Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Soft Water Is Hard

So what am I supposed to do?

A couple months ago, I started noticing a little water on my basement laundry room floor.  From the washing machine, I thought, and since it wasn't bad and dried fairly quickly, I ignored it.

About two weeks ago I observed that the wetness was really coming from around my Sear's Kenmore water softener, a few feet up the basement floor slope from the washer.  I looked inside the tank, and it was full of water!  I've never seen that before.  Never, ever.  I tried regenerating right away, but the water only crept higher.  Not what one wants, right?

So I unplugged it, found out from the manual (which was hanging there in its plastic envelope) how to activate the bypass valve (good job for a rubber mallet), and went upstairs and called Sears.  Oh.  $65.00 just to come out and look, before parts and labor.  Not in the budget.  

I sent out a veiled SOS to my friends on Facebook.  Too veiled, obviously, because I got no response, not even one word of useless advice.  Oh, well, there's always the Internet.  So I Googled "Kenmore water softener full of water leaking."  And got advice there, yes, I did.  There were at least four different things various posters recommended be tried, each one of them looked complicated, and each one of them seemingly had to be done first.  

Please understand:  My water softener is in a dark corner of the basement, my eyesight is not very good, I never can see that stupid gray-on-gray display, and I couldn't find the place in the manual to show me where to find the venturi or the resin bed or anything else that needed to be cleaned or adjusted or whatever it was.  So I put it off.  

On the weekend, at the customary front porch gathering, I asked some of my neighbors if they'd ever serviced their water softeners.  No, they hadn't.  In fact, the guy across the street said they didn't even have one.

Well, if they can get along with hard water with a family of seven, I supposed I could for awhile, too.  And I left the softener on bypass the next ten days. 

But yesterday I think I spent a half hour or more rewashing supposedly clean dishes from the dishwasher.  I folded some white laundry last night and it looked yellow and dingy.  I can't get my shampoo to lather, and the water tastes funny.  Still I was putting off doing anything about it, until this afternoon after work.  

I have lots of laundry to do.  I'd really like it to come out clean.  Oh, phooey, I had to try cleaning the venturi at least.  I mean, come on, buck up.  Found the diagram in the manual (I'd been looking at the installation guide before--oops).  Found the venturi on the appliance.  Took it apart.  Barring a little red iron scum, it was clean.  Put it back together and turned the softener on.  Made no difference-- water level still high.  Found the page with the Manual Regeneration Check.  Put the softener through its paces: brining, brining rinse, backwash, fast rinse.  Water level actually went down a little bit, out through the drain hose-- then started filling up, higher, higher, scarily higher.  Oh, no, you don't!  Unplugged it and hammered the bypass back in place.

Back to the Internet.  No, sorry, the only way to get the water out is to siphon it or suck it out with the wet-dry vac.  OK, fine, I've got one of those.  After a few vacuum tankfuls (and a salty-wet basement floor), the water in the softener was gone.  But my vac was sucking up flakes of salt off the bottom.  Going by the mop handle that I use to distribute salt when I fill the WS, maybe 2" or 3" was hardened in there.  

Time for the hot water to melt it out. 

Hot water, hot water, hot water.  Ram it with the mop handle to break it up.  Ram, ram, ram.  

Take a look to see if I'm making any progress.  Poke the camera down in to document the event. Take a few pictures, using the flash.

Review the pictures to see what's going on, since I can't see down there very well.

Uhhhh, wait a minute.  There's this big cylinder in the back of the WS, that looks like it's made of heavy cardboard, but when you rap it, it sounds more like ceramic.  If I understand my manual correctly, that's the resin tank.  And there, down at about the 0.5 salt level, was what looked like a V-shaped rip in its side.

Did I do that damage right then, myself, with my plastic mop handle?  But no, the picture I took right after I got the water sucked out shows the crack already there.  And I haven't gone after a salt bridge for several months.  No, that resin tank cracked by itself.

I've been on the Internet (did I mention that before?).  I've learned that a cracked resin tank is doom for a water softener.  That if it ruptures, it can be doom for whatever's in your basement (especially if the water's still running through the WS).  That the resin in a broken tank can go running throughout your whole plumbing system, and while I haven't delved into what that means, it sounds bad.  And that replacing the resin tank and its contents can cost more than buying a new water softener.

