Archive for the 'Air Conditioning' Category

The Sweet Sound of Insulation

Monday, February 25th, 2008

I haven’t blogged anything about this yet, but M. and I spent November and December gathering quotes from various insulation contractors. The Old Man has somehow survived 96 years with pretty much zero insulation, and after our energy audit we got this fall (which we failed *miserably* I might add), we decided it was time to act.

We started with installers who did blown fiberglass but after some research realized that that was pointless. We found a contractor who did sprayed cellulose, but not only could he not spray the ceiling of our attic (the roof deck), but his quote was *ludicrously* high–on the order of 10 times the cost of the fiberglass. We finally found an insulation contractor who deals exclusively in sprayed polyester foam–both closed and open cell. and decided to pull the trigger on January 10th, but it took us another five weeks of work to prepare for them. Attic work included clearing old storm windows and doors out of the attic, disassembling and removing the Big Red Fan of Death (A truly sad day indeed!). Basement prep included removing the perimeter wall of concrete block in the front of the basement (more on that in a separate post), the old unused bathroom walls in the basement, the old panelled wall behind the washer and dryer, and finally, moving all of our storage and stuff away from the basement walls so that they could have access for injecting the foam insulation.

After some discussion and research, we decided to go with 5″ of closed cell foam in the attic (hooray for 2x6s) and 3.5″ of open cell foam in the basement walls in an effort to seal up the balloon framing from pouring cold air from the outside walls of the house into the basement, which keeps it a frigid 12-20 degrees cooler than the first floor (and makes for some cold toes when you’re roaming around the first floor).

So today, we had the attic insulated. I cannot believe that we’ve lived here for three years without having this done. Our thermostat is set at 67 as I type this, and this usually resulted (in sub-freezing weather) in a cool second floor, a chilled first floor, and an attic that was about 30 degrees above the outside temperature (which meant that we were leaking a *ton* of heating into the outside air). We could have turned the heat up higher to keep the house comfy, but that would have been a colossal waste of energy.

In our post insulation world, the attic is 69 degrees, the second floor is 68, and the first floor is 67… and the entire house (with the exception of the breakfast room, which is a 1960’s addition off of the kitchen over a crawl space) is cozy. I can’t even begin to explain how awesome it is.

But enough blathering. Here are two pics before (looking dull and gloomy):

and after, looking like a poorly stuccoed Swiss Chalet:

It’s beautiful, isn’t it? And one extra bonus: the house is even quieter than it used to be. Lovely. Worth every penny. I’ll try and get more pics (and some video of the insulation going up!) posted soon.

AC Install Complete: Blower fixed

Tuesday, July 5th, 2005

Jim came out the first day that we were available to fix our vibrrrrating blower. We were slightly worried that they were going to have to replace the entire blower, but it turns out that Jim just replaced the motor.

The motor in the Space Pak blower is a real mover, so to prevent it from being a shaker, it has several weights attached to it to add stability. It turns out that one of the weights on our motor was missing entirely, and so the motor was woefully unbalanced which caused the vibration. Kind of like when your washing machine starts shaking when all your clothes get stuck on one side–except in this case, the washing machine is is spinning at several thousand revolutions per minute.

It only took Jim about 1:15 to finish up the work, and now we’re enjoying our cool and quiet house.

Oh, and zoned cooling be damned–I’m happy to say that the temperature difference from the first floor to the second floor is less than one degree.

AC Install Day Seven: Thursday, June 23rd, 2005

Thursday, June 23rd, 2005

At 2:48PM CDT today, our air conditioner came to life.

Oh joyous day!

This morning, completely unsurprisingly, Jack showed up at 7:30AM. We only had 2 open breaker spots in the main electrical panel, so he replaced 4 of our breakers with half-height breakers so that he could have four slots for the AC. He set to work wiring the condenser unit into the electrical panel and then ran the last of the wiring to the blower.

Meanwhile, Bo finished the plenum duct in the attic and they began attaching the small ducts to it. They then charged the system with Freon and fired up the blower while M. rushed around the house closing all the windows. The AC got to work sucking the moisture out of the inside air, and eventually got the temperature down to a frigid 76 with 39% humidity (outside temp: 92). Hoo boy.

But there’s one small, teeny little problem.

The blower is defective.

