Hello again! This month has been quite a learning experience for me. I started April by being reminded of why I left the trade of auto and truck repair 27 years ago. I recall being under, over and inside the engine compartment of my daughter’s Jeep Grand Cherokee after it overheated and blew apart the plastic side tank of the radiator. Needless to say, it caused a very upset kid and a job for the local towing company in my area!
So, being in a proactive mindset, I decided to replace all that might cause another issue in the immediate future, so I replaced the radiator, water pump, all the hoses and thermostat. Very pleased with my effort, I started it up, and guess what? It overheated again in my driveway!
After inventing a few new curse words, I went online to find this is a very common problem with that model vehicle—the electric cooling fan relay fails due to high current draw from the fan. So the coolant gets drained again, the electric fan gets replaced, and it turns out the front bumper has to be removed to gain access to replace the relay!
Well, I’m an HVAC guy, and we know how to cut holes! So a hole gets cut after removing the passenger side headlamp, and the relay gets replaced without removing the bumper! The truck now runs great, the overheating mystery is solved, and I haven’t heard from my kid in weeks!
Sound familiar?
(I shouldn’t complain though—she aced her first year of college! I’m so proud of her!)
So with her truck fixed and out of my driveway, I’m off to start my night shift, and my first call of the evening is an oil leak. Actually, it was really ANOTHER oil leak! A few days earlier, a pinhole in a filter can caused quite a mess for this customer and the technician who was there to clean it up. Now I arrive to find the fuel unit shaft seal is actively leaking, requiring me to again clean up the spilled oil under the boiler and clean up the burner.
I had two more similar calls that week involving leaking filters, and since we’re now in the preventative maintenance time of season, I decided to do some homework on what my criteria should be to either reuse a filter can or simply replace the complete assembly. During my time in this trade, I’ve never had to replace a large filter can due to a pinhole leak, but I’ve had to replace many of the smaller cans. After a few phone calls to the filter manufacturers, I thought I’d share what I found:

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The first is the filter can thickness: The 1A25 size is .065″; the 2A700 size is .076″ [See Figure 1]. The thicker metal of the larger can appears to make it more resistant to deforming when the bolt is over tightened. [See Figures 2, 3, and 4] In comparison, the spin on filter thickness is .020″.
With my mind still on torque values—after working on the Jeep—I wondered how tight the filter can bolt should be. After all the years doing this, I never knew. My good friend, Glen Bonelli from General Environmental, dropped off a few filter cans at the school while we were setting up for next semester, and for the first time, I was able to compare what happens to the can after the bolt is over-tightened. The bolt is tightened at the factory to 140 inch pounds.

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Converting inch pounds to foot pounds gives us 11.66 foot pounds (inch pounds are divided by 12, the number of inches in a foot, to achieve footpounds; so 140 inch pounds divided by 12 = 11.66 foot pounds). Now I’m convinced I’ve overtightened many filters! I feel overtightening the bolt distorts and weakens the filter can, as you can see in the comparison photos.
The biggest cause of overtightening is when the paint under the bolt washer starts to flake off. In an effort to seal the leak underneath the bolt, the technician tends to tighten the bolt even more. To alleviate

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this, I now scrape away all the paint under the sealing washer before reassembling the filter. I also take much more care in cleaning out the filter can before inspecting it and qualifying it for reuse. I found using a paste flux brush works great as a filter can cleaning brush. Any sign of rust, pitting, water staining, flaked or chipped enamel, or distortion of the bottom of the can from overtightening will disqualify the can for reuse. These days, you just can’t be too careful! [See Figure 5]

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So how tight is approximately 12 foot pounds? After you feel the bolt start to snug, it’s then approximately one full turn, just like a spin-on filter. A spin-on filter is three-quarters to one full turn tight after the gasket makes contact.
In the last few years, there have been some design upgrades to the cartridge filter assemblies. The cans went from steel to galvanized steel to resist corrosion, and now, most are epoxy coated as well. The bottom bolt and nut have seen some strength improvements as well. [See Figures 6 & 7]

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I also was curious to the micron rating of the filter elements:

Spin on: 10 micron
Felt: 10 micron *nominal
Cellulose Acetate: 10 micron nominal*
*Nominal means it will filter most of the 10 micron particles

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I also now make sure the filter is properly supported, and prevent the can from resting on the concrete basement floor in case the vibration from misaligned burner fan might wear a hole in the bottom.

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Well, that’s it for filters, but again, we can’t be too careful—any discoloration around the burner will prompt me to remove the fuel unit to check the shaft seal, a good way to prevent an additional clean up and an upset customer.

When replacing filters and inspecting burner components, a little more proactive time inspecting will save many more reactive headaches later!

Pool Heater clarification

While working on an “OIL HEAT CARES” project this month, I received some feedback on my pool heater article, and a mention was made I left the most important thing out of that article by my fellow OESP member, Tom Olsen. So, here it is, because he is ABSOLUTELY correct: After working on the pool heater, LEAVE IT OFF! That’s the proper procedure unless instructed differently by the customer. If left running, it’s a given that a call to the office will follow, with the customer asking to be reimbursed for the fuel used while it was left on! It’s happened to me!
Stay safe!

Hello again! This month I thought to share two insufficient hot water calls I was sent to investigate. They both had similar problems, but with different types of equipment. I had written about “Insufficient Hot Water Problems” in the November 2012 issue, and “How to Clean an Indirect Water Heater’s Coil” in the December 2012 issue. The two calls that follow are worth sharing due to the fact there were problems with both from the first day of the installations, and I was again faced with customers who were convinced they were sold defective equipment. Sometimes, little details missed cause big headaches later!

#1: The troubled tankless

I received this call after a defective boiler block replacement. A boiler section was defective, and a new block was replaced under warranty, reusing the existing tankless coil and oil burner. 

“I can’t take a shower now”, the customer exclaimed. I asked, “Was there a problem before?” He tells me, “No, it happened right after the boiler replacement!” I look at the system, and find the installer just cut the coil piping above the mixing valve, leaving all else intact, and after reinstalling, sweat couplings were used to reconnect the water lines. All was put back just as before. So I check that the aquastat probe is all the way into the well, review the temperature settings, run the boiler to limit, and have him run the hot water at the kitchen sink. 

