Mother Nature Has Opinions

Hello once again gentle reader, and welcome to my humble … uh … whatever this is. Newsletter? Blog? Column? I honestly don’t know any more. Still, it goes on, and I thank you for reading!

Last week, if you will recall, I was all messed up. It had been a rough week and I was unable to really figure out why. Several of you pointed out that we’d switched from standard time to daylight savings time and suggested that might have been at least part of the issue. A week later I have to agree. I am definitely doing better. Apparently the switch was hard on me this time around for some reason. Weird. Thanks for the reminder, though. An explanation of any kind helps.

Now on to the news of the week, starting with the bad…

About two weeks ago I removed the ice melting mats I had up on the roof. These things:

As expected, we never even turned them on in what remained of the winter, but they were now collecting a bit of debris and they needed to be out of the way.

The particular image above is part of the story. That’s the upper roof, above my studio, and the mat is directly in front of the drain hole through the parapet. On the other side there is a scupper and a downspout to direct water down to the lower roof. The bricks are there for a reason. Last summer they held down some shade cloth that was covering our skylights. When that cloth came down in the fall I put them around the entrance to the downspout to catch debris before it clogged things up.

When I took down the heating mats, I also cleaned the roof. This process involves a battery operated leaf blower and gets all the loose leaves & gunk off the roof. In the end the roof was in good shape, and I was happy. But…

You might notice in the photo that the mat is held down by a brick, and that the electrical supply line interacts with two bricks to keep it out of any puddles and from moving unexpectedly. When I removed the mat I was supposed to return the bricks to an arrangement that would screen out debris once again, but I forgot. Three of the bricks seen in the photo were left somewhat out of place.

But surely that can’t matter, right? I’d just cleaned the roof. Well, this is where the title of the post comes in. Mother nature decided it did matter. For about three days things were good, then we had some wind. The row of cedar trees along the side of the house shed onto the roof, and the extensive rain carried that stuff around the displaced bricks and into the scupper where it completely clogged it up.

The opening in the scupper is tiny — maybe 2" across — and there was no wire filter basket in it to reduce the chance of this happening. We didn’t know anything was wrong initially since basically nothing can be seen from anywhere except on of the roof itself.

Our first hints there was a problem were some odd dripping sounds during the storm. Investigation revealed that water appeared to be coming out from around the side of the scupper somehow, but that was based on a visual inspection from thirty feet away and two floors below. A closer look requires two different ladders and I was unwilling to risk that in the rain, so I waited.

In my own defence I did look around in my studio to see if there was a leak and I saw nothing. It was still dry.

It was two days before the rain stopped and I finally got up there. I think it was the day after last week’s post, but don’t quote me on that. With the second ladder in place I took a look in the scupper. It was full of water. Full. I removed the cedar bits that were clogging it and water began flooding out and down the downspout.

“Wow,” I thought, “that’s a lot of water.”

Time passed.

“Ummm… that’s really a lot of water. It’s not slowing down.”

More time passed.

“Just how much water is up there?”

I moved the ladder to the location I use to get to the upper roof. Water continued to gush through the downspout as I did so. When I could see over the parapet I discovered an area approximately 12' x 14' had become a pond. It covered just about all of my studio. It took many minutes for the water flow to begin to slow and level to recede enough that I could get on the roof without having to step into the puddle. Based on the water and debris line, it was about 6" deep in the middle. Simple math suggests we had somewhere between 1000 and 2000 pounds of water up there.

Once the water had drained away I realized my mistake with the bricks, and noted the absence of the wire filter basket. I also realized that this could happen at any time, even in the summer when the bricks are needed to hold down shade cloth again, so a better filter mechanism is required.

At that point, I was reminded of something I had noted when we first moved into the house. The light fixture in my studio had a water ring in it. I’d wondered about that, but I had not investigated further at the time. Not that there was much more I could do, really.

Back to the story. Once off the roof and the ladders were all put away, I went back into the studio and had another look around. Things had changed for the worse. There was water in the light fixture, and a water stain nearby on the ceiling. Something between half a gallon and a gallon of water had made it into the ceiling and down into the light.

I emptied out the light and took the fixture down. Then I put the dehumidifier into the studio and turned it on. We ran it for much of this past week in an effort to dry things out.

