Using an Ecobee with a wood boiler (single thermostat!)

We live in the country, where natural gas is not available (half mile away, but may as well be 100) . We have a gas furnace and water heater that use propane, but it is crazy expensive. For the summer to heat water, it does fine, but we try to avoid it for heating the house. When we moved in we replaced the furnace and AC and opted for an air-to-air heat pump (an AC that can reverse itself to bring heat from outside in, rather than only inside to out) to help with heating in the spring and fall (and even mild winter days). The previous owners though, installed an outdoor wood burner which is awesome (because it works well, and we didn’t have to buy and instal it). If you’re not familiar, you build a fire in a small shed-looking building to heat water, which is pumped underground into the house where your furnace blows air over a coil filled with said water, heating your house. Ours also has a coil to heat water, and you can use them to heat your hot tub, pool, etc (I hope to use it for our pole barn some day).

The problem with wood burners, is you generally end up with one thermostat for the furnace (that you set for 68 or so) and one for the wood burner (that you set higher at 72). In the summer, the furnace thermostat runs the AC, and in shoulder seasons or whenever you don’t have the fire going, it runs the furnace. If the wood burner is operating though, you turn on the second thermostat and it takes over, turning on the furnace blower to send air over the hot water coil, heating your house. If the fire goes out unexpectedly, the house cools to the lower furnace thermostat temp and it will kick on. It works, but its funky and ugly having two thermostats.

This season, I got tired of the pair and decided to try using one. We have had an Ecobee for several years (got it for our last house and brought it with us) and figured there had to be a way. Ive been playing with it for 2 months and it seems to be working, so here’s what I did.

The Ecobee allows for a heat pump, aux stage 1 and aux stage 2 heat. If you don’t have a heat pump, just ignore the heat pump wiring (the brown O/B reversing valve wire). For stage 1, I connected a jumper wire to the blower wire. Stage 2 then goes to the furnace, and voila! OK, that seems really simple, but I dare you to find instructions for it anywhere else (I had a hell of a time finding anything for about 2 years). Here’s a photo of my wiring.

Thermostat wiring

Thermostat wires

In the settings, make sure you have all your wires showing in your equipment screen. I set my aux heat threshold to 10 degrees so stage 2 would come on as little as possible, but you can set a smaller threshold and it will kick on the furnace to help heat when bigger changes are needed. I also upped my “away” temp some to minimize the temp swing when I come home so it wouldn’t use the furnace to heat the house faster. No, its not energy efficient, but neither is burning several cord of wood.

Thermostat wiring screen

Thermostat wiring screen

Thermostat thresholds

Thermostat threshold settings

You can barely see it in the photos, but my old second thermostat is still installed below the Ecobee with one of the wires sticking out. I’ll probably wait out the full winter before removing that and patching the area.

This should work for any 2 stage thermostat (will have a W1 and W2 terminal). Our furnace is a 2 stage, but the furnace itself controls what stage (high or low) to run at based on runtime. If its been say 5 minutes and there is still a heat call, it switches up to high. In theory, the point of having 2 stages in the thermostat is to take this over and factor in the temp change needed as well. If its currently 65 because you were away and now you are home and turn up the heat to 70, the thermostat can make the decision to go straight to high due to the large swing needed. Our furnace has a jumper to let me tell it if it should handle 2 stage automatically (it decides) or manually (the thermostat will tell it), I assume this is standard among 2 stage furnaces.

All this because, in reality, furnaces are very dumb. They send out power on the red wire and wait to see if it returns and on what wire, which will indicate if you want heat (white wire), cooling (yellow) or just the fan (green). If I were using the thermostat for 2 stage, the power would return to the W2 (high heat) or Y2 (high cool) terminals. The furnace has no actual knowledge of the set or current temperature, only if it should be on or not (which is why cranking it to 80 because you want it to heat faster is stupid).

So what I’m doing here is letting the thermostat decide Stage 1 (wood boiler) or Stage 2 (propane furnace), but telling it to use Stage 2 very infrequently. Meanwhile, the furnace has no knowledge of this. If the propane heat call is ever made, it will still make its own calls on stage 1 or 2; starting in stage 1 for a set time then turning it up (which incidentally is only a blower speed change, not actually hotter).

So, there you go. Like I said, I’ve been playing with it for a while, mostly balancing the temp settings for Away vs Home vs Sleep and how to read the remote sensors. If this can help someone else though, awesome.

Finally, even if you don’t have a heat pump or wood burner, an Ecobee is awesome and will pay for itself, I cant recommend it highly enough. I haven’t used a Nest, but it should be similar.


An Experiment of Sorts

Jenn’s computer has been acting up, so we looked at replacing it but $999 for a new or even refurbished MacBook is not in the cards right now. We came upon the idea of an iPad, but she wasn’t sure she could live with just that. So, I got an iPad mini (32GB) and gave her my MacBook for now. Mine is 2 years newer than hers, but still 5 years old or so. It is temporary, I am sure we will get a new laptop in another year or two, but should work for now.

