I’ve just ended my weeks-long battle with my heater bot. And while it might not be an interesting story to some, I feel like I should write about it in case anyone else ever runs into the same problem and needs some ideas for a fix.
You see, I’m of the opinion that if I can pay someone to come out and fix something in my home, I can darn sure fix it myself. Or I can at least try. I am not afraid to enlist the experience of my buddies and neighbors if they know something I don’t. But so far I’ve found I’ve been able to repair everything myself, and the only detriment to doing it myself is that it takes a little longer. Since I’m not an expert in any of these things that typically go wrong, I just have to use common sense and work backwards on the issue, troubleshooting and just figuring out what it could possibly be. Which, if you don’t know the system, takes a little longer. But it’s a lot cheaper than calling someone out and paying a trip fee and their marked-up parts cost and whatnot.
So you remember when my cooler bot went out during the summer. Well, my cooler bot and heater bot are part of the same physical unit. And in repairing the cooler bot part of it, I disabled part of the heater portion. So here’s what I did, how I eventually came to repair it, and why it took so damn long.
The only three things I’ve changed in the line of the system are as follows:
- the thermostat
- the transformer in the unit
- the circuit breaker in the wall
Now if you’re a professional, you might already see the fix. But I didn’t immediately. When my red-haired wife almost got pushed down the stairs by my cooker bot, I threw the breaker to try to fix it. Having thrown the wrong one, I promptly turned it back on. Well, the A/C was on at the time, so the power surge blew the breaker. And of course it took me a while to trace down where the problem was. But that was why I replaced the breaker. It was a 50-amp, and it cost me over seventy dollars. These old houses all have these old-style breakers that are no longer widely available. So some companies make them, but they charge a small fortune for them.
When it finally started getting cool enough to use the heater, my heater would kick on, run for ten minutes or so, and trip the breaker. Great. So I dove in and started troubleshooting. I even got Steve, my old drummer involved. He’s a master electrician so I figured he had some ideas. Well, he had me try several things, but none of them worked. At some point though, I determined that it was time for a new thermostat. The old one was hard to program anyway because there was a poor connection in it somewhere. So I replaced that with a fancy new backlit one. But could that really be the problem?
The transformer in the unit had been replaced during the whole debacle as well, and there was a chance it wasn’t exactly the right part. Shrug. So I swapped that back out for the original one. The circuit breaker still popped. Sigh.
Well to make a somewhat lengthy story only somewhat less lengthy, I’ll cut to the end here. When I finally brought down the entire electrical system in the house so I could borrow the 60-amp breaker to test with, it stopped tripping. The new unit draws right around 45 amps running normally. So there is no room for any power spike. And when the third level heating core would kick in, it would spike up over 50 amps and trip the circuit breaker. Just like it’s supposed to! Well why, then, you ask, comma, didn’t it do that last year? And I’ll tell you why.
Last year (and the year before) it worked without issue, because I still had the original 50-amp breaker in place. Come to find out, those old breakers were made by a company that actually got UL delisted fifteen years ago because they were known to be a fire hazard. Great. So my entire circuit breaker panel is full of fire hazards. And furthermore, the circuit breaker panel is out of code because it doesn’t have a main shutoff for the house. If schlit starts going crazy, I can’t shut the thing down.
So the 50-amp breaker wasn’t popping because it was a fire hazard. Well, back up – that’s why it was a fire hazard, because it wouldn’t break like it was supposed to. It was allowing those spikes up over fifty amps. So my heater wouldn’t shut off, and it was drawing too much through the breaker. It finally had enough and when I caused that surge, it blew up. Lucky I didn’t start a damn fire. The new 50-amp breaker I installed does break like it’s supposed to when there’s a spike. So all I needed to do was upgrade to a 60-amp, because the new unit (four years old or so) draws more than the original.
A buddy of Kit‘s happened to have a whole bunch of these old breakers in his garage. Thirty years old but never been used. I owe him a twelve-pack of beer for it. Which, recall, is a lot cheaper than seventy-five dollars.
Okay so it was a lot longer than you probably wanted to read, but hey, at least I left out all the parts about how I tested this, tested that, replaced this cord, hooked a tester up to that cord, how the cord was getting hot in one outlet, how I stripped off a piece of burned cord, how I switched the thermostat from gas to electric feed, how I took a shot of 240-volt current through my arm when I stupidly (and drunkenly) touched a live feed in my breaker box… Yeah, there are plenty of details I could have thrown in, as this project took me over a week to resolve. And many nights we spent bundled up and sleeping with extra blankets on the beds. My poor daughters woke up with ice crystas on them several times, and you could see your breath in the house in the mornings. But all is resolved now. All is well the Space House. And all, finally, is warm.