Vent backdrafting

Continuing on from my last post, I had a little gem arrive in the mail today. Both my bathroom vents have internal butterfly dampers which stop the cold air in winter backdrafting into the house. The dryer has never had a backdraft preventer except for the the insulated foam vent cover (EcoVent), which honestly never worked well. Metal butterfly backdraft mechanisms are just a recipe for lint build-up. Now that the vent cover has been replaced, I was looking for a backdraft preventer.

Enter the Cape Backdraft Damper from Tamarack Technologies. It apparently opens and closes with minimal airflow in either direction. The problem with other dampers is that in some way, most of them restrict airflow. That’s not the case here. The airflow from the dryer is the same as it was before the damper was installed.

backdraft

The 4″ model fits snugly into the dryer vent, and is super easy to install – it took 1 minute tops. Air flows freely through the backdraft preventer with no fear of lint build-up. The real test? How much cold air will enter the dryer in the winter when it’s not running? I’ll get back to you on that. If it works well, I might just replace the butterfly backdraft preventers.

Needing to vent

Whilst renovating my house, I have always tried to use products which are efficient. Over the years I have tried various vent covers for both the dryer, and bathrooms. I don’t like the one with plastic flappers, or louvers – one basic word describes them – garbageThe main purposes of a vent cover is to (i) allow for unrestricted air flow out, and (ii) stop air coming in, i.e. backdrafting. If used for a dryer, it should also not catch lint that somehow escapes the lint trap in the dryer (like seriously can someone not design a lint trap that actually catches all the lint?). Oh, and it should be strong, and maybe not just white, other colours would be nice.

So the first vent cover I installed over 10 years ago was the insulated foam cap, the Broan EV100 EcoVent, shown in Fig.1. This vent uses a “floating ball check valve” to block the vent when there is no air flow, and when air does flow, the foam ball is lifted out of the way. This vent seems like a good idea, however it needs considerable airflow to keep the foam ball aloft, and if used on a dryer vent, lint tends to build-up on the enclosure. It is supposedly airtight, but the foam ball never quite moves as seamlessly as it should in its enclosure, meaning that there are gaps in the seal. Fluctuations in the air being expelled cause the ball to quiver in its enclosure, causing an annoying rhythmic sound – dispelling any notion that the device is noiseless. I found over the intervening 10 years that the airflow from bathroom fans (which is way lower than that of a dryer) is reduced because of the foam ball set-up. Lastly, the information on their website suggest the vent cover is attractive, yes it has nice curves, but it tends to create a series of “bumps” on the side of the house. It was a good choice, for all the solutions available at the time. Home Depot use to carry them, but now they seem to have disappeared from the market.

ecoVent

Fig. 1: The EcoVent from the outside and the inside

About a year ago, I swapped the dryer vent out with an all metal vent, like the one shown in Fig.2. I have a similar one on my range-hood and it seems to work well, so I assumed it would work well on the dryer. The design touts a 100% gasket seal, airtight construction, and a weighted damper to prevent back-draft. Due to the warm air expelled by the dryer, the gasket seal continuously fell off. Worse though, the opening has a wire mesh cover, which is a honey-trap for lint. Lint also becomes caked on the inner walls of the vent.

metalVent

Fig 2: The metal vent, with lint build-up.

So, looking for a new vent cover, I came across this simple design, the DryerWallVent. The Dryer Wall Vent (DWV) has an extremely low profile, is made of galvanized steel, and wait for it – it comes in more than one colour: tan, brown and white. So aesthetically, it is a great looking vent. It also has unrestricted airflow. Now it doesn’t prevent backdraft completely, but the vent should have some form of backdraft preventer inside the duct (see next post). The integral magnets prevent pests from gaining access and negative pressure flapping.

dryerwallvent

Fig 3: The Dryer Wall Vent package

The benefits? It’s incredibly simple, and it works. There is nothing restricting air flow, so the number of cubic feet per minute for the particular device in question is not restricted. When there is no airflow, the cover closes the vent off. It doesn’t flap in the wind.

