The Mechanical Parts DO Fail

We use clever design and parts like bearings to prolong the life of our mechanical equipment, but that’s not enough to save them indefinitely. Even if the immediate friction of metal on metal doesn’t kill something, there are other forces at work that will. It’s only a matter of time before something gives out in a big way.   Friction is STILL the Enemy Bearings let us reduce the friction between spinning parts, that way we don’t have metal grinding on metal inside motors, valves, vents, or anything else mechanical. That’s not where the friction ends though. Friction is literally everywhere. Whenever two materials touch, there will be friction, including between the air and water against an object. This is destructive. Air and water seem soft and safe to us, but they’re actually capable of being extremely destructive over time. This is most evident in pumps. The impellers spin and push the water around, creating movement and pressure. A new impeller will have precise, ‘teeth’, shrouds, that work direct the water like the blades of a fan. Over time however, the smallest imperfections will be worn into massive design failures. These shrouds will be worn down until they don’t trap, grab, and push water around anymore. They won’t hold up to pressure anymore. Overtime, the water is grabbing bits and pieces of the metal itself and just carrying it away. Any weaker parts of the pump will be eaten and […]

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What if the Thermostat Really is Wrong?

A thermostat can be ‘wrong’ in that it only represents the temperature in one area, and it’s a poor representation of the overall building temperature or it can be wrong in that it thinks a 100 degree house is currently 0 degrees. Over time, the temperature sensor inside a thermostat can begin to fail. It might be a small error or something entirely bonkers.   Diagnosing the Issue Thermostat issues can be caused by calibration errors, dirt, or complete hardware failure. In the case of dirt, there’s some build up over the sensor, insulating it from the real temperature. Calibration issues can develop over time as the system wears, reading differently as the sensor becomes less resistive or components oxidize, or other issues. There’s also those few occasions where the whole thermostat just loses the ability to read the correct temperature, and that could be caused by a million things, including age, wear and tear, or a power surge. Before we run off and panic, we first need to confirm there is an issue and just how big it is. We need to be sure the thermostat is the cause of the problem and not just a victim of some other failure. The first step in this process is to measure the actual air temperature by the thermostat. You can generally just hold up a thermometer by the thermostat and see what it reads. I’m a bit lazy, I just […]

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How Do Capacitors Fail?

Capacitors are solid state, right? They’re just, little tin cans that do stuff to electricity, they shouldn’t really fail. How does something fail when it doesn’t have any moving parts or experience any stress? It’s not like the capacitor is burning, melted inside, or being changed every time the air conditioner kicks on, right? Chemical Changes It turns out, there actually is a great deal of stress on capacitors: heat. The hotter an environment is, the shorter that capacitors lifespan. Internally, most capacitors are not all solid. There is a (typically) liquid substance, an electrolyte, which plays a key roll in the movement of electricity through the capacitor. This liquid is sensitive to the temperature. Overtime, the electrolyte can break down when it’s exposed to prolonged heat, outside it’s operating temperature or near it’s rated maximum. It’s just like leaving your cookies in the oven at 500 degrees for 5 days straight. You’ll come back to find not cookies, but a broken down, charred pile of dust that smells more like your grill than food. We can design the electrolytes for a variety of temperatures, but most are meant to peak at 140C or so. It’s nowhere near 140C outside. The trouble comes in when you put these capacitors next to hot equipment, without enough airflow. The mere act of using the capacitor will cause it to heat up. Energy moving through electronics will always create waste heat. If you […]

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How We Broke Our Site for a Week

Today we’re going to tear down the tech-curtain and look at something we don’t often talk about: how our site works and what happens when it doesn’t. This past week a few of you may have received errors while trying to place orders. We only learned of it after a few angry customers called after their twentieth check-out attempt Monday afternoon.   What Happened? Sometime over the weekend of the 21st, a glitch surfaced on our site which caused products not to show. This literally happened while I was sitting on my roof to patch a little hole from some storm damage. It’s a fun time trying to diagnose a broken website from 20′ in the open air. My biography one day will probably be titled “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” We concluded in the short term that a very important file got deleted by mistake and the solution was to just restore a back up of the site. Back-up done, site online, we decided to make some updates to the site while we were at it to prevent any future repeats of the same problem. In principle, our updates shouldn’t have broken anything. In principle curling stones shouldn’t curve to the side either, but they do. Some of our updated code referenced a new error logging system, which conflicted with the system used by our payment processing system, and things really fell apart from there. Our […]

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Electrical Fire Safety

There are a ton of safety devices that are preventing you from being shocked, from starting fires, and from destroying expensive equipment. The problem is, no matter how many safety devices we put in the building, something is always going to go wrong. When things go wrong, it’s essential to be prepared for the absolute worst.   Causes of Electrical Fires The absolute root cause of electrical fires always comes down to energy. The copper wiring carries electricity, electricity is energy. The movement of electricity always creates heat. More electricity means more heat. When things go wrong, there’s too much electricity or not enough insulation to contain the electricity, or some other fault that allows heat to build up or electrical arcs to occur and start a fire. This can happen any number of ways. There can be an electrical short, perhaps water getting into a non-GFCI bathroom or kitchen outlet. There could be something shoved into a socket that really doesn’t belong there, thanks to an overly curious toddler. There can be corrosion, causing an electrical short. It could even be down to a cheaply made product skipping out on essential internal safeties (this happens more often than most people realize). In all of these cases, there’s going to be a battle on two fronts.   Stopping the Power and the Fire If you’re not quite thinking straight, you might try to extinguish an electrical fire with water. The […]

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What Causes Electrical Arcing?

