Central Air

It’s no secret that we live in a house that was built in another era.  Just looking at it, you can see from the construction that it was designed and built from materials that you just can’t find anymore.  No modern building would ever be constructed with no insulation between the outer and inner walls, let alone none in the interior walls.

Going through the interior of the house, one finds there are places where there are double ceilings, usually to conceal plumbing that was added later in the life of the house, considering when it was constructed, there were no bathrooms inside.  I’ve never figured out where the outhouse was located, though I’m fairly certain there was a barn out behind the house, given there are the bones of an ancient foundation behind the current garage.

Either in the 1950s or 60s, a previous owner decided to do some upgrades to the house.  They put on an addition with a cinderblock foundation, along with the attached one-car garage.  While they were doing that, they neglected to tie in that part of the house to the furnace/heating system, so there’s a thermostat next to the coat closet that may have been attached to a space heater, though I’ve never been able to figure out -how- it was wired to work adequately.  Consequently, in both the Spring & Summer, along with the Fall & Winter, it either is too hot, or too cold in the addition.  So we have to utilize space heaters in the winter, and an air conditioner in the summer.  Which both add to the utility bills.

Two years ago, we spoke to the local HVAC business we use to clean our furnace, about possibly upgrading our system to at the very least a new, more efficient one, which would save us money in the long run.  He was very informative and gave us some options to consider, and then we may have hit a snag.  The ductwork that was installed at probably the same time as the old furnace had what appeared to be fiber blankets glued to the metal.  Given the time frame of when it was all put together, there’s a high probability that the blankets would have asbestos in them.  Suffice it to say, that gave our HVAC guy some pause, as he was indicating that with the more efficient furnace, there might be the necessity of replacing the ductwork in the house.  We left it alone at that point and didn’t pick up the subject again until last year.  By then, he had consulted with a few people that had experience in such matters, and their collective opinion was; that if the blankets on the ductwork were left alone, there wouldn’t be a problem replacing the furnace.  Just leave the ducts as they were.

Around April of last year, we called and asked for an estimate on replacing the furnace, but my wife wanted to have a quote on possibly going a step further, by upgrading to a central air system.  We settled on a Goodman furnace system, but it was going to have to be vented out the opposite side of the house from where the old one was.  Which meant drilling into the old brick twice for a fresh air intake and exhaust vent.  They gave us several options to choose from, we settled on the best choice for our house after consulting with several people familiar with both the brand and our situation.  We also decided to bite the bullet and go for the whole smash, which would put a condenser next to the house so we could have central air.  We had vacationed at a house in the Hudson Valley that had both central air AND cathedral ceilings, and it was a very nice setup.  Even in the 85-90 degree weather of late July & early August, the house was quite cool with the in-house air conditioning.  Too, no more lugging and installing (then removing and storing) heavy AC units.  That’s a plus.

The furnace was installed back in August of 2021, and it worked very well over the past winter.  Even with the price of NG going up with the pandemic and subsequent rise in fossil fuel prices, we really didn’t do all that bad with the cost of what we were consuming.  I’m fairly convinced that we would have been spending more if we were still on the old furnace.  Last month the HVAC guys came and installed the condenser (we went with a 16 seer unit instead of a 14 because we believe we could get more efficiency out of the larger unit and a 14 would probably labor a bit more and cost us in electricity) and accompanying electrical work to make it all run, he had an electrician with him and were able to do some juggling in our breaker box to make it all make sense.  There was some suggestion that we might not have had enough space in the box, but they assured us we’re not going to have any power issues; we have a warranty for 10 years on their work and the equipment as well.

We as of yet haven’t had a day where we can test out the whole new system, but probably in the next couple of weeks, we will.  Generally, there will come a day when the bricks on the outside of the house are being baked all day long and that will heat up the house to the point where it will become necessary for the central air to kick in.  Right now our nights are a bit cooler (30s and 40s) and our days are still getting into the 60s and 70s (though the weather is calling for near 80 for today and tomorrow).  We’ll see how it all works out, and I’ll be posting a follow-up to this post come Autumn.

