Saturday, February 18, 2012

Rheem/RUUD Furnace Fix.

Despite their vintage of around 25 years, I can't find much fault with these Rheem/Ruud furnaces; the ones with the spark ignition and the burners welded into one unit. Under rare circumstances, the welds will fail, necessitating replacement of the furnace because these burners are no longer available. Other than that, if well cared for these will last a long time.
One issue that I do find with these is not with the furnace itself, but the way it's worked on. I got a call from a consulting firm who had a competitor do a tune up and now the furnace was acting up. I drove over and the customer informed that the furnace was lighting intermittently. I noticed right away that the clips holding the burner assembly were missing and had been for some time. The wiring to the flame sensor was also worn and the ground wire wasn't hooked up either. The spark ignition module wasn't secured to the plate underneath and the neither was the plate to the cabinet. None of this was hooked up before the other tech started and it wasn't hooked up when he left either. So why did it work fine before he touched it and then started messing up afterward?
I fiddled with the wiring and got the furnace to light, and as soon as the main valve came on, the burner assembly jumped under the pressure. The flame sensor works with the ignition module and has to be grounded to the burners, which are grounded to everything else. When the tech removed the burners, he disrupted the precarious balance that was had despite the burners not being secured. He tried to wedge them back in, but Rheem put those clips in for good reason. I fabricated a clip to hold the burners down and secured all the wires. The furnace lit every time with no hesitation.
The moral of the story is if it came with it, put it back on. The last tech that worked with it was only guilty of being in too much of a hurry. The tech who installed the module should taken the ten minutes to check the integrity of the wiring and secured the parts after he was done . Furnaces are just as complex and as much a precision piece of equipment as cars, TVs or even computers. You wouldn't leave parts out of your car, computer, or TV but why would you leave a part out of something that could kill you at worst or leave you without heat? As much of a pain as it is, put it back together and when you see something that isn't right, at least tell the customer. I've made this mistake too and it's come back to bite me in the aft end. Mistakes are best learned second hand after all. Maranatha!

Friday, February 17, 2012

What is a Furnace Tune Up?

Look in the phone book under heating contractors and you'll see and be quoted a lot of prices for a furnace tune up, maintenance, clean and check. I think covered them all. Prices range anywhere from $39 to over a $100 for maintenance, but price alone shouldn't be the deciding factor. Regardless of the contractor, you need a guarantee of at least 30 days and maybe longer with a maintenance agreement. As pointed out in my earlier posts, pay by the job and not by the hour. Yes, this is flat rate, but the technician is usually better trained to get the job done accurately and in a timely manner. This means that he or she won't waste your busy day either. This doesn't means that a maintenance should be done in 15 minutes either. A basic furnace inspection should take at least 20, so expect at least an hour to two hours for a thorough job.
The technician needs to come to the door, introduce him or herself, and make sure their feet don't track dirt in your home. I wear booties over my shoes and this is a lot better than walking in a customer's home in stocking feet.
Because you tend to use the thermostat, make sure the technician goes there first to check it out and replace the batteries if necessary. If it's an older thermostat, don't be surprised, or offended if he suggests a new one. A defective thermostat causes a lot of no heats and batteries are a huge culprit behind that. The furnace needs to checked for carbon monoxide, the burners, pilot, cabinet, drains cleaned and inspected. If there's a flame sensor that should be cleaned or replaced at your expense if worn. The hot surface ignitor also need to be checked and if worn, replaced. The filter and humidifier pad are likewise. The wiring should also be inspected and the thermostat lugs tightened, and any burned, worn or brittle sections noted on the tune up sheet (your contractor does have a tune up sheet, right?) When the furnace is running, he needs to check and set the fuel pressure, check amp draws, and the heat rise of your equipment. The heat rise is the difference between the return and supply temperatures and once he's done, the cabinet wiped down and the work area cleaned. He or she also needs to document everything they did and show you. You also need to understand that if you don't do the work the tech recommends and the furnace calls it quits, don't go screaming to the contractor they didn't do their job. You didn't do yours. If you go for the cheapest contractors, then you really have no one to blame save yourself. You get what you pay for. Maranatha!

