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   more trouble from cheap valve powerheads
Sunday, February 4 2024
After only an hour of the usual Sunday morning routine, I loaded up the dogs and drove down to Ray & Nancy's house in the suburbs along old Route 209 south of the center of Old Hurley so I could investigate why it is that Ray can't use any electricity-hungry devices in his garage, a nice brick building that includes the insulated space he uses as an art studio. Whenever he plugs in a space heater, for example, a circuit breaker in the garage trips.
I opened the door and Charlotte and Neville went charging into Ray & Nancy's late morning, delighting a completely unprepared Jack the Dog. I immediately went out to look at the circuit breakers in the garage. I couldn't tell anything about the values of the breakers by looking at them, and even after opening up the box they were in, there was no information. It was some archaic system of three or four unlabled circuit breakers in a black plastic box that didn't look like it could be easily opened. I quickly decided the box should be entirely replaced so there could be standard breakers that come with known trip values. I said that the breakers were so old that they might now be tripping far below their rated value, or their values (whatever they are) might just be unusably low. Since the box is being supplied by three fat wires coming from a 240 volt breaker in the house, there was no reason Ray couldn't have a space heater or even a mini-split out in his studio. I told him I'd go get the supplies and install him a new subpanel in the next week or so. I also tested a few nearby outlets, including a 240 volt one, and none of them worked. Later Nancy showed me some mysterious cables going into the ground along the garage's north side, and I decided not to worry about.
Befoe leaving, I drank the rest of a cup of coffee at the dining table and talked about being at the Hoot last night and also mentioned that my left shoulder was injured when I fell down the stairs at the cabin this summer, a story I'd never told them about. This primed the conversation for a flurry of stories about our increasingly-decrepit peer group. Even Nancy's younger sister Linda is having problems these days, walking around with a limp due to the wearing out of a hip joint (as it started acting up without there having been any injury).

This afternoon, I did the usual maintenance on my solar hot water collecting system, which we now keep in summer mode year-round (except when we have house sitters or it's been cloudy for many days). Summer mode means the priority is to heat our hot water, which is a necessity when we keep the boiler off (as we've been doing this year, something made much easier by the new first floor mini-split). The system has been running poorly of late, suggesting it needs more hydronic fluid. So I added some from the top. Apparently I didn't clean the adding funnel completely first, though, as I saw bit of leaf and pine needles floating around in the fluid as it was going in. At some point, then, I should run all the fluid through a screen to remove the accumulated debris.
Meanwhile, down in the basement, I noticed one of the zone valves that needed to be open for the heat to be collected (but closed when the boiler is on so as not to passively send boiler-heater water into the solar panel) was having trouble staying open. It was making a periodic clicking sound and the fluid wasn't flowing. I'd removed the powerhead from that valve long ago, presumably because of this problem. But then I noticed, to my horror, boiler-heater water making it to the solar panel at night. So yesterday I'd put it back in place, and it had seemed to work. It only took 24 hours for its inherent badness to manifest again.
That particular zone valve is one of a set I'd bought during the initial building of the solar heat collection system back in 2005. At the time, I'd been working on a tight budget and didn't want to pay the price that one pays for a proper Honeywell zone valve like you can buy at Home Depot. Instead I'd found much cheaper valves with the trademark PowerZone made by a company called Grundfos and had used those. Unfortunately, they only work for about ten years before the powerhead dies. And then it's impossible to find replacements. I actually found replacements at some point with Honeywell branding some ten or so years ago. But since then, replacements have become so impossible to find that I've started replacing the actual valve mechanisms (which are incompatible with standard Honeywell powerheads) with standard Honeywell ones. It turns out that, after doing that, I do have a few working Grundfos PowerZone powerheads to swap in, mostly because the ones controlling flow through the slab got much less use and so still have some life in them. Today I swapped in one such PowerZone powerhead and got the system working again as it should.
The main difference between the Grundfos PowerZone design and the standard Honeywell design is that the PowerZone mechanism is a valve activated by an electric-powered plunger, whereas the standard Honeywell design uses a ball on the end of a rotating arm.

This evening Gretchen went to hang out with Fern at a sauna on the property of that professor who lives in a gnome house along the ruins of the D&H canal. Meanwhile, a group of coyotes started carrying on not too far away to the northeast, and this sent Neville and Charlotte charging off in that direction, which included crossing Dug Hill Road. I went out a couple times to look and listen for them, and on the second such time I saw Charlotte's eyes looking back at me from the end of the driveway. I told her she shouldn't stand in the road, so she came into the driveway. But then when I called for Neville, she decided to go back across the road and escort him home.

The difference between a Grundfos PowerZone powerhead (left) and a standard Honeywell one. The PowerZone mechanism moves that square-ended plunger up and down, whereas in the standard Honeywell mechanism, an arm with a ball on it is pivoted by mechanism rotating a stem entering that large black-rimmed hole. I've written "Marginal" on the PowerZone head, because it sometimes works. Click to enlarge.

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