Archive for the ‘Smart Grid’ Category

SORRY, Internet Closed! NOW WHAT?

February 3, 2011

Who pulled the plug?

(Geekspeak Alert! Multiple occurrences of Information Technology jargon and abbreviations follow. Approach at your own risk.)

What if, what if, what if…? The recent discussion of the Egyptians’ reliance on the Internet for communication in their uprising, and of the “Internet Kill Switch” legislation in our own Congress, led me to thinking about preparedness in general, and emergency communication in particular.

The Internet has gone from an obscure fad to a virtual communication spinal cord in a couple of decades. It’s “the network of networks.” It’s “the cloud,” and the “information superhighway.” To some, it’s a free-flowing gutter; to others, it’s a lifeline to information, communication and entertainment they can’t imagine being without.

You are “plugged in,” to one degree or another, to that “cloud,” or you wouldn’t be reading this.

What if it went away?

Egypt did its best to shut off public access to the Internet when the rioting in Cairo began to turn into a revolt.

According to a TIME online story, what the Mubarak regime did was order the Internet Service Providers that serve Egypt to shut down their Domain Name Service (DNS servers). The article offers a capsule explanation of DNS:

When you open up your web browser and type a domain name into the address bar—say, for instance—your service provider sends a lightning-quick request to whichever service provider uses to make its web pages publicly available on the internet.

The computer that holds all of’s web pages sends a response back through its internet service provider basically saying, “Yes, we’re online. Here’s the web page you requested.”

That’s part of the story. The critical part of the DNS process is address translation. The Internet doesn’t know from The DNS server converts the Universal Resource label (URL), the “human-friendly” name for the site you want to see, into an Internet Protocol (IP) address, which, for now, is a series of numbers and periods in the format ###.###.###. That is what really travels across town or around the world, to arrive at “”

There’s a lesson, for you. If DNS service is down, you need a list of Internet Protocol addresses you can put into the address field of your browser to get to sites directly.

To get to my favorite Internet news site, World Net Daily, in the absence of DNS service, I simply put “”(without the quotation marks) into my address field, and go there.

How did I find that out? I opened a command line window (I speak Windows; sorry, Apple and Linux speakers – you’re on your own) and ran the PING command using several of my most frequent browsing destinations.

Here’s an example of the PING command and its output, from my IP address gathering process:

C:\Documents and Settings\Tom Cox>ping
 Pinging [] with 32 bytes of data:
Reply from bytes=32 time=105ms TTL=46
Reply from bytes=32 time=113ms TTL=46
Reply from bytes=32 time=112ms TTL=46
Reply from bytes=32 time=111ms TTL=46 
Ping statistics for
Packets: Sent = 4, Received = 4, Lost = 0 (0% loss),
Approximate round trip times in milli-seconds:
 Minimum = 105ms, Maximum = 113ms, Average = 110ms

The important information here isn’t the lousy ping times I get from my ISP, but the fact that when I enter the domain name — in this case – (note the omission of “www” and the like), PING gives me the IP address, ( it got from the DNS server I am currently connected to, which it uses to find the right server at the other end and measure the time required to get an acknowledgment.

Obviously, taking down the DNS service will impede access for those who don’t know how to get around it, but just as obviously, that is a porous barrier to the Internet. Not only can people who have stored their most-used IP addresses locally get through, but satellite-based ISPs, as well as any ISP who can be reached by dial-up, even in another hemisphere, can provide access, however slow and filtered that access may be. Any regime or force that wants to cut off Internet service completely, or at least much more completely than the Egyptian government did, has to take down wireline phone service, as well as cellular service, and jam satellite downlink frequencies.

The Internet is designed with “robustness” in mind, with multiple paths among connected nodes, and that makes an “Internet Kill Switch”more of a challenge than it may appear to be from a user’s perspective. (Thanks to Bruce Schneier, long-time Internet security and encryption expert)

If it were possible to take down the Internet in a given region, the results may be a classic, “be careful what you wish for” scenario. Governments that want to clamp down on the Internet may discover too late how dependent their own activities are on it. Will they be able to use government debit cards to refuel military vehicles? Will their air traffic control system’s communication network collapse? How about the electrical grid, public transportation, metropolitan traffic control systems, for starters – will a government that wants to enhance its grip on its population deliberately blind and deafen itself, just to silence social networks and news outlets?

Government suppression of the Internet may be the least of our concerns, in fact. We don’t even need our government to put the Internet at risk. Two other “actors” may be a lot more likely to succeed where governments fail: terrorists, and the sun.

All it will take is a little, tiny episode of solar flatulence, known scientifically as a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME). The sun, notorious for its stubborn inclination to ignore and flaunt government regulations and environmentalist lobbying, is about due for another of its periodic episodes of instability. This instability includes a tendency to fling huge clouds of high-energy particles out from its nearly-endless supply of such materials.

