.............................................................The Mechanics of Country Living
................................................... How to avoid things going wrong, and what to do if you can't!
.............................................................. .................TROUBLE BREWING?
Anything dealing with plumbing causes the most problems because the outer Cape is a sand bar in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by water (salt water), and our plumbing is designed for our rural area. It's really pretty simple, but until you know the way it works, it does no good to describe the problems that can develop.
Water comes from a well. Every place has its own well, which has an electric pump to pull the water to the level of the cottage. There are a couple of kinds of wells and pumps, but basically they do the same thing...draw water from the ground to the cottage like a drinking straw in a glass of water. The glass is the source; the straw is the well; the suction of drinking is provided by the pump.
At the foot of the well is a flapper called a "check valve". When the pump draws the water, the valve is pulled open. When the pump shuts off, the valve falls closed, preventing the water from sliding back down out of the well. This remaining water is the "prime". If a well loses its prime, which is its link to the pump, the pump can run forever, but it will NOT draw water. It will heat up and possibly burn out. This happens VERY RARELY and you are not likely to encounter it unless some special event occurs. A severe thunderstorm that strikes the ground in the neighborhood can, on occasion, flip the flapper while the pump is not running, allowing the water to recede. After a lengthy power failure (such as after a hurricane or if the cottage was closed all winter) which does not allow the pump to run occasionally, the prime can trickle out. Because water is stored in a tank for immediate use, you may not notice that this has happened until the tank water is used up. If you have access to the cellar and can find the pump and its switch, you should feel the pump and if it is VERY HOT turn off the switch and call for help. We do not suggest that you reach out and lay your hand on the pump; approach it as the hot object it may be. But the chances you need to deal with this are slim to none; I just couldn't explain the system without mentioning it.
Another thing that you probably will not ever encounter is a water pressure problem. The storage tank I mentioned (which is NOT the same as the hot water heater) is between the pump and the pipe that carries water to the rest of the cottage. It is pressurized. Air is pumped into it just like into a tire, and that air rises above the water level. When there is water in the tank, the air pressure measures about 40 pounds per square inch on a gauge. (Pressure varies; do not be concerned if you see a different reading if you even have need of exploring this system, which you should not more than 99% of the time.) But again, to understand the system, you need background. When you turn on a faucet or flush a toilet, the water leaves the storage tank, which causes a drop in the tank pressure. When the pressure reaches a certain low point, the electric pump comes on and draws more water into the tank; and when you turn off the faucet, the pump operates until the upper pressure has been reached, then shuts off.
It is possible over time that the water in the tank will absorb some of the air, reducing the pressure. This situation is called a "water-
The first thing I'll mention is not really a plumbing problem, although it can be corrected in some (not all) cases by reworking the plumbing to include a mixing valve. Most times it just has to be lived with, unfortunately because in the long run it can cause damage. When water is pumped out of the well, winter or summer, the temperature is about 55 degrees. When the cottage is occupied, the water moves along pretty constantly from the well to its destination, encountering air that is as much as 30 degrees warmer or more and close to saturated with humidity. (Keep in mind that a dehumidifier or air conditioner, working on the same principle, can remove a gallon or two of water from the air in a restricted space over a day's time.) The places condensation is most noticed are under the cellar pipes and around the toilet. Often there is nothing near the pipes that can be damaged, but the constant drip of this "rain forest effect" water can lead to a pretty musty, even mildewy basement. The symptoms are a length of metal pipe (not PVC or insulated) with a steady row of beads of water forming along the lowest point in the curve. If you look closely, the entire surface of the pipe will be wet to the height of the water inside; wipe it away, and it will re-
The toilet is another story. The toilet tank holds several gallons of this nature-
A plumber cannot help in the short term. In some cases, over the long term, a mixing valve can be installed in the toilet tank to add a small amount of hot water to the cold stuff coming out of the well, and the more nearly matched the temperatures, the less water that will condense from the air. And we DO know it looks like the toilet leaks; we DO know it could eventually soak through and rot the sub-
In this land of sun and fun,
We never flush for number one!
