Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Doors: Some (or Much) Assembly Required

 Fifteen years into my service as business Attic Access, in metro Portland, Oregon, I find myself in a binge of calls for broken attic ladders made in Southeast USA, where fixing is the best response.

This now-repaired attic ladder, lightly used and perhaps thirty years old, was found dysfunctional at both limit arms, as I call them. The upper pivots were very loose, with springs and arms jammed akimbo; cleverness demanded to deploy or stow. It is now better-than-new and should live on another thirty years and more. With sturdy limit arms, longevity may come of care to not let step section hinges come apart with lost nuts and bolts.

Here is one of the flimsy mild-steel upper pivot cups from a much newer Werner WH3008 ladder that I demolished for recycling of the metal. The factory-installed limit arms were ruined when big rivets serving  as the upper pivots, ripped out. Functional replacement arms could not be found. The ladder would not have failed if the pivots had been strong lag screws binding to the ladder rough frame. The manufacturer sought simplest construction (the dumb rivets protruding here), installation-ready out of the shipping packaging. The installer overlooked the need to set long lag screws into the two holes not riveted to the ladder frame. The ladder frame then would measurably flex from heavy loads every time the ladder was operated, contributing to the pivot-rivet failure. 

Competent installers of ordinary doors have learned that lesser loads, even just the weight of a door, can not be supported by the door frame. Door loads are transmitted through the hinges, wanting to twist the frame. At every hinge, an appropriate screw to the flimsy 1x ladder frame, must be replaced with a screw binding to the much stronger, heavily nailed-in rough frame. 

The many-tricks in correct installation of an ordinary prefit door are well taught by trade show master presenter Gary Katz, The Katz Roadshow. I am a very uncommon resource, in offering useful techniques for the installation of an attic ladder, more tricky in its need to bear the very large loads of a person's weight and carried objects. Lesson One: Never rely on the ladder frame to bear the loads, despite claims of rated load-carrying. 

So, a ladder manufacturer will do well to include many installation steps that directly apply carried loads to the rough frame. Clearly describe them. Don't pretend that any uninstructed person with a saw, hammer and nails, can get the job done, with a rube helper, in a half hour. I fully disassemble a ladder for installation, safely and better, working alone. I sometimes extract the door from the frame. Arms and springs initially loose, are installed on the job. It takes a full day, and more, with needs of patching that often dictate the door removability.

With an attic ladder or any door, assembly is required.

In the ladder now to be repaired, study the failed upper pivots of the limit arms.

3/8" x 3 1/2" lag screws and large 3/8" washers replace a badly worn assortment of short machine bolts, a  bushing,  a couple of 3/8" nuts and a variety of washers loose and tilted at center of the cup mount.

Two 1/4" x 2 1/2" lag screws at each cup replace assorted wood and machine screws bound only to the 1x4 ladder frame, nuts falling the the floor when released.

All of this failed experimentation and years of frustration with the ladder would have been avoided if, from the beginning, at ladder installation, the springs, arms and cups had been packaged loosely, for assembly required of the installer, with lag screws as chosen now, binding to the rough frame. Choose drill sizes for the lag screws, that are not too large. Find the screw hole locations in the ladder frame clearly labeled.

At reset lower pivots of the limit arms, I made poor choices too, in reliance on fasteners from a nearby Home Depot. 3/8" x 1 1/2" coarse-thread hex bolts should have been 2" instead, permitting a washer  outside the arm and under a lock nut, at each side of the arm lower pivots. Home Depot is not a full-selection hardware store. They do not offer lock nuts for these coarse-thread bolts.  Find the lock nuts at an Ace Hardware.

I learn, and I share my learning.

A Typical Job, Completed January 2023

A Safety Pole and More: (Very much assembly is required of a competent and risk-averse installer.)

I install ladders with mandatory inclusion of every important safety measure I have imagined. A safety pole guides one from and to the ladder opening. When beyond reach of a ladder handle. always have your weight borne by a hand at a sequence of safety pole grips. A safety pole is a selected pretty 2x4 rock-solidly bridged between floor joists and roof joists with three or more hand grips, and with power and lighting control attached. Safety is priceless, and affordable. 

This is my job-in-process at late-December 2022, I keep divots of the plywood flooring cut about the ladder nearby, and set them to cover the hole while working distant from the ladder.

