Saturday, June 30, 2012

PHIUS Update - No Certificate yet

Well, we've been in the house 3 months now and we're still not certified to PHIUS standards. The delay appears to be a lack of information and a "failure to communicate" - so the PHUS folks are waiting for some specifics on things like our appliances and the possibility to remove additional trees on the south of the house.  Apparently there is concern about heating needs during the winter months which drove that request.  Due to homeowner association restrictions we are not able to remove more trees (nor would we want to) so we're waiting to see what that does for the certificate.  In addition there are apparently differences of opinion on the efficiency of our GSHP and the construction methods used so unless those get resolved we may be waiting a long time for  the certificate.  I will say that with the recent heat wave our GSHP has been operating more than normal but nothing that I would consider excessive - today the outside temp reached 105 and the unit was cycling a bit to keep the temp at 76 inside.

  The ambient humidity means that we're pumping over 10 gallons of water out of the house each day which I am presently collecting in 5 gallon buckets and transferring to our rainwater collection system for garden watering.  The eventual plan is to feed that into a larger tank which feeds into the other storage system so we have a large amount of storage.  Right now we have about 850 gallons of storage but if the heatwave continues without any rain, we might start depleting that rather quickly.

Speaking of water - our veggies are coming along fine.  We have been getting about 5 cucumbers each day so today was our first experiment with dill pickles.  I can't 5 quarts of spears and the jars appear to have sealed well so we'll try the pickles in about 2 weeks to see how they taste. The neighbor who gave us the cucumber plants ripped his out due to bitterness of the cukes but we have not found that to be the case.  In addition we have 3 heirloom tomato plants as well as one cherry tomato.  The cherry is already producing (I ate the first three yesterday) and the Cherokee Purple are starting to turn yellow which means I should be harvesting them within a week.  I think our problem might be that we have too many tomatoes but we'll donate to our neighbors if that ends up being the case.  I've heard the wildlife around here has developed a taste for tomatoes so we may have to install an electric fence or similar to deter them from destroying our crop.

Our two fig bushes haven't grown huge amounts but each is currently bearing two figs.  We planted a couple of brown turkey figs so those will become my fruit of choice for the morning yogurt.  We also picked up 4 blueberry plants and intend to plant blackberries so that will provide a good source of fruit in the future.

Does cable type matter for TV reception? You bet it does.

Bottom line is it is important to spend the money up front for good cable - and to ensure your installers don't skimp on you either.  Due to our rural location we cannot receive cable TV so we opted for Dish TV.  When the Dish installer came to set up the system he noted that the electricians had used differing types of cable for different parts of the house (e.g. RG 59U for some rooms, RG-6 for other parts).  Due to that they had to install the "Hopper" unit (their master unit) in a room downstairs while they installed the Joey (a slave to the master) in our family room which is where we typically spend most of our time.  The main unit requires a better signal so it requires RG-6 cable while the RG-59 cable will suffice for the Joey.  Over the last couple of months we've been having issues with the Dish TV dropping signal so I replaced the RG-59U cable feeding that family room.  Unfortunately I replaced it with cable we had purchased from a reuse store and I installed "easy on" connectors.  Unsure which was causing the problem today was he "replace all the cable and connectors" day - I bought a 100' length of high quality RG-6 cable with connectors attached and ran it from the distribution point to the TV. Voila! Things appear to be working much better than earlier in the day when the slave kept saying "trying to find the Hopper" and never was able to sync.  I ran a test by putting the Joey on a shorter cable near the distribution point and it synced up quickly. that told me the cable was the problem.

The lesson that I would pass along is to ensure when your electricians (or whomever does the install of the cable TV throughout the house) use high quality cable - e.g. at least RG-6 which is suited for satellite TV use.  Needless to say we were a bit disappointed in our electricians on a number of fronts and this just continued to highlight the fact they were not someone who is on my "hire these guys again" list!

