18 July 2010

Honey-Do Day - Part 1

Today was a Honey-Do and what my honey wanted done was a new kitchen faucet and garbage disposal. The previous faucet wasn’t really that old. But we’d bought it at Costco. The price was great but it was a cheap Chinese knock-off and after just a couple years of use the finish had come off. So when it started to leak, Yolanda declared it a lost cause Laugh

We went to Home Depot this time because they carry the major US brands and Consumer Reports said they were basically all reliable. We selected the most expensive one they had in order to get a new feature we think we’ll save water for us, which is one touch on and off. The folks at Delta Faucets call it
Touch2O, (get it? Touch 2 Oh?) This feature lets you turn the faucet on and off just by touching it. We liked this idea because we think we’ll be less likely to just leave the water running when we wash things if turning the water off is just a quick touch of the hand.

touch2O faucet
Delta Touch-2-O Faucet

Installation was only a little more complicated than a standard faucet install. Although, as an Electrical Engineer, putting delicate electronics under my kitchen sink sounds like a bad idea. Lets see. One downside on the install is that the water lines to the faucet have a solenoid in them and so are made of a stiff plastic and are of a fixed length. You can customize them but that sounded complicated so I wanted to leave them the way they came. The problem is they are longer than the height of a standard kitchen cabinet. the manual say you can just loop the excess out of the way but then cautions you not to make a loop smaller than 8 inches in diameter. Our kitchens sink is a standard height so I’d guess everyone has this problem. Not looped, the tubes are too long. Looped in an 8 inch coil and they’re too short. I opted for an “S” shape in the tubes. However, since they are fairly stiff, this is putting a constant torque on the connection so I’m worried about leaks over time.

All that said, we’re happy with our choice. The faucet looks and works great. Although I still think we need voice activated everything. I’m going to name my house computer Lucy. “Lucy, water in the sink please.” Laugh

Mechanical Difficulties

According to the current schedule we were to begin installation of the foam insulation in the attic today. There was no confirmation call and by 9:30 am, I hadn’t heard anything. I called our sales guy, James, who was the person who’d told me today was the day this would happen to ask if things had changed. James was in a meeting but promised to have someone check for me. about 15 minutes later I got a call that the trucks was on its way. Around 10:00 am a big noisy slightly smelly truck was parked in front of our house.

I was pleased the subcontractor had the Release of Waiver signed and ready to go. I showed them the access to the attic and asked if they would begin with removing the old insulation. The guy gave me a blank look and said, “Are we removing the old insulation?”

attic day 1
Our Attic Before the Project

I pled ignorance. Our contract specifies removal of the old insulation but I have no idea whether the subcontractor or the main contractor is planning to do the actual removal. I didn’t want the foam guys to waste a trip so I called Bonney (our contractor) to see what’s what. The resulting conversation had me even more confused as James explained to me that the subcontractor did not think the old insulation needed to be removed, either in the attic or the crawlspace. James and I agreed there was a logic to leaving the old insulation in the attic. It was to be a semi-conditioned space and the old insulation would serve to reenforce that. But neither of us could get our heads around leaving the insulation in the crawlspace. It seemed logical to me that if you sprayed foam on top of the batting between the floor joists then new foam would not be attached to anything permanent and would eventually just fall out.

I spent about two hours searching the web for something definitive on this. I finally found a site that said specifically that this was not possible for exactly the reasons James and I had discussed. I emailed the information to James and he responded that the old insulation in the crawlspace would be removed.

With that out of the way I went to check on the progress. There was a distinct lack of activity and no tell-tale smells of new foam insulation. The installation team shared with me they were having “mechanical difficulties” with the machine that sprays the foam.

The owner of the company finally came to work on it personally but, no joy. They decided to finish the prep work and reconvene on Monday.

