Power Play – 2 minutes (days) to National Grid for delay of game.

This past Thursday, Joyce mentioned that the bathroom light was not working, perhaps it had burned out. None of the other lights in the bathroom were working either, so I went down stairs to check the breaker. The breaker seemed fine, but some other circuits also appeared to be out. Took the wiggie out to the chiller (which had exposed 220v lugs), and learned that one of the legs was dead. So pulled the cover off of the main panel, and tried testing directly on the main lugs.

IMG_3209.JPG. The left hand lug had power, but the right hand lug was dead. I could get power from the cable itself. I had no way turning off the power to investigate further, so called in an Emergency Service Request to National Grid, and started to wait.

Once NatGrid pulled the meter, we would have no power, nor lights. Started thinking about alternate power sources – maybe buying or borrowing a generator, or running a lead cord to the neighbors house. Or maybe an inverter attached to the car – (why should the Prius owners have all the fun?). Then I remembered my jump start unit which has a 110v inverter built in. Put an LED bulb into a clip up lamp, and now I have a temporary work light.

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NG still had not shown up, so I figured making lunch would get them to show up. No luck, so I called them, and they said the rep was on his way. A few hours later, called them again, and was again assured that the rep was on they way. Since it seemed likely that I would need to replace the main breaker, I wanted to get the old one out (once the meter got pulled) and take it to the electrical supply house (which closes at 5).

Started fresh on Friday morning, this time although they had the ESR, they thought we were waiting on an inspection. I explained to them that they have to pull the meter, then I can do the work, and then it gets inspected. No problem, truck is on its way. At lunchtime, I called them again, and they talked to the dispatcher, yup, truck on the way. (The depot is about three block from my house on the SAME street). Finally about 3, the tech calls me. I explain the situation, he explains that he got a “between 8 and 4″, on the work order. We agreed the people in the call center are idiots. He arrived shortly after that, and did not like the look of the service entrance cable – then he pulled the meter – not good. Clearly the water had been coming down inside the entrance cable, and had done quite a job on the neutral connections in the meter.

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He “glassed” the meter box and hung the meter with some clips, to save time when we we ready to resume service (nudge nudge, wink wink). He would not tell me to put the meter back in myself, since that would be wrong….

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Finally, with the power out, I could start figuring out how bad it was. I started disconnecting the main breaker – the bad leg had clear signs of arcing and was partially melted!

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Got the main breaker out (it was not in good shape), and went down to Troy Light, where I originally got the panel 30 years ago. Alas, the original maker had sold out to another one, who then also sold out. This breaker fed from the top, and the replacements fed from the end, so even if they had one (they had 200amp, but not the 150 I needed ), the existing service wires would not reach the new location.

So we had to go to plan B, a new service panel. And since I was doing a new panel, and the original entrance cable was bad, upgrading to 200amp was in order. All of this was going to take some time (and some new tools, so there is an up side to this project), but clearly the jump start unit was not going fill in. Then I remembered that when I had the service to the south wing turned off (as it was now being fed from the north wing), National Grid just took a final meter reading and closed the account. The meter was still in place and the service live. So along with the stuff for the new service entrance, I also got 20′ of SER cable and a 100 breaker for the south wing sub feed. I grabbed on of the unused main breakers from one of the other south wing panels, and dropped it in to live panel, and used the SER to jump to the other panel, and now we have power back (at least 100amps worth). This should hold us until I can get the new service cut in.

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A Cool Breeze

When we installed the high velocity air handlers and the primary/secondary hydronic loop, we had intended to add a chiller to get air conditioning. This summer seemed like the time to do it, The rep at WinAir, had been very helpful with the second air handler, and was willing to help with the chiller. His first suggestion was to get the chiller from MultiAqua, the company that makes them for Unico. We settled on the MACH 60, a 5 ton unit that can also switch into heat pump mode to provide hot water for heating in the fall and spring. With that (and some accessories) on order, it was time to figure how and where to connect it.

When we built the bridge some years back, we included a number of pipes under the floor. Two of those were 1″ copper for a heating loop. To use these, we built a tap to go into the primary loop.

IMG_3082.JPG In addition to the closely spaced Tees, with fill valve (by closing this valve, we can turn this secondary loop into an extension of the primary loop), we added shut off valves and drain valves.

The intended location for the chiller was behind the south wing, under the back porch. This would require the demolition and removal of the storage shed that was there. Thank goodness for free dump days at the Alamo. The chiller needs a lot of power, so an external disconnect with built in the service outlet went in.

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IMG_2446.JPG Another thing in the floor of the bridge, was an electrical conduit to power a sub feed panel in the south wing from the service in the north wing. This panel had been installed a few years back, but never powered up. One aspect of this, is warning emergency service folks about the power for the building; there is a second warning sign on the south wing.

