A High Distraction.

There is a wooden fascia along the top edge of the house – about 25 feet up.  But the years have taken a toll and part of this fell off.  This was eventually was noticed by code enforcement, so a project I had planned for the spring, got moved up a bit. Having no desire to work on this from a ladder, setting up scaffold seemed the next step.

After some judicious trimming of the shrubs, I was able to get a base unit in place and level, and a second level on top of that.   The next day I was able to get a start on the third level.  I got the tower tied into the house and a few deck boards in place.

But getting to the fourth level was looking to be a challenge – I seem to have inherited my father’s dislike for heights, but they say that where there is will, there is a way.  So, I recruited my friend Will, and work continued. 

With Will on the high work, we quickly get the forth level up, railings installed, and a ladder set up in the tower for easy access to the top. 

With ready access to the facade, the scope of the problem became visible. When the house was built, they let in a 2×4 instead of a row of brick.  There’s a second one higher up.  These provided a nailer for verticle 1x4s that supported the facade.  Alas, the 100 years or so was too much for the 2x material and it has rotted away.  Some of the brickwork needs some repointing as well.  It appears that some of the work can be done from inside the attic, although this will disrupt Joyce’s closet a bit.   Once the front gets done, I can move around to the sides.  Haven’t decided if that will be from a ladder, or more scaffold, but that is a problem for another day. 

At least there is a view from the top


Sunroom – to build, one must first tear down.

The sunroom was originally a porch that a previous owner had “winterized”.  About 25 years ago, I had beefed up the insulation, replaced cheap paneling with Sheetrock, and installed real Windows to replace triple track storm windows.  A few years after that, I added a small (really small) bathroom.  In addition, there were some structural issues with northwest corner of the porch, but in the end, water and time and other things, it was time to redo things.

The first step was to remove the old bathroom, yet maintain basic functionality.

With all of the partition walls removed, as well as the shower stall, you can see some of the water damage. More demo is required.  When the sink was first installed, the framing of the wall behind it was questionable, so a section of plywood was screwed to the wall, and the sink hung on that. 
As the Sheetrock was removed, we found a layer of 1″ rigid foam insulation. That was covering fiberglass insulation, but the studs were NOT attached to the outside wall. The studs were also not installed with standard spacing, so the fiberglass wasn’t doing all the much.

On closer examination, we discovered the carpenter ants had chewed up a lot of the foam!

As part of the new bathroom,  we wanted to move the wall out as far as possible.  So, we wanted to add some insulation to the outside of the wall, and cover it with siding.  So hook up the trailer and off to Home Depot.

With material in hand, it was time to bring in a highly trained professional (in another field), and in a good mornings work, we got insulation and horizontal braces, capped with another inch of foam, and then siding up to the roof (it might have been more than a morning).

With the siding done on the north wall, we moved back inside and started taking the ceiling down.  More foam insulation (with insect damage), and Fiberglass batts (a 15″ and 23″ pair trying to fill a 37″ bay).

But with ceiling down, we could see light between the roof ledger and the brick. When the corner post rotted, the roof and upper edge of the wall pulled away from the brick.  Well, that explained the leak.

imageimageBack outside to work on the roof.  Cleared some mortar out of a joint, bent some sheet metal to lock into the brick and bend down over the shingles.
With leak handled, took a different approach with ceiling insulation.  Put the trailer back on the car, and over to Lowes for a pallet of insulation (loads a lot quicker), then rip the panels to 37.5″, and bevel cut the ends and press fit them into the ceiling bays.imageimageimage

With the ceiling insulated, we started on the south wall. Like the north wall, it was a skin on vertical tounge and groove strips,  with very little cross bracing.  But this time, we put the insulation on the inside, and put the screws in from the outside.

We also returned to Harley. Haven to rerun the high velocity air ducts through the brick wall rather than through the old window.  This will help when we put in the ceiling.  Still have to move the water and DWV lines, but that will wait until we start plumbing the bathroom.

A tiny problem and a day lost.

