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Sal’s Heating & Cooling Review (Navien NR-240A Troubles Continued)

Well, I decided to send Navien an email this weekend to explain my frustration with them — specifically that it had cost $200 to clean the unit before they would send me a replacement part under warranty, and that they had not paid for Saturday delivery on the part, but opted to make me wait until Monday to get it.

Turns out that Sal’s Heating and Cooling, shall we say mislead me when they told me they had ordered the part and that I would receive it Monday (which I stayed home from work to receive).  Turns out Navien’s shipping department was closed on Friday, and the part didn’t ship until 6:00 PM today.  It’s scheduled to be delivered tomorrow.

I had previously given Sal’s Heating and Cooling a positive review, but my experience this time through has been less than stellar.  To sum up:

  • My Navien water heater, which they installed, was giving me an error 38 on Thursday, July 4.   
  • I called Sal’s and asked for service.  They told me that because it was warranty service they wouldn’t come out on a holiday (which makes little sense since I had to pay for the visit anyway).  The person I spoke to, Max, told me that he would put me on the list for the morning.
  • We had not heard from Sal’s by 10am the next morning, so I decided to call them.  When I called, I was told we were not on the list but that they would come in the afternoon.
  • They called me around 1pm to say they were a couple hours away.
  • They called me around 5pm to say they were en route, and arrived around 6pm.
  • The technician, Jeff — who installed and serviced the unit before and has always been entirely professional and great — told me at 8pm the problem had been fixed.  I paid him and he left.
  • Five minutes later the Navien water heater failed again while my wife was bathing our children.
  • I called Jeff, and he had me try a few things to kick start the Navien.  None of those things worked. 
  • Jeff got off the phone with me to order the part.  I assume he was calling his office and not Navien directly.  Jeff called me back a few minutes later and told me the part would arrive on Monday and that I should call Sal’s Heating & Cooling when it arrived.
  • Skip from Sal’s called me Monday morning around 9am to remind me to call when the part arrived.
  • I stayed home from work so that I could receive the part.  Fedex drove by my house at their usual time in the morning.  UPS drove by my house at the usual time.  Neither stopped. 
  • I called Sal’s and spoke to a receptionist who was very nice.  I explained the above and that I had stayed home from work, and asked if she could call Navien and get me a tracking number.  She said she would call me back.
  • The receptionist called me back and said that she had called “the dispatcher” and he would not call Navien to get a tracking number.
  •  I called Navien myself and used their phone system to get to the shipping department.  I left them a voicemail.
  • Navien didn’t call me back, but did include the tracking number in their response to my email.  I assume they put two and two together since both included my name and contact information.  They indicated that the part just shipped today.

I’m lucky enough to have a job that allows me to work from home occasionally, but I’m frankly upset with Sal’s Heating and Cooling for misleading me. 

Navien NR-240A Troubles (Error 38)

We ran into an issue with our Navien NR-240A this weekend.  The heater has been running more-or-less smoothly for 18+ months now, and we haven’t had any major issues since the defective part that was in the device when it was installed.

Yesterday was July 4th, and we had company coming over.  A couple hours before our guests were scheduled to arrive, my wife asked me if there was a reason we didn’t have hot water.  Um, no….

I went down into the basement and checked out the Navien NR-240A.  No error messages on the thermostat, but it wasn’t running as it should have been.  So I unplugged the unit, waited a minute, and plugged it back in.  I waited a few seconds and the heater seemed to be running, so I turned on the sink.  I had warm water, but it quickly got cold.  I went back to the heater and it was now showing me a 38 error. I checked the manual and it suggested the problem had to do with water flow (check the circulation pump, check the flow sensor, check the water intake).  I was betting the problem was with the flow sensor since it seemed like the circulation system was working (albeit briefly) and I clearly had flowing water.

I called the folks that installed the water heater.  I explained the issue, and they told me that since it was a holiday and this was warranty work, they wouldn’t be able to come out until the next day, but that we would be toward the top of their list.  I said fine.  We celebrated the fourth and I just boiled some water on the stove so that I could wash the dishes.