The culprit:

While you can hear the air coming out of the ducts around the house (it’s slightly noticeable, but not terribly distracting), up in the office, it sounds like you’re sitting right on top of the engine room of a large ship–it’s not so much a sound as a low-frequency vibration that rattles the entire Northeast corner of the house. I don’t know who this upset more: M. and myself or Jack and Bo. They made a quick call to their supervisor and another crew will be coming in a week or so to install a new blower. In the meanwhile, we can use the AC, but the vibrrrrrration is rather distracting as I sit here typing this.

The guys loaded all their tools into the truck, scrubbed the attic clean, and hit the road at about 6:00, but unfortunately I wasn’t around to thank them. In any case, I’ll be writing a long letter to American Vintage Home thanking them for such a fantastic crew who did such an amazing job. Oh, and I must remember to give them some top-notch feedback on Angie’s List.

And now, it’s time for a few days off from blogging. See you in a week or so, I’m off to bask in the cool air!

AC Install Day Six: Wednesday, June 22nd, 2005

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2005

Today they cut the hole for the air return in the ceiling of the second floor stairwell. I fully expected this to make a colossal mess since they had to cut a section of ceiling out that measured 16″ x 36″ and they covered the stairs with cloth tarps. However, having done this before, they took the air return grating out of the box, carefully cut the top off the box, taped the top edges of the cardboard, and Jack got up on the ladder (Check out the booties on the ladder!) and held the box against the ceiling while Bo cut the hole from above. Plop, the section of ceiling fell off into the box which they taped up (and carted away in their truck for their own nefarious purposes). They cleaned up the stairs and Jack went outside to finish running conduit from the condenser to the main electrical panel.

Jack got the plenum duct in the attic about half finished and he completed the piping run from the condenser to the blower.

The last thing they did before leaving was charge the whole system with nitrogen to test for leaks. If they come back tomorrow morning and the pressure inside the system is unchanged, then we’re good to go.

Almost there–and it’s supposed to be 94 tomorrow! Eek!

AC Install Day Five: Tuesday, June 21st, 2005

Tuesday, June 21st, 2005

Over the weekend, M. cleared the day lilies out of the spot on the side of the house where the condenser unit was going to go, so there was nothing but bare dirt for Jack and Bo to deal with when installing the condenser (delivered a day early, remember?) Here’s a picture of the condenser looking forlorn sitting on the end of our driveway:

On to the installation: they started off by laying a bed of gravel on top of the dirt and then set a pre-cast concrete base on top of the gravel and tweaked it until it was level. Then they rolled the condenser over from the garage, plopped it on the pad, and began piping it over to the side of the house, behind the chimney, up the wall, and into the soffit at the top of the second floor. The “piping” consists of a 1″ rigid copper pipe, a smaller (3/8″ maybe?) copper pipe that they had in a big roll, and a small wire, presumable to control the condenser. After soldering the pipe pieces together, they wrapped the 1″ pipe in foam insulation and cable-tied it within an inch of its life. Here’s a shot of the condenser in its new home on the South side of the Old Man:

I don’t know that the picture really gives justice to how tall it is, but it’s about 48″ tall! Bo told me it’s larger because it’s a high efficiency unit and both he and Jack reassured me that it’s going to be quiet–hopefully we’ll know first-hand in a couple of days.

Bo took the piping run along the very edge of the South side of the inside of the attic floor to the East side of the attic, ran it along the East side up to the the blower, just stopping short of the blower itself (presumably to leave room for running the plenum duct). Meanwhile, Jack was back and forth from the attic to the basement tending to more electrical details–mostly involving installing rigid conduit.

No work took place in the living areas of the house today, so there was nothing to clean up there, but they still laid out the cloth tarps in the foyer and the second floor hallway–They even wore their shoe covers for walking around the basement and attic.

Oh, and only today did I finally notice something that I can’t believe has escaped me for six whole days now: There’s no garbage. They haven’t left so much as a stray shoe cover in our garbage cans–they’ve been loading it into their truck every day and carting it away!


AC Install Day Four: Monday, June 20th, 2005

Monday, June 20th, 2005

Minor setback

At some point over the weekend one of the AC guys realized that they made a mistake and that they shorted the breakfast room, the dining room, and the sun room by one duct. So they spent about 2/3 of the day making a big mess in the front office, the guest room, and the half bath and breakfast room. They seemed pretty bummed about having to effectively redo a lot of the grueling nasty work that they thought they were done with. Who wouldn’t be?

