The Fix-It Guy

Well, in the middle of a visit by family and near the tail-end of the storm our Christmas season was marred by a failure of our geothermal heating system. We managed with the stove, drier, a hotplate and some appliances heating our home until the sun rose and gave us a few more kilowatts. At around 8am we called our local fix-it guy and described the symptoms to him: various growling sounds, the acrid smell of burning insulation followed by a big BANG! Neither the geothermal heating nor the all-electric backup worked. We turned off the breakers to the unit and waited for his arrival. I realized the driveway had some fresh drifts and cleared them out by the time he arrived.

This guy knows his stuff. Fortunately, the compressor and controls were OK. We could not find any evidence of the manufacturer on the web. Further problems may well have required an expensive replacement of the whole furnace. It was simply a burned out motor for the fan which caused cascading failures. This fan was designed by an amateur. The motor was much too small and the fan ran at too high an RPM to work reliably. The motor was the entire bearing. The shaft of the motor was very thin, too. It was designed to fail and it’s amazing this one lasted over ten years. Our fix-it guy found a very similar motor with a bit more power and had us back with central heating in a couple of hours. I probably could have fixed this in a few days but the house might have grown very cold in the process. This way, TLW, the fix-it guy and I are all happy on the same day with no waiting. It’s all good.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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15 Responses to The Fix-It Guy

  1. ram wrote, “Power grids can’t function if the transmission towers and electric poles are blown down, regardless of the source of power generation. That is the problem in South Australia, the transmission network is fragile.”

    The newer secondary lines here in Canada are almost all underground. The long-haul high voltage lines are still airborne and they can stand >100km/h winds. There’s still the problem of ice-loading. Lines are taken out of service for periodic heating to stop that but then there’s a duty-cycle. Multiple lines seems to be the best solution whatever the durability. One of the issues facing Manitoba Hydro is whether or not to build one more northern dam and power-line. With increasing efficiency and other renewables coming online, that construction could be delayed or even prevented. I’m doing my part by using geothermal heating, an hybrid car, and ARMed computers… I’m also looking ahead to some wind/solar power to take some of the load. A complete retrofit is rather expensive so that’s the best I can do at the moment.

  2. ram says:

    Power grids can’t function if the transmission towers and electric poles are blown down, regardless of the source of power generation. That is the problem in South Australia, the transmission network is fragile.

    The transmission network in other Australian states doesn’t look so good either.

  3. dougman wrote, “The turbine tops out at 1.65MW 13m/s and MAY function at 20m/s wind speed. But I can guarantee you that the owner/operator will not use them at such a high speed. Why would they? The generator in the nacelle is not putting out any additional power.”

    What’s the alternative? Shut down? Nope. They are in business to make power/money. That requires delivering power at any speed in the range. The windfarm does not control the wind, only responds to it.

  4. dougman wrote, “there are always gusts to contend with and no owner/operator is going to chance damaging $3M dollar turbine.”

    Gusts are not a problem. That windfarm has been reliably producing for many years. We’ve had sustained winds to 80 km/h many times and gusts too. It’s still there. I often drive by it on the way to visit relatives out in the rural areas.

  5. dougman says:

    “The Danish-built turbines are designed to operate on wind speeds between 12.6 and 90 kilometres per hour (8 and 56 mph).”

    I know that field well. Here is the cut-sheet on the turbine: http://www.thewindpower.net/scripts/fpdf181/turbine.php?id=28

    The turbine tops out at 1.65MW 13m/s and MAY function at 20m/s wind speed. But I can guarantee you that the owner/operator will not use them at such a high speed. Why would they? The generator in the nacelle is not putting out any additional power.

    Gale force winds are never static, there are always gusts to contend with and no owner/operator is going to chance damaging $3M dollar turbine.

    The same thing could be said about a car. The speedometer states 120MPH, but do you really travel at that velocity?

  6. dougman wrote, “Wind turbines cannot function in gale force winds.”

    That’s true for some turbines but one can simply make a turbine with shorter/stiffer blades and carry on in stronger winds. They would be useless in lighter winds however. e.g. airliners have backup power consisting of a turbine that can be deployed in the case of out of fuel conditions or engine-failure. These turbines function at hundreds of miles per hour, far exceeding gales.

    My province, Manitoba had its first wind farm rated for gale-force winds. “The Danish-built turbines are designed to operate on wind speeds between 12.6 and 90 kilometres per hour (8 and 56 mph). In very cold weather, −33 °C (−27 °F) or lower, the units are shut down. About 90% of the year there is sufficient wind to operate the turbines, although not necessarily at full output. In recent years the project has generated at a 35-to-40% annual capacity factor, due to its favorable site.”

  7. dougman says:

    Wind turbines cannot function in gale force winds.

  8. dougman wrote, “A contradiction? LOL, are you sure it wasn’t the starting capacitor? Those typically die, before the motor.”

    There was no indication of that. The cap was a 10uF oil-filled unit. They are very reliable. The shaft, on the other hand, wobbled. That’s not good for something of large size spinning at ~1000 rpm.

    UPDATE – Just verified the old cap was good. Measured 9uF instead of nominal 10uF with my trusty new Chinese meter.

  9. dougman says:

    “It was a bearing problem causing failure to rotate…The burnt motor actually turns easily by hand ”

    A contradiction? LOL, are you sure it wasn’t the starting capacitor? Those typically die, before the motor.

  10. dougman, feeling omniscient, wrote, “I am almost certain in your case, your motor died from dust and lint infiltration. How often did you change your air filter?” and “Its important to obtain and use quality equipment Robert, not fly-by-night Canadian junk.”

    The unit was made in Pennsylvania… I guess it’s that “rust-belt” decay Trump goes on about. The motor was rather clean. It was a bearing problem causing failure to rotate. As I wrote, the fan/motor were designed for economy of production not durability. The electrostatic dust filter is cleaned a few times a year and never seems to be very dusty. TLW loves her central vac…

    dougman wrote, “no heating backup?”

    The backup to the heat-pump is supposed to be a rather conventional electric furnace that kicks in when the differential between thermostatic set-point and temperature is excessive. However, with a failure to rotate, the fan killed both. I just verified this. The burnt motor actually turns easily by hand but there’s easily 1mm lateral play, enough that the fan and/or rotor would be seriously misaligned. There is just one fan. It might have worked with a duplicate fan but we’d need quite a different plenum to deal with that so that one fan didn’t short-circuit the other.

  11. Ivan says:

    Ho-lee shit, a post that isn’t about your love muffin Donald Trump.

  12. dougman says:

    “t around 8am we called our local fix-it guy and described the symptoms to him: various growling sounds, the acrid smell of burning insulation followed by a big BANG!”

    Oh dear, no heating backup? Well, you could have pulled out a kerosene heater, but ahem, that burns hydrocarbons, and we know you would be hating yourself for doing so. What about a wood stove, fireplace? Maybe perhaps upgrade on your insulation as well.

    I am almost certain in your case, your motor died from dust and lint infiltration. How often did you change your air filter?

    “We could not find any evidence of the manufacturer ”

    Sounds like some cheap junk to me. I have a Goodman/Nordyne/Beckett heating/cooling system and its about the same age as yours. Its important to obtain and use quality equipment Robert, not fly-by-night Canadian junk.

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