Saturday, February 21, 2015

Furnace Breakdown and Fix

As I've mentioned in several previous posts including this one from last summer we have dampers in our attic that have to be adjusted in the spring and fall to maintain the temperature upstairs and down. Getting to the levers to do so requires climbing over the furnace condensation and gas lines while ducking underneath the roof truss.

How it looks in the attic where our HVAC system is located.

Every time I've gone up there to adjust them I've mentioned to Jenny how I don't like how this is set up. Getting through there is a bit of balancing act and I've been afraid every time I do it that I'm going to slip and fall into them. Going around the other side of the system isn't any easier and would require wiggling underneath insulated ductwork and I'm not sure I'd actually fit through there. The poor design of this was borne out this week when, on the brink of the coldest night we've had in years, our furnace stopped working.

Along with the snow we had earlier in the week a bitter cold front swept through the region bringing with it record low temperatures. On Thursday evening I had gone to bump the temperature up on the thermostat a bit when I noticed the display was blank. I checked the breaker which was fine and then realized I could stick batteries in it as a back up. Even once it came on the heat didn't so I immediately called the emergency number for the HVAC company to get a tech out here. In the meantime one of my awesome neighbors (who has also had heating issues) lent us a space heater.

Around 9:15pm the tech arrived and after taking a look at our furnace in the attic discovered that the condensation line had broken off from inside the furnace. From there water had dripped into the pan underneath tripping the moisture sensor and shutting the unit down. Earlier in the day we had had our 10 Month Review (more on this in another post) and the service manager and I had gone up in the attic to look at the system. While up there he had climbed over the lines and must have bumped it enough to break it. (I'll emphasize here that I don't in any way blame him for this. It could have just as easily been me that did it any of the other times I'd been up there.) Unfortunately the technician didn't have the parts nor could he obtain them so late at night to fix it. Facing not having heat I asked (pretty much pleaded) if there was any way he could at least patch it for the night. Enter our friend and miracle worker, duct tape. Using a copious amount of it he was able to reattach the drain trap the pipe connects to back to the furnace and get it running but with no guarantee that it would hold. He also installed a less sensitive moisture sensor that should the patch fail would allow more water into the drip pan and buy us additional time before it shut the furnace off again.

It's hard to tell from this photo but this is the duct taped drain trap.

Needless to say I didn't sleep very well Thursday night worrying that the patch would fail and we would lose our heat. I got up multiple times to go in the laundry room and to make sure I could still hear the condensation dripping down the pipe that runs through the wall. Luckily the patch did hold and we made it through to Friday morning with the heat still running. (Good thing because it was 0 degrees with a negative wind chill outside.)

Friday morning I followed up with Superior Plumbing, Heating, and Air of Ashland, Virginia to make sure the parts to fix it would be available. About an hour later I got a call that they were and they'd be out by midday to fix. True to their word they were there a few hours later and within 20 minutes had the unit fixed. The only thing I'll need to do in a few days once it warms up outside is haul my shop vacuum up into the attic to remove the water from the pan once it thaws. 

I also followed up with our service manager in several calls during Friday as well. I feel like this set up is a poor design that is way too easy to break. Given that adjusting the dampers is a routine maintenance item and that I will have to continue climbing over this line to get to them I'm worried that eventually this situation could happen again. He's going to meet with me next week to look at it but I've told him that I would like for them to install an additional access panel at the other end of the attic. In houses without the pull down steps like we opted for the access panel is located in the laundry room and allows for access to the dampers without climbing over the condensation and gas lines. It seems to me that this could be done very easily and even though I'd have to haul a ladder upstairs when I need to get up there to adjust them it'd be worth the extra effort to avoid breaking the line again.

All of that being said we really appreciate Superior's quick response to our problem along with the service manager's efforts at getting it fixed quickly as well. He mentioned to me on the phone that he had called the HVAC folks Friday morning and told them that if the parts were not available they were to go pull them from another house under construction so we could get it fixed by the end of the day and not have to wait any longer than necessary. I wish it hadn't happened on the coldest possible night but it worked out as best as could have been expected.

*Comments with links to HVAC companies will be marked as spam and deleted.*

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

IKEA Finds

Jenny and I love IKEA. So much so that nearly every room in our house has something from there. A few weekends ago we made one of our semi-annual trips to the closest one in Woodbridge. Originally we had only planned on getting a linen cabinet Jenny has had her eye on for over a year now. But just like every other time we've gone up there we've inevitably left with more than we planned.

This is the linen cabinet Jenny wanted. It fits perfectly in the indentation in the dining room wall and Jenny is using it to hold her cookbooks. The doors lock with an old fashioned key which is a benefit for us because it prevents our toddler from dumping the books in the floor.

