Saturday, May 09, 2009

Do It Yourself, home AC repair, remodel

posted 12 May 2009
In sunny, dry New Mexico it gets hot often. The hot weather sometimes comes on without warning. The first hot day of the year gets my wife distressed. The local home improvement stores get extremely busy within hours of the first heat wave. Evaporative Coolers
  • are still a viable and lower energy cost way to cool a home in a dry climate. What always intrigues me is they were working well in the fall, but will not work in the first heat wave of the summer.

    I repeatedly climbed onto the roof (you always forget something) to check electricity from the hallway computerized controller. No power at the 'Swamp Cooler' as they are affectionatly called here. A disasembly of the wall controller switch junction box, showed the problem. The 'common' (white), wire connector was burned beyond description. High resistance connections are the cause.

    This quiet family neighborhood home, had been built many years ago with aluminum wiring
  • The best way to aleviate this problem, is with special connectors to attach pigtails of copper wire to each aluminum wire.
    Be sure to use quality wire nuts. The cheap ones are made with soft metal inserts. The threaded portion will not bite into the wire ends during tightening and will come loose, causing the high resistance failure described. Apparently the risk is grossly overstated in the 'Always a crises, blame somebody' media (what's new?). No homes in this tract of many thousands of homes have burned. The most common failure is the one I described here.

    That done and power now going to the roof cooler, the conversion of it's old fused power box, to a new circuit breaker box was in order. Local Code, relying on the home's main circuit breaker box, does not mandate current limiting fuses or breakers at the cooler itself. I personally like the redundancy. A cooler mounted disconnect IS required.

    I slightly modified a new 60 Amp breaker box by removing the main and installing two individual breakers. I also installed a separate small 'little fuse' for the low amperage 'pad soaker pump' and timed 'refresh pump' (gets rid of accumulated mineral deposits every 8 hrs of operation). This system totals three separate circuits.

    They all (including high/low fan and pumps) now are 'shut off' as well as current overload protected. The one inch metal electrical conduit system augments the ground wires in the circuit. This house circuit, through it's shared junction box, also alternately feeds the heating furnace in winter. The case being, that the furnace and cooler are not operated at the same time. Logical assumption by the city code writers of that time.

    The evaporative pads (replaced in humid August of last year) were not that bad but they looked a little crispy and dirty. I did not install the canvas cover over the unit this last fall (laziness, $28 mistake). The wind blew debris into the cooler. I swept out the dirt, turned on the water line that had been disconnected last fall and let the water fill the tank. A grounded, submerged 'anode rod' saves the cooler from rust and corrosion, by limiting electrolysis damage.

    A trip to the Lowe's
  • nearby, new pads. This years inflation has brought the cost from a few dollars to a staggering $28 dollars for the four pads of 32X40 inch size. I prefer the green expanded paper type, packed in tightly for long lasting efficiency.
    The blue synthetic type has not shown the temperature reduction the green paper type is capable of. The old original standby 'shredded wood' type is nice when new. It smells like wet, freshly sawed forest products. My wife has alergies so that type is out. The green expanded paper wins. We bought the last pads available.

    We enjoyed cool air in the house last night and the small computerised controller worked it's magic. The little water valve that limits the water level in the cooler, is not completely shutting off (water slowly drips into the overflow protection system, watering a rose bush). I will replace it as soon as another trip to Lowe's is justified. Oiling the fan motor and squirrel cage fan trunnion bearings is mandatory if you are not willing to replace the unit prematurely. All seperate parts are available ($$) to rebuild these units if you don't feel that lubrication is important.

    We finally finished the hall bathroom remodel. The last time it was remodeled was about 20 years ago. Our old oak fixtures are now replaced with a new 'Old European' look. Stripping off the wallpaper, spackling and sanding the walls took days. My wife painted them with her choice of 'sand paint'. Replacing all of the water shut-offs with the new 1/4 turn ball type was interesting. They turn easily when you need to shut them off. The new wire braided supply tubes finished off the job.

    Leaks are never present until you disturb the old corroded system. It took endless dis-assembly and re-assembly (use prolific amounts of teflon tape) to finally stop the small leakages. The new style, high profile, (easier on your knees) low flow, Kohler toilets were installed by myself with a city rebate program last year.

    They also gave a rebate for installing low flow shower heads. I replaced the old faucets as well. A Grundfos
  • hot water system circulating pump rebate came from the city as well. Hot water is at the faucet within seconds. No more wasting water, waiting for warm to wash your face. The internal mechanical clock timer failed within a year or so. No big deal, just plug it into a small circuit timer set for your own hours of usage.

