Friday, December 16, 2011

Truisms: They're Back.

To climb requires that you let go of part of the ladder.
Offense and Understanding can't share the same address.
The people we least understand are the one we learn the most from.
It's impossible to climb when you're looking down.
The most obvious details are the most easily missed.
The road to success uses failures as the cobblestones.
Better to underrate yourself and move up than overrate and fall down.
Embracing your comfort zone is the easiest way to fail.
The person you're fighting with is still a person.
Gaining the upper hand is far less important than taking the higher road.
Skinned knees and bruised egos both hurt, but neither one should cause permanent injury.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Technicians Only, Setting Manifold on a Two Stage Amana Furnace

This is for technicians who have the proper tools. Homeowners should not be setting manifold on their furnace, ever. The problem comes when you turn the thermostat up five degrees over the set temperature to get the high fire to come on. Since this is two stage with a W1 and W2 controlled from the thermostat, it means you need to go upstairs, turn the heat down and hope that low fire comes on. Then you have to traipse all the way back upstairs to turn it up again so you can get the heat differential checked properly. Problem is I hate going up and down stairs all the time and getting up can hurt. Here's an easier way to do it.

First, set the high fire in the usual way. To set the low fire, remove the wire from the W2 terminal on the board. There is no way the thermostat can call for second stage and low fire will be the result. Check and set the manifold, which is on the placard inside the furnace. Remember to hook up the wire to the W2 terminal, replace the bottom door, check your amp draws, button up the furnace and check your heat differential and you're done. Maranatha!

Stop Beating Me Up On Price!

Just now I quoted a customer for a water heater because his old one went kaput. He tried to blame the consulting company's contractor for screwing it up, as they did a blower door test on the house and blew out the pilot. When I got there, the pilot light was on and the thermostat set to "warm", but the burner wasn't on and all the customer could manage was tepid water through the taps. The thermostat was bad and the water heater is more than old enough to take to the bar. The solution would be to replace it this point and I informed the customer, an elderly man.

I gave him a price of $1150 to replace it with something comparable, which in this case is a 40 gallon Bradford White water heater that runs on natural gas. The customer immediately complained on the price and blasted me for it being too high. I could go on about this guy being the same joker who whines to the pump jockey when gas prices spike, but out of common decency, I won't. Ahem. To be honest, I can't blame the guy. Prices have gone up. Gas used to be 25 cents a gallon when I was a little shaver and now it's $3.30 or so. Cars used to sell for $3000 now sell for ten times that. Raw materials have gone up, and copper has gotten crazy expensive in particular. Liability insurance used to cost me $167 every six months in 1987 when I got my first car and now it's over $800, with no tickets.

See what I'm getting at? A short 40 gallon natural gas, natural vent water heater at Menard's with a six year tank warranty cash and carry is $584.56 and it is not a Bradford White. This is retail and not wholesale. Now there's the price of $130 to $150 to get the truck to the door, possibly even getting another man to help move the water heaters. Then you have the technician's time of 4 hours, plus his or her workman's comp insurance. You also have to consider there's a shop that needs lights, wear and tear on the vehicle, gas for the torch, solder, fittings and pulling the permits with the municipal government. Pulling a permit alone is going to run into some money. I remember when a water heater could be had for about $150 and this was as recently as 1997. Back then gas was comfortably under $1.00 a gallon and raw materials were cheap. It was also about $180 to have a Builder's Square's installer to put it in and that included permits too. What a value, what a deal. Sorry, but those days are long gone and everyone has to pay more. No business can afford to sell and install items at wholesale and stay in business for very long. Businesses that can't stay in business will lay off employees. You know the drill. Please stop using price as a way to beat up your technician as he or she isn't responsible for the state of affairs in the world. I assure they have no control over the price of materials and probably haven't had a raise in a decade. They also have to buy all their own tools to work and these are a lot more than the price of a water heater. Even business owners are struggling to make ends meet too. Maranatha!

Monday, December 12, 2011

What Are You Thinking?

This morning, my first call was to a two story house in Lansing. My coworker was told me the customer said the circuit board needed replacement. Too often, the customer gets involved in the diagnosis and makes the job even harder. However, in this case it at least gave them an idea of what we were going to have to charge them.

This wasn't the only surprise in store. A young woman greeted me at the door and explained that she had hired another contractor to fix the furnace last night. Instead of fixing the problem, he condemned the thermostat wire. According to this gentleman, the customer would have to hire an electrician to run 5 or 8 wire from the furnace to the thermostat. This was on top of the repairs that she needed just to get it working. Electricians don't work pro bono very often; who can blame them .

The most expensive repair is an unnecessary one and I questioned this gem straightaway. The wire was regular 2 wire. Since there was no air conditioner, one could argue that 5 or 8 wire wasn't needed. I went downstairs and confirmed the thermostat was calling for heat and the control board was getting high and low voltage in. Since the inducer fan kept cutting in and out without the ignitor coming on, I checked the pressure switch and it was closing (so no worries with the heat exchanger, venting or tubing as well as the switch). The thermostat never lost its call for heat when the inducer cut out, but the relay to the inducer did. The problem was with the board. After making a trip to the supply house and replacing the board, they had heat. The furnace was fine. The thermostat wire can wait until she gets air-conditioning.

The moral of the story is to fix the problem. The customer is always right and we need to help them. The customer didn't pay this guy, she should have run him out on a rail.

13 Things Your Home Comfort Specialist Won't Tell You

First, some background. I've read all over Reader's and found everything from Burglars to Baristas and what they won't tell you. The themes of all of these is to make life easier for everyone, but alas, not so much as a jot or tittle about what the guy or gal sent over to fix that hunk of junk in your basement, etc that heats or cools your home. Without further adieu...

1. I'm here to perform a service; this isn't to make friends with Fido or Princess. Please keep your dogs in another room or in the yard.

2. I need to make sure the thermostat is on before you take me to the furnace or air-conditioner. I could spend a lot of time and your money tracing a problem I could have found upstairs first.

3. Children are nice, but not while I'm working around high voltage or moving parts. Keep your kids upstairs for their safety and my sanity.

4. Yes, the repairs are going to be expensive. It costs $130 just to get the truck to the door. Fuel and labor costs, as well as insurance, taxes and overhead have a lot to answer for. It's rude and inconsiderate to expect me to perform a service call for less than the asking price. My family needs to eat too.

5. If your furnace is old enough to be president and you have me fix a broken wire, don't expect me to warranty the whole thing. Other parts can fail without warning and tune ups are extra. If you want a warranty, replace the furnace. No mechanic would ever warranty a 20 or 30 year old car this way. Do you own a 20 year old car? Didn't think so.

6. While we're at it, all furnaces need maintenance or they'll leave you out in the cold. In the case of an air conditioner, you'll be sweating it out. Don't use the excuse that no one told you. The car salesman didn't tell you to change the oil either. I know better and so do you.

7. Do you do my work for a living? Just because you're an engineer doesn't qualify you for my job. I have a different skill set than you do. Besides, if you didn't need me, you wouldn't have called my office. Enough said.

8. Pay me by the job, not the hour. Hourly pay results in poorer service.

9. Work trucks in my business don't have four wheel drive, and most are rear wheel drive and handle poorly on snow. If you live in the country, please be considerate and plough the driveway. Your experience will be much better if you do. Shoveling the sidewalk is also a welcome gesture in the winter months.

10. Furnaces and air-conditioners work better when the area around them is clear. I work on them a lot better when the area around them is clear too. Boxes in front of the furnace are a fire hazard.

11. If you don't do what I recommend, don't call my boss telling him or her I didn't do my job if your equipment calls it quits. I did mine; you failed to do yours.

12. There isn't a furnace made that will run right after being in a flood. You need a sump pump, not a part warranty.

13. A five year old furnace or air conditioner is not "new" and unless you bought a service contract, it is likely out of warranty.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Exhaust Vent Fix

Last winter, I got a call that water was leaking from the ceiling of a house that was less than 10 years old. Previously, the owner has my predecessor over to insulate the bath fan vents because the cold attic had caused condensation in same. Now the problem was worse than ever before and the customer was livid. I went through everything, and was at the end of my rope. This was until I asked the customer a question or two. There were two bathrooms, but only one vent was having this issue.
"How long of showers do you and your son take?" "He's in there quite a while, but we're only in for a few minutes," he replied a bit indignantly. I checked both fans and both were in working order. "How long do you guys run these after you're done?" I pried. "We've never run 'em," said the customer. I thought about this for a minute as I put the last cover back on. Even if the fans aren't running and the dampers to them are closed, there is still going to be warm, moist air travelling the ducts to the outside. Problem was that without the benefit of the fan, the damper outside was just going to hold that air and moisture inside, where it would condense on the inside and outside of the metal duct. The result was soggy drywall in the homeowner's bedroom.
Exhaust fans are in there for a reason, and I told the customer on those grounds we could no longer warranty the repairs I did. I told him he had to run the fans or risk damage to the ceiling, end of list. I assume he heeded my advice, because he never called back. Maranatha!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Master Cylinder Fix.

