a haze” for the Director. The bitter taste of disappointment filled my mouth. What was I going to write about this week? Hanging my head and slumping my shoulders, I started to leave the Director’s office in search of #3 wondering if there was anything more exciting I could get out of him regarding the window restoration. (FYI – #3 and his companion, #4, have almost all of the first floor restored windows reinstalled and were hoping to start on the second floor windows this week.) The Director (most reluctantly I might add) called out my name to stop me from exiting her office. Perhaps her pity for the Communications Coordinator whose blog posting plans she had so callously crushed under her heel moments before motivated the next sentence out of her mouth. More likely she knew she could not postpone the inevitable – that I would return to badger her for information at some unknown future date. Whatever her reasons (and honestly, who can understand the mind of a Buffalo Sabres fan?), she said, “There was a phone call.”

Like a Labrador puppy whose feet are too big for its body, I stumbled over myself in my eagerness and excitement to hear about the phone call. A call came in on March 18th from “the guys” during which they explained their drawings and recommendations for Historic Cherry Hill’s environmental control plans.

Hold on to your hat, this might get a little bumpy. First of all they proposed two zones within the house. The first would be the Collections Area Zone. The second would be the Human Comfort Zone. Two separate air handler units would be installed in separate locations in the house to maintain the appropriate environmental conditions for these two different zones. The air handler unit for the Collections Area zone would be installed in what is now our main furnace room. The main furnace room is tucked right next to the bottom of the basement steps. Opening the door one is immediately faced with an enormous furnace - really, it’s something I imagine the first computer to look like.
This enormous furnace takes up almost the entire space, except for a little nook around the corner from the door where some collection is being housed (much to the surprise of the Curator). The enormous furnace is probably collection. It may date back to the Rankin era. This enormous furnace/potential collection piece would ultimately be removed and (gulp) stored at the collections building. In its place a new heating unit would be installed. “The guys” believe that existing ducts and registers could be used to control the spaces on the 1st and 2nd floors for the Collections Area Zone.
The Furnace Room - Where Bad Communications Coordinators are sent never to be heard from again.  Around the corner to the right is the hidden surprise full of, among other things, collection pieces.
So what do these needy objects in the collection require in the way of temperature? With this proposed system, the temperature could potentially get as high as 80˚F in the summer. Apparently the warmer the temperature is, the less humidity in the air. It’s an inverse relationship thing– the hotter the air, the drier the air. In the winter time the temperature could go as low as possible. Wait. Stop. Stop trying to understand what you just read. I really wanted to explain this part in my own words but what I just wrote doesn’t make any sense. I will instead share with you the Curator’s superior knowledge and understanding of relative humidity and a delicious ice cold glass of Coca-Cola on a hot summer day:

Everyone will find this confusing bc everyone knows that in the summer, when it’s HOT, it’s also more humid. So, what’s with this inverse relationship???

Here’s the thing: RH refers to how much moisture is in the air compared to how much moisture that air can hold. (That’s why it’s “relative” humidity.) Warmer air can hold more moisture than cooler air. That’s why in the summer when moist air hits your glass of cold soda, the air drops its moisture as it suddenly cools—the air around your glass has cooled, so it just can’t hold as much moisture anymore—so you get condensation on your glass.

Now…in winter, let’s say that humidity outside is 50%. You bring that 50% humidity air inside, and you heat it up. You now have warmer air that could hold more moisture than before, but you haven’t added any moisture to the air. So your relative humidity has dropped. In a sense, the warmer air wants to hold more moisture, and the people and things in the room respond by giving up their own moisture. People get itchy skin and furniture shrinks and cracks. By letting the collections areas of the house go cold in the winter—by not heating up the air too much—we will keep the RH a bit higher. So instead of 15% RH, hopefully we can keep it in the 30s. And we will also save money.

Now doesn’t everyone feel better, and just a little bit smarter? (Honestly, I don’t feel smarter. I just feel thankful that the Curator exists.)

The Human Comfort Zone is a different matter entirely. This zone would encompass the Director’s Office and the bathroom on the first floor and the entire basement.

The Director's Office would be located in the "Human Zone" though it might not look like there is room for a human to sit behind that desk.
"The guys” propose placing an air handler unit for this zone (and a gas-fired boiler which will provide hot water to both zones of the house) in the ladder room which is a storage space built into the basement level of the house but only accessible from the outside. A circulating pump will distribute hot water (from the boiler) to heating coils in each air handler unit.