    The old aluminum sliding windows were noisy and grinding as opened and closed. Lift them out and you will notice nothing is left of their small original nylon slides. Snap in replacements are available but I choose to make my own oversized anti-friction blocks from a section of nylon. I cut and fitted them in the grooves of the window. Using a hone stone, I smoothed out the rough edges on the center rail. Now the old windows slide like new.

    The old heavy oak storage sink cabinet, was removed as well as the shelf and mirror. A new oval medicine chest with it's multiple inside and outside mirrors, is now mounted on the wall. Our oldest son came over one night and installed white ceramic floor tile leftover from our past kitchen remodel (new cabinets from the local building supply). His experience comes from years of his own home remodeling jobs. Our new look is 'old european' and modern tile in conjunction with modern stainless steel fixtures.

    A very high faucet is loved by my wife for washing her hair in the oversized sink, mounted in a small dark wood, european look cabinet. A free standing toilet paper storage dispenser is now the way to go. A new shear shower curtain set finished it off in matching dark color. This house had windows in the bathrooms. During the code of that day, they did not have to have exhaust fans. (strike a match?). I cut the openings after careful measurements and an attic check for installation of the expandable vent ducts.

    The newly installed fans needed new wall switches and an added non-metallic cable run to the switch box. Call an electrician if you don't have the knowledge to do this. (shut off the particular circuit breaker when working with electrical wiring) The new style rocker switch assys, have double switches that fit in the original openings so the lighting switch circuit (same box) was no problem. I had added an outlet with oversized receptacle box near each sink. The GFCI (ground fault circuit interupter) outlets are now installed throughout the house near any water source. They also protect any outlets or devices 'downstream' in circuit from the GFCI. Install them in any outdoor circuit as well, to protect from accidental electric shock.

    This remodel with the slimmer sink cabinet, made the now white tiled room, look much larger. Of course my wife wanted new towels and floor rugs to set off the new look. All in all, considering the cost of new fixtures and actually selling the old ones, (craigslist) this cost was not overwhelming because we 'Did It Ourself'.

    Not every job is 'Do It Yourself'. I know my limitations. Years ago a man, working after retirement, re-inforced the ceiling and removed a dividing wall to give an open look to the house. He then ceramic tiled the kitchen and dining area as well as the glass room floors.

    Her lady that comes twice a month to help her clean the house, has a husband who works in the sheetrock business. He with his family as helpers, removed the old dark den paneling and hauled it away. He then returned and completely filled the sheetrock gaps from the original construction. The tape and texture were next. After his excellent work was finished, the sheet of plastic seperating the main living area from the construction area was removed.

    Our 'Do It Yourself' part was the painting in a color my wife selected. Being a man, I would have probably been satisfied forever with the 'old look'. Now it looks like other 'new homes' around the city. Beware, these remodel jobs are not complete without some change in furniture.

    The husband, at his wifes request, came and carried back to their home, the heavy furniture being replaced and we went shopping. At JC Penney
  • one chair was located that satisfied us both. I like to nap in a recliner, my wife likes a victorian look. The new chair is light in weight and easy to move around. I really like that.

    Many years ago I had closed in the back porch with windows and insulation to have a 'workout' room (gave me an excuse to buy some interesting tools). I built a set of french doors and replaced the old style front entrace door at the same time. The new back room became a sort of collection room for 'stuff'. The front of the house had an entryway setback. My wife found a man that closed it in with glass and installed a glass ceiling to become a 'sunroom'.

    In the winter it stays about 40 degrees (her plants like that) unless the sun is shining, then it goes up to around 75. It gets pretty warm in the summer. Plants only endure the summer months if we move them outside or keep it open to the home AC cooler. In the summer, a dark fabric shading material is placed on top of the glass to shade the sun from overheating the room. A small automatic humidfier keeps the plants happy. The wife likes orchids and has great success with them.

    It is one of those interesting looking ideas that get compliments but are possibly not worth the investment. The large solar collectors provide warm air in the sunny winter days which NM is noted for. Not too bad of an investment at the time and a long term payback was realised.

    Their sheets of plastic film do get yellowed every several years. Price to replace was not that bad before. Now with this new round of inflation it is in the thousands of dollars range. (no payback ratio in that expense) They will stay yellow from now on. Maybe a 'stimulus' check will come for the repair some day? HA!