Scalding hot water at first, for a few seconds, then I could hold the hot water line in my hand right at the coil! The burner didn’t even start! 

“You need a coil cleaning,” I told him, as I was convinced the coil wasn’t producing. He said, “No way, I just had it cleaned last year, and I’m not going to pay for another cleaning!” He goes on to demand, “I want a new coil!”

I now call the office, and ask to check the past service history. I find this account had been complaining of “insufficient hot water” for years. Some people get me nuts. With an hour now wasted due to him not telling me this had been a constant problem, I get on the phone again, and set up a new coil replacement. Upon the replacement, here is what I found: the coil was piped backwards! Very easy to do, because in these days of cutting corners—meaning saving money—the “super expensive stickers” that used to identify “in and out” or “cold and hot” on the coil plate were not only missing on the existing coil, but on the new replacement coil I took out of the box! 

Here’s what happened: the cold inlet water was sent to the outside of the coil first, it picked up heat, and came back through the inside of the coil close to the aquastat probe. The aquastat reaction time is now slowed. I then find, when removing the problem coil, that boiler sealant was used to slow the section leak on the old boiler. You can never forget the odor of “stop leak.” The sealant had coated the heat transfer surface of the existing coil. Past service history is so important in properly troubleshooting! 

The new coil was installed using a trick I was shown by my friends, Tom and Bob from Napco Oil. (They rescued me from a life of working on garbage trucks in the ‘80s by introducing me to this trade, and started me out helping on installations.) I measured from the face of the boiler block (See Figure 1) and stretched the coil to go through all the sections (Figure 2). 


I made sure to mark the inlet cold water side, to send the cold water to the inside of the coil first (See Figure 3). All was put back together, using anti-seize on the bolt threads (I’m sure we’ll see this customer for a coil gasket replacement in a few years, and I’m sure he’ll try to get that for free as well!) and the best part, we haven’t heard from him since! I was on a call today and saw a coil with the proper markings, so for you youngsters, these are the stickers I was talking about! 

#2: Directly becoming aggravated by his indirect!

This next customer was very agitated. “The salesman told me I would never run out of hot water again,” he tells me as I hear the Taco 400 auto vent on the boiler hiss behind me. I look at the boiler and see 210° on the temperature gauge, check and find the limit set to that temperature on the 4081B aquastat as well. 

I now look at the aquastat on the indirect and find it set to 160°. The customer told me he runs out of hot water all the time. He had a 40 gallon indirect, and replaced it with a 60 gallon, only to have the same problem! He says, “They keep adjusting the temp settings each time I call.” 

I run the water at the sink and find it’s scalding hot. It was a warm day, and I go back down to the boiler to check the supply and return temps to the indirect coil. I find the coil and tank need to be flushed due to poor heat transfer, and I perform the tank flush as described in the December 2012 issue. This tank was really dirty! 

It was then that I saw the cause of his complaint. The way the circulators were piped on the return was the cause of the problem with both his old 40 gallon, and now his replacement 60 gallon indirect. This was an old converted gravity system with 2″ piping and large radiators. Five returns into inch and a quarter piping, with a B+G 100 circulator pushing against a Taco 007 circulator with undersized ¾” piping from the indirect coil. They piped the circulators facing each other! When the thermostat called, the B+G was overpowering the Taco 007, and the indirect couldn’t recover due to the reduced flow (Figures 5 and 6). 

There was no priority for the indirect, and when the room thermostat called, the boiler temp dropped quickly due to the missing boiler by-pass piping that should be on all converted gravity jobs. So out of my van comes my “get me out of trouble friend,” Mr. RIB relay*, and we make the indirect a priority, solving the circulator piping problem on the return, and letting the indirect recover (see Figure 7). A reset of the 4081B to 180/150° on the boiler, and 120° for the indirect appears to have put this call to rest. I don’t like to set any water heater above 120° for fear of an injury; if the customer wants it hotter, let them adjust it.

 Well, that’s it for now; hope to see you in Hershey, PA at the OESP show! 

Stay safe, Wayne

*Relay In a Box: http://www.functionaldevices.com/building-automation/relays.php

FIGURE 1: Click for larger image

FIGURE 2: Click for larger image

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FIGURE 4: Click for larger image


FIGURE 5 BOILER RETURN: Click for larger image

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FIGURE 7: Click for larger image

I have been out as late as 10pm on May 30th in pitch black darkness, in the rain, to get a pool heater running because of a customer threatening to quit. I guess if had that kind of money to heat a swimming pool, let it cool down, only to reheat it again, @ $$$$.9 a gallon, or therm, maybe I would think things differently.  It is with this in mind, for my April submission (with the hope that some office staff views this) that I share a few thoughts that may save some unnecessary call backs for us in the field, and reduce stress for the customer service staff in the office.
Before dispatching a technician to service a pool account :

#1a) The pool must be opened first! “Opened” means the Pool Company—or customer—has had the pool filled to the proper level; the pool already cleaned/serviced; strainers clear, pool pump running—with its strainer cleaned; pool filter cleaned, replaced, or backwashed depending on type of filtration used, and all electric to the heater/ pump filtration system be in full working order.
#1b) The customer MUST be home during the service call. He or she should be aware that someone will be there that day. I hate going into a gated yard with no one home—there may be a dog on the other side! I have also walked in through a closed gate where the woman of the home was working on a “no tan line tan” and did not expect me. Very awkward!
It is very important to have the customer on-site during this service, as the entire system can be put on line and perhaps avoiding the inevitable callback to answer any questions about the system at a later time. 
I hate to see chlorine tabs in the strainer baskets. This is quite common, and will ruin the heater. Customers are amazed when I inform them of this. “The chlorine belongs in the chlorinator and goes into the pool first—not into the heater inlet at full strength. 
During the winterization process, the fuel source may be turned off. If it’s an oil fired unit, there may be oil valves shut off inside the home. I’m most concerned about a valve closed on the return line. UGH! 
I need to note the tank fuel level. If it’s a natural gas unit, I need to get to the meter. If propane, I need to get to the tank to perform a gas line pressure test.  I may have to get to the electric panel. 
If they have an Aqua-link control, we have to check that the indoor panel communicates with the outdoor control. 
There could be water leaks that need attention. The heater may need some work that is not covered by a service agreement. There may be a noise complaint, or an insufficient heat complaint caused by trying to save fuel by not running the heater long enough.  And then there’s the very common spider in the gas orifice, or woodland creature problem, where one of nature’s rodents moved into the heater over the winter and just had to sharpen its teeth on the wiring. That, by the way, helps with both job security and billable revenue.

