The Old Man and the Street


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The Old Man basically had the month of July off while we tended to the often-neglected thing known as The Rest of Our Lives. After suffering from a minor bout of BlogGuilt(tm), I'm back with a relatively uninteresting post that will serve as a cure for insomniacs the world over!

The most excitement we've in the last month was when a bottle of Lestoil in the basement cracked while we were away for the weekend. It didn't ruin anything, but the whole basement reeked of Lestoil, which smells an awful lot like some kind of flammable liquid and gave me a bit of a scare at first. However, the Lestoil did eat the paint right off of the metal shelf it was sitting on. Hmmm... maybe I've found yet another paint stripper!

Our garden is going like gangbusters. We planted five tomato plants under the assumption that only a couple would flourish, and wouldn't you know it that all five are doing great? In fact, we have two yellow cherry tomato plants that are delivering like 15 tomatoes a day. By the end of the month, we should have tomatoes for the whole neighborhood.

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AC Install Complete: Blower fixed

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 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.

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AC Install Day Seven: 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!

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AC Install Day Six: 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!

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AC Install Day Five: 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!


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AC Install Day Four: 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.

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AC Install Day Three: 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.

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AC Install Day Two: 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 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 1x6 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!

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AC Install Day One: Wednesday, June 15th, 2005

When researching air conditioning for old houses, I scoured the internet for articles and information about high-velocity air conditioning, and while I found House in Progress's post, I found almost no first-hand accounts of having air conditioning installed in 1) an old house 2) with no existing ductwork 3)while the owners were living there.

Based on that I'm going to do a day-by-day play-by-play of the install process in the hopes of giving some future installee a look into the process. Right now I don't know if they're going to leave great big holes in all my walls and plaster dust all over everything or what, so I'm a little nervous about the whole thing.

If you're not looking to get AC installed in your house, you may want to just skip the next 8 entries (or run the risk of dying of boredom). You have been warned. On to the details:

American Vintage Home, Inc. Wilmette, IL
Blower Unit
Space Pak 5 ton high velocity blower
Condenser Unit
Heil 14 SEER ultra quiet (5 ton)
Number of air outlets
Number of returns
1 (ceiling of second floor stairs)
Estimated time to install
8 business days
Number of breaker slots needed in the main electrical panel

Our two installers from American Vintage Home, Jack and Bo, arrived today at about 11:30AM and began unloading their truck into our attic. Bo put on shoe covers, laid cloth tarps in the front foyer and the second floor hallway while Jack started placing supplies and tools on the front porch (which Bo relayed up to the attic). They got everything upstairs pretty quickly when their project manager, Dmitry, arrived to do the initial walkthrough with the three of us.

We started out by discussing the placement of the blower unit in the attic. M. and I want to add a dormer to the North side of the attic, so I made sure that the guys would put the blower as far into the Northeast corner of the attic as possible to avoid taking valuable floor space away from the future attic room.

We then went through every room in the house to discuss where each outlet would go. When J.R. first came out to give me their quote for the install, he took detailed measurements of every room and every window. He used this information to calculate the "heat load" of the house, and consequently, how many air outlets would be needed for each room in the house to keep the house evenly cooled (as well as the "tonnage" of the blower and condenser). Based on this, a room with more windows would have more outlets, and a room on the West side of the house would have more outlets than an identical room on the North side of the house. Furthermore, Dmitry explained to me that the outlets should be placed in each room as far from the air return as possible, but not in a place where they'll blow cold air directly onto someone (like over a chair or a bed). This means that the outlets typically get placed in corners, above windows and above radiators.

After agreeing on the placement of all of the outlets, we reviewed the electrical panel and the placement of the outside condenser unit before Dmitry went on his way.

This all gave me a pretty good feeling about the team, but then again, no one had started sawing holes in the house just yet either.

Jack set to work in the attic while Bo covered the entire guest room in cloth tarps and plastic sheeting. Thirty minutes later, the two guest room outlets were installed, the tarps were rolled up, and any remaining mess had been vacuumed up. Aside from the two new outlets (and the Space Pak outlets are almost entirely unnoticeable too), you couldn't tell anyone had been in the room at all!

Mind you, I had resigned myself to living in a construction zone for the 7-8 days of the install, but it looks like they really meant it when they said that they would take great care to keep the Old Man clean during installation. Their literature even claims that they'll "leave your home as clean as we found it."

Over the course of the rest of the afternoon, they worked their way clockwise around the second floor, covering the room in progress with tarps and plastic sheeting, drilling the hole for each outlet, feeding the duct tube in through it, and attaching the plastic port to the duct and the ceiling. In addition to the two outlets in the guest room, they installed one outlet in the hall, one in the hall bath, five in the front office, one in the bath off the office, and three in our bedroom. By the time they knocked off, all 13 outlets on the second floor were installed! And, as promised, the whole second floor was as clean as they found it!

They've given me a worst-case install time of eight days, which means that they'll finish by the 24th. The downside is that installing the second floor outlets is by far the easiest part of the whole install--getting the tubes down through the walls to the first floor (and out through the brick in some cases) is going to take a bit more work.

So far, these guys get an A+. Professional, communicative, neat, and detail-oriented--what more can you ask for?

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