The title is misleading. You're not fixing anything except the vehicle you're working on. The master cylinder is what we're changing. The job is pretty easy unless this is in a van or other vehicle with a cowl hanging over or if there are parts in the way. You need to deal with them first. Snce I have no way of knowing of what you're working on, you have to figure this out. I have no control over your work, the quality of parts you use or any other circumstance of your situation. You need to be satisfied and comfortable with your skill level before you proceed or drive your newly repaired vehicle in traffic. If there's any doubt, call a mechanic. Death, injury, or property damage can result from anything fixed improperly and brakes are no exception. Do any repairs at your own risk.

The master cylinder on any car, truck or motorcycle with hydraulic brakes (or clutch) is just a cylinder with a couple of pistons inside that press fluid into into steel lines. This in turn displaces pistons that squeeze pads or shoes onto a spinning drum or disk inside the road wheel. The wheels slow and stop transferring the moving energy of your ride into heat. That's all there is to it. Even if you have anti lock brakes, traction or stability control, the brakes work the same way. The reason it works is because the fluid isn't compressible and transfers its volume somewhere else. As long as the parts holding the fluid inside are intact and nothing can leak out or in, you have brakes. As with any system like this there are weak links. In the case of the braking system, it's the seals that fail first. If you live where there's salt on the roads, the lines themselves can rust too. In the case of the master cylinder, it's because the seals holding the fluid in or those pushing the fluid into the lines have failed.

When the brake pedal is spongy, you'll need to look around the car for leaks. Check inside the wheels and around the left side of the body, all along the lines and hoses. If there's any leakage, fix these first before condemning the master cylinder. It could still be bad, but look for the obvious first. So there are no other leaks, the pedal is still spongy, or the hydraulic system "lets go" at a stop and/or you see signs of fluid leaks at the master cylinder or brake booster. The master cylinder and brake booster both live toward the rear of the engine compartment on the left side of the vehicle for the most part. Most vehicles have power brakes and hence a brake booster. If you have an older car or truck with manual brakes, the master cylinder will be right on the firewall. This is very rare nowadays. I've owned or co-owned about 20 cars and trucks and only one, a 1975 Chevy Nova, had manual brakes.

There are several schools of thought to do this job. I'm giving you mine and you can take it leave it. I prefer to bench bleed because there's never an assistant around when you need one. With this method there's a lot less walking back and forth and bending down. I'm getting older and having to bend into tight spaces a lot; my knees protest every time I do it. If you have a suction gun or turkey baster, use it to suck the fluid out of the reservoir. If not, just undo the lines with the appropriate sized line wrench and leave the cap or cover on, placing a rag underneath it. Use a 15mm or 5/8 inch (these are the most common sizes) to remove the nuts holding the master cylinder from the brake booster. There are two studs, but sometimes there are two nuts on one of them. Makes sure all the nuts are off before you try freeing the cylinder from its home, otherwise you could break the stud or one of the ears off your core. That would be bad. Use a rag to hold the master cylinder as you take it out from under the hood. Be careful; brake fluid eats paint and plastic. Take the part and dump out as much fluid as you can, making sure it's clean. Trust me, it'll make life easier taking it to the auto parts store.

Speaking of the auto parts store, make sure the unit you buy has a reservoir. If it doesn't, you'll have to reuse the one off the old part. Remove the roll pins, screws or other device used to hold it on. If they're roll pins, use a punch and a hammer being careful not to damage the plastic reservoir or aluminum cylinder. Clean the newly removed part with brake cleaner or denatured alcohol. You can also use soap and water, but it must be dry before you install it and you need compressed air to get the moisture out. Don't be too picky getting it clean, but get as much of the old fluid out as you can.

Parts are parts and from my experience, it really doesn't matter if the part you buy is new or re manufactured. New is obviously better, but if the part is made in China walk away. If you're a Monty Python fan, run away! Don't buy the dad blamed part and put in you car, because you will be taking it out within a week. Autozone sold me one of these beauties and it failed the moment I pressed on the brake pedal. The few dollars you save are not worth it. It literally cost me four more dollars to get a better part at Advance that I didn't have to pull out again. Again, do not buy a brake part made or rebuilt in Chinaland. You've been warned.

Use the correct brake fluid. Most cars and trucks use D.O.T. 3 or 4 and in fact the fluid will probably be compatible with both (these are glycol based). This fluid is also hygroscopic meaning it absorbs and disperses water, which helps keep wear on seals and lines in check. D.O.T. 5 is a silicone based fluid that doesn't absorb water, but still allows it to settle in low areas of the system. This could allow the lines to rust from the inside out and as a result, needs to be changed much more frequently. It's usually used in racing and some custom builds. Mixing glycol and silicone fluids will kill the seals and ruin your brakes. My advice is not to use it unless your braking system calls for it.

Put the reservoir on the new master cylinder using clean brake fluid (do not use ANY oil to do this or you'll wreck them) to lubricate the o rings, and if the new part has a reservoir skip this step. Carefully put the new part in a vise and follow the instructions on the included bleeding kit. Usually, these are two plugs that thread into the bungs where the lines go and are attached to lines that are directed back into the reservoir. Fill the reservoir with fluid, but not over the "full" or "max" line and using a Phillips screwdriver, gently push into the plunger until the air is purged out of the part.

Take your hoses, fluid and all as one unit and bolt it to the brake booster. Remove the plugs from the master cylinder, one at a time and thread the lines in. Step on the brake pedal and make sure it's firm. and if it isn't you'll have to bleed each wheel individually, starting with the one farthest away from the part you replaced. I just cap off the lines I took off and let the fluid leak out a bit before I tighten them up and I've never had an issue with air getting into the lines. Air always rises, so bleeding the brake system after replacing the master cylinder isn't necessary. If the fluid is more than two years old, then you should bleed it as soon as possible anyway. Maranatha!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Cost of Neglect.

Today at the crack of dawn, I got a call from a customer in Laingsburg with a no heat. The house was chilly and the diagnosis from the customer was that the blower motor was tripping the circuit breaker. I got showered, dressed and headed out the door and in the meantime, got yet another call. This was for another customer diagnosis; a broken gas control. This is the setting for my morning and to remind that some of us do more in a morning than some do all day.

The first call was the "blower" and the customer indicated that the screws holding the blower door were stuck and he was going to have to break them out. He told me all of this over the phone and was very personable about it. "I'll have to screw it back in with a couple of sheet metal screws," I told him. The furnace was an Amana and if the screws holding the door are exposed to any moisture, they will seize up. The captive nuts inside the frame are also prone to breaking off and leaving the screws spinning. The only cure for this is to break, drill or cut them off and use a sheet metal screw to hold the door on. Ideally, this furnace would be maintained every year and some oil added to the works to prevent this hassle, but I digress.

I went in to a mechanical nightmare. The vent pipe and inducer motor leaked condensate (water) into the cabinet and all over the wiring, control board and who knows what else. This furnace was twelve years old and according to the customer, had never been maintained since it was installed 12 years ago. Instead of a $400 repair, we were looking at a $1500 repair to a cabinet that was nearly rotted out. This is extremely dangerous to the people living in the home, because the metal barrier between the burner compartment and the blower is compromised. This will allow combustion products to be sucked into the living space and even cause a fire. The wiring was shot and I would have had to charge him over $222 just to find all the components that were destroyed, not to mention the wire itself. When wire gets exposed to water over a length of time, changes occur to the structure that you can't see. The outside may look fine, but the conductor inside becomes a brittle, green mess that might work a few times before it fails and could cause a fire. This furnace was history on so many levels and it was only 12 years old. Maybe next time this customer will take maintenance schedules a little more seriously. Maranatha!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fireplace Basics.

Since we moved into our trailer this spring, I've wanted to be able to use the fireplace that came with it. It's set up for burning wood, though my grandfather and I contemplated converting it over to run on natural gas in 2000. He passed away in early 2001 and the idea died as well. My grandmother was adamant about not using it because it always stunk up of the house and it never worked right.
Today, I finally figured it out and not only does it not smell up the house, it actually burns the wood and heats the front of the house to some extent.
First thing is the wood. You need wood that has been seasoned at least one year to remove the moisture. It will burn, but it won't heat up nearly as much if it's fresh cut. Don't burn soft or evergreen wood either, as it will smell up the place and deposit more creosote on the chimney. Use hardwood from a local seller and skip the stuff from the gas station or grocery store. These will burn quickly and not heat at all. Next you need a barbecue lighter and some heavy paperboard or cardboard to get the fire started. Don't use charcoal or lighter fluid to start the wood up, use some kind of tinder instead. Those drink carriers from Wendy's or McDonald's work very well.
Stack up the wood and put the paper between the logs, but don't light it yet. Open the main damper to the fireplace vent or if you can, open it partway. If there's another damper for combustion air, open this all the way. If there isn't an outside air damper, you might want to rethink using the fireplace. Go ahead and light the tinder, close the screens and make sure the doors are closed tightly. Once the fire gets going, (as long as the lever for the damper is outside the fireplace or you need to leave it open all the way to start with) open the damper all the way. You'll want to use the fireplace poker to move the logs as the burn down to keep the flames going while they're on the rack. Once they burn down to coals, let them burn themselves out before you remove them from the fireplace. If you want to add more wood, this is the time. but don't let the coals build up too much. Once they cool down, take them out of the fireplace with a shovel and dump them in a metal container. Not as easy as using a gas fireplace, but more authentic. Maranatha!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Removing Red Stains From Carpet.