A solar corona hole, February 3, 2011, courtesy


Should our planet happen to be in the way of one of these clouds, the results will be spectacular and calamitous, but not unprecedented. As it passes through the cloud, the energy in the cloud will induce electric currents in any conductor, such as a power line or radio antenna, and the currents induced may be much greater than the conductor, and any connected equipment, can tolerate.

The earth itself will rattle with the shock of this blast of energy. A geomagnetic storm is a secondary effect of the CME. The earth’s magnetic field will ring like a bell, with effects on life and technology both known and unknown.

The history of these storms shows but a hint of the potential impact on the whole energy-transportation-communication-security-economy infrastructure.

This impact would not be an overnight phenomenon, but could bathe the earth in strong energy clouds for weeks or months. The associated Aurora displays might be spectacularly beautiful, but most of us will be too busy trying to survive the other effects to have much time top enjoy the show.

Aurora, courtesy Wikipedia

Aurora Borealis, courtesy Wikipedia -

Ole’ Mom Nature and government shutdowns are not the only way uncontrollable forces can have a huge impact on the Internet and the rest of the infrastructure.  A small, but well-funded group of terrorists, or “axis of evil” agents, armed with a small nuclear weapon and a “SCUD” class, intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) can blind and cripple us, too.

SCUD on semi-trailer launcher, courtesy Wklipedia


A nondescript container ship could pull up off the Atlantic coast a hundred miles out from Washington DC, and launch a missile sold or donated by Russia, North Korea, Iran, or a non-state entity with lots of money. If the missile has a warhead consisting of, say, a refurbished Russian tactical nuclear warhead, furnished by the same thoughtful donor or another, or sold by some organized crime venture, the goal would be to detonate the missile not on or near the ground, as in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks, but a hundred miles or so above Washington, or nearby.

The nuclear detonation, even resulting from a very small, “suitcase”-style weapon, would have the expected blast effects from heat and sudden pressure – although they would be diminished on the ground due to the high altitude of the detonation — but it would also create a huge, sharp electromagnetic pulse (EMP). Before discounting the possibly existence of nuclear warheads small enough to launch above a SCUD-sized IRBM, recall that both the Russians and Americans developed and built thousands of nuclear artillery shells, one of which was successfully test-fired and detonated.

The upper atmosphere would interact with the pulse to create a huge, secondary pulse that would spread over an area of hundreds, or thousands, of square miles. There would be instant and dramatic effects on anything electrical for hundreds or thousands of miles in any direction. The impulse would be far stronger than a CME-induced surge, but lasting only a fraction of a second. The effect, though, would last for months, or years, in terms of its effect on the nation.

The effect on a society as dependent on electricity and electronics as ours, would be devastating, and that is not just the apocalyptic fantasy of a few catastrophe freaks and post-apocalypse survival enthusiasts. Credible groups have testified before Congress on the potential effects of such an attack, but with little apparent impact on our national priorities.

Nightmarish scenarios exist, such as a novel by a historian named William Forstchen, One Second After.

There is considerable disagreement as to the scientific and technical accuracy of the novel’s predictions, as one can see in the extended discussion of the book on Amazon, but not much disagreement that the effects will be severe and long-lasting. As long as the Internet stays up, you can learn more about EMP in its various forms at EMPact America,

Whether the cause of the outage is government action, terrorism or solar storms, doing without the Internet is

What’s a communication-dependent technophile to do? Do you carry a spare tire in your car? Why? The odds of a flat in the middle of nowhere are low, but the repercussions are severe – what disaster prep strategists refer to as a “low probability, high consequences event.”

Technophiles are smart to be ready with multiple options for communications, to fit the circumstances. Dead cell phone battery? Where’s your crank-up charger? Power out for an extended period? Cable system, wireline phone system, and cell service down? Where’s your CB radio, your GMRS/FRS portable radio set, your crystal radio, complete with rolled-up, ready-to-launch wire antenna, your HF ham radio and accessories, your fire starting kit, your wood stove, your bottled water, your toilet paper, your emergency food, your maps, your compass, your handgun, your rifle, your ammunition…

From a dead DNS server to the collapse of civil society and enemy attack – you can be a victim, or you can be prepared.

Trailer Trash Adventures

July 3, 2010

Proto-Mobile-Home, minus a hundred years -- OK, it's an RV, but I love the photo. Thanks to

What is it about mobile homes, anyway? They get trashed in the movies, the press and in tornadoes, and the people who live in them are “trailer trash.”

We who live in these little boxes do so for the most part, not because we prefer them, but because we can afford them.

If we “trailer trash” could afford airtight, green-weenie, artsy-fartsy, “net zero energy,” computer-controlled living spaces, lighted with creepy, AlGore curly-bulbs, heated and cooled with sunlight and geothermal, roofed with photovoltaic arrays and sprouting wind farms – or, at least, wind gardens — out back, with the power company sending us monthly checks for the electricity we produce in excess of what we use… most of us would have them.