Ghosts in the Basement

My wife usually goes to bed before I do. Like a sensible person, when she gets tired, she goes to bed. I prefer to fall asleep on the couch pretending to watch TV. This results in me finally showering and coming to bed after Yolanda has gone to sleep. Last night, when I got out of the shower i was greeted by four of the scariest words most married men can hear, “What was that noise?”

Turns out, that as I was getting ready to bed, and frequently running water, my wife kept hearing a strange sound from under our house. It sounded somewhere between a beep and a moan. After some experimenting, we realized the sound happened each time I turned off a hot water faucet. Since we’d just installed the new tankless hot water heater we had a likely suspect for the noise (that or the ghost of my crazy Aunt Flora).

Today I inspected the tankless again. I heard the noise faintly when I was standing in front of the unit but it was much louder upstairs. I called Noritz customer support and described the problem. The technician I spoke to immediately knew what it was. I never know in these situations to be happy or annoyed. I’m happy that someone knows what my problem is and confirms I’m not crazy. But I’m also annoyed because, if it is a known problem, why haven’t they done something about it?

In the Noritz tankless water heat we purchased, the NRC111, there are tiny servo-valves that cycle through a self-check each time the system shuts down after use. Normally that noise is unobtrusive. However, in some house, especially when in a basement or crawlspace, the vibration is communicated through pipes or structural members in the house and amplified. They suggested two mitigations; installing rubber gaskets between the unit and the mountings and installing flexible hose fittings between the copper supply lines and the unit.

I called the plumber at Bonney Plumbing and explained the problem and they agreed to do the mitigation when they come out to install the hydronics system.So two more items I’m also hopeful that when they spray the new insulating foam in our crawl space that the foam will absorb most of the sound.

So far, here’s the checklist,

1. Place a “T” fitting on the outlet of the exhaust pipe
2) Insulate the new hot water lines
3) The electrical box for the tankless system is missing a wall plate.
4) The exhaust vent on the outside of the house should have a gasket or seal.
5) Rubber gaskets under the tankless water heater mounts
6) Flexible hoses connecting the tankless heater to the water lines

Going Tankless Part 2 - The checklist begins

The plumber finished the installation of the tankless water heater today. The first surprise for me, is how quiet it is. I had some limited experience with tankless water heaters when I lived in Latin America, where they are common. I have distinct memories of hearing the roar as the water heater fired up when I started a shower.

When Andrew, the plumber, called me in to say we had hot water I followed him into the crawl space where the new water heater was installed. From the entrance I could not hear anything. I asked Andrew if the system was running and he assured me it was. I could not hear it until i was standing right in front of it.
Our new tankless water heater

Having read recently a number of anecdotes from tankless users about problems they had with the system shutting off in the middle of their showers due to insufficient water flow, the first thing I did was tour the house and turning on faucets one by one. It may be my imagination but it feels to me that the water pressure is lower in a couple of rooms. Bt the water temperature is perfect. I ran the shower in the master bath for 15 min. without any problems.

The previous owners of our home had installed a pre-circulation pump on a timer. This pump circulated hot water through the pipes in the house at key times so that when we turned on a faucet we got instant hot water. I had wondered at the additional expense. With the new system I see why. We have to run a lot of cold water out of the faucet before the hot water arrives. We can see this will drive our water usage way up and its painful in drought-plagued California to see all that water going down the drain. We’re going to need a solution for this problem.

Andrew and I walked around and inspected the job. We agreed their were a handful of things that yet to be done. Andrew promised he’d finish them up when he comes back to plumb in the hydronics. I borrowed a best practice from my software project management days and started a checklist. This will be a running list of pending items to be done before we’ll sign-off on the project (and before we’ll cut that final check.)

So far, here’s the checklist,

1. Place a “T” fitting on the outlet of the exhaust pipe
2) Insulate the new hot water lines
3) The electrical box for the tankless system is missing a wall plate.
4) The exhaust vent on the outside of the house should have a gasket or seal.

