Monday, August 10, 2009

Safety First

I have to get a job. Soon. If not, I will have to shoot myself in the foot to keep from doing things around the house.

I am a notoriously bad handyman. In the last couple of weeks, however, I have replaced our bathroom vent fan, put a new motor on the air conditioner fan (had to re-wire it -- not too sharp with electricity, it scares me; more on that later), and installed a new microwave above the stove.

The really frightening part is, all of these jobs were completed with relative success. The vent fan is obnoxiously efficient, the air conditioner works as well as it is going to in this heat, and the microwave is still on the wall -- and operating.

I started with the vent fan. I figured, "If I bugger this simple job up, that will keep me from doing anything else. Safety first."

I found the breaker for the bathroom fan and light switches, which are on the same circuit. Got that turned off. Then I started trying to take the back of the fan off the wall in the back hallway. This is not correct procedure, but at least I learned something. After several minutes of not being able to budge the fan housing, I decided to try from the vent side.

Enter Mr. Flashlight, because the breaker for the bathroom light was turned off. I took the vent cover off, which I had done before for cleaning purposes. Enter my stupidity (with all these entrances, the bathroom was starting to get crowded). The fan was right there in front of me, had I ever bothered to pay any attention all the times I had cleaned the vent cover. And it was plugged into an outlet!

So I unplugged the fan and turned the breaker back on so people could see to pee. I then removed the two screws that held the fan and motor in place, and -- voila. Being experienced in things like this, I patiently waited for the roof to collapse, as the removal had been much too simple.

Then off The Boy and I go to Home Depot. I do not prefer one over the other when it comes to Home Depot vs. Lowe's, but for me, Home Depot is closer. I took The Boy with me because we had been there recently and researched the whole vent fan issue, and I was hoping that he would remember anything I had forgotten. As it turns out, this was a pretty good move.

We walk into the store, and I head for the area where I believed we had looked at fans. When I looked back to find The Boy, he asked, "Where are you going?" I replied that I was trying to find the vent fans that we had perused recently. He then said, "They're in the back of the store."

He showed me where I needed to be, and we began the search in earnest. The big thing, of course, was making certain that the wattage and voltage were of equal value. So I found one that was $14.99, and while checking the details on the sticker, I noticed that it said 50 cfm, as did the old one that resided in my hand. Now, I'm not a genius, but I figured out very quickly that "cfm" does not mean "coffee for me." It actually means "cubic feet per minute," which is the amount of air that the fan can move.

So I checked one that was $24.99. Its sticker said 70 cfm. I knew for a fact that the vent fan that had punked out sometimes had difficulty keeping the bathroom clear of the fog generated by a hot shower, especially in winter. So for $10 more I got a fan with the same motor, but a bigger blade.

Next we went through self check-out (which sounds eerily narcissistic), then stopped by the Brown Cup Coffee Company so The Boy could have some Chai, and I could have a double espresso (I'm a 2 cfm guy, at best). Then back home we went, where The Boy installed the new fan, which runs like a champ (and with me giving instructions, The Boy, Mr. Flashlight and my stupidity, it was starting to feel like a meeting in a phone booth -- young people, ask your parents about those). And there is no residual mist in the air after a shower; and the breaker didn't give out from the bigger fan; and the roof didn't collapse.

So my next project was the air conditioner fan motor. This is the motor that pushes air into the house, draws it out of the house, and recycles it to make it a more efficient system. And if we didn't have a POS Rheem air conditioner/heater, this would probably work okay.

Mr. Wilkerson, who installed the unit, has been to my house no fewer than three times every summer since the Rheem was installed (a new gas heat unit, about a year before 9/11; $$$$$$$). He has been here often enough that I have learned how to do a number of things myself to keep the thing running. Earlier in the summer, I replaced the fan rotor, which moves the air. This involves removing the entire unit, taking the fan apart, installing the new blade, then reversing the removal. The old motor had wires that plugged into it, then ran hither and yon through the space/time continuum, moving electrons back and forth. All one had to do was write down the order in which the wires were plugged, left to right. "Easy, peasy," as Sam Axe would say.

