A Fireplace Insert

I hadn’t started a fire in my living room in over a decade.

It wasn’t an ordinary wood burning fireplace though. My house has a boiler and the previous homeowners had installed a heat recovery system, called Hydro Fyre, which fed the heat from the fireplace back through the boiler and out to the rest of the house. It sounds good in theory, but with the number of pipes running over the top of the fire, it seems like it was a chimney fire waiting to happen. Look at how loaded with soot everything was!

After they removed the old system and cleaned things out, a direct vent gas fireplace insert was installed. I got the Escape model with the black Firescreen front, made by Heat & Glo. The interior panels are a patented FireBrick technology, which produce up to 25% more radiant heat than a metal interior. Even on the lowest fan speed it really throws out the heat! A remote control makes it easy to change five flame heights, four fan speeds, and three levels of ember illumination. It’s a slick unit.

I love how it transformed the look of the entire room. Why did I wait so long to get this?

I’ll call this phase two of a living room remodel after getting Mitsubishi mini-splits last summer. Several more projects are planned whenever an item arrives, which is supposed to ship near the end of April.

Why Are Thermostats Still on the Wall?

A couple of weeks ago I noticed the heat was staying on in my office pretty much all day. I have a boiler heating system with 4 zones and the thermostat that controls the front of my house is right there in the office. I wasn’t cold in there, but the thermostat wasn’t reporting that the temperature ever reached what I had set.

I pulled the Nest off of its mounting bracket, put my hand near the hole in the wall, and I could feel cold air. So I grabbed an instant read meat thermometer and stuck it through the hole. The reading inside the wall was 10° lower than a foot away from the wall.

For a simple fix, I stuffed a bunch of insulation through the hole and covered it with foil tape.

In order to monitor the effectiveness of the fix, I put together a quick temperature sensor instead of having to turn the meat thermometer on and off.

It worked!

Two or three years ago I had the opposite problem with this heating zone; it was always cold in the office. By feeling the wall I came to the conclusion that the thermostat had been installed right next to one of the pipes sending hot water to the upstairs registers. Brilliant! The fix that time was moving the thermostat over between the next set of studs.

After these two issues with the placement of a thermostat, I starting thinking. Why are we still basing our heating on measurements taken from a set position on the wall? With the Internet of Things we can do this much smarter.

Imagine each zone in the house having one or more mobile temperature sensors. Like the simple circuit pictured above, but in a small case. These could be battery-powered or plug-in. Windows, wind, and location of the sun can all affect the heating of different areas of a house. Being able to move the temperature sensor with you as you make dinner in the kitchen or watch a movie from your recliner would be awesome.

These temperature sensors would wirelessly report the temperature back to the home automation system. I use Home Assistant, which would make it easy to set the heating schedules for each zone. If a zone needed to go on or off based on the sensor’s reported temperature and the schedule’s target temperature, it would wirelessly trigger a relay module at the furnace or boiler. The relay would wire in to the furnace/boiler system in place of the wires that come from each thermostat and it would never know the difference. None of these pieces are hard to build and the parts are cheap.

This is all just something that ran through my mind as I was fixing my heating issue. I don’t have plans to build such a system, but if I did I could ditch my 4 Nest thermostats. For someone who works at home, often at random times of the day, I think Nest thermostats are overrated anyway because the learning and auto scheduling system doesn’t do much for me.

Hiding in Plain Site

Earlier this week I found this hanging in the boiler room.

I replaced the thermocouples on my boiler and hot water heater in the last few years. Would have saved a trip to Home Depot if I had noticed this at some point in the 10 years I’ve lived here. Price is a bit different from the $13 I paid for a thermocouple last December.

Makes me wonder what else is hiding around the house.

No Hot Water

I didn’t expect to be tearing open my water heater today, but it was not fun taking a cold shower. Looks like a new thermocouple is all I need. I had to do the same thing to my boiler a year or two ago.

water-heater.jpg

Update: Spent $13 at Home Depot and the water is heating up.

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