SNAKES AND SOLID OBJECTS
In most cities, water comes from a pipe and leaves by a pipe. Knowing more is about as important as knowing why milk comes in cartons. Leave the rest to the cow and the farmer. Water comes from the country and returns to either open space or the ocean; you need know little more except to pay the bill when the meter is read. But out here at the end of Cape Cod, we ARE the country. Where the water comes from depends on us; where it goes depends on us; the very health of our water system depends on us. In fact, we are the only "single source aquifer" in this hemisphere! Our single water supply is our ground water, in essence, an underground water table between layers of rock or clay from which our wells draw. We have no reservoirs or rivers. As new homes are added, each is designed to ensure that our fragile water system is protected, that the aquifer under us is not corrupted, that our wells are not endangered, and that our neighbors' properties are not damaged. This involves some pretty complicated engineering and a subterranian water system on each property for drawing from clean, fresh water and disposing of used water by filtering it through the soil.
The trick to maintaining the health of this system is to understand why it exists (leave the details to the experts) and what its drawbacks are. In the city, anything that gets flushed, from mashed potatoes to diamond rings, gets its initial boost from the flush water in the toilet tank. So do we. But there the similarity ends. Instead of cruising under the city streets joined by more pipes and flowing into larger and larger conduits until it reaches a treatment plant, the only momentum all our country mess ever gets is the initial flush and more of its own kind when the plug is pulled on the dish drain or someone showers. Carried by this momentum, the waste goes out of the cottage and through a pipe into its own miniature processing plant. In the older properties this is called a cesspool, and is nothing other than a cement-
However, when man meets microbe, things don't always work this way. Getting back to the word "momentum", of which there isn't a lot anyway, it carries what you don't want to see to where you can't see it or be otherwise bothered by it. If you don't know what that means, let's just say you DON'T want to meet it again!
It is possible that over time things could happen to that pipe outside the house or to the tank at the end. It's not common, but it happens. The trees in the yard could send roots into the pipe (they are not impervious) or a really heavy object like a tank (moving van, etc.) could drive across it just right. Such injuries are rare. But the mistakes people make are not rare, unfortunately, and you may learn of your error rapidly and unmistakably! The problems that could "backfire" on you are a full or blocked septic system or cesspool and/or blockage in the pipe.
Even if there are a few roots that have found their way into the pipe, and keep in mind that plants call the disgusting mess you are flushing "nutrients", liquids and a normal amount of white toilet paper WILL flow smoothly to its destination. A lot of toilet paper, especially the decorative kind, may not make it. Most anything that advertises itself as "flushable" may get hung up...it does not mean "country flushable". Diapers WILL NOT make it. Anything that calls itself "sanitary" WILL NOT make it.
AND ANYTHING THAT FOLLOWS THEM WILL NOT MAKE IT AND WILL COME BACK UP THE PIPE TO HAUNT YOU!!!
Which brings us to solutions. Should you ever flush the unflushable, or even if you didn't, and your toilet water creeps higher and higher in the bowl (hopefully coming to a stop before it overflows), do NOT keep trying to flush. Only rarely will the extra water push the whatever down; more likely the extra water won't have a place to go either, and then you really are in trouble. First, look around for a plunger. Every cottage should have one! It's usually a red rubber cup inverted on a broom handle. But it could look like a turban; it could be black. You stick this tool into the toilet as far as you can, sort of twist the handle a bit til you can tell it's sitting firmly in the bottom, and then push like crazy. Whoomp! This should force the foreign matter loose and into the cesspool. If it does not work, the next step is a snake, a coil of really heavy wire with a crank-
Of course, it is possible that the system, especially the older type, the cesspool, becomes full. This is NOT a matter of flushing the wrong thing. It could be the drainage holes in the older tanks filled with solids over time, restricting the outward flow. It could mean too many people are using the system too often, (In this land of sun and fun...) It could be that the system was designed for human use, but no one back then dreamed of washing machines, or the dreaded dishwasher, so the waste water is going in faster than it can filter out. Dishwashers are BAD. Food processors, such as built-
By the way, many cottages have outside showers. These may be no more than a hose from a faucet bringing that 55 degree water up to a shower head, or it may have both hot and cold water, and be enclosed for privacy. Some even have dressing rooms. This gets the sand off. It gets the salt off. But mainly, it gets you clean without adding water to the cesspool...please use these if possible!
DEFEATING THE HEAT
It's a never-
IS IT COLD YET?