Gas Fireplace Foibles

This is a rant, with a warning to all you self proclaimed handy people out there. Whether you do this for as living, or as a weekend warrior you need to know the truth about gas fireplaces. First of all, gas fireplaces are a decorative, convenience item much like the washing machine is to the knuckle buster, or the automobile is to the shoe leather express. The difference between the former and the latter is that an argument can be made for their necessity. The gas fireplace is entirely frivolous and makes about as much sense as a screen door on a submarine. This is my opinion based on nearly two decades of installing and servicing these appliances. If you're the user, and actually enjoy them, no offense intended. I have a wood burning one that gets precious little use because I'm too tired to stoke the fire.
The reason for the warning is that fireplaces are a whole different animal than a furnace, water heater, or any other appliance that burns fuel and has a pilot. This pilot is usually difficult to service and clean because of the decorative nature, function takes a back seat to form. It also means that servicing gas connections are a pain because there's precious little room to swing a wrench, screwdriver, or any other tool needed.
To be fair, there aren't really a whole lot of issues that come up with the appliance as a whole. Most are simple and fairly durable and I've seen some of the old gas log sets work for decades with little or maintenance.
The main problem with a gas fireplace is the pilot burner. It's not very accessible, the heat has usually done a number making the parts difficult to get off. Even if it has a hot surface ignitor like a furnace does, the ones sicked on me usually take more than an hour to replace. 90 percent of all their issues stem from the pilot and these can include the thermopile, thermocouple, or the burner itself getting fouled. I'm going to give you the most valuable tip in the world for servicing these fire breathing monsters that you'll want to pay me the first time this comes up.
When getting the pilot burner out, common sense is that you need to remove the tubing with a 7/16 wrench from the burner. This means unscrewing the tubing (1/8 inch) from the burner and you would be wrong. See, the tubing is usually secured inside the nut in such a way that if you spin the nut, you break the tubing. You have to hold the nut stationary and unscrew the burner or remove said tubing from the gas control, thread it through and then unscrew it carefully from the burner. Common sense doesn't apply to fireplaces, but try telling that to the irate customer who's fireplace you put out of commission. I had a customer and her husband get really ugly with me and blamed me for everything short of the world ending. People love their fireplaces more than life itself, it seems. Again, spin the burner, not the nut on these lest evil befall you. Maranatha!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Installing a New Water Softener: Everything You Wanted to Know, But Were Afraid to Ask.

Finally, after a couple weeks of living with white deposits on our dishes, itchy skin and much complaining by my better half, we had to install a water softener. The old one we had used more water to condition the water we actually used than we actually used. This was to the tune of 3600 gallons or half of a $90 water bill; Ouch!
Since the old one was a Culligan (can't remember the model, only that it weighed more than two horses and took everything I had getting it into the dumpster), I briefly considered one from the same brand. In an even briefer moment of lucidity, I recalled the last time I invited a salesperson in my home to sell me a Kirby vacuum sweeper. At $1600 a pop in 1997, and practically having to give him the heave ho, an alternative was in order. To make a long story short, we bought a water softener from Lowes; A Whirlpool Model WHES30 that has the salt storage and resin tank in one container. This was especially important because we live in a double wide and the softener is in the closet. Sure, there were smaller ones out there, but the footprint was the same and the smaller ones were 20 percent more in price.
This is the situation and appliance I'm using and there are many variations of the same. Read the directions and follow all local codes. If you live in Massachusetts, you have to call a licenced plumber to do the job. There may be similar codes in your area and it's your responsibility to check. You need to have some knowledge of plumbing, minimal knowledge of electrical and at least a three hour window of time to do this.
As you know, death, injury or property damage can result from working on plumbing. The directions and local codes take priority and when in doubt, call a professional. Do this and any repairs or installations at your own risk.
Cross linked Polyethylene or PEX is easy to work with, but not everyone is familiar with the methods of working with it. There's the couplings, the bands and the special tools to clamp the bands. I'm not going there this round, but I'm using Shark Bite fittings to get this done. Since the directions included with this appliance do a good job of getting you started, I'm not going to add to them much. Just place the softener where it will fit and where you can hook up it up.
I'm using 3/4 inch PEX and the water softener uses 1 inch male fittings but not going to use galvanized couplings to hook this up. This is because this is in my closet and these fittings will corrode over time. The service clerk at Menard's tried to sell me on this method because she couldn't find anything else to do the job. Nothing wrong with Menard's, but I'm not sweating copper in a mobile home or using copper or galvanized on plastic pipe.
So I went to Lowes and they hooked me up with two 1 inch CPVC female adapters, two 1 inch to 3/4 inch bushings and a five foot length of 3/4 inch CPVC.
What is CPVC? It's a lot like PVC or the white pipes used to drain with, but they're harder and able to handle pressure. You will need a special cement and regular old purple primer to glue the pipes to the bushings to the adapters. Prime the spots that fit together and apply the cement while the primer is still wet, then put them together. Use plumber's tape on the threads of the water softener and install the fittings BY HAND. Using tools on plastic risks stripping or breaking them. Make sure the other ends of the pipe are clean and straight before you push the connectors on.
There is a valve drain hose to contend with. The original one I had was ran behind my shower stall in 1/2 PEX through to the laundry drain. In short, it was going to be a pain to run 3/8 vinyl tubing behind it. I just used the 1/2 pipe as a sleeve to run the tubing through to the laundry room (don't use more than 30 feet). Since the tubing can bind inside the pipe, I used some cooking spray inside the pipe as a lubricant. You don't need much, but thread enough through the pipe to get it started and clamp the other end to the water softener. Once everything is where you want it, you can trim the tubing to fit. Finish the directions, charge it up and you're done. Maranatha!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Installing a Vanity Top.