At 10am we still hadn’t heard from the plumber, so we decided to call.  We weren’t on their list — apparently the guy I spoke to the day before didn’t call our call in.  Thanks Max.  They told us they would come out in the afternoon, and called around 1pm to say they were still going to be a while, and called again around 5pm and said they were 30 minutes away.

After working on the heater for about 2 hours, the technician (Jeff, who is the same gentleman that installed the heater and who has been great) said that he had resolved the issue.  He had done some routine maintenance (cleaning screens) and taken the flow sensor apart and cleaned it (apparently as he is required to do by Navien before replacing it) and while he found no visible issues, said that seemed to have corrected the problem.  I paid him ($200).  He left.

About ten minutes later my wife called me in and said we didn’t have hot water.  I checked the Navien, and it wasn’t showing any errors.  I called the plumber back and he was genuinely shocked.  I repeated the steps from yesterday — rebooted the heater and got the error 38 — and he got off the phone with me to call Navien to order a new flow sensor for me.

The trouble is, today is Friday and the new sensor won’t come until Monday, and there’s no indication when on Monday it will come.  So we may not have hot water until Tuesday.  Yikes.

So… For those of you out there with tankless water heaters — is this normal?  I think I can live without hot water for a few days, but $200 in maintenance after only 18 months of ownership….?  Seems kind of steep.  I’m beginning to regret having bought one of these.  Short of a normal water tank failing, I never had any problems.  And then it was a fairly straight-forward fix — i.e., I never had to go five days without hot water.

Basement Backsplash

Even though I did the work and took the pictures back in August, I never got around to posting the pictures from my basement backsplash. My wife and I picked out a transparent glass tile which proved to be a bit of an ordeal. Here’s what it looks like.

Backsplash 1

Backsplash 2

While I’m quite happy with the finished product, it was a bit of an ordeal to install — though I suppose that was self-inflicted. The individual tiles (which are about 1″x1/2″) came in 12×12 sheets. That’s fine, except the backing was yellow, which caused two problems: first, it changed the color of the tile (and some of the tiles are colorless); second, if you’ve ever installed tiles on sheets like this you know that the tile at the end of the sheet are only half stuck onto the sheet, the other half has no backing — which meant that if I had kept the tiles on the sheets there would be visible striping where the sheets interlock. So I ended up soaking the tile in warm water to remove the backing and setting them individually — which I think ended up being about 4,000 tiles. Good times

Nest Thermostat: Should You Buy One?

After reading my one-month round-up, I think I was bit negative.  I didn’t call out the nice, unique features of the nest which I do actually appreciate.  By way of full disclosure: I set up a schedule on my Nest on day 1, so I think that means I will have little/no benefit from its auto-learning capability. 

But here is my more balanced summary:

Pros:

  • Easy to install and setup.
  • Physically beautiful device
  • Very easy to make manual adjustments on the thermostat: just walk up an turn it.
  • Manual adjustments result in message estimating when the temperature will be reached
  • Schedule when you want a temp reached, not when to start heating/cooling
  • Slick iOS and Android apps
  • Easy to program a manual schedule

Cons:

  • Customer support not what it was cracked up to be (at least in my experience)
  • Initial setup interupted by firmware update
  • Proximity and auto-away sensing seems flakey at best
  • Auto-away, even if it works okay, is perhaps ill-conceived and is probably a hard-sell to most families like mine (coming home to a freezing house is out of the question)
  • Mobile apps missing some features that I would think are “basic” for this kind of device (all related to Away)
  • Energy report is probably more “gimicky” than anything else
  • From what I could tell, the Android app was REALLY sluggish on a brand new Galaxy S3 compared to the iOS apps
  • Energy usage report data is bogus: this will may be caused by bad firmware (that seems really far-fetched to me but who knows), but either way it’s doesn’t reflect well in my opinion.
  • Unclear whether I’m missing anything by having set up a schedule, other than the ease of not having to set up a schedule

So, should you run out and buy one?  I guess that depends on what you want.  It was a fair amount of money and I’m not convinced that I will realize the energy savings they claim the average user might expect, meaning it probably won’t pay for itself any time soon.   I am a tree hugger at heart, though, and I do like being able to save even a little bit of energy by activating “Away” when we are out of the house for a day or two, something I never felt able to do because I couldn’t do it remotely.  And the nerd in me likes the idea of seeing the energy reports (I admit to checking it daily even though in my case the data is bogus) despite knowing that there is very little (if anything) that is actionable.  The user experience is pretty good, but the usability freak in me thinks they probably would have benefited from more studying.  And my customer support experience has been exceptionally bad so far.