The location for the chiller had been flooded during Sandy. So, I wanted to build a stand to lift the unit up a foot or so. That would also make it easier to service the unit if it wasn’t directly on the ground. My buddy, Kevin offered to build a stand – so we bought some 2 1/2″ angle iron, and Kevin went wild with his welder and grinder.

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IMG_3150.JPG. One problem with the stand, is that it was so nice. We were tempted to put it in the living room and use it as a coffee table. But we bolted it in place, using rubber stand offs to provide some isolation from the concrete, and to level it. With that in place, Kevin and I hoisted the chiller on top of the stand and bolted it into place.

IMG_3141.JPG With the chiller in place, I could finish the piping. This included a 50 gallon buffer tank, and lots of gauges and valves. Since this unit was outside, we had to use a water and glycol mix. After pressure testing with air (leak indicated), and with water (two leaks found and fixed), I started mixing up a 25 gallon batch. I had previously obtained two 30 gallon barrels, along with a funnel and valve. Two cans of glycol and three of water gave me a 40% mix. This also let me calibrate the barrel, so the next two batches let me use the hose for the water. Once mixed, pour it back into the 5 gallon pails, and the pour that into the glycol feeder.

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After the initial fill, I was finally able to purge all of the air from the system. All those valves and drain ports proved very useful. The chiller had a water flow sensor and will shut down if it gets an air bubble. With the chiller running, I needed to get the air handlers on line. For temporary use, I jumpers the cool req contacts to the heat req, and left the gas controls turned off. This will let the air handlers turn on their own secondary circulators as well as the primary circulator. A quick connect to the NESTs, and cool air was coming out. I still need to finish insulating the pipes – they are raining down wherever they are not insulated. I also need to install the condensate pumps – each air handler has filled a 5 gallon bucket with condensate in one afternoon.

Hydronic Upgrade!

When we brought the new high velocity air handler online, we had made a temporary connection to the radiant manifold with 3/8″ pex tube. While this would help us get through the cold weather, it did not provide for the second air handler, and the control for the slab in Harley Haven was wonky. This also did not position us for a chiller to provide air conditioning.

We went with the classic primary water loop, with secondary loops connected with a pair of closely spaced tee fittings. We were able to get a tee/valve assembly – the valve allows to fill/ purge the secondary circuit easily.

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This feeds into a mixing valve which reduces the water temp going into the air handler or radiant slab. This goes into a circulator.

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Once this is assembled, we can connect it to the air handler. (Or at least hang it next to it).

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The upstairs air handler was not in use, so we were able to connect it all the way. We also included a drain valve at the bottom of the unit. We also have a pair of shut off valves at the top so we can isolate the mixing valve and circulator for service. This unit also had a 14″ return vent above the equipment, so we had to hang it from the blower module.

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With the secondary loops in place, we could start in the primary loop. The first part was the connection to the boiler. This was basically a secondary loop, so it has much of the same valves and pump.

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From here, we have a purge/drain valve, followed by a loop shutoff valve, followed by air purge unit, pressure regulator and expansion tank (all valved for easy service) another valve and the primary circulator. All of these valves make it easy to purge air from the system after service.

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Next up, we had to power and control the circulators. We installed a 6 zone Taco zone controller. This included a circuit for the primary loop, as well as for each secondary loop. The boiler pump connects to the aquastat. The zone controller also tells the aquastat when a zone needs heat.

Since most of the circulators were not below the controller, we came out of the bottom of the controller with EMT, and looped it up to some junction boxes for distribution to the pumps.

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The radiant panels (the few that were still in place) are offline now. The electronic valve controls are dead – note putting control boxes below valve manifolds is a bad idea.

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A breath of fresh (or at least warm) air

With the windows and door in place, and basically sealed, we were able to relax a bit – no more snow blowing into the kitchen and feral cats running about inside.

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We were able to start holiday preparations, albeit with some distractions like Joyce’s fender bender (no people hurt, but lots of damage to “her baby”)

20140120-195645.jpg. We also were able to connect with the folks at “Operation Snip”, a trap, neuter, return operation, who came and trapped 6 feral kittens, neutered them, and returned 5 (one got kept for adoption). They even came back and took the kitten who broke in and put her up for adoption.

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But even with the new windows in place, the cold weather was coming and we needed to do something. When I had the outside wall open, I had pulled in two lengths of 2″ duct for a high velocity HVAC system. Poking around my email archives revealed the design for the HVAC for the house we did 5 years back when the ceiling was open. A quick review of the design, a few emails, and a pile of parts was on its way from Unico. Actually it was delivered by Comfort WinAir in Green Island. These guys were very helpful.

The first order of business, was to locate the return air plenum. This would really drive where I could locate the main air handler. Years back, when I installed an AV cabinet in the living room, I had rigged up a filter in the bottom to help cool the stacks of equipment. Well, the march of technology has reduced the stacks to a single AV receiver. What was even better, this spot was well located given the other equipment. So, I needed to cut a hole in the bottom of the cabinet for the return grill.