Installation is incredibly easy. As I was retrofitting vents in a house that’s nearly 90 years old, I also opted for the 1″ offset base (AZEK solid cellular PVC mounting block). While technically it is suppose to help with offsetting a vent where there is siding, I used the base to make installing the vent over holes which weren’t perfect to begin with. The example shown below is the retrofit of my basement bathroom fan vent (with an integral butterfly damper). The pipe is slightly oval in shape due to a misshapen hole.

dwvent1

Fig 4: Retrofit hole in wall, and addition of PVC mounting block.

Once the PVC block is mounted, it takes about a minute to attach the vent itself, using four holes on the inside of the vent. I attached it using stainless steel screws. Notice there is a gap between the vent and the ducting in the photo below. I merely used aluminum ducting tape to create a seal between the two. Below you can see the DWV in action. To finish it off I caulked between the cover and the PVC block, and the block and the wall.

dwvent2

Fig. 5: FiDryer Wall Vent attached to PVC block, and in action.

The company also carries an excellent range of dryer-boxes and other accessories for venting. To date I have installed two vents, one on the dryer, the second on one of the bathrooms. Still waiting to find the time to do the second floor bathroom (largely because it involves siding).

Iceland – land without trees?

We visited Iceland in the summer of 2013 (see my other blog despitethesnow.wordpress.com for particulars). One of the things that really stood out for me was the vastness of the volcanic landscape. Put another way, the distinct lack of trees. Iceland, was once (well 2.5 million years ago), covered in coniferous forests. Over the years, and glaciations, the number of tree species gradually reduced to the point where, at the time of human settlement in circa 900AD, there was really only birch forests and willow scrub left. At this point, 25-40% of the land mass was covered forested, however it didn’t take long for the forest to disappear due in part to sheep grazing, clearing of the woods for pasture, firewood, charcoal and construction poles. By 1950 the birch woods covered less than 1% of land area. But the lack of trees isn’t because of the cooler climate. Canada is colder, and we have heaps of trees.

Afforestation is progressing, but at 1.5% of land area, forests still aren’t that widespread. Tree species have diversified. In addition to mountain birch, there is also Russian larch, Sitka spruce, lodgepole pine, and western balsam poplar. But, maybe not enough to sustain a large lumber industry.

icelandForest

Facts:

  • Largest forest in Iceland: Hallormsstaðaskógur, 1854 hectares, 70% native birches, 30% imported species.
  • Forests cover 49,000 hectares.
  • About 200 tons are harvested annually.
  • There are no mosquitoes in Iceland (or snakes for that matter).
  • Iceland’s first apple tree was planted in 1909.

How expensive is lumber? Here’s a quick comparison with a piece of standard building lumber in North America: the ubiquitous 2″×4″ (normally spruce in Canada, but sometimes fir). Looking at the catalog of the Icelandic version of Home Depot, Bauhaus, the closest equivalent is the 45mm×95mm, and the price per metre is 390 Krona. This is equivalent to about C$3.74. So an eight foot length is about 2.44m. A 2″×4″×8′ at Home Depot in Toronto is C$2.60. The equivalent piece of lumber in Iceland would cost C$9.30. Yikes… and that’s just for a crappy piece of building lumber. I don’t imagine there are too many places selling exotic lumber either.

Any Icelandic woodworkers out there?

 

The Boston trio

Some of the most unusual block planes are “THE BOSTON” brand, made from aluminum in the United Kingdom. Are they named after Boston, Lincolnshire, or related to “The Boston Vice Company”, part of Tilgear? As there is next-to-no information regarding these planes, I am going to imagine that there aren’t any more models out there, bar the three already in my collection. From the use of aluminum, I would surmise that they might have been manufactured circa the 1950s. The only non-aluminum parts are the screws, cross-bars, and of course the blades.

theBostons

The No.1, No.2A, and No.2

What influenced the design of these planes? The body of the No.2 and No.2A are identical, it is only the lever cap that differs. In some respects, the planes do have, what some would say are ergonomic features. The No.2A in the centre even has vestiges of a streamlined form. The No.2 (as shown below) incorporates a rabbit-ear like lever cap, which allows the purlicue (like who knew the part between your thumb and forefinger had a name!) of the hand to rest, and apply forward force.

bostonErgo

Holding the No.2

They are the most colourful of planes: red, blue and black (the 2A shown in the middle is more commonly seen sporting black). The paint may have been used, both as a sales gimmick, but also to cover the rough surface of the plane, as little effort was put into milling the surface and making it a “quality” product. The weird thing about these planes it that none of them show any markings beyond “THE BOSTON”, and “No.2″/”No.2A”.

bostonRough

An example of the rough finishing on the aluminum

The Boston No.1 plane?