#2) IMPORTANT!  The heater is not to be started or run unless checked/serviced first! This is a very expensive appliance. Some are no longer manufactured, and getting parts for them is difficult.  Over the winter, it is also very common for the heat exchanger to become restricted by rust from the smoke pipe, smoke hood, or by the aforementioned Mr. or Mrs. Woodland Creature that has moved in and built a nest. I have come across so many units that have been heat damaged, and the costly repairs could have been avoided by a service before start up.  
The ignition delays on gas and propane units are quite frightening, could cause damage, and they, too, can be avoided. A tip to those who work on natural gas or propane units—have a combustion gas sniffer turned on, and placed next to you while working and before lighting the unit. A few burners may light, and some gas spillage could occur if there’s a blockage in the remaining burners. You can’t see a gas flame in daylight. The gas sniffer will warn you in advance of gas spillage. I learned this hard way while working on a propane unit without a gas sniffer.
 Dry leaves are very flammable, as are whatever the woodland creatures bring in to make their nest. A check or cleaning of the heat exchanger and the removal of flammables will save a very costly repair or unit replacement. 
Ok, with all that off my mind, a few more random thoughts:
Homework in this industry never stops. It’s important that those who work on these units become very familiar with how a multiport valve works, and all of its functions. Never move the handle with the pump running; you will blow out the spider gasket. 
Be careful of how long you backwash the filter. At 70 gallons a minute, you could drop the water level below the skimmer ports in the pool. It happened to people I know while they were distracted and talking on a Nextel.  
You should know how to backwash the pool filter, rinse, and place the unit back into filtration mode, if you suspect a pressure switch defect. It’s hard to collect money for a pressure switch replacement, when they have the exact same problem after the repair, and the problem was a restricted filter that only needed a backwash.  
On many units, there is also a mixing valve that needs to be set by flow, or temperature differential.  
On units with a pressure switch, it must be checked, making sure there is no water restriction, or air leaks in the pool pump plumbing. View the sight window in the pump assembly. You shouldn’t see any cavitation. 
Low flow: inspect the pump impeller for leaves. Very common.  I always check the pressure switch by turning off the pool pump first, turning on the heater, then turning on the pool pump—in that order. Once the water pressure builds, the heater should start.  The pool pump should run at least 20 minutes after the heater is turned off. If both are shut down simultaneously, the heater becomes a $ 4,000.00 percolator as the water in the heat exchanger flashes to steam, and you will think the heater is ready for lift-off! (“Failure may then be its only option.”)  The aqua-link control has this off delay built in. 
A mechanical time clock should be checked that the end switch is properly wired and operational.
Any severe rust, or staining on the powder coated heater jacket is a sign of excessive heat, and the heater and pump may be shutting off at the same time. 
Another tip to make life a little more comfortable: personally, I can’t understand why it feels like I’m in a Vietnam war movie every time I have to work on one of these heaters. I’ve never seen in any installation instruction manual that the heater has to be camouflaged by all types of plantings that usually poke me in the eyes as I try to get to it. I always have a can of “Deep Woods Off™” handy—to ward off ticks, and those nasty “tiger mosquitoes.” I also bring out to the heater a can of wasp spray, and give the heater a good bang before starting any work. I’ve removed the smoke hood only to then get stung several times. Learn to check for “yellow jackets” on every call before starting any work. Be aware of what poison ivy and poison oak look like as well. 
I did not get manufacturer-specific for a reason. I keep the manuals on my van with the wiring and part numbers for the common units I work on. If any reps out there have some technical tips pertaining to their product, I’m sure this publication would put it in print. To those reps: “If we can’t service it—we can’t sell it!” I look forward to seeing you in Hershey May 19th-23rd, and best of all, I won’t have to service any of these heaters during the convention. 
  Stay safe!  Wayne 

With all the new energy saving boiler controls on the market, most coming packaged on the boiler, another challenge emerges. On Long Island, for example, the typical control wiring to the thermostat is 120 volts. It seems to be unique to our service area, and running new wires is usually not practical; using the existing 14 gauge wire (for 24 volts) is fine as long as you have the proper number of conductors. If you have a “home run” thermostat to boiler with two conductors, you are ok, but sometimes, we have three conductors present: L1, L2 and hot from the thermostat.

A typical multi-zone switching relay is this four-zone model, the ARM4P from Argo. Taco’s model SR504-4 is another good example.

In this case, we would leave the thermostat line voltage, then use a “RIB” relay to pull in dry contacts to activate our control system. Alternately, we can employ a separate step down transformer to activate that particular zone valve using the end switch as our dry contact.
When wiring a new system with several circulators, we need to use a multi-zone relay panel. This is where the other wiring challenge rears its ugly head. It was common to find a three-conductor wire at the boiler room to activate two separate zones, with one conductor as a common feed to both thermostats. At first, it may SEEM easy to jump the common conductor to another set of “TT” terminals on the zone panel, but this will cause many headaches, with back feeds, intermittent operation and excessive heat issues.
There is a solution you will not find in any instruction manual. First, determine— with the power off— which “T” in the set of “TT” terminals is common. You can do this by simply using your ohm meter or continuity tester. The relay panel is powered by one transformer, so one side will terminate at the transformer common; you can even look at the back of the circuit board to see this. Now, you take the thermostat common and wire it to the first “T” you identified as the common in the panel.
You now have two conductors left from the thermostats. Connect the first zone to the second “T” on the first set of “TT” which is usually marked Zone 1 on the panel. The last conductor from the second zone thermostat connects to the second zone “TT” on the “T” terminal—THE ONE THAT IS NOT COMMON. This common terminal will not be connected to a wire since it is already connected internally. Make note that on some of the newer relay panels, the “TT” terminals are also designated “R” “W” with “W” as the common bond. This is not to be confused with some panels that also have a “C” terminal, providing 24Volts to power the thermostat through “R” and “C”. There are some affordable thermostats on the market that use the homeowner’s wifi to check and adjust settings remotely through the net and smart phones. Some need to have 24 volt power supplies through “R” “C” or through a separate transformer and will need a minimum of three conductors each thermostat for heat only. There are so many choices in controls today , we really need to stay ahead of the curve!

