DXMachina (dxmachina) wrote,

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Ah, Vacation...

Putting a notch on the vacation to-do list.

Make list.
Reroute heating system flow.

This one was always at the top of the list, and I was given added incentive when the temperatures dropped into the low forties Friday night. Since I was waiting to finish this particular task before I turned on the heat for the winter, I woke up Saturday morning to a very chilly house. The problem is this. The morons who installed the hot water baseboards when they built my house opted for ease of installation rather than figuring out exactly how long a baseboard each individual room required. Ideally they would've calculated the BTUs required to heat each room based on its volume, number of windows and doors, etc. Then they should've installed the proper length of baseboard required to deliver those BTUs in each room, and then connected them all together with straight lengths of insulated pipe beneath the floor joists. Apparently someone forgot their calculator that day, because instead they just wrapped one continuous baseboard three quarters of the way around the house along the exterior walls. The only rooms they didn't do this in were the kitchen, because there was no exposed exterior wall surface to be had thanks to the cabinets and stove, and in the bathroom, which they actually sized and installed properly, which makes the rest even more baffling.

23' of baseboardThe result of their boneheaded installation is that the back room, which is about 12' x 11', has 23' of baseboard installed in it. (It probably only needs about 6 or 8'.) Since it was also the first room in the circuit, it got a hugely disproportionate amount of heat dumped into it, especially at night when the door was closed. As a result, I used to bake in my sleep. I tried closing the little slats on the registers, but it didn't seem to help much. Meanwhile, the other rooms, especially my office, were cold enough that I occasionally had to run a couple of space heaters. The thermostat is in the hall, so when the back room door is closed, none of the heat being dumped in there even registers.

One possible solution would be to do the calculations (which are not trivial), and then cut out the excess baseboard, essentially going back and doing the job right. That would take a helluva a lot of time and effort to accomplish. I decided the easiest thing to try, at least as a first attempt, would be to reroute the hot water so the back room is the last room on the circuit instead of the first. That way the office and living room would get first crack at the heat, thus normalizing the temperature the thermostat sees, moderating the temperature in the back room. In theory, anyway. So, off to the basement.

The furnacePipeageHere are some pictures of the furnace, showing the two pipes that are ends of the circuit. The one on the left is the feed from the furnace (it first attaches to the gray expansion tank and thence to the back room baseboard), and the one on the right is the return. The scheme was to swap the connections at the tops of the vertical pipes, such that the pipe that goes to the expansion tank pipe connected to the return, and the feed pipe connected to the other end of the circuit.

BeforeAfterThe first thing I had to do was a bit of maintenance. The expansion tank managed to get waterlogged awhile back, and the extra weight pulled the little clip that supports the pipe out of the joist, causing the pipe to sag a bit. As it stood now, all the weight of the expansion tank assembly was being supported by the feed pipe, which I was about to detach, so I needed to secure the pipe so that the whole thing wouldn't try to swivel at the joint that attached to the baseboard. If that happened, the results would no doubt be dire. I did a quick and dirty fix with a couple of machine screws. It's very stable now, but I'll need to revisit it eventually. The pipe is copper, the clip is copper, and the machine screws are steel, so there's the possibility of oxidation and corrosion due to a redox reaction between the different metals. The original plumber had used short copper nails, so no redox, but nails won't hold that kind of weight for long. The ideal thing would probably be to get a plastic clip, or maybe a steel clip lined with a piece of teflon sheet. Will have to see what they have at the Depot.

Semi-detachedShiny!After that things turned out to be fairly simple. I drained the system and let the pipes dry out a bit, then heated the elbow joints at the top of the vertical pipes with a propane torch until the solder melted, and pulled the joints apart. I cut the existing pieces to proper length, then fitted the new pieces and joints. I cleaned up the ends of all the pieces with a piece of steel wool. Then it was just a matter of sweat-soldering them all together.

AfterSweat-soldering is fun and fairly easy, as these thing go. From a construction standpoint, it has a distinct advantage in that you can usually dry fit everything, and then permanently bond it all together without moving a thing. As noted above, the copper to be soldered must be cleaned until shiny with steel wool (or emory cloth). Soldering flux is swabbed onto each surface, and the parts are connected. Then it's just a matter of heating the underside of the joint with a blowtorch while holding applying a length of solder at the top of the joint where the pipe enters the joint. When the joint gets hot enough to melt the solder, it just flows into the joint via capillary action. When it starts to drip out the bottom, you're done. Do a quick wipe of the joint with a rag to neaten things up (make sure sure wearing heavy leather gloves, as everything is very, very hot), and let it cool off. Easy peasy. The results are in the photo. Total cost of materials: $3 for a 45° elbow joint and three 90° elbows; $4 worth of ¾" copper pipe; and $6 for solder and flux.

The hardest thing about sweat-soldering, especially when working that close to the floor joists, is to make sure you don't set fire to the joists with the torch. As you can see from the pictures, I have fiberglass insulation stuffed between the joists, which protected the wood pretty well, although the insulation got singed a few times. Anyway, once everything was soldered, I let it cool off, then opened the valves to fill the system back up with water. None of the joints leaked, so go me. The only remaining worry I have is that the expansion tank is now at the end of the circuit instead of the beginning. I don't think it should matter, because a lot of older systems have their tanks all the way up in the attic, but I'll keep an eye on it.

This was probably the easiest sweat-soldering job I've ever had the opportunity to do, mostly because it's the most modern plumbing I've ever had the opportunity to work on. My old apartment was in a house built during the Civil War, and there was little rhyme or reason to the plumbing that got added over the years. Of course, now some future plumber is going to look at this house the same way.

Still to go:

• Replace porch lights.
• Move ceiling light fixtures around in back room, kitchen, and office.
• Clean out Subaru, and make arrangements to have it hauled away.
• Put away air conditioners for winter.
• Get new tires for the truck.
• Rip out the carpet in the living room.
• Head down to Jersey to see assorted crippled family members.
• Ride bike as much as possible.
• Play a round of golf.

One negative to all the overhead plumbing I did is that I exercised a lot of muscles in unusual ways yesterday, and they were not happy about it, letting me know about their distress last night, and on into today. I think today I shall tackle the Sub. It's a lovely day out. In fact, I still haven't actually turned the heat on, because it didn't get nearly as chilly last night as it did Friday.

In other news, Stop & Shop had boxes of day old brownies for half price when I was there this morning. Brownies for brunch!
Tags: house, vacation, weather

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