My resin tank is toast.  I am not going to experiment with running the WS with the tank in that condition.  So what do I do?  This is not in the budget.  Do I stretch my credit even further and buy a new water softener?  Do I run hard water for the foreseeable future and ruin my clothes and coat my plumbing with lime? 

Blast it, what do I do?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Acid Test

Dog and hallway before 'experiment'
This evening I got back from church and went upstairs to change my clothes.  My dog followed me, and when I was almost done, I looked out the bedroom doorway, and--

That little twerp had peed all over the hall!  No, correction, he'd lifted his leg on the shellacked curved baseboard, then done some urinary arabesques on the floor cardboard nearby!

Dumb dog!  There was no reason for that.  I had him outside a mere four hours previous.

But here's the good part:  I tackled that baseboard with a wet sponge and a dry washcloth, and the dog pee hadn't affected it one bit.  No white marks, no hazing; wiped it off and it was fine.

Probably can't say that for where the dog's irrigations soaked through the paper supposedly protecting the perimeter of the floor.  But at least I know my shellac job passes the acid test.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Actual Work Getting Done

Shellac dries fast.  This is good.
Really.  The shellac work I'm doing in my stairhall is actually starting to look like something.  I may actually be on my way to getting this done.  

And that's scary.

(That was a joke.  I think.)

The inner casings on the five 2nd floor hall doorways are all done, including the casing to my bedroom door that I had to take down to mend.  That also has primer on the bedroom side.  The blotchiness problem I solved thanks to some advice I dug up the other night on the Internet-- A forum suggested cutting down the amount of tint in the shellac and let the application of successive layers build up the color.  I was just upstairs, and was getting a little worried that maybe I've got it a fuzz too dark, but it's not as dusky as it originally was, and we're talking at night under only a 60 watt lightbulb.

The flash makes it look brighter than it really is
The stair rail and shoe are done as well.  I really like the way the bannister came out.  I've figured out that if I start shellacking the piece well short of the top, work in the length between the initial wet area and the top with a dryer brush, then keep stroking upward (or in one direction only, if working flat) into the wet area, I can minimize the blotches and keep the finish uniform.  It worked on the bannister, I think.

The balusters are done as well.  They were theoretically mostly done last summer with the two coats I gave them then, but I saw that my intended three coats wasn't going to give the tone and sheen to match the stairrail and shoe.  They have five coats of shellac on them now; six on the outside faces.

Now I have to lay on more coats of shellac to the shoe and rail fillets.  They're laid out on my workbench downstairs, waiting the next time I have available.  But first I have to strip (waaaaagghh!) the cap to the 1st floor newel post.  I didn't have enough light in my workshop, and didn't notice till it was too late that a wide brown-black line of walnut-mahogany shellac was accumulating all around the bottom edge.  Yuck.  Strip it off and start again.

Stairs to 3rd floor study
The top newel post is done-- I think-- and today I got a second coat on the risers to the 3rd floor and on the main stair stringer on the stair rail side.  (I ran out of the right tint of shellac after that, and the main stair risers and the opposite stringer had to wait till I could mix up more.)

Last evening my friend Hannah* and her husband Steve* were going to come over to help me reassemble and rehang the casing to the bedroom door.  They couldn't fit it into their schedule as it turned out.  And now that I've remembered that I really want to get the finish on the hall floor before that trim goes back up, I see it's just as well.

Guess what-- this trim isn't that dark. Stoopy camera!
But in anticipation of getting the bedroom door hung, I shellacked its stop moulding, though I haven't touched it for any door else.  So this afternoon I took a piece of that stop upstairs to make sure I was getting the shellac-white primer divide on the casings right.  I stood the piece up against the closed door to the guest bedroom, flat against the shellacked jamb.  And, oh, my!  Wow.  It actually looked like something!  Like real work getting done!  Like maybe sometime before the Mayan calendar runs out my house might get out of my head and into reality!

That's scary.