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We’re Doing it Right!!

3 Feb

This weekend we began another fairly sizable project – converting our radiators to baseboards. This project is fully DIY, and when we DIY, we make sure we “Do it Right.” As you may be aware from following our blog, we live by that Mike Holmes motto. No shortcuts, no quick fixes, no “this is good enough”… We do it right.

Which brings us to why, come Monday night, we still haven’t finished the first room conversion. We started in the master bedroom, since we’re still not living in it, and since it’s been one form of a mess or another since we moved in almost three years ago, another kind of mess would be a-ok!

The master bedroom has been notoriously cold in this house, and as we recently learned our next door neighbor, with a very similar house, has the same problem. Both houses, build in the 50s, don’t have any decent insulation in the walls, and the masters in both houses face north, not getting any sunlight. Also along with the chilly bedroom dilemma, is the super toasty bedroom on the other end of the house. For us it’s the guest room/office, and for our neighbor, a kid’s bedroom. Really the only way to get the master to be a good temp would be to crank up the heat for the whole house, thus making the office a sweat lodge… Not quite a viable solution.

With each project we complete, we get closer to being able to moving in to our master, so this is something we needed to remedy. Continue reading

Siding: Day 8

26 Jan

It’s Sunday, it’s been VERY cold all day, and it even snowed at one point! That didn’t stop the guys from putting in another 9-5 day though. Surprisingly we’re not at a full two weeks yet since they started the siding, (including the weather delays) but it certainly feels like this has been a never-ending project, and I know they’re as antsy to get done as we are to have them be done! But, we’re starting to see the light at the end of the siding, and they think they may be able to finish up tomorrow (weather pending.)

Continue reading

A/C Modding

18 Jul

So, I’ve always been a big fan of Air Conditioner Modification… I’ve stayed at a lot of hotels where I found it necessary to modify the air conditioner, because a lot of hotel air conditioners are programed to turn off and on with the thermostat. I prefer for the fan to stay on constantly because I find it very annoying to hear the fan kicking on and off all night long, I like the consistant white noise the fan provides. I’ve disassembled units, I’ve downloaded manuals, I’ve gone in to deep programing menus, service menus, you name it, I’ve done it. I even had to trick a thermostat once by removing the probe and putting it in a hot bottle of water.

This time I was modding our own air conditioner, not because of fan cycling, but due to another issue, which is actually well documented on the Amazon reviews of the A/C unit.  It’s a Frigidaire FRA086AT7 8,000 BTU Window Unit, and it has the loudest beep I’ve ever heard on a piece of equipment that is supposed to be indoors. I can only assume they had a surplus of smoke alarm beep units so they used them in this air conditioner for the command  acknowledgment tone. It’s so loud that you kind of think twice before you change a setting because you really don’t want to hear that sound.

It finally got to the point where I was cleaning the air filter today and I decided it was time to take the bull by the horns, find this beeper and destroy it. I know a lot of people who have written and read reviews would like to do the same, and if they have the guts, they’ll be able to follow the tutorial I’ve made below…

It really is a very easy operation, I think it took me about 10 minutes and that was with taking a few things apart that I didn’t need to and documenting the whole process with the camera. This blog post is taking probably 10 times as long!

Start by opening the front of the A/C and removing the air filter. Anyone should know how to do this. Then remove the grille that covers the filter, which is a pretty simple process as well. Using a philip’s screwdriver, remove the 2 screws that are circled. Keep track of which screw goes where because they are not exactly the same.
Once you have the screws out you need to remove the whole front bezel, which will require a little squeezing and pulling, but it’s not a big deal. There is a wire that will be connected for the control panel, so the face of the unit will just be hanging there while you work.

You will want to have the unit turned off and unplugged before this step, there is line voltage present in this compartment which could cause electric shock if contacted or cause damage if a short occurs.

On the left side you will see this plate that covers some controls and relays and other circuitry. Remove the two screws that are circled, again keeping track of which goes where for when it comes time to reassemble.

Now that the screws are out you can open this panel, this is a familiar type of operation if you’ve done work inside a computer case. Simply push up with your hand in the direction of the arrow, take note how the mechanism works for when you have to put it back. Also take note of how wires are run so you can route the properly when buttoning the whole thing up

Here’s the back of the plate you just removed, this is where the magic happens.
The irritatingly loud magic.

And here’s the culprit.
They call it a buzzer, but that’s like no buzz I’ve heard before.
You have two choices now, to muffle the buzzer, or to silence it entirely. I suppose if you have a hot glue gun or some gum or sticky tack you could plug up the hole on the buzzer where the sound comes out, I tried it with my finger and it did knock it down to a manageable tone. This may be enough for you, but I think if you’re this deep in you may as well go for the kill shot.

If you’re a soldering fool you could go behind the board and melt the two contacts and remove the buzzer entirely, but I think that amount of heat is actually more risky than what I did, which was simply take vise grip and squeeze it. The cover simply cracked and the element that makes the sound fell right off with just a slight tug, it came off nice and clean, as you can see.

I put it all back together, plugged it in and I was greeted with sweet silence, no beeping at all.