A lighted switch, readily visible and at-hand, greets the attic user.

The ladder is MidMade LEX 70 22/47, manufactured in Northern Sweden  sheltered workshops, by handicapped, talented workers, with superior, knotty, non-splitting Norway Spruce, from local forests.

The work of a competent installer can include much custom assembly specifically suited to the unique opportunities in any home.


My safety measures are original as far as I know, not offered by any other installer, and yet are  extremely important. One measure is deployment at default 60° steps angle. This is improvement from unsafe 70° for this MidMade ladder. Added hinging in the center section is needed to achieve the safer angle. Here watch YouTube video of the deployment at 60°, with a very similar ladder.

Perfectly ordinary. Nothing to it, once imagined, for me.

These are the conditions upon destruction of the found drywall-plunker access at the above ladder.

Planning comes of much experience and fresh tactical thinking. The accurately-fit "hole" will be in a strong, completely rebuilt floor.

Here I am standing on the ladder, looking at the finished attic.

In the attic, looking back at the ladder, at left see three more matched sets of plywood 24" rips intended for further flooring progress. At right see the divots of the flooring cut for the ladder. Further progress is daunting. Upright 2x4s outboard of the chimney defy easiest passage. More lighting is needed.  Long strips of the home's vinyl siding are obstacles, that may now move onto flooring.

 This is the attic ladder as received from USA seller Conservation Technology, in Baltimore, MD. Packaging and instructions indicate that the ladder is ready to use, when nailed into the miraculously-produced ceiling hole.

Stuff the unboxed ladder in the attic, and place it in the hole, with the door face resting on propped supports. Anchor the ladder frame with a few nails and remove the supports. Open the door. 

Just lop off excess of the lower step section, and you're done!


Working with ladders never seen before, I indulged in several months of measuring, drawing, studying, thinking and trials. My detailed planning employs precise 2D graphics drawn in Adobe FrameMaker at v5.5.6, which I have owned and have daily employed for about twenty years. Circa 2002 the dotcom crash crushed a maker of CRT displays, in Beaverton, Oregon, and I acquired this miraculous tool for about $100. Bloated newer versions are useless to me. FrameMaker 2019, better only in faster 64-bit operation, might be purchased for $1100. Adobe wants, even demands, that I upgrade to a subscription at $39.99 per month, current version 17. In a thirty day free trial I couldn't accomplish anything. The graphics tools are not valued at Adobe, and are ruined.

Here is the site planning graphic in FrameMaker The imported Google Maps satellite photo has overlay of precise details of floor framing and all of my construction. All drawing is with the two simple palettes caught in the Snagit scan. The tools in FrameMaker 17 are horribly complicated by pulldowns and such for the likes of choosing between dozens of arrow shapes. One is the right number. 

Here again are the v5.5.6 tool palettes with drawing of improved ladder deployment, all hardware drawn at scale and noting the pinning of object groups. The ladder is much-improved beyond imaginings of a few naive inventors briefly employed a decade ago and not reimagined since, until I came along. With mid-splitting of the center section of a three-section ladder, adding hinges as a four-section ladder, limit arms and pivot positions are adjusted for deployment at a precise 60°. My reimagining of the ladder if the factory would cooperate for future production, would include elimination of what I consider a dangerous, trick, top step. I demand a broad top step for user safety. Here a probing foot  reaching out backward for descent, often first finds the pointy tops of the side rails. The danger is avoidable and the solution all-around has design and seller inventory-control advantages. There is no factory engineering staff to cooperate in this. So, just let me do the work? It is already done.

The as-shipped (default) ladder deploys at a too-steep 70°.steps and door angle, and I consider that unsafe. The steepness is needed for the deploying steps to clear the ladder frame. This ladder is assembled with too-small screws as if with intent an installer would rearrange things, then setting appropriate screws. European rule EN 14975 states that steps angle should not be steeper than 61°. Do not defy this rule! .Be grateful for means of compliance I offer, with added hinging.

