This morning, I got a serviceman from Pann Plumbing (the original supplier and installer of this boiler) in to check it out. I started off by telling him about the experience in the springtime with the sticky servo zone valve, and he ended up agreeing (after some time checking around to explore other aspects of the system). He says it's the zone valve itself (sliding piston) that's sticking, rather than the servomotor. He phoned his supplier and was told that they don't make that valve any more. (Figures.)
So what he did was to rewire the circulator pump so that it takes its input from the relay, rather than the zone valve. Now the circulator pump gets controlled from the thermostat signal, and this patch does seem to work fine. The zone valve stays open all the time, which allows for some movement of the heating circuit water even when the pump is off, due to gravity and thermal effects, but he says such effects will be minimal, not a big deal. We shall see.
He wrote down the serial number of the zone valve, and he says he'll check around to see if he can find another source for the part. Even if he finds one, the part itself will be expensive (he mentioned $270) and another service call to replace it will be even more expensive. We shall see.
Backplot: this boiler is a combination unit, it supplies both heating water and domestic hot water (what comes out of the hot water taps), and the reason for that was I wanted forced hot water heating, but the tiny space in the condo basement didn't have room for both a furnace and a hot water heater. So I got the combination unit to supply both.
Next morning I showered in cold water -- yipe! Afterwards, I went down to the boiler and found it switched off. He must have left it that way after the repairs, which were done on an unusually warm day. So I switched it on. For the next couple of days it seemed to be working okay, although I did notice that my morning shower water was not as hot as it used to be. I checked again and found that the boiler thermostat had been turned down to 160 F (my records show it was increased to 180 F for the baseboard installation), so I turned it back up, and figured that was that.
Next morning the shower was COLD! and I was getting really confused. With a little more fiddling around and thinking about it, I figured out that the boiler is only heating water when the zone thermostat is calling for heat. (The timing of my morning showers tended to coincide with the setback thermostat's "morning warmth" period, that's why the problem wasn't immediately obvious. But a few experiments clinched it.) For the last few days, I've been turning up the zone thermostat about half an hour before I need to shower, so I don't freeze my nads -- and it's still only luke warm. It definitely wasn't doing that before the service call last week -- when the guy used a definite kludge in the wiring to circumvent the stuck zone valve.
Well, this is no good at all. Not only do I not want to have to turn up the zone thermostat to get a hot shower, but it really burns my butt when I pay top dollar for repairs that turn out to break what was supposed to be fixed. I made another call to the plumbing company, to get the service guy back out here -- and I specifically requested the same guy, since he's the only one who really knows how that wiring kludge was supposed to work. I hope I don't have to pay for another service deal, at least not full price.
This morning was the third visit from Pann Plumbing. They told me that they'd found a compatible replacement for the zone valve, which would fix the problem once and for all -- but they had to take the old zone valve to the warehouse, and match it against the new one to be sure that the one they were getting would fit. So they chopped the zone valve out of the furnace, spent an hour or two at the warehouse, and came back with nothing -- turns out they didn't have a replacement after all, none, zip, nada. Worse, they've just butchered the furnace so now it's not working AT ALL, and it's starting to get really cold these days, and I'm further away than ever from a solution. Hell and damnation!
Fix #1 is to install two single-side zone valves (which are more generic than the three-way zone valve) so that one provides heating water and the other provides domestic water. But that will be MORE expensive than the entire original boiler installed -- jeez! It would require lots of hacking for the wiring to work right -- and no warranty of any kind, because it's all hacked. And who knows when some other irreplaceable part is going to break. Not good.
Fix #2 is to junk the beast and start over. *screams of frustration*
I'm looking at a standalone gas furnace (for heating water) and a separate tankless heater for domestic hot water (main idea being to keep it generic so at least it'll be fixable when it breaks). This is also going to be at least as expensive as the combo boiler was, but at this point it doesn't look like I have any realistic alternatives. One thing's for sure, I'm not going to accept Pann Plumbing's $7500 bid for the work without checking a couple of other contractors!
Right now I'm searching around for other contractors to bid on the work, Elbow-Joints has some information, and I'm asking other folks as well. Just what I didn't need to deal with right now.
This morning the serviceman (same guy, thankfully, so I didn't have to
explain it all over again) came and installed the new zone valve. It
took a little extra work to get the wiring right (the replacement has
slightly different wiring from the original) but it only took an hour
to get the new part in and working. About $600 for the job (half of
which is the cost of the part), which is not ideal, but an order of
magnitude less than the first solution they tried to get me to accept.
Yes, it pays to push back!
Seems like the system's working fine now. I will continue to monitor
it, of course, but it looks like the fix is complete. Whew!
Go back to Wednesday 17 March
16 December 2004: Squeaky wheels
Sometimes it pays to complain. After being gasterflabbed by the
multi-thousand dollar quote to replace the whole ding dang system, I
pushed my complaint through several levels of Pann Plumbing's
flunkies, until I got to the vice president, and let him know
(politely but firmly) how displeased I was. After several weeks of
back and forth, he finally managed to track down a replacement part
for the zone valve. He groused a lot about how much work it took to
find it, but he did find it.
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Last updated 16 December 2004
This morning the serviceman (same guy, thankfully, so I didn't have to explain it all over again) came and installed the new zone valve. It took a little extra work to get the wiring right (the replacement has slightly different wiring from the original) but it only took an hour to get the new part in and working. About $600 for the job (half of which is the cost of the part), which is not ideal, but an order of magnitude less than the first solution they tried to get me to accept. Yes, it pays to push back!
Seems like the system's working fine now. I will continue to monitor it, of course, but it looks like the fix is complete. Whew!
Go back to Wednesday 17 March