Most everyone in the world has seen an electrical arc. Lightning, certain short circuits, and other times when there is literally electricity moving through the air are all Arc Flashes. We’re going to look into the fundamental causes of electrical arcing.   Moving Power Electricity is essentially a charge being conducted through a wire. All electrical charges want to disperse as quickly as possible. They’re like water behind a dam: it always wants to get out. In the case of electricity, the charge wants to disperse, positive to negative. It always wants to get to ground. The problem with this is that we want to actually use the electrical charge, so it can’t go straight to ground. We use insulators to keep the electricity essentially safely inside the wire. Without the insulator, the charge would get out and work it’s way to ground like water out of a burst pipe following gravity. Insulators can be a wide range of things. The rubber casing around wire is it’s insulator. The gigantic, ceramic cones on utility poles are insulators that prevent the charge from trying to discharge into the wooden pole. The air itself is also an insulator. Electricity generally does not want to move through the air. This is why we can have electrical sockets exposed to the open air, but not to water. The air won’t easily conduct an electrical charge but the water will. Water isn’t a great conductor, […]

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Common Electrical Safety Devices

How do we stay safe with electrical failures? We’ve covered a bit about how grounding is essential. When there is an excess of electrical power, send it to ground. This is not the end of the problem. If there is a physical fault or a problem with the incoming power supply, we need to cut off power altogether. Surge Protectors These are in many ways, the first line of defense. Surge protectors work mainly to protect equipment. In the event of electrical shorts, they may not protect you. There are numerous protection mechanisms inside. Some surge protectors use resistors, some have gas discharge tubes, others use special diode systems, dump the charge to ground, and more. The important thing to always keep in mind with surge protectors is that many surge protectors are power strips, but not all power strips have surge protection built in. In fact, surge protection exists as a whole corner of the industry all its own. There are large-scale surge protectors that can be built directly into buildings. These devices arrest and mitigate surges before they can cause damage and before a breaker or other safety device would have time to react. Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters There should be as much current, as many amps coming back into an AC Outlet, as leave it. If the current coming back into an outlet is significantly less than the outbound current, that energy must have gone somewhere. Running […]

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Sam’s Kitchen Nightmares

The Blog is Back! Happy 2018! And may I say… Good Riddance 2017! Today we’re going to look at my last DIY Repair of 2017 and what a nightmare it was. Sit back, relax, grab your popcorn, and prepare to laugh at my misfortune.   The Kitchen Drip This little adventure starts with the most innocent and harmless of problems: the kitchen faucet leaked. It could range from a slow, occasional drip to an outright constant drizzle of wasted hot water. It’s an old faucet and heating oil isn’t free, so we immediately went for the obvious fix: tighten the knob and therefore pull the valve fully shut below. This worked for about an hour before the drip returned. The next rationale step was an InstantOff attachment for the end of the faucet. Unfortunately, lady luck is not known to be rational. I’d left the faucet be to source my little drip-fixing attachment. Not long afterwards, the family dragged me back to the kitchen. Mom had accidentally gutted the entire hot water side of the kitchen faucet. The control knob and more or less the entirety of the valve’s guts had come loose and out the top. The old fixture had been eaten by time and entropy, there was no longer any chance of repairing it. We shut off the water under the sink to discover Nightmare’s 2 and 3 waiting for us.   The Kitchen Pond Problem one was […]

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The Story of my Furnace Failure

The most important thing for your HVAC System is preventative maintenance. We’ve advised you not to panic when things go wrong. Instead, the time to panic is when you notice something is off. If the furnace makes a really bad sound, treat it for the cancer that it is. When something’s not running, you can calmly poke it and see what happens. It’s not going to get any worse because you knocked on the fuel tank to see if it was really full. When there’s symptoms of trouble however, every day is going to make things worse. The First Symptoms It’s 2012. I’m living with my parents, about to set off for college. The furnace kicks on and immediately something isn’t right. I can hear the water trickling into the baseboards. On the surface, this might not seem bad. You hear water all the time. You should never hear water in a baseboard or a radiator. Your radiators should be filled to the brim with water. At the most, you might be able to hear a sort of hissing noise, the sound of water moving. I heard a dripping noise. If water can drip, there’s air in the line. If there’s air in the line, the heating system isn’t running under pressure, it isn’t sealed like it should be. The furnace and water tank are pretty much filled with just water. Water flows into the heat exchanger. Water flows out […]

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Why Won’t the Furnace Run?

It’s a bad sign if a furnace is starting and stopping too often (short cycling). It’s bad if it’s just running all the time. What could be a worse sign? Well, what’s it mean if the furnace won’t start in the first place? At least if your furnace short-cycles, you’ve got heat and you know it’s not a catastrophic failure. Things get scary when it won’t cycle at all.   The Easy Suspects Your furnace isn’t running. Don’t panic yet. If we were to round up every contractor in our books and ask about simple break downs, the stories would never end. Simple, cheap, and even silly things can bring on the chill. We think the most common ones are: Ran Out of Fuel Empty tank Clogged fuel line Gas main shut off Electrical Shut Off Someone bumped a shut off switch Breaker tripped during storm Failed switch or contactor stuck in the off position Thermostat Wire Cut Wires chewed by a mouse Wires damaged with nails or screws in the wall Chimney blocked With debris With a birds’ nest Minor Hardware Failure Bad Pilot light Bad ignitor Bad flame sensor   When we say these are common events, we really mean it. I’ve experienced at least three of these. My home furnace is a nice little oil burner, and we’ve run it dry during the winter. We’ve discovered our fuel pipe doesn’t dip to the bottom of the tank. […]

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