Turning Point

A friend of mine from work was terminated on Sunday.  In many ways one could have seen it coming, but the way it happened was particularly jarring, and its been bothering me since then.  Of course, I was somewhat embroiled in the action, since I had to stand in for the union steward who just happened to have the day off.

*Jack (not his real name) has been working at the store since before I started back in 2012.  He was part-time, a good worker, but he’s always had a drinking problem.  It’s not inaccurate to refer to him as an alcoholic.  His typical day involved getting up in the morning, going to work, going back home and drinking himself into a stupor, or using the alcohol to assist him in getting to sleep, then starting the whole routine over again the next day he had to work.  To say this is self-destructive would be putting it mildly.  However, it’s hard to be able to count the multitude of times his co-workers have gone to bat for him, trying to get him help, only to be turned down (always politely) and things continued down the road.

About 18 months ago he confided in myself and a couple other co-workers that he was considering committing suicide.  When someone says something like that to you, you take it seriously.  On my lunch break I called my wife and informed her of what I’d heard and asked for her advice.  She worked for the local county social services for 30 plus years, so to me that was about the best place one could go for how to proceed.  She gave me several options, one being getting the store manager involved.  Unfortunately, the store manager isn’t exactly the most approachable person, and he tends to be a bit of a hands off sort of person when it comes to issues like this.  Even so, I forged ahead, informed him of what I had heard, involved another co-worker that had acted in the past trying to help Jack and all three of us assembled in the manager’s office, informing him that we were there to help if we could, and did he in fact need help.  He very politely insisted that he wasn’t interested in assistance and that he was in fact fine.  Of course after this happened he knew enough never to mention it again.

Last week I was on vacation, and I’d heard through the grapevine that Jack was pretty out of it on Saturday.  There was supposition that he had come to work inebriated and wasn’t exactly even close to being on his game as far as getting work done.  When I saw Jack Sunday morning, he didn’t seem his chipper self, in fact it did seem like something was off.  Over the course of the morning when I talked to him, he seemed ok but not completely ok.  As if there was something wrong, but when I asked him about it, he brushed it off, and I didn’t pursue it.  I was in the midst of getting my own work done, so by the time it was getting towards the end of my shift, I had forgotten about it.

I was about 10 minutes away from being done for the day when the grocery manager came into my department and told me the assistant store manager needed me in his office for a union issue.  Well, not me particularly, but he needed someone who was A. Full time, and B. been in the union for a while, rather than one of the part timers that don’t have much (any) experience in disciplinary actions and how to go about the union side of being an advocate.

Heading up to the office I figured it was going to be a quick affair, probably it was a cashier that either had too much money in their till, or too little.  It would be something along the lines of a verbal or written disciplinary action, I’d have to do my part and be done for the day.  Sadly, that wasn’t the case.  When I got to the office, not only was the ASM (Assistant Store Manager) there, the night ops manager was too…and….Jack.

Apparently, someone had observed him and determined he was acting strangely.  At this point I’m still not sure if it was a customer or co-worker, but at this juncture it really doesn’t matter.  It was brought to the attention of the ASM and once that happened he was duty bound to investigate.  Whatever he either observed himself or through someone else was brought to the attention of Human Resources (which is never a good thing, HR in my company is pretty much a forgone conclusion, never positive) and at that point the ASM was given 2 choices.  Either Jack had to submit to a breathalyzer test from the local Police, or he had to be taken to a medical facility to be blood tested and determined what sort of substance he might be on.  It was put to Jack and he was the one that had to agree to one or the other.  Of course I’m sitting there as his union advocate, and I know he’s in a pickle.  He has to agree to one or the other, OR he can be terminated for refusing either.  After 20 minutes of back and forth, it’s agreed he’ll go with the breathalyzer.  And at this point, even for just his sake I’m dying inside.

