Saturday, November 4, 2023

Built in 1888, I removed all the gas from the 4-Unit building I own and live in on 22nd Street in the Mission District in San Francisco. 


In the 1950's a few scientists posited that humanity was contributing to global warming. A minority view back then, today 97% agree. I also agree and believe that Global Warming is real and that I need to do something about it.

In 2015 countries from around the world modified the original Kyoto protocol with a Climate Treaty, aimed at reducing global warming, and committed to limiting world temperature increases to 2 degrees centigrade, while concurrently working towards a lower target of 1.5 degrees centigrade. 

What and how?

To help reach these targets I'm committed to reducing my own energy consumption where possible, walking or bike riding when possible, and where I can't, use those technologies currently available to help me lower my carbon footprint for myself and others, which includes the 4 unit building I own and live in, with installing: Solar; EV auto and charging; heat pump water heaters; induction cooktops; heat pump heat; insulation and building seal; dual pane windows; and LED lighting.

Currently I see myself as a sort of guienea pig going through the ups and downs of the conversion gas to electric conversion process, including the bureaucratic approval process, as well as the challenging rebate process, to assist all of us committed to installing the above mentioned equipment and appliances.


As far as the rebates that mitigate the costs of making this conversion, as I understand it, the Federal Government provides income tax rebates, and the State cash rebates, via the CPUC, having San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and PG&E entering into contracts with non-profits who qualify those applying for the rebates, verify that has been completed, and then release the funds.

So here we go!

I had the five PG&E gas meters in my building, for the building lighting, as well as the existing four units, removed. Adios gas. Do I now call my utility supplier Pacific No Gas & Electric?

Gas meters removed and the access to the is line locked.

After this I contacted PG&E and they made a permanent gas removal from my building to the gas line by severing the supply line in the street.

My electrician installed a larger Electric Service, from 100 to 200 AMPS

Just prior to the gas removal, I had the existing electrical service upgraded from 100 AMPS to 200AMPS, to meet the additional needs of a fully electrical building.

One note, I am part of a group of folks that are trying to stay within 100AMPS to supply all our electrical needs, rather than upgrading my main service to 200AMPS.

Currently each unit in my building has the same capacity for 100AMPS.

Prior to this I did load calcs, that showed my use could be kept under 100AMPS.

Now, 3 months after install, I have monitored the load on my unit, and may maximum load to date has been 50% under maximum load capacity.

It took 6 months from my service upgrade application, until PG&E made the final electrical connection. Its important to get started early on this.

Here the PG&E linesman connects the three new lines, two hot 120V lines, and one neutral, at the weatherhead of my main electrical service drop.

This is how every house, and apartment building gets electrical power, from the power pole at the street, to your service drop at the weatherhead.

Installed new Disconnects from the Smart Meters to the new Sub-Panels
I have 5 PG&E smart meters, each with its own shut off or disconnect. The disconnects, at 40AMPS, each had to be upgraded to 80 or 100 AMPS, with new larger wiring from the meter head, to the upgraded disconnects, that shuts off the power when needed.

In this photo, in the lower right corner is the main disconnect, for the main service delivery from the street at 200AMPS, with the five meters above, and above those the disconnect for each unit, upgrade to 80 or 100AMPS. To the upper left you see the inverter for my solar panels, with DC electricity that comes from my roof.

From there I ran new wiring from the disconnects to power the new smart Circuits in all new Sub-Panels

Old sub panel on left, new Leviton Panel with Smart Breakers on the right.

From each of those 5 meter heads, then to the a Disconnects, and then to each of the 5 sub-panels, new wires were fed to each unit. The 80 or 100AMPS feeds electricity to the sub-panels that provide power to the circuit breakers that feed all of each units electrical needs: outlets, lights, appliances, and new mechanical equipment.

Snap-in Smart Circuit Breakers
Leviton makes a Sub Panel that can receive either standard circuit breakers or smart circuit breakers, each of which click into the panel. For my units the entire panel has smart circuit breakers, in the tenants, only the new electrical appliances and mechanical equipment.