Hello again! Having fun this winter? I must admit I am not! With March now here, we’ll soon get a chance to make good on all of our “…make this up to our family promises” we made as this season’s cold kept us away from home much longer than we’d have liked.  ­
This industry has changed over the years, and now, in addition to providing great customer service and exceptional troubleshooting skills, we also need to have great salesmanship—which means bringing in billable revenue! With that in mind, as this winter of extreme overtime winds down, here are a few things I look for when on a service call:  ­
1) Oil tanks and oil lines
Age and condition of tank and lines. I take a proactive versus a reactive stance when discussing a customer’s oil tank, and I try to make them aware of avoiding a potential future hazard. If I happen to sell them on a new tank, there’s a good chance they’ll stay with our fuel source. Also, any copper oil lines in direct contact with concrete are quoted for replacement with coated line.  ­
2) Energy management controls
Customers are very interested in energy savings these days. There are quite a few controls currently on the market that feature outdoor reset. Some even have wireless sensors. I must admit I’d rather install these controls than digital thermostats, but that’s mainly due to all the nuisance reprogramming, battery change and time change calls I go on each year that I can’t charge for!  ­
3) Whole house surge suppression.
Since we’re already in the utility room; it only takes a few seconds to look at the electric service panel. If we sell them a microprocessor management control, we need to protect it in case of an electrical spike. It will be tough to explain after a thunderstorm that the newly installed control system you just installed is now not covered due to storm damage!  ­
4) Water main
Is there a pressure reducing valve on the main? A backflow preventer? Any complaint of water hammer on the domestic side of the system? If so, a domestic expansion tank, charged to meet the incoming water pressure, should be suggested and quoted.  ­
5) Anode rods
Is there a direct-fired water heater? Was the anode ever changed? I keep the fourlink replacements on my van. If it’s a 30 gallon heater, I just cut one link off. I keep an impact ¾” drive socket with a breaker bar on board with a ¾” NPT tap, just in case. If they go for the replacement, I’ll get it out. However, I know not to attempt replacement on a heater in poor condition!  ­
6) Indirect water heaters
Any calls for insufficient water duration? The coil may be dirty! A tank cleaning/ tank flush service will be quoted. If you happen to sell them on the tank cleaning, a check of the aquastat well is suggested, as there is no anode on some indirect water heaters, and you wouldn’t want a well leak causing water damage after completing service on the heater. I also add in the price to replace the T+P relief valve.  ­
7) Mixing valves
Is there one on the tankless coil? Is it a manual or thermostatic valve? Do they get sufficient hot water duration from their indirect water heater? If not, adding a thermostatic mixing valve and raising the indirect’s temperature usually cures most complaints. I go over these things with the customer. The lack of a mixing valve is a scald hazard, and against code.  ­
8) Coil gaskets
The leakers will start to show up soon! Don’t forget to add for the extra labor to drill and tap the broken bolts encountered during replacement! UGH! A tip to those doing coil gaskets: use Permatex Anti-Seize!* One bottle of this lubricant will last you years, it withstands 2000 degrees, and for all future repairs, the bolts come right out. I use it on all new installations: circulator bolts, coil bolts, smoke hood nuts, burner flange bolts.  ­
9) Washing machine hoses
I’m amazed how many customers fail to check the condition of the washing machine hose. You’ll see the rubber bulging at the crimp connection. Lots of horror stories heard over the years from burst hoses and flooded basements.  ­
10) Heating equipment upgrades
I put this last because this is, at times, tricky. It seems that when suggesting an equipment upgrade, a mention of switching to an alternate fuel source comes into the conversation by most customers these days! I would suggest being able to explain the vast difference between “steady state” and “AFUE” efficiency, and to make the customer fully aware of the much shorter run times achieved with the newer equipment. It’s a good idea to direct them to the online energy savings calculators they can use while making their decision. Well, that’s it for now, as a fun-filled, 18 degree night shift awaits me! Be proud of what you do! Stay safe!  ­
Wayne  ­
*Or an equivalent product. There are other anti-seize products on the market, including ones from Loctite, Anti-Seize Technology and LPS, to name a few. – Ed.   

