Troubleshooting my tankless water heater

I’m blogging this in the hopes that anyone else doing Google searches while trouble shooting their tankless water heater might find this info useful, because I couldn’t find any information about this on the web.

The other day, our one year old tankless water heater seemed to crap out. No hot water from any taps, and there was a faint smell of gas around the unit. After about 30 seconds, the display blinked 11 and 12, both error codes.

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Looking up the documentation on it (it’s a Rinnai RU98i), the error codes correspond to “No Ignition” and “No Flame”, both saying that the burner isn’t firing. The only homeowner tip is to check the gas lines to make sure gas is being piped into the unit. I checked mine and all the gas lines were clear and operating. Additionally it said if you smelled gas to shut the whole thing down and call a professional.

Eventually when the plumbing installer came out to troubleshoot, and we figured out the problem: the air intake/exhaust was covered up by masking tape/paper while our house was being painted. No air was going in and none was going out, so the gas smell was due to a backflow of air.

So that’s my troubleshooting tip: if your Rinnai tankless water heater ever stops working and spits out error codes of 11 or 12, not only should you check the gas lines to make sure they’re turned on, but also check the air intake/exhaust and any filters you have to make sure the unit is getting adequate new air while being able to spit out older air. I wish the documentation on the unit mentioned that, because I could have saved $150 on the plumber’s visit.

LED lightbulbs: not ready for primetime

The other day, I mentioned this link to an online store selling LED bulbs. LEDs have long been heralded as the next great thing in decreasing home energy consumption, pulling down a fraction of the energy even efficient compact fluorescents use. Plus, they can last for a decade or more. The only downside is the price.

Except, they completely suck in terms of light.

Now, I remember using early compact fluorescent bulbs ten years ago. They were bulky, expensive, made noise, and cast a weird bluish glow on everything. But they matured to the point where everyone is starting to convert their home fixtures to it. As long as you get them with the right color temp (anything less than 3200K), they’ll look like your normal bulbs but use 1/4 the energy and last much longer.

LED bulbs are about where CFL bulbs were ten years ago. I paid $125 for a variety pack of bulbs from C.Crane and I noticed their main LED bulb page only explained the bulb’s brightness in terms of Lumens, with no equivalent to normal incandescents. CFL bulbs usually say right on them that a 13w bulb will act like a 60watt bulb.

In my short time testing out the variety pack, the most light I could get from the brightest bulb was probably on par with a small nightlight or 25 watt bedside lamp bulb. The color is definitely blue and the light is dim. There’s no way on earth these bulbs are worth running out and spending $30+ per bulb on. What’s weird is that my LED flashlights are very bright on small batteries but these are just terrible on unlimited home power.

Maybe in five years or so the technology will mature, but at the moment, save your money and stick with CFL bulbs instead.

Misadventures in Copyright

backyard, four months later Last year I moved into a new house with a big backyard, but the yard faces directly south, so it bakes in the summertime. I decided to find a local architect to help build a small shade patio off the back, and in the process I learned a lot about how far-reaching copyright law hits everyday people.

  1. After meeting with an architect, I was asked to get the plans for the house from the city building department, to use as reference. I drove down and requested them at the desk, and they said they wouldn’t give them to me as a homeowner — the builder of the house had to request them (I assume, because of copyright, so I won’t go build a duplicate house on my own?).
  2. I met up with the builder later that day, since he was building another house in the city. He was surprised and slightly annoyed he had to do this, so he called the department and told them to go ahead and let me see the plans to get copies made.
  3. The next day the City lets me pick them up, but says I must return them by 5pm the following day (or I guess they turn into a pumpkin?).
  4. I go to a large local copy shop, drop off the plans, they say they’ll be done in two hours.
  5. 1 hour and 55 minutes later, I get a call saying they can’t make the copies, due to copyright. I’m told I need written (verbal isn’t good enough) permission from the architecture firm mentioned on the plans before they would copy them. My only other choice is to come in and retrieve the plans.
  6. I scour the yellow pages online and no one else in the city has a large copier for house blueprint plans. I notice the plans have a paragraph-sized copyright notice/license on the side saying you are liable for $40,000 in damages if found copying them and the plans are only for one house built. There are also hand-stamped “COPYRIGHT” stamps on each drawing, on every page.
  7. I tell this story to my architect, who says she’d be happy to take the plans to the same copy shop that refused them, since they let her make any copies she needs.

As the owner of a home, of course I don’t “own” the design used to build it, but I don’t see why the city, the builder, the copier shop, and the original architecture firm all had to stand in my way before I could see the plans. To know where and how many windows are on the back wall before planning new construction off those walls sure seems like a legitimate use of plans that shouldn’t impede on copyright, but that’s the state of copyright matters today.