DIY - Do It Yourself Heating & Cooling

The term DIY or Do It Yourself pertains to taking on and performing tasks which are commonly left up to paid professionals.  The DIYer wishes to save money by assuming the responsibility for doing the work themselves.  These tasks can include repairs or enhancements to their home, maintenance or modifications to a car, and anything else that could be hired out.  Pros or professionals can include licensed and bonded technically staffed companies as well as individuals.  It is presumed that these people have the learned skills and tools necessary to carry out the various tasks they are hired to do.  It is also assumed that these people are regulated by the various governing bodies.  Pros though, come at a cost.  These costs are often very expensive and are increasing as more and more regulations and added costs are imposed on society.  One of these is health care.  Others can include environmental regulations as well as safety concerns.   And there are issues surrounding legal liabilities.  

The DIYer, it is said, assumes these responsibilities when they do it themselves.  This includes the homesteading movement.

I am not advocating that one can DIY everything in life.  What I am saying is that in situations where one cannot or should not do it themselves, the cost for having it done is considerably higher, often times two to 1,000,000+ times the normal cost depending upon the needed skills, the amount of work required, regulations, legalities, and possible collusion. 

Collusion or price fixing is an agreement between participants on the same side in a market to buy or sell a product, service, or commodity only at a fixed price, or maintain the market conditions such that the price is maintained at a given level by controlling supply and demand. 

These tactics can come about as a side effect of regulations and the possibility of legal liabilities.  A significant example is the health care sector.  Here death and debilitation are strong motivators for regulations and liabilities.  It is these regulations and legal liabilities that significantly increase costs.  It is human nature to take advantage of these issues by further increasing costs.

Now I can hear the nasty's of the world, complacent in their hot tubs of life, instantly chiming in saying that this is the way it is and “shut up.”  Others tell about DIYers who did it on their own and “look what happened.”  Then there are others who talk about the necessary skills “training” involved to do what it is the DIYer wishes to do.

Like the medical sector with its devastatingly exorbitant costs, things one must have done by a “professional” in life that one cannot or should not do themselves are often fraught with little to no innovation, inefficiencies, and high costs.

Examples include appliances for our homes.

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OK, to explain.  I, like my father, have been a DIYer my whole life.  Very seldom have I relied upon others to do what it is I needed done.  Be it a home, a computer, or whatever, when I did have to rely on others, what was done was either very expensive, not done correctly, or took longer than what was promised.

So, why is this?  It simply boils down to human nature. 

Other people do not have the same vested interest in doing for you what you need done. 

That sadly is a basic fact of life. 

I myself live a life where most everything works and performs well for me because I did it myself or, after others were done with the work, I fixed it if I could or I called them back again and again or, in the end, I had to call in another professional at additional cost.  If I could not do it and costs for a professional were too high, I lived without it. 

If I did not have the knowledge to carry out the work, I took the time to research and, if needed, I experimented and prototyped to learn and develop the skillsets necessary to do the work.  For example, I am a ham radio operator.  Amateur radio demands that the licensee learn to build or repair their own equipment.

Other examples include:

  • Our home – with the exception of heating and cooling, basically I did it all myself. 
  • The furnishings – I have a dream woodshop.
  • Appliances – either bought it, installed it, fixed it, or, yes, I made it myself.
  • All the electronics in my life – bought it, fixed it, and definitely made it myself in my lab.
  • My health – I’m lucky. I’ve been very healthy.  Until recently, I lived without the necessity of healthcare intervention.  Now as I grow older, this may become necessary and devastatingly expensive.  And, no, technically and legally I cannot do this myself.  What I can do is health maintenance which included eat healthy, get plenty of exercise, don’t smoke, and to get regular checkups.
  • The car – this I often deferred to others…and it did cost.  To attempt to get around this, I purchase very reliable vehicles.  And when I didn’t…  Yes, there were regular excursions to the mechanic’s garage. 
    It wasn’t because I didn’t know how to fix a car.  I was just not inclined to do it myself.

So, are costs proportional to the skills and labor involved in doing whatever needs to be done?  Yes.  However, if there are also laws, liabilities, and warranties governing the performance of work, costs will inevitably be artificially increased.

So, what brought this little spleen vent on?  Well it was another lesson learned.

There is this task that has been hanging over me since I install the new gas range in our home. 

My wife is from China and was used to cooking with gas.  The electric stove that was here when we moved in to our new house took some getting used to even by me.  Then the oven’s electronic control failed and the cost of replacing it every year didn’t appeal to me, not to mention, I hated electric cooking.  So, I bought a cheap high-end look-alike gas range with no electronics.  Electronic components fail because of heat…which there is a lot of in a stove.

