Tuesday, November 5 2019
Our basement has long been plagued by moisture and difficulty heating. It's all on one zone which is heated by a poorly-designed slab-based system. I tried to improve this system many years ago by building a homebrew heat exchanger to reduce the temperature of the hydronic fluid circulating in it, but the heat exchanged by my exchanger was insufficient (also, some months ago I detected that the heat exchanger had started leaking). In later years, I tried adding a heating zone to Gretchen's library, but the little hydronic-to-air heat exchanger I installed was not capable of heating such a large space. More recently, we became aware of so-called "splits," two-unit devices connected by tubes carrying refrigerant that can be used as either heaters or air-conditioning units. They work by extracting whatever is needed (heat or cold) from outside air and releasing it in the indoor coils. Such a system tends to work best when there is more of the heat or cold that is needed already outside, though of course the more of it that there is, the less of it that is needed. I have my doubts that such a system can efficiently gather heat on a brutally-cold Upstate day, but no matter how badly it functions, it probably provides more heat per unit of energy than an electro-resistive space heater (which is how we've traditionally heated the basement rooms when guests were coming and they absolutely had to be warmed). Another benefit of a split (particularly in our basement) is that it can be run as a dehumidifier. Least important, for our purposes, is that splits can operate to cool down hot rooms, a feature that could come in handy in our upstairs rooms. With all this in mind, Gretchen researched having a series of splits installed in our house. The initial plan was to get three splits: one for Gretchen's library and the two for the basement guest rooms. But after hearing a few quotes and learning what could be saved by increasing the number of splits installed, three more heat-exchanger systems were added: one in the laboratory (where I often use a space heater either before the boiler is switched on for the season or to supplement it on extremely cold days), one in the upstairs bedroom (where Gretchen finds the noises from the existing hydronic system annoying, that is, when it is on), and one as a more efficient means to heat household water in the winter. Between the woodstove and those heat-pump systems, the boiler shouldn't be necessary at all (though it would be available should a backup system prove necessary).
Today the six units were all to be installed in one day by a company called Rycor. Gretchen said they arrived at 8:30 this morning, six or seven guys, and they swarmed the house hanging units and running pipe. Gretchen had negotiated a deal where we would save a bunch of money by having me run the electricity to all the units.
In the mid-morning, Gretchen called me with a series of things that she needed my advice on. For starters, the indoor units need to be hung on a vertical wall, and there are no vertical walls of sufficient size in the laboratory. Would it be okay to put the split on the space's one collar tie (which is part of the structure for the solar deck)? Right now that collar tie is mostly home for a magnet that holds my laboratory screwdriver collection, so I said sure (but then I monitored the progress of the installation over a Raspberry-Pi-based surveillance bot). The other problem was the hot water heater. I'd been picturing a small just-in-time unit, but the device earmarked for our installation was a big fifty gallon tank with a built-in heat pump. There was no plausible place to install it in the boiler room, so I told them to put it in the north end of the adjacent walk-in closet (which doesn't have much stuff in it anyway). Once that is operational, we will have four different systems for heating household water!
One other issue that came as a complete surprise was the fact that all these split units require 240 volt power. The salesman I'd talked to before the installation had led me to believe that these units use standard 120 volt power and could be attached to existing circuits, and so I was understandably distressed to learn I'd have to run a bunch of brand new circuits all the way back to the boiler room. While I was still worked up about this, the installer Gretchen put on the phone tried to talk me down by telling me most of the outdoor units would be "within 20 feet of each other" (which wouldn't turn out to be the case). By the end of the call, as I explained to Gretchen, I'd come to terms with the new 240 volt reality, going through "all of the Kubler-Ross stages" in a couple minutes. (I could tell that Gretchen really didn't want me to be upset by this unexpected development.)
I left work promptly at 2:00pm so I could overlap with at least one of the installers. The installer I met (I forget his name) had great people skills. He showed us all the units, and I had to admit it had all turned out better than I'd expected. The level of the technology was also kind of mind blowing; the indoor units feature "eyes" that look to see where people are so as not to blast air at them (if that's a mode you choose). As for the water heater, it's so high tech that it can be put on the local WiFi network to do things that only people like me would find interesting.
After the Rycor guys left, Gretchen and I drove into Old Hurley to vote (and turnout seemed high for 3:00pm in the afternoon in an off-year election). There were a surprising number of candidates running on both the Republican and Democratic tickets, and I voted for myself in all such cases. It would prove to be a good night for the forces of non-evil, as Kentucky's objectively asshole governor, Mark Bevin, went down in flames the day after Donald Trump went to Kentucky to stump for him (an occasion Rand Paul took to add a very embarrassing incident to his eventual epitaph).
Before dark, I managed to cut up and bring home a single backpack load of cured white ash from that tree that had fallen across the place where the Stick Trail crosses the Chamomile.
The laboratory's indoor unit being attached to its one collar tie. Photo taken remotely while I was at work.
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