Monday, October 29, 2012

Another Reason to Maintain Your Furnace

Hopefully, this will be a short post. I got a call to Midland today on a furnace where another contractor told the customer the heat exchanger was "pitted" and failing. When I arrived, the customer was in a tizzy and upset that he had to pay to have me come over because his furnace was an Amana. First of all, the furnace was a GUID model, an 80% with a stainless steel heat exchanger. I've installed and worked on hundreds these models nearly two decades and have yet to condemn one. They're pretty bulletproof, so naturally, I was skeptical.
Sure enough, I pulled off the draft inducer and there was some surface corrosion, but this doesn't mean the furnace is junk. A few scrapes with a screwdriver confirmed these were not an issue. What I did find was a mess of corroded metal in the collector box and the customer, now in hysterics, informed me that it was piled   inside until the other contractor "cleaned" it out. I also saw a lot of sulfur inside same, but unless it's plugging the heat exchanger, there's not much concern either. What I do know is that it was running on propane and as we all know, propane is at a higher pressure than natural gas. It needs to be ten inches of water column as opposed to 3.5 inches with natural gas. I got about 6 inches and 180 degrees at the stack. The temperature should be higher; about 350 degrees to be exact and with single wall vent, this will eat it up in short order.
This is likely the metal clogging the collector plate due to the condensation and the "pitting" present in the heat exchanger. I told the customer he needed maintenance, but to no avail.
When you hire someone like me for a second opinion, what's the sense of arguing with me? I do this for a living and have worked on furnaces for 26 years. I don't claim to know much about embalming, or even carpet cleaning, so I call in the pros to do that specific job. Maranatha!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Verdict on the Ruger SR9c

Finally got the gun out to the farm and fired 135 rounds through it. Not one failure to feed, eject, or fire short of the trigger reset being balky. It happily chewed through my cheap Walmart and Dunham's ammo. It also cheerfully ate my old carry ammo, which blew a milk bottle full of water apart with no problem (Hornady Zombie Max is some of the best ammo for the money, but the rounds are light). I did have to adjust the rear sight, and my groups were well within six inches at 21 feet. I'm nobody's shooter, but this gun is more than accurate for what it needs to hopefully never do.
If anything, this should underscore the need to practice regularly with your guns. You don't need to be Quick Draw McGraw, but you do need to be able to bring it out and hit your target with it. You also need to be able to hold it properly so the slide doesn't bash your thumbs when you fire it. In addition, you also need to able to turn off the safety (if you have one) so it goes bang. If there is a malfunction about to happen, annoying as they are, it's far better to have a problem on the range than in a defensive situation. Like it or not, no gun is 100% reliable, even a Glock. Yes, you can buy a revolver, but these aren't failure proof either and have their own trade offs; mainly in reduced round capacity.
Still waiting on the Bersa and what the damages will be. It didn't go to the factory, but to Gander Mountain to get fixed. Considering the repair I just got done on the Ruger, this is in capable hands. As soon as it gets back, I'll do a review. This is an old school hammer fired pistol not unlike the Beretta I traded, but in a .45 caliber. This will be a blast. Maranatha!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Garden Tub Drain Basket Fix

The drain we're working on is pretty straightforward. Rather than messing with a tub shoe and linkage, the garden tub in your average trailer uses a rubber stopper to hold the water in. The chrome basket is pretty durable for the most part, but they won't hold up well to chemical drain cleaners. They'll corrode and fracture; eventually disintegrating and making a mess under the floor. The best time to replace these is before they completely fall apart and you can get a tool on them to screw them out. Unfortunately, by the time we get around to changing it out the insides are too brittle to be of much use. In this article, I'll give you a few ideas you might be able to use. As always, you have control over your work and you alone must decide what to do to fix this right. Take your time, as you can wreck some pretty expensive fixtures if you mess up. Being down one of anything when it comes to plumbing will not endear you to the rest of your family. I will not settle domestic disputes, so do this and all other repairs at your own risk.

My favorite method for getting the basket out is with a pair of pliers stuck into it. The idea is to snag them on anything that will hold the basket to screw it out. I tried this and managed one turn before what was left of the pieces inside broke off. Time for plan "b". Normally, I would get a Dremel and cut it out, but mine was dead on arrival. The next best thing is a metal cutting jigsaw blade to score along the inside of the basket, as well as a flat screwdriver and some painters tape. Take the painters tape and mask off around the drain basket. The idea is protect the finish of the tub. It also wouldn't be a bad idea to line the tub with an old blanket or some cardboard, but you knew that.