The new stove install included having gas put on in the home.  I’ve done lots of gas piping in my life, so there was no problem with me doing this.  After inspection and testing of my work by the utility, they installed a line from the street and connected everything…for free.  Now we are “cooking with gas.” 

Another benefit of having gas is heating.  Currently we use a heat pump and resistance heat, about 20,000 watts.


Energy comparison sent monthly by the utility company

For quite some time we’ve received this reminder in the mail from Duke Energy describing our electrical usage.  It’s a painful reminder of our winter heating costs. 

At the time we bought our house, the cost of installing a gas line was too expensive to get any benefit from switching everything to natural gas.  So, I opted for a so-called energy efficient heat pump.  This did help except for when the temperature goes below 35 degrees. 

It was a year ago when the utility offered to install gas for free, so we did it.  Our cheap trendy stove is now a joy to cook on.  As for the heating… That’s the task that is hanging over me.

Our heating system is only about four years old and was quite expensive to have installed.  Even with a significant discount from a friend of my brother and an energy tax credit, in the end it was still about $8000 to have it installed.  Well my brother decided he had enough of construction so this fellow is no longer associated with him. 

I have been getting estimates to replace the heating system with a gas fired system.  However, the costs were…well, this would in no way pay for itself in my lifetime even if energy costs were to double.  The cheapest estimate was $12,000 for an inefficient unit plus the labor to do all the construction necessary to replace the furnace.  Then there is the cost of replacing the electric water heater with a pricy powered gas unit.

The current HVAC system has a provision to allow for the replacement of the electrical heating elements with a hot water heating coil which would be heated by an external heat source such as a gas fired hydronic water heater.  This hydronic unit can also be used for heating domestic hot water.  They refer to these units as combi boilers…although the term “boiler” does not mean the water is boiled.  It’s just an archaic term that denotes its purpose.  The reality is that a small single unit can do what a gas furnace and a large water heater storage device can do. 

I opted for this choice because of three reasons.  First because the combi unit was inexpensive (about $2,000), the existing HVAC unit is relatively new, and because there is a problem with venting the exhaust gases from the house. 

When the house was built, it was designed for all electric which in the end left no place to run a vent exhaust from a gas furnace or water heater.  I did eventually find a very small space between the kitchen floor and basement ceiling where a set of small plastic exhaust and fresh air intake pipes could be installed.  The particular dual purpose combi unit I looked at allowed for such a configuration. 

With less than $900 in additional parts and heat exchangers, I determined that I could easily install such a retrofit to the existing HVAC unit.  I also felt I could install the combi water heater with no problems.  After all, I installed many and varied water heaters in my lifetime. 

I researched and, over time, I purchased the coil and parts necessary to install hot water heating.  I spent six months looking around on the web and finally I bought one of these combi-hydronic hot water heaters.  It’s an all stainless steel very high efficient Navien NCB-240, which by the way is made in South Korea.  After some wrangling with the internet seller, it finally arrived. 

First thing: inspect it to see that everything was OK.  Next, read the materials that come with the unit. 


From Navien's warranty document

What the hell!!

Now what do I do?

I originally planned to do what I have done many times in the past and that is pull a building permit or have a professional installer do the final hookup so it can be supported under warranty and be repaired.  But according to the above, I wasn’t allowed to buy this unit myself.


Countless websites selling tankless water heaters

There are quite a few sites selling water heaters including Amazon along with reputable companies like Sears, Home Depot, Lowes, Menards, and dozens of others.  However, after looking at a number of manufacturer’s warranties, according to these manufacturers. the many and varied ecommerce sellers are illegally selling non-warrantied merchandise.

So, why are manufacturers suddenly specifying in their warranties that they are voided when someone goes onto the internet and purchases these appliances on line?   Are they colluding together to create more profit for their distributers and installers or what?  I think it is a number of issues.

This company Navien received many bad reviews on their earlier model tankless water heaters.  These had a reputation for not being all that reliable.  There were even several class action law suits that had been filed against Navien for not honoring warranties.  But this was in the past and it is said Navien has since worked out the bugs and improved their product such that many high-end installers are now willing to sell, install, and support this brand.  The technology and specs for these tankless water heaters are very good for performance and energy savings.

But the past may have left Navien a bit weary from the possibility of bad installs causing failures.  So, like many companies which produce equipment that require sophisticated installations, Navien has tightened their warranty policies.  Also, there have been some recent gray market products finding their way into this country.  This may be why they don’t allow anyone to purchase their products from sellers on the web.  Or...

But, where does this leave me? 

I guess I will have to try to return the unit if I can.  If I can’t, I will keep it, install it, and have the installation inspected.  After all, I saved 2 to $3,000 on this installation.  My only fear is that it could completely fail or I may not be able to get parts for it. 