As a side note - I did disconnect the surge suppressor from the cable TV lines to ensure it wasn't causing the problems.  The signal strength on the receiver didn't change at all from the before to the after so it was clear this wasn't causing the dropouts.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Lessons from a nearby lightning strike

We had long discussions over the failure of the ERV during the nearby lightning strike - the ERV engineers have apparently only seen this type of catastrophic failure on their system one time before and that was due to a direct strike by lightning.  The suggestion was to claim this on our homeowner's insurance but the deductible was nearly the cost of the repairs so that option did not make much sense.

In our research regarding lightning strikes I discovered thatsurge suppressors on the market today that I could find carried guaranteed protection for power line surges but carried strong caveats that they were not for direct lightning strikes.  I did manage to find a couple of lightning suppressors on the market that are designed specifically for lighting.  One other caveat that was on a number of the surge suppressors was that they only protected the electrical and if another "line" (e.g. telephone, network, cable) was connected but not through their surge protector their warranty was not in effect.  In one case the warranty clearly stated that their device must have failed for the warranty to be valid.  Several had time limits on their warranty but some had limited lifetime warranties and others had lifetime warranties.

Our solution is a two-fold approach.  I've purchased whole-house surge suppression (Eaton Whole House SurgeTrap) for the electrical panel as well as the TV and telephone service entrances which state they are good for surges and lightning.  In addition I've purchased a panel-mounted lightning arrestor (Delta LA206R) that is sacrificial - basically it acts like a fuse and blows when there is a lightning strike.  In addition to the whole-house surge suppressor and lightning arrestor we are purchasing new point-of-use surge suppressors for all our electronics (computers, TV, satellite equip, refrigerator, stereo, ERV).  The one issue that remains is the heat-pump water heater and ground source heat pump which are both directly connected to the panel so those plug-in units won't work (plus they are operating at 240v, not 120v as are the house outlets) so I have to make sure the whole-house units provide sufficient coverage for these expensive units.

We did consider putting in a whole-house surge arrestor offered by the power company but that too carried the "does not protect against lightning" and it also did not provide coverage for electronic circuits.  The ONLY protection it provided was for the motors and compressors in household appliances.

The suppressors carry warranties for connected equipment anywhere from $10,000 up to $50,000 and range from 2 years up to limited lifetime.  Of course you have to prove that the damaged equipment was properly connected through the protection device and meet all other conditions but at least there is some change of recovering the costs in the event of a catastrophic lightning strike.

One point that I may not have mentioned is that our utilities are all underground - and there are the mandatory two ground rods separated by 8' installed and connected to all the service entrances (tv, telephone, power).

Friday, June 1, 2012


Well, today we received word that the ERV that died a few weeks back needs a complete overhaul - the claim is that all the motors and electronics are cooked so the repair costs are about $500.  The interesting part of this is the day this unit decided to die we had a lightning storm and a bolt struck in the woods about 50 feet from the house. It wasn't a direct strike on the house and our power is underground.

 The only issue we initially noticed was that the internet had died so I went to check the fuse panel at which point I found the ERV wasn't working.  The fuse was OK and the unit was humming but nothing was working.  We were headed out of town the next day so when we returned we shipped the unit back to the manufacturer for repair/replacement.

 From what we are being told all the electronics boards in the unit are "fried" as are the 3 motors. Other things that should have had similar failures would seem to be the Ground-source heat pump, computers, televisions, DVD players, the refrigerator, our microwave speed oven, and the DISH TV system.  Nothing else died except a power supply on the internet modem (which is on a different circuit than the ERV) and a 10 year old wireless telephone.

It is now time to figure out how best to approach this - repair the current unit and hope it's not a trend or replace it with another manufacturer's unit.  One thing that I also have to figure out is if there should be a surge suppressor installed on this unit.  One of our service technicians for another system said "we don't use those because the cause problems" which is the first I've heard.  I'm tempted to buy one of the suppressors that has a high dollar value replacement warranty and put it on that.

My other concern becomes things like the GSHP which is much more costly and is direct-connect 220v so putting one of those smaller surge suppressors on it isn't as easy.  I may have to spend time and money to get a whole-house surge suppressor installed. The local power company will install one with a "motors only" repair policy meaning that if there is a surge, the only covered items are motors in washers, dryers, refrigerators and HVAC units.  No electronics are covered.

More research necessary on this one is clearly warranted.