This the door to the ladder room.  I can't show you the inside of the ladder room because, well...apparently...I lost the keys to it. 

The use of this space for the heating equipment would have some minor impact on the appearance of the exterior. A small vent, (6” in diameter) would be placed on the ladder room walls which would be visible from the outside, especially when releasing steam. And while we are on the subject of exterior impact, “the guys” also proposed placing the three condensing units (which would be located outside) underneath the front porch of the house to minimize their visibility. These proposed external elements would have to be approved by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation as Historic Cherry Hill is on the National Register of Historic Places and we are receiving public funds for the project.

I needed further definition of human comfort (considering the subjective nature of the concept) and asked the Director to oblige me by explaining what it meant for our proposed HVAC system. “Nice & toasty,” she answered. Not as illuminating an answer as I had hoped. One person’s nice and toasty is another person’s ice box. “Between 68˚ and 72˚ F,” was the further clarification from the Director and the Curator. Hold the phone people! Between 68˚and 72˚? My first thought was ‘Will Child Protective Services take my children away?’ because at my house we keep the thermometer at the apparently subarctic temperature range of 63˚ to 65˚. 68˚ to 72˚? My next thought was ‘Would the Director and the rest of the staff notice if I moved my family into the museum during the winter months?’

The Bathroom - part of the "Human Zone."  I'm confident that I could fit at least three of my kids in that bathtub and there is probably enough room on the floor for the rest of us.

To create this Human Comfort Zone throughout the entire basement, HVAC people would have to cut a few holes in the walls to run ducts and put in registers. This is how the museum can allow the building to go cold in the winter…which is how we would keep relative humidity up in the winter without introducing humidification…which would be expensive and could also have a negative impact on the wood structure in the form of condensation on wooden members and possible rot.

This system proposed for the collection areas of the house-- A "split, direct expansion, air conditioner with a hot gas reheat coil" -- is more expensive than other options. ‘Oh, well that seems like a good idea,’ you might be saying sarcastically to yourself. (If you did say that sarcastically to yourself you might want to take a break from reading this blog. I don’t want to be responsible for turning my readers into cynics.) Although there is a bigger upfront investment with this option, in the long run the museum would save money on utility costs. This system would operate more efficiently. Most HVAC systems dehumidify by supercooling – they use a refrigeration process to make the air so cold that water literally falls out of it (because cold air can hold less moisture than hot air). Then they use more energy to reheat the air to a comfortable temperature. This process is inefficient. The HVAC system we are considering would be different in that it would use the waste heat generated during the cooling process to reheat the air. Just think of your air conditioner and the waste heat that you vent out the window—we’d be capturing that waste heat and using it to raise the temperature of the “supercooled” air. Bottom line, it is the more efficient, cheaper, and greener option. There – now I’ve properly confused you all. You are welcome.

One of the rooms in the Collections Area Zone

In addition the museum will also need to purchase some fans to circulate the air on the second floor (the Collections Area Zone) as some rooms on that floor, the Master Bedroom, for instance, have no registers. Because they are less invasive by nature, fans would be preferable to running new ducts and putting in a new register in any of the rooms. Why put holes in perfectly good walls when you could just buy a fan to do the work for you?

This is a room in the Collections Area Zone which does not have a register or ducts in place and would therefore benefit from the use of fans to circulate the air.

The most important point I took from my conversation with the Director is that the proposed environmental control system, once in place, would mean one thing – FAREWELL ELECTRIC HEATER.

So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, adieu!

Monday, March 21, 2011

An architect, an insulation guy and an insulation guy's cousin walk into a museum...

Somehow Daylights Savings Torture crept up on me again this year. The obvious thought here is that I should be able to keep track of a bi-annual event all by my big girl self. But I can’t...because I won’t. I prefer to live in denial, ruthlessly shutting down the rare occasion that reality seeks to intrude itself, like for example, the whole turning the clocks forward and back. Denial is such a powerful mindset for me that I will, for days afterwards, read the time as it used to be before daylight savings struck. It’s only being blessed with a short attention span and the passage of time, that I begin to accept the new reality of the clock’s time.

Denial is a really lovely place to live. I rarely venture outside of its borders.

Example: A grocery shopping trip with all four of my children.

Denial – I practically float on air as I push the cart around the store followed by my well-mannered, docile children who follow my every command without comment, and intuitively know the items I need from the shelves before I ask for them.

