Full Steam Ahead

steam 1219

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A contractor, an electrician and a homeowner walk into a steam shower — Oh? You’ve heard it before? Okay, but I think this is the last time I get to tell it. I hope.

Dusty the contractor and Shawn the electrician arrived yesterday afternoon for a process that was longer than any of us expected, and resulted in answers that provided varying degrees of happiness. Let’s start with the good news first: the steam shower is finally working, and the problems were not Shawn’s fault.

He was able to diagnose one concern early on: the tubing in the wall behind the unit was kinked in several places. I found a kink in another tube. Some alien-green zip ties and a bit of electrical tape later, that issue was resolved. But he could still see the steam unit glowing an unholy red, and twice we tripped the breaker, which turned out to be a function of overheating rather than amperage.

It all came down to operator error, but we are putting much of this blame on the poor set of instructions. We had thought it would be necessary to run some water to keep the steam generator from overheating; in fact, you should NOT run water while steaming. And then Dusty found a discussion on temperature adjustment, which you do after the steam gets rolling. You hold the temperature button, which barely works to change from Fahrenheit to Celsius, and it zips right along, running through numbers 68 through 121. Pick a number, close the door, and the steam shower will heat up to that temperature, and then turn off and on as needed to stay there.

It’s so simple after you spend an hour trying to figure it out!

So that’s the good news. Steam shower fixed, check.

The so-so news concerns the vacuum that has twice in five months tripped the same breaker, once before Shawn replaced the breaker and once after. He seemed to think he hadn’t replaced the breaker, then he seemed to think both trips had happened before replacement . . . ultimately he found a page on his phone that he handed to Dusty, who then showed it to me: AFCI (I think those are the letters) breakers tend to flip when appliances like vacuums spark.

I have to say, as expected, both Dusty and especially Shawn arrived prickly and on the defensive, ready to blame anything but Shawn’s work. So the next suggestion was that the vacuum was old, and perhaps we should try Dusty’s vacuum for awhile. Lynn said she thought our vacuum is a couple years old. It might be a touch older than that — you know how time flies — but it’s still relatively new.

And that was how that was resolved: vacuums will be vacuums, and you just have to learn to live with it.

The garage, which is where the afternoon started, did not really get resolved at all, at least from our perspective. The circuit is 20 amps; Lynn’s freezer uses 10, which somehow equates to 16 (more house math), and if you want to plug anything else in anywhere in the garage, well, you’re pretty much out of luck.

My question was, how come this same freezer, and the same refrigerator, and the same quartz heater, and same cars, electric or gas with block heaters, could be plugged in on Irwin Street without issue? Shawn’s answer was, the breaker wasn’t doing its job, which is to prevent fires. I guess I should have followed up with a corollary: how long can you overload a circuit without starting a fire? Because we must have overloaded that circuit for years.

Shawn really had no interest in what happened on Irwin Street, and Dusty kept trying to find reasons that might explain the difference. Were we sure all that was on one circuit? (Yes.)

For Shawn it came down to: don’t use the quartz heater; let him install the EVSE for the electric car (which arrived today at work, prompting Kara and Gilly to accuse me of ordering weird stuff for the shop) since we’ve apparently already paid for the installation; and never use any outlet for anything in the garage. Okay, he didn’t really say that last part, but that seems to be the solution.

I don’t know what he would do if Lynn used the refrigerator as well as the freezer. But here’s the thing: we told him those were going into the garage on the first day we met with him. We discussed their sizes and locations, and how they would have to bracket the window because they wouldn’t both fit on one side.

I don’t know if the amperage on the circuit can be increased. I’ll save that question for Peter, my work electrician. I don’t think Shawn has done anything wrong, particularly, and he does have a very good reputation around town, and he did doggedly persist with the steam shower until nearly 6 o’clock, but the obvious answer to me seemed to be: the garage is underpowered for our needs.

We are going to go ahead with the monitor GCEA plans to put on our line, because none of this explains the three tiny power outages I’ve experienced. GCEA could account for one, but not the other two. And I don’t think every tripping of the garage breaker happened when cars or heaters were plugged in. (Some of those did happen when things were plugged in but not on.)

I also made the mistake of mentioning a little oddity that occurred right after watching a DVD one morning. My DVD player runs through a VCR (of course I still have one) to get to the TV, and after I finished watching my DVD, the VCR did something a little odd. But I paid it no mind until yesterday when I wanted to watch another DVD and the VCR wanted to completely reset itself.

But when you mention that to a prickly electrician who is convinced you are out to find fault with his work, he is quick to tell you the VCR problem is yours, not his. Here’s the thing: I wasn’t looking at it as a VCR problem; I see it as yet another anomaly involving electricity. And once I sat down with some patience last night (after checking the batteries in the remote), the VCR worked fine. Suggesting something anomalous, not a problem with the VCR.

So I still think we have some electrical glitches, but I’ll wait and see if GCEA finds anything with their monitor and continue to keep a log of electrical anomalies. Which I will then pass along to Peter, who so far hasn’t been prickly about his work.

In the meantime I am happy to report I successfully completed my first official steam shower without any breakers blowing, but I did learn yet another user tip to pass along to the next purchaser: be sure to run hot water through the rainfall head so that your steaming doesn’t get interrupted by constant cold droplets. That’s a bad punchline right there.

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