Sunday, June 24, 2007

I did hot wire it

I said I would not install and remove circuits in a live 200 amp breaker panel and I reasoned, at the prospect, along the lines of an old post in which I observed my own long journey into caution. But when I opened the breaker panel and looked at each step to be taken and the armamentarium of tools I possess it didn't seem so daunting.

maybe the over caution of a conservative attitude is not so much learned reflex or misfired cognitive development but a matter of what you do on autopilot and assumption vs what you do with your eyes open, with a simple consciousness of what is present before you rather than its history, its associations and your habits having the lions share of your thought.

I should face the fact that my handyman-foo and my hot water heater drama is the stuff of a haircut blog, but if I were that honest about the cosmic significance I try to milk out of my mundane doings there would be no blog at all. You may want to pass by the rest of this post as it really isn't anything more than you would see in five minutes of This Old House...during a writers strike.

The new heaters were set on a proper level slab of blue stone and plumbed as a subsystem. That allows pressure testing before turning off the old heater. The extra valving serves several purposes:
  • cutting back to a single 30 amp heater when its just the two of us here. Either unit can be isolated from the house water system and electrical system.
  • a bypass arrangement in the cold water supply. This can be used to preheat the cold water via a heat exchanger. Several sources or potential sources are available.
    1. We have a "hot water bank" coolant loop in our heat pump which we have never hooked up.
    2. We could exchange heat with the pool which typically is 20 degrees F warmer than our well water.
    3. And there is 3/4 inch copper pipe plumbed up to the pitch of the roof which is oriented exactly south and pitched a fairly efficient 4-in-5 considering our 42 degrees north latitude. Yes, I new 15cents/kwh electricity was only a matter of time, even 25 years ago. So did your power company and the DOE but screwing you with profitable old technology is preferable to them. Our break-even threshold for solar collector with a 20 year life to preheat domestic hot water is around 13 cents/kwh and we just hit 11 cents.
  • provision for draining either hot water or cold water side of the system independently
  • from my software engineering, I know to always design for testability.
The last two were project savers because on the first test, water squirted every which-a-way and draining and resoldering were needed.
My plumber's nightmare turns out to be Home Depot's wet dream

The worst part of wiring a live breaker panel is how stiff, 8-gauge wire has a mind of its own. The rest is good tools, common sense and lots of practice. The 50-amp breaker was putting the children of the power company's shareholders through college. Its gone. The orange wire is the first of the new circuits wired to the 30 am breaker with the more tractable 10-gauge.

The wiring did not leak. So I cut the dying behemoth out of the system and sweated the final two joints that put the new heaters to work. The old heater was so tall it had to be tilted to get it to clear the floor.
So the bottom line is that we will save money now, go a little easier on the planet and, when penny pinching comes to shove, be able to alter usage to yet greener means.

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