Faulty Installation

Apparently, everything in our beloved gas pack has been installed incorrectly.

A view that should be impossible from this angle

A view that should be impossible from this angle

This valve should be turned ninety degrees. That would prevent the droplet of water that’s clearly visible from freezing, causing the whole unit to shut down until it thaws and the unit resets. This would have saved us the cost of a service call.

Then again, if I’d simply tried to turn it on in the early afternoon, I would have found the heating works.

Home Improvement

20 Bags of WarmthThere are some projects that have immediate visual results: replacing windows; remodeling the kitchen; adding on a sun room. Very visible, and very expensive.

Other projects have immediate effects but might not have such a before-and-after feel — installing a water filter, for example. Replacing a leaking faucet might be another.

And then there are a few projects that that are neither immediately visible nor immediately effective. Blowing twenty bags of insulation in your attic falls into that category.

Before, R19:

DSC_4232

After, approximately R40:

DSC_4242

We’ll see it but only next winter, in the gas bill.

Special thanks to Nana and Papa for the help.

No, Really — Again

BurnerIt turns out that the whole time there has been a major malfunction with our gas pack that has been preventing it from firing correctly. “It probably came from the factory that way,” said Shane, the technician.

Between six and eight technicians have looked at it, with one of them changing the gas regulator on the burner just inches away from the whole problem, and not one noticed it.

The problem — highlighted in the white square — was that the gas injectors, coming from the manifold (running along the bottom of the picture), should be in the burner, not hovering a centimeter away from it, or, as was the case with one injector, hovering a centimeter away from it and bent downward.

Once again, the technician said: “It probably came from the factory that way.”

DSC_3216So, to review, the following parts have been changed in the unit itself:

  • Burner,
  • Gas regulator,
  • Control board, and
  • Some gas valve (not the regulator).

Within the zoning system, the following things have been changed:

  • Transformer,
  • Entire control board, and
  • One damper.

Folks, we basically have an entirely new system…

Never

ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever buy a house with a gas pack. They’re more delicate than your grandmother’s hip.

The Saga, Part III

Forced air heating systems are delicate. They’re designed based on the cubic area of the home, and they push out a given amount of air (measured in tons, no less) depending on the size of the home. The bigger the home, the more air needed, and the bigger the unit installed. Simple.

Zoning systems work by shutting off air to particular parts of the home via dampers installed in the ductwork.

“The two,” Mr. Accent Heating Tech told me, “are not compatible. The gas pack is forcing out enough air for the whole house, but it’s not getting delivered to the whole house, and it’s all not going into the house — some of it is doubling back to the unit, making it think it’s overheating.”

Time to call TSC again.

DSC_3223

This time, they poked and prodded even more. And two problems were uncovered. First, one of the dampers was broken. This was when the tech said, “Oh, crap.”

The second problem: the whole control board needed to be replaced.

“No problem,” I thought. This is all still under warranty.

Parts were ordered, and TSC called to set up a time to come back out. “The total cost will be about $480,” the TSC woman explained.

“Total cost?” I asked. “This is still under warranty.”

“Well, that’s the information I have from the owner,” replied Ms. TSC.

“Well, I’d like to talk to the owner,” replied Mr. Getting More And More Irritated.

Larry — the owner — explained to me that the part was still under warranty, but labor wasn’t included.

“Ah, that’s how you’re going to do it,” I said.

DSC_3216

“Excuse me?” Larry asked.

“Well, I knew you were going to get money out of me, I just didn’t know how.”

It seemed ridiculous: almost $500 of labor to replace two parts? Granted, the control board looks fairly complicated, but it should be a matter of disconnecting, reconnecting, setting, and testing. And the damper — it slides right in to a pre-cut hole. Attach the control wire and viola.

At a price of $100 an hour, that’s five hours’ work.

I was still feeling frustrated about the whole thing, and I explained to him my concerns about zoning systems in general. “How much would it cost just to pull the whole system out?” I asked.

“I’ll have to get back to you on that,” Larry replied.

“Well, do,” I said.

He never did.

However, TSC called back later to set up a time to come out and do the work, and we’ve yet to receive a bill. And the heating finally works.

So it seems Mr. Total Comfort was right. Too bad he made such a mess in the bargain…

The Saga, Part II

Cooler weather arrived. We started using the gas pack for heating. After some time, the same thing that had been happening with the cooling began happening with the heating — it simply would not turn on.

We called TSC again. They came out, poked, prodded, tested, ruminated, and gave a verdict: the main control board of the gas pack was at fault.

“That is covered by the home warranty,” I told them, “So I’ll take care of it through the home warranty people.”