    We bought dozens of bags of cellulose insulation and borrowed a powerful blower. By taking turns as a family in the attic, we raised the existing insulation several more inches. Now that blanket effect was instantly noticeable and energy saving, along with the addition of storm windows. The additional sound deadening factor of the storm windows has been amazing.

    I replaced the main ceiling lighting, installed when the home was built, using flourescent fixtures. Some we set in to the ceiling like skylights. The electrical usage is lower than the old incandescent lighting. The suplemental heat generated by the incandescent lighting, is only advantageous in the winter months. That is when it gets dark early anyway. Energy conservation of turning off the lighting when you are out of the room for any extended time, is a learned practice we use in the Motorhome.

    I don't understand Canada's forced mandate to rid itself of incandescent lighting/heating. They are dark and cold all winter and Canada's winter is longer than in NM. Maybe that is why so many Canadians shut down their homes and spend the winter in campgrounds of the southern USA. Those I have spoken with, say it's cheaper than trying to heat and light their homes in Canada. Reasonable priced LED lighting is not far in the future. Right now it is extremely costly.

    A new foam insulated (warmer) single garage (attached) door, replaced the old worn out double doors. This job can be 'do It Yourself' (easier with help) The roof has been replaced twice since new. The original 'T lock' shingles and one other set of 'T locks' not long afterward, convinced us that T lock shingle's are of no value. High quality glass fiber lap shingles made with a second layered look are far better. The tar edges stick them down during any wind NM has experienced so far.

    Being of the lower middle class of society, we have learned from early years to 'Do It Yourself'. The classes above us 'pay others' to Do Things for them. The classes remaining, are of the type of person that demand everyone else 'Do Everything' for them 'without their paying'. Sadly that lower class has been encouraged to multiply in our welfare oriented society of Socialism. As it grows like a cancer, it drags down the living standards of all of the other classes through increased prices and taxes to support that abhorrent behaviour.

    Now that the home is somewhat remodeled, everyone is happy. We never did buy a new, bigger home with new bigger payments. The latest downturn in the economy proved our decision valid. Maybe we can now get away sometime and fish a little in the Greatest Nation ever known, The United States of America.
    "One Nation Under God".

    Blogger Mikes said...

    They all (including high/low fan) now are 'shut off' as well as current overload protected. The metal conduit system augments the ground wires in the circuit. How did you do this?

    NYC Ac duct cleaning

    1:23 PM  
    Blogger Blogengeezer said...

    I modified the new 60 amp box (chosen for size and weather) Mounted externally on the roof air 'cooler' unit, by removing the original 'double' 60 amp breaker, and replacing it with 2 singles of appropriate value for the separate high (10A) and low (5A) speeds of the blower motor. I then drilled the internal cover plate, and installed a separate, small, low amp (5A) 'little fuse' for the two pumps. (inside this factory cooler unit, is a separate 'plug' outlet box).

    Before this redundant safety and convenience modification, only one 'city code' single 20 amp breaker in the home main breaker box, was the protection for all 3 devices on the one AC cooler/furnace circuit. The house wall switch (junction), now a thermostat controlled unit, divides the #12 (blk wht grn) single circuit hot wire, into three #14 (color coded, '+ common + gnd') wires for the High, Low, and Pump circuits to the cooler on the roof. A separate circuit from the same junction box, goes to the furnace.

    Keep in mind that this type (evaporative or 'Swamp') cooler is Only functional in low humidity (southwest desert) areas. It basically is a two or three speed motor, driving a high volume squirrel cage type fan.

    As far as the ground augment, the one inch galvanized steel electrical conduit from 'Main' to the wall switch box, installed under 'city code', now has in addition to the original roof mount Cooler circuit, a ground wire I inserted (pulled in with new wires, using old wires as the 'pull'). Now a redundant ground path, in possibility of exposed corrosion (resistance failure) along the jointed conduit. It only acts as a second path of ground for safety purposes. The original code did not call for any GFCI (did not exist).

    The last replacement Cooler unit and city code, at the date I purchased, did not specify GFCI. I may possibly add it next service interval, if convenient. Note: New Mexico code allows NM (non-metallic) sheathed circuitry for internal, unexposed 'Home Runs'. Only the roof/external mounted units require metallic weathertite conduit.

    5:42 PM  
    Blogger Toorgy said...

    New Mexico code sounds much better than here in FL

    AC Repair

    9:56 PM  

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