We here on Danley Road can’t afford to build such a house, so we are doing our best to modify our existing mobile to make it more comfortable, affordable, and – forgive me for borrowing a PC term – sustainable. That’s why I put in a wood stove last winter.

When the electricity goes off in the wintertime, I don’t want to be frozen out of my own home and evacuated to some Red Cross shelter in a nearby town, while my rescued dogs and cats fend for themselves, and the opportunists among us rifle my belongings for things to take to the pawn shop and turn into meth money. I want to be home, managing my own heat, keeping my pets fed and watered, and protecting my own property with my 12-gauge. That’s what I mean by “sustainable.”

Of course, even if we could afford it, we wouldn’t buy some politically-correct, Department of Energy and Sierra Club-blessed box in some crowded, little “sustainable community,” because we don’t want one. We want to live where we want, not in the Obama-era descendant of the Stalin-era concrete wedding cake apartment monolith.

We want to provide our own heat, to the extent possible, grow (and catch) our own food, to a similar extent, and we absolutely don’t want the Secretary of Energy able to turn off any of our electrical outlets by remote control in a bow to the colossal fraud and power grab that is Carbon Dioxide-driven Global Warming. Barry can stick his “Smart Grid” where the solar cells definitely will not work.

We understand that the Stalinists in our government and around the world want us all lumped together in collective housing — not because they give a damn about the environment — but because we will be easier to spy on and control in those settings. It only takes one party stooge to keep track of several families of Kulaks, that way. Very efficient and sustainable, comrades!

Just as we recoil at handing our medical care over to faceless, government bureaucrats, we find the thought of leaving our rural homestead to live in a government-controlled, UN-approved “sustainable community” repugnant.

So, where does that leave us? It leaves us trying our best to make our rickety mobile home into a sound, efficient, comfortable structure, while confined to a tight budget and a desire to maintain a low profile with the various regulatory bodies that would love to be looking over our shoulders and calling every shot.

Where do we start? Logically, we start with the roof. The sheet metal “lid” (I hate to dignify it with a term like, “roof”) over this place reminds me of baking a turkey in the oven. When I was a kid, Mom put the turkey in the oven with a “tent” of aluminum foil (Reynolds Wrap!) over it to recapture the heat and moisture that would otherwise be lost in the oven.


My own turkey tent. As lovely as it is effective!

With record summer heat in progress as I write this, we are finding out what it was like for the turkey. The galvanized sheet metal is thin enough to be subject to damage by any object that hits the roof in a storm, and walking on it is out of the question. It must be about 29 gauge, if that thick, which is about like the metal on the roof of a car. In theory, there’s insulation between it and the flat ceilings in the rooms at both ends of the trailer, but in the middle, we get “cathedral ceilings,” which means there is next to nothing in the way of insulation between us and the Tennessee sky.

The insulation above the flat ceilings can’t amount to much, because there isn’t enough space between the ceiling and roof for more than a couple of inches of any kind of insulation, and that’s right in the middle, under the ridge.

As I understand, it’s glass fiber, which is only good for about R-3 per inch, and then, only if it is maintained in its ideal “state of loft,” or fluffiness. Since it is between a vapor-permeable drywall ceiling and a metal roof, it has undoubtedly gotten damp long ago from moisture penetration from below, and can’t even remember what its ideal “state of loft” was like. As nesting material for mice, it’s great, but for insulation, it’s mostly an empty gesture.

Over about the middle third of the trailer, the cathedral ceiling consists mostly of textured drywall under the sheet metal, which is visually pleasant, but of no insulating value to speak of.

A couple of businesses serve the middle Tennessee area with systematized, fast and effective “roofovers.” (One I have had some correspondence with is Southern Builders, which sells the “PermaRoof” product line . These places will bring a kit of materials and a crew to your mobile, apply a support framework, and slap on a foam-insulated roof – a real roof – over your sheet metal turkey tent. I have no doubt that any of the reputable dealers I have seen would do a creditable job, and greatly improve the quality of life in the mobile, as well as making a quantifiable improvement in the heating and cooling of same.

What I wonder is, where is the outfit that will do the same for my mobile’s walls, doors and windows?

I’ve been reading  lately about the newest craze (actually, the idea is decades old, but the building industry is slow to adopt new ideas) in the building industry: SIPs. Structural Insulated Panels, according to the Structural Insulated Panel Association,  are a sandwich of sheath and insulation, bonded permanently into a panel that is not only a barrier to heat loss and air movement, but also strong enough (the significance of the “Structural” part of the term) to serve as a load-bearing section of wall without framing.

Recently, the market for SIPs has become more competitive, and the manufacturing processes have been streamlined, reducing the cost to a point where it is a realistic alternative. When the “supply” and “demand” curves both rise, wonderful things happen. Someone please explain this to the simple-minded, “Capitalism is EEE-VILL” crowd.