In the late 1990's, my wife and I had the sure fire way to avoid red stains in the dining room. This was to install wine colored carpet in said room. As with any color other than neutral, it made the room look very dated. Fast forward about ten years and we participated in Big Brothers, Big Sisters. We had a very nice young man stay over (he was 10 at the time) and he spilled grape soda on our nearly white carpeting in the living room. We were renting at the time (sold our house in 2000, long story) and these stains are impossible to get out with carpet cleaners. Even people who do this for a living will use a two part treatment to make the stain invisible and it is expensive. More often than the not, the carpet will have to replaced or the stained part cut out and a new section installed. Either the carpet will never look right, or you spend beau coups bucks on replacing it; not to mention moving all your stuff around to get it done.

I can do a lot of things, but carpeting is not one of them. When my wife spilled a glass full of fruit punch in our dining room, I was livid. We don't even buy colored juice drinks for this very reason, but Subway so lovingly supplies this stuff to unwitting parents daily. If it gets on anything lighter than it is, you're going to have a potentially expensive headache. Domestic issues aside, there is a solution short of replacing your carpeting or furniture, much less screaming at your spouse or children. Scold them if you must, but I would try this first.

As with anything I suggest, there is the potential for personal injury or property damage. You could follow the directions to the letter and still mess something up. I have no control over your work or any other issues involved. Do this at your own risk.

You'll need an iron, some white towels or cloth diapers, a faucet, and some Dawn dish washing soap. Not the foam, but the original, blue Dawn. Accept no store brands or substitutes. Get your cloth diaper or towel wet and then add the Dawn to it. Work it in the cloth without wringing it too much. Then fold it in half and lay it over the stain. Set your iron to the highest setting and lay it on the cloth until the cloth starts to steam. After a minute, lift up the iron and check the cloth. The stain should be transferring from the carpet to the cloth. This is where intuition comes in. Once the cloth can't accept more of the stain, turn it over and see how much more of the stain you can bring up. Use the cloths and iron, moving them around until the stain is no longer visible on the surface you're cleaning up. Take your time and don't let the cloth get dry or place a hot iron on the carpet or you will be replacing it. If you do it right, you've saved a lot of money and maybe even your relationship. Maranatha!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Goodbye to an Old Friend.

Since my wife and I married seventeen years ago, we've lived in no less nine addresses including our first apartment in 1994. In 1997 we got two kittens, Misty and Snowflake. Misty had to be put down in 2009 due to health issues, so for the past two years we've had one cat; a white domestic shorthair we aptly named Snowflake. He had amber eyes, and was the most personable, outgoing and laid back feline I've had the pleasure of meeting. Even at nearly fifteen years old, 105 in cat years, he was in remarkable health. He played, got on the bed and bugged us in the morning. He always nipped and never licked, and never meowed until his health started to wane a bit.

Snowflake, spent more time hiding, sleeping and kicking back and a lot less time eating as shown by his food dish. We didn't put two and two together until last evening, when he really started acting lethargic. Even when I picked him up and put him on my lap, he never struggled or tried to get up. Even when I tried moving him off, he was a dead weight (no pun intended). As the evening wore on, he closed his eyes more and he started to drool. Trying to rouse him showed that his coordination was completely off and touching his side brought a pitiful protest.

To make matters worse, trying to find a vet at this hour, either to euthanize or save the life of our cat was equally daunting. One vet wanted $70 to put him down and another $65 to "dispose" of the body. This is twice the price of a local one in Grand Ledge, but they weren't open.

Snowflake's condition was going south fast, making this point moot. I put him in a tote, lid off with a blanket inside and he barely moved. His breathing at this point shallow and it was 11 last night. I went to bed at 12:30 this morning and by 1:00 my wife woke me up. Snowflake was gone.

Not only was he gone, but all those days of climbing on the refrigerator to greet us as we came home. No more walking along the bathtub and falling in, with a very soaked cat darting out and his owner scrabbling to dry him. We've had to close the bedroom door for nearly as long because my wife complained that he would share her pillow. He was a constant companion while I wrote this and and nearly 200 other blog posts, and countless term papers. He greeted everyone with an attitude of friendliness and the air of a perfect host. He loved and was loved by every young child who graced our home. So much so he would hide by me when they got too overbearing. Even a gracious host has his limits. When Kingston and Jose came to stay with us, Snowflake, still the gracious one showed kindness to them too. He adopted them as surely as my wife and I did.

Snowflake was an animal and this writer could never equate an animal with another human being. But this one was a part of the family and will forever be. Our boys want a dog or another cat. My wife isn't really in the mood for another animal at this point. I think with time she'll change her mind. All in good time.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Understanding 78% Efficient Furnaces.

As of this writing and to the best of this writer's knowledge, the minimum A.F.U.E. (annual fuel utilization efficiency) on a gas furnace is 78%. This means that 78% of your energy dollar heats your home and the other 22% keeps the chimney warm. When natural gas was cheap, this wasn't a big deal and the savings on the first cost might be justified to someone who didn't want to take the plunge for a base 80%. The only real difference that this writer can see between the two is the 78 has a standing pilot while the 80 has a spark ignitor on early models and a hot surface ignitor on later models. As the price of natural gas seems to go up every year, even the 80% furnace seems to be going the way of the standing pilot light.

There are more than a few of these 78% furnaces out there and for the most part they do their job reliably. Just change the filter and service them once a year and they'll give you years of trouble free heating. To the service tech however, these can be counter intuitive. The idea of having a standing pilot and an inducer motor seems a contradiction, but these do work. The inducer does cause the pilot flame to flicker and can blow it out after a time. This is usually after the inducer has been running for an extended amount of time after the main burner has failed to light and not a problem with the pilot flame itself. Make sure the burner is clean and the flame surrounds the thermocouple though. As with any standing pilot, the thermocouple or gas valve may need replacement if there are problems with flame staying on as well. If the flame does stay on when you light it and release the plunger on the gas valve, it should stay on long enough for the main burners to light. Just adjusting the pilot flame will not correct an underlying problem. A call back will be the result.

First and foremost, check to make sure the main burners come on within a few seconds of the inducer coming on. You should be able to hear the pressure switch at the inducer click and the main valve at the gas valve open, followed by main burners. If not, you need to check the pressure switch hose for cracks, damage, etc. The spud on the inducer motor gets really hot on these and the hose will tend to crack after 10 or 20 years on hot metal. If the hose is alright, put a tee somewhere on it and check it with a manometer against the rating on the pressure switch. Do not condemn the pressure switch without checking with a manometer and an ohmmeter. You'll have a call back at best and a prison sentence, or wrongful death lawsuit if you change the value of the switch. These seldom fail anyway. If the reading you're getting is wrong the vent could be plugged, the inducer motor could be breached, or the heat exchanger could be cracked or blown out. You, the technician need to determine the actual cause and not just "cut and run" which is running the risk of the furnace not operating. Take your time and do the whole job. Your customers will love you. Maranatha!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Amana 90+ Furnace Fix.

Disclaimer: Always follow your installation manual to the letter when installing a furnace or other appliance. Only trained professionals who are licensed in HVAC should attempt or perform repairs on HVAC equipment as personal injury, death, or property damage could result. Improper service methods can render your equipment inoperable.

Amana/Goodman has made an excellent product over the past decade and there are few problems related to their design, workmanship or parts. Almost none in fact save for the inducer motors and control boards on precious few units. One thing that has carried over from the Amana 90% furnaces made in the 1990's is their drain system. They use a hose from an elbow off the inducer motor and one off the collector box on the heat exchanger. When the furnace is installed, there are typically three hoses and some spring clamps to secure them. The instructions in the manual are pretty straightforward as to how these hoses go, but installers can and do misinterpret them out of ignorance or because beer thirty is just a few minutes away. It could also be that it's perceived to be easier and just as good to do it their way.