Reality – I shop with shoulders hunched, avoiding eye contact with fellow shoppers as I speed race my way through the grocery aisles, pausing periodically to locate my wandering 5 and 7-year olds, pick up my 2-year old’s shoes (which she has thrown into a display of crackers during a tantrum) and tell my 3-year old to stop gnawing on the corner of a cereal box.

I’m the President, Vice-President, Secretary and Treasurer of Denial and I welcome all within its comforting confines. And since I find denial so useful in my personal life, I’ve decided to include it in my work life. Take the Restoration project. No really, take it ‘cause I am sick of it. But since I already know that there are no takers anywhere for a project of this scope in this financial climate, I will instead retreat into denial.

About a week ago, the Director had some visitors to the museum: one of our architects, an insulation guy, and the insulation guy’s cousin. (I have no idea why the insulation guy’s cousin was there.  I also feel like that was a setup for a joke, you know - An architect, an insulation guy and an insulation guy's cousin walk into a museum.)

“Insulation did you say?” I said...when the Director sat down at the table in the Volunteer Room (aka my winter office) to give me the recap.

“Don’t get excited.” She warned.

Too late! I live in denial and by her mere utterance of the word “insulation”, my mind quickly became convinced that the restoration project is poised to begin the last part of phase 2. No matter if we’re still waiting for phase 1 to finish up and the first part of phase 2 (window restoration) to be completed. No matter that the Director tried to explain the reason for the visit was to get an estimate of how much the proposed insulation work will cost when it is time to put that phase of the work out to bid. No matter, no matter, no matter. I guess I just don’t have the appreciation for reality that so-called intellectuals have. Reality to me is the Debbie Downer of life. The only reality I am interested in is reality television thank you very much (MTV and Bravo). I don’t need any doses of it in my real life.

Despite the Director’s best efforts, it was a foregone conclusion that I was going to interpret everything she told me as an explanation of how the restoration project is moving right along and approaching the beginning of phase 3. So like any sensible Director, she drank two cups of coffee, sighed a lot and then proceeded to fill me in on the visit.

As I mentioned before, the Director claims that the visit was only to give the architects and the museum an idea of the cost of the insulation work ahead of us. That information will be useful during the bidding process for that phase. Whatever. I was much more interested to hear what the architect and the insulation guy had to say. (Not so much with the insulation guy’s cousin.) They went all through the house, checking it out and giving their opinion. Starting in the attic or garret as we call it, the insulation guy debated over the options for where the thermal barrier (insulation) could be placed. He initially suggested that the museum could get by with insulating the floor of the garret and not the ceiling. I was confused because in my mind I was envisioning rolls of that pink cotton-candy looking insulation lining the floor of the attic. That would make the space unusable I thought. The next words out of the Director’s mouth were to that effect. Insulating the floor of the garret would make the space unusable and also very cold. But it would save the museum money because insulating the floor of the garret would require less square footage of insulation than insulating the ceiling would. That made sense for about a moment until I began to factor in the other rooms of the attic.

[Quick explanation here of the museum’s attic. It isn’t one big open loft. It has been divided into about three main rooms with two smaller side rooms off one of the main rooms. The biggest room is the main garret room. It is the greatest in height of all the attic spaces and it is unfinished. You can still see the roman numerals the builders marked the timber with 224 years ago. The two other main rooms are much smaller in size and height and they were finished to function as bedrooms for family members.]
As soon as the insulation guy went into these other rooms and saw the plaster and wallpaper on the walls he realized that the plan for insulating the floor would become complicated.

A view of one of the three main rooms.

A view of another one of the main rooms.

One of the two smaller side rooms.
Therefore he went back to the idea of insulating the roof. The museum is no stranger to this as at least the main garret currently has fiber glass insulation installed at the roof line. A visitor to this room today can see the big pink cotton-candy insulation hanging down from the ceiling. The bummer is that if the new insulation is installed at the roof line, most of the cool architectural details of the roof would be obscured. The insulation guy did suggest that a section of the roof line could be boxed out to keep an example of the architectural details exposed. Insulating at the roof line would be less complicated and allow for a more flexible use of the attic space in the future.

It's every cotton candy lovers dream! 