Next, replace the gas water heaters with electric Heat Pump Water Heaters

Disconnected the gas water heaters, drained out the water and removed them.
Strapped the water heaters to the wall, connected each to a disconnect switch for power, installed a thermostatic valve, and then connected each to the cold water inlet that feeds the building and hot water outlet that goes to each unit.
The units are of one piece, with the heat pumps on top, and the tanks below. The heat pumps create some moisture as they work, and this requires a condensate drain, in white.

Each unit is then programed to lower the temperature during peak use hours, TOU, for efficiency, keep costs down, and is a requirement for some rebates.
To remove the gas, including the residual Benzene that migrates from the cooktop round the house, I installed Induction Cooktops

At each cooktop took out the cabinet drawers to access the old BOSCH gas lines.

Removed the gas lines.
Removed the gas cooktop, and then routered out each kitchen counter for the larger drop-in opening required for the induction cooktop install.
Dropped in the new induction cooktop, hard wired each to a new 240V outlet in the wall, fed by wires fished through the existing walls to new smart circuit breakers at the sub-panel

Heat Pump Split Systems

Easy part? Removing the old existing Marley direct current Electric Baseboard Heaters. Opened up the junction box that connects to each unit to electricity, cut the wires, capped them, and installed a new wall flush j-box face plate. 

There's a light well on each side of the building, where we hung the outdoor part of the Split System, the fan/condenser units. By this time I was doing all the electrical myself. I installed 240V power and a service outlet for each heat pump unit in the light wells, and disconnect for each unit.

The crew dropped the outdoor HVAC units onto mounting brackets
in the light well, and wired them to power, and ran power and refrigerant lines to the indoor units.

If you have an existing building, much of the project work is drilling holes in existing framing to conceal the refrigerant or water lines behind the walls. 

Running those lines is tough work.

Heat moves to cold, so the outdoor condenser fan units are what picks up or expels the heat via the refrigerant, compresses it, then the refrigerant lines travel through holes in the interior walls from the outdoor unit to the (3) indoor units to provide heating and cooling. Electrical needs for the indoor unit come from electrical lines from the outdoor unit, that are zip tied to the refrigerant lines.

Combination Heat Pump Water & Heat
There are many HP HVAC systems besides split systems including Air to Water. As with the Split Systems there is an outdoor Fan/Condenser, but in this case water travels to and from the unit, not refrigerant.

This system has (2) 43 gallon hot water tanks, one feeds the domestic hot water, and the other the coil, which blows air over it, and the heated air travels in a duct 9" diameter duct that runs the length of the building.

The large duct, then feeds the hot air into small  1 1/2" diameter high velocity ducts up high, to the ceiling or wall, sending warm air that mixes in with the existing.

The heat registers are small, about the size of a small 
ceiling recessed can light.

That's it! Entire building is now electric.

Monitoring the system.
We've been monitoring the system for the past 3 months, and energy bills are about 1/2 of last year. We plan to continue to make improvements by increasing the water tank temperature 20 degrees, adding more insulation to create  , and replacing the remaining single pane windows with dual pane.  

Monday, May 8, 2023

Pre-Fab Color Divider

Fabricated in Philippe Bachmann's studio.
Friend who runs a local theater group, wanted a divider between his deck and his neighbor's in North Beach, so that the cat could crawl through, and that either neighbor could open and close depending on how social or not social they felt.
Wanted it to appear beach like, as it was in North Beach. Though not a real beach, it gave off a cheery vibe.
Pre-Fabbed off site for quick install, and easy removal in case the landlord wanted it removed.
Colors generated on a computer, then matched by Jeff Gray's Benjamin Moore paint masters in Burlingame. Boring tan frame matched the building to blend in.

Four Peripheral Interests

 I'm currently involved with 4 different groups peripheral to my own work:

1. The Solar Rights Alliance, working to keep PG&E in check, so residential Owners get a fair shake with the CPUC.

2. The Mission Greenway,  a group promoting the conversion of a former abandoned neighborhood train right of way in the Mission District to a green pedestrian corridor.