Out came company one. They poked, prodded, and tested, and determined that the gas was not properly regulated. They regulated it. The heating worked — for about two hours.

Next day, they came out again. I left a note with the information TSC had given me. “Please change the main board,” I asked. They changed a few parts, but not the main board. Gas-related parts. And the heater worked again. For about two hours.

I called them back out and they finally changed the main board. And the heater worked. For about a day.

We called the home warranty people again, asking that they send out a third company. They did — Accent Heating. The gentleman poked, prodded, tested — “I can’t find anything wrong with it. It’s working now.”

Great.

Two companies, three techs, and none of them can figure out what’s going on.

The problem was this: the zoning system was making a call to the heater, but it was not turning on. As soon as I reset the power to the heater, it would come on. However, it would eventually shut off and never turn back on. The exhaust fan (to remove the fumes from the burning gas) would turn on, but the heater would never ignite.

Finally, AC made it out when it the problem was happening. He tested, prodded, and so on, and finally was able to tell us the problem: some upper temp limit error was tripping out and causing the heater to think it was overheating, so it shut down. Every time I reset it, I was basically overriding that. The heater thought things were fine, but it would once again think it was overheating.

“What’s causing this?” I asked.

“The zoning system,” replied the AC tech.

Double great…

The Saga, Part I

We’ve been battling our gas pack for months now. And every time someone comes out to look at it, we get a different diagnosis.

It started back in the summer, when we came home one day to find the house a cozy 90 degrees.

Delicious.

We called our home warranty company — American Home Shield — and they sent out a company called Total Comfort, which was a Total Disaster. The tech poked around a bit, then determined that it was the pre-installed zoning system. Which our warranty doesn’t cover. A quick call to the manufacturer of the system revealed that only two companies in all of Greenville deal with zoning systems. We called one of them: The Service Company (TSC in future reference).

They sent out a tech who spent an hour undoing what Total Comfort had done. Basically, the TC tech made a mess that the TSC tech had to fix. It took an hour. After another hour of testing, checking, and ruminating, the TSC tech determined that the transformer for the zoning system had blown and would need to be replaced. He also informed us that whoever installed the system did it poorly, because it should be on its own dedicated circuit. He worked up an estimate of how much it would cost to fix everything: it was well over a thousand dollars.

I contacted the previous owner to ask who had installed the zoning system, and when. “It was The Service Company, about two years ago.”

Armed with this info, I called TSC back. Sure enough, they were able to confirm that they had installed it. As such, I politely requested that they come out and fix the problem. And they did.

The air conditioner was fixed, and we thought our woes were over. But alas, all of this was only a prelude.

Gas [Gone] Pack[ing]

The heating system in our house is what’s known as a gas pack: gas heater combined with an air conditioning unit.

It’s great, when it works.

The trouble is, it often decides to stop working. The obvious solution: call a heating/cooling specialist to come take a look. We have. Four of them have come. They’ve all suggested and done different things. The gas pack still refuses to work.

Gas packThat’s an exaggeration, though, because it does work. It just never works when we leave for a long period of time. It doesn’t matter what we do — turn off the heat completely or turn down the thermostats — the results are the same: it won’t turn on when we get home. Or rather, it won’t turn back on wants it thinks the temperature is correct. It’ll crank up, blow hot air for a while, and then shut off. For good. But not quite — it’s still running. I go outside and put my hand on the exhaust vent (which blows out a fair amount of warm air when it’s working) and it’s cold, though the exhaust fan is working.

Here’s the trick, though: I can get it working again. Beside the unit, there’s a breaker, installed so repair folks don’t have to go all the way to the breaker box to turn off the power. When I reset it there (disconnect the power, reconnect it), the machine turns on, warms up, and everything is fine. However, when I restart it from inside the house, by flipping the breaker off and then on, it will restart a couple of times (repeating the whole blow-for-a-while-then-never-turn-back-on process), and then it won’t restart again. However, when I restart it from outside, it continues working longer. In fact, it works like normal sometimes.

Thankfully our real estate broker insisted on the seller buying a home warranty. We really haven’t had to pay that much for all these visits.

Which leads to the delicious dilemma: to restart or not to restart? The repair guy is coming again this morning. He asked me not to restart it next time it’s doing it’s little on-again-off-again dance, but what can I do? My house is cold; Dziadek gets sick easily; I have a little baby. Of course I’m going to restart it.

“Can’t you deliberately cause the malfunction?” you might ask. No — that’s the annoying thing. Once I restart it from outside, it runs fine more often than not.

The only solution I’ve come up with so far is to take a weekend trip, then call the repair people while we’re still on the trip and have someone be waiting for us when we return.

Or sell the house…