This picture was taken up at the roofline of the main garret room.  It's a little crawl space that you reach by a ladder staircase.  This is where the insulation guy found roman numerals written on the wood.  I tried to locate an example to show you all however a combination of a mild fear of heights and bad lighting made it hard to locate any roman numerals.  Trust me - the space only appears well-lit because of the camera's flash. 
Oh, and whether we were to insulate the roof or the floor – everything in the attic must be removed before work can be carried out. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. And that’s a whole lot of things. Lots and lots of objects still remain in the attic despite the prodigious efforts of the past and present curators. (Hey Curator, you should definitely move in to denial with me. I guarantee you’ll enjoy life a lot more in here than out there.)

and oodles of objects to be removed.

As for the first and second floors of the house, the insulation guy felt that blowing dense pack cellulose insulation up and down in the walls by room and floor would work. He originally was concerned that the brick nogging in the walls would take in a lot of moisture which would have a negative impact on the insulation. However his concerns were alleviated when he noted that the house has wood siding. The wood siding will serve as a barrier between the elements (like wind driven rain) and the brick. Some of the walls on the first and second floors (for example, the north wall in the north parlor) have double layers of brick in the walls – which would make it impossible to blow in insulation. In cases where the double layers of brick exist, areas of air flow would be identified and insulation applied to obstruct the air flow.

The north wall of North Parlor. 

As for the basement – they didn’t need too long to look around before delivering the verdict that it would not be worthwhile to try and insulate the basement. Why? I’m not sure, but maybe the fact that it would be impossible to access the walls in many locations is the reason. The Orientation Room’s wall mounted exhibit would be damaged if it had to be removed to provide access to the wall behind it. The south kitchen has bead board walls and ceiling which, again, would be damaged by any attempts to get to the walls behind. As for the Furnace Room, Volunteer Room and Paper Storage Room (in which no paper is stored) – maybe they’re just too cramped and creepy to bother trying to insulate.

Paper Storage Room
(Shout out to the Program Assistant/Facilities Support Assistant who has worked tirelessly on cleaning and organizing this space and who also said that since the space does not actually hold paper, perhaps it would be a good idea to think of a different name for it.  Good luck with that catching on with the rest of the staff!) 
Volunteer Room (/my winter office/staff library/coffee time location/kitchen/etc.)

Many would laud the Director for her foresight and commitment to careful, thorough planning by having this pre-meeting to get an idea of what the costs will be for the work to be done. I prefer to interpret the results of her meeting as an official announcement that insulation work will begin in the next week or so and everyone in the house will once again be able to feel the tips of their fingers and toes.

It’s a beautiful day in de-ni-a-al, a beautiful day in de-ni-a-al…won’t you be my neighbor? (I’m talking to you Curator.)

Monday, March 7, 2011

I'll have an epoxy sandwich, with a little 18th century sill on the side...

First of all let me apologize for the spotty nature of my blog posts over the past couple of months. And being the mature adult that I am, I am going to shift the blame to someone else. Actually, something else. The Restoration Project itself. (Did I just blow your mind? I’m blaming the Restoration Project for the fact that I am not posting weekly on the Restoration Project. Trippy!) Allow me to elaborate. I’ve learned that as time has gone on in this restoration project, the restoration project and I are becoming one entity. The following examples illustrate my point – the project is behind deadline, I myself am consistently missing all of my deadlines. The project has been hampered by the weather, my work has been hampered by weather that has forced me to vacate my office. The restoration has lost Big D, and Joe the Hammer from the project, I’m pretty sure that I have misplaced one or two kids during the course of this project (not to fear though, I still have a couple more at home so I’m good). Work does not occur on the project every week, I do not write posts for the blog every week. So you can obviously see that the restoration project is to blame. Nothing at all, whatsoever, to do with me or my time management skills. (As an aside, I also learned very quickly during my freshman year that philosophy was a discipline for me.)

Now that that bit of business is out of the way – I will bring you the latest. As I mentioned above, Joe the Hammer is no longer working on this project. We the staff have learned to deal with his loss as best we can. I myself am particularly upset at The Hammer’s departure because, while he may have thought I was in need of medication or, conversely, medicating too heavily, he was used to my presence and my (many) questions. I had lost my embarrassed shuffle when approaching Joe with a request for clarification on something. But now I find myself starting all over again and sadly, I am no longer the eager young blogger, full of energy and enthusiasm. Now I am a jaded version of that naïve little chit from last summer. I understand now that during a restoration project there is one thing a person can count on, and that is that there is nothing a person can count on. That goes for workers. So for The Hammer’s replacement, I can only call him Worker #3 (#3 for short). Anything else would expose my poor little heart to more disappointment. While this may be unfair to Worker #3, it is easier this way and in the long run, he’ll thank me. (Who am I kidding? He’s thanking me right now that he didn’t get pinned with some ridiculous nickname.)