I've gotten a few callbacks on Goodman/Amana/Everrest 90 percent furnaces because they will run for a few minutes, stop and after a half hour or so they'll run again. The reason is that the installer will install drain hoses improperly. On a typical install with the furnace straight up, there should be one hose off the bottom of the elbow from the inducer motor and the other off the heat exchanger. The one coming from the heat exhanger must drain on the same side as the drain trap, no exceptions. The long hose is for draining from that elbow if the trap needs to be on the opposite side. No matter what, never use the long hose to drain the heat exhanger, or it will sag in the middle and form a trap of its own. The result is that the heat exhanger will fill up with water and the pressure switch will fail to close. The furnace will fail to operate or operate erratically. Another error is to have the pressure switch tubing routed below the inducer fan, as water will pool here too. Maranatha!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Power Steering Pump Service for Buick Rendezvous.

Disclaimer: I have no control over your work, and any work on vehicles is potentially dangerous for you, your passengers or the public. Improper service techniques can result in injury, death or property damage. The methods given may or may not be typical or accepted service procedure. You must use your own judgement before attempting any repairs on your vehicle or those of others. Do these and any other repairs at your own risk...

Another thing while I'm at it. Power steering noise is usually caused by a worn pump, not a defective rack. Extra effort to steer could or could not be the pump or rack getting ready to check out. A failing power steering pump will likely have leaks as well. A little noise first thing on a cold morning isn't a huge deal. However, once you warm up your ride, the noise should go away and not be heard over the engine. If you heard a whine, growl or groan from the front of the engine even when you aren't turning the wheel, suspect the pump is on its way out.

For nearly three weeks, I've put up with noise from the front of my Rendezvous and since the odometer is ready to hit 150,000 miles in the next month, it was time to replace the power steering pump. On the 3.4 liters, which GM put in most of their cars and minivans in the early 2000's this pump lives at the front of the engine (right side) on the very top. There only three bolts, two hoses and a belt to deal with. The only thing that should give you issues is the low pressure hose that connects to the reservoir. You will need to suck the fluid out of same with a poultry baster or suction gun and use a long handled 3/8 inch socket wrench or breaker bar to release the tensioner to remove the belt. You could use a belt tensioner tool, but the ones from Auto Zone don't work very well on this one unless you add an adapter from your tool box. Take the belt all the way off and set it aside. You'll need a 10mm, 13mm, and a 15mm socket as well as a pair of needle nose pliers, socket wrench handle, power steering pump removal tool (rent this) and 15mm open end wrench.

Before you do anything else, go ahead and check out the two idler pulleys. Grab them, spin them or just take them off and check the bearings for noise or roughness. If they make any noise, go ahead and replace them now. The reason being is that they'll cause the bearings on your new pump, your alternator, water pump, to fail because of play in the belt and heat transfer. These pulley's are about $17.00, while an alternator is about $200 and an A/C compressor is nearly $800. A power steering pump is about $40.00 at Auto Zone and a little more everywhere else, but I digress.

Remove the belt and cover from the front of the engine. Take your wrench and unscrew the pressure line from the back of the pump and your pliers to back off the clamp from the line on the reservoir. There are three 13mm screws holding the pump to the engine and you'll have to get to them through the pulley. Just unscrew them and be careful not to drop them. Take a flat head screwdriver and carefully pry the hose off the spud on the back of the reservoir as you remove the pump. That reservoir is plastic and if you break it, you'll be replacing it. You can make a 1/4 slit in the hose with a razor blade to make this easier, but no more or you'll be replacing the line. Just take your time, because there isn't a whole lot of room to work. Once you get the pump out, make sure all the fluid is out.

There are two clips holding the plastic reservoir to the metal pump. Pry on the tabs with screwdriver and use a small hammer to tap them off. Now you can pull off the reservoir and set it aside. The pulley will also need to come off, so get your tool you rented and follow the directions on the box. You can use this same tool to install the pulley on your new pump flush with the shaft. As always, don't break it as this is also plastic. Use a new O ring on the reservoir and use the clips to fasten it to the new pump. These clips are specific to each side, so don't mix them up. Tap them back on with a hammer until the tabs click in.

Put the pump back in, working the low pressure hose on the reservoir with a straight blade screwdriver. The slit will help the hose fit back over the spud. Be careful of the sensor and wire harness below the pump as you could break them as you manhandle the pump back in. Once you have the hose on, go ahead and slide the clamp back down and start the high pressure line (install a new O ring on the line first) but don't tighten it yet. Start the three screws that hold the pump in by hand and a deep well socket and once you're satisfied they're threaded in right, tighten them up with a 1/4 inch socket wrench. Then go ahead and tighten the pressure line snugly. Reinstall the belt (check to make sure the belt is in good condition) and fill the reservoir with clean power steering fluid. Start the car and move the steering wheel back and forth about 10 or 15 times. Check the reservoir to make sure the level is still full and keep moving the wheel back and forth until the noise from the system goes away. This is called "bleeding" the system; getting rid of the air in same. Be patient, because there will be more effort to turn the wheel and it could take a half hour or more. You could speed this up by putting the front end on jack stands, but this also requires some effort. Just keep turning the wheels back and forth and once it smooths out take the car for a drive and makes some turns with it. The noise should be much diminished if not gone altogether once all the air is out of the system. Maranatha!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Look for the Obvious.

When I worked for the now defunct Auto Glass Specialists, there was a rather impatient trainer who always started every other sentence with "look for the obvious." This concerned auto glass, but now I apply this truism to everything. If the truism that people that irritate you the most inspire you the most this guy was it. Hopefully, he's doing well and I mean that. However, we're getting off the subject.

I've been a home service professional for 15 years and some months and it never amazes me to see the things people will pass off as repairs. If they work, no harm done, but if they don't they can make the problem even worse. We have some family friends who are looking for a house in the Grand Ledge area. Their children are friends with my son as well. They still live in the same apartment complex we did, but they weren't given a house like I was. They have buy theirs.

Grand Ledge is an expensive place to find a house relative to a good part of the Greater Lansing area. If our friend had chosen to settle in Lansing, she'd probably find a decent place for under $50,000. She did find a really nice Cape Cod in Grand Ledge, move in condition for $100,000. It looks really nice inside and out. Even the basement is clean and the mechanicals are in decent shape. There was new carpeting and hardwood flooring throughout with two full baths and neutral decor. I almost gave this place a clean bill of health, especially after a relative said the structure was okay.

She called me to inspect the furnace, water heater, air conditioner, and plumbing. However, I ended up going over the whole house and found this next to the chimney. The wall board was still wet.

I went home to get my ladder, came back, peeked into the attic and was facing the chimney. The structure around it were still wet and those two spots were in fact daylight next to said chimney. There was even more daylight showing on the other side and to the forward part next to the water stained wood at the top.

I'll spare you and Blogger the rest of the pictures of the attic as they're redundant anyway. The view outside, considering the one in the attic didn't suprise me. The company these owners (from New York mind you) hired put a new roof on complete with new O.S.B. decking. This was soaked around the said chimney too.

My camera phone probably has a zoom, but I've yet to figure it out. Trust me, the flashing was simply a narrow strip of aluminum folded over the top and sides of the chimey and worked around the roof decking under the shingles. A shorter strip was attached to the front and a bead of black caulk squirted over the top edge where it met the brick. It was one of the most half-assed attempts at flashing I'd ever seen. They would have done better using flashing cement instead of this hack job.

Flashing needs to be done in multiple parts. First, the flashing needs to be set around the chimney so that water can't get in around shingles This involves upwards of twenty pieces of metal including a saddle where it faces the gable and an overlapping flashing to keep surface water from leaking around it. Instead, it flows harmlessly off the roof and into the gutters. A counterflashing is also needed to prevent water from getting in between the flashing and the chimney and the only acceptable way to do this is cut a groove, or reglet into the mortar to attach the counterflashing. The result will be leakproof for a couple decades. However, along with the poor flashing job, no counterflashing was even attempted, hence the slipshod caulk instead.

This is what happens when someone tries to hire the low bidder. Though the materials to do this properly should have only cost about $20, the time to do it right might have taken four hours or more. This could have been the profit margin on this job. Besides, this chimney is as of this writing in desparate need of tuck pointing. This means replacing the mortar that has fallen out before installing the roof should have even begun. Good grief!

To add to this, this is not a deal breaker. I would have still bought the house and fixed the work myself or hired a competent roofer to do the job. Not a real big deal. Stripping off that tacky wall board and using drywall in that closet would have been a no brainer. However, the family buying the home has nary a handyman and one of the boys has asthma. Any mold caused by this water coming in will only make his situation worse. Hopefully, this isn't a problem the absentee owners cannot take care of get my friends moved in. It isn't so the materials as the labor to get up there an do it. There are more than enough competent home service professionals who will fix this at the right price. That someone will not be me. I'm not crazy about getting up on this roof. Maranatha!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

ECM Inducer Fix.