Hello again! I want to start with a
note of thanks for the feedback I’ve
received from past articles, and moreover to this publication for the opportunity to express some thoughts that have been rolling around my mind for the many years I’ve been a member of this craft.
I recently have been charged with a welcome task; to train a new addition to our service team. He is a recent graduate from a local HVAC training center, having decided on a career redirection at age 46, after being unemployed for many months. With all the hours we work, it’s easy to overlook what the world is like outside our industry in this still very depressed economy.
This task I’ve been given is so very different from classroom instruction, where we demonstrate, quiz, and test on the mechanics of this craft. Having a trainee on the job is a real opportunity to demonstrate what superior service is all about. While it says a lot about me for being chosen to do this, it’s also a huge responsibility, as training someone is very costly, and I strive for a return on this investment. As we near the end of our first week together, due to his great attitude, I feel good about him being given this opportunity, and his understanding of my submittal for this month’s article;
As a service technician here on Long Island, I have noticed a trend on the road while logging the many miles in my service van, and while driving during my “rare” off hours in my Jeep or on one of my many cycles.
I have noticed that we “oil burner men” wave to each other as we pass, the same as we ” Jeep Wrangler” owners and we ”Harley” owners seem to do. I happen to fall into these three aforementioned groups and— as I am now just realizing this—will give myself even more self-analysis, all the while dealing with all the job security that Hurricane Sandy has provided!
Anyhow, when I ride my Honda, Yamaha, or KTM motorcycles, none of the Harley riders I pass ever wave, but as soon as I ride my Road King, I’m readopted into the biker brotherhood. It’s the same in my Jeep Wrangler, I notice other Jeep Wrangler drivers will wave as they pass, and of course, I do the same. I will wave at all my fellow HVAC technician brothers in their company van or tank truck, but I will, of course, ignore appliance vans or gas utility vehicles. In reality, we are all appliance technicians no matter the fuel source (It’s just that we specialize in arguing over oil prices and contract coverage on every service call!).
When I’m on two wheels, driven by
a combustion engine, I’m a mo-
torcycle enthusiast. I feel that in some way, we seem to adopt each other into a sort of brotherhood bound by a commonality. That is my rationale for expressing my thoughts here. This industry, over the years has changed, and unfortunately, it is shrinking. I was given the opportunity to become a part time Instructor several years back and am very saddened to see a student finish the course, pass the NORA certification exam, only to then find such a tough time breaking into this trade. I remember all the different company names and lettering styles on the trucks I used to pass on the roads, and seeing the familiar company stickers pasted on the heating units. So many now are no longer in business. With that loss of a business is a loss of recession proof jobs! We, as technicians, are hardwired to fix things, as we are trained and expected to do. Speaking for myself, I think I’ve become pretty good at it over these many years, but not without the help of many others in this business who have thankfully shared their experiences. It’s now my responsibility to share that experience as well. Try as I may, I have never been able to fix 100% of the calls I’ve attempted on the first try. I think I’m pretty good, but every now and then there’s that head scratcher, that once-solved challenge that added to my future troubleshooting skills, and shared experience in the classroom.

As a result, I many years ago hard
wired myself to approach each ser-
vice call in a different way. I have changed my primary focus to keeping the customer a member of our company first and foremost, making this customer a fan of superior customer service, and let the repair of the appliance be my secondary focus.
Let me explain; it’s like in sports playing to win, verses playing not to lose. It’s attempting to accomplish the same result, but both have a different mindset approach. What if you could get 100% satisfaction from the customer even if the call wasn’t repaired on the first try? That would be great wouldn’t it? I already mentioned I’ve never been able to have no repeat calls—I try to keep that to a minimum, but it’s my belief that the attitude and communication skills one brings while on the call are what convinces the customer that they have made the best decision in choosing our company to do business with. It’s actually easy. Harley riders know this first hand! Ask any “Harley” guy what the best motorcycle is? You already know the answer, and why:“Because it’s the best!” (They also happen to be the most expensive!) Ask a “Jeep Wrangler” owner about his vehicle, and you will get a similar response! It’s all attitude!
It’s my feeling, and hope that all in this business understand this obligation to keep this industry alive; to demonstrate our knowledge and professionalism to the customer at every contact, and communicate the fact that we have the most diversified skill set out there, compared to all other trades. We need to demonstrate this at every opportunity! Lastly, but also so very important is the necessity to provide a secure career for the next generation of technical professionals.

Let’s think for a moment about all the experience, training, and knowledge we bring to work each day: Physics, Henry’s law, Boyle’s law, gravity, pressure, vacuum, friction, compression, expansion, contraction, change of state, heat transfer, sensible and latent heat value, humidity, density, vapor, liquid, solids, fluid dynamics, hydraulics, combustion, air changes, make up air, venting, wiring, electrical theory, sizing equipment, piping and duct configurations, friction losses, installations, troubleshooting, documentation, sales, building codes, safety—and in addition to all that, there’s how to communicate with all the different personality types we encounter. And we do all this with minimal sleep for sometimes many days in a row with no time off. I feel more than ever it’s time to make the customer aware at every contact the knowledge we possess when we arrive at their home, and the value they’re getting for their money. When they fully understand this, we win their confidence, and in the event the call isn’t cleared the first time, they will feel secure in giving us another chance.
I’d like to modify the older postal service mission statement to apply to our trade: “Nor rain, Nor snow, Nor gloom of night…will stop us from getting to those in need of a temperature controlled living space with adequate hot water, no odors, minimal noise, no water or fuel leaks, all while adjusting their appliance to provide the lowest possible operating cost, even for those aggravating customers with no numbers on their home and the front light off at night! “
See you on the road, and don’t forget to wave!
Stay safe,