There was another unplanned interruption: the condenser came a day early. We went ahead and put it in the garage–they should be ready to install that tomorrow. I’m curious to see it when they get it out of the box–it’s a HUGE box and the typical condensers I see are about half the size of the box.

They cleaned up from that and spent some time running BX conduit from the basement near the electrical panel up to the attic and then across the attic to the blower.

Setbacks aside, all is still going well and the guys feel confident that they’ll be done by Noon on Friday.

AC Install Day Three: Friday, June 17th, 2005

Friday, June 17th, 2005

Jack showed up at 7:30 this morning and headed straight up to the attic. He first installed the thermostat in the second floor hallway and then attacked the ducts that were sticking straight out of the floor in the middle of the attic. Since we’re planning on finishing the attic (at some point in the future), he needed to pull the ducts through the joist pockets and cut holes for them near the edge of the attic floor.

Bo arrived and they both went to town preparing the attic for the last run of ducts to the most inaccessible part of the house (for ducts, that is): the breakfast room, the kitchen, and the half bath next to them (which used to be a pantry).

Now in my experience, when someone with a Sawzall wants to get from one side of a wall (joist, floor, what have you) to the other, he usually plugs it in, adopts a maniacal grin, and starts hacking away until he’s got a Huge Gaping Hole, paying little respect to old fashioned things like structural integrity and load-bearing members.

Well, Bo used his Sawzall to painstakingly whittle the smallest opening possible in the joist and sill plate at the top of the rear wall of the house. Here’s a slightly blurry photo of his handiwork:

Now that’s what I call art! The hole he made is just big enough to snake six ducts down to the breakfast room, kitchen, and 1/2 bath.

They cut away a small part of the half bath ceiling to receive the ducts from above and used the bathroom ceiling as a junction space to run the three outlets to the breakfast room (which involved cutting through more brick), one to the bathroom itself, and two outlets to the kitchen. Speaking of which, they draped the kitchen so thoroughly that it looked like a hazmat cleanup site:

And when they were done, they cleaned everything perfectly! So now all the ducts are installed and the only cosmetic fix we need to make in the whole house is to lower the half bath ceiling about 4 inches to hide the ducts running to the breakfast room (and that was expected):

And the blower arrived today along with the attic plenum ducts. They moved the blower into place and began to lay out the air return duct (A whopping 24″ in diameter!) and the 9″ plenum ducts to get an idea of how everything is going to fit together:

But what really amazes me is how this blower is going to take in air from this huge hole:

And manage to squeeze it out of this tiny one:

Considering that the blower pulls the returning air over the chilled coils and then forces it out of that tiny hole, I can almost envision it squeezing the humidity out of the air.

Anyway, the most disruptive work–installing the ducts–is done, and I hardly noticed that the guys were here–I couldn’t be any happier with the work they’ve done so far!

I’ll close out this entry with some photos of our lovely new air outlets.

Clockwise from the upper left: dining room, sun room, living room, breakfast room. And they’re paintable too.

AC Install Day Two: Thursday, June 16th, 2005

Thursday, June 16th, 2005

Jack showed up at 7:30 this morning and Bo came later after picking up more supplies. Their primary objective today was to get 4 outlets into the sun room in the front of the house. The sunroom is going to be a bit difficult because it used to be an outdoor porch, and that means that they’re going to have to remove some bricks to run the ducts into the sunroom ceiling.

They started by draping the office in drop cloths and removing a piece of the baseboard that was directly across from the roof cavity over the sunroom. It took them over two hours to get through and thread the ducts down from the attic into the sunroom, but they managed to do it, and I can barely tell where they removed the baseboard. They ran the four ducts over the sill plate in the attic and somehow cut a hole in the external 1×6 sheathing of the house inside the soffit (“Magic” is what Jack told me when I asked him how they did it), threaded the tubes through the external wall and into the ceiling of the sun room.

They repeated this baseboard trick twice in the guestroom to run two outlets into the living room and two outlets into the dining room. So far there are no visible changes to the living areas of the house other than the new ducts

Once again, they left the house spotless. That’s two for two!