A few days back, I went into the basement and discovered water dripping from the ceiling. After a bit of checking around, I determined that one of the cold water pipes was spraying water upwards.  Some quick work with some duct tape and a bucket bought  me some time. 

about 16 hours to fill


My first thought was to replace the entire run with copper (and upgrade to 3/4″ at the same time), but I had no copper tube in stock, and I did have a roll of PEX.  The pipe with the leak was 1/2 tube that I installed soon after buying the house.  When I did the upstairs bathroom a few years back, I put in a new (short) run of 3/4 tube to provide a new manifold.  In order to simplify additions, I ended the pipe with caps.  This worked out well, as I could just cut off the end of the tube, and tap in a new assembly to provide a termination for the PEX.


clipping off the old extension cap


building the new hookup on the bench


new connection in place, including leg to water heater

  The new connection included a 3/4″ feed for the water heater (yellow handled valve) but that project will wait for another day.  You can also see the stub of the old main line next to the new PEX.

The next bit of field plumbing was to cut off and cap where the old 1/2″ tube fed in. With that done, the final step was to remove the old connection to the meter, and attach the other end of the PEX.


old 1/2″ main feed


new 3/4″ pex fitting


new 3/4 pex main feed.


I had to redo the city side of the meter a few years back, and I was able to upgrade to 3/4″ at that time.  We now have 3/4″ supply lines all the way in.  I still need to tap in a few old lines to the new PEX – washing machine, sill cock, but that should be easy with PEX.   I also need to extend the ground bonding wires – that is something PEX doesn’t handle.

And what causes all this – this massive hole in the 1/2″ copper pipe pictured below.


Power Restored – and other things.

With the damage to the existing service panel, and the sorry condition of the service entrance cable, we decided to install a new service panel, meter box and to use conduit rather than cable for the entrance.  The first step was to remove the old service cable and meter box.  The cable above the meter came easily, as did the meter box itself.  The cable that went through the wall took some more persuasion.

With the old  service entrance cable removed, we had to drill a larger hole (2 9/16) with a core bit (obtained just for this project)  through three layers of brick.  Eventually, we got through into the basement. 

With the hole drilled, we were able to install the new meter box, some conduit to get into the house and a conduit body to make the turn.

Next we had to cut a length of conduit to go up to the service head.  The PVC cutter made short work of this step.

Once we were inside, we started connecting the news service  panel. Since we were planning on using the panel before we got a new hookup from National Grid, I added a lock-out to the main breaker to  prevent accidentally energizing the new  service entrance from the inside.

Work moved back outdoors, where we brought the four ought aluminum wires into the panel. These wires are about the size of my thumb, and do not want to bend.  But with pliers and a heat gun, I was able to get them in and connected.

new meter box

At the top of the service head, we just had to leave the wires for National Grid to connect once we passed the inspection.but before we could get it inspected, life intervened and we had to deal with some family medical issues, a business trip to Indianapolis and a wonderful wedding for John and Emily.

with the wedding done, we made a foray to Glen to add some railings and fix the from steps for Harry and Diane (Joyce’s parents). 

A mid November snow moved work back inside – doing inside walls on Harley Haven – we used a 4″ beadboard, which went up pretty quickly once the insulation and firring strips were up.

The snow melted, we passed the electrical inspection, and National Grid came by to heat the wires for us – just over three months to get back on normal power.

Got after a few projects in Harley Haven – first was to add some brackets that anchored the back porch to the brick part of the house. These used 24″ long, 5/8″ threaded rods bolted through floor joists.  

Once we started drilling holes through the brick, we redid some of the wiring – bringing a 1″ conduit into a junction box (and get rid of the wire coming through the window).  Likewise, we reran a couple of the high velocity ducts using the new 2 9/16″ core bit we got from the service entrance project.

Along with the wiring in the ceiling, we also dropped down the wall with some switches and gfci outlets to feed the deck outlets. Gave me some practice on bending conduit.

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.


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.


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….


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!


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.



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.


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.




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.



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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.



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.

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.