Shofar, I am ok with just the iPad. I have gone back to the computer a few times for goofy websites that just won’t work (namely Hulu, as I don’t see paying for Hulu plus just for Warehouse 13), and for resyncing a few items, but almost completely iPad for about 2 weeks now.

For saving files (I didn’t have all that many) I went with a mix of Evernote for PDFs and other read-only documents and Dropbox for anything I may need to edit. This may change to Dropbox only eventually. There is nothing wrong with Evernote, I just wonder if it may be easier to have everything in one place. I have read of many that swear by having both though, so am giving it a try.

I do not have an office app yet, but have been looking. I am waiting to see if LibreOffice comes to the rescue or if the rumors of Apple giving away iWork come true. I did by Grand Theft Auto III though (priorities, you know), but have not played enough for a review.

I got a case from someone at work, but not sure I like the bulk it adds. I had a case on my iPhone 4, but it ended up scratching the phone when dirt got caught between the case and phone. After that, I have been caseless on my iPhone 5. I have a feeling my iPad will end up the same, perhaps with a sleeve for travel though.

In other news, I took and passed my amateur radio exam last month, and have the call sign KD8VHX. Jenn was awesome and bought me a radio, 2 meter and 70cm bands. That gets me 10 or so miles range. It is a low cost option for now to see if I actually use it and if its worth spending for a HF radio with worldwide range (which are several hundred to a few thousand dollars!).

Jenn is going to Vegas with her mom and sister, on my birthday. I will make sure she makes it up to me later.

I think that’s about it for now, later all.

BREAKING UPDATE: Just noticed after posing, this is post 600 (in WordPress, it is probably a bit over that in post count).

Seven Years

So, it was seven years ago tonight that I started my blog.  Since then, I have posted over 587 entries (I say over because some have been deleted, but the current number of entries, not including this one, is 587) containing just shy of 171,000 words.  Unfortunately, I seem to have lost interest over the past two years or so.  Some changes are coming, I am sure of that, but I don’t see an end.  Yes, few people blog anymore, (and I seem to be becoming one of them) but I was never one to follow the crowd.  I can certainly see a 10th anniversary celebration in three years.

In other news, April is now the second month to contain zero posts (Nov 2009 was the first).  May could well have suffered the same fate if not for the Blogversary.

In jobs news, I had an interview today that went rather well, have a phone interview Tuesday as well.  Still no response from the Sandusky or GR interviews last month.

In an attempt to improve my job chances, we decided to move closer to where they seem to be, and have been living in Grand Rapids (Comstock Park, to be exact) for nearly three weeks now.  We moved in on May 8, having gotten the keys on the 7th and signed on the 3rd.  It does seem to be helping, based on the two interviews I mentioned above.  It is also nice having so much more around to do and see than we had in Big Rapids.

Jenn and I celebrated our 6 year anniversary (of “going out”) on May 13 by going to Kobe, which we thought would be like Genji but wasn’t as good.  We also celebrated our 6 month anniversary (since the wedding) on April 10 by making a meal at home, of shrimp scampi and sautéed vegetables (note: the OS X spell checker put in that accent mark itself).

Apple’s  iPad is certainly making some noise.  I have played with one and though I was originally in the “what the hell is it?” camp, I have to say it is pretty awesome.  Yes, it has its flaws like no multitasking (until fall) and no user accessible file system, but it does 90% of even what I do on a computer.  I can see it covering everything a person needs for several people I know.

In other news…

Yeah, I lead a rather boring life.  I wish I could think of more but I can’t right now.

So, hopefully I will have some good news to post soon, but until then I am out.

Spring Break

Being that I have never really done anything Spring Break-like, and this is my last Spring Break, Jon and I are trying to come up with something.  We have no idea what, and it has to be decently cheap.  Will let you all know if it’s anything fun.

I called Apple and requested repair on my MacBook, since I can live without it for the next week.  The damn palmrest cracked again just after Christmas break, so need that repaired, again.  If I need to send it in a third time (very likely, probably about May) I am going to bitch that I want it FIXED, not just repaired, and if that means I get a new aluminum unibody MacBook, then so be it.  Apple has opened repair to all MacBooks, including those out of warranty, and though it is not publicly stated, they obviously recognize this as a know issue.  If they know it’s an issue, why should I have to send in my computer every 6 months for repairs?

Speaking of my computer, I added a new program/service last week.  It’s called DropBox, and it’s like a virtual thumb drive.  You sign up (name and email, thats it) and download the software.  It makes a folder on your computer and anything up put in it gets upladed to their servers.  You get 2GB for free (2.25 if you follow my referral link), and an additional 250MB for every person you refer, up to a total of 3GB.  You can also pay them money for more space but I’m cheap, and 2-3Gb is pretty good.  Note: you wont see your 250MB bonus until you actually download and install the software, it won’t appear when you first sign up.  It’s worth a try, right?