So I managed to get hold of one of  “small” block planes from “The Boston” – it has no markings, so I’m going to say its a No.1. Although it’s not really that small, in fact at nearly 7″ in length, it’s the same length as both their other planes, the No.2 and the No.2A. The oddest thing about this block plane is the bedding angle of the blade – which at 50º (York Pitch), is almost unheard of in block planes (until recently when companies like Lee Valley started producing optional high pitch blades). The blade is also bevel down. So maybe it’s not a block plane? But what sort of a bench plane looks like this?

boston1

The plane feels sturdy, despite being made of aluminum. It has a number of unique features. The first is a finger “tab” in the toe of the plane, replacing what would normally be a small circular finger depression. But to be honest, maybe the plane is more of a two-handed experience, with thumb and forefinger pinching the tab.

bostonHolding

The second feature is that whilst the blade is held in position by a fitted lever cap and cross-brace, pressure  is provided from under the blade by means of a machine-screw. As the bolt is screwed in, it forces the blade-assembly up against the cross-brace, holding it rigid. This makes it somewhat tricky to set the blade, but it is a unique way of securing the blade.

bostonRedscrew

Note that the blade set screw is askew. Such work may be indicative of the low-cost nature of these planes, despite their interesting lines.

 

boston_1

Long lasting tool or cheaper import?

In the last year I have read a number of forum posts where people ask questions like “Should I buy a Lie Nielsen or Veritas or WoodRiver plane?”. There isn’t really an easy answer. If working on cost alone, it would be easy to choose the one with the lowest price, but there are other factors involved. Tools that are manufactured in mass quantities overseas do cost less, partially because the cost of labour is less (but growing). However overseas manufacturing can come with its own baggage – environmental impact? workplace safety? When you buy a tool manufactured in North America you are helping foremost to employ people. People who have a job contribute to local economies, which in turn stops smaller towns from disappearing because people have to move away. Small manufacturing companies often contribute back to their local community, and obtain parts/goods from other local companies. It is a cyclic process, and sending manufacturing offshore brings more harm than good.

Manufacturing quality tools costs money – it’s not just the cost of manufacturing the tool (material and labour), but also the cost of design and innovation, and the quality of materials being used. Let’s look at cost by exploring the No.4 plane. Here are the current prices for three manufacturers planes:

WoodRiver (China) US$145.00
Veritas (Canada) US$209.00
Lie Nielsen (USA) US$300.00

There is obviously a price differential. But what are you getting for that price? The price is not just the material value of the item. There is a US$64 difference between the WoodRiver and Veritas planes. Why? The Veritas has “out of the box” usability, and innovation. The No.4 bench plane has a all-in-one rear tote and adjustable frog assembly that extends all the way to the sole, and a Norris-style adjustment mechanism. For $279 you can get a Veritas® customizable smoother, with adjustable mouth. Innovation is not possible without investment.

Eric Sloane once said “Most of today’s tools have the cheapness of mass production, the old hand-made tools often had design that made them examples of fine art.” The planes of Lie Nielsen and Veritas are indeed works of art. Yes, if you are starting out in woodworking, you may not be able to afford a cabinet full of LN/V planes. But do you need them all straight away? Likely not. Pick a workhorse, save up, buy a quality tool. Then as time goes on supplement it with another one. If cost is an issue, then it is possible to buy a vintage No.4 handplane in reasonable condition, for anywhere between $40-$100. Sure, it too will need some work, maybe an updated blade from Veritas or Hock? Finally there is the matter of value. One would like to think that investing in a quality tool will mean that it will maintain its value, or increase in value over time. The same can not be said of mass-produced tools.

Let’s call the extra cost of buying North American “social responsibility”, or an investment in our children’s future.

Without wood

The heft and feel of a well-worn handle,
The sight of shavings that curl from a blade;
The logs in the woodpile, the sentiment of huge
beams in an old-fashioned house;
The smell of fresh cut timber and the pungent
fragrance of burning leaves;
The crackle of kindling and the hiss of burning logs.
Abundant to all the needs of man,
how poor the world would be
Without wood.

Everard Hinrichs