Last month I wrote of how important water pressure checks are in our diagnostic troubleshooting procedures. By now, as you are reading this, nature has again provided us with more work, for this time of year the inlet water temperature is cooler. This results in many insufficient hot water calls as well as thermally shocked, leaking water heaters.
I’m sure most in the field are very aware of all that follows, but in case we have a few new readers onboard, I’ll go over a few of the basics. The first and most important thing to do on these calls is the service detective interview of the complainants! There is a huge difference between “insufficient temperature” and “insufficient hot water duration” even if, sometimes, it can appear to the customer that they’re exactly the same thing!
Key questions to ask would be how long are they living in the home, and when the problem first became noticeable? If the problem has become more apparent now that the weather has changed, that is a huge clue as to the direction in which to look for the resolution. If they just moved into the home, a complete check of the system will be in order. Ask how many are in the home, if there has been a recent remodel or a Jacuzzi tub added, if there is a car wash sized shower head, and if the problem happens to be in only one fixture—usually a shower body. It could be that the adjustment is off or the thermal element needs to be replaced.
I have encountered a mixing valve located away from the heating appliances, which caused much grief until it was found! Of course, the street pressure must always be checked! Oh, you checked it already? Great! Glad you read October’s article! In that case, now we’ll discuss tankless coils, aqua-boosters, indirect- and direct-fired water heaters
Tankless coils: Job security #1! I’m amazed at how many tankless coil calls I go back on! First consideration on the list—it had better have a mixing valve on
it, because it is required by code and because we are professionals, we should notice these details when inspecting these systems. If not, I hope the customer was informed of the scald hazard, has received a well written, quoted estimate to have one installed, and if declined, a notation that it was declined by the customer on the legibly written copy.
It should be clearly written that the customer was informed of “a potential scald hazard, and that the repair was declined at this time.” The customer should have been asked to sign the copy of the ticket that goes back to the office. I also make a copy for myself. I have seen in the past, especially around the holidays, a guest getting burned, usually while washing their hands. Often, the customer wants reimbursement for the emergency room visit! If that’s all that happened, you got off easy!
I shouldn’t even have to mention what could occur if a child, with their face at sink level, opened the hot faucet full blast! These preventable accidents happen all too often! These calls usually go like this: The water sitting in the coil is 180-190°; they open the fixture, get a blast of scalding water, and then it goes lukewarm, and sometimes, even goes cold. I’ve been on too many calls where the tech just simply raised the aquastat to compensate for the lack of duration, and left only to have the customer call back for the same problem! On these calls I also pull the aquastat to make sure the sensing element is all the way into the well.
I do not like to see ball valves on the coil piping, since there is no restriction, and if the water pressure is over 60 psi, the water is flowing through the coil too fast to pick up heat. A non-producing coil condition will show up quickly. Have the customer open a fixture to draw hot water only, and the domestic water temperature will cool before the boiler will even restart. That will show poor heat transfer, and the coil will need to be cleaned. You can try the coil boil and/ or bounce and flush method, or just have the coil cleaned. If there is a mixing valve, make sure the valve works and the water is not short circuiting through the valve. I try to keep things generic in my articles, but I try to sell a thermostatic mixing valve whenever possible.
Aqua-boosters: The most common insufficient hot water call I get on these is the booster circulator located on the outlet side of the tankless coil, which can cause premature failure of the circulator’s impeller due to cavitation. I like to pull the water from the aqua-booster tank, and push the water through the coil with the circulator. There should be a check valve to keep water from short circuiting through the booster tank and directing the inlet water through the coil, and then into the heater each time the fixture is opened. As with direct fired water heaters, the dip tube should be checked whenever there is an insufficient duration call. On these calls, if the aqua-booster circulator is running, the boiler will drop temperature and the burner will start. If the boiler temperature isn’t dropping, the circulator may be running—but the impeller is gone! I’ve gone back on so many with missing impellers! Hint! Hint!
Indirect Water Heaters: Job security #2! There are lots of things to look for here. First on the list is to make sure the boiler is able to, or is fired to handle the connected load. In most cases, the indirect needs more Btus to recover than the entire house needs for heat on the design temperature coldest day! Second, check to make sure the indirect is piped to manufacturer’s instructions using the required pipe sizes, and the circulator is sized with the correct head and flow capability. I often see many with undersized piping, and if piped using zone valves that are not “full port” valves, there is now a flow restriction resulting in longer recovery times. I like the indirect water heaters wired with priority whenever possible to shorten the recovery time. The key here, again, is if the indirect water heater’s circulator is running, the boiler temperature will drop. If the indirect heater’s coil is dirty, there goes the heat transfer!
Direct fired water heaters: There are a few things I look for here when I get an insufficient hot water duration call. The first, is the heater too small for the demand? I’ve seen customers expecting to fill an 80-100 gallon Jacuzzi bath with a 30 gallon direct fired water heater on a 15 degree day! Of course, the firing rate is always checked, and I do not like finding direct fired water heaters “down fired.”
The next thing I got into the habit of checking is to pull the aquastat or electronic temperature control and make sure the sensing element is all the way into the well. Air is a poor conductor of heat and there may be too long a lag before the burner restarts, in which case recovery will suffer. The last thing I’ll mention here is the dip tube. This is an easy check, since speaking with the complainant will send you in the right direction. This problem shows the same symptoms as what happens when a tankless coil isn’t producing. The water will come out hot, but the temperature will drop quickly, and the burner will be slow to restart. When the dip tube is missing, the water will short circuit at the top of the heater.
Well that’s it for now, as the 12-hour days in the van are catching up to me, and the magazine deadline is calling! Next month, we’ll go over a few more indirect water heater job security issues, and how to clean and flush the indirect heater’s internal coil!
Stay safe, Wayne

We have all heard the comment, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.” This comment can also apply to Large Mass (Oil or Gas) Boilers that are in workable condition and still have a number of years of life left in their operation. Your customer has done his research and has made up his mind that he wants to convert from oil to gas. So we immediately focus on replacing his present boiler or boilers with new energy efficient gas boilers and neglect to value engineer the total system needs and options available to the client. We could be throwing away a golden opportunity to retain the workable oil fired boiler by marrying his present large mass conventional boiler with a low mass condensing gas boiler.
Why should we consider this approach?
Simply put, a hybrid multiple boiler system will maximize heating system efficiency.
Use Low Mass on warmer days
Low mass condensing boilers operate when the outdoor reset temperature is below the dew point (135°F or lower). Condensing boilers operate with a 5:1 turn down ratio, which reduces boiler cycling. Low mass condensing gas boilers will operate during low load periods during the shoulder season (Spring, Fall and mild weather periods), maximizing boiler efficiency. In our 2011/2012 heating season, the entire winter became the “Shoulder Season.”
Large Mass works best on coldest days
Conventional large mass cast iron boilers, on the other hand, operate when the outdoor reset temperature is above 140°F, to protect the cast iron from corrosion and flue gas condensation. These boilers have a 2:1 turn down ratio when firing the burner in a Low-High-Low burner operation, increasing burner on time to increase steady state efficiency of the boiler. These boilers reach their peak efficiency when operated near maximum capacity, which becomes a short period of time during the heating season.
The bar chart, Figure A, represents a typical Heating Load Distribution for a region with a 5,600 degree day heat demand. As can be seen, only eight days of the 193-day heating season actually average a load between 80% and 100% of the peak heating load.

Figure A

Now let’s look at “Part Load Efficiency.”Because of this, conventional large mass boilers don’t provide the burner turn down flexibility to match boiler output to system reduced loads, boiler and wasted energy through jacket and off cycle flue losses.
In Figure B, the curve is a typical representation of overall efficiency vs. heating load. At 50% heating load, the conventional boiler is operating at best at 75% efficiency. This reduction in efficiency is caused by frequent burner cycling along with high standby losses. It becomes evident that the way to avoid wasted energy, which results in high heating costs, is to provide high turn-down ratios and higher operating efficiency boilers.