3. The SF Climate Emergency Coaltion, a group advocating for the City Supervisors to put a Climate oriented Bond on the ballot.

4. Curbside parking trial, working in the neighborhood to setup test curbside EV charging locations for renters in the Mission District. Currently there are no public EV chargers in the entire neighborhood.

Banks Street SF, 2 Story Addition

This project is a two story addition to a small single family residence on the south side of Bernal Hill neighborhood, including the addition of two second floor decks, a trellis, solar, and removing all gas appliances and replacing with electric.

The project is currently in HR Historic Resource review by SF Planning prior to the 311 neighborhood notification process.

NOV, Notice Of Violation, Clients During Covid

 NOV Client #3

This client remodeled his entire house, and was adding rooms without a permit downstairs, when a neighbor complained.

When the building inspector came out to the site, he served my client with an NOV.

The NOV was originally limited to the new work at the ground floor, but at his discretion the building inspector chose to expand the NOV to the entire building, plus an illegal addition to the building 20 years prior to my client owning the building.

The Punch List of Violations from the City was 160 items.

Prior to myself another Architect had tried to work through the violation list, and quit in frustration.

My first step, after inheriting this job, was to have a series of emails, texts and phone conversations with the Building Inspector to clarify his list, remove items, where possible that were pre-existing.

To further reduce the punch list, lower the cost of work to resolve the NOV, and to remove any engineering reviews for a permit set to resolve the NOV, I had my client remove an illegal ground floor addition built by an owner prior to his purchase of the property.

On the cities first review of my permit set, they had 17 comments.

After a sit down at the office of the inspector, this list was reduced to 2 items, and then the permit was approved.

The work is taking place now, and when complete the NOV will be abated.

NOV, Notice Of Violation, Clients

 NOV Client #2

Neighbor filed an NOV, Notice of Violation, for a deck railing. 

I got a permit over the counter to replace the existing railing in-kind, and applied for a revision to this permit, to add a 4th railing, that SF Planning supported.

There was no deck, only a deck, but the neighbor interpreted the railing as a possible future deck, so they filed a DR (Discretionary Review), which calls for a public hearing before the Planning Commission, to block both the deck and the 4th railing.

My client and the neighbor did not get along, with the neighbor filing a restraining order at one point. 

Both properties had inherited legal existing non-complying buildings, that put the uses of the two properties right at the property line, and in conflict with one another when one or the other wanted to enjoy their respective properties.

I avoided the personal acrimony between the two parties, and eventually was able to get the neighbor to withdraw the DR. 

My Owner originally only wanted a safety railing, but during a pre-DR (Discretionary Review) hearing meeting, the City Architect offered a solution, where my Owner would agree to a buffer between the two properties, by agreeing to not build on one part of the deck, at the property line, while gaining a new deck away from the property line of the neighbor who had filed the DR. When the neighbor relocated to another city, and sold the property, and secured a permit for the original offer by the City Architect for a deck and a deck buffer, and it is built as you see in the photos.

NOV, Notice Of Violations, Clients During Covid

During Covid, a lot of people stayed home. People were much more aware of each other's activities. Because of this, the number of complaints neighbors made about work being done without permits skyrocketed.

Here are four clients I helped resolve NOV's for with SFDBI Code Enforcement.

Much like federal agencies protecting peoples rights to privacy, I've redacted all the Owners names, addresses and permit numbers from any documents posted on this blog.

NOV Client Number 1:

This client did a complete remodel of a single family home without any permits. They also made a curb cut at the sidewalk for auto access without a permit. A neighbor complained because of losing a parking place, and SFDBI Code Enforcement came out and retagged, another term for an NOV, the property.

This retag is sent as a list of code violations. See attached.

When I got involved I called the Code Enforcement Inspector, and told him that many of the items on his list didn't require a permit. He disagreed with me, so I set up a meeting with his superiors, the Senior Code Enforcement Inspector and the Chief Inspector for Code Inspection. At this meeting they agreed with me and reduced the list by 60%. The Owner took care of all the items, the NOV was abated (closed).