Change of Plans - Again

The revised timeline called for installation of the new hydronic heating and AC systems to begin today in parallel with day two of the tankless water heater. But our day began with a phone call from our salesman. According to him, our new air exchanger is a top of the line system that the manufacturer, Rheem, only produces in limited runs based on actual orders. Consequently, our air exchanger will not be ready for at least 3 weeks. This is not the end of the world but we have to ask why the folks at Bonney are just finding this out the morning installation is to begin. Their new plan, designed with the best of intentions, was to install a lower grade unit temporarily today and then return in three weeks time to remove that unit and install the higher grade system.
But we’re not actually in a big hurry and it seems a waste of time and money for the folks at Bonney. So we suggested they simply delay the installation until the correct unit is ready. So, the new new plan is for the installation to take place sometime in the first week of August. Here’s crossing our fingers. If things continue to be delayed we’ll make it to autumn and won’t need the new AC until next year. Happy

The Work Begins - Going Tankless

Today the project stared in earnest with the replacement of our standard hot water heater with a tankless water heater. The day began with a lot of decisions. Bonney Plumbing’s guy arrived around 9:00 a.m.. They had not seen our home before nor seemed briefed on the situation other than that the tankless water heater would form a part of a large project that included a hydronic heating system. I showed them around and we began to discussed installation options. It quickly became apparent that , while this might not be their first tankless system, it was their first installation of this model and so job one for them, read the installation manual. I pulled up the installation manual on-line so I could participate intelligently.

Old Faithful - Our old industrial strength water heater

The first decision was where to install the unit. In particular, should we simply swap the existing hot water tank or co-locate the tankless system with the new heat exchanger on the crawl space under the house. The considerations were, the maximum run allowed between the water heater and the heat exchanger, the exhausting of the system and the distance limits there, the draining of the condensation, the electrical connection and finally ease of access and lighting. We finally decided to co-locate the water heater in the crawlspace with the heating system. You may recall that one of the reasons given for changing to the lower temp, higher efficiency tankless system was that the shorter plumbing run would enable a lower temp system. We decided on a location near some support joists where we could run some two by fours to hang the system on. A previously installed light in that area provided convenient lighting. As a side benefit of this decision we freed up the old hot water heater cabinet for use as a closet in my home office.

With that decision made, we needed to decide; where to run the exhaust duct. It need to run to an outside wall, could be a maximum of 39 ft. (assuming there was only one elbow), and needed a incline back to the tankless unit so that condensation would run back into the system for collection rather than outside. We decided to vent behind the house under out raised deck. Electrical supply was easily handled by connecting to the circuit powering our Jacuzzi power jests in our master bath tub.

With these decisions made, Bonney’s guys got to work. I was hopeful the installation could be completed in one day. But as the afternoon wained I saw this would not happen. The guys called it quits when they realized they did not have the gas fittings required to finish the job. Fortunately, they’d had the foresight to leave the existing system intact and their plumber promised me we’d have hot water that night from our old system.

That evening Yolanda arrived for the dreaded wife inspection. She was less than happy with the location because the footing in that area is loose dirt and sharply sloped. Also, the light for that are does not come on with the wall switch by the entrance. One must cross in semi-darkness to that are to turn on the light for that area. She pictured late night emergency visits to the tankless water heater and was concerned that poor lighting and poor footing had the potential to make a hot water problem into a trip to the hospital if someone tripped in the dark. I see a small project in my future leveling the ground in that area, putting in some concrete pavers and potentially improving the lighting situation.

Next Yolanda and I discussed the placement of the exhaust. Yolanda pointed out that the exhaust would be directed straight into our poolside patio area. Which, in those 100 deg. days here, is the only cool outdoor place to relax. Hot smelly exhaust might not be the best addition. I promised to discuss moving the duct to the other side of the house with the installers.
Final note, turns out that, despite the best of intentions, something happened to the old hot water heater yesterday. Yolanda noticed the water was not as warm as usual when she took her evening shower. My showers follow hers and by then the residual hot water was gone. No hot water tonight! Lets hope the new system is up and running before tomorrow night.