Please see many issues of imperfect assembly of the default ladder. With this, then grant that improvements are just that. Intelligence added for the end-user must only reduce manufacturer liability, not affecting the manufacturer warranties.  The upper step section is cleverly bonded to the door via wood crossbars that reach out to the strong wood of the door edges, awkwardly. The lower crossbar is high up on the door, for no good reason. I will apply common sense to move that crossbar and its brackets, also replacing screws that are needlessly short. I will apply long and strong deck screws to engage the rough frame at limit arm upper pivots, at the upper attachment for balancing springs, and at all arbitrary captures of the ladder frame to the rough frame. I stand behind the ladder and its assembly, for as long as I am still walking, with proper insurance. My best insurance is that customers should never have an accident, and that they are gratefully aware of safety measures that I invent and that they must not refuse. Least-steep angle, handle(s), safety pole(s), ladder placement to step toward with momentum to maximum attic headroom, and more. Few people think installation of a door is simple DIY. Fewer should think an attic ladder is DIY.

Added hinging is required for angles less steep than 67°. For 96" floor to ceiling distance, the four-section deployment does not require "tenting."

Placing the ladder opening over a door frame below was a new challenge. Facing the need to close the hole in a two day binge of effort, I found it necessary to tilt the door frame out of the way, with temporary removal of the door. Armed with chiseling tools at my next visit, I would then reset the frame with trial and error, perhaps moving the frame. I did that cheerfully, resetting the door easily, with much-improved fastening and alignment, in further practice of best methods, taught by Gary Katz.

See the simple beauty in frameless trim, with nearly-invisible gaps between ceiling drywall, and the pretty-white durable finish of the ladder door.

Needed door trim then, often of ugly and cheap material, poorly fit, only conceals energy-leaking large gaps.

I do much better, with the ladder nearly invisible. It is a big deal. Important invention!

All the planning and hard work result in an attic that is  accessible.

 Good things happen up here. 

It's not about storage space for most of us. Here an electrician, with my work nearly done, safely fixed a list of photographed, not yet covered DIY wiring crimes. 

HVAC linesets are safely buried and better insulated, under the flooring.

At and beyond a house-central large chimney, much is left dark and dangerous. 

Passageways for many mouse families are still a problem.

Elapsed time for the work; thirteen days.

102 hours of on-job labor.
$1625 materials, my cost.
Invoiced $3625, me then netting $20 per on-job hour, with yet no compensation for 876 miles and twelve hours of travel to this exotic location. 

My weatherization work and business practices are an ever-thoughtful experiment and have worked well enough that I have stayed at this for eighteen years. Soon age 79, I must wish to beneficially franchise the work globally, armed with useful owned URLs:, and more. I wish to team up with the competent USA importer of MidMade products, Conservation Technology, in Baltimore, MD, to avail architects and demanding home owners, of smart residence attic access and valuable improvement. We should agree that an attic is not a trash heap. It is an opportunity zone for easy gains of energy conservation and of providing security and data wiring, better ventilation, air conditioning and lighting of living spaces.

A $10,000 Attic Investment Makes Sense, Whether for Storage or Not

Many things we should preserve are tolerant of temperature swings. Yet, commercial storage of such is not less costly than conditioned storage. 

$150 per month, I think.
Cumulative Payments
Kept 1 year: $1800
Kept 5 years:$9000
Kept 10 years: $18,000

A $4000 investment in attic access here, or even $10,000 for the full attic, with a lift mechanism, is so much smarter.

For most of us, in single family homes, floored R38 or R49  attic access is a good investment just for maximum weatherization, with friendly opportunity to maintain wiring, lights, fans, plumbing and HVAC. Insulation prone to ruin by access is a very bad investment.

Home Advisor says of fragile blown loose-fill: "You’ll spend between $0.25 and $2 for every inch of thickness per square foot (one board foot) or $1 to $5 per square foot total." Four inches of loose-fill coverage of half of this example attic (1000 sq ft) would cost $1000 to $8,000.

My very superior work invoiced at $20 per hour is far too much, a bargain. My work creates accessibility. The almost-universal loose-fill alternative is a cruel barrier to accessibility and usefulness.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Interrupted Energy Savings With My Rheem Hybrid Heat Pump Water Heater

Rheem Professional Prestige
Pro Terra Hybrid Electric Water Heater
PROPH65 T2 RH375-50
S/N Q 272 026 175
Publicizing defect of year-2020 Control Board Part Number AP21386 Rev 00 and, perhaps, associated thermistors. Offering hope of the durability of replacement Control Board Part Number AP22260 and replacement thermistors Part Number SP20845.