Refrigerators should maintain a temperature just barely above freezing, i.e 34 degrees. (Refrigerator freezers should be below 32 degrees, the lower the better, and a real freezer should maintain a temperature of zero.) On a hot day, it takes much less than an hour to reach ambient temperature, or equalize with the air outside it, if it is left open. If a cleaner defrosts and thoroughly cleans a fridge on a hot, humid day, it will NOT appear to be working normally for quite some time, which is why we often ask them not to do it in between rentals. It takes as much as 24 hours of being closed (NO PEEKING) to get back to where it should be.
Here's a little hint for home or away...I've been doing this for over 10 years now, and wish I had thought of it 15 years before that when I started in the rental business! Buy a cheap indoor/outdoor thermometer. Put it someplace near the fridge and run the wire with the outdoor "wand" on the end to the inside of your refrigerator. Close the door AND LEAVE IT THAT WAY. When you start, the temperatures will be the same in both columns of the thermometer, but as the minutes creep by, the temp inside the fridge will start to register and the "outdoor" column will begin to drop. Every time you open the door you can set the fridge back by up to an hour, but this way you can see the refrigerator at work without impeding its progress. (And save that thermometer for the winter. You might feel guilty for being chilly when the thermostat's right where it should be, but drop that "outdoor wand" down where your feet are and you may find all things are NOT equal...cherchez la draft.)
Another hint: When you first turn a fridge on, setting it on high will cool it down quickly. However, DO NOT leave it at the highest setting. This brings on another problem. The big action in a fridge takes place in the freezer, and it's blown down into the refrigerator by a fan tucked away between the two. Especially when the humidity is high, the combination intense cold and moisture freezes up this fan and can burn out the fan motor. The result is a nice cold normal freezer and a warm useless fridge. Since the freezer is already as cold as it needs to be, and since cranking up the setting brings that temp down even further, a high setting does no good and can, in fact, be harmful. The best thing you can do is to moderate the setting BEFORE the fan motor ices up and you're practically watching your food spoil while you wait for the appliance repairman to keep his appointment the next day.
SPEAKING OF COLD
Ever wonder where the air conditioner is? Or why it isn't? Or go to take a shower and the water is cold? Well, just like Cape Cod is the only single source aquifer, one could say we're a single source power source and be pretty darned close to accurate. Electricity is manufactured at and over the Cape Cod Canal. That means ALL the power we use, from Sandwich to P-
Some houses (not as many as in the past) have two electric meters. One is only for the hot water heater and it is called an "off-
Despite not having AC in most places, and regulating the use of power to heat water, there are still times when the power is spread pretty thinly between all the thousands of users on the Cape, usually mealtime. So you may notice an occasional dimming, or "brown-
COMMON "CRIMINALS" OF CAPE COD
ASSAULT HOME INVASION
Greenhead flies * Water bugs (sow bugs)
Mosquitoes * Earwigs
June Bugs & Beetles*
Depending on the time of the summer and the weather conditions, a host of different critters may become "Common Nuisance #1" and then give way for another pest to take its place. Some summers, or some weeks of the summer, you might not encounter any problem "livestock" at the beach or in your summer home. This is for the other times...what you can do, what you can't do, and what you might find help for. We are just a sand bar with water on both sides and in the middle, and some bugs are naturally attracted to water and humidity. That cannot change. Whether they annoy you, or worse, to some degree depends on understanding them and to another degree on learning not just how to live with them, but how to live without them. If you knew a nocturnal bug was attracted to light, the last thing you would do would be to leave lights on all night, right? Suppose that bug resembled another bug that was afraid of light. What then? Or, you're tired of the kids tracking beach sand into the cottage...you've been sweeping every day and you just can't stay ahead of it. Idea: put a dishpan outside the door full of water and make the kids rinse before entering. Good idea..or BAD?!
There is an immense amount of information about insects on the internet. There are a huge number of bugs on this earth, and they have been here for many thousands of years, some surviving what the dinosaurs could not. The bits and pieces of information below will not educate you, but they may interest you, and I hope they will guide you to knowing what will and will not cause pain or disease, how to avoid them (if possible), and what is being done locally to control them. Nor would the sketches hold up to any kind of scientific or artistic standard. But at least, you will be able to recognize one of these creatures that we share Cape Cod with should you encounter it, and hopefully avoid the shock of meeting it without warning.