So far, things are good with #3. The Curator and I took the opportunity recently (read – ambushed him) to have an open dialogue with #3 about the specifics concerning the south sill repair work (read – pepper him at a rate of 3 questions per 30 second increment of time). It was a great learning experience and a way to welcome #3 to the Cherry Hill family (read – a way to terrify and make him second guess his current employment status). During this “conversation” the Curator and I were working off a sketch that outlined the projected sill work. (I have no wish to mislead the reader, this sketch was lifted off an email sent from (Hey) to the architects which the Curator printed a copy of and which we had spent some time trying to decipher ourselves.) Looking at (Hey)’s sketch made things immediately clear for me – I had no idea what the heck Western was proposing to do with the sill. Getting that realization out of the way made things so much easier when we talked with #3, I was coming at the topic with a completely open, empty mind.

It doesn't matter if you can't see this image that well - it's still not going to make sense.
 First things first, #3 provided us with a mini-sketch that helped me immensely. He explained that the badly rotted sill which must be removed, will be done so using plain old fashioned hand tools, like a slick. (So take that Bob Villa – we don’t need no stinkin’ electric power tools.) A slick is a large chisel, characterized by a wide, heavy blade and a long, frequently slender, socketed handle. In practice, the slick is pushed, not struck and it is used to make fine paring cuts. Slicks are used typically by shipwrights and timber framers. And no I don’t store information about hand tools like a slick in my brain for moments just like this, that is what the Internet is for (thank you

A drawing of a slick

In case the drawing was not enough - an actual image of a slick

Using chisels like a slick, #3 will carve out the rotted portion of the sill in preparation for the new oak. But before all the sill work can begin in earnest, #3 explained that the floor boards in the South Parlor will have to be removed – which can be a tricky process because the goal is to pry up the floor boards with the nails still inside, without the nails themselves ripping out of the boards. Sometimes that proves too difficult a task to accomplish so a second option would be to drive the nails down through the wood boards to remove them. When the flooring is removed safely the sill work can commence.

#3's drawing of a portion of the original sill.  The dotted line indicates the area where rotted wood will be carved out with the slick.

In my last post I threw around the words “epoxy” and “laminated wood two-bys”, like a child throwing knives around pretending to be a juggler. I didn’t know what I was doing, and my lack of knowledge was dangerous. (Consider this my public service announcement for the month – Do not encourage a child’s dream to be a circus performer who juggles knives. No good can come of that for anyone involved.) Thanks to #3’s sketch I now have the confidence I lacked before, not only to throw around knives, but to talk about the work to be done on the sill. After the rotten part of the wood is removed by hand, step one of the sill repair includes the application of an epoxy-like consolident, (a kind of glorified wood hardener), to the old sill and the new oak wood will be fit in to the space where the old, rotted wood was carved out, (as demonstrated in the sketches below). The consolident will bond with the wood and strengthen it.

This is about when things began to make sense to me.

In step two, another piece of new oak will be epoxied to the sill where step one left off and bolted to the original sill. This second step is kind of like an epoxy sandwich for the sill. This type of repair will be carried out in the different areas of the sill where, as indicated in the sketch, repairs are necessary. The entire process will make the sill load bearing once more. Confused? Questions? Then I’ve done my job well.

Is a caption here really necessary?

But what about the charred wood you ask? I’m glad you brought it up. Turns out that little puzzle, which truly had the Curator and I stumped – may not be a puzzle after all. Speaking with #3, and taking into account a previous guess made by The Hammer, that “charred” looking wood probably isn’t “charred” at all. A fire in that location of the house has been pretty much ruled out based on the lack of documentary and physical evidence. If a fire had raged there, the mortar work would show residual signs of damage, and there are none. As to the possibility of a charred sill being recycled into the construction of the house – the closest the house’s builder probably got to the “green” movement, was standing next to a tree with green leaves rustling in the wind. #3 has hypothesized that the “charred” appearance is just the result of badly rotted wood. He explained that the wood is completely normal in appearance under the surface of the “charred” part. The Hammer had hypothesized that perhaps during an earlier repair to the sill in the museum’s history, some agent was sprayed on the sill to retard wood rot that may have been detected. The real reason for the appearance of the sill may not be known exactly but all signs point to something other than a fire.

There we have it folks – a plan for repairs on the southern sill in the east façade, and a probable explanation for a "charred"-looking sill!