SIPs are now available using OSB plywood sheaths and a couple of types of insulation in the middle. They are also made with sheet metal as the sheath material, which makes them lighter for the same structural strength and insulation value.

SIP panels resist bending, twisting or crushing better than the same size “stick built” wall, when properly installed. Perhaps more importantly, they also provide much higher levels of insulation and sealing against air movement (infiltration) than studs and sheath.

Part of the reason for this superior weather-tightness is the use of plastic foam, most versions of which offer much more insulation for a given thickness than either glass fiber or cellulose fiber. Of course, the fiber insulation is overrated anyway, since its ratings are based on an ideal set of conditions that is as rare in the real world as a cold day in Tennessee in this month of June.

The insulating value of glass fiber and cellulose are based on laboratory-controlled measurements under ideal conditions, including 70 degrees F and no air movement. Moisture, settling and nesting by insects and animals all furnish the less-than-ideal, but far from uncommon conditions in the real world that lower the actual insulating power of fiber batts.

In the real world, the fibers are stuffed into a wall panel – a space with a lot more room in the vertical, than in the horizontal axis. The pull of gravity is relentless and patient, and the result is inevitable – insulation piled in the bottom of a cavity, with heat leaking like mad across the upper, uninsulated space.

Heat loss in this scenario is due to three mechanisms, in no particular order:

Convection (air movement, AKA infiltration), happens because the fiber is no longer dividing the wall space into lots of smaller spaces. Warmer air rises and comes into contact with cooler air or cooler surfaces, gives up its heat to them, regains its density and drops. Rinse and repeat.

Conduction is the way heat gets from a burner on the stove, through the handle of a skillet and into your hand, and that’s how warm air loses its heat. Every point at which a stud or rafter makes contact between the inner and outer surfaces of a wall, and there are many, since typical stud spacing is 16 inches center to center, is a bridge from hot to cold. Heat is conducted across this “thermal bridge” with the ease with which illegal aliens cross our southern border, and with similarly negative results. The R-value of the best insulation in the world does absolutely nothing to prevent a thermal bridge.

Radiation is the third path from hot to cold, and the one you feel on bare skin when you are out in bright sunshine on a cool day. Radiation is an important form of heat gain on a roof in the summer, and two ways to head off radiation-born heat are shade, as in shade trees, and reflection, which bounces the radiant heat back into space, where it belongs. Reflective foil on the surface of a batt or board of insulation under a wood or metal roof has the effect of bouncing the heat back before it can get deep enough to be dealt with as hot air in the structural cavity.

If you want to be as wonky as a physics major, all three methods of heat exchange – convection, conduction and radiation – are just special cases of radiation. When heat passes up the handle of the frying pan, it’s really just radiating from one atom of iron to the next, because the space between atoms is, on their relative scale, as vast as the space between the earth and the sun. Electromagnetic radiation, in the form of heat, travels through the space between atoms with the same ease with which it travels from the sun to the seat of your car. Convection is just a case of heat energy passing from one air molecule to another, and making the cooler molecules denser, causing them to settle and displace the warmer ones, squeezing them up to the top of the wall cavity.

As the physics wonks will say, heat, and all forms of energy in the universe, goes from where there is more of it, to where there is less of it. The same process lets heat into the house in summer, and squeezes it out in the winter. It’s just the way of things. If this process is allowed to complete, the universe will wind up as a cold, dark lump. Just don’t mark your calendar for it, because it will be a while.

A SIP is another story. The insulating quality of the foam is unbroken edge to edge across the surface of the panel, and the standard means of attachment of the panel to the building doesn’t provide any of those pesky thermal bridges. Individual panels are joined by various methods, according to the manufacturer. Some use dovetail joints formed into the edges of the panels, and others are connected via a wood timber called a spline that the crew drives screws into from the inside and outside. Each panel is joined to the building by being fitted at the top and bottom into tracks or channels that are attached firmly to the framework of the building. The result is a strong, weather-tight wall.

Of course, this practice makes retrofitting to a trailer nearly impossible, because there are so few suitable places more substantial than a cardboard box to anchor the channels that hold the panels top and bottom. That’s ironic, since I wanted to USE SIPs to add some structural integrity to this otherwise low-hanging-fruit for a toy tornado.

I began to suspect SIPs and the DIY/retrofit market was not a good marriage early, while searching for other people’s experience with them. There is none. Yes, my privacy-respecting search engine, Ixquick, did return a few hits with search terms like, “SIPS and retrofit,” and “SIPS and mobile homes,” but they never resulted in finding me one, single instance of somebody using SIPs to make a mobile home a little less mobile in a high wind. In fact, I was hard-pressed to find SIPs used in any retrofit situations, even in conventional houses.