So at the end of the day: for me, if you’re an environmentally conscious tech nerd like me, I think it’s a fun purchase as long as the usability nags won’t keep you up at night.  I don’t think it has lived up to the surrounding hype, though, and for me that is probably the the biggest problem.  I’m usually NOT an early adopter for this exact reason, but I think the Nest needs a bit more time to ripen.  So while I don’t regret buying one, I wouldn’t recommend it at its current price point.

Nest Thermostat: Away Handling Wishlist

I just posted a summary of my experience after having lived with the Nest Thermostat for a month. In short, it’s aesthetically pleasing and it does have some nice features, but in my case at least there are still some glitches that need worked out.

But what about features you might expect but are completely lacking?  Here are a few things on my Nest wishlist, all pertaining to its handling of (manual) Away:

  • Scheduling “Away”:  I’d like to be able to tell Nest that I expect to be gone , rather than the fact that I am currently “away”.  For example, my family and I were out of town for a couple of days for Christmas.  I would have liked to have been able to tell Nest that I was going to be gone — say, the night before when I was sitting on my couch doing nothing — instead of having to remember to tell it I was “away” as I walked out the door (which I did remember).
  • Scheduling “Return”: More importantly, I’d like to tell Nest when I expect to be home — and at what temperature I want my house to be when I get home.  One of the nice features about Nest is that when you make a manual adjustment on the physical device, it gives you feedback indicating when it expects the house to reach that temperature, and if scheduling your Nest, you can tell it to reach a temp by a certain time, rather than to start heating/cooling at a specific time — both pretty cool.  Wouldn’t it be nice to tell Nest “I’m away now, but I expect to be home at this day/time and I would like my house to be at its regularly scheduled temperature”?  As it stands, you have to remember to tell Nest that you are home ahead of being home if you care about the temperature when you get there.  (And with a winter-time “Away” setting of 50 degrees, you might care).  This is actually pretty important: because as things are now, you not only have to remember to tell Nest you’re home ahead of time, you have to time it right so as to not waste a bunch of energy or to come home to an uncomfortable house.
  • Overriding Away: I’d like Nest to tell me (estimate) when it expects to have my house “back to normal” if/when I manually disable “Away”.   True story: I was at my in-laws for Christmas.  We decided to head home (a 2.5-hour drive) Christmas night because of a bad storm expected the next morning.  Thankfully my wife reminded me to tell the Nest we were home before we left, which I did and happily reported, but I had no answer to her query: “What’s the temperature going to be when we get home?”  You see,  I had let the Nest keep the house at 50 degrees while we were away — a fact I shared with my extended family-in-law.  The whole drive home my loving wife suggested the Nest might be the worst she ever bestowed on anyone, and threatened me with unpleasant things should the house be unacceptable to her when we got home.  (Thankfully I have a new furnace and it was able to heat my house almost 30 degrees in three hours).  Point being, I would have preferred to have some idea from Nest what expectations I should have — it should know!

These are all perhaps a bit nitpicky, but I bought the Nest because I heard it was the “Apple” of thermostats, and these feel like basic usability things to me that I frankly expected they would have anticipated and worked out by now (this is a second generation device, after all).