Electricity usage in my rental home has spiked since April, 2022. A problem was evident to me in charting the April billing. Quite amazingly a problem was suggested in early-June by my electricity provider, Pacific Power!. Electricity usage had been down 40% for fourteen months since HPWH installation in February, 2021.

For three months, all of the savings were cancelled, running on resistance heaters with periodic automatic attempts to revert to Heat Pump Mode. Now-repaired and seeming to run reliably 100% in Heat Pump Mode, I hope the charting of electricity usage will again inspire others to replace their ordinary electric or gas water heaters,

Here is the chart at 12/2/2022:

And here is monthly tracking by Pacific power, leading them to again notify excessive usage.

With the notice of excessive usage, Pacific Power offered this conservation advisory:

All that is potentially helpful is a table at page 4 of 15:

I am overdue to find savings in a HVAC heat pump, and that is not a factor in excessive usage now, except that we must not resume usage of a window air conditioner next Summer. Renters have never used electric space heaters.

Counseled by Rheem, we viewed the condenser plates, finding normal dry conditions; no icing. The HPWH smoothly running in Heat Pump mode chilling the garage, is then dismissed of involvement in unusual draw of electricity except that, maybe someone is taking really-long showers.

We tripped the circuit breaker feeding a proper cable underground to a Shed on 12/4/2022 for whatever reason, as the least bothersome next step. Daily usage did not change. We are wanting again the energy-conserving usage for same months a year ago, for the month of November 2021: 431 KWH, 13 KWH per day, $51 billed, instead of that for
November 2022:  954 KWH, 28 KWH per day, $99 billed.

Something is still very much amiss.

Rating my interaction with Pacific Power, I suggested that they should care to know what is happening. I had asked: Could I log demand on each circuit breaker? Answer: No. 

I am not keeping up an Excel chart of July 2022 over smaller time scale, that better illustrates history associated with the Heat Pump Water Heater:

Now return to the naive beginning of this post:

New renters were unaware the unit was running in Electric mode,The garage was not being nicely refrigerated in Summer heat. Quiet in the garage was not alarming.

Half-way through a three month incident I was at last painfully aware, and driven to find a repair. I was the installer. The unit was sold to me by General Pacific, Inc. a large supplier of parts for industrial electrical equipment to Bonneville Power Administration and also a low-cost supplier of heat pumps and more to area weatherization contractors. I buy and install many  Panasonic bath fans, with pricing 30% below that at Home Depot. The Rheem HPWH was a one-off for myself.

Who to I call? I talked with a competent plumber at Portland's "Water Heater King" store where I am a good customer, and learned there are large problems with the Control Board, being resolved by Rheem at no cost. Just call the Rheem heat pump service people in Montgomery Alabama, at 800-995-0982 weekday daytime hours. Get parts and do the repair myself. The parts offered are the Control Board, Part Number  AP22260, and three identical Thermistor Kits, Part Number SP20845. 

Thermistors? They are supposed to be ultra rugged. How could they fail? I would try just replacing the Control Board. Still, get a look at the thermistors. Detach power leads and detach the tank lid with its ten screws,

See little resemblance to a GEN 5 THERMISTOR REPLACEMENT diagram among materials emailed by Rheem. The work area is on the far side opposite the Control Board. The tank cylindrical wall is very much in the way. Cylindrical foam insulating jackets held by many zip ties must be removed and are found bonded to thermistors by gooey thick adhesive wrap.

A Rheem YouTube video will be shared days later but will be of little help:

Rheem hybrid thermistor access

Go ahead now to replace the Control Board. It is all of the black expensive-looking control interface and display, up-front as I oriented the tank. Pry off a cover. Remove two screws. Extend many leadwires to view connections at the backside.

View the backside of the replacement board. I will hold the boards side-by side and move connectors one at a time.

Wires as found with a minimum of crossings.. Swapped leads may not be as neat.

Back together and seeming to be solidly in Heat Pump mode. Next morning though, I will be called by a Rheem technician, advising for the first time that the thermistors must be replaced. Some unique identifier associated by a past alarm, causes thermistor rejection ever-after, regardless of control board replacement. Something like that. All advice is verbal. Each new conversation is with a different Rheem call center person, trained with a different set of knowledge.

