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Money disappears at the flick of a switch

They say that to help lower your heating bills, you should set the thermostat lower. We have set all our thermostats in the sixties, from a low of 62 to a high of 67, depending on the time of day. Call me cheap, but natural gas is more expensive than throwing on a sweater or crawling under a blanket. In our house, a slight chill in the air is normal. 

I like a slight chill in the air, but…

One day early in the new year, the chill was more than “slight.” The temperature readings on the thermostats on the main floor were much lower than the set temperatures. We were hovering around the mid-fifties, which is cold even for me. The radiators were cold to the touch. No hot water was circulating. I fiddled with the thermostats without success.  

But we still had hot water. I knew the boiler was still working because the boiler also heats the hot water tank. I went downstairs to investigate.

The power light for the Taco zone control was on, but all the zone lights were off, despite the fact that I had cranked one of the thermostats up to 80 degrees. Basically, the thermostat was calling for heat, but the boiler and pumps were not getting the message.

Who do we call?

At this point, I had a couple of options. We have a service contract with a third party company– we pay a monthly fee and they take care of repairs and annual inspections of our equipment. It’s kind of like an insurance policy. I could either call that company or I could call the contractor who installed the system.

I chose the option that would likely not cost us anything and called the service contract company.  They would be out the next day in the afternoon.

The next morning, oddly enough, we had heat.  I went downstairs to see what I could see and a few of the zone lights were lit up on the zone control.  My wife and I played around with the thermostats and everything seemed to be working.  So I called the service contract company and cancelled the appointment.

Too good to be true

About a week later, we noticed that it was colder than normal in the house once again. Thermostats set for the mid-sixties were giving temperature readings in the mid-fifties.

Okay. Something was definitely wrong. We called the service contract company again. It was a Saturday and they would not be out until Monday. Not wanting to wait 48 hours for a service call, I bit the bullet and called the plumber who installed the system several years ago.  He was just heading out to another call, but came around to our house first.

His investigation took about half an hour or so, but he “fixed” the problem within fifteen minutes.  He spent the rest of the time making sure everything was working.

The diagnosis and fix

The Taco zone control is faulty. But when he switched off the priority, it seemed to work okay. It’s not really a fix, but it solves our problem.  

The hot water tank was on the priority meaning that when it called for heat, the other zones would shut off. He said that with the priority off it may take longer for the hot water tank to heat up but we would likely not notice any difference. The real solution is to replace the control but the cost of the part and the labor to install it would be more than we want to spend right now. And with the system functioning, it would be an unnecessary expense.

When all was said and done, we paid about $130 for the plumber to flip a switch. At least it was same-day service. 

I am tempted to turn the priority back on, call the service contract company again and hope that the control isn’t working when they come out. Maybe they would replace the Taco unit. If so, would our contract cover that repair? Or would they just flip the priority switch.

Good enough for now

We plan to replace our aging boiler with a new one that is more efficient when we rebuild the addition. We’ll replace the zone control then and just add it to the cost of the renovation.

In my first house, I had to replace the circuit board in the forced air gas furnace at a cost of over $400.   Expensive repairs like this are not uncommon. That’s why every homeowner should have an emergency fund.  

We have had almost seven trouble-free years since upgrading and zoning the heating system. While I expect a longer life out of a key component like the zone control, nothing lasts forever. For now, I am not going to rush to any judgement about its quality.