Thursday, March 31, 2011

Risk or danger?

A risk is a risk. Within the context of a property inspection, a risk is not a danger. A risk is something that has the possibility of hazard or loss. A danger is more immediate and should be treated as such.

The difference is that a risk requires action to become a danger. A house without occupants can be full of risks without being dangerous. But houses are generally built so that people can live in them. People bring action. Action converts risk to danger.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Thermal fuses: Often the symptoms, rarely the problems

* I would tell you not to try this at home, but that's pretty much the only place you can try it. So I will tell you to turn the power off at your circuit breaker panel if you decide to try this at home.

** Turn the power off at your circuit break panel if you decide to do this at home.  If you don't, then you might as well consider this to be a manual on how to possibly kill yourself.

*** I really didn't set out to create that kind of manual, so turn the power off at your circuit breaker panel if you decide to do this.

Late last fall, I noticed that the air coming out of our heat registers was not overly heated when the auxiliary heat strip—the heat element located inside the furnace—was called for by the thermostat. When the day came that it took the furnace more than three hours to bring the house up to 70 degrees from 62, I decided it was time to figure out what was going on.

Being an inspector, my first action was to measure the air temperature as it came out of the heat registers, and to compare that reading to the temperature at the cold air return register. With the house temperature at 70, the cold air return measured right around 70.  That makes sense.  Unfortunately, the air gently coming out of the heat registers was only a few degrees warmer. When the heat strip was working properly, that air had previously been around 120 degrees. Obviously something was amiss.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A good night

Some nights are just good nights. A good night in my mind involves a 650 degree stove top temperature and a 720 degree stack temperature. Those numbers are usually closer to 600 and 900, respectively—not near as good in terms of heat output. 50 degrees can make an extraordinary difference on the top—like, for example, the difference between a 72 degree house and a 76 degree house on an eight degree night.

Blankets are for many things in this house: folding, putting away, pushing off, and looking at. I prefer to look at them. Looking at them implies they weren't needed in the first place, and are already folded and sitting in their proper place. Folding, putting away, and pushing off all suggest that blanket use was necessary in the first place, which begs the question: why? Is the user sick? Would 80 feel better?

One time I'm told the place got up to 90. But I wouldn't know because I was asleep at the time, and you know how these stories grow—in reality, it may have been a far more reasonable 88. Anyway, this night happened during our first year of using our wood stove—back when we would turn the act of loading the stove into a 3D version of Tetris, packing every possible inch of the stove's firebox with wood. A fun game, and winning meant getting an overnight burn and waking up to a warm house in the morning. But this was not a terribly efficient way to burn the stove, as it required choking the stove's intake to the point that the chimney would smoke and the glass in the stove's door would turn black—creosote-building time...

Nowadays we're much more conservative in our stove-loading technique. Three pieces is the magic number—the stove runs much more open, the smoke is almost non-existent between reloads, and the glass stays nice and clean. All is well, and every now and then, the efforts are rewarded with a 650+ stove top temperature. Some nights are just good nights!