I cleaned the aquarium, holy crap was it dirty.  I mean, I do a water change and vacuum every week or 2, but I actually pulled and rinsed all the gravel and wow, there was a lot of crud in there.

Started watching more movies again.  Get Smart, Dead Like Me – Life After Death, Stranded with Les Stroudt (the prelude to Survivorman) in the last week, with a few more to go.  Trying to get them watched and free up space on the HD so it will be easier to do a Backup before sending computer off.

I also started reading The Watchmen.  I am through the first chapter and addicted already.  Have heard mixed reviews of movie, but hoping having read the book will help me enjoy the movie more.

Unfortunately no job yet.  Still looking though.  Market is not good, but all I can do is keep trying.  I graduate 2 months from Monday, is almost time to start freaking out, but not yet.

And that would be it for this post.  See you next time.

One Week Down

So, first week of class is over.  All went well, though I will have quite a bit of work this semester.  Automation, plant layout, and continuous improvement have some big projects, though homework should be limited.  Lean doesn’t seem like it will be too bad.

Jenn and I went to GR on Saturday, which was fun but nasty travel.  We passed quite a few accidents on the way there, and even more on the way back.  We had lunch at TGI Fridays, which I haven’t had in quite a while, and it was really good.  Need to go there more often.  Looked for shoes at Nordstrom Rack, but didn’t find anything I loved.

Cleaned on Friday, as Jenn’s parents came down.  We got most of it Friday, but got laundry and some more yesterday.  Still have a little mess on bedroom floor and the hell that is the office, but may actually get everything cleaned up.

I finally ordered my RAM.  MacBook now has 4GB, and Jenn has my 1GB.  If someone uses PC-5300 so-dimms, and needs 2 sticks of 256MB each, let me know.

That would be about it for now.  Going to enjoy the rest of my day off (no class MLK Day).

MacWorld '09

So, in the final Apple keynote of a MacWorld conference, Apple introduced iLife 09, iWork 09, and the 17″ Unibody MacBook Pro.  The only one I care about is iLife, particularly iPhoto (I don’t own a digital video camera, other than what phone or point-and-shoot can do, and have never really touched GarageBand).  So, part of iPhoto is now the ability to do facial detection, geo tag decoding, new slideshow themes, a new book, and the ability to sync with FaceBook and Flikr.

I use FaceBook, but seldom put pics on it, as when I started on FaceBook it required the person viewing to be a member as well, and made sharing a pain in the arse.  Instead, I put all my pics on Picasa, owned by Google, which I generally like except for very poor iPhoto syncing.

The idea of Flikr has crossed my mind several times in the past, and the new features of iPhoto make it even more appealing, except for one issue: Yahoo! owns Flikr.  Since about a 18 months ago, I have been rather anti Yahoo!, and am actually closing in very near deleting my Yahoo! account, as it currently is used only for a spam email box, which I can obviosly do without.

I understand why Apple made the choice of Flikr though, and it’s related to a release from the day earlier (Monday).  Picasa is a 2-part operation, the downloadable program as well as the web-albums.  On Monday, finally, Google released Picasa (the App) for Mac.  This program, for storing, sorting, categorizing, and sharing your pics to the web sounds incredibly similar to iPhoto, and is its newest competitor.

So, despite the fact that one of Google’s founders is on Apples board of directors, and that Apple uses Google maps and search as the default in over 20 apps on both Macs and the iPhone/iPod touch, there is no support in iPhoto for Picasa Web Albums, because it is a competing product.

So, I have 3 options:

  1. Keep iPhoto and live with poor Picasa Web support.
  2. Keep iPhoto and switch to Flikr
  3. Switch to Picasa (the App) and keep Picasa Web Albums.

None of these are ideal, but I will most likely end up with #1.  I like iPhoto, and I generally like Picasa Web Albums.  Maybe I will give Flikr at least a try, before I end my Yahoo! account.

Anyway, moving along…

I went to Bay City today, was gone about 12 hours.  Nothing real big, visit  with Mom and Dad, fix Grandma’s computer, come home.  Roads weren’t bad, but other drivers seemed to think differently.  One guy was actually going 30 on the freeway at one point.

Watched several movies: “Zombie Strippers”, “HellBoy II”, “The Dark Knight”, as well as the entire series of “Clone High”.  All were pretty good.  I must recommend “The Dark Knight” to all, and “Clone High” as well.  “Zombie Strippers” was pretty much just as fucked up of a movie as it sounds.

Bought my books for school yesterday, $208 and change for 3 books.  Good nes is, thats the last time I have to by text books (until grad school, 3 – 5 years maybe), yay!  School begins on Monday.

By my count, there were 45 posts in 2008, averaging to a post every 8 days or so, so not even once a week.  I think I can beat that this year, but who knows.  It is already the 8th, and I am only making my first post.

OK, thats enough for now.