November 18, 2018 & UPDATED November 24, 2018
I’ve had climate on my mind this fall, since it played a role in three minor home improvement projects at Meador Manor. The workroom now has an exhaust fan, the faded portions of the exterior paint have been refreshed, and we now have a WiFi thermostat.
Workroom Window Fan
When Wendy began using resin to coat some of her paintings, it was obvious we needed a way to exhaust the fumes. When I was growing up, my parents had a cabin in Missouri with a reversible window fan in the dining area. It was a handy way to reduce our reliance on the noisy air conditioner and great for pulling heat and odors out of the kitchen. I was fascinated as a child by how the fan could be reversed from intake to exhaust, happily twirling the knob to various settings to observe the results.
So I purchased a 20″ Air King reversible window fan, mounting it in one of the windows of our workroom. I ensured it was mounted far enough away from the window that the blind could still drop down behind it and high enough that we could easily reach the locks on the bottom of the sliding pane. The fan does a great job, not only quickly clearing the room of chemical fumes, but helping clear the house when cooking aromas get to be a bit much.
A project that took considerably longer to complete was forced upon me by the climate: touching up the exterior paint. Years ago I repainted all of the exterior wood with Sears Weatherbeater, matching the existing color with what they might have called Chocolate Brown. A year or two ago I noticed the painted Dutch gables on the east and west ends of Meador Manor were fading and had noticeable chalking. So this spring, with Sears on its way out, I went to Sherwin-Williams and purchased plenty of their Emerald Latex in Über Umber, again seeking to match the existing color.
Work, June vacations, and hot weather led me to put off touching up the paint until late October. I spent most of a Saturday clambering up to repaint the three Dutch gables, the exposed edge of the gutterless end eaves, the trim around the garage door, and the west side door. Thankfully the rest of the exterior paint still looks great since it has been protected by the eaves from the rain and the sun’s ultraviolet light.
Thus far I haven’t even used up a full gallon of the paint, so if I later need to put another coat on some of the areas, we’re still in good shape. I did everything with a wide brush and a narrower angled brush. I didn’t think using a roller was worthwhile for the confined areas I was dealing with. Plus I can enjoy slow manual labor when I have something to listen to.
Maltin on Movies
While I was painting, I listened to a number of great interviews on Leonard Maltin’s Maltin on Movies podcast. During a recent walk on the Pathfinder Parkway, I had loved the touching interview with Paul Williams. So while painting I sought out some more episodes. I particularly enjoyed the interviews with Billy Bob Thornton, Bill Hader, Mark Mothersbaugh, Michael Giacchino, and Bruce Davison. Each of them was entertaining and thought-provoking and ever so much better than the glib interviews associated with movie promotions. Two other Maltin on Movies podcasts that have stuck with me for years are a lovely trip down memory lane with Richard Sherman and the amazing interview with Norman Lloyd. I remember Norman most fondly for his sympathetic portrayal of Dr. Auschlander in the television series St. Elsewhere, and he was the villain in Hitchcock’s Saboteur in 1942 and went on to produce Alfred Hitchcock Presents. It was so wonderful how Norman, a charter member of Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater, was still so eloquent at 103 years of age! We are indebted to Leonard and his daughter Jessie for these wonderful recordings.
A Smarter Thermostat
The latest home improvement indulges my fascination with personal technology. Back in 2001 I had replaced the old house thermostat with a Honeywell programmable one. Having it cut back the climate control when I was at work or away on vacation reduced my natural gas usage by 32%. Since my teaching schedule had me at home in June and July when I was not vacationing, my overall electricity usage was only cut by 6%.
Now that Wendy and I share the Manor, the temperature settings are adjusted more frequently. We agreed to get a more modern thermostat with WiFi so that we could adjust it from our mobile devices. Voice control of the device is far less appealing to us, but possible through Google Home, Siri, or Alexa. Online reviews pointed to the Ecobee devices, and I opted for an Ecobee 3 Lite over the more expensive Ecobee 4 since we have mostly abandoned Alexa.
I knew wiring can be an issue for thermostats, so I pulled off the Honeywell to see that it used four wires: red, green, yellow, and white. No blue “C” wire for power was connected, hence its reliance on three AA cells which had to be replaced periodically.
A review of the Ecobee’s wiring requirements reassured me that I could get it to work with those four wires if I rigged up the included Power Extender Kit at our furnace so that the Ecobee could receive 24 volt power.
So this weekend I shut off the breakers for the climate control systems, unplugged the furnace AC, and took the covers off the furnace. I hadn’t paid any attention to its electrical board since I replaced its High Pressure Limit Switch in 2012.
I noticed that the furnace panel had a blue “C” wire attached, which the excellent Ecobee installation guide said is wired to outside condenser for the air conditioner. I did not see an obvious blue wire coming in from the hallway.
It was pretty trivial to add the Power Extender Kit, so I opted to go ahead and do that rather than experiment to see if I could find a viable blue “C” wire at the thermostat. I unhooked the red, white, yellow, and green wires from the furnace board and hooked them into the kit’s rewiring block, hooking its five wires into the five terminals on the furnace. The rewiring block has a magnet, so it was easy to stick it next to the furnace board and close it all up. It was time to hit the hallway. Later I would find out that using the Power Extender Kit was a mistake. Read on…
I removed the old thermostat and confirmed that yes, there was a blue wire in the wiring bundle, along with an unused black wire. But the blue wire was so much shorter than the others that making use of it seemed it might require pulling out more of the cable and cutting back and restripping the other four wires. Plus I had not noticed a blue wire at the furnace end of things. So I was glad I’d hooked up the Power Extender Kit at the furnace, as I figured that meant I could just use the existing four wires that were already stripped and waiting. I didn’t realize this was a mistake until later in the week.