Take the screwdriver and CAREFULLY pry up around the basket flange until you can get a pair of pliers underneath. Go ahead and break off as much of that flange as you can , preferably all of it. You should be able to see where the basket threads into the tub shoe or plumbing. Once that's done, take your blade and score straight up and down where the flange is broken off. The idea is to cut through the basket until you reach the shoe, but don't cut through the shoe. I would cut and break this in three spots so you can break out one piece and than other two without damaging the tub or plumbing. You can pry between the basket and the plumbing to work this out without any trouble. If there's any doubt, score the basket a little more and try again. Eventually, you should be rewarded with the basket in several pieces and your tub and plumbing intact. This is a bit tricky to do, but if you take your time can be done relatively easily and inexpensively. It takes me about 30 minutes or so get it out with this method. Installing the new basket is pretty easy and just requires you seal the flange with plumbers putty, screwing it down carefully with the pliers or the appropriate tool. Roll the putty into a "snake" and around the underside of the flange. Tighten it snugly, but don't wreath on it. From now on, don't use any chemical drain cleaner and use a plumbers snake to remove the clogs. This will help insure your drain basket lasts for a couple decades or more. Even if the basket you install is plastic, chemical drain cleaners are NEVER a good idea. You can lose eyes, skin, clothing and the social graces these things afford. If you must, try vinegar and baking soda and then a plunger, graduating to the aforementioned snake. Better yet, try cleaning the screen each time you shower; problem solved. Maranatha! 


Getting Steamed Over Boilers

After crawling in another crawl space for the second time this week, installing a make up air system, I got a call that a boiler would not shut off. To make this harder, the thermostats, all three of them, were replaced a few months ago. The customer complained that it was 78 degrees in her tri level home; hence the three thermostats. The customer ranted (and I can't really blame her) that the thermostats were at fault. However, a professional doesn't have the luxury of replacing parts based on belief. We need good hard evidence that a part is failing. You could get a volt meter out and test for voltage, but try this first...

If there is more than one thermostat on a hot water boiler system, you have a zone system. This means there are multiple loops throughout your home called circuits, only these hold hot water to transfer heat into your home. They are very efficient and reliable and provide years of heat without complaint. Each thermostat controls a zone valve that allows water to flow from the return side of the circuit to the boiler and hot water through the loop. For the most part, these zone valves have a lever or some other means of letting you know they're working. In the case of the Honeywell valves, there is a lever that loses resistance when you push it if power is applied. Water also flows through the pipe and if it gets colder then much hotter, this means the valve is open. If the valve is closed, there will be resistance on the lever opening it. This was the case on all three zones, tested individually. A look at the temperature gauge turned up something interesting, reading 230 degrees on a hot water boiler. The aqua stat on the boiler read about 190, so this was out of calibration a bit. 160 to 180 degrees is good for most boilers and they should be no more than 12 p.s.i. pressure. 

However, why was heat still getting upstairs? Well, the answer finally hit me as I left the driveway after turning down the aqua stat. Heat was getting up through the supply side through the pipes, driving the pressure close to 25 p.s.i. and transferring that heat into the living space. When it gets that hot, heat is going to move from a hotter space to a cooler one. This is another reason to keep your cool, and not jump to conclusions when diagnosing a boiler. Maranatha! 

Friday, October 19, 2012

When It's The Thermostat.

I wished I knew a more creative title for this post, but of the eight calls I had yesterday, this one was a PITA.  The answering service called me and a talk to the tenant and the owner confirmed that something was clicking, the igniter was coming on. I thought it was the gas valve, because it was getting power and bouncing  open and closed. Then the board started issuing a pressure switch error via the blinking light. What a mess. Then I remembered this was a Nordyne furnace and that the pressure switch was basically a call for heat on this design. After removing the Red and White wires from the board with the power off, place a jumper on the white and red terminals on same. Turn on the power to the furnace and if it starts up normally, the problem is in the thermostat. This is because when all the relays in the board are on, if the thermostat is weak, it will turn itself off and cause you to tear your scalp. Remember, before condemning the board, bypass the thermostat first if things are acting erratically. Don't forget to remove those wires first, or you'll cook the thermostat anyway. Also, I'm not picking on any particular product, but there are thermostat models that are cropping up every time I have one of these weird calls. There are more and these are usually consumer installed jobs, but the ones made mention of are usually professionally installed.