This is our master bedroom. A few years back we bought the rest of the Hemnes bedroom collection but had never gotten around to getting the bed frame. (We used a basic metal frame instead.) While we were up there this time around we discovered it was on sale so we went ahead and bought it. It's so long that we had some doubt it would fit in Jenny's RAV4 but we managed to get it home. We also finally bought curtains too. Between those and the bed frame the bedroom has been transformed.

The bed frame box was so long the end of it rested on the console between the front seats. I had to check any time Jenny changed lanes or made a left turn because it blocked her vision on the passenger side.


A major (for Central Virginia at least) storm swept through the state last night dumping the most snow we've seen in a while. The governor has declared a state of emergency and most everything is shut down right now. At our house at least we received about 6-7 inches and may receive a bit more tomorrow evening. We're also expecting absolutely bitter cold temperates that combined with the snow I expect will keep us out of school most of this week. (Perk of being a teacher.)

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Ten Month Review Part I

A few weeks ago we received a letter in the mail about scheduling our ten month review. It also included a sheet to send back to Ryan Homes listing anything that needed to be fixed. I spoke with the contact listed on the form and he told me it was so they could arrange to have everyone needed to complete the list at our home at the same time to correct everything at once. That being said this is the list we sent them:

1. Thorough check of the HVAC system - major temperature difference between upstairs and down.
This continues to be an issue for us. I've gone up in the attic and adjusted the dampers numerous times along with adjusting the registers (I closed the ones in the laundry room and master closet) but still can't seem to achieve an even balance between the temperature upstairs and downstairs.

2. Light above the master bath tub is intermittently working.
This we only noticed recently although it may have been happening for a while. Fiddling with the fixture makes it comes back on leading me to think there's just some of issue with the wiring.

3. Nail pop (or bulge) in the floor of the kitchen.
This might be covered under the one time nail pop and drywall patching certificate but just in case I included it on here.

4. Soft spot in the floor of the doorway of bedroom #3.
The project manager came out last June to fix this with putty to even it out but it's soft and sunken again underneath the carpet.

5. Major popping of the floor in the hallway upstairs in front of bedroom #2.
This is also a fairly recently issue that started a few months ago. It's annoying but we decided to just wait until the 10 month review to get it fixed. It seems to extend underneath the wall and into the bedroom as well.

6. Re-caulking around the tubs and sinks in both bathrooms.
This was expected and will probably end up needing to be done every year but I might as well get them to fix it now.

7. Intermittent buzzing from the microwave.
This has been occurring since we moved in but without any sort of consistency. I took video of it to document it but the microwave still works so just like with #5 we decided to wait on getting it fixed. The person I spoke with at Ryan asked me to send him the model and serial numbers so they can arrange for a GE repairman to come by the day of the 10 month review.

8. Re-caulking of the trim on the right side of the stairway.
This was also fixed back in December and expect just like with #6 to be a regular maintenance thing but I might as well get them to fix it again while the house is still under warranty.

9. Readjustment of the seal around the front door.
I've adjusted the strike plates on the door and have had Ryan out to fix this in the past year. They've told me it's a settlement and seasonal issue resulting from temperate changes but periodically a small amount of light can still be seen around the door.

10. Air register in the ceiling at the top of the stairs does not close all the way.
I discovered this when I was trying to adjust the temperature.

11. Floor on the right side of the morning room by the dining room has a bad squeak.
This one is not quite as bad the one upstairs but still fairly loud and annoying.

12. Creaking noise coming from the area of the wastewater pipe between floors behind the wall periodically when water is used upstairs.
Jenny and I aren't totally sure on this one. It might be nothing but several of my neighbors have had plumbing leaks since moving in so it concerns me a bit. We're also used to strange noises on our old house resulting in costly repairs so we might just be paranoid too. Just like with the microwave issue it's not consistent but seems to happen when the hot water is used in the washing machine or hall bath. (But not the master bath.) I've only been able to capture on video a slight recording of it. The plumbing warranty lasts two years at least so we've still got time if it really is something that needs to be fixed.

One additional thing we're going to bring up that isn't on the list is an issue with the hot water. We have a tankless system but the only spot in the house where it warms up quickly is the hall bath shower. Everywhere else, including the kitchen and downstairs half bath sinks that are closest to the water heater take a long time to receive hot water.

We will also need to get the one year drywall patching done soon. We've got a number of nail pops and settlement cracks around the house but it's nothing major and not as bad as I expected.

Overall, we continue to be really happy with our house. We expected we'd have some issues this first year but nothing we've encountered defect wise has been major. And everything that has been a problem has been addressed quickly by either the project manager (the first month or so) or the service manager.