Any one of you who's ever had the misfortune of working on a Carrier, Bryant or Trane furnace with one of these inducer motors knows what a sweet old Bill these can be. The price installed is north of a grand (over $1000) and before they fail they can sound like the power steering pump on your old Dodge. This is enough to drive any homeowner crazy, but the price will be more than that for them to drive you out of their home.

If you've had to suffer through reading my fine posts, you know full well my opinion of these little darlings. I recommend replacing the furnace if it's a Carrier or Bryant, or at least upgrading the works if it's a Trane. ECM motors for an inducer assembly are great in theory, but from a durability standpoint they miss the mark. Okay, so you want an alternative to kicking yourself and spending hundreds of dollars. I have a crazy 21st century fix that just might work. Really, this qualifies as a redneck repair. However, it might quiet this motor down and could even prolong its life. As long as you're careful, the repair will cost you nothing.

The picture may or may not look exactly like the one you're dealing with, but the rectangular housing on them is all the same. This is what you need to concern yourself. As always, I have no control over your work and the risk is breaking an expensive part and having a no heat. The little circle in the center of the unit is the fan for the whole works. There are fins that draw away heat from the circuit board that lives underneath. G.E., in all their reasoning forgot to include some kind of spacer behind this fan and it can walk on the shaft into one of the I.C. (integrated circuit) chips behind it. This plastic rubbing against the silicon (not silicone) could be what's making the noise as long as the bearings are still intact.

To fix this you're going to need to pack your patience, a small Phillip's head screwdriver, a pry tool, and possibly a plastic fork with one of the inside tines removed. That pry tool can be a small flat head screwdriver or butter knife and the plastic fork can be your hand, but no metal fork should be used. Use the Phillip's screwdriver to remove the two screws and the pry tool to unclip that plastic cover. Take your time in getting this off so you don't break it. Once this is off, you'll see a circuit board and the little plastic fan. Gently rotate the fan with your fingers and if there's any resistance, check what it's rubbing against. If it's rubbing against any part of the board behind it, you can proceed. If not, you need to replace the assembly. You can pull the fan forward with your fingers to free it up, or use your fork to do the same. Do not pry against the board and if the fan gets bent in any way, you'll have to remove it and straighten it out so it's flat. Either way, make sure it clears the board and when you reinstall the cover, well the cover. Turn the fan with your finger to confirm this. As long as your satisfied with your work, turn on the furnace and it should be as quiet a church mouse. If not, either the motor is screwed or you didn't get the fan on right. The fins need to face the front and not the board. Maranatha!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

New Job.

I hate to say goodbye to an employer, but the fact is that being the only technician with a growing family has meant that I've given up a lot of things. Being of the X generation, I admittedly value work and life balance. Being tied to the phone 24/7/365 has had me burned out a long time, et cetera. As of last Wednesday I'm working for another firm closer to home with a take home vehicle and only on call every third week. Huge load taken off. I pray for and wish my former employer love in Christ, blessings and prosperity. Hopefully they'll get lots of work and be able to expand, hiring one or two techs in addition to the one there. I also hope and pray for their continued success and being able to take care of their customers. I love all of them.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

How To Clean Seats, Or Not...

A disclaimer: If your seats have airbags, heaters or other electrical accouterments, better move along on this one. Water and electricity don't mix. This is on the rear seats that I could take out without much difficulty. Think long and hard about doing this on an older vehicle in the salt belt as you could break off a bolt. Your seats and car could be sidelined a few days while they dry. Remove the seats from the car before you try this fix. As you're the one who has to decide whether or not to do this, you assume ALL responsibility for the outcome, come what may. Do this at your own risk. Do not use this method on leather or vinyl or I'll laugh at you personally. These are on cloth seats and only as a last resort.

My Buick Rendezvous is now rapidly approaching its 8th birthday, despite the 2004 model year horse feathers. It's also near the 150,000 mile mark and still going, poor wheel alignment notwithstanding (I can't redneck this one), but the interior looks like I've been carrying garbage in it for 16 months. The front seats I've covered (for now) but the back seats aren't much of an option. The light tan interior shows every stain, scuff etc for all posterity despite any method to clean them. I could attempt to recover them, but this is a spendy decision.

What you're going to need to do this are a few rags (NOT the red shop rags) a scrubbing brush, some pretreater (Resolve works great, but you can Shout it out) a spray bottle and some laundry detergent (Tide works best, but nothing with red dyes). You'll also need a hose and a nozzle. The spray bottle works best if you fill it nearly all the way with water first and then add about a teaspoon of laundry soap. If you add the soap first and then the water you'll end up with a yucky, bubbly mess in the bottle that won't clean anything and will be impossible to fill. Move the bottle around to mix, but don't shake it. Remove the seat or seats and spray the mixture over them. Just wet the whole seat down, but don't saturate the fabric. Too little is better than too much. You can add a little more to the stains, but easy does it as too much will be impossible to rinse off and make it easier to stain in the future.

Take your pretreater if you must, but do so lightly. Use a scrubbing brush to loosen the stain and rag to blot it up, or just use a rag on lighter fabrics. Again, don't work it too hard or you'll be recovering the seats. Once you're satisfied that every thing's done, get your hose and spray them down. If you see any dirt or in my case dyes from something the previous owners left, spray until the water runs clear. Do enough to make sure the soap is out and no suds remain. This can be done on a deck, but a cement driveway or patio works better because of the amount of water being used. Try your best not to spray water into the mechanisms or you'll have to oil or grease them later. If you have a few sunny days with low humidity, great. If not, better put them under an awning or in a garage to dry naturally under low humidity. If you have to put them in a confined space, a dehumidifier or room air conditioner is mandatory to prevent mold. I just set mine on my porch and will have to vacuum the leaves off of them.

Never put them back in the vehicle wet as you'll likely damage the electrical connections inside with the sudden burst of humidity. Once they're dry to the touch, use a rag with some WD-40 and wipe off the metal parts underneath. Put some Scotchgard on 'em and put back in the vehicle. You're done. Maranatha!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

An Expensive Call, Part 3

To recap what went on, this furnace had not been maintained in several years. The drain trap to the air conditioner coil plugged and allowed water to pour all over the furnace, into the burner box, the pressure switch tubing and into the pressure switches themselves. To add to the misery, it also got into the electronics and onto the inducer motor. This only corroded the board a bit, but could have put said motor out too. However I couldn't prove this, but I could prove the motor had failed.

This is the furnace with the ECM inducer; the black rectangular beast in the lower right hand corner. They were very failure prone, especially if the cooling fins weren't cleaned regularly. If you still have one of these and it still works, get it serviced regularly. These motors are usually quiet when they run, but when they start whining, you need to plan for a replacement or be left with a no heat.

Does this mean I'm a bad technician? Well, Trane in all its wisdom, subbed out what's called an ECM motor for their blower and inducer motor assemblies. They run on direct current or DC, which is supposed to use less electricity and be more reliable than comparable A/C units would be. This wasn't exclusive of Trane, but Carrier, Bryant and possibly others used this same system for the inducer on all their high end 90% furnaces. The only difference is that Trane abandoned this system and went with three-phase for their inducer motors on their variable speed furnaces. To my knowledge, Carrier and Bryant are still using the ECM which is supplied by G.E. and failures are still happening. The three phase inducer setup Trane now uses is practically bulletproof; I've changed only one in 5 years because the bearings locked up.

With this upgrade in technology, Trane also made the ECM style obsolete. So now instead of replacing the inducer, which was a ten minute job and still cost the customer close to $600, the entire wiring harness, control board and inducer has to be upgraded to the new style. All this is to the tune of over $800 and at least an hour's worth of work if all goes well. This one didn't because the person who installed it didn't properly adjust the manifold for high and low fire. The lack of maintenance sure didn't help either.

The new drain trap is now installed on the A/C coil, note the clean out tee. I also left a couple joints unglued to facilitate cleaning of the trap.

Here's the new wiring and three phase inducer motor installed; note the wiring is not completely hooked up or tied back.

After nearly three hours of finagling with this beast, including the gas pressure and wiring, it ran nearly as good as new. I replaced the ignitor, because the old one was over limits. I also cleaned the flame sensor, checked the burners and cleaned all the drains. In addition I also checked the gas fireplace out because the customer indicated the remote control wasn't working right. I confirmed it wasn't after another half hour of messing with it. The total bill for this call, including trip, diagnostic, installation of a KIT 15017, two pressure switches, hot surface ignitor and a drain trap came to $1153 and some change. This was about $350 more than my Miller for my mobile home cash and carry cost and would have nearly paid for it installed. It took me five hours to install the Miller and three to fix the Trane. However, it would have run over three grand to replace this with a Goodman (well over that, I might add). Lesson learned: Condensing furnaces (90%+) need annual maintenance and so do air-conditioners of any efficiency.

