Life in a Dol house
2017 - Week 02

Kakonomics ~ The science of mediocrity

The cold weather continued unabated until Thursday this week and with temperatures below zero for all or most of the day, my water pipes have remained frozen now for 6 days. 

I have spent more than my usual amount of time this week looking at the weather pattern we are experiencing and trying to work out when things will change.

The northern Jetstream has been in an unusual position and has been bringing icy cold air due south from the northern icecap, over central and south eastern Europe and down the Balkans, before turning 90º east and heading for the Levant. This has resulted in snow on many of the Greek islands and in Athens, and the icy temperatures we have had in Dol all week.

For four days the daytime temperature in the shade was never above freezing point. Early in the week, when there was low pressure in the Ionian Sea, we had the traditional Bura wind, which when coupled with the cold temperatures gave a wind chill of -13ºC. But then, as the low pressure moved eastwards, instead of the cold abating, it continued on and on.

There are many causes for the Jetstream to move. Some of this is contained in Chaos Theory, sometimes known as the Butterfly Effect, where a butterfly flaps its wings in South America, an action which causes a hurricane in the North Atlantic. 

The Chaos effect can be seen in many natural systems, but especially in weather and climate. The recent El Niño and the current La Niña in the Pacific Ocean are linked to alterations in the path of the Jetstream. It is all related to climate change, whatever the causes of the climate change might eventually be proved to be. What it has done is to cause significant cold to be experienced across a large swathe of Eastern Europe.

Finally on Thursday, the cold air flow in Dol ceased and it was replaced by warm air from the south, which started the thaw. It was only then that I discovered the extent of the damage to my water pipes.

First there was water dripping through the ceiling in my new bathroom.
After placing buckets to catch the drips, I ventured up through the ceiling hatch into the forbidden territory of the loft. 

This was the area along side the gable ends, which when I moved in had window openings at either end and one of my first jobs was to close the two voids. However, as there is no insulation of any kind under concrete roof tiles, not even any underfelt - you can see daylight between the tiles - and whilst not having open window voids has reduced the draft, it has done little to seal the loft space under the tiles. It is just less windy than outside.

I immediately saw that all the new pipes that the plumber had installed 13 months ago, when he installed the central heating, were just bare copper pipes.

Not a single pipe between the outside and the central heating header tank had had any insulation applied.

Two of the pipes had fractured and ice was protruding from the inside, one a straight piece and the other a bend.
Little wonder then that water was dripping through into the bathroom immediately below. 

Placing some containers under the fractures will catch the water but not solve the problem.

Elsewhere telltale drips started to appear from the pipework and then I spotted a 3½ centimetre rip in one pipe.

I found several more. Outside there are places where the 22mm copper pipes have splits of over 5cm/3" long. I am taking the pipes to be examined as I wonder if they have a manufacturing flaw, are sub-standard or perhaps an alloy rather than pure copper. They were insulated and I have never seen pipes split like this before. The UK gets cold and I have seen ice damage, but usually it has been at unions, bends or taps. Never in the middle of a run of pipe.

With building work due to start in a couple of weeks and the need for continuous winter heating here generally over my mid February, I decided that I would abandon the wood stove and the central heating and will use a couple of portable heaters to keep warm, then completely renew the system for the new build. I'm not going to throw good money after bad because with so many leaks, every pipe would need to be removed, checked, replacements made then refitted.

On Friday I sacked the plumber. He was a very personable guy and was said to be one of the best on the island but has completely failed me in this installation. I can certainly do no worse myself. It may take me longer to do the work, but I know what needs to be done and I will probably have to get what I need sent from Screwfix in Germany, but I can do it.

This is actually symptomatic of the problems here. What is known as Kakonomics is exemplified by the local water company, HvarskiVodovod. I discovered on Wednesday that my water meter has burst with the cold. It was still frozen, so not leaking.

I went to the company offices to tell them and to ask for a replacement. The elderly woman on reception told me I had to "write" to request a replacement. That may have been my bad Croatian or her poor English, however clearly she was going to do nothing about my problem and so I left. I wrote the letter as soon as I got home and have emailed it to the company. Here is where Kakonomics comes in.