This could be attributed by an optimist in my position to the newness of the products, and the lack of “generic SIPs” at places like Lowes and Home Depot. Most of the SIPs projects I saw were shipped to the site in kit form, complete with cuts for windows and doors, although the marketing people are always quick to say that any such openings can be cut on site, as needed. After all, one of the appeals of SIPs is the relative lack of waste, as one sees filling the Dumpster at the typical home construction site. Since ideally, every piece you need for every foot of outside wall is pre-cut and stacked on the truck, I can see why that would be.

So, anyway, I scaled back my aspirations of applying this technology to tightening up and fortifying my mobile. My earliest impulse for tightening up this trailer and making it safer was getting a “real” roof put on, and then, maybe, adding insulation and siding to the outside walls, and, finally, windows and doors that are worth a damn.

The roof turns out to have been much less of a chore than I expected. I found what I believe to be the best deal from Southern Builders, referenced earlier, and they had a crew close by between two other jobs in the region. They showed up WHEN THEY SAID THEY WOULD (Contractors, take note; you should try this!) and we went from ratty old roof to snazzy new, sturdy, well-insulated roof in a little over four hours. I recorded the whole process on camera, complete with before and after shots, and will be posting the whole, exciting tale shortly.

Sneak-peek at the new roof -- painful detail to follow

A Wood Stove — Getting That Warm Feeling

February 2, 2010

We love wood heat. We’ve had wood stoves for most of the last twenty years, in four different houses. The mobile home we live in now is old and leaky, and takes two or three electric space heaters running most of the time on cold nights here in Middle Tennessee to keep it in the low 60s, if the outside temp drops much below 40. Fortunately, we are comfortable in the low 60s.


I am NOT a professional wood stove installer, a lawyer, a fire inspector, an insurance underwriter or any other kind of wood heat expert – just a smart-ass blogger. This is not, no way, no how, presented as a how-to or a recommendation on the following project; rather, it is simply an account of the way I did what I did, and is presented for entertainment purposes only. Got that? Entertainment. Okay, then.

This article will not cure cancer, shrink hemorrhoids with or without surgery, will not get you out of filing income taxes, and it will not make you more attractive to the opposite (or the same) sex, or make you smarter. Well, maybe you’ll get smarter, but no guarantees. As to the rest, forget it. Ain’t happenin’. Just read on, and enjoy it.

I’m glad we had this talk.


Trailers are apparently not supposed to have wood stoves in them, according to The Powers That Be. At least, they are not supposed to have stoves we can afford. We were able to afford a Vogelzang Frontiersman,

Vogelsang Frontiersman

especially after it went on sale last spring.

I thought we could install this stove in such a way as to avoid the hazards inherent in a trailer install, and I went about it with that in mind.

This is a little stove, and one of the few small enough that it would not continuously overheat our small living space (it is specified for “up to 1,000 square feet”).  The instructions that came with it explicitly state in several places that it is not to be installed in mobile homes. Of course, we installed it in a mobile home.

The rationale for the prohibition is apparently twofold: The stoves that are OK to put in a mobile provide for getting their combustion air from outdoors, via a discrete duct and connection between the outdoors and the firebox. Those stoves are all pretty pricey; certainly a lot more expensive than ours.

The Frontiersman has no such provision, but our mobile has plenty of infiltration leaks, including forced-air heat ductwork that is uninsulated, cracked and separated in several places. I have plugged many of the heating vents, but not all, and I still can feel cool air leaking up from most of them. This is definitely not one of those airtight, super-insulated mobiles from the last few years.

It’s a bit more “vintage,” than that. It also has inadequate windows, some of which are cracked or broken, and all of which need to be replaced. They are another source of fresh air, whether we want it or not. I’m not too worried about using up my oxygen, in other words.

The other concern is that this mobile would burn like a cardboard box if a heat source got close enough to a wall. Well, that’s certainly a reasonable concern, and one I share.

To reduce our odds of becoming flaming human sacrifices to the gods of global warming, we put the stove on a ceramic tile floor. In the spirit of over-engineering with which I approach most projects, I put a layer of ¼-inch cement board down over the existing ceramic tiles, and cemented and grouted in another layer of ceramic tiles over that. I covered an area much larger than the one specified in the instructions that came with the stove, as well. A sandwich of ceramic tiles around cement board seemed reasonable to keep heat from the bottom of the stove away from the sub-floor. Ceramic tile is obviously resistant to fire, and “cement board” is fiber-reinforced concrete, with high flame-resistance characteristics and good insulation.

Stove platform detail -- existing tile, below, cement board (not visible), new tile on top

Platform covers more floor area than required; also serves as entryway

To keep the walls of our live-in cardboard box from burning, I put over-engineered, home-built heat shields on the wall behind the stove, and between the stove and the living room where any furniture might go. The rear heat shield consists of a layer of Hardiboard cement board, same as the platform, up more than four feet from the floor, completely covering the existing wall, and a sheet of roofing metal mounted on galvanized steel, “Unistrut” channels, and four vertical runs of ¾” metal conduit.