A week after the motor quit -- and two different suppliers later -- I went to Mr. Wilkerson's shop, and there was a new motor. There was no plug unit on it, and it had loose wires running everywhere. So I got a lesson in electric motor wiring, and brought the new beast home. Now, Mr. Wilkerson made the wiring sound easy, but that's with his 50+ years of experience. As mentioned before, I am afraid of electricity, and avoid it when possible, other than turning switches on and off.

But somebody had to do it; Four of the wires that were pointed out were actually plugged into one another. Part of the lesson was thus: this motor is reversible; if it rotates the wrong way when first started, plug the wires in the opposite way. So I put the fan back together, new motor ready to go; then it started raining -- check that -- pouring. This summer shower was similar to the ones they get in central Florida. It rains buckets for about twenty minutes, then the sun comes out, and everyone gets a steam bath.

So, with water vapor going up and sweat pouring down, I went through at least three telephone inquiries to poor Mr. Wilkerson, several tiny screws, six or seven wire nuts of various sizes, and a number of colorful phrases learned over years in industry. I then crossed every phalangial digit available, plugged the breaker back in (which, yes, had been removed -- safety first), and the fan started to rotate in the correct direction. I couldn't believe it. By the next morning, the heat was nearly back to the bearable stage, and the air was way less humid throughout the house.

And the roof didn't collapse. Therefore, after about a week's rest, I decided to install the microwave that had been sitting here for a year, with me waiting for it to magically leap onto the wall above the stove.

Removing the old microwave turned out to be a breeze, comparatively speaking. After some close and rather uncomfortable inspection, I discovered the method used for holding it up (not including the twenty years of cooking oil, which had hardened to epoxy-like consistency). Then, The Boy found a schematic which clearly stated that yes, these two giant screws are your gravity-denial system. A screwdriver, however, did not do the trick (did I mention it had been there for twenty years?).

I then employed my small Robo-Grip pliers to loosen the screws, and The Boy removed them while I held onto the oven. When they were out, it only took a shake and a rattle to get the thing loose, and it was down. It has since been taken to the recycle center, where, hopefully, some of its parts can be used in service 'bots of the future, who will eventually rebel, and Neo and Morpheus will have purpose in their lives.

I looked over the installation manual for the new unit, and discovered that the vent fan needed to be removed and redirected, such that the air blew out the top. This had never been done on the old microwave, 'cuz the previous homeowner is lazier and more useless, even, than myself.

I won't bore you with a lot of detail, but installing the new oven was not simple. Better planning would have made it so, but that's for smarter people than I. I will simply relate that I was required to drill six holes -- according to the instructions, which I followed. Luckily, I only had to double that number to get the holes where they were needed (note to manufacturer: a template for the two suspension screws in the top would be a great help).

After hours, loads of sweating, and The Boy learning a couple of my colorful industrial phrases, I plugged the stupid thing in and turned on the vent fan, which blew out the top, as it was meant to do. I then turned on the lights, which burned dim and bright. Lastly, I put a cup of water inside the oven, and started it. It ran, and the turntable rotated.

And the roof didn't collapse; so I had a drink.

As a postscript, I will state that -- in the middle of the first night, apparently -- the vent fan developed a rattle. When I was made aware of it, I pondered, off and on, the trouble of removing the oven and the fan for the simple purpose of discovering the origination of the irritating noise.

I had not gotten around to acting on these thoughts, when, a few days later, potatoes were being boiled on the stove, and I turned on the vent to keep moisture from collecting above the pot. The rattle started, then stopped, and I had a small piece of white plastic on the front of my shirt. I should have saved it for framing, because it is trouble like that which will keep me from doing things for which I am -- ultimately -- unqualified.

Safety first. I don't want the roof to collapse on anyone's head.


  1. I am in awe of your most awesome awesomeness. I would say I'm a fan, but you've dealt with lots of those in recent days, it seems. You are the fan master. Go, Wesley!

  2. They recycle old microwaves? No way!