Friday, August 21, 2009

sun tunnel

Our den has only a north-facing window. Since the plan was to start using it as an office, I decided to get a sun tunnel installed to bring more light into the room.

Several years ago, I had gotten one installed in each of our windowless bathrooms and they had transformed those rooms from pitch dark, icky places to wonderful alive spaces where I could put houseplants.

The only sun tunnel company in my area still in business with a valid license is Sunlight Concepts which sells the Solatube. Solatube recently started selling a new energy-efficient model that qualifies for the federal tax credit.

It took the installer 2 hours to install the sun tunnel. I had to get a permit this time because my city recently started requiring one for these sun tunnels. I also arranged for the installer to fix the opening in my roof to properly vent the new bathroom fan I had installed the previous week. The old fan had a 3" vent pipe, and the new fan required a 4" vent, for which I used 4" insulated duct. But the roof jack needed to be adjusted to accommodate a 4" connector, as it was poorly situated with some joists partly blocking the opening. Until he fixed the connection I forbade my husband from showering in that bathroom, as I didn't want to be dumping moist air into the attic instead of out through the roof.

The installer was quick. Maybe a little too quick, because he didn't nudge the insulation back against the Solatube. So the area around it in the ceiling got really hot when the attic heated up. I had to climb back into the attic to fix that.

Pictures are of before and after installation. It did make a big difference to how that space feels, although not as dramatic as for the windowless bathrooms. All told, it was under $700 to get this suntunnel installed. A great deal.

A better bathroom fan

This year the house is getting a total makeover. At the beginning of this year my husband wanted to buy a bigger house to accommodate space for his hobby, which requires a large space for motion capture video. After he looked around some he came to realize, which I already knew, that our existing house is hard to beat for livability. It's in a quiet but convenient location and laid out very efficiently to maximize use of its 1000 sq. ft.

He figured out that he could make our garage work for his purposes, so no need for new house. However, we're moving everything out of the house to replace the wall-to-wall carpet with cork flooring. When we move back in, we're going to reclaim our master bedroom as a bedroom and use our den as our office.

The master bath had a 2.5-sone, 50-cfm (cubic feet per minute) ventilation fan that I had installed in 2003 to replace a very noisy fan that was there before. While quieter, this fan was not nearly as quiet or efficient as the very best fans on the market today. I decided that the master bedroom would become more livable if I put in a really quiet fan that ventilated better.

After a bunch of research I found a great fan by Panasonic sold by R.E. Williams Contractor. It's 80 cfm, and only 0.5 sones. It's designed to run all the time at a lower air flow (at 0, 30, 50, 60, 70, or 80 cfm), then kick on at a higher air flow when someone enters for a set period of time. I set mine to be zero cfm when unoccupied and to run for 20 minutes at 80 cfm when occupied.

That it kicks in automatically means that there are no issues with odors leaking into the bedroom when the occupant of the bathroom forgets to turn on the fan.

At first I wired it so that you couldn't turn the fan off, but my husband complained that he wants the fan off while he showers so that he doesn't get cold. So I put it on a switch so that he could turn the fan off when he's going to shower and then turn it back on when he's leaving the bathroom. The fan automatically shuts off after running for a set period of time that you set with a dial inside the fan.

It took me all day to install the darn thing. The mounting instructions were complicated to figure out. But after I read through the many different mounting options at least a dozen times while puzzling over the different possible pieces of mounting hardware, I finally figured out the method that worked best for my situation. It required dissassembling the fan to remove the blower assembly from its housing, to make the unit lighter and easier to manipulate for mounting.

I had to cut a bigger opening in my ceiling and take a dremel to remove a nail sticking out of a joist that was left over from the original fan installed in the house. Fortunately, I was able to do most of the installation work in the bathroom from below the opening of the ceiling, because it was deadly hot in the attic.

And then, after having had several previous successful efforts to rewire other bathroom fans to accommodate new types of switches, I was careless in figuring out the wiring this time and blew out our house circuit breaker. We almost had to replace it, but after it cooled down it started working again.

This time, carefully checking with our multimeter I finally figured out the correct wiring configuration, and it worked.

But then my husband said he wanted to be able to switch the fan off, so I swapped out the single button light switch to a double button switch (for light and fan) and had to rewire the whole thing again, completely differently. Good thing I have an engineering background and can do wiring diagrams in my head. A fun mental challenge.

When the fan is on, the sound reminds me of being in a hotel room in a highrise that has the ventilation on all the time, i.e. it's basically background noise, fairly quiet. The fan has an occupancy sensor to automatically kick on when someone enters the room. I'll try adjusting the "occupied" setting to run at 50 cfm for 30 minutes to see if the noise level goes down to where you have to strain to hear it. The fan has a little green light that flashes on when it is detecting you, as you can see in the picture.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Update to "Who Needs a Heat Gun?"

Heat shrink tubing apparently doesn't need high heat to shrink. So the magnifying glass technique worked. But when I tried to use a magnifying glass to melt a plastic lid (#4 plastic I believe) it didn't work. Not hot enough.