Best guess: there is a corner around the scupper — probably at the top of the opening though the parapet — that is not actually waterproof. Once the water got so deep that it could overflow the scupper it could also seep into the house through that opening, but only very slowly. In three days we didn’t get that much water. Enough to be a problem, but not enough to make itself obvious quickly. And this has clearly happened before, as proven by the water ring in the light when we moved in. It also explains why the studio was painted by the previous owners. It was the only room in the house that had been recently repainted. I’d thought they had painted it white to hide the incredibly dark forest green that had previously been there, and thus make the place more suitable for sale. Now, however, I think they had to hide the water stain(s) on the ceiling from the last time this happened.

A permanent solution is still required. I will have to coat every surface in the openings through the parapet with roofing cement, but that requires a few dry days in a row first to make the job easier. I did buy and insert wire filter baskets, which should help avoid this in the future, but they are only a partial solution. I need something better than the bricks up there as well. That’s a work in progress.

Thankfully we have yet to paint in the studio, and there is only one small water stain. This will all be but a happy memory at some point, but for now it’s incredibly frustrating. I should have noted the missing wire strainers, I should have put the bricks back properly, and I should have suspected this was a possible problem based on the water ring in the light. Any of those things would probably have let me avoid this entire mess.

The key lesson here: any flat roof is your enemy. Never forget that.

Here’s something more fun.

Last week I shared an IR picture of a candle in a mirror, and I noted that the mirror wasn’t a particularly good reflector of infrared light. The internet said mirrors should reflect IR, and one of my readers suggested I try other mirrors to see if they varied in that regard. OK, sure.

That’s eight different mirrors, and none of them is an effective reflector of infrared light. Not one. It’s almost like you can’t trust everything you read on the internet. That said, additional digging reveals that there are things called “hot mirrors” used in photonics experiments and specialized equipment. These devices reflect IR light but let visible light pass through them. If you are trying to avoid heat from a light source messing up an experiment, they can be helpful, but they are definitely not normal mirrors. It seems the obvious sources of information about this let me down. Household mirrors do not reflect IR light well, something the above photos clearly confirm.

In a related note, someone asked about the outlined objects in the images. The IR camera has two lenses: one for IR light and the other for visible light. It uses edge detection in the visible spectrum to create those outlines, which makes it easier to figure out what you are looking at in an IR image.

But note that the hottest part of the candle is offset from the outline of the wick. I think that’s because of the parallax involved. The two lenses are only a centimetre apart, but depending on the objects and distances involved that can be significant. In the case of the images above, the candle was generally very close to the camera, which exaggerated the issue. In many cases it is possible to see that the outline of the candle doesn’t correspond to the heat shadow of the candle itself, even in the reflections. Kind of cool, it its own way.

And finally, I went to a ceremony on Monday. I was invited by my friend and instructor, Splash (Aaron Nelson-Moody). He’s a local artist who worked on a newly installed sound wall along with Angela George, a local weaver. Together they created a fantastic set of images that I get to see regularly when I drive past.

Here’s a photo of Splash and me in front of the new installation:

And here are the artists:

Angela George and Aaron Nelson-Moody

The ceremony was fascinating. The intent was to sever the connection between the artists and the art, handing responsibility for the artwork off to its new owners and allowing the artists to go off and create other work without worrying about this one anymore.

The process involves drumming, chanting, and brushing down the both the art and artists with cedar branches dipped in water. As a fellow artist, I found the experience both educational and meaningful. Handing off a work to someone else is an important event, particularly one as large and public as this. Marking the event in this way feels significant, and the mayor and other representatives of the District of North Vancouver were present. I suspect the point about the District taking responsibility for the new work was understood by all.

I really enjoyed this event, and I hope to attend other ceremonies at some point. I have so much to learn. Many thanks to Splash for the invitation, and to both artists for their wonderful work.

That’s it for this week. Thanks again!




Sculptor/Artist. Former programmer. Former volunteer firefighter. Former fencer. Weirdest resume on the planet, I suspect.

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Jeff Powell

Jeff Powell

Sculptor/Artist. Former programmer. Former volunteer firefighter. Former fencer. Weirdest resume on the planet, I suspect.

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