I've installed White Rodgers parts, including their thermostats, for years including the ones mentioned above. However, as with any part, their service life is limited. With the WR 850 digital, I've installed several hundred of these in the 1990's and now a few are starting to fail. These start out as white, but yellow with age. This one should be replaced if it's over 10 years old.
Another one that seems to break down is the WR 1F78. I've already replaced several of these because they won't allow the fan to come on during the cooling mode. This causes the coil to freeze up. Really, any thermostat of any brand using AAA batteries should not be used because the failure rate is higher than those using AA's. I'm at a loss to explain this, but experience proves this out. Again, this isn't to pick on White Rodgers because they make great products.
Another one that's starting to show its age is the Honeywell CT3200 Magic Stat. I've found lots of issues with these ones, especially the doors breaking off and the electronics acting goofy. I had one of these brand-new in my last house and took it off and installed a Honeywell T87. I now use an Aprilaire 8366 after repairing the buttons with glue. Take my advice for what it is, and if you want to buy a thermostat from a store, you get what you pay for. If your thermostat is over ten years old, bite the bullet and replace it. None will last forever. Maranatha!

Problem With The Ruger SR9c

This post isn't to debate whether or not people should be allowed to carry, possess, or otherwise own or use guns in any capacity. It is agreed that guns are dangerous by their nature. Always treat every gun as if it were loaded! Never point any gun at something or someone you do not intend to destroy. If for some inexplicable reason that the gun goes off, this may make the difference between an embarrassment and a tragedy. Always use safeties as one line of defense, but never as the only line of defense against a negligent discharge. Geez Louise, this is a lot of mumbo jumbo; oh well...
This weekend, I got a Bersa Thunder Ultra Compact Pro in a .45 caliber and this gun is used. I knew it had an issue with the magazine release and was expecting it fixed, but it was not. No problem as I still took the gun in to be sent to Bersa for repair. As long as this is fixed, I have a pretty nice deal on a .45 that shoots real well and accurately. I've fired it, but not enough for a review. The magazine release is sporadic and this is embarrassing on the range and a funeral waiting to happen in a fight. Stay tuned, and I will review the aftermath on Bersa's service at a later date.

Went to take the Ruger out for carrying, and to be honest I haven't in a couple days. When I went to take the lock out of it the roll pin for the extractor fell out, rendering the gun a paperweight with both the extractor spring and pin on the floor. On the Ruger SR9c, the extractor is about an inch and a half long, and pivots on a roll pin with a spring on the back end of the slide. When this extractor is disabled, there is no way to remove empty cartridges from the barrel. What got me is that this pin is made of material about a hundredth of an inch thick, and there was some distortion on same. I know I could put this back in the slide and called it good, but the hole it went into also looked out of round. I am not a gunsmith, although it's looking more and more like the trade to get into. Either way, my life and that of family depends on these working flawlessly.

I got my SR9c back from Gander Mountain yesterday 10/18/12 and will fire some more rounds through it Sunday to make sure this thing is fixed. The smith re-installed the pin after some adjustments to same. I've heard stories about Ruger replacing the slide in it's entirety, but I'll keep my fingers crossed. The Bersa is on its way to Grand Rapids as the manufacturer is not going to warranty the gun. As long as their quote isn't more than the price of what I was going to pay for it to begin with, no problem. If it is, not a huge deal either. I'll post more on this later. Maranatha!

De-Mystifying Fan Centers

Last night, this fix it man worked from 7:30 in the morning until 10:00 at night and part of this was helping a coworker wire up a fan center on an older Ruud horizontal furnace. I also had quite the time rewiring a fan center another contractor attempted to wire on an oil furnace. The last time I worked on an oil furnace, Reagan was president, but fan centers are still very much with us as many choose to hold on to older equipment. Usually, this is out of economic necessity rather than being a full fledged cheapskate; to have air conditioning with same still requires it.

A fan center to the casual eye is a metal plate with a transformer, a tangle of wires and a relay; nothing more. There are two wires that feed from the coil part of the relay to the green and C or common terminals on the transformer and anywhere from 5 to 8 more wires not hooked to anything out of the box. The best thing to do is take a deep breath and segregate the wires. There's a white and a black wire that go to the transformer. These need to be hooked directly to the switch on the handy box. There are two low voltage wires that activate the relay. On is on the "G" and the other on the "C" terminal: leave these be.