This is a huge relief, and while it does nothing to silence the overall noise this unit makes, it will make it a little easier to live with. I hope some people try this and have the same success, if you do, just be careful and gentle with the wires as you put it back together and you should have no problems. Everything just goes back in the exact reverse order and you’re done! Leave a comment if you try this at home!

The Nest

26 Feb

In my review of the new Trane Z-wave thermostat we installed we received a comment from my friend Donavan about the new thermostat he got, called the Nest. I wrote such a thorough reply to his comment that I decided maybe it would justify a blog post of its own.

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There is no doubt that this is, as Donavan put it, a sexy looking thermostat. It was designed by two former apple product designers, and it shows. It takes cues from the classic “The Round” Honeywell thermostat and pushes it about 100 years into the future.

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The Nest claims to attempt to learn your habits and heating and cooling preferences and adapt to them. Essentially it tries to predict your needs and plan the heating schedule based on your past settings, rather than simply letting you chose a schedule in advance. This is a very unique take on a ubiquitous piece of home control that we all are familiar with in some capacity. I applaud the designers for taking a huge leap from the traditional manner of setting your heating and cooling.

My problem with the nest is that it tries to predict what you want, but if I’m going to interact with my thermostat anyway, why don’t I just TELL IT what I want? The Z wave thermostat allows me to set a program based on our expected use and then modify that while we are home or away via the thermostat or iPhone/ website. (the Nest also allows remote control over your wireless device, say if you are coming home early from work and want to turn the heat up… but the Nest will also factor that change into your schedule)
I have experienced heating and air conditioning systems that tout themselves as “automatic” in various vehicles I’ve owned or driven, and instead of it being a convenience, I find myself trying to trick the computer into doing what I want. For instance, I can not get cool air to come out the foot vents of my BMW if the ambient temperature is below a certain threshold unless I turn it all the way down to 59°, the lowest setting. So because someone at BMW could not conceive of someone having sweaty feet when it’s cool out, it’s nearly impossible for me to get what I want.
So I have found that any time a machine tries to guess you want it is usually wrong, so I decided to decide for myself what I want the temperature of my house to be instead of having to consult with my thermostat.
I made the analogy that if I went with you to subway and ordered your sandwich for you based on what you’ve ordered in the past. I will probably get you something close to what you want, but you’re right there, why didn’t I just let order for yourself and you could have gotten exactly what you wanted?
I read a review of the Nest and the reviewer basically said he spent so much time trying figure out what the Nest would do and second guessing it every time it turned the heat on that he felt it achieved the exact opposite of what it is intended to do.
I think the Nest is very cool and very cool looking, but my feeling is that the kind of person that’s willing to spend $250 to replace a $50 thermostat probably is the kind of person who wants to have full control over their HVAC system, not to give it up the algorithms built in to some tiny computer.

Trane Zwave Thermostat

23 Feb

Today I installed our new Trane TZEMT400 Z-wave enabled thermostat. You may recall that this is a replacement for the 2Gig CT-30 we originally installed.
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One of the big additional features that this thermostat has (or that the CT-30 lacks) is that it reports the set point back to the Z-wave controller. This way you can tell what the heat is set at remotely, even if it has been manually changed at the thermostat. Installation was a little more straightforward than with the CT-30, due to the more logical method of mounting a plate with wire terminals and then snapping the control on to that. This thermostat did require the installation of a “C” wire, which required replacing the original 18-2 thermostat wire with an 18-3 to gain the extra conductor. I’ll probably cover this in a separate post.
This thermostat was the easiest device to pair with Z-wave I’ve used so far, there was no button holding or mystery sequences to enter, you just scroll to “Join Z-wave network” and press OK and then it’s up to the Z-wave controller. It worked instantly, and I did a remote enrollment at full power from about 15 feet away instead of bringing the controller right next to the thermostat. It also fetched the time from the Network as well, which was a nice touch.
The thermostat has only been installed for a few hours so I can’t really comment on durability ad user friendliness but I won’t be afraid to point out quirks and shortcomings as they are discovered.

Product Review: 2Gig CT30 ZWave Thermostat

14 Feb

Following below, is pretty much word for word my amazon review of the 2Gig Technologies CT-30 Thermostat with Z-Wave.

This product is actually made by the Radio Thermostat Company of America, and is marketed under several names, such as the one mentioned above, the 3M Filtrete 3m-50 (a Wi-Fi version) and the CT30 by Radio Thermostat, it is also available as part of the Vivint Wireless Alarm System. In any event, it’s the same thermostat and it’s available 3 ways: as a standalone unit, or with different “USNAP” modules, as a Wi-Fi thermostat, and as a Z-Wave thermostat. The latter two options offer some level of remote control of your heating and/or air conditioning system. Depending on how you set it up, this can be within your home or even outside the home on the web or your wireless device. The Wi-Fi version requires a subscription to a service, I believe. (don’t hold me to that)

Overall, it is a nice thermostat. We were working through the kinks and starting to get used to it, but we woke up one day and the heat had not turned up as scheduled. The thermostat would not respond to Z-Wave commands or report back the temperature, so I knew something was up. It took about 2 hours of troubleshooting but I got it working again. Problem is, if it DOES fail when you’re away it won’t continue on its normal schedule, it will just stay at whatever setting it was left on. I don’t think this is the case, but I would be worried that it could get stuck off, which would be trouble in sub-freezing temps.