20140120-204817.jpg and then install the plenum adapter in the basement. Access was a bit challenging, but I got it in.

20140120-204954.jpg. But despite the pipes and conduits, I was able to sneak the 14″ return duct into place.

20140120-205104.jpg The next step was to assemble the blower system – a cold air return module, a chilled water coil, and finally the blower module. I first had this on a dolly so I could move it around until I found a good spot. Once it was in place, I could start adding the supply duct 7″ round pipe with an insulation wrapper.

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With the supply duct in place, I could start tapping it for the 2″ branch ducts.

20140120-210048.jpg. The taps were pretty easy to install, but the hard part was to drill holes in the floor for the outlet ports.

20140120-210606.jpg. The sun room added a second floor to drill through, so we added an extension to the bit.

20140120-210845.jpg. With a bunch of ports in place, it was time to switch the Nest thermostat to the new blower.

20140120-211118.jpg. The last bit of blower work, was to measure the output flow for each port. For a 2″ port, you can simply multiply the speed in knots by 2 to get the CFM for each port.

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The blower has a computer link that lets you adjust the blower rate and rpm. The pretty well matches the output values we measured.

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At the moment, all of the heat comes from a 3/8″ feed from the radiant manifold. Next up, the new piping.

Upgrading windows and opening doors

Now that the new windows and doors were on site, and my brother was available for an extra long weekend, we started work in the sunroom. The first step was to rig up a tarp over the windows and deck so we would have a sheltered work area.

20131110-204457.jpg. Since we would be opening up the wall, we also needed to isolate the sunroom from the rest of the house, both to keep the inside cats inside and the outside cats outside, and slow down the weather. We built a plastic enclosure around the back side of the fridge, re- installed window sashes in the center window, and installed an exterior door (from Kevin!)

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With the site secure, we could start removing the existing windows. We started with the picture window – this was a salvaged window with a steel frame. We thought might have a use for the glass, so we took that out and set it aside.

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With the windows out, it was time to move the new door up to the deck. We put some planks on the stairs, and used a come-a-long, and some ropes to move the door upstairs.

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The sunroom is built on top of a porch roof, so there are two floors – before installing the door, we needed to reframe the wall and extend the floor.

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With a new floor, we added new wall framing and set the door in place.

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With the door in place, we started on the big window next to the door.

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Before we could close up the wall, we pulled in some power cable and flex conduit to allow for outdoor lights and services.

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After a visit from a furry inspector, we started on the upper windows. The wind was picking up, and really blowing the tarp around.

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But we finally got all of the transom windows installed, which really cuts down the wind inside!

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Escaping the rain, missed deliveries and a place to stand.

With the stairs and wiring in place, we are almost ready to start decking, but first we have to install the RainEscape system. This is a set of collectors between each joist

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20131022-200427.jpg that are fed with troughs between each joist.

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The RainEscape was installed in two phases, the first goes next to the house. Once that was in place, we did a temp set of deck boards to determine where the starting board needed to go.

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With the position of the first deck board established, we could finally start decking.

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A call from Home Depot – the doors and windows for the sun room and finally arrived! The main door was too big for the trailer, so I asked them to deliver the order. A few days later and the truck arrives with the door. Just the door.

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So, hooked up the trailer and off to HD, where they got the rest of my order.

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But, I was able to fit all of the windows and parts into the car and trailer.

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With the windows unloaded and stored in the south wing, work resumed on the decking. This included an inspection from Feral Mom One

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But work continues.

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Treading lightly

A few fair days midweek gave me a chance to install the railing posts on the stair stringers. A little extra blocking helped stiffen them a lot.

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With the rail posts cut, it was time to switch the chop saw back to the Trex blade, and start what my buddy Kevin calls “The Money Cuts”, turning a pile of 16′ planks into 4′ stair treads. Rather than move the saw outside, I was able to work through the open door.

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With the treads cut to length, the next step was to route grooves for the hidden fasteners we are using to attach the decking. Using a story pole for the location of the grooves helped move the process along.

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Things got a bit tricky making the cutouts for the posts, but the jig saw was up to the task.

20131006-214038.jpg. I eventually finished all the treads, and made enough shavings from the router to fill a 5 gallon bucket.

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The next task was to install the low voltage landscape wire for the post lights. The basic plan was to install a loop of cable all around the deck, with loops for each post. The first step was to drill and punch holes in the joists, add a bushing to protect the cable, and start pulling it around. Since I couldn’t pull around corners, I pulled extra cable at each corner, until I has it all the way around.

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With the low voltage wire in place, including another conduit run into the house, I could start the RainEscape install. This was cut short due to rain.

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