As for the wires to the blower on the relay, you have to remember that all this is likely a single pole, double throw relay, or a double pole, double throw relay. You will have a wire going in to power the blower from the handy box. Assuming that the blower has multiple speeds, you will need one for heating and one for cooling. Usually, the red wire off the blower is the one for cooling and the black one is for cooling, as the red is low speed and the black is high. The white or neutral wire is connected to the other neutral wires. Since the fan limit control is controlling the blower on the heating cycle, that one will need to go to the normally closed terminal on the relay. This is marked by an equal sign with a line going through it. Because the fan on the cooling cycle is controlled by the thermostat, and the relay, you will need to wire this to the normally open terminal on the relay. The symbol for this is like an equal sign. If wired correctly, the electricity will have a path when a call for heat or cooling is made. Maranatha!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Some Friendly Footwear Advice

For the past three months, my general condition has been going downhill faster than a grease covered toboggan. My back, knees, hips, everything hurt to the point that getting back and forth to the truck was getting to be misery. I'm 42 years old and while I've worked my butt off, and kicking same, I don't need to be hobbling along like a 92 year old. For crying out loud, there were men twice my age with walkers outrunning me. Then I took a look at my shoes.

From 2001 to about 2006, I wore Knapp shoes almost exclusively. In fact I wouldn't wear another brand. They provided the best foot, leg and back support of anything out there. The only drawback was that they wore out after about six months to a year. However, I would buy two pairs and rotate them back and forth. As long as I didn't keep them over a year, the soles wore like iron. Much past that, they disintegrated. Then a sad thing happened. Knapp moved their production to China from Penn Yan, NY and their customer service suffered, not to mention their products did as well. I've worn an 11EEE since I was 12 and they shipped me something labelled that, but in reality was a size 9. After paying to return ship a pair of $120 shoes that didn't fit, I never went back. Problem was, I tried cheap shoes and some not so cheap shoes. Some did well and others like the last pair, horribly. This isn't to knock the shoes. I paid $40 for them about 3 months ago and for their purpose they work reasonably well. If your job is working in an office, walking to the water cooler or copier to your cubicle to the car these are more than fine.

The problem is I am not your typical working stiff (not that my job is any more important). I drive from job to job, walk through grass, pavement, crawl spaces through dirt and concrete. As an added bonus, I also spend upwards of 3 to 4 hours a day on my knees and my toes touch the concrete, dirt or whatever floor surface in front of the equipment. As a result, the uppers were trashed and because of my walking with equipment, climbing ladders, stairs, ships steps, etc, the linings were also jacked as well, even though the out soles showed almost no wear. With all of that, the out sole on the left shoe managed to start working loose at the toe. The heel support was also gone, making it almost better if I didn't wear shoes at all. Even the out sole on the upper was starting to peel away on the right shoe. These ones were jacked, and so was my frame from raising and lowering my feet thousands of times a day for three months. 

So what am I supposed to do? I can't wear work boots, as these can track dirt on the carpets in a customer's home (even with the carpet protectors). My employer also mandates black shoes for the job and they can't be tennis shoes. I can live with that. The guy signs my checks and the customer makes sure we're all taken care of. Rules are made to be followed, not broken. I went to a place at the Lansing Mall called Tradehome and they sell shoes, socks and other footwear accessories. They will up sell you and to me that's just fine, as this is what customer service is all about. The gentleman there got me several pairs of shoes to try on, including Nikes (I declined those) and three other pairs. One was a pair of dress shoes, one casual and the third , (even though they were 1 1/2 times expensive as the first two) were a pair of Keen Hybrid Briggs II in a full grain black. The moment I walked in these, my pain went away. They have a sole that covers the toe, and a light but sturdy construction. These are "city streets" shoes according to their website, but I have worn them before and they last a year easily before they start to fall apart. 

My advice is this: cheap shoes are not worth it. They don't last as long, nor will they be comfortable for more than a few weeks. This can have devastating consequences on your general health and well being, not to mention your mood. Department stores over the past 40 years have been cutting back their help and expertise in every department. This is so much so that any rank and file person can run any department. In theory, this should at least save money. However, the prices on shoes have gone up and their product quality is questionable. They don't need to stock the best as though their reputation depended on it, because even if they lose customers, the other departments will take up the slack. 

Go to a shoe store and buy from a shoes store that has customer service. Yes, they will up sell you. This is their job and you will enjoy your experience a lot more as this up selling is also making you aware of what's out there. If i can buy a product that will help me out, or one that will work better, I'm all for it. I don't get paid to endorse any products or providers. With this in mind, I recommend Tradehome for all your footwear needs and by all means, give Keen a look and your business, you will thank you. Maranatha!