First swap the thermistor easiest to reach, "Suction," on yellow leads.

Higher up on the same pipe, swap a thermistor from blue leads, Discharge.

Each thermistor kit has three new clips to choose from. Learn that the clip removal or attachment is thus with a twist.

Gray leads, Evaporator.

Repair completed. I had worked atop a piece of 3/4" plywood resting on the tank cylinder wall and the heat exchanger, doing no harm. The work areas are inconveniently close to the cylinder wall and the heat exchanger. It was never intended that a home owner would do this. I could not replace the six cable ties I cut. In the factory, this tidy assembly might have been completed before the tank cylinder was applied. The odd object at right hand is my banged-up work light propped at the tank wall edge.

I am offended by large pieces of gummy material, two pieces four inches square, not the same as butyl strips about one inch square applied in the factory to better couple a thermistor to adjacent tube surface temperature.  The huge squares are not scored for separation to useful size.

At two places on each thermistor kit box, there is warning in effect to not touch the dangerous gum. I will treat the nasty squares as needing professional disposal. Not in my trash. I will mail them to Rheem, with complaint, as a pdf printing of this blog post.

What does the warning mean? is vague here. Is risk only with ingesting or chewing the gum? I won't touch it.

If thermistors are a repair item, the factory wrap of tubes and thermistor should be a thick fabric with velcro strips. No foam tubing and zip ties. Surely there are incidents of disastrously cutting a leadwire somewhere, reaching blindly with sharp snips. 

Avoid any need of cancer-causing gum.

Study the principal guide for consumers here, 

Use & Care Manual

Rheem AP21681 Rev 02

Rheem randomly sent this PDF as an email attachment,  following one phone conversation. Now a Google search brings nine results, none the guide. Therefore, I store a copy in Google My Drive:

 Rheem AP21681 Rev 02

The troubleshooting and repair parts listings did not imagine the control board failures now occurring. Nothing I have done here is mentioned.

It is odious that one offered solution here while under warranty, is free replacement of the entire HPWH. There's a lot of bad carbon in that. Repairs must be offered at no cost for at least twenty years, the least lifetime I think is reasonable for a water heater. The consumer trust thus guarded is essential to needed adoption of a HPWH, in every home, well-subsidized again in the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022,

I await honest statements from Rheem about what is happening. Why the thermistor swaps? Is there a better solution in circuit board recognition of sensors surely still good, avoiding replacements.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Removing a Bad-Idea Whole House Fan

Here is the beginning of another story of turning neglected and dangerous attic space into something efficient, beautiful and wonderfully useful. In this beginning, we discovered that the attic was stinky in dry and cold conditions, November 2021. Blame this on a dead whole-house fan, and two bath fans not directed through-roof.

This is the attic before improvement, standing with good headroom just beyond a second-floor hallway access with a covering of bare drywall.  Floor framing is 2x8 with fairly-regular @24" spacing. House well-built in 1982.

Getting around in the attic was risky walking a plank, as with a shaky length of 2x8 leading to the whole-house fan, that intermittently was "winter-weatherized" by tossing-on a piece of R11 kraft-faced fiberglass insulation.

More often than not, there is nothing to grab if you lose balance.

The whole-house fan shutters were leaky all-around. 

From below, shutters of the dead fan were tolerated as interesting in a grand stairwell ceiling.

Here are barely-safe work conditions with an installed attic ladder. I have good lighting and connection to house power. Remove the fan and temporarily cover the opening.

A careful patching plan is needed where working over a stairwell.

The tilt-in patch was partially secured with reach-out from the steps railing.

To complete the setting of the patch, work from plywood clamped to on-flat 2x4s and the stair railings. Cutting-in the fan thirty or forty years ago, was a lot easier.

Still to do: increase attic ventilation, and dry out the attic.

And here is the finished attic, brightly lighted and clean, well-loaded with stored items, and still with immense space available. Be grateful for headroom afforded with a still-walkable 5:12 roof pitch.

1/2" plywood covers a central rectangle 20 ft by 32 ft. An undecked periphery about 5 ft wide all around is the preferred zone for wiring and fans. New bath fans are served by new short steel ducts directed through-roof. Want R49 periphery insulation to tuck in and be slightly thicker than the R49 decked area.