Adventures in Home Improvement

I can’t believe we did it. We actually upgraded the thermostat for our (rented) home!

This meant turning off gas valves and unplugging heaters and removing faceplates and reconnecting wires. Pretty heady stuff for me, since I grew up renting apartments, and we never had the ability or the inclination to change anything about where we lived. We just moved!

Anyway…take a look at what we’re talking about when we say our heater was installed in the late 70s:

The old thermostat's outer cover

It’s basically got three settings: cold (don’t do anything), warm (do something), hot (do a lot of something). We only have heat, no a/c, so it’s little more than a binary operation. This thing is pretty old, but it gets the job done.

In order to put the new one in, we had to remove this thing, which just kind of slides off to reveal the following:

The old thermostat's inner layer

That’s a little vial of mercury, ostensibly to power the internal temperature gauge. Surrounding it are a bunch of whirlymajigs that do whatever it is this control needs to do to tell the heater to either turn on or off or what have you. Not really sure what’s going on here, but it’s coming off!

The old thermostat's faceplate

Ah, the final layer! Our heater is pretty bare-bones and only has two wires connected. I think the white one in the middle is for heating, and the red one to the right of that is a common ground wire. We spent a lot of time looking at this, disbelieving that there could only be 2 actual wires connected, since there are a lot of potential holes there, but we called Robyn’s dad and he seemed to think that was normal. We unscrewed the screws holding the wires in place, labeled them, and then proceeded to remove this entire faceplate from the wall.

A hole in our kitchen wall

This is all that was left of our thermostat after removing that last layer. A hole. A hole with some wires sticking out, some other wires curled back inside, and what looked like a wooden beam and some drywall crumblies.

Robyn hammered some nails through the wall since we had no drill, we rammed some drywall screws through the holes they made, and then some new screws through them. We used a level to align the new thermostat on the wall, attached the wires coming out of the hole to it, and slapped on the new cover, replete with a digital screen that lights up.

New front of thermostat

Looks pretty sweet in comparison, right? We went through the scheduling set up, which was already pretty close to what we’d want anyway, reconnected the heater, turned on the gas, and lo! It both turned on when we thought it would, and we didn’t blow up the house. Pretty stellar.

Some mad anxiety was the precursor to this project, so I’m glad we got through it and all seems to be functioning well. We might have to play with the temperature and scheduling to get just the right mix, but this is way better than before. Go Team Robyoolae!

3 thoughts on “Adventures in Home Improvement

  1. that coil is actually a bimetallic strip! it’s the only thing i remember from science class ;)

    in the summer if my mother had the AC set to only go on when it was too hot, i’d pop the cover off the thermostat and breathe on it making the coil to think the house was 90+ degrees! thus, bypassing my mothers attempt at saving money :P

    hah!

  2. Well when you think about it, all a thermostat does is close a switch when it reaches a preset temperature.

    The coiled strip of wire expands/contracts with changes in temperature, which in turn tilts the glass vial, which in turn moves the glob of mercury over two open contacts which completes the circuit and turns the heater on/off.

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