The NCB-240 was drop-shipped from a reputable nationwide plumbing supply chain providing heating and industrial supplies to homeowners and contractors.  This company is said to be approved by Navien to sell their products.  So, I’m not worried about it being gray-market.  The website  I purchased it from was a broker who…could very well be working out of his home.  Hat's off to him for being so resourceful in getting me a lower price on a water heater. 

My only issue is: are we becoming a society of specialization, being good at only one thing in life and being ignorant & inept the rest of the time?

Those who fearfully criticize and eagerly point out the failings of those who do it themselves are not DIYers.

Example:  "...think of the safety of your family!" 

Question:

How many people have installed appliances themselves and have never hurt themselves, their family or their property? 

Corollary:

How many people in this country own guns and have never unintentionally hurt themselves, their family, or other people?

The ones you hear about are in the extreme minority. 

It is much more likely to have a "professional" installer screw up and cause a failure. 

How many of you have had to call an installer back to fix a problem or something they did wrong?  I did...for a gas leak.  Fortunately, I knew what I was doing and what to look for while checking their work. 

S  August 29, 2015

 

Update - System Installed

Thanks to my youngest brother who was a contractor who built very high end homes, the heating system issues have been resolved. We now just have one hot water system that makes hot water and house heating.

This bunch of stuff is an energy efficient hybrid heating and cooling system that uses both a heat pump and a tankless hot water heater. When the outside temperature goes below 50 degrees, it circulates hot hydronic fluid through two water to air heat exchanger coils in the furnace. It also circulates this fluid through a heat transfer coil for domestic hot water. No more big tank. In this crazy mess of pipes, valves, dials, etc., it all does it's job very efficiently. 

 

The system is made up of a Carrier Infinity high efficiency 3-ton heat pump system that had a 20,000 watt resistance auxiliary heat pack.  The outdoor unit is the size of a very large refrigerator. The indoor A coil is 26 x 22 by 32 inches tall.

The above boxes are the bottom tan box is just the A coil, the top tan box is the fan unit that also held the resistance heat packs.  The thin middle silver part is a three layer 22 x 25 inch hydronic hot water coil.  The bottom galvanized box houses a secondary three layer heat transfer hot water coil mounted at a diagonal. The black tubes are insulated one inch copper pipe that conveys the hot water through the Navien to the top coil and then through the bottom coil.  The pump is built into the Navian. The rest of the stuff is what is commonly found in a hydronic hot water heating system. The clear plastic tubing and the weird canister thing are for neutralizing the condensation from the Navien.  It drains into a sump.

I did the installation of the hot water coils, the piping, the tank, check valves, other valves, fill regulator, the relay in the furnace to call for heat from the Navien, the gas piping, the PVC input and exhaust piping, and the electrical.  The plumber my brother used on his jobs installed the Navien and did the final hookup...for a little over $1,000.

All told, I spent about $4,300 on everything including the Navien and the plumber.  It's a lot better than the ~$12,000 that was quoted to me by several HVAC contractors to install a new gas furnace. This did not include the cost of having a plumber install a dedicated hot water heater.

We are using less than half the energy to heat our home than we used in the last 5 years averaged together. When the temperature falls below 35 degrees and resistance heat starts kicking in, it did use a whole lot of electricity. The hydronic heat can generate close to 59,000 BTUs of heat per hour and uses, well, a tiny bit over 59 cubic feet of gas to do this.  When it goes below 0 degrees outside, the system can run for around 45 minutes per hour.

Heating Type and Cost
Type Total   Cost  
Electric Heat 20,000 Watts    
equals 66,667 BTU/hr 1.51 hr
         
Gas Heat Equivalent 67 cf*    
equals 66,667 BTU/hr 0.31 hr
* 1000 BTU = 1 cf

The above shows the cost comparison in our city of electric vs. gas.

Finally, the plumber who does most of his work in mansion sized homes asked me who did the piping and heating system retrofit.  I told him that I did the work.  He then said the work was very professionally done.

S  February 21, 2016

 

BBB® Serving San Diego, Orange and Imperial Counties

January 6, 2017

Below is a response from the business to the customer review you submitted to Better Business Bureau.

As with numerous manufacturers, Navien does not allow the selling of our products on ecommerce websites. We actively work with our legal counsel to demand these online retailers stop selling our product online. We also demand that if they are selling any remaining inventory to add a disclaimer to the website that the product will not come with a factory warranty. This is a specified warranty exclusion.

To post a reply or respond to the business, you'll need to log in to your BBB Consumer account.
 
Sincerely,
 
Your BBB Serving San Diego, Orange & Imperial Counties

BBB® Serving San Diego, Orange and Imperial Counties
4747 Viewridge Ave #200 San Diego, CA 92123 http://www.bbb.org/sdoc/