Even though the bill was expensive, this could have been much, much worse. If this had been on a first floor, or in an attic the consequences could have been disastrous. Damage to walls, ceilings, floors and furnishings could have run into the tens of thousands; not to mention the health hazards of mold and mildew. Any way you look at it, maintenance on your HVAC equipment needs to happen. This customer took to putting a reminder on her smart phone so hopefully this won't happen again. Maranatha!

Friday, October 7, 2011

An Expensive Call, Part Two

If you mix electronics and water, water wins every time. The damage to this furnace was far beyond asthetics and nullified the functionality of same to that of a $3000 paperweight. The A/C was also 20 plus years old, the drain pan was metal and full of rust (sorry no pictures). This bears mention that the air-conditioning system or at least the A coil should have been replaced inside to prevent damage to the furnace. The coil wasn't even accessible to clean and the trap didn't have a clean out tee, which should be code on any install involving a new furnace or A/C. This is also a health hazard with the mildew, although regular cleaning of the air cleaner or filter changes can help prevent this problem. Still, every install I do has a clean out tee.

However, this board still worked and showed a code three, which is an inducer error.

Note the patina of rust at the bottom of the cabinet, this shouldn't cause any more problems though.

The electronic air cleaner was also heavily involved and hopefully it still works as the customer was still in the process of cleaning it when I left the job. Considering you can slide a media filter in this housing, it's a low priority.

Here's another shot of the trap I cut in two. Although there's some space at the top where I cut it, the rest of this is packed with dirt. No wonder it wouldn't drain... Stay Tuned!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

An Expensive Call, Part One

As a disclaimer, this was only one result of of some very unfortunate circumstances that happened to the customer. The purpose of this and every other post of this nature is for informational purposes only and to hopefully save someone from expensive repairs on their equipment. I am not picking on anyone and for privacy, all circumstances will not be mentioned in this post. This article is not to attack any brand in any way. Trane makes a good, reliable product that's very service friendly. Brand names are far less important than the installer putting it in or the service tech working on it. Enough said,

Recently, I was called to a no heat on a Trane XL 90 the customer said was leaking slime from the bottom. In the brief time I've been doing this work I have never heard of a furnace "leaking slime" out the bottom. This is what I found when I arrived...

The "slime" was dirt from the air-conditioner coil pan which can be seen in the background and the black stuff is mildew from same. The entire drain trap was plugged solid with debris and the water and dirt overflowed from air-conditioner drain pan into the furnace. The electronic air cleaner had not been cleaned in three years, which made this much dirt getting into the trap inevitable. The trap is in the foreground, cut in half. If this was all that happened, it would have been bad enough, but the worst is yet to come. Stay tuned!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Rolling Out.

Today, another eight o'clock one at that. All that I can say is that every day has an evening. A customer called a few days ago with a boiler problem, with the office girl asking if we fixed boilers. "We do fix boilers" was my reply. She's still new here, capable as she is and with that I was on a boiler call to get them heat and hot water. This was in Laingsburg, the office is in Lansing and I live in Grand Ledge; so this was going to involve a lot of driving.

Five fifteen and I parked the truck in the customers' driveway, greeted them at the door and got to work. The complaint was that the burners inside the boiler would work great for a few seconds and then the flames would develop a mind of their own. Instead of dutifully going upward into the heat exchanger, they would creep out of the burner box to the front of the boiler; scaring the customer and sure surprising the heck out of me. The customer alluded that the gas pressure was too high and that was the reason for the flames leaving the boiler, or "rolling out" as they were.
The propane supplier had already replaced the regulator. The customer had already called someone else to do this, but from what this writer saw, the repair was anything but successful.

I pulled the burners and vent off the boiler and with a flashlight and mirror, looked up inside. The entire heat exchanger was caked with soot to the point you couldn't see through it with said light. After an hour and a half of brushing, using compressed air and a vacuum cleaner to clean up the soot, I finally got the boiler back together and back to rights. $259; $170 to clean the heat exchanger and $89 for the service call (my employer doesn't take off the diagnostic charge for a repair) seemed like a lot, but paled in comparison to what the other contractor wanted to charge.

Admittedly, I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer. However, this guy was a couple pancakes short of a stack. He not only intimated to the customer that propane burned dirtier than diesel fuel, he also said the burners would need to be cleaned to fix the problem. The sum for this work and advice, more of a whopper than any real work, was over $450! I got the thing working again for less than half of that, the trip and diagnostic not withstanding. Understandably, the customer, a scientist and his wife, rushed this huckster out the door.

First of all, I only touched the burners to get them out of my way as they were perfectly clean. The reason the boiler sooted at all is because the manifold pressure was too high. Over 20 inches of water column to be exact. Propane, or LP needs about half that number to burn clean, or excess carbon will condense on the heat exchanger as soot, plugging it up. No wonder this one wasn't working right. The natural tendency for hot air to rise was defeated by the soot, and since there was no other way to go, the hot air and the flames chose the next easiest route. This was right out the front of the boiler.

If you're having this problem, the tech needs to take the time to take the burners out and the vent off if this is a natural draft appliance such as an older model furnace or boiler (most boilers are natural draft, but use a vent damper to help save energy). He or she needs to look at the heat exchanger top and bottom and if there's soot, or rust, they need to clean it out and not condemn the equipment unless the heat exchanger's cracked or the furnace is in really poor condition (see previous posts). Home ownership is expensive, why make it more so? Maranatha!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Top Causes of Furnace Failure

Caution, this is a rant. However, it's an educational one. Hopefully, someone can learn something when it comes to making sure their heating system actually heats when you turn the thermostat on. These are in no order, and are by no means the only reasons furnaces give up the ghost. All are 100% preventable with a little common sense and a few dollars spent now instead of a bucket load later.

1. Failure to maintain equipment: This should be an all-encompassing cause, but I'm writing this article; so it isn't. Not getting a tune-up, clean and check, etc will mean that your furnace will suffer cataclysmic, catastrophic failure of the worst kind. Then you can complain bitterly about the cost of a service call, parts, etc to the hapless tech who came to pick up the pieces. For the details, read on. A qualified service tech should do the work. Not all handy people are up to the task, but most of it is pretty straightforward.

2. Failure to change filters: It bears mention that any equipment that moves air will need a filter changed regularly. If I had a dollar for every time someone bought a "high performance" filter that was advertised "up to three months" my lot rent would be paid for the month. I don't care what the manufacturer says; if you have a one inch filter, change it monthly. If you have central air conditioning, change it monthly during the cooling season too. Already heard the excuse "I only use my air on really hot days." Change the filter already. You're tearing up your equipment if you don't.

3. Failure to maintain condensate drains and pumps. These need to be cleaned out twice a year to stop the traps from overflowing and ruining the sheet metal and electrical parts in your furnace. Water can also get into safety switches can create a real mess. Cleanout tees for the condensate drains to the air-conditioner are a must, but few contractors install them voluntarily. Get them to install one or find another contractor to install the equipment. Water and bleach needs to be run through the drains twice a year (easy on the bleach). Condensate pumps NEED to be taken apart and cleaned as they accumulate yeast on the inside. These will KILL the pump and will ruin a lot more than a furnace if they call it quits. 90% efficient furnace will have condensate drains that MUST be cleaned out annually.

4. Failure to have a qualified contractor and installer do the work. 90% of the reason a furnace will prompt a service call is because the installer either installed too big a furnace (failed to do a load calculation) wired the humidifier or thermostat wrong, or my favorite, didn't plumb the condensate drain lines properly. Another close relative of these are the pressure switch lines on Amana and Goodman furnaces, where they hang low enough to stop your equipment cold. Water pools in these low spots and they'll run for a week or two before setting an error code. The cure would be to shorten and reroute the line. The point is to get a trained, qualified installer to do the work. This is your home, and no place to cut corners.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

From Customer to Con Game.

Friday came and went and the car was fixed for less than half expected price. As it was, the front wheel bearing and drive axle were doing the clicking because the axle nut couldn't tighten all the way. The bushings on BOTH sides of the back were also shot, but the Rendezvous is back in business. Due to working another 8 to 8 day, this didn't get picked up until nine-thirty. This was one con game that could have cost me over a grand or so. This will be the beginning of a long relationship between me and Foreign Car Service out of Mulliken and the end of it with Quality Auto Service who was so inclined to make a buck.

When I work on something and it messes up, it's going to be made right. We never have time to do something right the first time, but we always have time to do it over. Six months ago, I was sent to a house in Lansing because the furnace had been under water and ruined the blower motor. Despite my best efforts to free it up, the motor was toast. The furnace was also not far behind. Because this guy had little money, I put in the motor and got the thing working again for $400. This was about a fifth the price of a base 80% model, but either way the basement needed to be fixed to keep the water out or the same problem was going to happen again.

Fast forward to September 16th about 7 p.m.; the customer came into the office and set up an appointment to get his furnace looked at because the blower motor I installed had failed. Working my way down to the basement, I noticed that it was still wet and muddy. The blower would indeed not start, but neither would the burners. I checked for power, with the customers alcohol enriched breathe over my shoulder and in fact, there was power. The customer complained the motor had failed, so I tried spinning it and in fact it was stuck. To make a long story short, I removed the blower and freed it up.

