This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 10, 2007 11:58 PM. The previous post in this blog was How hot is it?. The next post in this blog is Nonsurprise of the Year. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Cool with it

The record heat in Portland made for an interesting day around our house. A potted plant that had been digging the full sun on the back porch for months suddenly decided that he couldn't take it. Even some of the light bulbs starting giving out -- one on the front porch, another on the attic ceiling.

I had been planning to go for a short run sometime today, and I didn't manage to get out there until shortly after noon, at which time the mercury was over 90 degrees and rising fast. I muddled through at a relative snail's pace, even walking for a bit toward the end, but the extreme deed was done.

Meanwhile, our house's central air threw us a curve ball. I fired it up just before noon -- or I should say, tried to -- knowing that by the end of the day, it would become a most welcome service. It was the inaugural run of the system for the summer, and there's always a little apprehension at that juncture about whether it's going to work.

The thermostat did what it was supposed to do, and the fan in the furnace unit did what it was supposed to do, but although I thought I heard the compressor out in the yard kick on, when I looked at it out the window from above, I could see that its fan wasn't turning. The air coming out of the ducts in the house was just... well, room temp.

So I called our heat and AC guy. I'm always calling him at the worst possible times. New Year's Eve 4 p.m., for example. So again here -- the day it hits 102, Bogdanski's on the phone. Unfortunately for him, we have his cell number, and I caught him at a job site. He and I both knew that a visit by him to our house today, or even tomorrow, would be a monumental pain for him, if it was even feasible at all. But we chatted amiably for a few minutes, ignoring that reality.

After a few probing questions, he suggested that the problem might be the fuses in the cutoff box on the side of the house out by the compressor unit. He sent me out there to find them.

Now, you have to understand, I attended a Jesuit boys' school, and not a very wealthy one at that, followed by a college curriculum of Latin and Greek and three years of law school. For me to get near anything like an electrical fuse on a high-voltage circuit is a big deal. But I knew that it was face it or sweat all night, and so off I boldly went. First I turned off the AC circuit breaker in the main electrical box of the house, just to be sure. Then I stepped out into the heat and opened the cutoff box. At my guy's telephone direction, I located and yanked out the additional circuit-breaking thingie in there. It had "Danger" written on it, with a lightning bolt and all, and the words "on" and "off," one of them printed upside down. I thought about closing my eyes as I pulled it out, but I was brave enough to keep them open.

It took me another minute or so to figure out how to lift the little cover over the fuses, but when I did, there they were -- two things that looked to my eye like shotgun shells. Pursuant to my guy's continuing instructions, I then pulled one of them out with a pair of pliers (I think I did hold my breath during that part) and headed off with it to the local hardware store for a replacement. I was still very foul and dripping sweat from my run at this point, but hey, it's a hardware store.

The young guy who waited on me there was careful to make sure he had identified the correct amperage (is there such a word?), which turned out to be 40. He sold me two new fuses, and at my request he even tested the old one that I had brought in. He verified that indeed, it was bad. Good news! Bad fuse! I might have cool air tonight after all. Thirteen bucks for the pair -- debit, please.

Back at the love shack, I pulled out the other old fuse, popped both the new ones in, put the "Danger" thingie back in place, ran back into the house, flipped the circuit breaker in the big box inside back to "on," and re-approached the thermostat.

I switched it to "Cool," just as I had a little while earlier. The fan in the furnace came on once again. Now for the moment of truth: Over to the window to check out the compressor...

The fan was turning. Glory be.

Within seconds, wonderfully chilled air began pouring from the ducts throughout the house. I called back our climate control guy with the good news.

It was a bear of a day, and the thing's been cranking all afternoon and evening without pause. The place is comfortable. Just as good, I did something vaguely mechanical, or even vaguely electrical, today, and I succeeded. It happens once in a while. Life is cool.

Comments (12)

100 and lo humidity here beats 85 and 99% humidity back east/south (summer vacations in TX when I was a kid) any day.

Who is that guy? he seems like he actually believes in customer service.

He does. I'm sure he'll be by to inspect my handiwork once things slow down a little for him.

Great story Jack.

Ah, Mike, summer in Texas.

For a while I was in welding school, in Texas. Imagine wearing a hood, thick welding leathers, long sleeves under the leathers to protect you from UV rays, jeans, and boots in a steel booth, while you learn to stick steel together over and over again in different ways. As you are doing this, you have to remember complex instruction sets for various pieces of electrical equipment, equipment that can melt 1" thick steel plate. These are machines that could maim or even kill you in an instant if you make one small mistake.

Now imagine doing this in a huge shop filled with people doing the same thing you are, just radiating intense heat, in a region of the world where it gets as hot as it did today for about six straight months, with suffocating humidity on top of it.

My attic bedroom with no AC doesn't seem so bad when I remember those days...and as much as I love to rail against the gangsters and parasites embedded at every level of local government, this place really does have some things going for it.

Most of the time, Summer in Portland cannot be beat. There is even a cool breeze coming through the window now.

Just thought I'd share...

There's not much better than that breeze.

Jack, although you eventually fixed it yourself, I think you owe your repair guy something for his troubles. I can't imagine how busy he was that day and the less than friendly people he was trying to help. It's kind of like when you call an attorney, it is considered billable.

Yes, Jack there is a word "amperage". It is a measure of electrical current. Electricity is defined by four components: Voltage, Amperage, resistance (measured in Ohms)and Power (measured in Watts). If you have any two components you can calculate the remaining two components with a formula called Ohm's law.
A fuse or circuit breaker interrupts (stops) the flow of current if that current exceeds the amperage rating of the fuse/circuit breaker. This is done to protect the wiring that should be sized to handle the neecessary current flow without heating up (due to electrical resistance) and possibly causing a fire.
At one time all we had were fuses as circuit breakers hadn't been invented.
The only reason fuses are used anymore instead of circuit breakers nowadays is because they are cheaper (but not much) than circuit breakers. Fuses are more precise than circuit breakers but are less convenient. As you found out when a fuse blows you need to go the the hardware store and not only get the right current rating but the right style as there are many different configurations. There is also a problem with possibly putting in a fuse larger than the wiring can handle again causing a potential fire hazard along with other safety issues that you don't have with circuit breakers. With a circuit breaker all you need to do is turn it off and then back on again.
Jack, you could have that fused disconnect (the box that the fuses are in) replaced with a circuit breaker. Also the reason any fuse or circuit breaker blows almost every time is because there's a problem somewhere else in the system and it's indicated by the fuse or circuit breaker blowing.
Hope this gives you a little insight as to how your electrical system works.

Re do it in Latin. Or Greek. Your choice. Then I'll be impressed.

Great story Jack! And a successful repair at that. But did you watch the All-Star Game?

Five or six years ago, the seventies vintage compressor on my central AC croaked. I figured, no problem, it only gets hot a week or two a year in Portland.
I decided not to have it repaired.

Last summer cinched it. No more Mr. Macho.

Early last April I had a new system installed. 96% efficient gas furnace with a high efficiency AC compressor and all new everything.

Walking into a cool house yesterday afternoon was heaven on earth.

At least you had power... several hundred North Portland PGE customers were without juice from 4:30 till 9:30 yesterday. Again.

It's been snowing here in Argentina. Wanna send us some of your heat? We'd be grateful.

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