Nest Thermostat: First Month Review

Well, it’s been just over a month since we installed our Nest Thermostat. I do like the thermostat (my wife’s opinion is vastly different, though) but I can’t say that it’s been an entirely wonderful experience.  Here is a summary:

  • Physical installation was a breeze, even though I had never installed a thermostat before.
  • I opted to program a basic schedule on the Nest basically matching what I had before.  I set up the program on my iPad, which was pretty easy to do — certainly the easiest thermostat I’ve ever programmed.
  • I then tried to finesse our schedule to reduce the heat in our house (by two degrees) when my wife is usually away, and to have the house back to normal temperature by lunch time.  While it was easy to schedule, my wife objected (she was home more often than not that week) so we agreed to keep the house programmed to the “normal” temperature and let the Nest’s “auto-away” feature do it’s magic.
  • The Nest, by default, has an auto-away temperature (during heating) of 50 degrees (F).  I usually keep my house at 72 during the day and 68 at night.  I bumped the minimum auto-away temp to 60 degrees, but after my wife came home to a “freezing” house I bumped the minimum auto-away to 68.  After Nest auto-awayed us while we were in the house (but on different floors) several times, I gave up on auto-away (disabled it).
  • The energy reports are great in theory, and I do like seeing how much/little energy I used on a particular day, but you should realize that the information is largely meaningless because there is no basis to compare it with anything — i.e., I have no idea whether or not the Nest is saving energy (money) because I have no idea of what my energy usage looked like before it was installed, and unless you have fairly stable environmental conditions it’s hard to know how you did day-to-day.  So while cool and maybe interesting, it’s kind of gimicky in my opinion. 
  • On top of that, the energy usage report in my case is flakey — the callouts and summaries are often flat-out wrong.  I have some screenshots and commentary, below.  My favorite example is that  Nest is treating our schedule as an “adjustment” and saying that it caused above average energy usage, even though we have the same schedule every day.
  • I sent an email to Nest’s customer service on Dec. 5 explaining these issues (via their online form).  I got a canned response saying that they would contact me within 72 hours.   On Dec. 16th I still had not received a response, so I sent another message using their online form with the same canned response.  I did finally hear from Nest on Dec. 23rd.   While they did appologize for not responding sooner, they told me the firmware on my Nest must be corrupted and to update it — with no instructions other than a link to a tarball and that I would need a USB cable (gee, that’s descriptive, thanks).  I haven’t yet had a chance to even research how I might do this, but I plan to do it in a few days.

Here are the screenshots:

Nest 6 This might be correct: I do have the temperature set to go down to 68 degrees at 11pm.  I’m not sure if “Auto-Schedule” implies my (manual) schedule or the automated scheduling that they claim to have.  I would think the later, because otherwise it should just be “Set by Schedule”.
Nest 5 Kind of correct. I have the temp set to be at 72 degrees by 7am. But, I’ve never made adjustments to the temperature via web or “mobile” — only my iOS devices (which are called out explicitly elsewhere) so this seems odd.
Nest 4 Kind of (again). I don’t know why the first sentence is there, but I do have it programmed to reach 72 by 7am, as noted above.
Nest 3 This just confuses me (I don’t get up at 3am and adjust the temperature on my Nest). And it’s present almost every day (the only time it’s not is when I say I’m Away).
Nest 2 My favorite message. We did not make any manual adjustments to the Nest on this day (and almost never do).

Nest Thermostat First Impressions

I picked up a second-generation Nest learning thermostat today (my wife bought it for me for the holidays — we’re worse than our kids when it comes to gifting this time of year).

First impressions:

  • The packaging is really nice if you care about that kind of thing. I can appreciate aesthetics but don’t really care when it comes to this kind of purchase.
  • The installation instructions were very clear. I’ve never installed a thermostat before but I was undaunted enough to start the installation at 10pm despite a house full of sleeping wife and kids.
  • Installation took about seven minutes. This included me missing the note in the instructions saying that I didn’t need to worry about the jumper wire and calling Nest. (I was on hold for a minute when I saw what I had missed in the instructions so I hung up).
  • My only disappointment was that Nest decided to download and install an update before letting me finish setting it up, which meant I had to wait. It took about 15 minutes (I think) to get back to a usable state so I could finish.
  • I find it interesting that Nest thinks my house was at 77 degrees. It was definitely on the warm side but I don’t think we ever set our old thermostat above 72. It read the humidity in my house at 33% which is close to where I have it set.
  • The feel of the Nest is quite pleasant. More resistance to turn than I expected. It’s also smaller than I thought it would be.
  • I’m going to reserve judgment on the iOS apps for now. More on that later.
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