The sheet metal screws into the conduit, and the conduit is clamped against the Unistrut. The cement-board-covered wall surface is separated from the sheet metal by about a 3 & ¾-inch air space. The upper and side edges of the shield are supported with galvanized steel angle with two-inch legs, about 1/8-inch thick. The steel hardware between the sheet metal and the cement-board-covered wall is intended to be massive enough to dissipate heat from the sheet metal that might otherwise be conducted to the wall.

The Unistrut and two-inch angle were surplus, salvaged from an old antenna tower. The roofing sheet metal was a gift from our nephew, who had it left over from a chicken house project.

Cement board (L), air space (C) and sheet metal (R)

Unistrut detail, rear heat shield

The heat shield between the stove and the living room space is another piece of roofing metal, bolted to cement board, and supported by more, 2-inch angle.

Side heat shield, inner view

Side heat shield, outer view

Both heat shields, early in installation

This morning I over-fired the stove, in the process of learning its preferences, and the stove top got to just above 500 degrees F, which is hotter than it needs to be, but (based on experience with previous woodburners), is not dangerously high. I closed the damper completely, and watched the stove for about two hours. The stove and stove pipe never got hot enough to glow, even in low light, but I kept the fire extinguisher and cell phone handy, being something of a pessimist. The curing stove paint and chimney sealant set off the smoke detector a few times, which is a normal part of stove burn-in. Otherwise, it was a non-event. The stove soon cooled back into the efficient operating range, according to the thermometer.

At the peak of the heat, the sheet metal on the side shield was just a little too hot to touch; on the opposite side, the cement board was just warm. The rear shield, which has the air gap behind it, stayed cool enough to touch throughout, and the cement board on the wall behind it was only slightly warm. The drywall above the heat shield was slightly cool. As I said, the stove temperature dropped back into the normal operating range in about 45 minutes, and stayed there for about two hours, warming the place up enough I had to open a window and a door.

The connection between the stove and the world is single-wall chimney pipe from the top of the stove to the wall, where it connects to a Simpson Dura Plus through-the-wall chimney kit.

The Simpson kit is a very conservative design, consisting of triple-wall pipe, and a thimble (the transition from the single-wall to triple wall, and also the means of penetrating a wall made from flammable materials safely) that offers a lot of thermal isolation between the stack and the wall materials.

The inner wall of this pipe is stainless steel. It is wrapped in high-temperature insulation, and another layer of sheet metal, surrounded by an air space and another wall of pipe. The piece of this pipe that passes the exhaust through the wall thimble is 9 inches long. There is no, single-wall pipe inside the wall. It stops at the inside portion of the thimble, seen below. The single-wall pipe comes from the stove on the left, and seals and is screwed into the transition piece from the kit. From there, it connects to the triple-wall section, and then to the tee, seen in the exterior shot. By the way, the sealant around the outside of the thimble is high-temperature silicone caulk, made for this purpose by Rutland.

Inside portion of "thimble," showing sealing materials

The black material at the joints between the single-wall tubing sections, and between the tubing and thimble, is Rutland stove cement.

It is applied inside and out at each joint, and along the seams of the tubing.

Simpson tee connector, on outside wall. Note un-melted snow in braces and base

This connects outside to a “tee” section (above) that, like all the chimney parts from here up to the storm cap, is also triple-wall. This is an important part of a kit by Simpson made for putting a chimney through a structural wall safely. What would be the vertical leg of the tee, if it were oriented upright, connects to the through-the-wall segment. At the end of the downward-facing (as installed, now, not as a letter “T”) end of the tee is a stainless steel cap, which is secured with screws. This acts as a cleanout access, since there is a straight shot up the tee to the storm cap from there. A piece of galvanized sheet slides into the bottom of the tee support, and serves as a barrier between this cap and anything flammable enough to be a concern if it came into direct contact with the cap. The flange of this sheet is visible at the bottom of the tee assembly in the picture. A chimney brush on ten feet of Fiberglass rod sections will reach all the way to the storm cap from ground level, eliminating the need for a scary, vaudeville ladder act.

The triple-wall chimney keeps the exhaust hot all the way to the top, reducing the condensation that becomes creosote, and also provides maximum draft, which improves the efficiency of the stove.

The triple-wall actually penetrates the building wall, and it passes through the thimble, which provides more layers of sheet metal and air gap between the hot exhaust gases and the wall materials. A note on the picture of the tee installed: The snow seen at the bottom of the tee support – un-melted by running the stove for twelve hours or so — is a good indicator of how effective the insulation is in the triple-wall kit. If it won’t melt snow that close to the exhaust, it probably won’t set the wall on fire.

Triple-wall chimney, standing proudly

The triple-wall stack, seen above, consists of three, 36-inch sections atop the 12-inch leg of the Tee. These sections, by the way, use a “bayonet-style” connection that twist-locks in place, tightly mating all three walls, the insulation and the air space without needing sealant.