Bathroom sinks are one of my least favorite plumbing issues to tackle because the replacement never seems to fit without cutting out the Formica top. Unless you have a jigsaw or RotoZip, this job is nearly impossible to do correctly and timely. Then you have to seal around the sink, clamp it to the top fighting it all the way. Changing out a plastic one in a mobile home for a steel (never recommended because they rust) or porcelain one involves a lot of cutting and hoping everything fits. Sure, this is cheaper, but your time means something too and trying to fit a new bowl or basin to a Formica top is a sure way to waste it.
The best way to change out a bathroom sink is to bite the bullet and get a vanity top. They don't cost that much more than a drop in or clamp down sick and are a lot easier to install. They also look a lot better too. Here's how to do it and remember that you do any repairs at your own risk. Work carefully and refrain from the hack and slash method of remodeling. You might need the very parts you're destroying. Measure the old top and make sure the new is the same size before you take anything apart.
You're probably going to want to take a long, hard look at the drain and supply lines and if they're chrome, change them out too. Chances are they'll crumble the moment you try and take them apart. The stop valves are also a source of trouble when taking the old vanity top out. If you can't shut off the water with them, get new ones or postpone the work. Working with stop valves that won't hold will only hold up your work and make it much more frustrating. The best time to replace them is when the old vanity top is off and before you install the new one because it gives you more room to work.
It goes without mention that you need to shut off the water before you start working. Remove the plumbing attached to the sink. If it's in good condition, you can reuse it. Just undo the supply lines from the stop valves and the p trap from the tailpiece on the sink. You don't need to use a basin wrench to undo the lines from the faucet; just wait and remove them after the old top it out and only if you intend to reuse the said faucet. Most of the time, anything attached to the old basin is going to be sad shape, but if you can rebuild and clean it up more power to you.
Remove the screws holding the top to the vanity and you should be able to lift it off. I've yet to see a Formica top that's glued on, but there's always a first time. You might have to pry or saw to get the old one off without destroying the vanity. If this is the case, you may have to buy a basin or replace the vanity, which will cost more and take more time to do.
Provided you got the old one off, be sure to dry fit the new one to make sure it fits. Once you're sure it fits, install the tailpiece and faucet to the vanity top and the water supply lines to the faucet tightly (don't wreath on those lines) and tape them out of the way to the top. Dab or add a bead of construction adhesive on the vanity where it will mate to the top. Lay the top to the vanity, letting the adhesive set. The alternative to this is to just connect the plumbing without shifting the top. You can then caulk where the top meets the wall and install the side splash (es) if desired. Run the water and check for leaks. If the tailpiece leaks, take it apart and seal with silicone. Check the water supply lines for leaks and use a basin wrench if you didn't tighten the lines at the faucet enough. You're done. Maranatha!

Working with PEX Plumbing.

Over the years, I've struggled with galvanized and copper plumbing for water supply and an assortment of materials for drain pipes. Just another tricky day for the fix it guy around here, and let me tell you there is no worse item then trying to fix plumbing in a house. To add to the frustration as well as the four and five letter words, PEX, or cross linked polyethylene is also becoming more common in residential and commercial developments. It's been a fixture in mobile and modular homes for at least 30 years because of its light weight, lower cost and greater flexibility.
As with any novel product, there are new methods in using it. You can't just solder it together or thread it, but you can cut, clamp and use some special fittings to work with this stuff. If you have to work with it a lot, you might want to invest in a tool to clamp the bands to hold the various fittings. Hose clamps will not not always work very well on on PEX pipe because it doesn't yield like vinyl or rubber hoses do. The aforementioned tool is expensive; upwards of 80 dollars or more, but worth it if you're going to remodel your house or have a lot of fittings to upgrade in your mobile home.
If you're just trying to spot fix plumbing issues, there are push on connectors that eliminate the need for bands and tools. Just use a PVC or tubing cutter to cut the tubing off square, then push the fitting on, turn on the water and you're done. The only brand I've personally found to work is called Shark Bite and it'll hook copper to PEX and any other material without leaking. It's expensive if you use these for remodeling, but they will save you hours of headache in a pinch. I used two of their right angle fittings to bypass a water softener and another to replace leaking connectors on my bathroom sink. They took less than 30 seconds to install. You can't do that with copper or galvanized pipe. Maranatha!