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Retrocommissioning Bodies and Buildings

By October 28, 2013November 8th, 2021Energy Efficiency, Energy Rant

This week’s post is brought to you by my Mom and Shaq O’Neal for lessons in retrocommissioning, solving problems, and fixing stuff for lasting effects.

Last week, October 20, I did the Des Moines IMT Marathon.  This was my first marathon in 19 years, and sparing the boredom, a reasonable target is qualifying for Boston.  They make it easier for old codgers like me by handicapping times for age and associated decrepitness.

At the finish line, what goes through my mind?  (1) How was the experience, which totally depends on Boston qualification because if I don’t make that, it means the run was between crumby and miserable?  Check.  (2) When and where will I do the next one (depends on 1 – see the pattern)?  (3) When will the pain in my quads go away so I can run like normal?  Being able to run decently to me is analogous to when will my water heater be fixed so I can shower?

By Thursday the 24th, the soreness and fatigue in my legs was almost gone.  However, not long after the start of a six miler, ramping up to normal speed one muscle buried in my thigh was overstressed very quickly in about three strides with practically no warning.  It burned like crazy.  I walked a little, and then ran slower just fine to the finish.

The next day, the muscle was still very sore, and I mentioned this to my mother whom I was visiting. Don’t ever do that, I learned.  “Do you want some ____ to put on that?”  It was some sort of wonder goo like icy hot – the monotonic and extremely boring Shaq O’Neal came to mind.  These sorts of products are mostly whitewash placebos that don’t do a damn thing to fix the problem.  What’s the problem here?  Burned out muscle?  NO!  The problem is compensation due to fatigue or possibly tightness in other body parts, which altered my normal gate and over stressed the muscle in question.  Bodies are machines and they are very much like buildings in that if a consultant, contractor, engineer, physical therapist, or doctor doesn’t know what they are doing, they will not fix the underlying problem.

Here are some alternating body and building issues.

Body:  How many times have you heard this one: “Running makes my knees hurt – so I can’t run.”  First question is what do you have on your feet when you are trying this?  Your high school basketball shoes or some old second-tier wannabee running shoes from Shopko?  Second question: have you stretched your quads (thigh muscles) the right way?  My knees hurt too when I don’t sufficiently stretch my quads because the tight muscles – in Jeff Ihnen’s inanatomically[1] correct language, smash the patella[2] against other stuff, and this causes pain.  It isn’t a knee problem at all.  It’s a quad problem!

Buildings: I had the local plumber out this summer to connect natural gas to my new dryer.  My water heater is approaching failure age, and there is some dampness on the floor near the relief valve discharge pipe[3].  I asked him about that and what to expect when my water heater dies because I’ve never experienced that.  He said, “There is your problem right there”, pointing to my water heater blanket.  “The insulation is causing it to overheat, and that’s lifting the relief valve.”  The ignorance lights begin to flash in my brain.  Ok.  I thought, just take it off because I don’t want to argue with the guy.  He said, “Feel how warm it is under the blanket?”  I said, “yes”, and thought to myself, “it works, duh.”  Referring to the water heater skin temperature after the blanket is removed, he said, “See how fast that cools off?”  “Yes!”  “Duh; now all the insulation is between the skin and the hot tank. This is exactly what I would expect.”  Analogy: it’s 10 degrees out side.  Take your coat off.  See how quickly you get cold?

He also went on to say that the blanket voids the warranty.  Well of course it would.  What competent manufacturer wouldn’t take any and all opportunities to void warranties?

So, what’s the problem?  I’m not sure, but I am sure of this: the temperature control mechanism for the water heater has got to work entirely independent of the amount of insulation on the tank – i.e., the insulation has no impact whatsoever on “overheating”.  Why?  Because the water heater could be in a 50F basement, or a 90F equipment room, or a 30F garage, and if manufacturers’ didn’t consider this, they are really dumb and they would be out of business, but they are not – so they must have gotten this part right.

Lastly, I would add that you do have to know what you are doing when insulating your water heater, and as it turns out, my installation met all the criteria published by A.O. Smith – water heating giant.

This example is precisely the type of misunderstanding that leads to gobs of retrocommissioning opportunities.  More examples next time.

[1] A word of my making.  Look for it in Webster’s next year.

[2] Knee cap

[3] Again, making up terminology as I go.

Jeff Ihnen

Author Jeff Ihnen

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