I did not trust the screw-in connections of the tee and lower mounting bracket to hold the stress imposed on it when the wind blows on the chimney. Not that the brackets didn’t look to be up to the job, but I wasn’t sure the wall would hold the lag bolts I used to fasten the lower supports. I used the second (also included in the kit) bracket as an anchor point for the guys seen above. Sloping toward the camera, into the lower, right-hand corner of the picture, is a section of ¾-inch electrical conduit, of the same type I used on the rear, interior heat shield.

The other end of the conduit is clamped to a piece of steel angle which is bolted to a porch rafter. This serves as a “dead-man” guy, since it is rigid, and would tend to prevent the chimney from tilting toward or away from the wall. The wire guys are galvanized guy wire that is plastic-coated, and threaded through the holes drilled in the bracket for screws. The wire guys are a little slack, because pulling them tight would only increase the stress downward on the chimney pipe, without a useful increase in support to either side.

Rigid, "dead-man" guy, clamped to porch roof at right

Storm cap/spark arrestor

Between the dead-man and the wires, the chimney is supported in four directions. Sure, a strong-enough wind would still blow the chimney over, but a strong-enough wind would blow the trailer over, too. That’s just a fact of life in tornado country, and I can live with it. My objective was to make the chimney reasonably secure in most conditions.

You will have noticed the top of this stack has a cap, called a storm cap. It keeps rain from falling directly into the chimney, and a wire screen around the opening is supposed to keep burning cinders large enough to start a fire from getting out, as well as birds and other creatures from getting in. This is not a frill or an optional accessory, and it is included in the kit. Like the Dura-Plus sections, it uses a twist-lock means of attachment.

Carbon Monoxide detector -- cheap protection against a silent killer

Besides the wood stove accessories I’ve already mentioned or shown in photos – fireplace tools, fire extinguishers, etc. — there is another one, and it is required: a Carbon Monoxide (CO) detector. A subtle defect in the stove or chimney could let CO leak into the living space, which could be deadly. This detector is inexpensive, and runs on batteries, which is important, since one of the times when such a stove would get the heaviest use is during a cold-weather power outage. Along with smoke detectors and fire extinguishers, no wood stove install is complete without at least one CO detector. CO is odorless, invisible, silent and an insidious threat. Don’t leave yourself, your family or your pets exposed to that risk.

The point of this article is to relate my adventure in wood stove installation. I hope you have been entertained, but have resisted the impulse to be informed, per the “IMPORTANT DISCLOSURE,” above. Should you undertake to install a wood stove in your death trap of a mobile home (and I’m not recommending that! God forbid!), I hope you will do it safely, and that you will experience the same “warm feeling” I have.

May you know that, even if Mom Nature and Uncle Sam get in the way of furnishing the outside sources of energy that keep you warm in good times, you will have the means to do it for yourself. Safely!

The Woodstove Channel -- My favorite program!

Smart Grid Paranoia

October 28, 2009


Erica Lovley, (POLITICO.COM), 3/4/09Obama’s $787 billion economic stimulus bill includes $4.5 billion in funding for the so-called Smart Grid, an ambitious plan to modernize the country’s electric grid that many Obama contributors are helping to shape.

Steve Holland, (Reuters) – ARCADIA, Fla., Oct 27President Barack Obama on Tuesday announced $3.4 billion in grants to help build a “smart” electric grid meant to trim utility bills, reduce blackouts and carry power generated by solar and wind energy.

Oh, don’t we feel good? The Obama administration is paying back GE, Google, IBM and Microsoft, among other evil corporations, for their support of Dear Leader’s presidential campaign. How? Why, they’re handing them a bag full of Scamulus Gigabucks to implement “Smart Grid,” the technology that is supposed to “modernize the country’s electrical grid.” What could be wrong with that?

See, our electrical grid has been patched and bandaged to keep it from repeating the sort of “cascading failure” that caused the Northeast Blackout of 2003, but much of the physical plant that makes up the electric power distribution system of the United States is old, obsolete, and subject to just such failures at any moment.

(Never mind that it is also terribly vulnerable to terrorist attack, either via the Internet or by any sufficiently insane country or extra-national entity with a few bucks to spend to loft a Scud from a freighter off the Atlantic coast, topped with a low-end nuclear warhead, and detonate said warhead a hundred miles above Washington or Baltimore, wiping out the whole system for months, or years. Never mind that.)

Why would the electric companies neglect their own infrastructure? Let me speculate: The big electric power companies are reluctant to put hundreds of millions of dollars of stockholders’ money into infrastructure improvements that will require a microscopic rectal examination by every regulatory agency and environmental group in North America to be sure that they don’t harm snails, owls and fish, or cause offense to favored ethnic groups, or allow career legislators to use them as punching bags when appealing to the aforementioned groups for campaign money.