Since the wall still showed the outline where the original 1981 thermostat had been mounted, I clipped the new thermostat’s back plate into the larger trim plate. That would cover up everything except for one hole for the wider 2001 Honeywell thermostat, but I could easily fill that with spackle. Our original doorbell is mounted such that its long chime pipes hang quite near the thermostat, so I had to shift the trim plate over as far to one side as possible to ensure the Ecobee would be clear of the doorbell chimes.
The back plate had a nifty small spirit level built into it, making it easy to ensure the thermostat was plumb when I marked where I would drill for the mounting holes and when screwing the backplate to the wall. I straightened out the four wires with pliers, inserted them into the back plate terminals, and then popped on the Ecobee 3 Lite. I plugged the furnace AC cord back into the wall, threw the breakers back on, and was rewarded by having the new thermostat boot up.
I tried using my iPhone to help the thermostat connect to our WiFi network, but that setup process froze up. I then popped the Ecobee off the wall and back on to reboot it and did the setup with my iPad. That worked fine, and I downloaded Ecobee’s iOS app, which made it easy to set up as many Home, Away, and Sleep times as we wanted on the various days of the week, quickly setting the desired temperatures for heat and cool cycles for each.
Being able to use a modern iOS app to program the thermostat is great, particularly when compared to the dozens of button pushes it took to program the old Honeywell unit. And we can still do everything we need on the thermostat’s own touchscreen, which has an intuitive interface.
Fixing a Goof
After everything was wrapped up, I noticed the heated air coming from the registers was cooler than normal. Later in the week I realized the outside condenser unit was running when the furnace lit up, indicating a problem with the wiring. I figured that the Power Extender Kit was the culprit.
So I shut off the power and opened up the furnace, tracing the cable coming from the hallway thermostat into the furnace room and how it had been split and reworked by previous climate control installations. A more careful look at the wiring bundle revealed that the unused black and blue wires I’d seen at the hallway end were indeed present down in the cable, but had been wrapped and tucked away at the furnace end. So I knew I could rewire things as shown below.
So I disconnected and removed the Power Extender Kit, reconnecting the hallway wiring bundle’s red, green, yellow, and white wires directly to the matching terminals on the furnace. I untucked and unwrapped the blue wire in the thermostat wiring bundle. It was not long enough to reach the furnace’s “C” terminal, but I could reach where a previous installer had spliced together a blue wire from that “C” terminal and a wire leading to the outside condenser. I simply unscrewed that connector and spliced in the blue wire from the wiring bundle.
Then I went back to the hallway, removed the Ecobee, unhooked all of the wires, and untucked and stripped the blue wire. It was just barely long enough to hook into the appropriate terminal on the thermostat plate. I then connected the red, yellow, green, and white wires to the terminals on thermostat plate as shown in the Ecobee manual’s section for installations with a “C” wire.
I popped the Ecobee back on the wall, restored the power, and was gratified to find the outside condenser was no longer turning on and the air from the registers was back to its usual warmth. At some point, I will need to switch the system to cooling to verify the outside condenser triggers appropriately.
Less than a week after the initial installation, I augmented the Ecobee with two remote sensors. Our office, being at the farthest remove from the furnace, has always been chilly in winter. So I placed one remote sensor on a bookshelf in there, placing the other in the front foyer since that is where Wendy likes to relax with her iPad.
Here are the various advantages of our new thermostat over the previous programmable one:
- Schedule vacations in advance: I used to have to remember to punch in vacation settings as we were leaving the house, telling the thermostat what temperature to maintain until a particular day and time. Now I can do all of that in advance as part of my routine vacation planning.
- Remote access: Now we can adjust the settings from anywhere with our mobile devices or a computer with a web browser. So we can adjust the thermostat at any time without having to traipse to the hallway control, and if a workday or vacation ends early, we can ensure the house is comfortable upon our return.
Weather info: Since I told the device its location, it always displays the outside temperature and general weather (partly cloudy, sunny, etc.) , and a single tap on the screen displays details and weather forecasts.
- No resets: Since it receives house current and gets the time and day from the internet, we will no longer have to manually adjust the clock for time corrections or daylight saving time nor swap out batteries.
- Humidity sensor: The indoor humidity is displayed at all times, making it easy to judge when to set up or dismantle the humidifier I run in the front entry to keep the house comfortable in winter.
- Voice control: We can interface the device with Google Home, Siri, and Alexa. So if we want to try to adjust things with voice control, we can. But we’d much rather use the mobile app than try to figure out just what to say to get needed results. Voice control from Google, Apple, or Amazon is still a long ways from what the computer could do in Star Trek.
- Remote sensors: Positioning a remote sensor in a room that is sometimes uncomfortable can help adjust the thermostat’s behavior to compensate.
The various home improvements of late are rewarding, but we were also anxious to hit the road and get away for awhile. Last weekend Wendy traded in her Chevy Impala sedan for a new Honda Odyssey minivan, so we had oodles of room for short visits to Kansas City and Oklahoma City during Thanksgiving break.