Figure B

The chart represented by Figure C shows the results of using a conventional boiler in a heating system with the typical heat load distribution as discussed in the previous graphs.

Figure C

The overall efficiency is shown along with the days spent at each load range. The seasonal efficiency is the weighted average of these overall efficiencies averaged over the entire season.
Figure D illustrates the combined efficiencies of the conventional boiler and condensing gas high efficiency boiler in a hybrid system. The condensing gas boilers are sized at 60% of the design load. At that load point and below, the condensing gas boilers take over and thermal efficiency jumps up to 93%, raising overall seasonal efficiency to 88% vs. 71% for the conventional boiler system.

Figure D

This article presents suggestions that can significantly increase heating system efficiency by retaining the existing high mass (oil or gas) conventional boiler and installing a low mass gas high efficiency boiler in a hybrid system, saving the owner precious up-front replacement costs.
Our industry has struggled with the ability to use “Consultative Selling” and “Solution Selling” ideas to translate value and a respectable return on investment back to the client.
This hybrid system approach can keep both the conventional high mass oil-fired boiler and a new low mass condensing high efficiency gas boiler working together as “one.”

This hybrid system at the Gettysburg, PA YWCA was installed by contractor Carl E. Frantz, Inc. It consists of two condensing gas boilers mated with a large mass boiler. The Gettysburg Y is a 22 year old, 50,000 sq. ft. facility with an outdoor design temperature of +13°F. The building has a calculated heat loss of 3,250 MBH.
Two cast iron boilers, which provided both hot water and space heating, were originally in the building, but one cracked and needed to be replaced. The contractor proposed a hybrid replacement in which two two Weil-McLain Ultra Commercial 750 Condensing Boilers were arranged in a multiple boiler system design, providing a 10:1 turndown ratio (each has a 5:1 turndown). The existing large mass cast iron unit was retained.
The condensing boilers are used for the shoulder seasons and the large mass unit is used during high load periods. The entire system is controlled by a Mini-Mod CNC Control Panel (supplied to W-M by Heat-Timer Corporation). The CNC control panel automatically switches between the condensing boilers and the large mass cast iron boiler based on return water temperature to achieve optimum system efficiency. The hot water system is fitted with pneumatic controls on multiple zones with circulators.

…the itsy bitsy spider
hid in the burner rail,
got himself real comfy,
made the burner fail,
along came the technician
attempting a relight,
but due to lack of training,
 received an awful fright….

I yelled up to my partner, Roy, through the many years of dust that rained down from the trussed ceiling onto our heads and the top of the never-had-been-cleaned suspended unit heater we were just working on.
“Yes, I’m OK. You?” Roy yelled back down to me as he was shaking the dusty hair coloring from his head (I must add, it made no difference! Grey hair, grey dust—he looked the same! Roy, you’re the best and this job wouldn’t be the same without you!) Anyway, we were there to perform seasonal maintenance and system start up on the many gas and propane units this company had. This heater was in a prefab garage that served as a storage area for construction machinery, and it hadn’t been in use for several years.
We had just replaced the gas valve, pilot assembly, installed a new thermocouple, tubing assembly with fittings, cleaned all the ribbon burners, lit the pilot, closed the cover, and started the unit. It had a nice looking blue gas flame on the ribbon burners, with no flame lift. All looked good from what we could see with the cover on. We were waiting for the fan control to make on temp rise, checking to make sure the fan worked. Roy was still 15 feet above the floor at the unit heater standing on a work platform, and I was now at the thermostat when we became better acquainted with our new job security making friend—the “yellow sac spider.” The flue pipe was now lying on the floor, having just missed me as it fell; the heater’s service door was open, swinging on its hinges, and the heater was now in non-working order—again! So much for “productivity” this day. Thankfully, Roy was on a platform instead of using a ladder like we have done so many times in the past working on these suspended “coffins.”
Until now, I had never known the name of the spider that likes the odor of gas, natural gas, and propane. My thoughts shifted to write about this as I watched one run across my van windshield while on lunch today. The weather is changing, and he is probably now a tenant in my van somewhere! Of course, while I’m heading to a service call, he’ll probably decide it’s the perfect time to drop down from my van visor to make sure I’m fully awake! This is the same eight legged creature with the Latin name Cheiracanthium Inclusum, that causes me to invent curse words each season while trying to start my BBQ and getting the look of “Now what?” from the hungry!

I was now looking on the internet to try and find a way to keep them out of the many greenhouse heaters that Roy and I work on this time of year. I happened to find, while doing my research, that this creature is responsible for the job security that the Mazda Corporation was not too happy about at the start of 2012. However, I feel the factory service technicians should be as grateful as I am these days to have work in this very tough economy. I discovered that 65,000 Mazda 626 cars had been recalled due to a design that lets this creature finds its way into the fuel vapor system.
We learned a very valuable lesson that day. While we have had to clean these spiders out of our BBQs each year, Roy and I took for granted that these spiders are able to get inside the small burner orifices and restrict the flow of gas in pool heaters, floor mount furnaces, and even suspended unit heaters. That is what happened to us while working on that suspended unit. The last ribbon burner orifice was severely restricted—the spider laid its eggs inside. The other ribbon burners lit, all except that one, and the gas was slowly pooling inside the cover, until the moment the air/gas mix was just correct.
Because of this lesson, we remove and clean every orifice while performing seasonal maintenance whenever working on outdoor appliances. You would be amazed how many are found to be restricted. We have tried “roasting” them clean with a torch, blowing them out with compressed air, using small brushes and wires to clean them, but the best and most thorough way is to remove, clean, and reinstall the orifice. For any unit that happens to start with a delay or fails to relight because it blows out the pilot, a check for spiders would be first on my list.
There is no better teacher than experience. I am sharing this in hope that you keep “nature’s job security” in mind when working on any gas, or propane fired appliance, and remember, these spiders also bite!
Stay safe, Wayne