The thermostat does have a pretty cool looking touchscreen interface, but it projects off the wall a bit, and looks a bulky from the side, and being in the hallway, that’s how it is first seen. If it weren’t for the reliability issues, we’d probably put up with some of the quirks, but we are most likely going to try the Trane TZEMT400 instead, which will run off its own built in schedule if it loses Z-Wave connectivity.

the 2Gig/ Radio Thermostat CT30

My issues with the CT30:

  1. Once connected to Z-Wave, it will not run off the built-in schedule on the unit, you must schedule from Z-Wave.
  2. Unit does not report set-point temp to Z-Wave. ie: If someone changes the temp at the thermostat, the change will not be reflected in Z-Wave, it will only know the last setting that was initiated through Z-Wave. This seems to be a known, designed by choice, issue.
  3. After about a week of seemingly working fine, it began to lose contact with the Z-Wave network, and commands would not be sent to it. I changed the batteries, removed it, and re-added it a few times before it would work normally again. At that point it was not recognized as the same node, so all my scenes in Vera did not refer to it anymore, so I had to redo all the scenes.
  4. From reading the forums, it seems reliability can be spotty due to running off batteries rather than 24V power. Of course, the fact that this unit can run on batteries is one of its main selling points… What I will say about running power to this thing, (or the “C” Wire or “Common” as it’s referred to) is that the C Wire is no more than a ground back at the source of the thermostat wire. This is rarely mentioned in the all the posting about C Wires and transformers, etc., but from what I have learned, that essentially all it is. I do not have a C Wire, but I do have a Common back at the Taco SR502 that my boiler and hot water tank are hooked to, so all I have to do is pull a 3rd wire to my T-Stat and connect to the terminal labeled “COM” in the SR502 and it should work. But if it didn’t have that, I should be able to just run a wire to the metal cabinet of the boiler, furnace, or wherever the T-Stat wire originates from.
  5. I would prefer there to be a plate that mounts to the wall where you wire to and then the unit snaps into the plate. The LuxPro this replaced was like that, and is also “armchair programable” as they say. Also, the battery and wiring access covers are tricky to remove and there is no instruction on how to do so.
  6. Not knowing that the built-in schedule would be useless, I went ahead and programmed the whole thing. This was a tedious process which did not seem to function exactly as the manual says, especially the “Copy” function which did not seem to work at all.

Starting Off Fresh

22 Jan

As a result of our upgrade to gas heat and hot water, it seems National Grid decided we should have a new gas meter. As mentioned in a previous post they tried to come on Sunday night. I called back on Tuesday when National Grid opened and scheduled an appointment for Friday when the old oil burner was scheduled to be removed. As it turned out we wound up shooting that day but luckily it was a short day so we were done just in time for me to come meet the tech from National Grid.

He came in and removed the old meter, and installed a new meter mount with a larger diameter piping so the flow should be a little better if needed.

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OLD meter mount

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NEW mount (with meter)

The new meter has a display that can simply be read as a number, no counter-rotating dials to try decipher.

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OLD dials

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NEW meter with analog readout

And, you can see right there why the title of this post is “Starting Off Fresh”. We’re right back at zero!

Bye Bye Old Oil Guts

21 Jan

Today was the day, they came back and took the old oil burner apart and removed it, disconnected the old oil lines and removed the old expansion tank and sealed up the chimney connection. I took the liberty of hooking up the webcam so we could keep an eye on the progress from work. We captured a few stills along the way and here’s a selection to see the progression including the end with it all gone.

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While You Were Out

15 Jan

We returned tonight from a lovely dinner to what appeared to be a tag from FedEx or UPS, in fact, it was this…

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It was surprising, to say the least, that National Grid would drop by our house for a non-emergency visit on a Sunday night but apparently they did…

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I guess they want to give us a new gas meter in response to our conversion to gas heat. The fact that they decided that should happen on a Sunday night with no appointment strikes us as quite odd, obviously.

So we missed them and perhaps they’ll
come back Monday, we don’t know, we don’t have an appointment! We are a little psyched to get an updated meter, possibly a digital one and hopefully one that they can read without having to gain access to the basement.

Stay Tuned!

Goin’ Hot!

13 Jan

I just got a call that the installation is completed and we are cookin’ with gas! (Cookin’ water, that is!) We now have new heat and hot water! No pictures yet because we’re not home and no webcam of course, but all reports are that the heat and hot water are up and running and the boiler has been running for a couple hours without problem.
This should be the end of scalded hands at the kitchen sink and the end of freezing the house in a quest for a hot shower (and the end of Spider-Man moves in the shower when it’s TOO hot).

Apparently the only thing left to do is to come back and remove the old boiler which should be done next week. I guess the install took a little longer than they thought and they don’t want to start making a mess at 4:00 on a Friday. Being stuck at work for the foreseeable future, I think I can sympathize with them in this regard. Either that or they have a different guy and/or truck that specializes in dismantling oil burners.