The photo on the left is out of the Montgomery Wards furnace in the house in question. There is still a lot of mud in the cabinet and as you can see on the left, this is what happens to a motor that has spent time in a moist, if not wet environment. The cabinet was so rotten that it could crumble under the weight of the heat exchanger. If this were me, the furnace would never gotten a new motor six months ago.
I opened up the fan limit control and the plastic casing fell apart. This is made of Bakelite, a high impact plastic which is also heat resistant. However, it isn't heat proof. The customer blamed me for this part breaking, but the metal around it has what's called a hot spot. This is the result of metal being under extreme heat without the benefit of a working blower. You can also see that the pointer is on the 100 degree mark which is also the off point. This is also a result of overheating the limit control. It should be all the way to the right.

Needless to say, I don't argue with idiots or drunks. At the advice of my boss, I took these pictures and more on 4X6 prints to take to him tomorrow. I can understand having no money, but when someone tries to con or accuse me, the charity ends. This furnace should have never been worked on, but replaced and the basement waterproofed. Better to have a horrible end than horror without end. Maranatha!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Repair or Replace.

"If it has wheels or heels, it's gonna break your heart" one mechanic told me as I pondered the fate of my Buick Rendezvous. So far, the bushing to the rear wheel spindle is worn out, but that's nothing to sweat about. The other issue is the transmission is broken inside somewhere and either way; it's going to hurt. It has nearly 150,000 miles on the clock and the body is decent and the engine runs okay. Soon and very soon, this car will strand me because the part that connects the gears to the drive shaft will fail and leave me with no forward or reverse. I've done nickel and dime stuff here and there. A bulb here, a brake pad there, a few everywhere but it beats a payment. After all, the worst car is the one you make payments on.
I've called several places to get estimates and one guy quoted me $400 to do the work; if I find and bring a transmission. When I went to get a firmer quote, I found the part for $700, but the guy upped his quote to $900 and then $600. I ran from that place. Well, I found a mechanic to do the work for a reasonable price. And he stressed the need to inspect the vehicle and switch over the fluid from Dextron 3 to Dextron 6 to help with the longevity. I'm also going to splurge and have this guy change the spark plugs, the oil and even that pesky bushing in the rear.

So why not just buy another car? For one, when you buy a used car, you always inherit someone else's problems. Even if you buy a service contract, eventually you're going to have to fix it yourself or pay to have it done. If you're making payments, that service contract will run out long before the payment book does and you'll be upside down on a paperweight if a major repair is needed. Regardless of what you own, it's going to wear out and need work. If the ride you have is halfway decent and you're sure of the condition, why not fix it? If you've put on new tires, a battery, done the maintenance and kept it in working order, who's to say you won't have to do the same things to next car you buy? I've never bought a vehicle that didn't need tires or a battery eventually.

The other choice is a new car. The average price for a new one is $25,000 and in my case, we would need an SUV. This means, at 6% interest per year on a five or six year loan, we'd have doubled the price. Not to mention the value would drop 20% the moment we drive it off the lot. It's a horrible investment to boot. Besides, I'd rather pay a mechanic than a banker any day.

So, we drove it to the mechanic today and dropped off the key. Maranatha!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Walmart Apologized

and I accepted, nuff said.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Quality Tire.

Funny things happen sometimes, in a good way. Yesterday, I took my Buick Rendezvous (yes it is a truck) to have Walmart look at and possibly replace the left front tire because of some damage to the sidewall. I purchased a road hazard warranty and confirming this from my receipt, they proceeded to replace the tire. Then they presented me with a $40 bill without clearing it with me first. Problem was, I had $15 to my name. I drove my vehicle home on a doughnut and the now disassembled tire in my cargo area. Because there is not enough room to place a full sized spare and the winch out of commission anyhow, that's where it had to set.
Today, done with work and still thoroughly miffed over the whole ordeal (the service department not telling mebefore doing the work and nearly disabling my ride), I went to get a second opinion. I've used Quality Tire on Grand River in Lansing, Michigan for putting used rims on said ride and they did a bang up job on that. The service tech looked the tire over and said the damage was cosmetic and did not need replacement. They not only remounted the tire back on my rim (steel wheel) they gave me a suggestion or two on getting the spare tire safely put away. A new winch for this car is in excess of $150 to $200. Used ones are not an option as these seldom last for more than a year or two in Michigan's salt and snow. I don't have $200 to replace something I can rig up for $5 or $10 that'll probably outlast the vehicle. When I get it figured out, I'll give the details in a future post. After all: what creativity fails to buy, the wallet must. Leaving an unsecured spare in a trunk, much less a passenger area is not an option either. Maranatha!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Road Hazard Warranties.

Just a little heads up on this one. When you buy tires for your car or truck, they're going to try and sell you what's called a road hazard warranty. These can cost $10.00 or more per tire. My advice is to read the fine print, because what tire companies are doing is pro-rating the wear on tires, plus adding if the price goes up. So instead of getting a free tire, you could be paying out of pocket up to the price of the tire. I bought a set of four Goodyear Viva 2 tires for my Buick last year and one of the sidewalls was damaged today.

I took my truck to Walmart and they proceeded to remove the tire and mount on a new one. The problem was that they charged me $40.00; money I didn't have. I paid $70 for the tire in June of '10. They wouldn't put the old tire back on the rim, and had a hell of a time getting my spare out. So now I'm driving on a road spare that's balder than Yul Brenner and my old tire and rim are in the back. Not blaming anyone, but a reminder would have been nice. On top of that, now I've got to figure out a safe way to remount my spare tire, or get rid of it altogether. The spare tire holder is broken and there's no safe way to fix this. A replacement unit will likely cost a small fortune. Maranatha! This time I really mean it.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Why didn't I think of this? Blogger I.E. 9 Fix.

I've had major issues with Internet Explorer 9 since downloading it on my computer. 8 had at least some lip service to speed, but 9 has been a bit of a pain. Add to this the inability to publish your blog on Blogger. The fix is to click the compatibility button in the address bar and the interface should change a bit. Once this happens, go ahead and publish your document. I may even change my mind about I.E. 9. Maranatha!

Revelation Commentary, From a Handyman? Part Ten

Revelation 7 (KJV)
1.And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor the sea, nor on any tree. 2. And I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God: and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whim it was given to hurt the earth and sea.
3. Saying, Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads. 4. And I heard the number of them which were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty and four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel.

Let me point out that even in these times, most knew the earth was a sphere and not flat. I learned this all through public school saying that Christopher Columbus went a sailing the ocean blue in 1492 to prove the earth was "round" and not flat. This is such a heaping helping of malarkey that has propagated ignorance since then. It has given athiests reason to try and disprove the bible when common sense should dictate this is a figure of speech, Ahem.

Rather than go through the who chapter this time, I will point out that there are 12 tribes of Israel, but two are missing in this list. Dan and Ephriam are the ones being left out of this sealing. They're being replaced by the tribe of Joseph and I believe Judah. This by no means says that individuals of these tribes won't receive salvation, because Dan and Ephraim WILL receive land in the Millenial Kingdom.

For anyone who says "but we don't know who's in what tribe" I would reply, "but God does." Depite the many persecutions and attempts to wipe the Jews out forever, God has kept them as a distinct race of people. They still have work to do and 144,000 Jews will carry on with His work during the tribulation period. They will suffer for sure, but until God is done, these tireless soldiers for Christ will fight on.

Power Window Diagnosis and Repair.

To be blunt, power windows are one of the most hazardous systems to work on. Not only do you have to contend with electrical issues, but you're dealing with unhemmed sheet metal that cut you and moving parts that can remove digits from your hands. Breaking a door glass can also injure you and at least scare you half to death. Please use common sense and wear gloves and eye protection, and pack your patience. I have no control over the quality of your work, so do these at your own risk.

Power windows are common on nearly every vehicle save for the most stripped down work trucks or economy cars. It's nearly impossible to buy a car without this feature. Unlike roll up windows, which are pretty straightforward to diagnose and repair, power windows can seem to be a mystery wrapped in a riddle wrapped in an enigma. Add to that the prices of the parts and the service for a mechanic to fix. This will make anyone want to just resort to duct tape and a shower curtain. This is neither safe nor practical and can block your vision. I can relate about the price of parts, but the alternative can be much worse. Besides, you need to know what the problem is before you make the auto parts store rich anyway. This article will hopefully get you started, if not pointed in the right direction. This is also going to be pretty generic, but the cars in question are a 2003 Ford Taurus and a 2004 Pontiac Grand Am.