And, these days, those greedy power company execs are probably wondering, “Is Obama going to nationalize us, the way he did the financial industry and the auto industry, and the way he wants to nationalize the health care industry? Will someone explain to us why we would want to sink money into improvements, when some Obama appointee may well wind up carving up our salaries and profit margins, or inventing regulations that make electricity so expensive no one can afford it?”

Well, now, simmer down. All this “Smart Grid” stuff is about is allowing the power company to reach into your house and instruct your dishwasher to run overnight, when power usage in your area is lower — your dishwasher, and any other appliance that has the right kind of microprocessor controller, and a connection to the Internet.  Never mind that you might want to set your own dishwasher’s timer to run later all by yourself, or that you have good reasons for wanting it done before bedtime.

Big deal, right? Oh, it may also allow Big Power to turn back the thermostat on your central heat system to 60 or so, on the next cold night, from your preferred 68. So, Global Warming takes the night off, and the house is a little chilly when you roll out of bed in the morning. So, it takes a while to get it back into a comfortable range, while you shiver in your bathrobe and sweats, in front of the coffee machine, waiting for it to receive permission from the Smart Grid to start perking. So what? We all have to make sacrifices, in this new world.

You’d like to warm up in the shower, but the electric water heater is still recovering from being put into “sleep” mode by Smart Grid, and it will be a while before there’s enough hot water to keep you from feeling like one of those Titanic passengers floating in the icy North Atlantic, waiting for Leonardo DiCaprio to shut up and drown.

You’d pass the time watching Fox News, but oddly, the new, microprocessor-controlled TV in the kitchen skips past Fox News and stops on MSNBC, and has been doing that for a while. You think about disconnecting the network line that connects that TV to the Internet, but (surely not!) the creepy tingle in your scalp may be less about the prospect of a cold shower, and more because the thought has wormed its way into your mind that someone has decided you are too easily influenced to be allowed to watch Fox News, and is using your power company connection to block it from your TV.

If you disconnect the network line from the TV, will somebody know, and just not allow it to power on, tomorrow morning? Fox News will just put dangerous ideas in your head, anyway. Might as well leave it connected, and do without Fox. That way, when your security system’s motion detectors indicate to Smart Grid that the kitchen is empty, it can turn the TV off, and save a few watt-hours. It saves you money, and allows the poor and unfortunate to use the power you would otherwise waste — or your self-righteous, vegan neighbor can use it to top off the charge in his little electric car.

So, what is there to be paranoid about? Sure, you flew that “Don’t Tread on Me” flag on September 12th, and you sent $20 via the Internet to that independent Congressional candidate that pledged to put the Constitution ahead of any desire for re-election, even though he wasn’t running in your district. A couple other people in your neighborhood did, and, in fact, your congressional district didn’t go for Obama in ’07.

Wait a minute… I wonder if it ever occurs to the Obama Administration to tweak the Smart Grid to favor “blue states” over “red states?” Once you have the power over power, the possibilities are endless. As I wrote a while back:

Once you have a stranglehold on the generation and use of energy, you have a stranglehold on people.  Let’s just suppose that, on this sub-zero night over a large swath of the United States, the feds decide to provide a little object lesson about how the Constitution is no longer a limit on government power.  It would be a little brazen for President for Life Obama to instruct everyone to hold his or her breath for a few minutes, just to get an idea of what it would be like to be prohibited from emitting the bad pollutant CO2.  Might be a little hard to enforce, too, at this early stage in the Administration.

No, let’s just “accidentally” turn off the power to some states that didn’t go “blue” in the last election, but they’re going “blue” now, from sub-zero temperatures.  Not for long; just for a few hours — say, overnight…the first time, anyway.  Maybe, they will be offered some half-hearted explanation about a squirrel getting into the transformer, and the dang computers shut everything down, dumb computers, or Christian fundamentalist  terrorists, or something.  But don’t try too hard to be convincing, because the point is to make a subtle threat.

See?  If you don’t play by the new rules, will the Constitution keep you warm?  (Maybe you could burn your copy of the Bill of Rights on the kitchen table.  That’ll last a minute or two.)  Yes, your wood stove may tide you over for a few days without power, but a passing car carrying a government official might just see smoke coming from the chimney.  A DEA helicopter might be scanning in the infrared for indoor hydroponic pot farms, and see the heat coming from your fire.  Whoa, we can’t have that, can we? Spewing CO2 out into the publicly-owned air, melting glaciers and drowning polar bears? Tsk.

No, that would never happen. Sure, Obama said before the election he was about to “transform” our country. Sure, he keeps hiring people to important posts who profess an affection for socialism and even communism, and for mass murderers like Mao tse-tung. But surely, they have no intention of making those quirky political views into policy, right?

I’m just being paranoid. Right? Hey! Who turned off the lights?