Wood Roach -
THE INNOCENT LOOK-
Strangely, the bug that draws the most attention and
complaints is one of the most innocent insects on
Cape Cod. It does not bite or sting. It does not
damage property like a termite, or clothing like a wool
moth. It is not interested in human food and does not
carry any diseases or contaminants. It lives outdoors,
especially in woods or garden areas. There are two
ways this bug gets into a cottage. First, it might ride in on laundry from the clothesline, or in veggies or flowers from a garden. Second, it slides in under loosely fitting screens at open windows or doors that are backlit by lights inside the cottage at night. They are attracted to light and they fly short distances, although they prefer to skitter. (It is the male which usually enters near a light source; they are out seeking female companionship. Mating season is usually late spring, so visit the Cape then if you want to see more of them.) Their crime? They resemble an immature cockroach quite closely when they are not moving, being tan and flat with wings that appear to be shell-
Common Name: Wood or Spotted Roach
Season of greatest activity: June through mid-
THE WICKED AVIATOR
In contrast, there is a bug that seems to follow you everywhere, at least during daytime, sneak up without notice but with the speed and precision of a small bomber, and cause real pain at the bite site. This hungry and disagreeable insect is the greenhead fly. There seems to be a lot we don't know about them, but that lack is being addressed by grad students from the University of Massachusetts among others. It is due to their field work and research that we now know the breeding habits of these monster biting flies. The "Cape Cod Mosquito Control Project" applies a great deal of its time, effort, and budget to eliminating or reducing the greenhead population on the Cape. Pass a salt marsh (the most obvious is Blackfish Creek at Davises' Corner in South Wellfleet) and you may see what appear to be empty wooden boxes on stilts scattered around the marsh. These are greenhead traps, and they are baited and covered with mesh to trap the flies. From experiments with the boxes, the Project learned that certain colors painted on the inside attract many more flies than others. But the need for knowledge is on-
Warm, dry spring: Appear after the new moon in June and disappear after the full moon at the end of July, beginning of August. (approx. 45 days)
Cool, damp spring: Appear after the full moon in June and disappear after the new moon in August. (approx. 45 days)
There are apparently a couple of generations at work at once toward the end of their life cycle; the greenhead population is heaviest later in their season. And despite the headway made so far, there isn't much else that can be done to eliminate or reduce the greenhead population. Altering the landscape is not feasible. Pesticides and insecticides would have to be administered in large doses in an almost random pattern, which would cause more problems to humans and wildlife than to the insects themselves. There are a few things you can do, like reducing dead air space. Roll your car windows up and use something porous like a lightweight blanket for shade at the beach (you'll need 2 umbrellas leaning on their sides and some clothespins). And it wouldn't hurt to avoid perfume, cologne, and cosmetics and drink plenty of plain, cold water-
Common name: Greenhead fly
Season of greatest activity: mid-
THE SCUM BUM
Babies know what they are. Children's songs are written about them. They can be found day and night, indoors and out, alone and in swarms. You can hear them coming, hear them circling...you have plenty of warning, but you can't escape them. "They" are the most common of all nasty blood-
"...and beneath my fingernails
I will squish their little tails
'Til they promise not to bite me anymore!"
Hard to believe, but they are even more voracious at dusk and it seems impossible sometimes to even venture outdoors. Yet our mosquitoes are small by mosquito standards. They are nothing compared to the wild game found in northern Maine and up into Canada. It's hard to believe that people pay big bucks to go after caribou, moose, bear, and mosquitoes. All my husband ever sees are mosquitoes, but he keeps going back. Huge and mean. So keep that in mind when one of our "normal" ones finds a tender spot.
Of course, slapping is the best way to get rid of them. As with our other local airborne creatures, pesticides can be more of a hazard than a relief. But in the case of mosquitoes, prevention is possible to a degree. Mosquitoes breed in stagnant water...ANY stagnant, sitting water. Kiddie pools, dog dishes, in the rims of old tires, in the dishpan you set out for foot rinsing-
Common name: Mosquito
Season of greatest activity: spring through fall
June Bug (beetle) up to 1 1/2"
It's time to mention another insect that causes no harm to humans, actually a group of outdoor creatures that are just an annoyance...and quite an annoyance if they get caught in your hair!!! June bugs are among the largest, most prolific, and most aggressive-
Common names: June bug, Lady bug, Horned beetle
Season of greatest activity: Spring and summer
There's more to come in 2007!
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