Happy Healthy New Year!
Hello again!
What a rollercoaster ride of emotions this last few weeks has been. Some of what I’ve seen working the south shore here on Long Island after hurricane Sandy tore through is hard to comprehend. The photos in the newspaper, or the television news coverage, while great, lack the odors of charred homes, sewage, mold, mildew, Great South Bay, and of course, spilled fueloil. What is even harder for me to understand is the parasitic few that pray on those suffering so much hardship during this time. The tales of stealing, looting, price gouging, and fuel siphoning are told to me daily. Tragedies like this bring out the best and worst in people. The people of this trade have really stepped up, so many putting their lives on hold to help others.
The amount of hours we’ve been working, when recently told to my doctor, made him need to see a doctor! We, in this reactive based industry, have reacted favorably, and all of you should be so proud of your efforts to help others. I hope those of you blessed with good health had remembered to be grateful for it, and were able to find a way to share some of the holidays with family, especially since the demands of this industry will continue over the next few months. Family is so very special, and their understanding of what we do is so appreciated. It seems that as we come into December, with all the rushing around in trying to express our appreciation for them in return, we are reminded daily of those less fortunate. Performing service in some of these homes, we see firsthand the hardship that is out there in this depressed economy. We help people, it’s what we do. It makes us feel good.
However, I need to remind you that if there is one saying that seems to hold true for this entire industry, then in my opinion, none is more fitting than the adage, “No good deed goes unpunished. ” There is a lot of hardship out there now, with so much loss—and favors are asked daily. It is with that in mind that I thought to submit the following cautionary tale for this month’s article:
I share the following tale with my students at the start of each semester, to illustrate how important it is to ALWAYS protect yourself, fellow technicians, the company you work for, and the industry at each and every contact! The story that follows illustrates the amount of damage control and lost productivity, not to mention how many others now have to be involved, when poor judgment is the rule, rather than the exception. It is an example of what feel has been an industry-wide, incurable virus: “Leave it for the next guy it is.”
I learned a valuable, memorable lesson from this call, and due to my life now being shortened by at least 10 years because of it, will never make this mistake again….
“Winter is here, and money is tight; but ALWAYS REMEMBER to do what’s right!”
Wow it was cold! It was a many years ago, not at all like the 12 months of summer we had just experienced, and I decided to go on the night shift for a few weeks. (Ok—I was forced to go on nights; it must be nice to have seniority!) Anyway, I was given a gas no heat service call, that a technician had been there earlier in the day to repair. An elderly lady answered the door, bundled up in her winter coat, expressing her dismay of how long I took to get there, and that her furnace quit running right after the previous technician had left. She went on to tell me of how her husband was in very poor health, and that I needed to get it running again as soon as possible.
I headed down to the basement, and there before me is a natural gas furnace over 50 years old, in extremely poor condition. I see the removable cabinet door is scorched to bare metal and there is a round carbon stain on the concrete basement wall two feet away from the unit, signaling a flame rollout condition. The wires are scorched inside the cabinet, and I see where the wire nut had melted off the low voltage wire powering the standing pilot gas valve.
I think to myself, “There is no way I’m going to run this thing!” so I head back upstairs to explain to the customer that the unit is unsafe. She adamantly replies, “The other technician got it running, said it would be OK for tonight, that it wasn’t worth repairing, and a salesman from your company is coming tomorrow to sell me a new unit!” So now in my mind, I see I have a big problem, and a decision to make. Leave the unit down, causing the customer to call the company and possibly get the other tech in trouble, or leave it running as she requested, and have sales sell her a new unit in a few hours. It was 2:00 am, and 15 degrees out. I would have had to drain the house to avoid broken pipes, as the home temperature had already dropped quite a bit. I again told her it was unsafe, and she now told me her husband was too sick to be moved.
I reconnected the wires to the gas valve, while in my mind a script was being composed of the earful I was going to give my fellow tech that put me in this stressful position! The unit started and I watched a few cycles of a hefty rollout on each relight, signaling it was time for a new gas valve! I didn’t have a replacement gas valve on the truck, so with a check of the chimney base and a check to make sure the heat exchanger was sound, I crossed my fingers, said a prayer, and headed to my next call, hoping the time spent here wouldn’t now cause my next call to already be frozen! Working through the night, I watched the sun come up, and at 7:00 am, called the sales department, confirming a sales call had been placed, and the rep was heading to her home before lunch. Ok, I thought to myself, all good and off to sleep to recharge before my next night shift adventure.
With my shift to start at 4:00 pm, I was on the phone at 3:00 pm to see how the rep made out. I call the installation department, and find there is no paperwork to confirm the sale; I now call the sales rep, only to find that the customer cancelled the sales call because she told him, “The unit is now running fine.”
I’m now totally stressing, and tell dispatch I have to go back to her house to disable the unit. I go back to her home, which thankfully was still standing, knock on the door, and explain to her that I did her a favor last night, “…but I now have to disable the unit because it is extremely unsafe to be in operation!” She not only refuses to let me in, but accuses me of trying to rob her, and calls the police! I now have the embarrassment of calling my supervisor, explaining the whole story of what had happened, confess my use of extremely poor judgment, and compromising my integrity to cover for the previous technician, all to assist this poor old “helpless” lady!
My supervisor now called the customer while I waited in the van for the police, and convinced her to let me in to disable the unit. I capped the gas line, and completely removed the gas valve and downstream piping! Whew! It was now disabled! Afterwards, I find myself outside, again explaining all this drama to the police officer. I then find out her husband was deceased, and she lived alone. Wow! Old ladies lie too! Anyway, she was off to a relative’s house after her plumber drained down the house. I had put the customer, myself, my family, my fellow technicians, my company, and the industry at risk by attempting to do a favor for a customer that was buying time to price shop! I had later found out that she had the furnace installed by another company! Such seems to be the case whenever a favor is involved!
Last month in this publication, there was a checklist for flood damaged, or compromised equipment. There are also many sites on the internet There are many lessons here!
My dear friend, and fellow instructor, Tom Olsen, shared this with me: “The difference between a pat on the back and a kick in the a** is 18 inches, try to not have that distance traveled as much as possible.”
We are programmed in this business to try and help, but always remember, “The favor you do may end up costing you!”
All the best in health, and please stay safe!