I don't expect a reply because generally in my experience public entities here care little about customer service and email is something they "have", not something to be actually used. There is also discrimination against non-locals, albeit at a low level, but it exists. So I have very low expectations. Equally I suspect Vodovod know this is the expectation of their customers, so do nothing, and so far I have not received any acknowledgement, reply or crucially a visit by technicians to replace the meter! Circle complete! 

But as some pipes were still frozen on Friday, I couldn't get water from the taps even if I had a new meter. Amongst the utility companies, the water company is far from unique. The electric supplier HEP are exactly the same.

I enjoy living in Dol immensley but there are many instances like this, of little local difficulties! But nowhere in the world is perfect and the odd minuses are cancelled by the very many pluses.

At the polar opposite of Kakonomics scale are one of the builders merchants in Stari Grad, called Volat. They could not have been more helpful in trying to source a gas heater for me, phoning suppliers and even Bauhaus on the mainland and arranging for my order. The staff greet you by name, are helpful, knowledgeable and even if they don't have exactly what you need, they go out of their way to try. You cannot ask for more.

Apart from the obvious work involved in the frozen pipes, I have also excavated and moved the earth cable which runs from the incoming power box to something buried somewhere in the garden.

Here, the electric company does not provide any earth in their incoming lead. So this cable was added at some time in the not to distant past, judging by the type of cable. But has it been properly installed, connected to an earth rod - probably not? Kakonomics again. I don't have a continuity meter to test it for myself.

It had been covered by a few millimetres of hard mortar and in places by a few stones. This is an area which will be excavated in the first stage of the building work and before the new electrics are ready to be installed, so I have run an overhead catenary wire to support the high visibility conduit with the earth cable inside. At least no one will slice through it with a breaking hammer.

And whilst on the subject of breaking hammers, I brought out the biggest I have this week, to remove some large stone blocks from walls
Over the years a lot of people have added bits to the structure of my home. In some cases, the use is no longer obvious or known, in other places, like the fold yard, they have faced a traditional stone wall with un-reinforced concrete, as in the above photograph. 

The concrete seeping in between the stones and locking them in position. Presumably this was to aid and speed up the task of "mucking out" the livestock. I've "mucked out" a few stables over the years, the best without doubt were the Durham Constabulary stables at Harperly Hall in the County Palatine where I was also taught to ride. Now the old hall is part of the UK College of Policing and is home to the National Ambulance Resilience Unit. The horses and stables are sadly long gone. There is a useful WikiHow for anyone contemplating the task who doesn't know.

But back to my walls
These large and more or less square stones will become the corner stones of the new building, so they have been removed with care and stored close to where they will be re purposed. 

I have to thank the Egyptians (and my neighbour Steve) for their help in making it possible to move the 250 KG stones easily and quickly.

Problems apart, I have regularly surveyed the gardens and orchards this week as the cold weather intensified and continued. 

Whilst I have protected many of the tender plants, because the greenhouse temperature overnight has fallen below 0ºC, I have lost every seedling I had been nurturing for the new season's tomatoes and peppers, together with some other tender plants. My Red Banana looks very, very sick and a couple of others, like the Custard Apple tree may or may not survive.

With rain on Friday the thaw continued and so did the drips. I took a hacksaw to the external pipes up to the loft to quickly empty the header tank and stop the entire 30 litres running down the new bathroom walls. My drips pale into insignificance though when compared to other predicaments property owners in Stari Grad face. 

I went with my friend Cvjetko to one expats second floor flat where the toilet cistern pipe had frozen, burst, thawed and then run at full pressure for maybe 12 hours. Neighbours were alerted to the problem because of the river running out of the garden and down the lane for 100 metres or so until it reached St Stephen's Square. 

The internal state of their apartment was indescribable, as probably a depth of 100mm of water had built up inside, had come through concrete ceilings into the 1st floor apartment below, flowed out of the door and over the terrace then continued onwards and outwards. There are probably many other less obvious leaks still waiting to be discovered....

A quick examination of my weather station records gives a graphic illustration of the temperatures we have had this week. The are the international standard weather measurements taken at 4 times every day, at every station worldwide.

The daily maximum and minimum temperatures also paint a similar picture.

All in all, I have taken several steps backwards. 

t the end of the week, I still have no running water, the buildings are not as warm as they could or should be and I am frustrated at the turn of events. 

I think my two felines have the best idea, just curl up together and go to sleep in front of the gas fire!