Long story short, it was determined he was drunk on the job.  Not just a little drunk, if the breathalyzer was accurate, it’s a miracle he was even upright.  That bad.  The ASM went back to the manager’s office, called HR and they lowered the boom then and there.  All the while, Jack was insisting that he hadn’t been drinking, that he was fine, but clearly there was something amiss.  After the ASM did his thing, I made sure Jack got a ride home, and promised him that I’d make contact with both the union steward and our union rep so he could hopefully get into the process of getting his job back.  But even as I was telling him that, I couldn’t see that happening.  Having a union is a good thing in my experience, but there are some things that can’t be fixed.

Perhaps 20-30 years ago it might have, but unions are way different than they were back then.  There’s only so much advocacy, only so much that union reps can do when it comes to members that are terminated for serious allegations like being drunk on the job.  This much was related to me on Tuesday through the steward, who said that the union wasn’t going to be able to help Jack, because there aren’t any programs that the union has to combat alcoholism.  Even if Jack could prove that he was in the process of turning his life around, going to AA, or rehab or something of that nature, he himself would have to contact the company HR department and plead for his job back.  Just him.  So in that respect the union really failed him.  He paid his dues, and didn’t get the support in return.  Just a cold shoulder.

I hope Jack finds the help that he needs.  And gets back on his feet.  I wish him the best, but I’m not exactly confident that all is going to work on for the best for him.

 

Technically speaking Part III

Now that I have the router up and running, it’s now time to decide where the best place to put it.  Since we moved into the house, the router and modem have been in close proximity to the main computers here.  That is, in the addition off the main house in the back of the property.  For whatever reason, it’s really been the place that we spend the majority of our time, year in and out.  Which is weird sometimes, considering it’s a 3 1/2 bedroom house, on two stories.  We don’t have children, so 2 1/2 of the bedrooms have become de-facto storage space.

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D-Link DIR-868L router

Getting back to the issue though, our WiFi setup has been incredibly wrong since the beginning.  If you consider how WiFi works through a router, the antennas send out a signal in all directions, as long as you have them pointed in the correct configuration.  The old D-Link router I had for the past 6 years had an omni-directional antenna, in that it was encased inside the housing and wasn’t visible. 

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TP-Link Archer A8 router

 

Most routers have the ubiquitous 3-4 (or nowadays more) antennas and most people (me included…yes guilty) leave them in the standard up position without even considering that they can be directed where you want your WiFi signals to go.  By all that I understand, generally you want your router to be in the middle of the action, where you spend the majority of your time, so that you can get the biggest bang for your buck in terms of WiFi coverage.  Otherwise, you’re going to have to invest in things like Access Points, repeaters, even possibly a second router to adequately cover your house and property.  Of course, it’s not as simple as that (it never is, right?) because in most instances you don’t just have a router, you have to consider where your modem is, whether it’s fiber, cable or even DSL (I’m guessing satellite is probably similar, but I’ve never had a satellite Internet downlink).

In my case, the modem sits next to the router.  When we upgraded to fiber 4-5 years ago, the installer asked where to put the modem.  At the time, I had thought probably it would have been a better option to put it in the middle of the house, near the west facing exit door, but our computers are here in the addition, where the router would be.  The house was built in the 19th century (1838), so it wasn’t designed with electricity in mind, let alone hi-speed Internet connections.  Consequently, when the house was wired sometime in the 1950’s (I’m guessing based on the age of some of the outlets) there wasn’t a lot of thought put in to where those outlets needed to go.  So it was very haphazard.  Over the last 20 years we’ve been upgrading outlets as needed, because the very idea of re-wiring this house might end up costing us more than the property is valued at.  Too, to do a proper re-wiring, one needs full access to walls and such, to pull wire.  So we’d have to basically demo the interior to a degree that makes my eyes water.  Most people’s houses it wouldn’t be an issue because drywall isn’t all that expensive.  Plaster on the other hand?  Double your price estimate.  Or triple it.  There aren’t many qualified plasterers these days.  Believe me, I know.

As of right now, my plan is to put the modem and router more central to the middle of the house and run either Cat 5e or Cat 6 cable back to the addition to a switch so both of the desktops can be hardwired to the router.  Hopefully that will assist with the remainder of the house being covered by both the low speed WiFi (2.4 ghz) and the higher 5 ghz connection.  After I’ve had it connected and running for awhile, I’ll give another update.