The power windows on a late model car do two, three, or four things. They raise the door glass up, lower it down and in the case of express windows (which are very hazardous when working on them) lower and or raise the door glass with a short touch to the switch. If the window fails to do any of these things, or doesn't stay up where you put it, this classifies as a problem. This can either be mechanical or electrical. Mechanical issues are when the motor runs, but the window doesn't move or doesn't stay up. Electrical issues are when the switch is operated, but the motor will not operate at all. Mechanical issues will always require taking the door apart, while electrical ones may or may not need it at all. Also, if you can lift the glass manually (be careful), then the problem is mechanical. I'll cover the electrical issues first if you don't mind.

My friend brought in a 2003 Ford Taurus. She couldn't roll the driver's side window up, none of the other windows would operate at all. However, the driver's side window would roll down and with a lot of finagling, would finally roll up. She was the one who used the proverbial shower curtain and duct tape to block out the weather, and it's been since April. Between moving, here schedule and mine, it's been hectic, but I digress. She didn't have much money and I had only a few troubleshooting tools on me. In fact, all I had was a test light to figure this out. The Taurus has two power window circuits, one with a relay for the driver's side express down and the other controls the up and down operation of the four windows. The one controlling the express down is a dedicated circuit, with fuse and relay. The one for the windows going up and down is shared with several other functions, including the adjustable pedals. Since all of these worked and the fuse was good, we knew there was power at the circuit, but there was no power to the switch.

Since there was no wiring diagram on the Internet, nor did my friend have a service manual on the car. I pried up the boot covering the wiring to the door and sure enough, I found a wire to the switch that was broken and corroded. Even with the very robust design of the wiring harness on the Taurus, there is the possibility of the wiring bending back and forth at the joint between the frame and the door; cracking the insulation and eventually breaking the conductor inside. The most obvious thing to do is to strip back the ends and splice the wire. However, there wasn't much slack left after removing the corroded parts of the wire. Use a wire of the same conductor thickness or slightly bigger, and you can solder or crimp these ends together, leaving some slack. Thread the ends through the boot and hook up the wire. All there is to it. Shrink wrap will work better than tape, but money was tight. The repair was less than $2.00 in parts, so much for expensive.

Mechanical repairs are a different animal and will always require taking the door apart to find and fix the issue. On the Grand Am, there are three screws to remove. One at the door handle, another under the door handle trim and the third under the reflector. Remove the panel, the water shield and roll the window down. There's a plastic insert on the slider that attaches to a fitting on the cable. Frequently, this plastic will crack and the weight of the glass will cause this to break; not allowing the window to stay up (this is for the rear ones, the front ones use a cable and pulley set up). This will need to be replaced unless you want to chance using an adhesive to repair the plastic. The price of a broken door glass will exceed that of a regulator. Remove the screws holding it to the door glass and carefully move the glass to the bottom. Take out the screws holding the regulator to the door save for three of the Phillip's head ones. Loosen them up and swing out the parts. Now take those screws out and install them in the same spots in the new part. These will help you get them in position while you put the rest of the screws in. If you need to dummy this one up, a pair of vise grips on the track under the window will hold it up until you can afford the part. This is about $35 at a wrecking yard to about $100 at the auto parts store. Maranatha!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Forgiveness, or tearing up your hit list.

We've all had people that have wronged, or we have perceived have wronged us is some way. No one is immune and neither is this writer. Far too much of my 41 years on this earth has been spent brooding about those who have "done me wrong." It could be the young lady who spurned my invitation to the dance or the young man with the bad attitude who still got the job I thought I deserved. These are just two examples I can remember offhand. Both hurt, especially when the young lady got asked out and accepted another young man of higher social standing. It really hurt when I got laid off from the precarious position in the union after the other guy got his position. After all, didn't I deserve to get this chance?
Maybe you're secretly waiting for a silver lining in all of this. I got fired as maintenance supervisor from a property management firm in 2006. Without going into much detail, it was having superiors, customers, coworkers and even vendors turn against me after much heartache. My hope was to get another job quickly and for this firm to suffer in some way. Not good. Even though being a blood-bought, God-fearing, Spirit-filled Christian (which I still am) I was not immune to these feelings of resentment and anger. They had consumed me as much as if not more than most.
I did get a new job within a week, but this did not satisfy my anger toward the property management firm. I was still in that trap of resentment that cast a dark cloud over every positive happening in my life. My anger was negating any vestige of victory over adversity.
This is in no way to sound like a motivational speaker. I still have failures in this life and believe it or not are still people who wrong me. The difference is not dwelling on this, in the perceived positive or negative aspects for all parties involved. The fact is that person or persons who wronged you are getting on with (or should be getting on) with their lives. We're all great at not carrying grudges when the other party admits their mistake, but what about when they don't? Human nature makes admitting mistakes anathema; especially with those in positions of authority. It's just the way it is. Even those who aren't are still not going to 'fess up and may not even realize they hurt you. In fact hurting you might not have even been their aim. It may have been in pursuit of another goal and whether or not they considered your feelings as a byproduct doesn't matter. They did it and you're eating your heart out feeling angry.
Let's turn this around. We're all looking out for number one; it's the most natural thing to do. We consider our needs and wants more important that those of the next guy. Let me clue you in, they aren't. Going back to the the blood-bought thing, if you are a Christian (and it's my sincere hope you are, dear reader) it is Christ and not you who are the center of your life. The only list anyone should ever concern themselves with is the Lamb's Book of Life and whether or not your name is in it. End of list. If you're thinking eternally, the rest should pale in comparison. I could go on and on;can post scripture 'til my hands bleed, but you all should know it. Time is so short. Maranatha!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Replacing a Blower Resistor on a Buick Rendezvous / Pontiac Aztec

It's 95 degrees outside (37 Celsius) and the air conditioning fan in your 'Vous or 'Tec is going full tilt. Refreshingly cool air travels from the dashboard to your overheated frame. Halfway into your commute, the flow of cool air slows to a crawl. You feel the dashboard and yes, it's still cold, but the sound of air rushing is no longer there. You try turning off the recirculating air and are rewarded with a little better airflow, but it isn't quite enough. Worried about freezing the dashboard, you finally relent and shut of the air conditioning and open the windows. The blast of hot, humid air is anything but refreshing.
It looks like the resistor and possibly the blower have just quit on your ride. While you could take this in and spend $350 to get this done professionally (and I couldn't blame you), the idea of tackling this yourself and saving some money is tempting.
As always, you are responsible for your own work. This is a deceptively simple job that could take you a couple hours easily. There shouldn't be too many safety issues, but you're working on the dash next to a bomb that could literally explode in your face (read airbag). The blower is also very powerful and you could get scrapes and cuts from a moving fan. You'll also be playing with electricity, which even at 12 volts is enough to weld tools to the metal parts of the car and cause burns. You could damage other, more expensive parts of your ride or cause a fire. Use common sense (that thing so rare it should be a superpower) and do this at your own risk.
You'll need a 1/4 drive ratchet, universal joint and/or swivel sockets. A 5/16" or 8mm as well as a Phillip's or cross point screwdriver are mandatory as is a door pad tool. A jump box will help with testing the blower when you get it out and possibly save your electrical system. Unhook the battery if you want and it would be a good idea. I'm a bit on the crazy side, so I just made sure the key was off.
Remove the hush panel under the right side of the dash. This pries off with a door pad tool at the top and you can usually pull out the fasteners next to the carpet with your fingers or pliers. Remove the wire connection from the blower and three screws holding it to the heater assembly. Two are visible and one is toward the firewall. No sweat.
The resistor is where it gets interesting. This lives between the blower and the firewall and is held on with three screws. One is visible and the other two are right next to the dad-blamed firewall. Better pack your patience getting these loose as there is NO ROOM between the resistor and the firewall. You can remove the one screw and try wiggling the part out, but you risk breaking the heater box. Go ahead and get a swivel socket and loosen 'em up.
Honestly, I couldn't tell you the first thing about diagnosing the resistor itself. If the car has more than 100,000 miles and or the connector to the blower is melted, replace it.
The resistor is about $30 new, don't buy this part used as it's a wear item and will probably fail in short order. Who wants to do this again any time soon? Not me. The blower is $95 new, so a little more care needs to be taken before condemning it. Inspect the female end of the connector on the blower, if it's melted a bit you might be still be able to reuse it, but this is a gamble that it could fail real soon. If there isn't any obvious damage, you can use jumpers or cut the end off the old resistor and strip the wires. Put the blower in a vise and hook a wire to the jump box. If the blower spins, you you can save it. If not, replace the blower. If the connector is damaged at all, I'd bite the bullet and replace it. No sense in doing this job again. You can buy a used blower and expect to get a fair amount of use out of it. These are MUCH less expensive than at the auto parts store; I got mine for twenty and some change. Install everything in reverse order and tighten the screws snugly. Hook up the Molex connectors to the resistor and blower and before you button up the hush panel, hook up the battery and check your work. If the blower has all five speeds, you can finish up and relax. You have my permission. Maranatha!