St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Taking Control (of my furnace)

We have too many places right now with the Evergreen farm and the Pine Island home and the lake cabin.  The cabin is not a problem as we just drain the water, turn off the electricity and nail everything shut with plywood for the winter.  However, the other two places have water systems and furnaces and have to be worried about when we are at the other place. 

The Pine Island one is the worst as the 25 year old Bryant 90+ furnace has always had a bad habit--it occasionally tries to start up and then fails and won't try again--letting the house cool down.  Not a problem when we are living there but a real worry when we are away. 

Last year we had a freeze alarm dial us when the temp got down to 40 degrees, however then we had to call a neighbor to have him come over and turn the thermostat down and up again (or flip the on/off switch I hooked to the furnace power).   It always starts up then and after many service calls and lots of expensive boards, ignitors etc, it never was fixed.  We gave up on this after the Bryant guy told us "the early high efficiency furnaces had problems..."   This year our neighbor is headed out for the winter -- so no one available free to reset the furnace. 

All I needed was a remote switch -- to turn off and on the furnace from 140 miles away (or more).  I studied up on wireless (wi-fi) thermostats that use an internet connection to communicate to others on the internet.  The price range was from $99 up to several hundred.   The $99 Honeywell available at Home Depot looked adequate.  

Scott and I picked it up, took apart the old one and did a little re-wiring (added a C wire -- common ground, and jumpered a red wire to another red for power) and put it on the wall,  We followed the instructions and soon were controlling the furnace from smart phone, tablet and computer.  

Now, if the temp drops below 50 (or whatever we set), emails will be sent to Margo, Scott and I every 30 minutes until we get the problem fixed.  When the emails come, we go onto the internet, connect with our thermostat and turn the furnace off and on and see if that works.  Heck of a deal if it actually works.  

Of course, nothing is free, so we have to leave the WI-FI connected at the house even if we are gone for a few months.  Normally if we are gone for more than a few months we can put the wi-fi on hold and save the monthly fee.  I think we will be at Pine Island December as Margo has her back surgery Dec 2nd and has a few weeks in rehab after that.  Not sure about Jan and February. 

Bryant 90+  propane gas furnace showing the guts

Had to add a wire from "C" -- common ground to the new thermostat. 

 I added a jumper between R and RC on the left (not shown here) to power the new thermostat. I had red, blue (C), yellow and green wires.  

Main control screen on my computer.  Lets me set up 4 periods each day (night, wakeup, leave for work, home again) for each day of the week.  Idea is cool at night, warm for getting up, cool while gone for the day, and warm to get home except for weekends (or for retired folks).
This morning it felt cool when I woke up at 5:30, so using my Android tablet in bed, I set it to 68!   Now with Margo sitting in her chair with her laptop, she can turn the thermostat up without getting out of the chair, and I can turn it back down too!