We pulled all the wires, but I was still left with a messy spaghetti bowl at the breaker panel. What looked like a bad hair day needed some serious combing.
Percy, our electrician, was an excellent mentor, so I got a shot at untangling the wires and connecting them to the breakers and bus bar.
Two elements made this task straightforward:
Have a plan
Before we started with the electrical installation, we had laid out the number of circuits we need across the apartment, which also helped us to plan the home runs from the breaker panel.
Having a good wire labeling strategy was more than half the battle. It eliminated the guesswork on what wire to connect to which breaker. It also allowed us to trace wires from the breaker panel back to the point of use.
If done correctly, wiring the breaker panel can substantially help with EMF (Electric and Magnetic Fields) management. The key is to run the hot and neutral wire of a circuit next to each other for as long as possible. I accomplished that by connecting the neutral wire to the bus port closest to the breaker. You can read more about this best practice and EMF in one of my previous posts.
My current modus operatus is wrapping up loose ends. This includes the installation of the on demand hot water pump on the 2nd floor. But this time I did it with confidence, because I had the installation experience from the 1st floor under my belt, including a correction. And I had the helpful hands of our friend Rubani assisting me.
What is this on demand hot water pump all about? Here is the super short version:
The on demand pump is activated through the push of a button. It pulls water from the hot water line and pushes it into the cold water line. Once the pump senses a rise in the water temperature, it shuts off. This primes all fixtures on the hot water branch the pump is connected to, effectively cutting the delivery time of hot water to seconds.
The on demand hot water pump is just one piece in the puzzle of an efficient domestic hot water delivery system. If you haven’t caught my earlier posts on this system, let me provide you a brief summary with links:
When you are in your bathroom or kitchen and turn on the hot water, do you have to wait for a minute or two (or longer) for the hot water to arrive? Is so, you do not have an efficient hot water delivery system. An efficient delivery system cuts the wait time for hot water to arrive to a few seconds, as mentioned above.
And it does more: It reduces water waste and as such helps with water conservation. It also results in material conservation, as the ground rule for an efficient domestic hot water delivery system is a compact layout and smaller pipe sizes (made possible through the water conservation efforts).
You find that in an efficient domestic hot water delivery system all pipes are insulated and that it effectively manages structural and behavioral waste of hot water, which again feeds into the water conservation mentioned above.
An efficient hot water delivery system relies on structured plumbing rather than the traditional trunk-and-branch layout. With a structured plumbing system, the on demand pump is placed at the end of the one hot water branch that services all fixtures.
I had a plan for the 2nd floor duct installation, and I had my six and eight inch round ducts. But they are not your everyday ducts. They are special for a couple of reasons.
First off, they are called GreenSeam or GreenSeam Plus and they have built-in neoprene gaskets in the longitudinal seams. Once you snap and lock the pipe together along the longitudinal seam, the gasket should render it airtight.
The GreenSeam Plus, which is easily identified by the green band around the pipe end, has a gasket that is supposed to seal the travers joint, in addition to the longitudinal gasket. Furthermore, the GreenSeam ducts come in 26 gauge, compared to the thinner 30 gauge ducts you typically find in the big box home improvement stores.
In summary, I have sturdy 26 gauge ducts with gaskets for air sealing at the traverse and longitudinal joints. And the last time I checked, they were only incrementally more expensive than the big box products.
The ventilation system duct work should be airtight for a number of reasons. You want to control where the fresh air is delivered and where stale air is removed from the building. Leaky duct work would deliver or remove air where it is not needed, or where it could even be damaging.
The GreenSeam duct products with their gaskets make it a whole lot easier to air seal your ventilation system. To nip any remaining leaks in the bud, I sealed all seams on the outside with duct mastic. This is particularly important on elbows and tees, which have moving parts and joints without gaskets. And, of course, I sealed around all sheet metal screws I used to hold the duct work together.
The duct mastic also helped with air sealing the transition from a rigid to a flexible duct. The flexible duct was pushed over the rigid duct after it received a good coating of mastic on the duct end. Everything was then tightened up with a big zip tie.
Now that we had the technical aspects and quality control issues addressed, it was time to throw some ducts around!
The installation started at the ERV end for the supply and return lines. From here I could run the ducts to the various supply and return points (see also 2nd floor ventilation layout in preceding post).
We ran all the ducts in the attic above the 2nd floor ceiling joists. We had to lower a couple of ceilings toward the back end of the building (the bathroom and second bedroom) to have sufficient space for the ducts. The attic toward the front was tall enough to fit everything in.
A big thank you to our friends Vincent and Rubani for assisting me with the installation!
Our minisplit kept us cool during the dogs days of summer this year, and without having our electrical bill going through the roof.
But the minisplit can do more! Because it’s an air-source heat pump, it also can heat the building during the cold season. And that was something I wanted to put to the test when it recently was really cold outside.
Like I mentioned in the video, I simplified my explanation about how the system works. If you would like to read a more comprehensive and accurate description, you can find it in a previous blog post with the title “Mini what?”
The morning after I took the video, our outdoor temperature had dropped to -5F, the specified minimum operating temperature. I turned the minisplit on and indeed, it still was putting out heat.
While the outdoor unit was almost inaudible during the summer when we ran the minisplit in cooling mode, it was humming away pretty good in the heating mode, as you can hear in the video. I assume that the compressor has to work harder at these cold temperatures, thus the increased noise. Not that it matters. All windows are firmly shut anyway, keeping the noise out.
I mentioned in the last post that it took us until November 17 before we turned the heat on, whereas other Chicagoans fired up their furnaces in early October. Why were we still comfortable several weeks into the cold weather?
Boiling the kettle, cooking dinner, baking banana bread … Then add in all the electrical appliances that produce waste heat: running the fridge, TV, laptop and desktop computers, having the lights on … all this and more produce some level of waste heat which is welcome during this season. Not so much during the dog days of summer, though.
But wait! There’s more. Let’s not ignore the four critters occupying the space. Two of them two legged, and the other two four legged. Believe me, they all have a healthy metabolism going, based on the heat they throw off! Seriously, body heat from building occupants is not to be ignored – not in the context of a deep energy retrofit.
Let’s think of these heat sources as miniature radiators. Individually, they don’t do much. But cumulatively they begin to matter, if – and this is a big IF – the building is well insulated and as good as airtight. Because now this waste heat doesn’t escape. It lingers around and keeps the building interior at a comfortable temperature when others have long reached for their thermostats.
In this context, your furnishing and the actual interior of your building begins to act as a heat sink – it becomes thermal mass. Your oak dresser, your hardwood floors, your drywall, your bathroom tiles, you name it – they all store heat to some degree, which adds to the comfort.
Another gadget that helps us to delay the start of the heating season in the Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV). It delivers fresh air into our airtight building envelope, but does so with the help of a heat exchanger. This allow us to recover most of the precious waste heat and yet still get fresh air.